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Oct 11, 2009 07:25 PM

Tokyo Restaurants - Language Barrier

We are going to be in Tokyo for a week in early November. We do not speak any Japanese but we have a volunteer guide helping up on one of the days (Tuesday, 10 AM to 6 PM). I would like to know if there are any suggestions for restaurants where knowledge of Japanese is very important. We figure we could go there for lunch with our guide and she could help us with the Japanese translation and hopefully enjoy a nice meal at the same time.

We are fairly open to price range but would prefer something that is under Y8,000 a person. A large part of the trip is about experiencing the food of Japan so we are open to anything from Kaiseki to noodle houses. We just want to use the opportunity to go to a place where having someone who speaks Japanese would add to our overall experience. I realize that is true of most places in Tokyo, but I am sure there are places you can get by and have a good meal without knowing Japanese.

Any other thoughts or suggestions you may have about overcoming the language barrier issues in Tokyo food establishments are welcome. I am trying to learn food terminology and simple expressions but I doubt I will be able to understand spoken Japanese.

I have been reading this board for food ideas for our trip and the information here is very useful.


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  1. Maybe a small sushi shop in Tsukiji outer market might be a fun experience with a guide. For example, when I went to Uogashi Senryo ( ) recommended here on Chowhound - (thanks oonth) we chatted quite a bit with the sushi chef, and he explained the surprisingly complicated procedure for eating our chirashi. The Outer Market is a nice place for a midday visit too, and quite underrated.

    Izusen in Yoga is a shojin-ryori (vegetarian) spot where they have long explanations of each of the dishes, but I don't know if you want to go all the way to Yoga for lunch.

    Other than that, the most interactive restaurants tend to be kaiseki, which is mostly outside your budget and more of an evening meal. Izakaya have the most complicated menus, but again it's an evening meal experience.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robb S

      I agree with Robb on this. If you have a guide, the Tsukiji outer market can be a lot of fun (and far less touristy). The fact that you'll be able to ask your guide what all the fish and dried/packaged goods are is a plus as well. There are loads of places to get tasty, inexpensive lunches, especially if you're open to things like donburi. One interesting place called Ao Sora (3541-3804) serves pressed sushi you can order and eat on the go.

    2. If you're interested in traditional Japan, you might want to concentrate on some of the places in the shitamachi area with the surviving restaurants from the Meiji era, serving very traditional fare. Here's a sampling:
      Having a local help you with navigating menus for things like dojou-nabe, monjayaki, or some of the traditional unagi shops in the old neighborhood of Tokyo might provide a glimpse on to things you wouldn't find on your own.

      1 Reply
      1. re: E Eto

        I was also thinking okonomiyaki or monja in Asakusa or similar not just for the pancake-like dish but also for otsumami (small appetizers). It'd be pretty casual making it easier for everyone to relax and enjoy the food and company.

      2. Thanks to all the responses so far. Those are the knds of responses I was looking for. I have to admit I was not familiar with the concept of otsumami or restaurants from the Meiji era.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tiger1998

          You probably won't run into many otsumami at lunchtime - they're generally snacks that go with drinks in the evening.

          1. re: tiger1998

            Restaurants that have been in business since the Meiji period serve everyday food like any other places except that they have a history and family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. So, no worries. You won't be eating some weird stuff.

            Now, I was just looking at this menu from a Hiroshimayaki restaurant in Shimokitazawa:


            They list four (tiny) dishes at the bottom of the page as otsumami but I would consider everything else on that page to be otsumami except for the grilled rice ball and gyoza as I don't care to eat starch with my liquor. Most okonomiyaki places will bring all the side dishes before the main course so you can drink without getting full. I just love it that these days, okonomiyaki places are functioning more like izakaya. All my favorite things under one roof. ;)

            1. re: kikisakura

              Got time to answer this post….
              To add to Robb’post, as Tsukiji, if you want to buy a very high quality hand made knife is better to be accompanied and explain your aptitutes by buying a ceramic stone.
              For a different facet of Tokyo, I recommend that you stop at the station JR Nishi-Nippori, then on the exit turn right and climb right the Dokanyama Hill. This small cozy street will pass in front of Suwada dori with a view of Mount Fuji, then continue straight 47 samourais who avenged their mater : the Akoroshi temple. At the end, on your left, you can join the national Museum of Ueno whose wing Hoseikan has been reformed and worth to be seen. There is an exhiibiton of the Emperrs treasures (first modern painting on Japanese shield) . Don't miss the different buddhas of all the Asia. From the park of Ueno Park, you can join Ameyoko street and all the fun of an asian street.
              The Asakusa area, the near temple stands will be open until 18: 00, but the evening lighting of the Asakusa Temple is really a magic feary. In addition, if you take the small pedestrian street in fornt of the department store Matsuya, there is a “Genpin” fugu (globe fish) restaurant on the left just before the Shimisedori. You will be able to have dinner for less than 8000 yens (English menu) :
              The style Meiji, okonimiyaki - yakisoba old house, cross feet, the restaurant sometaro. It is better if you know some :
              During your stay, it would be valuable to try an "ordinary" sushi and a "high end" if you do like sushi....

              1. re: Ninisix

                Thanks to everyone who replied to my post. Unfortunately we had to cancel our trip for now so I cannot report back on how things went. However, I am sure the information you provided will be useful in the future too.

                1. re: Ninisix

                  domo! sometaro & tettiri both look subarashi.