Tokyo Picnic

There are plenty of public parks to relax in around Tokyo. Ranging from huge to a single swing set with Japanese high schoolers making vine videos. Shinjuku Gyoen located right in the heart of all the action in Shinjuku San Chome is one of my favorites. It has a massive Japanese garden which is under the management of the Imperial Household Agency. Which means lots of chrysanthemums. It houses some greenhouses and flower exhibitions. So unlike Yoyogi Park which is free, this park has an admission fee of about 4USD. It is open from 9:00-16:30. It’s my favorite spot for a picnic because it is a short walk from this place:

I give you the Isetan department store. Highest of the high end from the first floor up. If you can afford shopping here you’re probably not reading this blog.  We’ll ignore the top floors and go straight down stairs to the basement. That’s where they keep the foods.

 

Welcome to the Isetan Food Halls. My photo doesn’t do it any justice, it’s much larger than it appears here.

The Isetan Food Halls are incredible. They have food from everywhere on display. Even if you don’t do a picnic this is a must see tourist spot. You’ll see food displayed in some of the most amazing fashions and you’ll come across some Japanese food you’ve never heard of.

These adorable things are food!!!

 

They have Japanese sweets which people seem to either love or hate eating.  However, taking photos of them for your Instagram is another story. Everyone loves that. #ricecake!

 

Le Green Tea Gateau

They have an array of French Desserts and Japanese French Fusion desserts. Eat as much macha green tea dessert as you can! You may not like it the first time you try it but keep trying it. I didn’t like beer the first time I tried it and now look at me! What do 13 year olds know anyway?

Lovely! If only there were enough to share.
Ok, let’s get back to planning your picnic. If you’re staying at an AirBnB may I suggest packing up some cutlery, plates and napkins cause I hate seeing all that disposable cutlery piling up. Bring it with you on your picnic and wash it when you get home. If you can’t, no biggie, they’ll provide you with any utensils you need when you buy at Isetan. I recommend giving yourself at least an hour to wander around the food halls. Soak it all in and then decide what kind of picnic you want. French, Japanese, Italian, Chinese or all of the above.
So let’s start shopping.
Top Left to right: Chicken Spaghetti Salad, Maguro (fatty raw tuna) and Avocado Salad, Broccoli Avocado Marscapone Salad YES PLEASE
Marinated Octopus Salad
Those hamburg steaks have half an avocado inside them! These are a must!

 

They have a bunch of different bakeries in the food halls because you’ll need some baguettes.
It’s the MoMA of salad bars.
I could post photos for ages but I think you get the idea.  Once you’ve sorted out your mains, may I suggest making your way to the cheese shop.
All right, Europeans reading this may be underwhelmed by the cheese selection in Isetan. They’ve got some imported stuff from France and Italy but the majority of what they sell here is from a Cheese House on the Northern Island of Japan, Hokkaido. Hokkaido is famous for it’s milk within in Asia. I really like it, sweet and extremely….milky i guess. Whatever. It turns into some awesome cheese! Even if you won’t be buying cheese for your picnic head over here for some of the samples. Next stop, go poke around the bakeries for some bread.
Then make your way over to the desserts area.
From Hello Kitty’s Private Collection

 

One thing that may surprise you is that the desserts here may not be as sweet as you expect. Pop into a Japanese Starbucks and you’ll notice that the whip cream on the frappuccinos is unsweetened. It’s just creamy and white. The locals are not big on super sweet stuff. After 10 years of living here, neither am I. When I bake cookies for co workers during the holidays I generally reduce the sugar content by half from whatever recipe I use. You become used to it. It still tastes good!

All right, mains, cheeses, cakes, bread. . .we’re missing something…
Yes, I would like to sample small batch Japanese whiskey.

Get thee to the booze section!  If its a weekend of after 15:00 they will generally have someone passing out samples of something or other. When I visited last it was domestic Gins from Kyoto. If you know anything about what the Japanese have done with whiskey, then you’ll join me in my excitement for whatever they do with gin. Spolier alert, you’ll probably be hearing about Ki No Bi Gin from Kyoto from your small batch loving booze hound friends soon.

Over in the booze section there are a few fun things to do The wine area is staffed with some serious Winos (I think sommelier is the term I’m looking for…nah, wino). Chat them up, show them your picnic basket, tell them you want to spend around 2000 or 3000 yen (17-27USD) and just let them sort you out. They should speak enough english to get you sorted. Next to the wine you’ll see a small bar with some booze behind it. This is where they hold hard liquor tastings. They aren’t always being held and usually when I see them on it looks like a good start to an evening on the sauce. If you try it let me know all about it!
Back to your picnic though.
Now that you have everything it’s time to head upstairs and then out onto the street. Crack open google maps and walk the 5 minutes (10 if you got enough wine). I use a simple multiplication formula to know if I’ve bought enough wine. It’s 1 x 2 = 2.  Where is the “1” is me and the “2” is how many bottles of wine I need to feel normal again. Told you it was simple. On your way to the park stop by a convenience store and pick up any last minute things you might need (ice, cups, corkscrews!) DON’T FORGET THE CORK SCREW, unless you bought Aussie wine, cheers mate. I might also suggest buying a plastic picnic sheet or some more beer while you’re at the convenience store. If you’re at an AirBnB just grab a blanket, those hosts should be washing it for you anyway.

One last note! There is a”No Alcohol” sign posted somewhere in Shinjuku Gyoen, however absolutely everyone brings it anyway. Just be polite and keep the bottles and cans in a bag and pour them into a plastic cup (don’t bring any glass cups). Also, when you leave the park there will be some nice people collecting trash and making sure it gets separated appropriately. Be a good tourist and take all your picnic garbage back to the entrance with you.

You’re all set! Enjoy your picnic and I would love to see photos of it if you go!

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