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Feb 7, 2008 07:17 AM

Best eating Seasons and Festivals in Tokyo?

I have chosen Tokyo/Japan as my big trip this year and want to focus as much as I can on the food. Timing over the next year is open and I thought that if I could get some information on the best seasons or festivals I could make a decision for when to go. I should have 4 weeks at my disposal.

New Years seems to be big with osechi ryori and all the other symbolic food (soba, omochi, etc).

Is there anything special during the Cherry Blossom season?

Are there any large festivals with unique or just lots of street stalls?

What is your favorite season and why?

I'm open to and enjoy all kinds of food. The more interesting/unique/odd the better!

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  1. I don't think you want to go during new years because many restaurants close in the first few days up to like 7 days in January. Some restaurant also close at the end of December.

    If you want to eat Fugu, winter is the best time to go.

    15 Replies
    1. re: skylineR33

      Right. New Years is not for Chowhounding. And osechi is a thing you enjoy in your home and usually order in advance. Hanami is good for getting blitzkrieged on nihon-shu, ume-shu, and beer in the park. I can think of some things associated with it food-wise, but not a particular cuisine. Did I mention you get blitzkrieged in the park?....I always recommend November and autumn in general, as the best eating time to visit Japan. That's my favorite at least and I know many Japanese who feel the same. If you do the whole month of November, I recommend a JR rail pass and lighting up Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo for a serious string of eating cities. If your budget can handle it, check out Hakodate and/ or Sapporo as well.

      1. re: Silverjay

        Could you go into more detail about why Autumn is best? Is it because of the atmosphere of the season?

        I might stick be sticking to Tokyo for most of the trip because of another visitor.

        1. re: hungryhungryanne

          I'm one of the many Japanese who agree with Silverjay about the autumn. There's a Japanese expression "Shokukyoku no aki" meaning "Autumn for Appetite."

          You can get an idea why it is so from these pages.

          Although I personally like October better for the weather, food-wise November might be better, as Silverjay suggests, because you could also tap into winter food (buri, tara, fugu, oysters, mikan/mandarins, nabe, etc.) in addition to autumn food (samma, saba, sardines, tachiuo, chestnuts, shiitake, matsutake, sweet potates, persimmons, pears, grapes, figs, etc.)

          1. re: kuidaore

            i'll actually be in tokyo, osaka and kyoto march/april and am wondering about what i can expect or look for during the spring season? so far it seems like fresh shoots and new vegetables are the things to look out.

            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              Strawberries (Japanese strawberries are very sweet), tai(red snapper), sawara(Spanish mackerel), clams(hamaguri, asari), takenoko(bamboo shoots), snow peas, mitsuba, fuki and other sansai, cabbage, potatoes (shin-jaga), nanohana, etc.

              I'll be in all those cities in March/April, too. I like March/April for the weather and decent air fare--you need to leave Japan before the Golden Week starts Also, late March-early April is the best for hanami (cherry blossoms viewing).

              1. re: kuidaore

                Katsuo (bonito) is also in season then. Lightly seared slices, served with either thinly sliced garlic or fresh ginger, can be really tasty if the fish is fresh. I found strawberries are usually a little more toward winter (we gave "fancy" strawberries as a New Years gift a few years ago and heard a long explanation from the yaoya-san on this). Hanami is usually a big snacking affair, so depachika (department store food halls) do up all kinds of treats, sets, and packs. I would cruise these places regularly. I think it's a better time to go than dog days of summer, but not as good as late summer, fall, or winter- for food at least.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  i'm very excited about hanami... hearing that i can drink in public under the sakura sounds amazing! i'm for sure packing myself a picnic from either the depachika or grocery stores.

                  speaking of which, i'm going with a food-focussed traveller and they love to check out grocery stores in foreign countries to see how all the different national/cultural products that are "unusual" to home. i've read a lot about depachika and convenience stores thus far, but are there major grocery chains or upscale shops that would be good to take a look at?

                  oh and i was reading an egullet japan thread and someone there mentioned how you can't beat sun-kissed ontario strawberries! so i'll have to give them a try in japan to see how they differ ;)

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    In Japan, you can drink in public anywhere. Robots for old people and non-existent public drinking laws are two reasons why Japan is so advanced... Just to note, the blooming of the cherry blossoms is very fleeting, so you'll want to check the interweb for sakura nerds posting the blooming schedule. Though, there's usually festivities every weekend when the weather is nice during that season. Hopefully you'll catch them in bloom.

                    For food shopping places, I recommend various depachika, convenience stores, and the Ameyoko market in Ueno- not to mention Tsukiji fish market. The upscale supermarkets tend to be purveyors of foriegn foods, but a local chain called Precce, owned by the Tokyu group, is a nice upscale domestic chain- usually found in Tokyu train accessed areas. Department stores are really the best concentration of things though. Also, there are some residential neighborhoods that are good for walking around.

                    The "fancy" strawberries I mentioned cost 4500 YEN for about 18 berries. They were all uniform in size and color (large and dark red) and obviously handpicked and hand cared for. They were great. AND, there was still a tier of berries above the ones we bought that were even more expensive.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      ...And it looks like Robb S. listed up some good places to shop in the Roppongi area in another thread.

            2. re: kuidaore

              Ah ha! Something an Osakan and Tokyo-ite (transplanted one at least) can agree on...Let's not forget oden, which is appearing earlier and earlier in the season.

              1. re: Silverjay

                Yes, but we can't agree on the oden ingredients! Also, oden is kanto-daki for many Osakans (not me).

        2. re: skylineR33

          Does Fugu taste good? Another thread made it sound tasteless and tough.

          What's your favorite eating season in Tokyo/Japan?

          1. re: hungryhungryanne

            I am not a big fan of fugu, meat is firm, not much taste and a bit chewy IMO. The sauce to dip the meat is nice though. It is still a great experience when ordering the "Fugu set meal" with different ways to taste fugu (raw, fried, hot pot ...).

            I wonder if it makes any difference with the Fugu served in a $40000 yen set meal restaurant.

            Don't really have any preference for a particular season...

            1. re: skylineR33

              I love fugu. Try this place and you may change your mind :

              My favorite time is November too as it is just the right time for many seafood: ankimo, shirako, kinki fish etc. December gets a bit too cold for me.

              In my opinion, the Japanese strawberries is the best tasting in the world. And don't forget Yubari melon, which is extremely juicy and delicious, and very expensive too at a price tag of 10-20k each. But I am not sure what the season for the melon is.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                is the second page of that menu a selection of tasting menus? my awful babelfish translation mentioned porridge and dessert? it's certainly piqued my interest as something to try just haven't decided how to go about it quite yet.