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Japan Trip - Critique please!

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Hi Guys

I'm heading to Japan in about a month (Feb 19th - March 6th) so getting serious about itinerary planning now - with the incredible amount of material out there, making any kind of plan is proving rather overwhelming! As such, I call upon the Tokyo/Kyoto chowhounders to critique my plan below - any comments/suggestions would be most appreciated.

Our main limiting factor is budget and the painful exchange rate. Also keen to not over-engineer planning. Our priority is seeing the country as well as just the food so if you see any yawning gaps for areas of the cities we're missing out please let me know!

I also understand a lot of the choices are mainstream i.e. tempura/katsu/sushi/teppanyaki. This is down to overload of information rather than due to lack of adventure. If you have any suggestions for more left field spots in the areas we're be around then please do advise!

Oh - final important point: ** No Japanese speaking/writing skills but keen to try our best ** .

>> Tokyo Day 1 (Sunday) Arriving very early (5am). Planning a fairly relaxed day to deal with jetlag.

Breakfast - somewhere local in Asakusa (suggestions welcome - not holding out too much hope for this one!)

Lunch - wander around Shibuya/Harajuku. Lunch at Suzuran. Afternoon check out Roppongi Hills.

Dinner - probably an early night so somewhere local in Asakusa - maybe Daikokuya though slightly concerned may be closed on sundays.

>> Tokyo Day 2 (Monday)

Breakfast - Sushi Dai (cliché I know!)

Lunch - Wander around Ginza - wanted to go to Fukamachi for their Tendon lunch but closed Mondays. Any must-visit spots around there for a cheap(ish) lunch? Is there a Ramen Jiro in the vicinity?

(afternoon - visit Akihabara and potentially Kappabashi-Dori depending on energy levels)

Dinner - Nakameguro: Akira Teppanyaki Izakaya

>> Tokyo Day 3 (Tuesday)

Lunch - on the waiting list for L'Osier. Back up option is Ukai-Toriyama for a day trip.

Dinner - Drinks at New York Bar (do we need to book this?) followed by dinner somewhere in Shinjuku - any Izakaya suggestions? Probably won't need anything massive after big lunch.

(Would have liked to fit lunch in at Sushi Saito but don't think i'd appreciate it on day 1 as jet lagged and then day 2 is Tsujiki so sushi overload...)

>> Osaka: Day 4/5 - planning on keeping these flexible and just seeing what we Takoyaki etc we stumble upon.

>> Kyoto: Day 6 (Thursday)

Lunch - Walk around southern Higashiyama. Lunch at Santoka Ramen. Visit to Nishiki Market in afternoon (may try to fit in some Unagi at Kane-Yo)

Dinner - Katsukura / drinks at Atlantis.

>> Kyoto: Day 7 (Friday)

Lunch - early start for Kinkakuji area and Philosphers Walk. Lunch at Omen. Afternoon - visit some quieter temples (slightly) off the beaten track.

Dinner - Akira Tempura.

>> Kyoto Day 8

Lunch - Trip out to Ginkakuji in the morning and then over to Arashiyama for lunch/afternoon.
I'm guessing food options may be limited around here - any tips for mid price lunch would be great.

Dinner - potentially Kaiseki but limited by budget and also am spending a couple nights in a Ryokan in Shibu Onsen which includes a pretty decent Kaisek meal. Any recs for a mid price sushi spot near Higashiyama? Im going with my partner so something leaning towards the 'romantic' is always nice!

>> Final long-shot question: We're heading to Nozawa Onsen for some skiing - am expecting culinary options will be slightly more limited but shout out if anyone knows any good spots there!

******** Thank you so much for your help and apologies I have nothing to contribute (yet) - if anyone visits London and needs advice than more than happy to repay the favour! (and will also write up my report on my return as thanks for all the amazing contributions on this site)**********

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  1. Day 1- Suzuran and most of the other destination type ramen places in Shibuya will be closed on Sunday. If you want good ramen on a Sunday, consider one of the better chain places, maybe in Harajuku, like Jangara or Komen. Ichiran is in Roppongi near Roppongi Hills, but honestly, there are a lot more interesting places in Tokyo than Roppongi if you’re only there for 3 days- Ueno, Shimokitazawa, Kanda/Jimbocho, Kudanshita, Tokyo Station Marunouchi side, etc. Roppongi Hills is a fancy mall complex….In Asakusa for dinner, you might want to consider Otafuku for oden.

    Day 2- Near Ginza, in Kyobashi, there are some “yoshoku” places like Dom Pierre which would make a filling and not too expensive lunch. I can’t really imagine a Ramen Jiro with a Ginza address, but there is a branch in -Shinbashi. There have been some more standard restaurant lunch options in nearby Shiodome that have been posted on here before….If you’re planning to head to Naka-Meguro after all day in Tsukiji-Ginza-Akiba, and then returning to a hotel in Asakusa, you’re setting yourself up for a looong day. I would consider dinner on the east side of the city back in Asakusa, Ueno, Kanda, or Ryogoku.

    Day 3- I tried to book at this seafood izakaya restaurant in Shinjuku just before the New Year’s holiday, but it was full- http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1304/A130.... It’s called Genshiyaki Nidaime-nanako. Crazy name. It’s supposed to be really good and not too expensive. It’s on west side of Shinjuku Station near Park Hyatt. Suggest booking in advance, although early-mid week you are probably fine walking in.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      Silverjay - thanks for all your comments.

      Day 1 - Yes, it looks like we're in Tokyo for pretty much the worst days of the week possible! Such are the practicalities of holidays.. Will check out those other areas you suggest. Otafuku looks like a great call for a cold Feb evening!

      Day 2 - Dom Pierre sounds really interesting - thanks for that tip. Also considering Nodaiwa and going for cheap 2-2.5k lunch option - does anyone have experience of this?

      Noted on the itinerary that day - quite keen on visting Naka Meguro so may leave some of the sight seeing out for some rest.

      Day 3 - Thanks for the rec on Genshiyaki Nidaime-nanako. Long shot, but do you know any english sites that mention it? Nothing at all coming up on google...

      Thanks again for all this - appreciated.

      1. re: Silverjay

        The Shimbashi Ramen Jiro stopped being a Ramen Jiro a while back, now it's just Ramen Shimbashi. Haven't been there since it changed, so can't vouch for anything other than the yellow exterior. The closest options from Ginza for Ramen Jiro on the east side of the loop on a Monday would be Kanda and Mita. Your concierge can use the below links to help you get to them:

        http://www.geocities.co.jp/foodpia-Ol...
        http://www.geocities.co.jp/foodpia-Ol...

        1. re: kamiosaki

          Thanks kamiosaki- will check those out

      2. For dinner one day I would suggest Tonkatsu at Tonki very close to Meguro Station. In my opinion of the best Tonkatsu places in Tokyo and very resonable too. It's been there for many years and it is less than a 5 minute walk from the station. I prefer the Hire Katsu (Pork filet) over the Rosu Katsu (Loin of pork). For non Japanese speakers it is a relatively easy place to negotiate because they are used to gaijins and may have an English menu.

        12 Replies
        1. re: RoyRon

          No, no English menu. And you better know what you're doing from the get go. When the tall man on stilts asks you hire or rosu, just say which one you prefer and follow his commands when to sit, when to get up, and where to sit at the counter. Lay low, don't ask for anything different or if they have a vegan option, stick to the plan, and you'll be in good shape.

          Tonki is an eating factory, doesn't tolerate deviations from ERP very well.

          1. re: Uncle Yabai

            Ha! Wow tonki sounds like quite the military operation! Was going to wait for katsukura for our tonkatsu fix but maybe a non-chain place like this would be a better experience..

            1. re: mjgauer

              Butagumi and Tonki are my favorite tonkatsu places in the planet. For atmosphere and Japanese culture at its best, Tonki, hands down.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                Think we'll have to make the trip! I understand the rosu is more fatty and juicy, uncle yabai, as a veteran, what's your recommendation?

                1. re: mjgauer

                  I prefer the hire myself, but you say tomeeito I say tomaahto.

                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                    Just wanted to second Tonki. Great joint, love the operation, and the food's great. I can't even remember if I had hire or rosu when I was there - whatever it was, it was fantastic. We were told that we could get seats immediately upstairs, but I wanted to sit around the counter, so we waited 10 - 15 minutes. I don't know what it's like up there, but I imagine the atmosphere is much better around the counter (unless you're in a big group, I guess). Watching the whole process is half the fun.

                  2. re: mjgauer

                    I loved the atmosphere of Tonki, but didn't think the tonkatsu was all that. I'd go for the rosu. Our rosu wasn't terribly moist, so I imagine the hire would be even less moist.

                    1. re: prasantrin

                      Thanks Prasantrin - i'm seeing a lot of rivallry in other threads on peoples tastes between here and Maisen. Any thoughts for a first-timer?

                      1. re: mjgauer

                        Maisen is perfect for a newbie. Picture menus, much broader offerings, table service. I prefer Tonki for the tonkatsu, but Maisen is the classic standby.

                        1. re: mjgauer

                          In terms of tonkatsu, I actually prefer Katsukura, but that is in part for sentimental reasons. The only Maisen tonkatsu I've had has been take-out (in Nishinomiya, where I lived, they had no restaurants, but they had a depachika take-out place in Hankyu), so it's not really fare to compare it to anything but other take-out tonkatsu.

                          But I'd still go to Tonki. The people there are so nice and welcoming, and it was cool watching them put everything together (it was also fun trying to figure out how they were related--who was whose son, etc.). Some of them have asbestos hands!

                          1. re: prasantrin

                            Ok - thanks guys - we're planning on hitting Katsukura in Kyoto so will go there for the 'sit-down' service and stick with Tonki for the full-on experience!

                            1. re: prasantrin

                              Asbestos hands.... Especially the patriarch, also known as "Only He Who is Allowed to Cut The Tonkatsu". I figure his thumb is of exactly the right length, and nobody else has that skill. They probably have a succession plan in place, and after the place closes, the "hire/rosu" guy practices cutting tonkatsu for eight hours a day so he can succeed the master when the time comes.

              2. If you are in Arashiyama, then its a great opportunity to try shojin ryori. Shigetsu in the grounds of Tenryu-ji temple offers ¥3,000 lunch courses.
                http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7094....

                For a sushi option, you might want to try Izuju for their Kyoto style sushi. It is located on the corner of Shijo Street and Higashi Oji, near Yasaka Shrine. However its only open until 8pm.
                http://kyotofoodie.com/izuju-best-kyo...

                3 Replies
                1. re: wekabeka

                  Thanks wekabeka - I think that 8pm close could be a problem unfortunately. Have you any experience with Ozawa Tempura or Giro Giro Hitoshina?

                  The former appeals for its apparently picturesque location. The latter as something a little different and 'fun' - it gets some good write ups for its value. Let me know if you have any thing you'd recommend over them! (we're staying very near Gion station)

                  1. re: mjgauer

                    while i dont have any experience of ozawa tempura, i can definitely vouch for giro giro. its not haute cuisine kaiseki, but its a great entry point for visitors: relaxed, great atmosphere with plenty of tasty food and nihonshu to keep you happy. all at the recession friendly price of ¥3990. if you can read japanese, i would recommend asking for the japanese drinks menu as the english version only gives you a few options. here is a link to my recent dining experience:
                    http://wiawekabeka.blogspot.com/2010/...

                    1. re: wekabeka

                      Thanks Wekabeka - turns out I'm already a follower of your blog as i've already read that review! Looks like a good fun mid-price option so will get booking - thanks for your help