The slurp factor’s just gone up a notch
Yeoh Siew Hoon on how Tokyo satisfies the senses.
The government has set its sights on achieving 20 million visitors by 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympics.
Is it my imagination or has Tokyo suddenly become the place to be?
First, there’s a report that ranked Tokyo number one in the annual Cities in Motion Index (ICIM), citing “its impressive public management, technology, economy, and the ability to attract talent from all over the world”.
Then TripAdvisor’s second annual World City Survey rated Tokyo the best travel experience with travellers ranking the city number one for its helpful locals, taxi service, local public transportation and clean streets.
I can personally vouch for this, having just returned from Tokyo. Nowhere else beats this city for the helpfulness of its people, in particular, its taxi drivers. I headed to a Michelin three-starred restaurant, Azabu Yukimura, which I had been warned was going to be hard to find – a hole-in-the-wall place known only to a select few. The taxi driver not only found the restaurant, but escorted me to the third floor, where it was located, just to make sure I got there.
And what a place it turned out to be. Chef Jun Yukimura hails from Kyoto and opened the restaurant 16 years ago to showcase Kyoto cuisine. It was not easy at first, he told me, but after a review appeared on television, you now need to be on the waiting list to get in. It is a tiny place, seating fewer than 20 people, and he and two assistants prepare every dish behind the counter. His creations are not only mouth-watering, but pleasing to the eye, and a signature dish is beef broiled in shanshio (Japanese pepper) sauce. He tells you the story behind every dish as he prepares the food. The sake ice cream nearly knocked me over. But I didn’t have to worry – another taxi driver got me back to my hotel safely.
I have always loved Tokyo, but now I love it even more. That’s because, like my fellow Southeast Asians, we no longer need a visa to travel there. What a difference this has made – now I can just hop on a plane and not have to worry about filling out endless forms. Since the visa restrictions were lifted in 2013, Japan has seen a surge in visitors from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Last year, it crossed the 10-million-visitor mark for the first time and the government has set its sights on achieving 20 million visitors by 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympics.
So change is definitely in the air. I felt it at Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo as I sat in the lobby observing the customers, noticing definitely more Southeast Asian guests. I felt it in the fresh spring air as I walked along Odaiba Beach and watched locals at play. Across the bay, looking towards the city, I sensed that the skyline would change as the city prepares for the world’s largest sporting event. I felt it in the shops in Shibuya – shop girls were now willing to try out their English – and in the restaurants in Roppongi.
And I was surprised by how good value Tokyo is today. There is no place like it for hole-in-the-wall ramen, soba or udon joints – and don’t forget to slurp. In fact, a Japanese friend told me that it is rude not to. Noodle bars pride themselves on their slurp factor – the louder the slurp, the better the ambience, the more it attracts customers. So next time you are in Tokyo, return the favour to our hospitable Japanese friends and slurp away.
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Terima Kasih yang sangat banyak 4 the heads up!!