Travel to Japan is back — and the good news is the pound is strong against the yen. From Tuesday, visa-free holidays for independent travellers will be possible for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Those who are unvaccinated need a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours of going, and masks are still required on public transport and in many indoor settings.
The silver lining is sterling’s buoyant state against the Japanese yen — up 6.5 per cent year on year, according to Post Office Travel Money. Currently the exchange rate is 153 yen to the pound.
All tastes: From Tuesday, visa-free holidays in Japan for independent travellers will be possible for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic – and holidaymakers can look forward to good value food when they visit. Above are street food stalls in Osaka
‘Japan is actually very good value when you are there — especially the food: 60 pence for a plate of sushi, £5 for a bowl of the most delicious ramen noodles you’ve ever tasted,’ said James Mundy of InsideJapan, a specialist Japanese tour operator.
Here’s our guide to making the most of the good exchange rate — and eating well.
RESTAURANTS WITH ROBES
Arrange to stay for at least one night in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) to enjoy dining in a yukata robe, which is a thin cotton dressing gown.
Evening meals and breakfast are included in room rates, and dinner is usually a big spread comprising miso soup with tofu and shiitake mushrooms, grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce (a soy sauce and sugar glaze), spicy pastes, crab cakes, pickles and rice.
The highlight is shabu-shabu: a soup with fresh eggs and tofu plus thin slices of pork that you cook yourself in a gas-fired hotpot provided on the table.
How to do it: Ichinoyu Shinkan is a ryokan in Hakone, an 80-minute train ride west of Tokyo; with rooms with two meals and all drinks included from £93 (ichinoyu.co.jp).
SEAFOOD LOVER’S DREAM
The best Japanese seafood market is the famous Tsukiji fish market (pictured) in Tokyo, where raucous morning auctions were once held
Seafood markets are for eating, not just buying, fish in Japan. The best is the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where raucous morning auctions were once held. It makes a brilliant place to visit to sample food on the hoof, especially its wonderful — massive — oysters from Hokkaido in Japan’s far north (£3.50 an oyster). The freshest of the fresh sushi is also to be had including tuna, salmon and squid (four pieces for about £3.50).
Wander along the tiny labyrinthine lanes trying out grilled king crab legs, slices of smoked octopus, grilled eel and fishcakes.
How to do it: Two-and-a-half-hour tours of Tsukiji market from £52 pp (www.urbanadventures.com).
VENDING MACHINE BARS
Head to one of the noodle bars at Shinagawa Station (pictured) – diners can place their orders for a dish at a vending machine
Noodle bars where you place your order at a vending machine are commonplace. After inserting your cash, a ticket spurts out that you take to the noodle bar ‘host’, who takes you to a table. A few minutes later a steaming bowl of noodles with either pork or fish, usually, is delivered.
Bowls of sliced spring onions are provided for sprinkling on top. A main dish is about £7, a beer is £3.50 and a whisky ‘highball’ £2.70.
How to do it: Take your pick of the noodle bars at Shinagawa Station.
WAGYU BEEF BARBECUES
Fans of Wagyu beef ought to visit the much-loved restaurant Yasaiya Teppanyakiyasaikabukichoten (what a name!) in Tokyo (pictured)
Wagyu beef is fattier and has a finer texture than other types of beef. Barbecue bars have tables with hot plates for mini charcoal barbecues above which extractor fans are lowered so no smoke enters the room.
You cook thin slices of beef yourself, along with pork, tripe, liver, heart, chops, ribs and, even, trotters. Spicy Korean chicken is also usually served. The beef is tender, delicious and moreish. It’s about £15-£20 a head, but can get much pricier for the best cuts.
How to do it: Yasaiya Teppanyakiyasaikabukichoten (what a name!) is a much-loved Toyko restaurant (gurunavi.com).
Dishes are whisked 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 at a ryokan in Hakone, transfers and some guiding. Flights are extra, from about £900 (insidejapantours.com).
Do not miss out on experiencing a revolving sushi bar. As many as 100 diners can be found at some, with great carousels transporting sushi, flying-fish roe, cured sea cockles, clam miso soup, curried eel and tempura prawns. Computerised orders, and the dishes are whisked along a conveyor belt to you — a feast for £15-£20.
How to do it: Kappa Sushi is a chain of conveyor sushi bars across Japan (kappasushi.jp).
Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and are served in a clear savoury broth to which raw eggs and yam paste are added along with pork or chicken. Pickled vegetables and ‘edible grass’ can be included. The result is a rich hearty noodle broth.
Traditional soba noodle houses typically have wood panelled walls and simple low-level wooden tables, with partitions dividing the dining sections.
How to do it: Hatsuhana Soba in Hakone has dishes from £6; 635 Yumoto Street.