A major con of traveling in Japan, and Tokyo in particular, is that food is expensive. A single apple can cost ¥200 (over two dollars). Still, you can find reasonably priced meals if you know where to look. Our tour guide took us to a number of affordable restaurants, all in the city. Another option is preprepared food at supermarkets. My husband and I just happened to be in the Mitsukoshi Department Store basement (where their supermarket is located) right when the prepackaged sushi got slashed from 50% off to 75% off. My husband wound up with 24 pieces of sushi for less than ¥1000! (And it was good, too!)
And as surprising as it may sound, all-you-can-eat establishments do exist in Japan, although the Japanese have their own twist on the concept.
I first heard of all-you-can-eat cake parlors in shojo manga. Actually, I thought they were a joke, a figment of a sugar-obsessed mangaka’s imagination. But then I overheard our tour guides talking about the all-you-can-eat cake buffet they visited. My husband and I were instantly intrigued, and a few nights later, we were in Sweets Paradise.
Sweets Paradise is a restaurant chain with several locations. The one we went to was on the fourth floor of the Marui City Mall near Shibuya Station. By the way, if you head to that particular location, the mall sign reads “Oi City.” (“Maru” means round in Japanese. Ergo “O”i City = “Maru”i City.)
Here’s how it works. At the restaurant entrance is a machine where you purchase a meal ticket (1480 yen for adults and 840 yen for kids). You then hand it over to the hostess, and once she seats you, you have 90 minutes to eat as much as you like. You can order tea from the wait staff, get coffee and soda from self-serve dispensers, and help yourself to the buffet line goodies. The selection includes a few veggies, soup, curry, rice, and four different pastas. When the chef puts out a freshly cooked batch of pasta, she shouts to let the patrons know.
And of course there are the sweets! More than half the buffet line was taken up by the dessert display which included cheesecake, roll cakes, mousse cake, cream pastries, pudding, and even shaved ice, sweet red bean, and jelly cubes. Please note that though the cakes look very Western, they are geared toward a Japanese palate. Green tea flavored several desserts, one cake was made with sweet potato, and another was topped with a sesame seed sauce. I thought it was great, and my husband sampled every dessert on display.
I should mention that the clientele was almost entirely female. Most looked like groups of girlfriends who’d been shopping together. The only exceptions were my husband and – you guessed it – another guy with his date. I don’t know why, but sweets are viewed as girly stuff in Japan, ergo, these establishments cater to women.
My husband didn’t care about that at all. For ¥1480, he’d run back to Sweets Paradise for another round even without me.