Hello, I am planning a food-focused trip to Japan in Sep’23. I know that there are an endless number of options and I was hoping to get some advice from the community re. my sushi picks in Tokyo. This will be my 2nd visit to Tokyo. The last time I was there was a long time ago and I was fortunate enough to dine at Sushi Iwa, Sushi Taichi & Daisan Harumi and liked them in that order.
I don’t think I enjoy extremely sour (Keita?) or salty shari but I would like to try a few different styles if possible. I would like to concentrate on nigiri more than tsumami but since I would like to plan a few meals, I can mix it up. I’m looking at about 6 meals, maybe 2 in the ¥40k-50k range, 2 in the ¥30k-35k range & 2 in the ¥20k-25k range. Weekend lunches would work!
I was planning to stay at Four Seasons but I read that the concierge at Tokyo Station Hotel might be better. Should I look into switching to that? I do not speak Japanese but I can try to request friends who do to call on my behalf if that helps (the friends do not live in Japan though so they may not have a Japanese phone number in case that’s needed). My only priority is deliciousness. Don’t really care about prestige or cool pictures or stuff.
Based on my research, I’ve come up with a few names:
Sugita: I wasn’t planning on using Tableall. Taking that into consideration, should I even think about this or forget it and not even try?
Hashiguchi: I’m not sure if they allow solo diners to make reservations?
Kimura: Aged fish sounds interesting. Ichimura san in NYC used to do this and I loved his sushi! Don’t know if a reservation is possible here though.
Hatsunezushi: Do they also age fish?
Tachigui Sushi Akira
Harutaka: Jiro Style
Inomata: Since this is also aged, I guess this could be a backup to Kimura?
Tokiwazushi: I understand that this is Mizutani style but what is this style? I think this may be an option for a Saturday lunch
Of course a whole bunch of other places came up in my research - Saito (I wish! :), Sushisho Masa, Keita, Namba Hibiya, Ryujiro (heavy on the salt?), Sushi Ao, Hashimoto, Sushi Watanabe, Hakkoku, Suzuki, Ishiyama, Namba Hibiya, Sawada (strangely the reviews I saw were mixed), Amamoto, Arai, etc. to name a few.
I would appreciate any feedback on the above and suggestions to improve my list! Thank you all very much!
Good thing you’re planning in advance. Tokyo has a ton of options, but having just visited, I do think it has become quite difficult for people not living in Japan (and without industry connections) to secure reservations to many of the places you listed.
In my experience, having a high-end hotel did not really help with securing tough reservations. There are many business reasons why restaurants increasingly favor taking reservations through booking websites instead of through hotels. That’s another discussion, but I did come to realize that various high-end hotels don’t have the same pull with reservations at exclusive restaurants that they used to.
I have not yet tried Tokyo Station Hotel. I have heard good things generally. You may have success with them, but you may be prepared now to not get everything on your list that you would like. Japan was absolutely swamped with tourists recently, and there are generally not enough seats to go around at many of the restaurants you listed.
Without being overly simplistic, and you probably already know this, but there are some main “schools” of sushi (even though these distinctions are certainly dissipating over time) that have developed some unique characteristic styles. Not everyone fits into one of these “schools” or styles (sometimes the distinctions are arguable anyways) and alumni do not always mimic the places they trained, but as a general backdrop, it could help you narrow down your search. Perhaps a style that is prolific with lots of alumni, or a style that isn’t represented where you’re based, or a style that you haven’t had yet. And beyond these “schools,” there are simply different characteristics of shops, like more modern style, ones that emphasize alcohol pairing, ones with nicer vs. more old school interiors, etc.
Since it’ll be unlikely that you’ll get 6 of the ones you want on the first try, it will help to have backups in the same style. So if you want jukusei, you can aim for Kimura/Hatsunezushi/Inomata (and throw in Jukusei Yorozu), and see what has the best availability and works with your schedule. Inomata is excellent, but note that it is about 1 hour out from Marunochi. Nonetheless, it is a great option (some of my favorite nigiri all around), and a readily bookable one at that. Note also that Hatsunezushi is prepaid. Yes, Hatsunezushi ages fish, in fact they are one of the more famous ones in that style, and Inomata-san helped out Nakaji-san at Hatsunezushi for a bit a few years back, so they are similar, but the meals are different. A meal at Inomata is more straightforward than a meal at Hatsunezushi.
If you want Jiro style, sure you can try for Sukiyabashi Jiro, Harutaka, Ao. If you don’t like the characteristic sour rice then you may not care to load up a bunch on this style.
You’ll want to expand your list to include, because chances are that without industry connections (and friends without Japanese phone numbers probably won’t be of much help), you’ll have to retool a bit if you can’t get your first choice.
If you want Sugita (but it may be a longshot), have Hashimoto and Sushidokoro Yamato as “backups,” though the latter two are rather difficult themselves and I feel funny calling them “backups” because they have good reputations in their own right (particularly Hashimoto, since Yamato is rather new).
Amamoto you’re extremely unlikely to get into. It uses a raffle system now. Saito will be next to impossible. So, Sushi Shunji (who ran the room connected behind Saito for a while) is “introduction-only,” but actually bookable once in a blue moon. If you really want that but can’t get Saito or Shunji, there’s always Kanesaka. At Ginza Kanesaka, Kanesaka-san himself is serving at the counter (perhaps Kanesaka-san himself is a touch underrated because of his expansion and the relative shine of Sushi Saito). We tried Sushi Shunji and Kanesaka this trip, and the meals aren’t really the same, but the lineage is there.
Namba Hibiya is possible though a reach; not the same, but consisder Sushi Fukuzuka if you want the crazy attention to specific serving temperature. Sawada is very hard to get now.
If you want Ryujiro (ex-Umi) but can’t get in, consider Sushi Taira (who had taken over as the chef of Umi) - the one in secret location Motoazabu (not Roppongi or Shirokane). I had a good meal there and I liked the style. It’s easygoing and you get a fairly large menu; I like having a bunch of sashimi served as pairs for compare and contrast.
If you want Arai, consider also the new Sushi Takeru (I’ve had Ken-san’s sushi at Arai and it was good, though a bit different in shape than the current sous chef at Arai). Arai himself has now a few alumni. Sushi Sugaya is actually very good and I had some real highlights there. (If one wants to debate price at Sugaya, some of it is due to the inclusion of the fat maguro roll that was a pricy add-on at Arai, but I get the perception of relative value. Price aside it is very good and I’d return, particularly with a certain type of guest).
I’d add in Kurosaki as a reach (hard to book but I did see some cancellations) and Sushi Shinsuke.
Of those you listed, Hakkoku, Sushisho Masa, and Ishiyama will be the easiest for you to book. They are very popular with and accommodating to tourists, and in fact the counters sometimes have few locals.
A way to get reservations is to have very quick fingers and continually checking websites for cancellations. There are last minute cancellations, so really the best (though somewhat impractical) way to increase your chances is simply to stay a long time and have some openings.
It’s tempting to want to have everything booked, so you don’t “miss out” on anything, but I’ve found that some of the hardest-to-book reservations I got came last minute. To that end, I’d keep some openings in my schedule, with tentative options that would be easy to drop into at a moment’s notice if no notifications came (such as a shop with history, for context and edification, broadening your experience between famous shops now and OG pioneers).
I got a lot more cancellation notices from Omakase website for hard-to-book shops after raising my “Tabete” level, after honoring several reservations. To this end, I wouldn’t make unnecessary reservations (you’ll want to honor every single reservation and be on time), but if I had to guess, access and notifications do increase when you’ve shown more reservation activity. It may be a coincidence, but I have a few other reasons why I think your history matters for what kind of access you get.
With that said, if I had 6 meals allocated for sushi, I’d maybe aim for
1 or 2 halo/hard-to-get spots, with their relatives/lineage as “backups”
1 or 2 place faithful to Jiro style, Sho style, jukusei, or Shimizu / strong edomae style. something distinctive
1 or 2 newish / new style places
1 place known for top flight ingredients or a prolific history
and be flexible. It’s easy to overthink this but in the end you’re very likely to have a great time, even if you don’t get any of your first, second, third, or fourth choices!
Also worth considering Sushi Sho Goryou [not to be confused with the Sushi Sho Empire], the chef happens to also be named Sho
I met the sushi chef & the chef who prepares the otsumami funny enough at Pizza Studio Tamaki Roppongi
They speak great English and should be pretty foreigner friendly
According to this link, the head chef studied at Harutaka for 8 years.
all other thoughts
hakkoku was just OK to me. Good, but I was expecting a lot more
have heard fantastic things about hashimoto, but super hard to book
Shunsuke should be an easier to book Namba Hibiya [but still difficult, I couldn’t find any seats the 2 months I was there]. This was Sushi Namba’s old location before Namba moved to Hibiya. His #2 guy now runs Shunsuke in the OG location. Should be noticeably cheaper
Have not been to Amamoto, but Chef Akira Yoshizumi up in San Mateo said he was very impressed with Amamoto when he visited. But Amamoto is also very popular
Thank you so much! This is extremely helpful. Haha, I was thinking that because I’m starting my research in April for Sep, I have plenty of time but the more time I spend reading about reservations there, the more I feel I’m already too late : ) But Tokyo has so many delicious options, hope I manage to get to a few!
Thank you so much for your feedback! I wasn’t aware of Aburi Sushi Tora but I’ll definitely look into it. Also Sushi Sho Goryou. If there are any more spots that you highly recommend, please let me know. Thank you once again!
I’ve never stayed at Four Seasons or Tokyo Station. Of the 10 or so hotels I’ve stayed at, Shangri-La had my favorite concierge service (meaning they get an A++++ instead of just an A+). They were able to book Jiro next day in its heyday after Jiro Dreams of Sushi. No other hotel concierge was able to book it.