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2 Weeks in Japan: Tokyo-Kyoto-Takayama-Tokyo

Hi:

My wife and I are leaving in two weeks for two weeks in Japan. We’ve never been before but after many weeks of studying the boards are very excited for what sounds like amazing food. Unfortunately, neither one of us speaks a word of Japanese (our French is perfect, if that would help somewhere – you never know) but we’re patient and hopeful that it won’t be that much of a problem.

Anyway, here’s our itinerary so far. I’d love some feedback. Not a lot of lunches listed, I figured we’d rely on Bento.com depending on what neighborhoods we’re in.

I know a lot is closed around New Years, we made a point of being back in Tokyo and made a few reservations around the holiday. We’d love some ideas in Shinjuku for NYE. Thanks so much.

Tokyo - Staying in Shibuya
Day 1
Dinner: Kaikaiya (if we’re not exhausted)

Tokyo - Staying in Shibuya
Day 2
Breakfast: Sushi Dai
Lunch: Somewhere in Ueno / Yanaka
Dinner: Fuku

Tokyo - Staying in Shibuya
Day 3
Lunch: Sushi Kanesaka*
Dinner: Butagumi or Maisen

Kyoto
Day 4
Dinner: Tempura Ten-yu*

Kyoto
Day 5
Lunch: Omen
Dinner: Kikunoi Roan*

Kyoto
Day 6
Lunch: Tousuiro
Dinner: Kyoto Spoon (or another Izakaya)

Kyoto
Day 7 - Christmas
Lunch: Tenjin-san Market
Dinner:

Takayama
Day 8
Dinner: Ryori ryokan Hanaoka*

Takayama
Day 9
Dinner: Sakana (is there a better option)

Onsen
Day 10
Dinner: Ryokan at Oku-Hida Onsen*

Tokyo – Staying in Shinjuku
Day 11
Dinner:

Tokyo – Staying in Shinjuku
Day 12
Dinner: Les Creations de Narisawa*

Tokyo – Staying in Shinjuku
Day 13 – New Year’s Eve
Dinner:

Tokyo – Staying in Shinjuku
Day 14
Dinner: Ryugin*

Tokyo – Staying in Shinjuku
Day 15
Final Lunch:

* - already have a reservation

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  1. Day 1: Try the new standing bar just up the hill from Kaikaya if you're too exhausted. Counter-based food so you can point to choose, good sake.
    Day 3: Don't go to Maisen.
    Kyoto: I was pretty amazed by Sakurada, if you can eat another kaiseki. Michelin 2*, higher scores than Kikunoi from locals. Less atmosphere though. How about Yonemura for an interesting French/Japanese fusion lunch? How about wandering in Pontocho and picking a place randomly for dinner?
    Day 9: No, there isn't. He hunts/gathers some of ingredients, smokes/pickles/cures them himself, and is proud of everything. The prices aren't low, but you're going to Kikunoi, Narisawa and Ryugin, and it's nothing like that. Ask someone to call ahead, say you want 'interesting' things ("chinmi") but no fancy beef. I'm puzzlingly passionate about that place.
    Tokyo: You need to eat some ramen! From Shinjuku, take the Yamanote line up to Takadanobaba. Lots of great places.
    New Year's is hard - I think a lot of people stay home with family, or just go to shrines. I tried last year and found a few big dance parties and a lot of hotels offerint $300 dinners.
    Good luck, have fun!
    http://iitokorone.blogspot.com/

    1 Reply
    1. re: jem589

      Thanks for your insight Jon. Its a big help. We are definitely planning on going for ramen, there's a lot of recommended place to sort through. But maybe we'll head up to Takadanobaba.
      Cheers

    2. Great job putting in the “due diligence” for your trip. I’ve offered some comments below:

      Day 2- Suggest having a back-up for dinner. Fuku is plum on the other side of town from Ueno. From hotel in Shibuya, train time is not long but you will have to change and navigate the residential neighborhood it is located in. If you are up early for Tsukiji, out and about all day, this can be a very aggressive schedule for a first full day on the ground. If you do make it to Fuku, for after dinner sake, you can consider Sasagin, which is right in front of Yoyogi-uehara Station.

      Day 9- I offer a dissenting opinion on Sakana. The food is very good. It’s the type of small owner/ chef izakaya that I generally seek out. However I was dying to get out of there. I dined at the counter alone and the owner/chef was just behaving too unctuous for me. He spent more time than was necessary boasting, showing me photographs, and trying to upsell stuff. I speak decent Japanese, so it wasn’t a language or cultural disconnect. It went from relatively charming to creepy, slightly manic pretty quickly. There’s more to the story, but I can’t get into it here. I think he speaks some English and the mountain vegetable dishes were excellent, so that might be appealing for a foreign tourist. But if you want to try one of the specialty Hida beef places, Maruaki came up in my research- http://r.tabelog.com/gifu/A2104/A2104... . Alternatively, Jyuraku would be another izakaya option- http://r.tabelog.com/gifu/A2104/A2104....

      Shinjuku
      -In Shinjuku is a rising star on the ramen scene called Fu’unji. (http://www.fu-unji.com/). Broth is thick white chicken broth stewed for 8 hours. I’m planning to check it out myself in a few weeks.
      -The skyscrapers on the west side of Shinjuku (Nishi Shinjuku) are packed with restaurants. Many are good and have nice views of the city. Some of them might have something going on NYE. Bento.com has good coverage of that neighborhood.
      -You might want to set a lunch day aside for buying noshes at depachika. You can’t really dine-in at them, although some will have areas with tables, but end of the year is the best time to visit. Isetan in Shinjuku is great. On the other side of town in Nihonbashi is Takashimaya, which is also great.

      Other Suggestions
      -Hot pot. Best season for nabe (hot pot). You can check out a regular nabe place or visit Ryogoku and try chanko nabe.
      -Oden. A winter specialty. Some shops have been covered recently here.
      -Seafood izakaya. My favorite category. Check out the Shimo Kitazawa neighborhood, which is easy to get to from Shinjuku. Good neighborhood to explore in general. Tobu Sakana (http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1318/A131...) is an excellent place and is close to the station. Uoshin, which is a small chain run by a wholesaler, has a branch in the same hood, as well as one in a converted gas station in Nogizaka (Oedo Line from Shinjuku). Uoshin are fun, not too pricey, and have good food. Great selections. They get crowded and noisy as well, but it’s a fun festive atmosphere.
      -Might want to try a regional cuisine like an Okinawan or Kyushu restaurant.
      -Might want to look into a sake or shochu bar- which often have good food. Sasagin is one. We’ve covered more of these before so suggest doing a search.

      Try to confirm your dinner restaurants will be open and make a reservation for every evening meal if you can or at least have some back-ups. It’s a busy time and people eat out a lot up until the 31st.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        Thanks Silverjay. Your advice about Day 2 totally makes sense.

        We made a reservation at Daidaiya for New Years Eve. They're definitely open and had availability. We just wanted to have something confirmed, but could always cancel it later.

        1. re: Silverjay

          Well, I think we agree on everything except Sakana, and I haven't been there for a couple years. Went to Tobusakana in Shimokita again last night; I love that place too. The sake is much better than I remembered. It's funny, the waiter spent the first 20 minutes repeatedly pestering us to order a whole grilled fish or crab; it seemed like he was a bit worried about getting rid of all the kinki and taraba.
          Happy holidays, and maybe we can eat together next year.

          1. re: Silverjay

            Hi Silverjay,

            I'm going to Tokyo next week and am staying around Tokyo station. I would love to have some good authetic chanko nabe as well as seafood izakaya. Do you have any recommendations for them both around ginza or tokyo station?

            Also, what great cooked japanese restaurants would you recommend around that area? Any Kaiseki restaurants you would specially recommend?

            1. re: genieve

              I don’t really go to Tokyo Station area for destination dining. Usually, I just meet up with friends and we find places. Aoyuzu Tora in the Maru-biru in front of the station is a place we’ve discussed on here for lunch time gindara saikyo-yaki specials. But they seem like they’d be a decent night time seafood izakaya as well. (Aoyuzu Tora- http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130...). There are probably other decent places in that building as well. There are a ton of seafood and other specialty izakaya if you walk along the west side of the train, south from Tokyo Station, toward Shimbashi. In the general Tokyo St/ Kyobashi area has many places catering to salarymen. Hamase (Hamase- http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130...) seems to be well regarded online. Here’s link to Tabelog seafood restaurants. You can use Google map section or plug in the restaurant phone numbers and search for English coverage- Tokyo/Shimbashi Seafood restaurants- http://r.tabelog.com/seafood/tokyo/A1... .

              A decent looking chanko nabe place in the area is Sakaya Pukupuku Ippashi- sometimes called “Ginza Ippashi”- http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130.... They are running a winter special on Japan Sea winter yellowtail (kan buri) shabu shabu, as well as all kinds of raw oyster deals.

              The Ryogoku area is famous for chanko nabe. I’ve never eaten at these places, but they are well-known- Kawasaki http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1312/A131... & Chanko Tomoegata http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1312/A131... .

              I don't know much about kaiseki in that area. I've heard that Yukari, in Nihonbashi, is quite good. They have an English page- http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/g322600/.

          2. I'm traveling to Kyoto/Tokyo in January with a very similar itinerary. Would love to hear your feedback once you return! Hope your trip is going well!

            1. I have some suggestions for Kyoto. Hoshinoya Kyoto is a new contemporary ryokan that just opened along the Ooigawa river and it is gorgeous. Kyoto is known for its kaiseki cuisine so consider building your eating itenerary around these...but I must caution that while the kaiseki dinners are exquisitie, they are costly too. I visited Kyoto last year and wrote an article on Kyoto's Haute cuisine that was published in Singapore's Epicure magazine. I can't provide the link to the article here (I am not allowed to) but if you refer to my blog link below, you can't find the story published under "Travel" (look under the Restaurant Index page).

              http://bibikgourmand.blogspot.com/

              1. Our trip was really amazing. We had high expectations and really all of them were met. We did go all out on this trip and had very, very few bad meals. This was our first time in Japan and I would definitely say our choices were geared more towards the greatest hits.

                We did try to go to Sakana in Takayama, but it was closed the night we were there. We took Silverjay’s advice and ended up going to Maruaki instead. The meal was fine, but it was nothing I would go out of my way for. It was nice to go to a place where we were able to try several different cuts of Hida beef.

                More than anything else, we loved how much emphases was placed on local and seasonal ingredients. Also, the amazing amount of care placed on presentation. During our meal at Kikunoi Roan, we watched one of the chefs in training spend well over an hour carefully cutting a single carrot into tiny identical matchsticks pieces. All the people we met and dealt with were just incredible kind and gracious.

                The highlights of the trip for us were Tempura Ten-yu, Yumoto Chouza and Narisawa.

                We would have liked to venture beyond Tokyo Station for Ramen, unfortunately, it didn't happen on this trip. We were very surprised by the intensity of the fish flavor in the broth at Rokurinsha. It was not something we were expecting although I know that Tokyo Ramen is know for the bonito content in the broth. We did try to go to Ikaruga on our last day, but it was a few days after New Years and they were closed.

                We have lots of photos and I’m in the process of putting together a more in depth blog. Thanks again for everyone’s help. We can’t wait to go back and dig a little deeper under the surface.

                Final Restaurant List:
                Buchi
                Sushi Dai
                Kaikaya
                Sushi Kanesaka
                Birdland
                Rokurinsha Tokyo – Tokyo Station
                Tempura Ten-yu
                Ryoanji Yudofuya
                Kikunoi Roan
                Le Bouchon
                Honke Owariya
                Tousuiro
                Omen
                Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka (Dinner and Breakfast)
                Maruaki
                Yumoto Chouza – Onsen-Ryokan (Dinner and Breakfast)
                Tempura Rin
                Maison
                Les Creations de Narisawa
                L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
                Daidaya
                Osechi at Kozue
                Yachiyo
                Ryugin
                Hirugao Ramen – Tokyo Station