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My wife and I will be in Japan for two weeks in July. I spent six months there back in 1992 as an exchange student and was not real interested in fine dining. This time around, we have the means for a couple of nice experiences and I was wondering if anyone would have suggestions for their favorite places. Price is not an issue nor is type of cuisine.

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Just got back from Tokyo for a quick trip to dine at Noma and did a few days in Osaka and Kyoto.  Here is my quick run-down.  If you ever get the chance to go to Japan, go.  Food is amazing.  It is cl

Ok, I am going to write this in stages and come back and supplement this more later, adding in restaurants and more info, but going to post some of what I thought the most important things were:

I didn't write up my trip from February but there are some thing it would have been nice to know. It is the most incredible place to eat that I've ever been to, beats Thailand and the parts of China t

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Kyoto; Tokyo

Sorry I couldn't provide an answer before you left, but for future travelers to Japan, here are some of the more memorable dining experiences I had in the country.

One was KUNUGI, a teppanyaki restaurant at the Miyako hotel in Kyoto (y'know, the one where the senior Bush vomited all over Prime Minister Koizumi). It's been four years since I've been there, but it's a prix fixe menu where the utmost care is taken in the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Dishes from my time there(which numbered about 8-10) included Kobe and Ohmi beef (so tender that you can cut it with the side of your fork!), the freshest of sashimi (many were ones I didn't even recognize), a whole lobster killed and grilled right in front of your eyes (the chef actually apologized to us that the original preparation called for prawns and asked us if lobster would be an acceptable substitution!), crisp fresh vegetables in a ponzu sauce, among many others that I can't remember.

If in Japan, it is a must to spend one night in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where you go to let yourself relax and unwind usually in a hot spring or at least a large wooden hot tub. Just be prepared to stay there the entire time. The hosts would feel as if they weren't doing their job if you feel the need to leave. At the HIIRAGIYA ryokan in Kyoto, a kaiseki dinner which is a traditional multi-course meal (again about 12-15 dishes) usually highlighting specialties of a region (included in the price of the stay) is served. The dishes are all stunning, presented on beautiful porcelain ceramics and serving trays. Each dish that comes out is a pure work of art - almost too beautiful to eat. As usual in Japan, there is a strong emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. It's difficult to describe the dishes since some of the ingredients were just too foreign for me to identify, but seafood plays a prominent role in most of the dishes and the unusual flavors of each dish I had pleased and excited my tastebuds. Dinner is finished off with a simple citrus sorbet - a perfect light ending to such a large meal. Breakfast (again included in the price of the stay) is a choice of a western breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast or a traditional Japanese breakfast of rice porridge, pickled vegetables, dried fish and a soup of fermented tofu skins (I thought it was delicious - my companion I think was longing for an Egg McMuffin at that point).

One last word of advice - especially for people visiting Tokyo. It is essential that you learn to identify the different symbols of the Japanese hiragana alphabet (if you are not with a fluent speaker) if you want to try the less touristy places for shabu-shabu, yakitori, tempura, etc. In Tokyo, restaurants are not always on the ground floor of high-rise buildings and signage is not always in English. The sheer number of neon signs on the sides of buildings can be overwhelming. Some of the better restaurants I have been directed to did not have an English name. I would ask that the name of the restaurant be written down, the address of the building the restaurant was in, and the floor it was on if they knew. Once on the floor, I would go from restaurant to restaurant comparing the symbols on the paper to the symbols above the door. For less adventurous diners, spending your time at the top of the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a great place to have a drink and to have a decent meal.

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Tokyo; Akita Prefecture

Hubby Azami and I just returned from a three-week trip to Japan. We spent a few days on either end in and around Tokyo (Shisui, Narita, Kashiwa), and the bulk of the trip traveling around Akita Prefecture in northern Japan. Oh. My. Goodness. do they know how to eat in Akita. We would never have learned that if Azami didn't speak Japanese -- it's _very_ difficult to travel around rural Northern Japan without knowing the language, and I don't speak it at all.

In Tokyo, the best treat we found (as evidenced by the four double boxes we carried home) was at the Furuya Koganean stand in the Ecute food emporium at JR Shinagawa Station -- anko (sweet adzuki bean paste) wrapped in mochi and rolled in crushed black sesame. We also grabbed quick snacks (a lovely sponge roll filled with custard, bananas, kiwi, strawberries, and mango for me; fried dough balls with chocolate and apple for Azami) at Tokyo Station before hopping onto the Tohoku Shinkansen for our trip north.

Akita Prefecture is known in Japan for a number of its local specialties, including exceptionally fine sakes and inaniwa udon. In shape, inaniwa udon is more like soba than udon -- it's quite thin, and has a slippery, smooth texture. On our first day in Akita City, we ate dinner at a branch of the local inaniwa udon chain, Yosuke. I don't remember what Azami had because my mind is still consumed with the memory of my dinner: tonkatsu and grated daikon on cold inaniwa udon, soup on the side with pickles. This was the best tonkatsu I've ever had, and could ever hope to have -- four layers of pork pounded very thin and folded, wearing a cloud of light, crispy, golden, flaky batter. Crunch in every bite. Heaven. This dinner also introduced us to the best treat we found in Akita Prefecture: iburigakko, or smoked pickled daikon. It tastes only slightly of radish, and is salty, smoky, and crunchy, but with some resistance. We brought four of these home, too.

Moving on, we spent a night at the Hachimantai Lake Inn in Towada Hachimantai National Park, where there remained a meter of snow on the ground. This was our first ryokan meal experience, and it stands as the Best Honking Meal of the Azami/Xochitl Tour of Japan. We were served somewhere around fifteen small dishes, including a tiny dish of "mountain vegetable" sprinkled with bonito flakes and topped with soy sauce, sashimi of giant clam and salmon, a baby octopus dish, pickles (iburigakko!), a salted grilled fish, skewered to appear as though it was fighting the waves; a sublime custard containing Hinai jidori (Akita specialty chicken), mushrooms, and shrimp. Two "main" courses were also served: thin strips of beautiful red Kazuno beef, to be cooked by us at the table, and kiritampo nabe. Kiritampo is another Akita food, made of cooked mashed rice, formed around a stick, and grilled. It rather resembles a corn dog, and is generally sliced on the bias and cooked in a nabe (soup) of mushrooms, "mountain vegetable," Hinai jidori, and sometimes kamaboko (fish paste). It lends a wonderful, deep rice flavor to the broth. Mmm. In general, the ryokan meals we had were quite excellent, and very focused on local, seasonal ingredients. We were mostly traveling in the mountains, hence we ate a lot of "mountain vegetable" and river fishes, prepared simply, but so incredibly well.

We spent one night at the WeSPa Tsubakiyama in Aomori Prefecture as part of a "trekking" package in which we hiked through the Juniko part of the Shirakami Sanchi forest preserve. Mid-hike, we stopped for lunch, provided by the hotel, and had the following conversation:

Azami (who is sadly allergic to crab): Could you taste the sandwich with bacon on it? It looks like it has crab in it.
Me: Okay. *confused face* That's not crab. It's a carrot. It's potato salad. It's a bacon-and-potato-salad sandwich.
Guide: Is lunch okay? You're not vegetarians, are you?
Azami: No, and I thought we had ordered bento, but it's fine. The sandwiches are really good.
Me: No, it's totally fine. What's not to like about bacon-and-potato-salad sandwiches?

We would have thought the bacon-and-potato-salad sandwiches really odd, had we not already learned that whenever you're served a Western-style breakfast at a Japanese establishment, your eggs and sausage are accompanied by really thick toast and a green salad. unsure.gif We later encountered spaghetti sandwiches as well.

On our way back to Tokyo, we took the scenic route, via JR lines running down the Sea of Japan coast and back into the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture (viva la Railpass!). We stayed at Takasagoya ryokan, and ate our last incredible ryokan dinner of the trip. Served in our room, the dinner consisted of three dishes featuring tender, flavorful, almost-transparent-with-marbling Yonezawa beef (steamed dumplings, grilled and wrapped around zucchini, and grilled with small green peppers and a peach), pickles, "mountain vegetable," two tofu dishes. Dinner started with a gorgeous sunomono: slices of octopus on top of rice noodles and wide, dark green, smooth seaweed, all lightly vinegared and served in a pink grapefruit. For dessert, we received a slice of wonderful sweet melon and two picture perfect, but not quite at peak (per our hostess) Yamagata cherries.

It's difficult to overstate how good the food was on this trip -- all fresh, simple, and well-prepared. We had lunch at Matuba yesterday, and while good, it's just not the same. sad.gif

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I am headed to Kyoto for a week in June, and I am looking for suggestions on where to eat. I have heard that Kyoto is not as westernized as Tokyo, so I am looking for some very authentic food experiences. Thanks.

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Kyoto

We were in Kyoto for 4 days last summer. Our dining plan was pretty much "eat what looks good", and we relied on suggestions from locals, but some of our best meals were just walking into tiny places for lunch and going with the flow. Unfortunately I didn't write down many addresses addresses or names and "the little soba place around the corner from that cool textiles shop" probably won't do you much good. We did very well by staying off of the main drag and just perusing menus with our limited knowledge of Japanese. I regret not splurging for a kaiseki meal, but that wasn't in the budget; breakfast at the ryokan was great, though.

Definitely take time to wander Nishiki market, but I'd avoid most of the established restaurants there (we did have some great ramen at a shop counter). If you are looking for cutlery do not miss Aritsugu. It's a knife geek Disneyland; also some very cool but hyper-expensive hand-hammered copper cookware.

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Kyoto

I regret not splurging for a kaiseki meal, but that wasn't in the budget; breakfast at the ryokan was great, though.

When I checked into a Kyoto ryokan some years ago, the manager somehow made clear to me that I could have fish or eggs for breakfast. I chose eggs. At dawn the next morning, two giggling ladies pushed open my straw door and entered the room on their knees. While I performed my toilet, they rolled up the tatami and set out my morning meal. It featured a small bowl of the softest-boiled eggs I had ever seen, which they presented, very formally, along with a Lilliputian spoon. The end of the spoon was no bigger than a thumbtack. Then they rested on their haunches to watch me eat. I tried to slop the eggs into my mouth with that tiny device. This caused them much merriment. After a while, they started straightening up my room, still on their knees. I had the feeling that it would take me forever to finish the eggs at that rate, so when I thought they weren't looking I grabbed a fistful and transferred the gooey stuff to my mouth. Alas, they caught me in the act and laughed to beat the band, hands over mouths. Somehow I got through the moment. Then it was time to immerse myself in a bathful of water much too hot to bear. I kept my eye on the door, and when the women waddled out still on their knees, I gave up, got dressed and went out to explore the town. At the market, I hooked up with two Australian strippers who were performing at a local nightclub. My conversation with them was the only English I heard, and those are my only memories of Kyoto.
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Help! I am going to Tokyo for a week on business. In August. On a very, very tight budget. I need to eat cheap and healthy. And (if THIS doesn't get me kicked off DR.com, nothing will) I don't like sushi. I am planning to take my own shredded cardboard breakfast, as I always do when I travel. I'm told that there are very cheap soup stands all over the place, so that will be lunch, but don't know what to do about dinner.

The conference will be held a the Hotel East 21, in case anyone knows Tokyo.

So basically, think "cheap eats" and healthy (or at least "heathier") and if you've got any recommendations, please let me know. My guess is that no one else here would want to eat like this in Tokyo, so feel free to PM instead of posting.

Thanks.

Ellen

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Tokyo

Tokyo in August sounds like zaru soba time. Zaru soba is cold soba noodles served in a basket with a cold soup for dipping and frequently garnished with seaweed, onions, and wasabi. Almost any soba shop should have it, or you can ask your concierge for places that might. While not as healthy as zaru soba, okonomiyaki (Japanese frittata/ pancake-like thing) might also fit the "cheap, healthier" bill, especially if you go for fillings of shrimp or mountain vegetable.

For cheapness, look for "teishoku" or set meals (okonomiyaki set, yakisoba set). These come with the main item you ordered, and usually soup and rice, or a salad, or onigiri (rice balls, which you can also pick up at almost any convenience store and are also cheap and healthy), and a drink. Maybe dessert, which is frequently fruit.

If you have the chance to eat a traditional Japanese breakfast of grilled fish, rice, miso soup, and pickes, you may want to. It's quite healthy, and a really nice way to start the day.

I don't know Tokyo very well, so I can't give specific recommendations. I agree with ustreetguy's recommendation to know the kana for food items, so if you would like some assistance in that regard, please PM me.

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Tokyo

Tokyo in August sounds like zaru soba time. Zaru soba is cold soba noodles served in a basket with a cold soup for dipping and frequently garnished with seaweed, onions, and wasabi. Almost any soba shop should have it, or you can ask your concierge for places that might. While not as healthy as zaru soba, okonomiyaki (Japanese frittata/ pancake-like thing) might also fit the "cheap, healthier" bill, especially if you go for fillings of shrimp or mountain vegetable.

I would second the zaru soba recommendation. We were there about the same time last year; trust me, with the heat you'll appreciate a cold lunch!

If you need a reliable spot for a quick, cheap meal you honestly can't go wrong with the food halls in the basement of the big department stores. It looks like your hotel is close to Ginza; the big ones there are Wako and Mitsukoshi I think. The spaces are huge and there is a seemingly endless variety of set lunches, bento boxes, salads, and quick entrees. It's a great place if you don't speak the language as well since you can just browse the different stalls and point to what looks good.
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Tokyo

you honestly can't go wrong with the food halls in the basement of the big department stores.


Very good suggestion. When I stayed in Tokyo I was in the Shinjuku district. There, the food hall in the basement of the Isetan department store is a gastronome's dream--a fervent, fevered fantasy of food gone wild that makes Les Halles look like Cosco. OK, I'm exaggerating, but the quality and variety are simply overwhelming.
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Kyoto

My wife is currently in Koyto for a few weeks, I will joining her for a few days this week. From what she has been reporting Koyto Station is a food lovers dream, so I can't wait to get there. There is also a Isetan store, so I will have to check that out. Also somehting non- food related. If you are going overseas, and need to keep in contact with your family, you must download Skype.

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My wife is currently in Koyto for a few weeks, I will joining her for a few days this week. From what she has been reporting Koyto Station is a food lovers dream, so I can't wait to get there. There is also a Isetan store, so I will have to check that out. Also somehting non- food related. If you are going overseas, and need to keep in contact with your family, you must download Skype.

Thanks for all the advice! Much appreciated. Especially the bit about the department stores...I wouldn't have thought to look there because I'm not a shopper, and particularly dislike department stores. Yes, Skype is a treasure. With family in South Africa and New Zealand, and with both of us traveling so much, and with friends and colleagues all over the world, it is one of those "how did we ever live without...." tools. We once had (with careful attention to time zones) me on from Oregon, Tim from Maryland, my in-laws from Cape Town, and my brother-in-law from New Zealand all at once. Anyway, while I adore room service while traveling in the U.S. on business(having someone deliver food to me and not having to spend another few hours making chit chat with people I've been with all day...makes up for what is almost always mediocre food), I sure don't want to hang out in my hotel room while in Tokyo!

Ellen

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Kyoto; Tokyo

Just got back from Japan on vacation. I had lots of good food - you can't go wrong with the freshest sushi found all over or their great noodles. Zaru soba - chilled buckwheat soba noodles were great for lunch after sightseeing in the heat of summer. We mostly ate at little local places wherever we found ourselves. 2 places are worth mentioning in particular:

Kyoto - Asuka is a tiny place near the Westin Miyako hotel in Eastern Kyoto. It is in Lonely Planet too. It is a great, cheap place that serves all a pan-Japanese menu - all kinds of noodles, soups, tofu, sushi, tempura, etc. They also have a great in-depth English menu. Despite the obvious tourist aides, this is still a local place frequented by Japanese.

Tokyo - for a special occasion, Casita, on the third floor of the La Porte office building a 5 min walk south of the Omotoesando shopping street. This place is pricey but had spectacular French/Asian "fusion" (the fusion was not so strong, mostly french with Japanese top quality ingredients like kick ass premium Japanese beef and fish) and excellet sushi. The real trip of this place is to get someone like a hotel concierge to make a reservation and let the restaurant know about your special occassion, like an anniversary. The restaurant frequently mostly by Japanese, goes over the top to acknowledge your occassion - often with kitsch that Japanese love, like personalized menus and writing your name s in chocolate on a dessert plate, etc. This isn't the half of it - we actually had a semi-large goodie bag that went home with us of all of the different mementos. The service as you can guess is great. Also, they have a great open-air terrace which is a great place to have a drink or tea after your meal.

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Hakone

Also I need to mention, the best way to get a Japanese feast that will make a regular omakase menu in DC pale in comparison is to stay at a ryokan, country inn, that usually include a huge dinner and breakfast. This website has good info on ryokans and booking them: http://japaneseguesthouses.com/index.htm

We stayed at Mikawaya Ryokan in Hakone and had a crazy 10 or so course dinner: big sashimi boat, shabu shabu, tempura, all types of grilled fish and mini treats like seafood custard, miso soup, Japanese pickled vegetables, rice, and dessert. Check out this pic. Definitely the best way to gets lots of good high quality, traditional Japanese food.

post-134-1188420620_thumb.jpg

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Also I need to mention, the best way to get a Japanese feast that will make a regular omakase menu in DC pale in comparison is to stay at a ryokan, country inn, that usually include a huge dinner and breakfast.
Word. I love the savory custards, and the beef provided for self-grilling (or shabu-shabu, depending on where you are and time of year) is amazing. Even better if the ryokan has a good local sake on hand to drink with it.
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Tokyo

For the second time in 6 months, I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Weston in Tokyo. Both trips were centered around exploring Japanese cuisine beyond sushi (something that I have still never eaten in Japan). Thankfully Weston is fluent both written and spoken Japanese, something that has made these trips far less daunting, and has opened up access to restaurants were not a single western letter appears on the menu.

My friend lives in a section of Tokyo called Kagurazaka, a neighborhood that provides a visitor with almost anything they desire especially when it comes to food. The neighborhood is filled with a plethora of culinary choices that includes almost any type of Japanese food you can imagine to most western cuisines, and since the French Language Institute is located here Kagurazaka also has some of the best casual French food in the city. The neighborhood is also well represented in the Michelin Tokyo guide, but frankly we steered clear of those restaurants instead focusing on traditional Japanese cuisine. One of the more interesting aspects of the neighborhood is that it was once the center for Geisha houses in Tokyo and some examples still exist along with several Ryotei restaurants.

One of the things that I discovered eating my way through Tokyo is that some of the best food is found behind the most humble doors, and Kagurazaka is no exception. The only restaurant in Japan that I have visited more than once is an Izakaya (a term that loosely translates to �sake pub�) called Seigetsu. This very unassuming restaurant concentrates mostly on grilled and stewed dishes, but they also have some of the best Sashimi I have ever eaten. It would be a mistake to visit this restaurant and not get at least one order of grilled chicken wings, the succulent meat is enrobed in a crispy skin more akin to a fried wing than a grilled one.

On a back street that leads from my friends apartment to the main drag of Kagurazaka you will find several unpretentious restaurants that cater to the locals but due to their high quality draw in people from all over Tokyo. One such place is a soba restaurant. The restaurant has a window facing the street that allows you to watch the master noodle maker at work. Yes, you can see something similar at several restaurants in Chinatown, but there is something special watching a Japanese chef prepare such ingredients, maybe it is the deliberate movements or watching his machine like preciseness while using a cleaver to cut the noodles. I met a local American ex-pat (Weston had a meeting) for lunch, and we ordered a bowl of soba with seasonal ingredients. The soba is partnered with a delicate broth that helps to highlight the flavor and texture of the soba. There is a simple purity to this dish, and when I was done I found myself full, yet feeling almost purified.

Across the street from the soba restaurant is a restaurant that specializes in Tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork cutlet). Except for quality this was the polar opposite from the soba restaurant, the food here was not simple and pure but assertive and powerful. My pork cutlet was a delightful balance fat and lean hidden behind an impossibly crisp coating of panko and served with a muddy looking miso based sauce that provides a depth of flavor that matches well to the assertive texture. This is not the type of food that leaves you feeling purified, but it does leave you very satisfied (tip: opt for the more traditional fatty cutlet over the lean, you won�t be sorry).

If you step off this small road into one of its many narrow alleyways and keep walking until you come upon a crowd you will find an Oyakodon restaurant that is worth the wait. This dish is a simple bowl of rice topped with chicken and egg and served with pickles and miso soup. Oyakodon is not an uncommon dish, but finding a restaurant that specializes in it is. What sets this restaurants version apart from others is the quality of the ingredients. The color of barely set yolks that shrouded the chicken was bordering on orange, and tasted like the egg itself was laid that morning. When we asked the waiter why it was that the chicken they use tastes so much better than anywhere else we were told that they have all of their chickens and eggs raised especially for them. If you want to find quality Oyakodon it is best to seek out a restaurant that specializes in it than to settle for what you might find at a another kind of restaurant (traditionally it is served at soba restaurants).

The main street of Kagurazaka (which crosses the outer moat of the Imperial Palace and the Iidabashi subway and rail stations) also houses a dizzying array of restaurants, specialty shops, and convenience stores (including a 7-11 that has an ATM that takes PLUS cards). It saddens me that you can find a Wendy�s and McDonalds on this street (the McDonald�s is technically in a different neighborhood), but those blights are easily ignored at night or at lunch time when the crowds swell and the street is filled with roasted chestnut vendors, palm readers (including one guy who glared at everyone that walked by, I am sure that this is one of the reasons that I never saw him with a customer), and an occasional marching band. The street is home to one of the best ramen shops I have ever visited. They specialize in the miso based Sapporo ramen. The miso broth has a richness and a flavor that far surpasses the more ubiquitous soy sauce based broths. Also the aforementioned Seigetsu is on this street as is a small second story coffee shop that serves its coffee and teas in beautifully decorated china cups.

On the other side of the street you will come across some of the quaintest alleys and roads in Tokyo or any other city I have ever visited. Hidden amongst them are the previously mentioned geisha houses, but so much more. The first restaurant I visited on this trip was an establishment specializing in shabu-shabu. Hopefully this restaurant will make an appearance (along with my friend Weston) in the upcoming Rudy Maxa travel show. My friend showed Rudy and his production crew around Kagurazaka and dined here. This small and hard-to-find restaurant offers a number of different meats and broths to enjoy. The restaurant serves the broth in a pot that holds two separate broths, we went with the traditional kombu and what they call Korean style, the latter being a spicy miso based broth and for meats we had a nice grade of wagyu, tuna, and Jamon Iberico. On the surface it would seem like a waste to put the Iberico into broth, but after one or two shakes the fat comes out glistening and a who new level of flavor is unleashed. A dizzying array of vegetables, fungi, and tofu are also served with the meat, and I shocked myself at the number of vegetables I would normally despise that I found myself eating and enjoying.

Kaguarazaka is becoming known for its quaint drinking establishments that range from a place simply called 500 Yen Bar (also should be in the Rudy Maxa show) to cigar bar that only plays Bach and Mozart and is kept as dark as a Fritz Lang film, to a small Hobbitesque sort of place that requires that you duck through a chest high door that doubles as a window. What is thankfully absent from the neighborhood are night clubs and the types of crowds that they tend to attract (and the required contingent of Yakuza that always seem to be around them in Japan).

Beyond Kaguarazaka I was able to explore many of the larger more known sections of Tokyo. In Shinjuku, you will come across something called Takashimaya Times Square, an ode to New York but the entire place was more like a flashback to Simpsons episode �30 Minutes Over Tokyo� with the only thing missing were the state shaped tables at �Americatown�. In spite of its triteness the basement of the Takashimaya is a must visit for foodies, it contains a number of interesting retail outlets from all over the world. Unless you are looking to spend a bit of time at the social clubs or are looking for cheap electronics Shinjuku is best to only be visited once and for a very short period. While wandering the streets looking for a liquor store that a bartender pointed me towards, I came across a picture of a man with some students clad all in chef�s whites and I could not place him. After I walked a few more feet I saw a sign on the door that jogged my memory, the sign read Hattori Nutrition College, and the picture of the man was Dr. Yukio Hattori from the original Iron Chef, and to think I thought that they made that place up.

Not far from Shinjuku is Shibuya station and a vertigo inspiring intersection called Hachiko Square and sometimes simply referred to as Shibuya Crossing. At anyone time this intersection could have in excess of 10,000 occupying it. When the light changes and people begin to walk it is as you are in a river of people not recognizing one person from another, but just moving along hoping not to loose the rest of your group. Once you have cross through the intersection you can continue with crowds onto the shopping district or to the night clubs and karaoke clubs, or you can make a quick dash to the northeast and then duck down a small unwelcoming alley that will take you to a sign pointing the way to Nonbeiyoko-cho or �Drunkards Alley�. This narrow and rather dingy alley is home to numerous little bars that at most sit ten people. There is a certain dichotomy to these little bars situated so close to Hachiko Square where you are simply a blur, when you sit on one of these stools you have all of the attention of the bar keep and your fellow guests. But in many ways these sort of contradiction defines life in Tokyo. If you do make it to Nonbeiyoko-cho make certain to locate Enoki, it is run by the charming Chizuru Doi (I mentioned this in the Sushi-Ko thread). She will offer you a snack with your drink (just order a beer), and on my visit the snack was raw octopus and wasabi. The octopus had only the slightest chew and was as fresh as I have ever tasted any seafood, and the sweet bite of fresh wasabi helped this simple dish achieve perfection. She offers many other types of food as well, including the finest quality wild shitakes, dried fish, in season tomatoes (from Okinawa), or even a lamb riblet. She is a talented cook, and an exquisite hostess. If you want a surreal experience visit Shibuya at night, that assault on the senses will have you feeling as if you have been thrust into a scene from Blade Runner.

The thing that I told Weston that I needed to try before I left Tokyo was tempura from one of the dedicated tempura shops. We kept trying to get a table at Kondo in the Ginza but they book as fast as Momofuko Ko, so we decided to give Tempura Mikawa a try. We were both a little leery of this place since I found it mentioned in the latest addition of Food and Wine magazine, but the short blurb that they offered intrigued me. We were happy that we snagged the last reservation available. Fearing that we would come across some grotesque temple to the almighty tourist we were surprised when we had a hard time finding it, always a promising sign when trying to avoid western vacationers. When we did find it, I was also happy to see that I was the only non-Japanese person in the entire place. You basically have 3 choices, and they are all predicated on the quality of seafood you would like to have. We decided to go with freshest ingredients, all of which came from Tokyo bay. To start with you get two shrimp that rival lobster for sweetness, and then they serve the fried heads. I have never been a fan of fried shrimp heads, but that is because what I have had in the past were rather boney, I suspect that this is due to the species of shrimp used, but these heads were crunchy and filled with the rich flavor of the shrimp�s innards. This was just the introduction to a sonata of fried goodness that included a white fish that could only be described as sublime, 3 different types of eels (conger, baby, and some sort of freshwater eel), scallops, and an array of fish that neither of us have ever heard of before. I consider fried to be one of my major food groups (which also includes alcohol), but I had never experienced frying that even remotely approximated what I was served at Mikawa.

One of the most popular things in Tokyo is drinking, and I was more than happy to join in with them. The breadth of drinking establishments in Tokyo is astounding, many of these places simply could not exist in the US because our inane laws would prohibit them. One such place is called Elevage, which is owned by a charming man who has a working knowledge of English but is far more fluent in French. He has assembled a mind boggling personal collection of scotches, brandies, and fine wines and you can buy any of them. He estimates that he has over 600 unique scotches, and at least 300 brandies. The endearing thing about this is that you are welcome to look through the collection, if you see something you want, just grab the bottle and hand it to him, and he will pour you a glass. The prices are reasonable with most coming in around $12, not bad for 18 year old scotch. His shelves include an impressive array of Marcs, including several examples from Romanee Contee, Moet, and even one from Lafite, any of which could be had for around $6 a glass. He also serves an array of savories, and sweets to compliment his collection. If you are feeling kind of naughty you can order a bit of whale sashimi or bacon, but no matter what I would suggest that you try a slice of the cheesecake that he procures from a small baker in Kyoto, it is very hard to describe this creamy gem, but it is by far the best cheesecake I have ever eaten.

During my stay business took my friend to Nagoya to give a speech. Tagging along with him we met up with his friend Miki who lives in Nagoya. She wanted to take us for hitsumabushi, a fresh-water eel dish that is eaten in three stages. The weather was particularly nasty when we arrived in Nagoya, and the idea of warm eel and rice was really appealing. She took us to Ibashou, the purported originator of this classic of Nagoya cuisine. A very plain door marked the entrance and upon entering you are taken through the twisting layout of the restaurant that is meant to emulate an eel den. All of this is superfluous to the food, what you are presented with is a large lacquered bowl filled with rice and roasted eel. In the past I thought that I had tried good unagi, actually I thought that I had tried great unagi, I was sorely mistaken. The meaty, crunchy, sweet and smoky bits of eel mixed into the rice were from a different planet from what I have had in the past. So what are the stages? The first stage calls for scooping some of the rice and eel into a bowl and eat it as is. The second stage you do the same thing, but mix-in fresh wasabi and scallions (this was my favorite stage), and the third stage you take the second step but also pour green tea over it. All three stages were fantastic, but I found that the tea washed out the flavors too much, plus it made the rice soggy.

Nagoya is famous in Japan for chicken wings, and what we were told was to give Yamachan a try (here is a link, but it is all in Japanese). It is a small chain of restaurants found throughout Japan, but the one near Nagoya Station is supposed to be the original and best. So off we went. These wings are not trying to be the Japanized version of Buffalo wings, they are vastly different. The wings are dredged in a non-glutinous flour or starch that is heavily seasoned with freshly ground pepper, and then deep fried until crispy. Don�t expect to get drumlets, all they serve are the center pieces with the wingtip still connected (not sure what one would call the center portion of a chicken wing). Right before serving they drizzle a sweet miso/soy type of sauce on them and serve them twenty to a plate. This will set you back about $4. With the exception of the delicious �Grilled chicken ass� (what it really translates to from Japanese), the rest of the food was fine, but nothing special.

One of the most difficult parts of recommending Japanese restaurants to people is that the best ones that I have found do not offer their names in western script, so there is no way to know what they were called. But finding great food in Tokyo is not difficult, and most of them are situated behind non-descript little doorways marked only by a lantern and a menu out-front. I don�t know when I will return, but since my friend is returning to DC in July I am sure that it is going to be much longer than the six months gap between my previous trips, good thing since my body has moved beyond the pace of Tokyo and I could have really used a few days of rest when I returned home to the wife and dogs.

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Sthitch, wonderful post that makes me long to go back to Japan again. Although, I'm shocked you managed to avoid sushi there, but their sashimi is almost the same. Unlike in America where you often get a fistful of rice and a sliver of fish, the Japanese give you a small mound of rice with a longer, but still thin piece of fish draped over the rice, often the edges hanging off. I do agree that finding those local, out of the way eateries is great. Two of my favorite spots in a Tokyo on my trip last August were their version of a greasy spoon, a local ramenya that could pass for a US diner in decor and a tiny 7 seat sushi bar, both near our hotel near the Suitengu-mae subway stop, alittle off the beaten path.

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Although, I'm shocked you managed to avoid sushi there, but their sashimi is almost the same.

Thank you for the kind words. I would have liked to have had sushi, but it would have taken away from the some of the new foods that I want to try (and I only had so many meals), granted there was one bowl of sushi in Shinjuku that I would have traded for some decent sushi, I should have known when I had to buy a ticket for my ramen from a machine it might not be the best choice (by the number of Denny�s and Shakey�s I saw in Tokyo I can assure you that Japanese people can be led to bad food just as quickly as Americans).
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"by the number of Denny’s and Shakey’s I saw in Tokyo I can assure you that Japanese people can be led to bad food just as quickly as Americans".

I would not jump so quickly to dis on Denny's in Japan- the menu there is definitely catered to a Japanese taste and it is leaps and bounds better than US Denny's. Check out their website.

Heck in Asia, 7-11 is a stop you can't avoid- great drinks and onigiri for day trips. Despite the "brand", these chains have a much more different philosophy (and management companies) than the US counterparts.

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Heck in Asia, 7-11 is a stop you can't avoid- great drinks and onigiri for day trips.
I mentioned in my original write-up that the 7-11 ATM's take Plus cards which meant that I was in them almost every day, but I have to say that I would feel more comfortable ordering a dog off of the roller than the stuff I saw sitting in the water on the counter of the Japanese 7-11's, mostly because the water was exposed to all of the customers and it looked rather filthy.

And what the hell is up with being able to get reservations at Denny's.

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That is the funny thing about Japan. There are plenty of awful places including many so-so imports like McDonalds that are really popular, and similar bad options like food at convenience stores or different bad options like food from the insane number of vending machines there. However, you can find some great pre-packaged food in Japan that is light years ahead of the stuff in America in terms of quality, freshness, and elegant presentation. I say this thinking of the bento boxes sold in the train stations from counters. In America I would never be able to get such a nicely laid out to go meal (even if it was cardboard and the green garnishes were plastic) and I would never buy seafood from a train station.

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And what the hell is up with being able to get reservations at Denny's.

That's a menu for large parties or catered group events. Lousy use of English.

I wouldn't generalize about 7-11's in Japan, but the large number I've been to in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, and heck, even Hong Kong and Taipei were all in decent enough condition, better than most places in the US.

Besides, as I recall, they only had a few hot snacks, most items were prepackaged and packaged in the Japanese method. Also, no soda fountains- only items in cans/bottles.

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Azami and I are going to Tokyo with his parents tomorrow for one day. We'll probably be limited to the Ueno area for eats, and are looking to pay around $10 -$20 USD pp, excluding drinks. Any cuisine is fine. Maybe a tall order, but does anyone have any suggestions?

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Has anyone been to Tokyo since 2008? Any tips? I haven't been since 2002, so my memory is faded! But I am tacking a few days on to the end of five weeks in SE Asia, and am pretty psyched to get back there! Thanks for any tips...

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Tokyo; Chiba Prefecture


Has anyone been to Tokyo since 2008? Any tips? I haven't been since 2002, so my memory is faded! But I am tacking a few days on to the end of five weeks in SE Asia, and am pretty psyched to get back there! Thanks for any tips...


We only spent a few hours in Tokyo in February/March of this year. In Shibuya, Japanese friends took us to the Dogenzaka branch of Watami, an izakaya chain. I recall it being good, especially the sake and shochu -- they had a wide array of interesting things, rather than just lots of things. I had a black sugar shochu that I liked quite a lot. Watami does have regional specialties, which was great for those of us who hadn't had our kiritampo nabe (a specialty of Akita Prefecture) fix in almost three years. Address is Dogenzaka Center Fielder Building 5F, 2-29-8, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0043.

Oh, and how can you go wrong with Tokyo Banana (banana-shaped sponge cakes filled with banana pastry cream) in Tokyo Station? They're doing some major renovations at Tokyo Station, but you can still wander around and shop and eat to your heart's content.

It's not at all useful, but the best food we had in that area on our trip was at a kaiten-zushi restaurant whose name I don't remember near our friends' place in Chiba Prefecture, just outside Tokyo. Miso soup was this giant bowl of thick, delicious broth with tons of vegetables, tofu, and generous pieces of fish. So perfect for early March in Japan. The best food, of course, was in Iwate Prefecture, our old stomping grounds. I'm happy to report that we had amazing sashimi in Miyako, including some from the Iwate coast, which was one of the cities affected by the tsunami.
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Tokyo


Has anyone been to Tokyo since 2008? Any tips? I haven't been since 2002, so my memory is faded! But I am tacking a few days on to the end of five weeks in SE Asia, and am pretty psyched to get back there! Thanks for any tips...


I haven't been since 2005 and back in those days used a website/guidebook called Tokyo Q which was excellent.

Check out Toyko Food page at Bento.com, it has a good neighborhood listing service.
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We were in Kyoto for 2.5 days last fall. Given the short time (and that it was a milestone celebration, delayed and shortened because we originally had been planning to travel right after the tsunami/nuclear disaster) we went over the top--and in the face of conflicting views between which was better among the two best known ryokan experiences we ended up staying one night each at Tarawaya and Hiiragaya (which are across the street from each other). The experiences there were truly special--the traditional kaiseki meals are served in your room. After long days of sightseeing we basically collapsed into the bath, put on robes, and never left the room. Service was fabulous at both. Hiiragaya had the more traditional kaiseki, while Tarawaya was more modern (reflecting the style of each inn), but we enjoyed both very much. The presentation of all the dishes at both was wonderful. We also really enjoyed the Japanese style breakfast at Hiiragaya--lots of small dishes, including a fabulous grilled whole fish. Unfortunately we had to leave too early in the morning to try the Japanese style breakfast at Tarawaya, but they went out of their way (after initially saying that breakfast wouldn't be possible at all) to provide us with hot tea, croissants, and some cheeses and fruit.

If you really want to focus on the best kaiseki meals in Kyoto, I've heard that they are at stand-alone restaurants rather than at the ryokans. Kikunoi and Hyoteihonten seem to be the ones that came up frequently in my research ahead of the trip.

We also had the opportunity to have "French kaiseki" at Misoguigawa in the Pontocho district (basically a small alley along the river with lots of restaurants and bars. I am not sure how many rooms there were, but the room we were in held 6 people all sitting around a bar. We thought it was going to be some sort of French/Japanese fusion, but it was pretty pure French, only served kaiseki style. We really enjoyed it, especially the beef and the asparagus dishes.

I was somewhat obsessed with making sure we got to a Kyoto tofu restaurant, and we ended up at Tosuiro on a friend's recommendation. It was wonderful--tofu in many ways, with a pot of tofu in hot water sitting on your table at all times--as an added bonus, they had the doors to the back of the restaurant open and a breeze was coming in off the river. Our friend recommended that we ask to sit out on the patio, but it wasn't set up at the time.

The one thing I really wish we could have gotten to was a traditional temple meal. They are supposed to be a vegetarian delight.

Oh, and by the way--you should try to make it to the central market, as they have lots of delicious snacks and things to pick up, in addition to a $500 mushroom if that appeals to you.....

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Thanks, SSK, for the information. I was asking for my husband, who got back from a conference in Kyoto early yesterday morning. Some of the food was arranged by the conference and he usually ate breakfast in his hotel, which had a range of options. He's not really a fan of Japanese food, but he gave it a good shot. He was there a week and ended up mostly eating Italian food.

One place I had located by searching online that he liked was the Kyoto Ramen Koji on the 10th floor of the train station, which was across the street from his hotel. It turned out to be not one restaurant but many (like a food court, maybe?) and he ate at King of Ramen, due to the fact that they had an English menu and photos. (He knows no Japanese.) He got ramen with pork and egg and liked it quite a lot. I think that's the biggest rave I heard for the food. He brought home the receipts from his meals, but I can't read them :lol: .

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I am just returning from Tokyo, and had a few nice meals. We had a really nice shabu shabu evening at Kyo Na Ba Na in Shimbashi, just a few blocks from the rail station. The early sashimi courses were nice, but the shabu shabu was the clear star of the show. It is listed as a Kyoto-style shabu shabu, but our Japanese hosts pointed out at the end of the meal, when the noodles are added to the soup, that they use soba, which is apparently not Kyoto style. She was a bit offended or embarassed, but they were really nice soba noodles, and I had no complaints. This is a Japanese restaurant, so be prepared to take off your shoes and sit in small private rooms.

Okonomiyaki at Tsuruhashi Fugetsu in Aqua City in Odaiba was pretty much what you would expect from a shopping mall restaurant--nothing bad, nothing really spectacular. It was filling, and a bit gluttonous with the bbq sauce and mayonnaise, but washed down nicely with a soft drink.

We had tempura one night on the 12th floor of the Daimaru store above Tokyo station, in a spot called Shinjuku Tsunuhachi. It was great--a set tempura course, preceded by a few pieces of sashimi, was really memorable. The highlights were many, but included a big clam tempura that was utterly delightful--so good we asked (and were given) seconds. The vegetable tempura course was just perfect. The shrimp tempura green tea soup was a nice way to end the evening. The view is great from the big windows--which, if you are male, you will have that same amazing view while standing at the urinal a few doors down at the men's room. I guess it's a 'top of the world' way to pump up your ego.

On my way out of the country, I had ramen at the airport, and really can't complain. I'm no expert, but this was good. And filling.

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Just got back from Tokyo for a quick trip to dine at Noma and did a few days in Osaka and Kyoto.  Here is my quick run-down.  If you ever get the chance to go to Japan, go.  Food is amazing.  It is clean.  It is safe.  The people are very friendly.

TOKYO

Sushi Yasuda "“ I'm honestly not sure why I booked this place. I think it was the combination of the lower price point and the possibility to have a conversation with a Sushi Chef who is fluent in English. In hindsight I should have skipped this. The Sushi bar clientele was all American. We did the omakase. I think it was 15 or so pieces and miso soup. The sushi was standard US quality and ok but very poor as compared to most anything in Japan. All of the sushi was pre-cut which detracted from the experience.  This place was highlighted on Bourdain.  You can skip it.

Sushi Iwa "“ One Michelin star "“ Lunch is a great value with 5,000 (12 pieces) and 8,500 yen (15 pieces) options. Quality was superb. 6 seats. All clientele was Japanese. No one piece stood out as compared to the others but the quality was excellent.

Takazawa "“ I describe this as seasonal dishes with french influences. Wine list is extraordinarily marked up - 300%+ on every bottle, something I saw at no other restaurant I dined at in Japan. 4 tables. Clientele was 50/50 US/Japanese. Chef speaks some English and his wife speaks perfect English. Wonderful service. The platings are very intricate and a bit crazy. For example, a grilled fish was served on sticks next to huge pieces of red hot charcoal which heated the room and placed at your table. The room is set up with a small kitchen to one side so it is a bit theatrical. Very good food.  Very enjoyable meal.

Sushi Kanesaka "“ Ginza Branch. One Michelin star. We were the only non-Japanese there for lunch. Superb sushi and chef spoke great English and was very friendly. The chef liked us so we got around 18-20 pieces for the 10 piece price which was a steal. The 10 piece lunch normally is a great value, so even without the extra pieces lunch is a great value. This is a larger sushi counter with two sushi chefs working "“ maybe seats 12 or so. Quality was excellent and we had some very nice Uni.

Gen Yanamoto "“ Former bartender at Brushstroke in NY who moved to Tokyo. Superb drinks focusing on seasonal vegetables and fruits. Gen speaks perfect English. All guests were American. Bloody Mary cocktail was among the best I have ever had. I would drink dozens of these. Also had an interesting drink made of squash.  He likes using rare or hard to find liquors. Quite tasty drinks.  Gives the drinks at Eve a run for the money.

Noma "“ Noma. We dined in Copenhagen a few months prior and this was different but I think better. The setting and view was amazing. Service was outstanding. My wife had a sake pairing and I had the wine pairing. The sake pairing was amazing - tons of unique sakes and so delicious and pairs extremely well. One particularly interesting Sake was a red rice sake made by a female brewmaster outside Kyoto. The wine pairing was also quite good and had nice pairings. House Champagne was Prevost La Closerie, which is quite difficult to get in the US but extraordinarily easy to get in Japan (now I know where it all goes). All dishes were great and for me the tofu and walnut dish was a standout as was the aged duck.

Sushi Tokamai "“ Sushi Chef is wonderful and friendly and speaks perfect English. He has traveled in the US a bit. He talked to us most of the night. Loads of conversation and a very happy guy who clearly enjoys what he does. His assistants also speak English and chatted with us a lot. This sushi was rocking - the best we had all trip and it seems be firing on all cylinders. Every piece was good to excellent. It was also a good value at around $220 or so per person. All clientele was Japanese except us. He said he doesn't get many Americans or English speakers but supposedly Renee Redzepi was there the prior week to us. Omakase was great. Numerous cooked dishes, this night focusing on fugu every which way. Wonderful sushi "“ probably the freshest of all of the places we went to. Of note, his tuna is ridiculously good "“ easily leaps and bounds over any tuna we had on any trip to Japan. Life-changing good. I still remember each piece. So good. One Michelin star. Highly recommend it.

Sushi Sho Masa "“ I enjoyed this quite a lot and will go back on next trip. Quality was as good as Iwa and Kanesaka and a tiny step down from Tokamai. I think we had 30 or so pieces with lots of cooked dishes. Chef speaks English and other guests were from Taiwan that evening. The chef has a little book he brings out to show pictures of each fish. The meal was quite enjoyable - I liked how he served the same fish several different ways and did some unique pieces. Very good.

Rokurinsha Ramen - We hit it at 9 AM once and at 11:30 and had limited to no wait. This ramen is very heavy fish based "“ so if you don't like a strong fishy broth this might not be for you. It is hard not to like this, but many American palettes would not like this. Very good.

Kagari - Tori-paitan ramen. So good. Amazing chicken flavor. So good. We waited about 15 minutes near closing. There was something special about this place - the ramen was outstanding. Or maybe it was the cover of Sweet Child of Mine playing over and over again with the chef singing along. Or maybe it was the tiny closet of a place that seats maybe 8 at a tiny counter. Really enjoyed this a lot.

OSAKA

Fujiya 1935 - 3 stars - Probably the cheapest 3* meal I have had - great value ($120 for 12 courses). Very enjoyable space, great service and the food was good. Wine list is competitively priced. Had a very enjoyable pasta dish, a wonderful radish dish and a wonderful grouper dish. Solid food in a nice setting.

Hajime - Two stars currently - Beautiful space. Amazing platings. Extraordinary price for the meal - I think our most expensive meal. We did a wine pairing and a non-alcoholic pairing with our meal. Both were nice with very high quality wines/non-alcoholic drinks. Interesting the mark ups on wine were quire fair, with a few bottles prices less than I can buy them at retail in the US. The platings of the food are the star here - they are to another level I have never seen anywhere and intricate and a bit insane. Food quality was excellent - I particularly enjoyed how a different piece of bread came with each course. Of note, a lamb course was excellent as was a sous vide/grilled mackerel course. Food was excellent but a poor value. Also no pictures allowed - very annoying. It is not clear to me why this doesn't have 3 stars. Service and food was perfect.

Kani Doraku - We wanted crab for lunch. It is touristy. But it was quite good. We had crab grilled, steamed, in soup and sushi. All were tasty. We did a lunch sampler which was $20 a person which was a good value and filling.

Tako-yaki - We got them from one of the places with a long line in the Dontonbori area of Osaka. I didn't love them. I thought they would be denser like a hush puppy but instead they are creamy inside.

Daruma - Excellent kushi katsu (tonkastsu on sticks). Everything was perfectly fried. We picked a dozen or so meat and vege items which came perfectly fried and served on sticks. I liked the dipping sauce.

Mizuno - We wanted to try a okonomiyaki. Wait was short. We had one with shrimp and scallops. Tasty and filling but I would skip it in the future unless drunk.

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We'll be splitting 8 days/7 nights between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka in a few weeks.  I got all excited about mapping out the food portion of our itinerary, as it's often the most fun part of vacation planning.  Unfortunately, after spending a few days reading several message boards and blogs, I've become quite disheartened because it seems clear that we have very slim chances of eating at any of the best places in these cities because of our two year-old son.

Traveling around the world with him hasn't been an obstacle in the past to eating at Michelin-starred restaurants (or their equivalents in more casual settings).  We've done so in San Francisco, London, New York, Stockholm, and Taipei with little to no trouble.  But some folks in these threads seem to imply that upscale-ish dining with young kids present simply isn't part of the culture in Japan.  And assuming that's true, I'll reluctantly accept and respect that.  I understand that the auction at Tsukiji Market probably isn't the best place to bring a toddler, and was still excited about the prospect of having breakfast at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi instead, but now I'm doubting whether even that's feasible.

Where does that leave us?  I know there would be plenty of good (or possibly even very good) places for us to eat in the major department stores and shopping mall food courts.  But this is our first time visiting Japan and I want better than "very good" if at all possible.  Is that an unrealistic expectation under the circumstances?  Google searches for child-friendly restaurants will inevitably lead us to chains and most likely food that's mediocre at best.  So how do I even go about planning where to eat, given that food is such a huge part of why we're headed to Japan in the first place?  :(

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^ I don't feel Japan is exclusive of children in restaurants, but the expectation of children is much higher when compared to somewhere else. It also varies, depending on where you are. I feel that Kyoto and Osaka are more family-friendly oriented than Tokyo when little man and I went last summer.

Children are expected to be well-behaved, not loud, and running to a minimum, based on what I observed in department stores and restaurants, especially in Tokyo. They are much calmer. I saw many families dining in the restaurants we dined at, and I don't really think you should curtail some of your dining choice, if you think your toddler can handle it. For example, if you were to take toddler to Tsujiki, I recommend baby-wearing him in a carrier, since strollers aren't allowed, I think. Here's a family blog about their trip to the market.

One more thing is that I feel like there are a lot more places to see and eat at without trying to eat at the fancier-type of places. Street food, temple food, basement level of department stores, grocery stores, 7-11, all serve really delicious food.

Finally, if you are traveling by public transportation in Tokyo, please buy a PASMO card. It's like the EasyCard/Yoyo Card in Taipei.

Don't dash your hopes yet. Do a google search for family blogs on travel to Japan with toddlers and see what you come up with. Here's another blog with some good tips.

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Thanks for the encouragement and sorry for what seemed in in hindsight like an over-the-top rant.

BTW, up until today the idea of having non-Japanese food in Japan hadn't occurred to me, but it seems like the level of French and Italian food in Tokyo is quite good.  La Table de Joel Robuchon appears to accommodate children under 10 in their private rooms, and the fixed-price lunch menus seem quite inexpensive considering the Michelin stars (the current exchange rate certainly helps too).  So we may end up there.  Maybe I'll reach out to our hotel concierge and see if they can find out if certain restaurants I have in mind are more accommodating of kids than others.

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^ Definitely not over the top. It is easy to feel frustrated when a) you've not visited the place before and b ) information found online only give a sliver or part of the whole that you need.

The other thing I encourage is to bring a phrase book or some type of translating app. Even though professionals state they speak English, there were a few times I found the concierge person or other professionals could not understand my question. (This happened at Tokyo Disneyland too.)

Btw, Baozi is really popular in Japan now and sold in many downstairs of department stores with quite a queue. Something for your toddler to munch on if you need a pick-me-up/quick snack.

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Here is a question - my partner and I are going to Japan for 2.5 weeks in May, just after Golden Week.  We arrive to Osaka and fly out of Tokyo.  We've got about a week to do Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and any other central/southern location, then we head to Tokyo for a week (we have a free apartment to stay in, so figure we will spend the weekend, and then take day trips, or maybe one overnight from Tokyo North.)

Any suggestions on must-see places outside the norm (the places above, Fuji, Nara)?  Especially interested in great gardens, tea houses, and food!

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Can you do a ramen tour? Lucky Peach published this guide in January that I would like to do 1 day if I could spend a lot of time in Japan. Kyoto ramen is very different.

If you can, I recommend hiring a day English-speaking tour guide for 1 of those places (probably Kyoto because the temple tour is a key attraction and a must-do). I found this Hiroshima/Miyajima guide from the Japan Tourism website that might help. Have a kaiseki experience.

I find the Shibuya area in Tokyo fascinating and recommend exploring there.

If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, little man and I had so much fun exploring their museum. If you go, you'll need to buy tickets here at an authorized travel agency. You can eat at the museum (which costs an arm and a leg, but the scenery is beautiful) or you can eat at nearby shop or near the train station. The park is so much fun and I wish we had time to go on a paddle boat on the little lake there.

Also outside the norm is visiting a Japanese arcade. It's an experience.

If you can, take a trip to Yokohama. It's about 30 minutes from Tokyo and if you take the shinkansen from Kyoto, there is a stop at Yokohama. Then you can take the regular subway to Tokyo to save some money. In Yokohama, there is a fabulous Ramen museum (we ate a good amount delicious ramen), as well as a famous naval museum/battleship, and the largest Chinatown. There is a nice shopping area near Chinatown too.

As for food, I recommend trying stuff other than sushi/sashimi. The yakitori, yakiniku, ramen, small eats, are all equally famous throughout Japan (like what silentbob was saying). (I watch way too many Japanese tour tv shows...)

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Thanks for the encouragement and sorry for what seemed in in hindsight like an over-the-top rant.

BTW, up until today the idea of having non-Japanese food in Japan hadn't occurred to me, but it seems like the level of French and Italian food in Tokyo is quite good.  La Table de Joel Robuchon appears to accommodate children under 10 in their private rooms, and the fixed-price lunch menus seem quite inexpensive considering the Michelin stars (the current exchange rate certainly helps too).  So we may end up there.  Maybe I'll reach out to our hotel concierge and see if they can find out if certain restaurants I have in mind are more accommodating of kids than others.

You may also want to look for Ryokan(s) that have speciality restaurants attached to them in case you would be interested in staying at them as well. In these places you can eat in private rooms or even in the room you are staying.

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Here is a question - my partner and I are going to Japan for 2.5 weeks in May, just after Golden Week.  We arrive to Osaka and fly out of Tokyo.  We've got about a week to do Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and any other central/southern location, then we head to Tokyo for a week (we have a free apartment to stay in, so figure we will spend the weekend, and then take day trips, or maybe one overnight from Tokyo North.)

Any suggestions on must-see places outside the norm (the places above, Fuji, Nara)?  Especially interested in great gardens, tea houses, and food!

Paul's travel pics does a great job of photographically showing the possibilities of such an extended excursion outside of Tokyo.

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I understand that the auction at Tsukiji Market probably isn't the best place to bring a toddler, and was still excited about the prospect of having breakfast at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi instead, but now I'm doubting whether even that's feasible.

Where does that leave us?  I know there would be plenty of good (or possibly even very good) places for us to eat in the major department stores and shopping mall food courts.  But this is our first time visiting Japan and I want better than "very good" if at all possible.  Is that an unrealistic expectation under the circumstances?  Google searches for child-friendly restaurants will inevitably lead us to chains and most likely food that's mediocre at best.  So how do I even go about planning where to eat, given that food is such a huge part of why we're headed to Japan in the first place?  :(

Any suggestions on must-see places outside the norm (the places above, Fuji, Nara)?  Especially interested in great gardens, tea houses, and food!

I agree with goodeats that carrying a toddler would be okay in Tsukiji (outer market only). I don't know, but isn't a stroller difficult in many places in Tokyo?

The links list episodes broadcast in English by NHK for Begin Japanology and Japanology Plus (sorry, but I'm not responsible for the program titles :) ). If the title or description interest you, search for the full episode on YouTube. I think you would find food and places of interest described in those episodes.

I took Naoto Nakamura's tour of Tsukiji in 2013 and recommend him highly: old and new webpages. Memorable. DM me if you have questions.

I like Yukari Sakamoto's book but it is getting old. Her website is okay, but I like these better.

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We'll be splitting 8 days/7 nights between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka in a few weeks.  I got all excited about mapping out the food portion of our itinerary, as it's often the most fun part of vacation planning.  Unfortunately, after spending a few days reading several message boards and blogs, I've become quite disheartened because it seems clear that we have very slim chances of eating at any of the best places in these cities because of our two year-old son.

Traveling around the world with him hasn't been an obstacle in the past to eating at Michelin-starred restaurants (or their equivalents in more casual settings).  We've done so in San Francisco, London, New York, Stockholm, and Taipei with little to no trouble.  But some folks in these threads seem to imply that upscale-ish dining with young kids present simply isn't part of the culture in Japan.  And assuming that's true, I'll reluctantly accept and respect that.  I understand that the auction at Tsukiji Market probably isn't the best place to bring a toddler, and was still excited about the prospect of having breakfast at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi instead, but now I'm doubting whether even that's feasible.

Where does that leave us?  I know there would be plenty of good (or possibly even very good) places for us to eat in the major department stores and shopping mall food courts.  But this is our first time visiting Japan and I want better than "very good" if at all possible.  Is that an unrealistic expectation under the circumstances?  Google searches for child-friendly restaurants will inevitably lead us to chains and most likely food that's mediocre at best.  So how do I even go about planning where to eat, given that food is such a huge part of why we're headed to Japan in the first place?  :(

We went to Tokyo with our daughter when she was just over 2 years old, which also meant we had to pay for her ticket. :-(

First, for dining, a must is Hishinuma in Roppongi. It's a  Michelin one star specializing in Japanese food, but also catering to children with a special children's set menu paralleling the adults. We went for lunch. Unfortunately can't find an English website right now, but this page has some english and you can see that the children's meal is a great deal at 900yen. http://www.axisinc.co.jp/building/shop/hishinuma 

Generally though, I think Japanese restaurants are actually much more accommodating for kids than US restaurants. They may not all have high chairs or even booster seats, but more often, they would have special kids place settings, even in neighborhood style bars we went to close to the weekly apt rental we stayed in. While we didn't go to a lot of the famous restaurants, we did go to several nicer restaurants including multiple sushi places, high end yakitori, fried food place - tempura and panko breaded items, and on and on. As another mentions above, ryokan are great for a Japanese experience with family bathing and then dining. Since the meals are served privately in your room, kids can run around in the room while you eat, or they may be fascinated by the food that comes out as well. The lobster sashimi served on a huge wooden boat intrigued our daughter. She still talks about how hot the hot spring bath was as well.

I think tsukiji might be doable, if you all can get up. While we were fine getting up that early, our daughter's sleep schedule was totally off and she was sleeping at very weird times so be prepared for that to be a factor. The first night after arrival we ended up taking her out for dinner around 11:00 at night, and found a nice little place that specialized in congee, something like 30 different varieties and perfect thing to eat after a long flight. You won't want to take a stroller and should plan to carry him around most of the time, especially in a place like tsukiji. A lot of subway entrances are stairs so strollers are not very convenient since you have to carry them up and down. Newer lines have escalators. The biggest challenge with going to some of the more popular places is the lines which with a toddler will not be pleasant.

Generally for restaurants, the thing to remember is that there are a lot of GREAT neighborhood places that while not michelin starred, will give you an authentic Japanese dining experience. We found some great places just walking around. For example, on a trip before kids, we were just walking around Ginza and felt like eating sushi. We ducked into a little place just off the street and had some of the best sushi ever, and for around $100 for two for lunch. In the neighborhood where we were staying, we ate at an izakaya that had great simple food, but certainly was not going to get any critical acclaim, but they were also super friendly to our daughter. The other thing about Japanese restaurants is specialization. Pretty much any place that serves only tonkatsu in Japan is going to serve better tonkatsu than most Japanese restaurants here that try to do everything under the Japanese culinary spectrum.

Since we were mostly hanging out with my father, relatives and friends, we weren't totally pressed to do the tourist stuff, but some things we did do were:

Toyko Sealife Aquarium - close to Tokyo Disneyland has a huge tank with bluefin tuna. I think I recall having some really good karaage chicken on our trip out here, though I think it was at a restaurant just outside the park. Also if I recall correctly there was a train too.

Sunshine City in Ikebukuro - There was supposed to be an aquarium here too I went to when I was a kid, but it was being renovated when we were there. We went to Namjatown which is kind of like an indoor amusement park. A lot of stuff requires extra payment, but the carrousel was free for young children as young as our daughter was at the time. There is also a Gyoza "museum" where you can sample all sorts of gyoza representing various different styles. Great lunch. There is also an ice cream room where they have all sorts of different ice creams. And then there are various characters walking around to either greet or terrify your little one.

Ghibli museum - As mentioned before, if you or your kids are into Ghibli, this is worth a visit. Get your ticket from the JTB office on K St, though you need to pick your date ahead of time, you can enter anytime on the date, as opposed to Japanese purchased tickets which are also time regulated, though you can get them from convenience stores. By the time we went, our daughter had already seen Tottoro, Ponyo, Kiki, and Spirited Away so she was pretty familiar with a lot of the things on exhibit, but might not be so great for little kids who aren't as familiar since it is more of a museum than an amusement park.

Ueno zoo - We went within a month after they got their pandas and the lines were incredible. Nice thing though was that they have special lines for families with little kids so we were able to get through within a few minutes while everyone else waited in line. It's a nice collection of animals and very cheap to get in.

One thing to check out is the top floor at Ginza Mitsukoshi where they have the kids stuff. What's really impressive is the diaper changing room and nursing rooms. There's also a small playground, as with most department stores.

Feel free to message me if you have any specific questions about getting around with a toddler.

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We are staying two nights at Wanosato (a ryokan near Takayama).  They have offered us a choice of sukiyaki or shabu shabu for our second night's meal (both with hida beef).

Which do you all think we should choose?  Leaving tomorrow and very excited.

We've also got a reservation at Shiba Tofuya Ukai in Tokyo- any recent reports?

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