Travel to Japan is back – and the good news is that the pound is strong against the yen. From Tuesday, visa-free holidays for independent travelers will be possible for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Those who are not vaccinated need a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours of leaving, and masks are still required on public transport and in many indoor settings.
The silver lining is the dynamic state of the pound against the Japanese yen – up 6.5% year on year, according to Post Office Travel Money. Currently, the exchange rate is 153 yen for one pound.
All tastes: From Tuesday, a visa-free holiday to Japan for independent travelers will be possible for the first time since the start of the pandemic – and holidaymakers can expect quality food when they visit. Above are street food stalls in Osaka
“Japan is actually really good value when you’re there – especially the food: 60p for a plate of sushi, £5 for a bowl of the most delicious ramen noodles you’ve ever tasted,” said said James Mundy of InsideJapan, a specialist. Japanese tour operator.
Here’s our guide to making the most of a good exchange rate and eating well.
RESTAURANTS WITH BATHROBE
Arrange to stay at least one night in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) to enjoy dinner in a yukata robe, which is a thin cotton dressing gown.
Evening meals and breakfast are included in room rates, and dinner usually consists of miso soup with tofu and shiitake mushrooms, grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce (a soy sauce and a sugar glaze), spicy pasta, crab cakes, pickles and rice.
The highlight is shabu-shabu: a soup with fresh eggs and tofu along with thin slices of pork that you cook yourself in a gas-fired pot provided on the table.
How to do: Ichinoyu Shinkan is a ryokan in Hakone, 80 minutes by train west of Tokyo. with rooms with two meals and all drinks included from £93 (ichinoyu.co.jp).
A SEAFOOD LOVER’S DREAM
The best Japanese seafood market is the famous Tsukiji Fish Market (pictured) in Tokyo, where noisy auctions were once held in the morning.
Seafood markets are for eating, not just buying, fish in Japan. The best is the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where noisy auctions were once held in the morning. It’s a brilliant place to visit to sample food on the hoof, especially its wonderful massive oysters from Hokkaido in the far north of Japan (£3.50 an oyster). The freshest of fresh sushi is also available, including tuna, salmon and squid (four pieces for around £3.50).
Stroll along the tiny labyrinthine alleys trying grilled king crab legs, slices of smoked octopus, grilled eel and fish cakes.
How to do: 2.5-hour tours of Tsukiji Market from £52 pp (www.urbanadventures.com).
Head to one of the noodle bars at Shinagawa Station (pictured) – diners can place their orders for a dish from a vending machine
Noodle bars where you order from a vending machine are commonplace. After inserting your money, a ticket pops up which you take to the noodle bar “host”, who takes you to a table. A few minutes later, a bowl of steaming noodles with pork or fish, usually, is delivered.
Bowls of sliced spring onions are provided to sprinkle on top. A main course costs around £7, a beer £3.50 and a highball whiskey £2.70.
How to do: Take your pick from the noodle bars at Shinagawa Station.
WAGYU BEEF BARBECUES
Wagyu beef fans should visit the popular restaurant Yasaiya Teppanyakiyasaikabukichoten (what a name!) in Tokyo (pictured)
Wagyu beef is fattier and has a finer texture than other types of beef. The barbecue bars have tables with hot plates for mini charcoal barbecues above which the exhaust fans are lowered so that no smoke enters the room.
You cook thin slices of beef yourself, as well as pork, tripe, liver, heart, chops, ribs and even feet. Spicy Korean chicken is also usually served. The beef is tender, delicious and indulgent. It’s around £15-£20 per head, but can cost a lot more for the best cuts.
How to do: Yasaiya Teppanyakiyasaikabukichoten (what a name!) is a popular Toyko restaurant (gurunavi.com).
Dishes are transported along a conveyor belt in Japan’s revolving sushi bars
Fourteen-night tour with stays in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Miyajima, Osaka and Takayama from £3,190 pp with a two-night stay in a ryokan in Hakone, transfers and some tips. Flights are extra, from around £900 (insidejapantours.com).
Don’t miss to experience a revolving sushi bar. Up to 100 diners can be found in some, with large carousels carrying sushi, flying fish roe, dried sea cockles, miso clam soup, eel curry and shrimp tempura. Computerized orders and food are brought to you along a conveyor belt – a feast for £15-£20.
How to do: Kappa Sushi is a chain of conveyor belt sushi bars across Japan (kappasushi.jp).
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are served in a clear salty broth to which raw eggs and yam paste are added along with pork or chicken. Pickled vegetables and “edible grass” may be included. The result is a rich and hearty noodle broth.
Traditional soba noodle houses typically have paneled walls and simple, low wooden tables, with room dividers dividing the dining room sections.
How to do: Hatsuhana Soba in Hakone offers dishes from £6; 635 Yumoto Street.