Tokyo Photos & Soba Water Recipe

Photos from Tokyo and a what to do with the water you boil your soba noodles in - soba yu.

Tokyo Photos & Soba Water

I didn't take many photographs on my recent trip to Tokyo - 100, or so? As I was browsing them on the flight home it was clear that a good percentage were of the view from our hotel room thirty floors above Ginza. Spending a week in the sky made me understand why one would want to live in a high-rise, something I've never given much thought before now. The huge windows framed the horizon and cityscape, and the colors, reflections, and mood changed by the minute depending on the weather, time of day, and how the light was progressing. I wanted to share a few snapshots today, and also one of my favorite things to eat in Tokyo. Sip, is actually the better verb. It's something so simple, it doesn't require a recipe, but I suspect few of you have enjoyed it - Soba Yu.

Tokyo PhotosTokyo Photos

I was in Tokyo to finish up a few details related to Near & Far, and for a few meetings with people related to new products for QUITOKEETO. In between, there was time to layer sweaters, coat, and handsocks and wander around neighborhoods like Daikanyama, Omotesandō, Nakameguro, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and others.

I just updated my Tokyo travel list with a few places I loved, new to me, or new to Tokyo since the last time I was there. Thanks to tips from friends (thank you Matt, thank you Julie), we ate extra well, and made new friends.

Tokyo PhotosTokyo PhotosTokyo PhotosTokyo Photos

One morning we rode the train from Tokyo out to the coastal town of Kamakura. We strolled around a bit, and not long after, we came across this (above/below). A man making soba behind a window on a side street not far from the train station. As someone who has yet to master the art of the soba noodle, watching the long, instinctive process of someone masterfully producing the noodles was riveting. We lined up outside, waited our turn, and then wedged our American frames into the small structure for plates of zaru soba - cold soba with shredded nori. The meal was finished with a pot of one of my favorite things - soba-yu. Soba-yu is the water left behind from cooking soba noodles, the water the noodles are boiled in. It is served toward the end of the meal, after one has finished eating their soba noodles. Your pour the soba water directly into the bowl holding your dipping sauce (which should be nearly finished at this point), it combines with the dipping sauce to create a nourishing, seasoned broth. I also love to add whatever else is still lingering around - grated ginger, wasabi, shichimi-togarashi spice, green onions, etc. I'll write slightly more detailed instructions below, but that is the jist of it. It makes me glow from the inside, and (not even kidding about this) leaves me feeling extra-positive. More than anything, this is encouragement to enjoy a cup the next time you make any sort of soba-based recipe.

Tokyo Photos

We also caught the this flea market which happens once or twice a month. I love the care the sellers put into displaying their wares, have a look below. Everything was meticulously priced, and arranged so you could appreciate each item individually :)

Tokyo PhotosTokyo Photos

The view from our hotel the last night.

Tokyo Photos

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Soba Yu

More than a recipe, this is an encouragement, or, even better, a reminder, to enjoy the nourishing cooking water left over after boiling soba noodles. Add it to a cup or bowl along with a good splash of whatever soba dipping sauce is on the table. Alternately, you can season it with a splash of shoyu or soy sauce. Beyond that, I like to add shichimi togarashi spices, a bit of grated ginger and/or wasabi, and whatever slivered scallions might be around.

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Thanks for this lovely post. When I was living in Taiwan with my extended family, we would drink the broth used to boil dumplings in a similar way. Ending a meal with soup is so filling!


Hi Heidi,
how do you get around in Tokyo as a vegetarian?
I lived there for 2 years but everybody I know who tries to avoid fish or meat is struggling very hard in Japan.


We lived in Japan for 5 years- then…. Singapore. 5 years also!


omg, your photos have me all verklempt! gorgeous!!


You are not going to believe it but a few days after you posted your Tokyo info…I was in Tokyo with my daughters and husband. We went to the soba restaurant on the little back street that you had suggested and had our first soba noodles. We loved them and the restaurant. Lucky for us there was a nice young man who was our waiter and he spoke English. The young couple who owns the restaurant came over at the end and when I said HEIDI…they were so excited. I wish I knew what the sake was that we glass and we were off to karaoke around the corner, a whole other story. Thank you for the great suggestion.

HS: LOVE hearing it Adele! Hope you had a great trip. 🙂

Adele Bentsen

Such gorgeous photos! And I never in a million years would’ve thought about sipping on the soba water, but I’m definitely intrigued.


The photos were beautiful made me wish I were there. I’m vegetarian and I’ve never tried that soup but I could almost taste it, very descriptive. I really appreciated your sharing your experience.


Your article brought back so many memories. I was stationed at Yokohama Engineer Depot west of Yokohama for 20 months in 1953-1954. Visited Kamakura and Atami several times, climbed Fuji one weekend, attended Kabuki, symphony concerts, ballet in Tokyo, and ate my way around both ciiies. The countryside was beautiful, and the cities were being rebuilt.

Don Knudson

I love Soba and I will tell you this Tokyo and Kamakura didn’t look like this in 50’s. Kamakura was one of my most liked spots, Great little hotel and great food and Hot baths.


Mahalo For Sharing. I was just in Osaka and Kyoto last week. Japan is awesome!


Tokyo has grown since 1952, I was iin
Army AGC at camp Drake and tallest
building was the Army PX – 13 floors.
Hope to go back some day!!!

Don McCallister

thank you for sharing. I was lucky enough to be booked at the hotel new otani, more than 20 stories up, on my first trip. I swear you can smell the clean-ness from the view up there; I do hope to visit again someday. The funny thing is, i’ve been back n forth many times in a span of 3 years but never really counted the visa stamps! My joke is I’ve been there so many times, the japanese ask ME for directions! (but I could only reply in english)


I just tried this, but wanted something sweeter so I added a splash of maple syrup and dash of cinnamon – delicious! Like a liquid hot pancake (which actually sounds kind of gross! ha!).


I made some soba yu tonight after cooking the Black Sesame Orzo in Super Natural Everyday. Not only was the Orzo superb, but the soba yu was a fantastic accompaniment. In future, I’ll cook up some soba noodles just to make the yu! Thanks you so much for the suggestion.

Jacqui Power

Beautiful photos. How I wish at my age of 88 years that I could once again return to Japan. I was there for the surrender of Japan on the Missouri battleship, and then transferred to Hokaido, which had not suffered any of the effects of war. It was a beautiful island. Spent about a month later around Tokyo and Yokohama waiting for the ship to bring me home. Sayonara.

Jerry Trager

Your photos are so stunning! Specially that one of the skyline. Thank you for sharing!

Jennifer @ Delicious Everyday

I was in Tokyo in 1945 and 1946,managing the Movies for American and Allied forces. Food was so scarce that some of us G.I’s brought out what food we could and fed some of the children. Our American rations were very good,and when I cook some Ramen Noodles,I always think of Japan.

Irvin O'Bryan

Beautiful and interesting, but not the Tokyo I remember. As a member of our US Army I was stationed in Japan for one year. 1945. We had firebombed the city. The result? Sixty-five percent destroyed.
Artists displayed their work on the ground using rocks to hold them down. I purchased a very beautiful painting on silk. Subject? A tiger walking down a mountain side. Since I never smoked I was able to use my ration of cigarettes as barter. That piece of art cost me two cartons. Years later a reader saw my story describing this purchase. His email response? An example of one ups-manship.
He’s also been in Tokyo in 1945. Also bought the same work of art I described. Guess what? He bought his painting for only one carton! You just can’t win ’em all.
Though I’m only five feet eight inches tall I stood above most other travelers in their crowded trains. If I had ever been stabbed and killed I wouldn’t have dropped down until the car had been emptied. Events such as this rarely occurred. The emperor said the war was over. Japanese are very obedient. the war WAS OVER!
That year was an unforgettable experience.
Our mind is capable of strange memories. I may not remember which day of the week this is, but I can still count in Japanese.
Greetings in the morning were “Ohyo”. My response would be, “Michigan”.
PFC, Shelby Newhouse

Shelby Z. Newhouse

Never got to Tokyo.did get to British Hong Kong, Bangkok,Okinawa.Pictures of smogville were great. Have a Chef Knife,and use it. Tried to take a train in Bangkok, but not enough signs in English so gave up since I might not have been able to get Back. Did ride the train from Udorn to Bangkok. great ride. Thanks for your Pics.

Gordon Clarew

Never been to Japan. The photos were amazing.

Abu Jaffar

Beautiful pictures! Soba yu has long been one of my favorite comfort foods. I can only imagine how good it must be when the soba has been freshly made!


Aloha Heidi,
Thank you for sharing your photos and experience. I wish I could have introduced you to my friends in Tokyo (I moved back to Honolulu 2 years ago) at restaurants and such.
Please do let me know when you travel again!
All the best,

Lyle Fujikawa

I was in Shanghai a few years ago and your photos reminded me of how pleasant it was to live amongst the clouds. I also recall eating a noodle every morning for breakfast, which was served with a bok choy, broccoli rabe or spinach. Fabulous pics!!!


I will always have a fierce love for Japan as it was my first foreign travel experience.
I was a young college kid so sadly, I didn’t make very good notes on locales and such so it’s on my bucket list to make it back one day and do it “right”.
Your images are stunning, have you ever considered selling prints of your photos???


such a gorgeous place to and stay i have loved Tokyo and i wish to be there someday,its nice indeed.

judy moraa

Oh this makes me feel so natsukashii for Japan. I’ve only seen Tokyo from the ground level. I love this new birds-eye view. xo

Lori Narlock

More wonderful than usual, as usual. Tx, TOBV

Thelma O'Brien

My husband and I lived in a high rise in Chicago when we were in our twenties. The views, colors, and moods that the city gifted us with were incredible. Your pictures are beautiful. Soba Yu sounds like it nourishes the soul as well as the body.

Linda @ Veganosity

Wonderful timing! We are in Japan now, visiting our son and caring for our two-year-old grandson…
We’ve had soba yu twice, now, and were taking about it at dinner last night.
We’re taking the train into Tokyo today, to Ueno. There is a place near the park with the best tempura, ever. Hope we can get in. (: Loved reading your thoughts about soba yu and seeing your view of Tokyo from above.


Beautiful images as usual! Can’t WAIT for the new book and will definitely be pre-ordering (hurry up September!). What is the digital camera that you used on this trip?,

HS: Hi KC, I used the Sony a7R with full-frame sensor, and my old Leica lenses (mounted with an adapter)…Its my favorite digital travel camera set-up.


Do you use cannabis seeds in your shichimi togarashi?

Kellen Ferkey

It’s almost impossible to find vegetarian Japanese food made without katsubushi dashi (bonito broth). You always have to ask, even in dishes that proclaim to be vegetarian. So I can enjoy teuchi (hand made) noodles, I carry my own tsuyu (broth) base or just make one with soy sauce and yakumi (the noodle accompaniments) and ask for either cold water or soba yu, depending in the season. As an alternative to Japanese food, I’ve had the best Italian food anywhere there, as well as wonderful Indian food.


I can’t believe you only took a handful of photos and they’ve all come out so perfectly! I’ve just booked a trip to Japan for later in the year, looking forward to reading through your “places I love” list now 🙂


I had soba noodles for breakfast this morning – Tokyo did that to me! Japanese breakfasts are so nourishing, savoury and delicious. Delish!

Sally @ The Fit Foodie

That mysterious looking large pink phone. Was it a pay phone in the hotel room? I love the photo composition!

HS: Hi Andrea – it was in a coffee shop 🙂


Beautiful, Heidi. Once again, great timing with the recipe for me too … I’ve got soba on the menu tomorrow night. xo

Lia Huber

Oh, Tokyo….sigh. I first encountered the pleasures of drinking noodle or pasta cooking water on my thruhike of the John Muir Trail in 2008. We were camped next to a full PCT thruhiker who flew into a panic when he saw us starting to pour off the cooking water from our macaroni. We poured it into his coffee mug instead and watched him happily sip the warm, savory broth. We do the same now, and I am looking forward to enjoying it on my own upcoming PCT thruhike this summer! Arigato Heidi!


This is the second time in as many weeks that I have seen the pasta water put to use. The first was adding pasta water to the tomato sauce for the pasta sauce. Now this. It reminds me to think about how I use the water for boiling, as well as steaming. I once worked in a kitchen were we all vied for a glass of the remaining water over which beets, broccoli, etc. were steamed. Delicious and full of nutrition.


Oh, Tokyo….sigh. I first encountered the pleasures of drinking noodle or pasta cooking water on my thruhike of the John Muir Trail in 2008. We were camped next to a full PCT thruhiker who flew into a panic when he saw us starting to pour off the cooking water from our macaroni. We poured it into his coffee mug instead and watched him happily sip the warm, savory broth. We do the same now, and I am looking forward to enjoying it on my own upcoming PCT thruhike this summer! Arigato Heidi!


I’ve never tried soba yu, but you had me at “feeling glowing from the inside and positive”. Sign me up ! I’m going to make some of that right now, I’m stocked on soba noodles so it is meant to be ! Namaste !

Ciao Florentina

hi heidi, amazing views from your room! glad to see you had a good time here even if it was only a short stay. i was surprised and pleased to see you do a post dedicated to soba-yu… it’s more about a tradition than a recipe i reckon. soba-yu to me personally is something i enjoy whenever i have fresh soba noodles made from scratch – such a treat. just the other day we ate at a small one-man soba place, and as a dessert he served us a small bowl of soba-yu pudding – the cooking water very lightly sweetened and very softly set with gelatin. we were a bit skeptical but one spoonful and we were converts! we tried it at home with agar-agar and it worked perfectly fine. you know, you learn something new every day.. 🙂


Such beautiful photos, thank you for sharing. Having only seen soba noodles via YouTube video, I’m incredibly jealous of that experience – they look amazing.

Sarah from Soymilk + Honey

Your photos are positively gorgeous. Transporting. Especially that last one…I remember seeing it come across Instagram. It feels like the last vacation night in a big Asian city, without you even having to say that. That tired, already nostalgic, in-the-moment moment. Beautiful.

Rebecca @ DisplacedHousewife

Ah, soba noodles, my favorite of all noodles. When I make my version of miso soup, I cook the sobas in the same water as the vegetables before adding the miso. Now I know why this miso soba noodle soup is sooo nurturing. Thank you for this most lovely post. Brings me right back to the energy of Japan I love the most.


What a beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing. In all ways.


Thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts! I just bought Super Natural and I love it; a work of art and love!

Nancy Brennan

Can you please give some advice about how you navigate Japan as a vegetarian?

Seattle Veggie

such lovely commentary on the sky &
lights & horizon & effects on the day &
you. Thank you for the delightful receipe , I can’t wait to try it soon.
marion at naples.

marion rolandi

Love the photos of the flea market tables- what a different, and beautiful approach! And I appreciate both the travel guide updated notes and the sharing of the ‘not even kidding about this’ positive food experience. Isn’t it wonderful when we’re so connected to ourselves that this happens? 😉


You’re right, I’ve never thought to enjoy the cooking water left over from boiling soba. But what an inspiring and nourishing drink. Thanks for sharing your trip with us, always love seeing your photos!

Katie @ Whole Nourishment

Thanks for sharing you wonderful photos! I especially like the soba noodle maker. I once saw them being made and wondered where in the world you get one of those funky knives. It’s amazing how fast they cut up the noodles!

Amy @ Parsley In My Teeth

This brings back such memories. I still love the taste of those noodles. My heart and mouth are happy just reading this.


Your journal is absolutely amazing! Are you still in Japan?

Abhishek M

I feel like you just took me to Toyko in an instant. And oh my, is that a pink phone in one of your pictures? I can’t imagine what else it could be. The horizon and cityscape pictures are marvelously stunning. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live in a city, let alone a high-rise building. Imagine lugging groceries upstairs? Amazing. Thanks for these photo’s.

Laura ~ Raise Your Garden

My highlight of Kamakura (in addition to the Buddha) was the beach full of sea glass and pottery, that I consider treasures and the locals consider garbage. I also was thrilled by the antiques market, where we found pottery and textiles.


hmmm interesting. Here in South India, red rice is cooked much like pasta in plenty of water. The rice is drained and the water is offered, warm and salted as a drink to accompany the meal.
Of course you only get these in traditional food restaurants/ remote village homes now-a-days.


Oh, this post brings back memories! While living in Japan soba yu from teuchi soba noodles became my favorite food (and that’s saying something). What you wrote rings so true for me — there’s something about it that just gladdens the heart.


I’ve never heard about soba yu, but I’m going definitely to try it next time 🙂 By the way, I think that eating fresh soba noodles worth a trip to Japan 😉

valentina | sweet kabocha

Such stunning photos Heidi and such a lovely ‘recipe’, one that is completely new to me having never travelled to Japan. Much love xx

Emma Galloway

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