Airbnb is fast becoming a noun when it comes to short term accommodation locally and overseas.
To be frank, I was hesitant to make use of Airbnb for the longest time, despite being a self-professed “live like a local” traveler.
With the recent launch of Trips by Airbnb in Singapore, though, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity to get on board and actually using the app since I already had plans to head overseas.
A First Time Airbnb Experience
In May, I’ve finally managed to get a first taste of the complete Airbnb experience – from getting an accommodation, to using Trips as a means to keep track of my bookings and activities.
Having stayed in central Tokyo, I wanted somewhere a little out of the way yet still accessible, and this quaint little place by verified superhost, Tomoko, fit the bill.
Located at a walking distance away from Takenotsuka Station, the neighbourhood that it was located in can be described as a ‘heartland’. Small eateries and pubs litter the sidewalks, with large supermarkets, chain restaurants, and even arcades nearby.
Checking in, I was glad to find out that the home is pretty much as described in the listing. Like many of you, I’ve read through enough Airbnb horror stories, so this was a relief.
Speaking of checking in, I had this impression that most hosts would be physically present at first contact, but for Tomoko it was all done through the chat feature in the Airbnb app.
She also sent me detailed instructions to get access to the apartment prior to my arrival.
Seeing The Unseen At Tsukiji
Along with the launch of Trips, Airbnb also introduced Experiences.
More than just home owners, Hosts can now refer to local guides who will be giving you the ultimate experience.
I was fortunate enough to be in Tokyo at the right time to join host Ayuko Akiyama in her foodie insider Experience, Kitchens of Tokyo.
As Experiences are held in small groups, the hosts will usually message the group through the Airbnb app with an easy-to-meet location. This is also a good chance to meet people from around the world.
For the group I was in, there was a couple from France, and solo travelers from New York and Taiwan. We met at Tsukiji Station, and as you’ve guessed it, we were heading to the famed Tsukiji Fish Market first thing in the morning.
Firstly, we went around the outer market. The seasoned travelers to Japan among you might have tried the food along the many sidewalks of the outer market.
While that’s all good with tourists, Ayuko showed us some hidden gems within the buildings. Especially for fresh seafood like Uni (Sea Urchin), knowing these spots can nab you more for less.
Here’s the best thing about joining Ayuko’s experience – you will get to enter the inner market of Tsukiji. Thanks to her connections and relationships with the vendors inside, she is able to bring us into this whole other world of fresh produce.
We also happened to be on a shopping trip for ingredients to use during the cooking class later.
Also to note is that unless given permission, there is strictly no photography inside, but that turned out to be a good thing, as meeting the people inside is guaranteed to be ingrained into your memory.
In the inner market, met vendors whom some top chefs in Tokyo always frequent for ingredients for use at their restaurants.
When we were at one of the vendors, the owner exclaimed that he exports his goods to Kaiseki Yoshiyuki in Singapore upon hearing that I was from the country.
I’ve always known Tsukiji as the epicenter of fresh seafood and produce in the world, but that fact only truly hit me when I was talking to the vendor, as it made me realise how small the world we live in is.
Since we have the ingredients, we now need the tools.
Ayuko brought us to her go-to knife experts at Aritsugu. With 400 years of heritage behind them, this is no ordinary brand of kitchen knives.
The Tsukiji tour was then rounded up with a trip to an eatery near the main road, known for its delicious beef bowls and endlessly long queues. Called Kitsuneya, it is a favourite breakfast spot among locals and travelers for their Horumon Don.
Learning To Cook Like A Japanese
We then went over to Ayuko’s Buddha Bellies Cooking School for a hands-on session with the ingredients from Tsukiji.
From slicing our own sashimi with the in-season fresh Bonito and rolling maki with tuna, to making miso soup and sakura shrimp tempura, we were taught to create our own little full course Japanese meal.
Being a small group, the cooking class is a very intimate one where you can also freely ask questions to Ayuko about anything from the choice of ingredients to Japanese dining etiquette.
Ending off grating some wasabi and topping off your plate with some soy sauce, you end an eventful first day of this Airbnb Experience with a hearty Japanese meal that you somehow created with your own hands.
The Secret Michelin Star Restaurant
Day two is purely about indulgence, and you don’t have to worry about coming out smelling like a fish market, or getting your hands dirty.
Founded by owner-chef Sumikaze Shirota, Kihuu is a one Michelin starred establishment located on an unassuming street in Ebisu.
This is the kind of place where you will need an introduction to even get a reservation, and Ayuko just so happens to be a personal friend of the owner.
Walking into Kihuu, you almost feel at peace with the interior. You get a feel that this is no ordinary Japanese restaurant despite it being distinctively Japanese.
The menu here is seasonal, and when we were there, the ingredients and dishes served reflected the transition of spring to summer. Each dish is then meticulously constructed in front of you.
Seeing them take shape is almost like watching a plant grow.
Shirota-san enthusiastically shows guests the ingredients that go into his creations, some of which were caught just the night before and swimming in a pot before being prepared.
As each course is being served, he explains what goes into it and the story behind each creation. For the meal that we had, it was inspired by the coming summer season, and the festivities that come along with it such as Boys’ Day.
The ingredients are the star of the show, and it doesn’t take much to be blown away by the explosion of flavours in each bite.
For my first time Michelin star experience, this is likely one of the best ways to start.
Learning More In 2 Days Than In 2 Weeks
I was in Japan for slightly under two weeks, but in those two days in the Airbnb Experience with Ayuko, I learnt more about Japan and Japanese culture than wandering about by myself.
Admittedly, the price for booking this journey is somewhat steep, but what you lose in cash, you gain so much more in knowledge.
You will also get to know people from around the world along the way.
The first person you’ll befriend is definitely your host – now, you’ll have one person to catch up with the next time you come back to the country.
Ayuko is definitely someone that I’m thankful to have met through this Airbnb Experience.
I also got to know fellow solo traveler Plamen Parvanov in those two days. Originally from Bulgaria, he now resides in New York and is working in logistics.
He has a unique story for joining Ayuko’s Airbnb Experience. For him, his idea of a souvenir is to whip up a meal from the countries which he has visited, so that’s why he specifically goes to culinary experiences when he can.
With more than 1,500 Experiences in 25 countries including Japan, you’re bound to find something of interest near your next Airbnb accommodation booking.
I’m already searching for my next Experience the next time I’m on a flight out of Singapore, but really, you don’t even have to travel to try it out.
Honestly, most of us don’t really know our own backyards that well, and joining a Singapore Airbnb Experience might just change that.
Head on over to Airbnb for your next adventure with Experiences, you won’t regret it.