Japan in the year of our lord 2022/23 (planning help)

Friends, a crew of four of us is about to go to Japan for our first time. I am likely starting this thread too early; beyond obsessively trying to parse tabelog for the last 5 years, I’ve not done the amount of research that I perhaps should have. Consider it an indicator of faith in you all though that I am humbly asking where you loved to eat. (Not where the rest of the internet loved to eat.) Also, this will be a mid-February trip, if that triggers any must eat winter-delicacies!

The itinerary is as such:
Niseko: 5 days
Tokyo: 4 days?
Kyoto/other city: 3-4 days?
I thoroughly enjoyed spending 8 days in Mexico City recently, but it seems like this is a tad less recommended for Tokyo? Too big? Too bustling? Or are the smaller cities so fantastic that I need to go to them as well?

Would love any and all input, and do know your replies will not go to waste. Srsly the trust I have in this community is absurd. Also, see my 3500+ word Mexico City trip report for affirmation that I will give back to you all.

Big Question 1: which neighborhood to stay in in Tokyo? For vibes, I’m a dumb hipster literary kid who lives in Mount Washington, mainly hangs out on this side of town in LA, and thoroughly loved Roma Norte while recently in Mexico City.

Big Question 2 Is Kyoto an absolute must? Am I over-thinking things to consider going elsewhere?

As for food specifics, I know this is of little help, but I’d love to go to a moderately affordable tempura place, and I’m definitely planning on trying to get some kaiseki meals in. Very curious for winter Japanese cuisine. I’m soba over ramen and udon, though am into lighter ramens, and am up for anything tofu. I reckon yakitori will be a lot of my meals there. (I also intend to do a deep dive into Japanese food in LA as a sort of prep-work for what’s to come haha.)

Also, if it helps, the part of Mexico City dining I enjoyed most was the masa-obsessive and ingredient fanatic at the mid-range level. Though it sorta feels like that’s all of Japan?!

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Long post incoming as I’m doing my own research and overly enthusiastic about my own forthcoming trip lol. Not an expert so just sharing my experiences and findings to date. Please feel free to ask me to elaborate on anything or, for others reading, to correct me on anything I get wrong.

First, I’d be careful about top 20 Tabelog for anything high-end/fine-dining. Some to many of those in specific categories may actually be regulars-only or similarly exclusive (particularly the top 10 for sushi for instance). Others might not be apparently exclusive but the restaurant is so popular that reservations are extraordinarily difficult. There’s also easy to book options among them but there’s a bit of leg work to find out which.

A similar concept can apply to casual food too for top-in-category items. I understand some top ramen places can be super long lines. I think I waited an hour in line to get in to Tonta Tonkatsu, a top Tonkatsu place in Tokyo. Similar thing with a highly rated and popular curry place named Curry Bondy during closer to regular meal hours (though when I went later at an off/weird hour like 3 PM there was almost no wait). So for anything that’s highly ranked you might want to look around for any additional info. A first trip usually means there’s more to do and see than not to do and see, which means time is a premium (and waiting an hour to eat is probably not preferred).

Disclaimer: All my info is pre-COVID. I’m prepping for a trip as well but it looks like May for me. :sob:

If it’s a first trip I would recommend not spending too much time in Tokyo as well. You can always come back and dive deeper, which I would strongly recommend. Plus my favorite sight was TeamLab Borderless and it’s currently closed and relocating to a new location sometime in 2023 (I’d guess late 2023). The alternate of TeamLab Planets is good but Borderless was amazing and preferred for me.

Haneda is more convenient but I think it comes down to the details. Travel from Haneda to Tokyo is probably under $10 and takes 30ish minutes while Narita is around $20-$30 for an hour. If you’re flying to another Japanese airport then you’ll probably want Haneda as Narita looks to be more international focused while Haneda is more domestic focused. If the flight to Haneda is only $10 more expensive than to Narita you’d also want to go to Haneda. But if Narita was $200 cheaper and you have plenty of time then Narita might be better.

I second Kyoto. The atmosphere is completely different from Tokyo. I’d recommend a trip to Arashiyama and trying a tofu set meal. Tofu is a specialty of Kyoto and Arashiyama is iconic in my opinion. FYI, when I say tofu I don’t mean they only serve you tofu. Tofu is just the focus and you might get tofu served a few different ways along with other items including typical proteins (unless you went for some temple tofu experience then maybe it might be 100% - happened to me once). I went to Shoraian - tofu-focused set meals at a location set right next to the river. It was very memorable (even despite a rowdy group of tourists) but you might need a hotel to reserve for you or just call in yourself. If that’s a bit much of a hurdle, my backup was going to be Tousuiro Kiyamachi. Looked to be on the river in central Kyoto also with tofu focus.

Kyoto is the home of Kaiseki but I might be careful with your pick if you go for it there. My first Kaiseki was in Kyoto and it actually wasn’t the most memorable (though enough to start my interest in the cuisine). My friend also was disappointed at a 2-star. On the other hand I went to a bunch of Kaiseki places in Tokyo and had no misses. I’ve been researching for another trip to Kyoto but just wanted to say just because it’s the home of it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily enjoy it.

If you’ve seen a video on the internet about an Omurice place in Kyoto called Kichi Kichi I’d reconsider. I dislike saying negative things about places generally but I’d call it a tourist trap. The food is expensive but honestly not that great. I had better Omurice and Beef stew elsewhere for far less. Doesn’t help that everyone there was literally a tourist when I went pre-COVID.

Speaking of beef, back at Tokyo I really enjoyed Kitsuneya at Tsukiji. The beef offal is the specialty and its nice but I actually preferred the Nikudoufu over the offal.

And now that we’re back in Tokyo, if you can fit it in I’d consider trying monjayaki. If you’ve heard of okonomiyaki, monjayaki is a similar concept but using mochi I think. I believe this dish is more of a specialty for Tokyo and I prefer it to okonomiyaki. Only issue is that most of the places that do monjayaki are slightly out-of-the-way in a part of town called Tsukishima. I think if you made a trip to Odaiba you could technically hit Tsukishima up on the way back. But I understand Odaiba is currently being redeveloped so I don’t know how much that affects its appeal as a sight to see.

In general for food, I think the problem with Japan, at least for me, is there are too many good food options. Even limiting myself to just Tokyo I can spend a week diving into food (which is what I did in 2019) and still have plenty more I want to eat. Putting limits on your list or looking for specific suggestions on certain cuisines in specific locations might both yourself and any potential advice-givers. Also budgets too lol. FYI, on Tabelog my personal rule of thumb is 3.5 or higher is good. Anything above 4.0 I’d consider amazing (2 to 3-star equivalent).

For thoughts on other locales in Japan to check out, I can say I really enjoyed Miyajima in Hiroshima. Really neat place and I remember it fondly over a decade later.

For something more off the beaten path, you could try Lake Biwa. There’s actually a hot springs/ryokan area there if that’s your thing and I can’t forget the view of fog rising off the lake while bathing in an outdoor roof-level hot spring. The sights (like Ishiyamadera) also seemed to attract a mostly domestic tourist crowd even pre-COVID as I didn’t really see any foreigners in those areas.

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Thanks for such a fantastic reply. Per your suggestion, I did a small update regarding the food I’m most interested in. The Tabelog info is welcomed–does it ever make sense to use tableall? Would love to book online if possible, though that seems easier said than done! I am down to wait in some lines–I think. I more or less seem to appreciate cultures most if I embrace them through a food lens, so that’s the tentative plan! The glory of not being there for work is that I can hopefully hit up some of these more popular spots at random times.

It seems I would be overthinking things to not make it to Kyoto on this first trip, lol. How funny though that the kaiseki there wasn’t quite as consistent as the kaiseki in Tokyo! (PS–would love names of some of the Tokyo kaiseki spots.)

Shoraian looks remarkably up my alley.

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Tableall
Regarding Tableall, when it was 4K JPY fee it wasn’t too bad. At 8K JPY I would say it’s only worth it to attempt to get something that’s really difficult and is an absolute must for you. For example, on my last trip I used Tableall for Ishikawa because I’d been to Hayato multiple times and definitely wanted to go where Brandon had trained at. Was a must-try and the 4K fee was worth it for the guarantee over trying to get a hotel concierge to book, especially because I was trying to find 4-star hotels that would do restaurant reservations for me (not all of them do). At 8K fee the relative value of using Tableall to make a reservation now are approaching zero.

FYI, Tableall operates completely different from other services. I believe they buy seats from the restaurant and then resell them with permission. If they don’t have an open spot for the date you want, they then act more like a concierge where you reach out, ask for dates, they respond, etc etc. The key is that they have strong relationships with the restaurants under them and could potentially get you in over other more equitable services. Again, whether that’s worth 8K is relative. I also kind of doubt even they could help with the ultra exclusive restaurants.

They do however make very nice write ups and I will sometimes refer to them for research just to try and get some background on the restaurant and chef where otherwise unavailable.

Online Reservations
The reservation services I am aware of and might consider using:
Tablecheck - Basically book online like Resy or Tock. No fee. Not a ton of restaurants on here but a good number are. Love when they get on here because of ease of use.
Omakase.in - Also book online like Resy or Tock. Takes a small token fee and lots of fancy restaurants. However, not everything is available to standard users.
Pocket Concierge - I believe they do take an unknown fee for booking. You can cross check if the restaurant has a website with publicly posted prices, though you’ll also have to do some math regarding VAT and service charge (VAT I recall is 10% and service charge can range up to an additional 10% at most). Not a lot of the places I have an interest in were on their but there were some and it can act like a Resy/Tock service.
JPNEazy - Used this pre-COVID and it was great. Sadly their fees have also increased to 10-15% of the meal. Better than Tableall but a last resort if I cheap out on hotels.

Note not all restaurants will take these 3rd party services but will take hotels so there’s a trade-off when trying to cheap out on hotels. If you’re doing nicer/5 star hotels with good concierges this won’t be a problem. Also, sometimes you can try emailing in if they have a contact page. You might get rejected but doesn’t hurt. Usually restaurants that are actually bookable are afraid of last-minute cancellations and seem to require use of a middle man as guarantor that damages will be recoverable.

Yes, going during an off hour can be a good strategy! But depends on restaurant open hours. For example, Curry Bondy was all day so no problem with off hours. But Tonta Tonkatsu I think was dinner only so you had to line up early or be stuck with a line whatever time you go. I remember the stories about Narikura, another Tonkatsu place, being really crazy years ago. Not that you need to go to the absolute best for some of these places. The lower rated places can be plenty good without the fame and lines.

I think for a first timer Kyoto is definitely recommended! My potentially bad thought is that Kaiseki in Kyoto is perhaps just more nuanced in a direction that I don’t really get as someone who hasn’t dived deeply enough into the topic. There’s supposed to be a lot of nuance and ritual with Kaiseki given its ceremonial origins and perhaps that is more greatly felt in its supposed birthplace. I’ve had it in mind to go back for some time to try other places though and see if I continue to strike out or find something I like more. I also really liked Shoraian, though I don’t know if that was full on Kaiseki. I’d definitely recommend it if you can get the reservation!

Kaiseki Suggestions
The Tokyo Kaiseki places I’ve been to are:

Tagetsu - Michelin stars and high Tabelog but apparently not as traditional a take on Kaiseki, though I enjoyed it a lot. Easy to book via Tablecheck. At lunch you can choose a cheaper menu along with the dinner menu. It’s on my list to return.

Kasumicho Yamagami - I wrote a post about this one ages ago so I’ll refer to that lol. They’re now bookable on Tablecheck but only for bookings of 2 and up. Needless to say I’ll be trying my hardest to return.

Ishikawa - Three stars, high Tabelog, place where Brandon of Hayato trained at. Awesome meal. Only problem is reservations. I would love to go back but reserviations are via Omakase and when I checked there it appeared very difficult to impossible to a casual user. Tableall also has it but that fee… You could try hotel concierge if you get a good hotel. They also have a lot of private rooms if you’re bringing your whole group with.

Ginza Toyoda - I had a nice lunch menu here. A star and good Tabelog. If I had to choose the weakest of the 4 it was this one but I still enjoyed it. Obviously hard to compare lunch menu to full dinner though. Easy to book via Tablecheck. Seems to be a bit overlooked as there were maybe 5 people in the whole place when I went for lunch (on a weekday I’d guess) so if you want an experience with a bit more quiet this might work well.

Short list of names I’m eyeing for my next trip based on ease of reservation, good Tabelog score, as well as write-ups I’ve seen elsewhere include:
Azabu Kai - new restaurant in 2022
Ichita
Kutan

I can’t vouch for any of these beyond that reservations look easy right now (Azabu Kai is new and that could change) and that their Tabelog scores look good (again Azabu Kai is an exception as they are too new to get a good score - see below on Tabelog weighting).

Keep in mind that none of these places might have English speaking staff on hand, especially so soon after reopening. They might try but don’t expect it. I do remember getting menus in English at Toyoda and Ishikawa but they won’t have perfect English and might be a bit simple in description for obvious reasons. That’s why even though I love Kaiseki in Japan I still really appreciate Hayato in LA because the food’s not only great but you can actually have a conversation in fluent English.

Oh one more note on Tabelog: Tabelog does weigh scores. A simple average of scores will typically lead to a different result from the stated score. This especially affects ratings of newer restaurants which could be significantly lower. I’ve generally found Tabelog useful and agreed or found value with the relative ratings but your mileage may vary. Just trying to say that Tabelog isn’t God and I always try to cross verify with something else if I can.

I remember @NYCtoLA also likes Kaiseki and might have some great recommendations too!

Edit: For tempura I went to Tempura Fukamachi and while I enjoyed it I think I have a me problem where I prefer tempura as a course in a set meal rather than being the entire meal. Also went to Yakitori Omino where I had a similar experience but then I had yakitori at a pop up here and my mind was changed (i.e., it was super enjoyable). Keep in mind I went to everything I listed out solo. I am aware of really good soba places but never did much research on them or went to them as I opted for other cuisines that trip, like more Kaiseki. My other picks were Japanese Chinese (great!) and Wagyu Yakiniku (amazing!). Can’t offer much either on ramen as I’ve never deep dived on that but there are some awesome resources out there for that, as referenced in the other thread.

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should spend at least 1 day in kyoto (it’s possible to do a daytrip from tokyo), but more ideally two and then hit up an onsen in the surrounding mountains

IN TOKYO:
takashimaya nihombashi - the basement food shopping experience is one-of-a-kind. notably, you can get the highest of high-end fruit here, as well as this:
image (K&K smoked mackerel, they make other great canned seafoods as well)
there exist other food halls like this (depachika), but i haven’t been to them

sanda wagyu - serves only offal from wagyu. apparently paul bocuse used to go here? (さんだ Sanda- Tokyo, Japan | TOMOSTYLE)

ramen places:
menya shono - i don’t think you can find any equivalent of their tonkotsu in the US. it has a blend of fish which is intense in a very good way (庄の (Menya Shono in Ichigaya) - Ramen Adventures)
hototogisu - michelin star ramen, but yah it’s very good. (金色不如帰 (Hototogisu in Shinjuku) - Ramen Adventures)

places that were very good, not life-changing, but also not clear that better versions of what they do exist:
nodaiwa minato (1 Chome-5-4 Higashiazabu, Minato City) - longstanding unagi set restaurant, i went in part because of this youtube feature (Chef Kanejiro Kanemoto Is Japan's Grilled Eel Master — Omakase - YouTube)
tonkatsu hasegawa (3 Chome-24-1 Ryogoku, Sumida City) - very good tonkatsu, but there are a bunch of similar-level places that you might alternatively choose based on location
isehiro (yakitori) (1-5-4 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo) - very good yakitori, next to Tokyo Station

places that made taste memories that are still perfectly clear
Ichikawa (sushi) (いちかわ - 白金高輪/寿司 | 食べログ)
visited this place 8 years ago, but it remains the best sushi experience i’ve ever had, in part because of the torigai which i had never heard of or had before and was completely mindblowing, but also everything else was close to perfect. i have no idea if the quality remains the same, and i may not ever visit this place again in order to keep the memories pristine, but i ended up here by searching for top-100 tabelog that was on the more affordable side and run by a younger person (with the assumption that they were gunning for the top).

Tamarawai (5 Chome-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya City) - set the standard by which all other soba is now judged

Kikunoi (kaiseki) - a perfect meal. 4 courses from it i can still taste in my memory. the original kyoto location is supposed to better.

for kikunoi and ichikawa, i got reservations through hotel concierge the day before.

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I haven’t been to japan recently enough to give any specific recs but since your itinerary is pretty open I’ll share some highly biased and uninformed thoughts.

Consider skipping Tokyo entirely. The least fun of any city in Japan by an order of magnitude. Narita is so far from the city center it doesn’t necessarily make sense even if you are flying in and out of there.

A few years back I was in Fukuoka in the middle of February and it was full-on cherry blossom season. Can’t guarantee the same weather but global warming has been pretty reliable. Might be cool to do a winter wonderland/spring awakening type trip. Fukuoka is a very walkable, friendly, fun town. Just eat some motsunabe while you’re there

Second Kyoto. Could probably just ski and do a little Kansai bounce around for the rest of your trip. Kyoto should be relatively tourist-free, if stark in its aspect. Ryoan-ji is at the top of my temple list. Osaka is always a party. The simplest answer to your question is just do Sapporo and then Kansai region.

If you weren’t skied out you could run around Gifu-ken. Start in Nagoya, a couple days in Takayama and then ski and onsen a few days in the mountains. That would at least get you out in the countryside which is definitely where you’ll find your vibes in Japan.

Lastly, just leave room to follow your nose. A few hot ressies are cool to build the trip around but if you’re on this site you’ve hopefully already got some functioning radar for this stuff. Just trust it and wander around, I guarantee you aren’t going to end up having a bunch of bad meals. Final thoughts; chasing famous ramen is not recommended, the basements of train stations and department stores are your best friends.

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Thanks for getting the thread started!

General Tips from what I’ve found

  • If doing an expensive restaurant, see if there is a lunch option available. The lunch options are generally like 50% cost, a little smaller, but otherwise the same quality.

There are primarily 6 ways of booking a reservation [that I’ve come across, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong]!

  1. Top Fine Dining Restaurants' Reservation Service in Japan - OMAKASE the cheapest per booking. About 400 Yen/seat to book

  2. Pocket Concierge - Reserve top restaurants in Japan More expensive, about 2000 Yen/seat to book

  3. https://www.tableall.com/ The Most expensive at 8000 Yen/seat to book

  4. TableCheck - Reservations at Japan's Best Restaurants no additional fee [from what I can tell], but you do put a charge hold on your credit card as a deposit for the total amount.

  5. tabelog.com → The Japanese version allows you to make reservations; the english one does not. You can try to get around this by using translate.google.com and plugging in the tabelog site of the restaurant you’re interested in. You will need to make a tabelog account, and I was able to do this without speaking any Japanese by using the camera translate function of the Google Translate App on my phone while recording my monitor LOL

  6. Having your Credit Card Concierge/Hotel Concierge/Local Friend/Fixer book the reservation for you.

Tokyo

  • I’ve aggregated MOST of the Tokyo restaurant research I’ve done into Notion, HTML Export can be found here
    Few stragglers I haven’t added yet, but will make time to add any entries in.
  • For some of these locations, if you see the page icon/open button, it can lead to a page that expands to more pictures.
    Screen Shot 2022-12-07 at 1.09.38 PM

Some highlights from the sheet below:

Sushi

Omakase

  • Sushi Tsubomi - [got a reservation for February; booked on omakase.] Described as a mini Sushi Saito; same suppliers, and I believethe head chef led one of the Sushi Saito locations overseas
  • Sushi Keita - [I previously dined here in 2018; reservation through family in Japan who just called in]. I would describe this as large nigiri; sour sharp shari. pretty excellent and was my first introduction to the world of high end omakase in Tokyo. Blew my mind back then, and not many places I’ve tried state-side have come close to the same highs.
  • Hakkoku - [reservation for early January; booked on omakase.] Exclusively nigiri, signed up for the 25 piece dinner course. Have read this has strong akazu flavor, and the 25 pieces of nigiri can feel overwhelming without the contrast of a great otsumami program.
  • Sushi Shunsuke - Sushi Namba’s original location, super east from city center. When Sushi Namba moved to the city center in Hibiya, the apprentice chef took over the original location and maintains much of the same ethos. Similar experience but at a much more approachable price point and should be easier to book [which may still be hard to book!]

Okonomi/A la Carte/Under 5k Yen Set Menus

  • Standing Bar Sushi Akira [Tsukiji & Shinbashi Locations] - the cuts on the neta and the vinegar blend for the rice looks pretty promising for a standing sushi bar. I believe 400 yen/piece
  • 九州寿司 寿司虎 Aburi Sushi TORA - far from city center, but it’s a revolving sushi bar where the main appeal is torched sushi and some aged neta. seems a few steps more interesting than a typical revolving spot
  • 秀徳元祖 Shutoku ganso - Local uncle recommended this as one of his favorite lunch time spots for sushi set menu. Affordable, great QPR

B-Class Gourmet

Tasting Menus

  • Le Sputnik [French] - 9,000 yen lunch menu. 1* spot. Haven’t been, but will try to go
  • Bottega [Italian] - Both a la carte and tasting menu. 1* spot, open late. Comes highly recommended by a few people I follow, will try to go
  • Cork/L’as [French] - 12,000 yen for 6 courses + wine pairing. Cork focuses more on pairing the food to the wine; L’as seems to be more food first then wine pairing. Both places look pretty intimate. Reservations can be made on tabelog.
  • Acid Brianza - booked the 8800 Yen 8 course lunch menu; looked pretty interesting to me. Focus is on foraging, fermenting, and oil infusions. Seems to carry some of the Nordic ethos that Noma popularized. Booked on omakase

Ramen [photos lifted from 5amramen.com]

  • Gonokami Suisan - known for a shrimp + tomato tsukemen & other seafood ramens.
  • Iruca Tokyo - Porcini Shoyu & Yuzu Shio; I definitely want to benchmark this against LA favorites Iki Ramen & Afuri

  • Tsukemen Kinryuu - saw one of my friends go recently and it blew their mind. Very interested in seeing a seemingly lighter tsukemen option
  • Ramen Shichisai – went here in 2018 hungover out of my mind. One taste of the niboshi/dried sardine ramen made me audibly say “oh my god” for maybe one of the few times ever in my life. Noodles are springy and hand-cut by hand. I was hesitant that it would be overwhelmingly pungent, but it was very controlled, oceanic, and revitalizing.

Tonkatsu

  • Kippei - Ningyocho/East Tokyo
  • Tonta - Shinjuku/West Tokyo

Sweets

  • Kakigori Sebastian, Ebisu - everything they make here is kakigori and they make a kakigori version of desserts we know and love. I.e., a creme brulee that’s actually all kakigori underneath the caramelization; or a cake that’s all kakigori. Probably less of a wait/line since it’ll be winter when I go. Excited to try it

    image
    image

image

  • Ringo Apple Pies, Hibiya - Looks like an awesome flakey apple pie. Not sure if it would ever be worth a line


Yakiniku

  • Ushigoro S & Ushigoro. [multiple locations]
    – Ushigoro S is tasting menu only where each group has its own private room for dining; apparently an awesome tasting menu of yakiniku. My uncle compared it to Jumbo Hanare in tier, and significantly easier to book.
    – Ushigoro Non-S is more a la carte, but also has tasting menus. Much more conventional yakiniku experience where you’re in a common space with other parties. From photos, this looks to be a few tiers nicer than say… Kang Hodang Baekjeong.
  • Kappou Jo - same restaurant group as Ushigoro, but Kappou Jo is their Kappo/Kaiseki concept that is all counter-seating and the chefs will prepare Wagyu in non-yakiniku courses for you. This looks super exciting to me, and I’m trying hard to get a reservation for February.
  • All of these restaurants should be bookable through tablecheck.com

Kanazawa

  • Going to be spending 1 full day and night in Kanazawa, which probably isn’t enough time to actually enjoy the city. But going for the explicit reason to enjoy Nodoguro, easily my favorite sushi piece and generally prohibitively expensive stateside [have seen it be as crazy as $20/bite].

Restaurants

  • Omicho Market is loaded with a ton of seafood spots, and I don’t think you can go wrong. After taking a look through a couple dozen places, these places stood out to me and where I would consider going.

  • Enishioumicho 鮮彩えにし, Omicho Fish Market - the photos for the crab don look like absolute insanity and I really want to try it


  • Sushi Rekireki Omicho 鮨 歴々 近江町店 - affordable nigiri set. Looks pretty good IMO
    image
    image

  • のど黒釜飯専門店 能加万菜 と成屋(のうかばんざい となりや) - Nodoguro Meshi specialists, you start by eating nodoguro with rice. Then you add topings to change up the taste. Then finish by pouring hot broth into the bowl and enjoying as a soup
    image
    image

  • Itaru Honten - Seafood focused Izakaya. I believe you should be able to try a very good version of every Kanazawa specialty here. Shiroebi, nodoguro, winter buri, crab, etc

  • Kaiseki - don’t sleep on kaiseki in Kanazawa, I’ve never had it and this will be my first time, but there’s a hyper-regional version of Kaiseki cuisine called Kaga cuisine.

Sightseeing

  • planning on checking out a snow-fallen Kenrokuen garden
  • Also going to check out Shirakawago during the day since you need very specific permits/passes to go see the light-up event during the night. Though I’ve heard the night-time event is less fun in person since there are so many flash photographers ruining the ambiance.

Osaka

  • Did very little research on Osaka, but going to be here for 3 nights. Only reservation I booked was for a yakitori spot called Yakitori Ichimatsu.
  • Otherwise planning on eating all the different street foods and exploring Dotonbori

Additional Resources I’ve used for research

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wait - putting aside the colossal amount of content in the rest of the post, did you make that google sheets sushi reference??? :exploding_head: :exploding_head: :exploding_head:

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I mean this honestly goes well beyond anything I could have expected. This is remarkable. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to dive further into this.

Lol this website is incredible. Wtf.

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Haha I did not! I bought it for $30 because I was WAAAY overwhelmed by choice.

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No worries! Took less work than writing a food write up from scratch since most of this research was already done and I’m just compiling information together

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Ehh, no need to be humble. And the best of luck on your trip! When I have time to sit down and digest this, I’ll be sure to lob some questions your way.

Also, eager to see the eventual Quintonil write-up. Curious how you found it to be!

Feel free to co-op this thread as a massive trip report, or start your own! The Asia section on here is slow enough that we need to get some decent intel going on!

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Admittedly I’ve been remiss in my FTC duties lately. I went back to Tokyo and Kamakura for a week last month to celebrate a turkey-less Thanksgiving, and haven’t yet had the chance to offer insights on my first visit to Japan since the pandemic began. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share.

I see that there are already tons of great restaurant recommendations here. I’ll try to contribute first, rather, by going into some nitty-gritty information about general travel in Japan. Apologies if you already know some/all of this…

For you as first-time visitor, I will go against the popular sentiment expressed on this thread thus far and advise that you DO spend at least some time in Tokyo. Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area on earth, and the beautifully interwoven complexity of its urban planning and layout is astounding. The sheer variety of food styles found in Tokyo is incomprehensibly vast. As for which ward to stay in, I’d recommend anywhere near a major “hub” station where multiple lines intersect. Doing so puts you in easier striking distance of most other parts of greater Tokyo. On past visits, I did not enjoy staying in Shinjuku because, as great as the area was, it felt a bit far removed from center of Tokyo. On another trip though, I really DID like hanging out in Nakameguro, where my friend was staying - charming little area, with galleries, indie stores, coffee shops, etc. Also, because there exists a superb and reliable train service network, many daytrips can be had if you are staying in Tokyo. For example, on this past trip, I went on a day hike in Kamakura to Kotoku-in, home of the Daibutsu.

Entry logistics: Anytime I plan to enter Japan via Tokyo, I usually try to fly into Haneda rather than Narita. For me, I like to be close to the heart of the city from where my plane touches down. Definitely use the app “Visit Japan Web”, which is the (current) official Japanese government portal to upload your passport and COVID-19 vaccination clearances ahead of your arrival. You can even complete your customs card on this app. You can do all of this even up to a few hours before you land in Japan. If you enter the requested data within the specified time, then the QR codes the app gives you will allow you to breeze your way through health control, immigration and customs at the airport - So modern and easy!

Connectivity: Secure a portable Wi-Fi hub rental for pickup at your airport before you arrive in Japan. Having constant map service on your mobile will save you time with finding all those hard-to-spot restaurant frontages. Plus, many of the Wi-Fi hubs now also double as phone charger battery as well, just in case your phone need the extra juice when the chef gives you permission to take lots of food photos lol.

Money: Yes, many more places in Japan now take cards than ever before, but definitely have cash on hand. Japan is still a place where cold hard cash reigns. No tipping in Japan. When it comes to prices: WYSIWYP! The USD is quite strong against the JPY (USD $1 = JPY ¥136 as of the writing of this).

Transport: Make good use of public transport. Download the” Japan Travel by NAVITIME” app to search for routes, down to the minute. And yes, the system all runs with incredibly punctuality. Prepared to walk at least 15,000 steps a day (so healthy!). Get a Suica card at the machine as soon as you get to a transit station (English menu available), and load up a few hundred yen on it to start with. Suica is also accepted for payment at most konbinis and also many vending machines as well. Taxis can be a bit on the expensive side, but do not be hesitant to hail a cab if you are hopelessly lost or running late to a reservation. Having said that, I’d try to mostly stick with public transport, as it is just excellent. Etiquette note: Try to refrain from talking on metro trains in Japan.

Lodgings and Reservations: A baller hotel usually has a baller concierge. Staying at one of these hotels can be key to getting you into some of the hard-to-secure seatings in town. In this realm, in case you decide to splurge, I find the concierges at the Tokyo Station Hotel, Aman Tokyo, and Palace Hotel to be particularly strong.

Reservations: Tokyo is a formal city, and as such, reservations are highly respected (and expected) for pretty much any higher-end eatery (sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, kaiseki, etc). But many casual eateries such as ramen-ya, depachika, izakaya and kissaten operate very much on walk-in business. As many food workers do not want to handle cash, I’d advise any visitor to get used to the “chip vending machine” way of ordering at many noodle shops and casual places.

Unfortunately, I found on this latest trip that sushi “high temple” seatings have become even harder to procure since the pandemic. Many places simply have no available seats for foreigners, with chefs having discovered (and cultivated) a core group of devoted local customers during Japan’s relative isolation in the last 2 years; and this base already allows for sustained financial security for these shops. Famed sushi-yas such as Saito, Sugita, Arai, Sawada and Kimura have always been popular with Tokyoites. Now, I think many of these chefs realize that they will do just fine without any tourist business henceforth (sigh). But on the bright side, many shops are still very much open to tourist traffic. If time permits, I will probably be writing up my experience at one such place (Sushi Keita) on a future thread.

Reservation Apps: Already well-covered in the above entries on this thread. But I would state that I personally will not be using TableAll in the future, as I had a pretty bad restaurant experience with it on this most recent trip to Tokyo.

Tokyo highlights I enjoyed on my latest visit (food and otherwise):
Echiré Maison du Beurre (Marunouchi): Best viennoiserie in Toyko right now. Heavenly baked goods made with butter from Deux-Sèvres. Expect a long line. Croissants sell out pretty quickly on weekends. Their 50% sel croissant stands as the finest croissant I’ve ever had, anywhere…

Gonokami Tsukemen Seisakusho (Shinjuku): Ebi-based broth is intense (I loved the miso) and life-changing. Noodles are on the firm side. Damn, damn good!

Momijigari (autumn colors viewing), Koishikawa Korakuen (Bunkyo)…

teamLab Planets (Toyosu): Immersive art, truly impressive. Though teamLab Borderless has closed, teamLab Planets remains open. Reservations highly recommended…

Daibutsu, Kotoku-in (Kamakura)…

Aoyama-san slices up the maguro for us, Sushi Keita (Tsukiji)…

Seiko gani, Sushi Keita…

Been there, done that from my previous trips. Closed on this evening as I passed by Ginza…

Sweet potato vendor (Higashi-Azabu)… Gotta get this!

No picture but great soba, at Kawakami-An (Azabujuban)
… and nearby, kaiseki in Tokyo: Azabu Kadowaki

I’d also echo the sentiments of other FTCers and recommend that you visit Kyoto. With its ancient temples and serene feel, Kyoto offers a really nice contrast from the uber-megacity tempo of Tokyo. On my last trip there (in 2017), I had two great meals in Kyoto: Takehisa and Michelin one-star Sushi Kappo Nakaichi. Try to stay at a ryokan if your budget allows for it. The in-house kaiseki meals at ryokans are well worth it!

Enjoy Japan!

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:thinking:

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They remember me in Kyoto! If memory serves, this spot is only a few blocks away from Takehisa!

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All the tempura places where we dined (pre-Covid) only accepted cash for whatever reason. Have your ATM card ready. :grinning:

Gang, when I asked for Japan help, I could not have imagined this.

@J_L Many thanks for this wonderful primer. Nakameguro sounds right up my alley. I think based on collective advice, Kyoto will certainly happen. I think I had a small fear that Kyoto was so perfect that it was too perfect (maybe like a Dubrovnik versus a Split situation, or a Venice versus anywhere else in Italy) but Kyoto sounds much mellower than those places and much larger, so it seems way easier than I anticipated to avoid the hordes.

Also, I need to dress well for this trip huh? None of my usual dross.

I will be sure to check out Echiré Maison du Beurre. Gonokami Tsukemen Seisakusho looks perfect, though my shellfish-allergic friend might have to sit outside haha.

Also, I’m going to see what I can do to make Sushi Keita happen. It makes sense that the “high temple” spots have gone more local, but a bit of a shame for us :melting_face:

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Split is the “nicer” city if you want experience Croatia

Oh I know. Spent a month there. Great food city as well. (Also I bet the Croatians are dancing tonight.)

not to hijack but also to brainstorm - any recommendations for tempura (set menu or casual) in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka?

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