December 14

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Streets Paved with Gyoza

Inside Namco Namja Town in Ikebukuro is a crooked little street lined with stands featuring the best potsticker dumplings from all over Japan. It looks like an old shitamachi lane, and the choices are dizzying. Regional specialties served with a squeeze of sudachi lime or mixed with shiso leaves are joined by more, hmm, experimental fillings like cheese, kim chee, and squid. My friend Shiho and I tried a shrimp and mayo variety with a side of smashed avocado to dip them in, but the ones we really liked had traditional pork filling and looked like little piggies:

When you can’t eat another bite or drink another sip of regional beer, visit the women’s restroom and look in the mirror – there’s a ghostly animated character that nags you to wash your hands. (Sorry guys, apparently there’s nothing fun in the men’s.)

Then wander through Namja Town and check out the weird haunted house theme. There’s a whole room of fortunetelling machines, a vending machine that’ll make custom temple stickers with your name on them, and a mysterious treasure hunt game that requires participants to carry around giant plastic cats that trigger various clues. Upstairs is Ice Cream City, home of the strangest flavors of ice cream you’ll ever encounter.

If you’d like to visit Namco Namja Town in Ikebukuro the next time you’re in Tokyo, directions & a map are on my website, The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had.

Jonelle Patrick is the author of the Only In Tokyo mystery seriespublished by Penguin/Intermix.

Published by Penguin/Intermix