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2 weeks: Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto

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My husband and I are setting off for our first trip to Japan together; it's his first time there, and my first as an adult. While our main motivation is sight-seeing and attending the Suzuka F1 Grand Prix, we also like to eat and would like to find chow that fits in our itinerary. Since the dollar-yen exchange rate is so unfavorable right now (for Americans at least), dinners of no more than 2500 yen per person would really be ideal; however, we're open to one nice dinner per city. We don't have any dietary restrictions, and while I do speak Japanese, my reading is rusty... so any place with patient service (while I try to decipher more complicated menus) would be a plus :)

Other questions before we get to the main event:
- Since Kyoto is our last stop, that's also where I'd like to stock up on edible souvenirs to take home. Any recommendations on wagashi that's easy to take home?
- While traveling, I find that I can easily spend a lot on water to keep me hydrated. Is it a good idea to stock up on bottled water at combini--what's the most economical option? Is it possible to get away with carrying a reusable aluminum bottle? I've had luck carrying it around in the US as fast-food courts and cafés have often honored my request to refill it with tap water. Would these sorts of places honor that request in Japan, or is there an alternative (filling it up at a public fountain or supermarket counter, for example)?

Feedback on current selections and recommendations are extremely welcome. Many thanks in advance ~

DAY 1
--------
Check into our Shiodome hotel in Tokyo in the afternoon and explore Ginza, stopping by a department store or two.

*** DINNER: ___ (striving for cheap, delicious, and characteristically "Ginza", whatever that may be…)

DAY 2 (most jam-packed day)
--------
Check out the Sunday flea market at Togo Shrine, then window-shop/people-watch along Harajuku and Aoyama/Omotesando. Head to Mitaka for the Ghibli Museum and finally head to Shinjuku to explore Isetan, and as the sun sets, go over to the TMG building to see nighttime Tokyo in its Bladerunner-rific glory.

*** BREAKFAST: (looking for combini/café options near Shiodome/Shimbashi station where I can pick up tasty onigiri or Western-style breakfast sandwich)

*** LUNCH : Maisen, although a back-up option in Omotesando is always welcome

*** DINNER: ___ Shinjuku eats: somewhere at Isetan? Numazukou kaiten-zushi?
Numazukou - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1304/A130...

DAY 3
--------
Up early in the morning to explore Tsukiji market (not dead set on witnessing the auction), then walk around Hama-Rikyu Teien before boarding the waterbus to sight-see in Asakusa. Afternoon is open until dinner back in Ginza.

*** BREAKFAST: Tonkatsu Yachiyo OR Tenfusa OR Oo-Edo (not keen on waiting in line at Dai/Daiwa).
Yachiyo - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1313/A131...
Tenfusa - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1313/A131...
Oo-Edo - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1313/A131...

*** LUNCH: Kawamatsu Bekkan in Asakusa
http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1311/A131...

*** DINNER: Sushi Kanesaka - reservations already made (splurge of the trip, and I figured it might be a neat wrap-up to conclude a day starting at Tsukiji at a Ginza sushi-ya).

DAY 4
--------
Hop over to Tokyo National Museum and Imperial Palace East Garden, and then explore Akihabara to be tempted by Nikon gear and watch hardcore gamers at the arcade. Evening is open to have dinner back in Ginza/Shimbashi/Tsukiji, or to continue exploring around Akihabara (Kagurazaka or Ikebukuro, maybe?).

*** LUNCH (Ueno/Akiba recs please): Ikinaisshou OR Omusubi Gombei
Ikinaisshou - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131...
Omusubi Gombei - http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131...

*** DINNER: ___

DAY 5
--------
Tentative day trip to Kamakura, although I will also be watching the autumn leaf report to see if Nikko is tapping into its splendor at this time, as I would love to experience its natural beauty. Recs for either locale, please!
*** LUNCH: ___
*** DINNER: ___

DAY 6
--------
Depart Tokyo for Nagoya via shinkansen (Shinagawa) and reach Nagoya by afternoon.
*** LUNCH: Tsukemen TETSU (really hoping to stop by here before the train departs for Nagoya
)*** DINNER: Yamachan

DAY 7, 8, and 9
--------------------
Majority of the time will be spent at Suzuka Circuit. Meals in Nagoya around the main JR station would be most convenient for breakfast and dinner. Bento to bring to Suzuka would be nice, but I'm also intrigued by the offerings at the track itself, since they’re so different from what one would find back in the States.

*** BREAKFAST: (once again, another quick breakfast recommendation near Nagoya Station, please)

*** LUNCH (Suzuka): Shisen Dan Dan Men
http://r.tabelog.com/mie/A2402/A24020...

*** DINNER 7: Maruya Honten
http://r.tabelog.com/aichi/A2301/A230...

*** DINNER 8: Bakurou Ichidai for Hida-gyu (potential splurge meal for Nagoya, that or Kitchen Ribbon Steakhouse).
Bakurou Ichidai - http://r.tabelog.com/aichi/A2301/A230...
Kitchen Ribbon Steakhouse - http://r.tabelog.com/aichi/A2301/A230...

*** DINNER 9: ___ (budget recs around Nagoya Station, please!).

*** SNACK: Prasantrin mentioned Café Tanaka and since I'm also a sucker for caramel macarons I'll have to try out their rendition at the station.

DAY 11
---------
Depart Nagoya and check into our Higashiyama ward hotel in Kyoto, then walk the Philosopher's Path. Evening is open to explore more central locales.

*** BREAKFAST: (once again, another quick breakfast recommendation, this time near Keage subway station, please).

*** LUNCH: Omen Ginkaku-ji Honten
http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2603/A260...

*** DINNER: ___

DAY 11
---------
Kinkaku-ji, Daitoku-ji, Nijo Castle, with a possible stopover at the Manga Museum. In the evening we'll head to over to Osaka's Dotombori for a kuidaore-inspired night. We'll probably just let our noses lead the way, but if there are any takoyaki/okonomiyaki shops you think are special, it'd be much appreciated.

*** LUNCH: Toriyasu
http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A260...

*** DINNER (Osaka/Dotombori): ___

DAY 12
---------
Walk around Higashiyama, starting at Sanjusangen-do and wending our way to Kiyomizu-dera, Yasaka-jinja, and over to Gion/Pontocho.

*** LUNCH (recs for somewhere around Kiyomizu-dera): ___

*** DINNER: Ten'yuu OR Menami (potential splurges) OR Takumiya
Ten'yuu - http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A260...
Menami - http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2603/A260...
Takumiya - http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2602/A260...

DAY 13
---------
Day trip to Iga Ueno Ninja Museum or Todaiji in Nara (concerned that my husband -- heck, even I -- will experience temple overdose by this point in our trip, so ninjas it is).
*** LUNCH: ___
*** DINNER: ___

DAY 14
---------
Day trip to Himeji for the Nada Kenka Matsuri. Hope my camera survives intact!
*** LUNCH: ___
*** DINNER: ___

DAY 15
---------
Depart Kyoto for late afternoon flight from Kansai International. If we haven't checked it out already earlier in the week, a stop at Nishiki Market will occupy our morning before our train ride and flight back home.
*** LUNCH: ___

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  1. OK, here are a few under-Y2500 (roughly) suggestions by neighborhood. Lunch should average around Y1000, but it's a good time to splurge.

    Dinner in Shiodome/Ginza

    There's actually more budget-oriented eating in Shiodome, near your hotel, than Ginza. A few ideas are
    - Katsukura for tonkatsu: http://www.bento.com/rev/2306.html
    - Komeraku for chazuke-centered teishoku: http://www.bento.com/rev/2406.html
    - Konaya for curry udon: http://www.bento.com/rev/2638.html
    One Ginza option is
    - Hitsumabushi for unagi: http://www.bento.com/rev/2744.html

    Lunch in Aoyama

    - The natural-foods buffet lunch at Crayon House is a good deal: http://www.bento.com/rev/0319.html
    - There's usually a truck serving curry at the Farmers Market in front of United Nations University, which is also a fun stop on its own
    - Bite-size gyoza dumplings at Umeiya: http://www.bento.com/rev/0660.html

    Dinner in Shinjuku

    - tempura at Tsunahachi in Times Square: http://www.bento.com/rev/3057.html
    - there's also a branch of Katsukura in Times Square in case you haven't had tonkatsu yet.
    - all-you-can-eat kushiage, soft drinks and side dishes at Kushiya Monogatari for around Y2500: http://www.bento.com/rev/2829.html

    Dinner in Akihabara
    - Miso-soup based teishoku at Misoshiruya: http://www.bento.com/rev/2523.html
    - yakitori at Toriyoshi: http://www.bento.com/rev/3398.html

    Kamakura
    - freshly fried croquettes while seated on a rickety stool at Miyadai: http://www.bento.com/rev/3249.html
    - Indian food at T Side (if you want a change of pace): http://www.bento.com/rev/1273.html

    Kyoto
    - I think sushi at Hisago is within your budget: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7049....
    - Y3000 mini-kaiseki dinner at Tagoto: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7048....
    - there are also budget choices on the restaurant floors of Hankyu and Takashimaya, including a branch of Minokichi: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7024....

    Nara
    - several options listed here: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/nara....

    4 Replies
    1. re: Robb S

      Is Hankyu in Kyoto still open? Last I heard they were closing the whole place.

      1. re: prasantrin

        Ah you're right - the main part of Hankyu closed on August 22, but the 7th- and 8th- floor restaurant floors are still open; now they're called "Mosaic Dining."

      2. re: Robb S

        Thanks Robb!

        I'll be in Japan soon, so I might pop by with more questions and maybe an observation or two once I've hit the ground running (and eating). Can't wait!

        1. re: graceface

          Enjoy your trip! You've certainly done your homework; I hope you find some great meals.

      3. If you do have breakfast at Yachiyo in Tsukiji, I hope that either you or your husband has the char siu pork with eggs. That dish looks absolutely delicious with rice, what a wake-up!

        1. Popping back in here to write up a few initial observations. I hope to post some images soon, too.

          Konaya (Tokyo/Shiodome)
          Our first meal was curry udon at Konaya, in the restaurant row at Caretta Shiodome. I ordered the hiyashi tsukemen and it was incredibly tasty, with nice springy noodles... I wish I could have taken home the leftover curry tsuyu, it was so good! Credit cards accepted.

          Yachiyo (Tokyo/Tsukiji)
          Alas, I never made it back for a second time to try the char-siu egg teishoku, but the standard hirekatsu plate was succulent. I probably could have done with less coleslaw next to my katsu (I hate when multiple sauces on a plate co-mingle).

          Dalloyau (Tokyo/Ginza)
          In the depachika at Mitsukoshi, had a rich and flaky croissant. One of my go-to shops whenever in Paris, so why not in Japan? :)

          Sushi Kanesaka (Tokyo/Ginza)
          The interior has a very refined and formal look about it, but Sanpei-san made us feel at ease. We mentioned that we were in town for the F1 race, which started some good chitchat as he had just returned from Singapore (for the opening of Shinji), where the previous race in the series had just finished. My biggest regret is going with the 20K set rather than the 30K set, but Mr. Face doesn't actually care much for traditional Edomae sushi and I didn't want to overdo it (not to mention the ever worsening exchange rate, which killed most incentive I had for any shopping on this trip :<). Nevertheless, we came away from the meal sated and impressed at the quality of the craft, ingredients, and the gracious service from all the staff.

          Shimbashi Oraga (Tokyo/Shimbashi)
          Ordered the chashu here which was great save for one thing: too much onion! The strong taste of raw onion took away from what was otherwise a delicious bowl of ramen. The shop is only open until the end of the month, after which I think they're closing up and moving to another location (don't know where).

          Yamachan (Nagoya/Nagoya Station)
          Located under the train tracks just north of the JR North Exit (Taiko-dori), this place was great. I liked the relaxed, pubby atmosphere and the occasional rumbling of trains passing by. I also liked the tebasaki, which I someone on the boards had accurately described as being borderline overseasoned / overly salty. The deep-fried takoyaki actually ended up being my favorite takoyaki of the whole trip! The miso katsu, on the other hand... while Mr. Face liked it, I just couldn't get over that fermented tang on the initial bite. This Yamachan offers take-out service, too.

          Din Tai Fung (Kyoto/Kawaramachi)
          Had dinner with new friends at the DTF in Takashimaya. Stand-outs were the XLB (if a little on the small side) and salt-and-pepper fried chicken. Split among four, it was a good value.

          Tsukemen TETSU (Kyoto/Kyoto Station)
          While Mr. Face might have been hesitant about sushi, he certainly loved Tetsu... we ended up eating there multiple times! While I can put away a lot of food, I found the mini-sized atsumori to be a better fit (all the better to squeeze in some pastries for dessert, right?). After snarfing down the tokubetsu atsumori on our first visit, I felt like I needed to be rolled up the hill back to the hotel, I was so stuffed!

          Henri Charpentier (Kyoto/Kyoto Station)
          Speaking of pastries for dessert, I went to the boutique in the depachika at JR Kyoto Isetan. Hands down my favorite caramel macaron, with its deep, bitter caramel flavor. Much better than the Ladurée one I had at Mitsukoshi (Tokyo/Ginza). Didn't get to try the one at Café Tanaka in Nagoya.

          Kin-Ryu Ramen (Osaka/Dotonbori)
          Watery broth and boring noodles, it was the low point.

          I also consumed an inordinate amount of combini onigiri, bento, soft serve ice cream (it was hot outside!) and the occasional rainy-day instant ramen. As you can tell from my initial list, I missed a lot of the spots that I wanted to hit while in Kyoto, often due to poor timing (weren't hungry at the time, shop wasn't open yet, etc.). All the more reason to return :)

          5 Replies
          1. re: graceface

            That sounds like a great trip - thanks for the report!

            1. re: graceface

              I forgot to mention one!

              Maisen (Tokyo/Aoyama)
              Finding our way from Omotesando was easy, thanks to street signs directing hungry pedestrians to the shop. The shop as mentioned many times over is in a re-appropriated public bath house and felt quite spacious. It was a humid autumn day, however, and perhaps just the thought of being in an old bath house made it feel even more humid. We both ordered the kurobuta hirekatsu-don set, which was good bang for the buck; in retrospect, one of us should have shelled out the extra dough for the proper tonkatsu so as to taste the crispy panko-crusted cutlet on its own without the egg that was thrown in the donburi. It is a bit pricey, but I would go back to try other menu items.

               
              1. re: graceface

                Yamachan (Nagoya/Nagoya Station)
                - maboroshi tebasaki
                - deep-fried takoyaki

                Din Tai Fung (Kyoto/Kawaramachi)
                - xiao long bao

                Tsukemen TETSU (Kyoto/Kyoto Station)
                - tokumori atsumori

                Henri Charpentier (Kyoto/Kyoto Station)
                - caramel macaron

                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                1. re: graceface

                  I'm so glad you liked the HC caramel macaron. It's still my favourite and I miss it terribly!

                2. re: graceface

                  Sushi Kanesaka (Tokyo/Ginza)
                  Sorry, not comprehensive -- missing most photos of otsumami or sashimi, plus I ate some nigiri without recording it :)

                  - akagai
                  - hirame
                  - akami
                  - chutoro
                  - ohtoro
                  - ika
                  - kohada
                  - aji
                  - uni
                  - anago