2 week foodie trip to Japan in April (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Fukuoka)
The wife and I are heading to Japan, for 2 wonderful weeks, this April. We eat a lot of Japanese food here in Los Angeles and love it all. We want to try traditional as well as unusual food. The only requirement is that is taste good! We can afford a few expensive meals, but we also know that the 'mom and pop' restaurants have great food as well. This trip, without the kids, is really about eating our way through Japan. While we are trying to learn, currently our Japanese is next to non-existent... All suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Here is a brief travel itinerary (we also intend to take day trips from the main cities):
TOKYO - 5 nights (3 nights at the beginning and 2 nights at the end of our trip)
KYOTO - 4 nights
OSAKA - 3 nights
FUKUOKA - 1 night
We had a wonderful time! We cannot possibly list all of the little places we stopped to eat, including anything resembling a french bakery, but here are a few of our favorites:
Birdland Yakitori - amazing selection and variations of chicken yakitori
Tsukiji Market - Sushi Dai and Sushi Bun were outstanding, but Daiwazushi was not up to par when we went there
Star Bar Ginza - worth mentioning as the drinks were amazing and owner, Hisashi Kishi, was a wonderful host
Takoyaki and Ramen at local restaurants - http://4-the-love-of-food-overseas.bl...
Gekkoukamen Steakhouse - one of our best experiences. more than just amazing beef, Chef Owner Shigeyuki Aoki was a wonderful host
Fried Oysters at Miyajima Island
Yatai - next to the Naka River, for incredible point and taste food including tonkotsu ramen
Chikae - white squid - live and tempura, very fresh, very good, and very fun
Kyoto Spoon - pork and salmon sashimi dishes were incredible. The Chef/Owner was very nice and a big fan of surfing!
Izuu - great Kyoto style Sabazushi
While you are in Tokyo I would suggest you take a day trip out to a restaurant that is about a 45 minute train ride from Shinjuku Station. It is called Ukai Toriyama and it is located at the base of a mountain called Mt. Takao. Once you arrive at Takaosan Guchi Station (last station on the line) there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the restaurant. The restaurant is series of small Japanese style houses of varying size that accommodate different size groups. The houses are set in a beautiful garden setting and each house has magnificent views. You select a from one of several different courses (there is an English menu) and then just relax, drink some wonderful sake while being served in a very unique setting. The final course is either beef or chicken which you cook yourself over a small hibachi which is in the center of each room. Ask someone at your hotel to call and make a reservation because they are always extremely busy. I used to take visitors there all the time and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Here is the link with the phone numbers and a better description than mine.
I'd also skip Nagoya, I had the same impression as burritobelle. If your only goal is eating and not sightseeing, I think you could spend a little less time in Kansai and spend a little more time getting to Fukuoka: just about any little city you stop in will have a specialty. If you like ramen, try Onomichi ramen as E Eto said; or for oysters and okonomiyaki, a stop in Hiroshima will do. If you're interested in fugu, Shimonoseki is the place. Just take your time, and if you can find English-speaking Japanese, ask them what's famous in their city. You will have more than enough to try.
In Kyoto, another cooking class is this one: http://www.kyotouzuki.com/ Do not, by any means, miss Nishiki Market. Happily, there are lots of free samples in Nishiki- enjoy! In Osaka, I recommend visiting the top floor of a department store. Both Hankyu and Hanshin department stores regularly have "fairs" featuring foods from a certain region of Japan or a foreign country. I think this is a specialty at their flagship stores which are located in Umeda/ Kita. This week it's Miyazaki/ Kumamoto/ Kagoshima prefectures. When you get here... who knows? These fairs are extremely popular with Japanese people, who place a very large value on the terroir of food.
Another great place to go in Tokyo or Osaka is Namco NamjaLand, which is in the Sunshine City mall in Ikebukuro in Tokyo or across the street from Umeda station in Osaka. It's a "gyoza theme park" where stores from all over Japan have gathered to sell their various original-recipe potstickers.The Tokyo one charges a 300 yen entrance fee but has 10 or 12 shops; the Osaka one is free but only has 5 gyoza shops. The decor is part of the fun. It's like walking onto a movie set or something: an entire street scene has been created, completely indoors, and the feeling is bizarre.
Finally, another vote for the Yokohama Ramen Museum: this is one of the best museums I've ever visited. Not only do you get to sample ramen from different parts of Japan, you get to see what Japan looked like 50 years ago (just as in Namco NamjaLand, it's like a movie set.) Lots of fun.
I am a food lover who has been living in Japan for the past 6 months & here is my 2 cents:
I would skip Nagoya completely. It's just not that exciting a city. There isn't really much interesting sightseeing and you can get great food in other cities. Seriously, you'll never miss it. I would advise you to go to Yokohama instead, and it's only about an hour outside Tokyo. I loved the city: excellent modern art museum, beautiful harbor and there is lots of good food: namely ramen. You can also visit the Ramen Museum while you are here: http://www.bento.com/phgal3.html Yokohama is also famous for it's Chinatown, which is far more touristy than practical (it's not like Chinatown in SF/NYC) which means lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. I liked it nonetheless.
When you're in Osaka and if you like kitchy foodie tourism then definitely visit the Instant Ramen Museum - it's awesome. http://www.nissin-noodles.com/english.htm
In Kyoto, I recommend you take a cooking class. I did this one and it was great: http://marikokitchen.blogspot.com/ She speaks fluent English and in it's in her home. Also make sure and visit Nishiki Market. Really amazing food market. Stop at the oyster stand for sure.
I do agree with the advice to spread your trip out a little. 3 days in Osaka and 4 in Kyoto is a bit long. I would recommend exploring the Fukuoka area a little more. Or you might want to take a side trip out of Tokyo to Nikko or Kamakura. They will give you a bit of nature after all that city.
i take many foodie trips too. so here are some suggestions:
definitely go to matsusaka for the beef. Wadakin is considered THE place to have wagyu in japan. it's pretty expensive but well worth the price. they are famous for sukiyaki but you can also have the sirloin steak. and IF you can get access to a kitchen (minsuku, etc), you can buy beef from the Wadakin meat counter, not only is it less than half the price, the meat is actually better. btw, CASH only for this restaurant.
further down south is ise and toba. there is a restaurant called kuroshio dining (more like a fish market) near toba. they serve fresh seafood over rice at very cheap price. price is not really the point though. you have live prawn (literally jumping in your bowl), raw lobster, uni, etc all ultra fresh. the only thing is it's not accessible via public transport. You either have to drive or take a taxi from the subway station. I suggest to rent a car for 1 day from nagoya to cover matsusaka, ise, and toba.
btw, there is nothing much to do in nagoya but they have an eel over rice called hitsumabushi which is only available in nagoya and i think it's like 10 times better than the regular one. if eel is your thing, you can try going to una fuji. highlights: hitsumabushi, shiroyaki (plain grill with salt), and the liver. another thing nagoya is really famous for is the chicken wing kabab (or whatever you would call it in english). it was invented in nagoya and it's really quite yummy. crispy skin, juicy meat and the bone comes off on its own.
tokyo - yakiniku (korean bbq). yakiniku jumbo is famous amongst japanese. the meat melts in your mouth. they say you don't need teeth to eat it... do order the misuji and zabudon and follow the 3 second and 5 second rule if you go.
sushi - i've never had bad sushi in japan. of course there are lots of famous places which cost an arm and a leg. but i think an average one would do the job. just pick the small ones which have nice decor (meaning the place is not too run down)
hand made soba is nice for lunch. there is one next to gora station if you do go to hakone in your tokyo days.
do try those all crab dinners in the chain restaurants, kani douraku (or other chains are fine too) crab sashimi is heavenly. these restaurants have a huge moving crab sign outside. can't miss it. shinjuku, shibuya, ginza, etc. they also have it in osaka.
that's it for now. if you need more let me know.
You might want to spread out just a little more. Your 4 nights in Kyoto and 3 in Osaka puts you in the same metropolitan area for 7 nights. That's like saying you'll be in LA for 4 nights and Orange County for 3 nights. You can easily stay in either place and get to the other within a half hour, though I understand wanting to have either city at your front door. Perhaps substituting a day in Nagoya, or Kobe, Okayama, or Hiroshima might give you some more opportunities to see/eat your way through Japan.
re: E Eto
You bring up a very good point. We have not yet booked our hotels, so changes are possible. We intended to take day trips (Nagoya from Kyoto and Nara from Osaka). But, since food is our real objective, we are open to all suggestions!
Without taking this off topic, do you think 1 night in Fukuoka is enough (or would you add a night in Okayama)? Do you suggest an overnight in Nagoya (or several day trips)? We had originally thought of going to Toyama Bay for the Shiro Ebi, but that seemed to take away too much time from other cities.
We have read your other posts on this board and we respect your opinions. Thank you, in advance, for any guidance...
While daytrips from Kyoto are certainly doable, I'm not sure why you wouldn't stay in Nagoya if you want to experience more of the food culture. There's a lot to try to fill up in Nagoya, as I've uncovered from my initial research: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/337781
Also look for posts by Deraumai for more detailed info on Nagoya, like this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/615189
If you're sticking to the Shinkansen route going towards Fukuoka, my dream culinary tour would take me to Shizuoka (a night somewhere on the Izu peninsula, at least), or a stop in Numazu, or Shizuoka city, or Hamamatsu; then along to Nagoya for at least a night or two; my temptation to get off the route would be to go towards Mie prefecture to somewhere like Matsuzaka or Ise, but we'll leave that for another time; Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe are so close that you can stay in one place and do day trips to any of them, or a few nights in the different cities; Okayama/Kurashiki for at least a night; a stop in Onomichi for some ramen, then on to Hiroshima for at least another night or two; then to Fukuoka for at least two nights. One night doesn't cut it for a city as large as Fukuoka.
More info on route between Tokyo-Kyoto: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/513667
If you're going towards Toyama, then that's a whole different story, and worth the trouble as well. You can start at Nagoya and go towards Toyama on the Takayama train, but I might just start in Tokyo and take the express train to Niigata and then start down the Japan sea coast towards Toyama (and a trip to the Noto penisula), then to Kanazawa, and then to Fukui. From there, you can get to Kyoto easily and follow the route to Fukuoka, and the back on the regular shinkansen route through Nagoya-Shizuoka-Tokyo.
I would relish the opportunity to eat my way through Japan, but my trips are usually focused around family that it's difficult to plan anything of that sort.
Some more info here: