Sushi isn’t the only thing worth eating in Tsukiji.

If we’re being totally honest, we’re not really the biggest morning people here at SoraNews24, which means breakfast usually isn’t much of an event for us…unless you classify “cramming a convenience store onigiri rice ball into our mouth while typing at our work desk because we overslept and didn’t have time to eat at home” as an event.

Every now and again, though, we figure we should make time to make the most important meal of the day a little more special, which is how we ended up at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Hongangi temple at a time when we’re often just dragging ourselves out of bed.

Located just down the street from Tsukiji’s still-in-operation outer market, Honganji Temple’s main hall is a rare example of classic Indian-inspired Buddhist architecture in Japan. However, our destination was the cafe that’s housed in one of the courtyard annexes, called Tsumugi.

Tsumugi has quietly become one of the area’s most popular breakfast spots, and often has lines forming before the doors open at 8 a.m. When we showed up at 8:33, all seats were already taken, but we were given a seiriken (a card that acts as your place in line), and just five minutes later were ushered to a counter seat.

It didn’t take us long to decide what to order, either, as we instantly felt the pull of the “Japanese Style Breakfast with 18 kinds of items,” which also comes with your choice of hot or cold green tea.

▼ The menu’s English text makes it easy to order even if you don’t speak/read Japanese.

Since we’d gotten a seat so quickly, we assumed our food would be out soon too. And sure enough, we put in our order at 8:40, and just nine minutes later, a server came walking back over to our seat…

…but it turned out she was just bringing us our tea. Still, it had a rich aroma, tasted just as good, and between the sound of the ice cubes tinkling in the glass, the enchanting green color, and the cool sensation of the chilled beverage on our lips, all five of our senses were satisfied as we spent the next 10 minutes drinking it.

We followed that up with another 10 minutes looking out the window at the courtyard and temple architecture, and when our food still hadn’t come, 30 minutes after ordering, a certain fear began to build in our mind.

Had they forgotten our order?

We’re not ones to complain, though, so we decided to take inspiration from our surroundings and attempt to enter a calm, meditative state to cope with our hunger. But no matter how much we tried to clear our minds of conscious thought, our stomach kept growling and reminding us of the one worldly desire we couldn’t shed: FOOD!

We began to lose hope, with our hunger making us so delirious that we wondered if we’d been forsaken by the gods themselves. Ready to give up, we opened up the menu to confirm the official name of the breakfast we’d ordered, so we could tell the waitress to cancel it and then make another convenience store breakfast run, but within the pages of the menu came a message of divine salvation.

▼ Salvation

Honganji’s patron deity is Amida, and the celestial buddha has a special connection to the breakfast we’d ordered. According to the cafe’s menu:

“The reason for the 18-item breakfast:

The buddha Amida, Honganji’s patron deity, has made 48 vows to protect the lives of all living things. Amida’s 18th vow is ‘Whatever may occur, you will not be forsaken.’ Please taste the essence of that promise through the 18-item breakfast.”

And, like a miracle, moments after we read these words of encouragement, the waitress once again appeared, this time carrying our breakfast, 47 minutes after we’d ordered it!

So let’s run through the complete set. You get…

▼ Okayu (rice porridge), sliced octopus, grilled duck with sansho pepper (left to right, bottom row)…

▼ Umeboshi (pickled plum), ikura (salmon roe) (top row)
Tamagoyaki omelet, grilled eggplant with soybeans (bottom row)

▼ Fish and tofu cake, miso sardines, miso soup

▼ Sliced tomato, sweet kombu seaweed (top row)
Taro with sweet miso, tofu with yuzu citrus fruit (bottom row)

▼ Sliced orange, matcha green tea gelatin (top row)
Seasonal vegetables, spicy cod roe with seaweed (bottom row)

Since rice porridge doesn’t have much flavor by itself, several of the dishes are meant to be mixed into the okayu, such as the umeboshi, kombu, and spicy cod roe.

So what caused the delay? According to the waitress, because of how many customers are waiting to get in before the restaurant opens, they get a huge rush of orders right at the start of the day, which tends to back things up a bit (and the cafe caps its breakfast seating after the first 110 people). Still, we’ve waited longer than 47 minutes in lines outside of restaurants in Japan, and at least this time we had a seat, air conditioning, power outlets, and free Wi-Fi to keep us entertained while we waited for our order.

More importantly, was it worth the wait? Definitely, and as proof, you’ll see that we cleaned all 18 of our plates.

At 1,944 yen (US$17.80), Honganji’s 18-item Japanese breakfast isn’t the cheapest morning meal in Tokyo, and it’s definitely not the quickest either. But it’s one of the most unique, and surprisingly tranquil, provided you’re not in a rush, and if it leaves you craving yet another spiritual food experience, don’t forget that Tsukiji’s sushi shrine is just a short walk away.

Restaurant information
Tsukiji Honganji Cafe Tsumugi / 築地本願寺カフェTsumugi
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 3-15-1, Tsukiji Honganji Information Building
東京都中央区築地3-15-1 築地本願寺インフォメーション棟
Open 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

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