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Nov 19, 2011 07:33 AM

trip report

we had a really good time enjoying the various japanese cuisine in our last trip. here are some thoughts of the restaurants we tried:

una fuji
- love hitsumabushi (special kind of eel over rice), so made a side trip to nagoya just to have that. just as wonderful as always. crispy on the outside juicy inside. of course the sauce and the rice was wonderful too. imo far more delicious than kabuto in tokyo, which is considered the king of unagi and a few times more expensive.

tanyaki shinobu
- an izakaya which specializes in ox tongue. Everything was wonderful: broiled, stew, grilled, doteni style, especially the broiled and the stew was so soft, i couldn't believe it was ox tongue. the best part is we could order by the piece so we could try many different styles. highly recommended.

- kaiseiki. tried both the lunch and the dinner. lunch is tai in a sesame sauce, which you eat with rice and then in a ochatsuke. loved it. dinner was also quite nice with some really good ingredients such as bachiko, lobster sashimi and some supposed to be really famous mushroom from kyoto... (excuse me for my ignorance...) great meal but hirosaku was really another league.

- we loved his cooking so much, we went 3 times in a week! he truly understands his ingredients. everything just goes so well together and the subtlety of the taste makes us keep wanting more. we gave him some dried mango as a souvenir and next time we went he pureed it and put it into the dessert. it went so well with the other fruits and jelly, just amazing.

miyako sushi
- he remembers me from a year ago and remembers that i like my likes and dislikes! of course, food is also great, that's why he's no.1 or 2 in tabelog for tokyo sushi. he only charges the 10000yen range, so some of the more expensive fish/shellfish is usually not on the menu. if i don't want to go out of my way to look for expensive ingredients for a meal, i would choose miyako for the good food.

- yakitori. the chef controls the flame so well that everything comes out perfect. loved the wasayaki, kashiwa, chouchin, hatsumoto, liver, well actually everything else. usually everyone goes for omakase but you can also ask for rare parts like chouchin and hatsumoto. not really a big fan of yakitori before but fell in love with yakitori because of toriki.

ramen kissou
- whether the broth, the ramen, or the chyasui are all wonderful. had to wait 1.5hr last year, but this time went at 2:30pm and only waited for 5min! best ramen i've had by far.

yakiniku jumbo
- our favorite yakiniku place. they have many rare cuts which literally melt in ur mouth. since we can balance the greasy cuts with lean cuts, we enjoyed it much more than wagyu steak. i go there everything time i'm in tokyo.

just came back from tokyo but already want to go back! just can't ever get enough of tokyo.

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  1. Thanks very much for the report!

    Do you remember the locations for Toriki and Shinobu (or better yet, the phone numbers)? There are over 100,000 restaurants in Tokyo, and sometimes more than one unrelated restaurant will have the same name.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robb S

      shinobu is in yotsuya (03-3355-6338) and toriki is in kinshicho (03-3622-6202)

    2. Yakiniku Jumbo is a chain, so you might want to note which branch you went to...You're the second visitor I know in the last year or so who has raved about Miyako-zushi and I also noticed their rise on Tabelog. Sounds like a real winner.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        yakiniku jumbo shirokane branch. misuji and zabuton are just awesome.

      2. How hard it was for you to make a reservation at Kurogi, for lunch and dinner? I tried to book for dinner through my hotel in september without success. Seems like they will only take reservation from japanese speakers... is this true?

        What about Miyako Zushi? How far in advance you need to book there?

        28 Replies
        1. re: babreu

          kurogi i booked 2 months in advance, but they were pretty fully booked already, i adjusted to their schedule and went on whatever day they were available. i think it should be a misunderstanding that they don't take reservation from non japanese speaker because i speak very broken japanese and when i went, they were very nice to me and get one of the staff who spoke some english to explain what were in each dish. though of course her english was not perfect either.

          as for miyako, i booked like 1 mth in advance and they were fully booked, i was able to find space for lunch. usually i think 2 mths +.

          1. re: japanesefoodlover

            Good to know they don't have restrictions to foreigners at Kurogi. It was strange trying to book there. They would say no to any date I suggested, but I tried only 5 weeks ahead. When the hotel staff gave up trying I had the impression they were just telling them they wouldn't book at all.

            1. re: babreu

              well i think 5 weeks in advance is not enough for most of the popular places in tokyo (except those which don't take reservations that far in advance.) like i said, i had trouble booking the date i want when i called 2 mths ahead. sometimes it has nothing to do with discrimination. maybe everyone who got to eat there try very early and very hard to get the reservation in the first place.

              1. re: japanesefoodlover

                I was able to book some places, like Sushi Mizutani, Sushi Saito and Ishikawa, 2 weeks in advance. Others, like Sushi Mitani were fully booked for the next 2 months. I think I'll try Kurogi next time then.

                1. re: babreu

                  great for you. i think you got lucky on some of them. sushi saito was not available when i tried 1.5mth in advance. good 4 you!

              2. re: babreu

                I've had the same experience with them even 2 months in advance.

                1. re: QdeBro

                  Sushi Mitani is for lunch 6 months queue, and for diner one year !!! Crazy, hum?

                  1. re: Ninisix

                    It is crazy. I think when there's a cancellation they offer it to regulars, and also many regulars book their next meal every time they dine, so...

                    By the way, I'm compiling a list of places that explicitly do not accept reservations from unwashed foreigners like us. Of the very top tables:

                    Takaji Yokotobuki - The restaurant will not accept a booking for foreigner.
                    Morikawa - The restaurant will not accept a booking for foreigner.
                    Kyo Aji - Does not accept reservations from foreigners.

                    1. re: QdeBro

                      problem is i know kyo aji is by referal only. so even if you are japanese, if you don't know any of their clients, you won't be able to get a table (maybe except if u have a very powerful concierge.) so for kyo aji, it's more like a problem with not knowing the right people, then being a foreigner. can't comment on other 2 though.

                      1. re: japanesefoodlover

                        I was quoting the answer my very powerful concierge got. ;)

                        1. re: QdeBro

                          I think it's more than just having a powerful concierge. It's having a powerful concierge who feels it's worthwhile to exert his power on your behalf.

                          Seriously though, complaining about an exclusive restaurant excluding people seems kind of pointless. Why don't we organize a boycott.

                          1. re: Robb S

                            He's gotten me into some very hard to book places before and is well motivated to succeed.

                            But it's hard not to complain about this type of practice. Can you imagine a restaurant that is open to the public in the US or Europe that does not take foreigners? These places are not private clubs.

                            1. re: QdeBro

                              like i said, it probably has very little to do with you being a foreigner. there are quite some restaurants which are by referral only. point is you don't have the referral, not that you are a foreigner. (as for kurogi, point is you didn't give it enough time in advance.) why make it a racial issue when it's obviously not? there is this izakaya i really wanted to go to but they are by referral only and wouldn't even release the phone number to the public. so can't even talk my way into a reservation! and yes, you are right, they may be private clubs, but these places are what their owners want them to be. i'm not sure there aren't any members only restaurants in US or Europe. if there were, we probably just don't know about them coz there is no site as extensive as tabelog in the states or europe.

                              1. re: japanesefoodlover

                                Nothing to do with foreigners, and not much can be done !! In Kyoto, I did experienced the same in trying to book a high class french restaurant for Christmas eve ???? There is a saying 'ichigen-San o kotowari', particularly in Kyoto where the circle of relations between artisan shop are privileged.., like the tradition of architecture that was secrecy.. But it did make me mad to have difficulties to book a French restaurant for Xmas.  

                                1. re: Ninisix

                                  We all know there are restaurants and clubs in every major city that are by invitation only, either formally or informally. While the vast majority of restaurants in Tokyo treat foreign customers with respect (within the limits of the language barrier), the fact of the matter is that there are a few places in Tokyo, high-brow and low, that base their decisions on admittance, reservations and treatment of customers, primarily based on their country of origin. To say or imply otherwise to those reading this thread who are perhaps not familiar with Japan but are planning visiting is IMO simply not correct.

                                  If you are a foreigner, have lived in Japan for any serious length of time, and you haven't been discriminated against in one way or another at a restaurant at least a couple of times, you are in the small minority. Remember that if you go to a restaurant that requires at least one of your party to be Japanese, even if the foreigners are reasonably fluent, that is discrimination. If you go to a place that doesn't take reservations but you are told no tables are available, even though you can clearly see free tables, that is discrimination. (Places that require Japanese language ability to make a reservation seem reasonable, because this is Japan).

                                  Remember there is no specific law (or penalty) against this type of discrimination in Japan. Consult the relevant chapters in your Arudou literature. The trick is to realize that that is the way it has always been, that's the way it will probably always be, and decide how PO-ed you want to get about it. Ultimately we decided not to let it affect our enjoyment of Tokyo while we were living there and I think we made out better for it.

                                  1. re: kamiosaki

                                    In some countries, they rip-off the visitors ! Here, they just can't explaine, and I have seen some mimic made by sushi, washoku as they wanted to help foreigners. I love Japan because of the Japanese also.

                                    1. re: Ninisix

                                      Thanks ninisix. The first sentence in your reply I agree with, but this is a Japan board, so I am not sure what the point is. The third sentence I of course agree with too. Your second sentence I don't understand at all.

                                      1. re: Ninisix

                                        I'm not exactly sure what Ninisix is trying to say, but if I understand correctly, there's a difference in what kamiosaki calls discrimination and the common Japanese practice of avoidance (especially in regards to the hospitality industry). There's a general practice of "sewa" that most well-mannered Japanese would understand, and it relates to going out of one's way to make certain that a guest (whether it's a houseguest, a business client, or a customer in a restaurant) is properly cared for.

                                        I would venture to say that most Japanese people don't like to entertain guests because they have to worry about being overly accommodating, and what is perceived to be at stake is their reputations. Right now, I'm just thinking about my experiences as a house guest with relatives or other acquaintances. At some point, many Japanese hosts will ask questions, like, "what do you eat for breakfast?" "Do you like fish or meat?" "Coffee or tea?" etc. Usually a series of closed-ended questions to triangulate to the general preferences so they can be assured to have in stock the items that will keep the guest happy. It's not unusual to get a boatload of something you've expressed a preference for during your stay.

                                        If this is the ingrained behavior just as a houseguest, imagine what the extent of the "sewa" at a specialized high-end restaurant situation. And the more traditional the restaurant, I imagine there is stronger pressure to be more exacting in the form of "sewa". Restaurants with a referral-only clientele is based on this ingrained cultural expectation that part of the "sewa" is deflected from the restaurant to the referring client, so that if the new customer isn't completely satisfied with their experience at the restaurant, the referring client shares accountability. Denying entrance is the way a restaurant owner feels they can be fully accountable for the "sewa" they provide. While I'm sure there are other examples of straight-up discrimination in Japan that kamiosaki describes, I'm not sure if this is one of them.

                                        I can go on and on about these behaviors related to the concept of "sewa" but I'll refrain and try to keep it relevant to the discussion about food and restaurants. I'll just mention that "sewa" is relevant in the many discussions about "omakase" service that's often been discussed here and on the general topics board. Silverjay once made the point that there's really no such thing as omakase until you become a regular at a restaurant, and that has to do with the restaurant's learning curve of your likes and dislikes from developing a mutual relationship as much as it has to do with what the chef is making. I think this is the point he was trying to make. It is only when the chef knows as much about your preferences as there is to know, that he/she can provide their best "sewa" and a truly omakase experience.

                                        1. re: E Eto

                                          E Eto - I don't read the same things into Ninisix's post that you do. Your post was interesting and educational, but I think you are describing something different than what Ninisix was saying. He is claiming that, of all the high-end sushi places that do not accept foreigners or reservations from same, the *only* reason for that, for all of them, is because they are actually exclusive referral-only places ("Nothing to do with foreigners"). That is what I and others on this thread disagree with. I think your post actually is a great explanation of why places choose to be referral-invitation-only, etc. and how they implement that, but I think that is slightly disjoint to our original debate topic.

                                          Ninisix's Japanese vocabulary, especially around sushi and sakana, seems advanced enough where if he meant sewa or omakase he would have used those words himself.

                                          1. re: kamiosaki

                                            No, I think I understood what you said earlier, and I think my points are still germane to the topic at hand. Like I said, while you may have felt discriminated against, I don't necessarily think it was based solely on your national origin. The same places you were denied entry might also have problems with folks from different segments of Japanese society. I don't deny that these can be some dubious practices, but I don't think it's as simple a picture of "we don't like foreigners" as you seem to paint (unless, of course, that's what was said to you point blank). I'm saying (and I think Ninisix is trying to make a similar point) that it's more likely that the "discrimination" was based on the restaurants finding it difficult to communicate with non-Japanese speakers in order to provide the kind of meticulous service they feel their customers should receive.

                                            To give you another relevant anecdote, since living in Japan, I've met a few people who always try to speak to me in English when they find out that I'm American-born, even though they know I speak fluent (enough) Japanese. They seem to do this, not out of wanting to demonstrate their English skills, but because they think it will be more hospitable to speak to me in my native language. But in most instances, I find it more difficult to communicate with their broken English, and I politely say they shouldn't worry so much about trying to make me feel "comfortable". Even though it's a burden on them, struggling to speak in English in their misplaced attempt to make me feel at home, it is this ingrained perception that many Japanese, especially in the service industry, feel is minimally necessary in order to provide "sewa" even for me, a Japanese speaker.

                                            1. re: E Eto

                                              I think that your points about "sewa" are a very good take on what's going on, and they match my experience too.

                                              I've also been in very tiny restaurants in Tokyo that suddenly got famous, at times when six or seven out of the ten customers at the counter spoke no Japanese at all, and believe me it really changes the intimate atmosphere of a place like that. It may be unfair, but I can sympathize with chefs who might want to maintain a little more control over the dining experience in their shops.

                                              1. re: Robb S

                                                In my experience, both sewa and discrimination (racial, national origin, etc.) are sometimes at play. Most issues can usually be diffused with language ability. But also as you allude to, some chefs also just prefer a more controlled atmosphere. And in those cases I think it’s less about sewa (concern for the customer) and more about their particular personality.

                                              2. re: E Eto

                                                > I'm saying (and I think Ninisix is trying to make a similar point) that it's

                                                > more likely that the "discrimination" was based on the restaurants

                                                > finding it difficult to communicate with non-Japanese speakers

                                                Hmm - that's now a different argument than sewa (although it supports sewa I guess), and it is again something that I didn't read into Ninisix's or japanesefoodlover's initial position posts above. Their posts were basically saying "exclusive-referral-only". Other than this "mimic" thing that we still can't fully parse, nothing about language.

                                                I think that the Japanese-language-ability argument would be stronger if they first asked (in Japanese of course, say at reservation time or arrival time), whether you spoke Japanese well enough to understand the menu and the staff. An "iie", a "wakarimasen" or simply silence on the line or a blank stare would then be their answer, and they would have an out. In my experience that generally doesn't happen.

                                                And sewa can also be a cover-up for discrimination, but admittedly that's practically impossible to prove or measure. But there are cases where a reasonable person can suspect it, based on our collective experiences (e.g. see other threads on this board about Sukiyabashi Jiro).

                                                And to clarify, I basically share Silverjay and QdeBro's positions below - if I have been giving the impression that I believe all high-end restaurants that don't take foreigners do it because of discrimination, that's not correct. I'm sure many of them are exclusive-referral-only and would turn away many Japanese too. But the evidence and opinions from others on this thread, and in my experience, is that some of them will discriminate. As you know Japan also has a history of discrimination against foreigners for many other things including housing, jobs, hotels etc. (and to a lesser extent and mostly socially, kikokushijo) which is of course outside the scope of this site, but which IMO still makes it that much harder to give only restaurants the benefit of the doubt.

                                                1. re: kamiosaki

                                                  Ok, i will take my two left hands(=left handed also), and will try to be pedagogic^^. The 'itadakimasu', 'gochisosama', 'arigatou' are gratitude words for the meal offered, and in japan are remain tips in America, it concerns respect... Japan is very respectful of each other..and everytime I go to Sukiyabashi Jiro, with my French mimic's I say 'boniour'... It correspond to the introduction to correct social sitaution to not sit without salutation.. And beleive me or not, the chef did understand it..and asked me to come back, even I am not a regular, far from it!!! Almost every time, I have been to Sukiyabashi Jiroo Ginza I have seen foreigners, from Switzerland, North Europa, France and a group of Chinese not accompanied ! That is possible that he limits the number of foreigners, don't you think ? This place is too famous, too many reservations....In my opinion= no descrimination.

                                    2. re: japanesefoodlover

                                      There are places like you describe and there are places where it is a racial/ethnic issue.

                                      I didn't say Kurogi didn't take reservations from foreigners, only that they were booked solid months in advance (in fact I looked again - four months last time I tried!!!) I listed some specific places that I believe would not take a foreigner even if he came with a reference and even if he spoke Japanese.

                                      In one case I had an American Japanse friend call (she went to college in Tokyo and her parents speak Japanese at home) and she was told if she's not Japanese, living in Japan, with a Japanese phone number and address, she can't get in. The reason given, believe it or not, was that they had a cancellation fee and they can collect it from a Japanese person on a handshake agreement but not from a foreigner.

                                      I don't think it's good to deny this issue exists (and is pretty widespread) in Japan even if as kamiosaki says, it's nothing to get your knickers in a knot about and even though it's tempting to give the Japanese some sort of cultural discount. If it existed to the same degree elsewhere you would not be as forgiving.

                                      There are many places that do not have a phone number listed on tabelog, by the way.

                                      Ninisix - yes, Kyoto is very difficult, and practically impossible on the weekends and holidays, but there it is really more of an issue that many places are extremely small (many only sit less than 10 people for dinner) and are constantly booked by regulars. All the famous Kaiseki places there will take foreigners except for one.

                                      1. re: QdeBro

                                        Try to explain it more clearly.,.Japan Washoku restaurant was a good surprise in term of service, quality, prices, variety . and so obviously even if there is some random places that do not accept reservations easily, it is more likely a small&confidential community beween relation of customers than has to do with being a foreigner... I never had any problem for it, and on the contrary i have seen some places doing gestures to trying to avoid misurstanding (refer to the mimic!)...So if in some countries you might be ripped off by the tourist price because you are not able to choose the place well, here they are honest. I was mad too about the same situation in Kyoto...don`t take it personally and just go to antoher places...

                          2. re: Ninisix

                            yes i tried to book mitani as well. just insane timeframe.

                      2. re: japanesefoodlover

                        Miyakozushi, lunch is only on Sundays and is 5 weeks queue.. More like an Izakaya-sushiyasan.
                        I rather like sushi Kozasa, and by taxi from Shibuya station it costs around 1,000.-yens. Just take a taxi with a good GPS, not with a broken one like i did once !

                    2. hirosaku question: how much variation was there across the 3 meals?


                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        i think i was pretty lucky. almost everything was different down to the dessert of each meal.

                        1. re: japanesefoodlover

                          Oh wow -- then maybe i'll visit a couple times as well.

                          Were these lunches, dinners, or a mix?


                          1. re: Dustin_E

                            for lunch, they have the standard 2500yen menu and 8400yen? and 12600yen? (can't be sure this is the exact figure.) for dinner, there is no fix price, depends on what is fresh for the day and how much it costs. about 40000-50000yen with drinks. just a side note, other places go to tsukiji and get whatever is freshest that day. hirosaku gets the best line fished fish/shellfish of the day before it even gets to tsukiji. so people who can tell the subtle difference between the best and the very best (and of course don't mind paying an arm and a leg) keeps on going back.

                            1. re: japanesefoodlover

                              wow, 40000-50000yen per person for dinner is really high, and about twice what is listed in the michelin guide. sounds amazing though. thanks.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                yeah that's why going for lunch is a great idea just to get a feel of his mastery.

                      2. can we stop this debate on discrimination/sewa or whatever you would deem it right here? if people still want to argue about this topic, they can start a new thread about that. i'm more interested in discussion about food.