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Jul 3, 2012 03:35 AM

Dining in Japan over New Year's Holidays

Hi All

My partner and I are planning our first trip to Japan between 27 Dec 2012 and 8 Jan 2013. We'll be in Kyoto from 31 Dec to 3 Jan, and the rest of our time will be spent in Tokyo.

I've come up with a very rough eating plan for our trip that includes the following:

Breakfast at Tsukiji (probably Daiwa)
Lunch at Sushi Saito
Lunch at Beige / L'Atelier / Ristorante Aso (I've never been to Europe and want to experience European Michelin-star dining)
Lunch at Sernya / Gyu An
A visit to the Ramen Museum
As much ramen, gyoza, yakitori and tempura as we can fit in.

My question is this: due to restaurants being closed for the holidays, what are the chances of us being stranded (from a culinary perspective) during this period? (We'll be staying in Asakusa; our food budget is considerably larger than our accomodation budget).

I've heard that many restaurants close for up to a full week at this time, are any of the options I've listed above likely to be among those?

Also, and I realise this is a long-shot, but do we have any chance of finding a kaiseki place that will be open for lunch while we're in Kyoto (30 Dec - 3 Jan)?

Any advice on eating in Japan during New Year's would be appreciated!

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  1. Everything in both Tokyo and Kyoto should be open December 27-29, and also on Sunday the 30th if they're usually open on a Sunday.

    You give two different dates for your Kyoto visit. Chances of getting a kaiseki lunch are probably better on Dec. 30 than Dec. 31; after that it might be difficult, except perhaps for hotel branches of kaiseki restaurants such as the branch of Kitcho in the Granvia Hotel. And maybe in Isetan in JR Kyoto Station.

    January 1 is the most difficult, but I think all hotel restaurants will be open. On January 2 and 3 you might check restaurants in busy neighborhoods like Kawaramachi Shijo, especially in department stores and restaurant complexes.

    In general in Tokyo many places will be open again from January 2, especially in neighborhoods like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro, and to a certain extent, Ginza. And in hotels and department stores. There's no good food to be found in Asakusa at any time of year, so you'd have to travel anyway.

    I imagine that given its shopping-mall location, L'Atelier will probably only close on January 1, but you should double-check dates for all the big-name restaurants you want to visit, to avoid disappointment. I'm guessing most places will open by January 4 at the latest. And you'll certainly have many options for ramen, yakitori and tempura even Jan 2-3. I don't think that gyoza restaurants are really a thing, but you can get it at some ramen shops.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robb S

      "No good food to be found in Asakusa at any time of year?" Hey, Robb S, have you ever been to Asakusa? There is great, and affordable, fugu in Asakusa, as well as a couple of my favorite places for unagi. One of the top two or three edomae style sushi restaurants is in Asakusa, as are some very good tempura and soba shops. True, if all you are looking for is ramen, Asakusa may not be the best place to go.

      1. re: edozanmai

        I'm looking for much more than just ramen, would love to get the names and details of some of those places you mentioned, especially the unagi restaurants.

        1. re: edozanmai

          >True, if all you are looking for is ramen, Asakusa may not be the best place to go.

          Ok, I will admit that my comment was designed to provoke an emotional response. But seriously, if you had a friend who was about to spend a month in Tokyo, and that friend asked you for advice on which neighborhoods to wander around for good food, would Asakusa be in your top ten? Or your top twenty? It's really disappointing in terms of ratio of good restaurants to duds, and very lacking in places worth traveling across town for. Basically, it is a "dead zone" on the gourmet map of Tokyo.

          1. re: Robb S

            Oh, and "great...fugu"? Is that even a thing?

            1. re: Robb S

              "Ok, I will admit that my comment was designed to provoke an emotional response."

              You blade runner?

        2. You will not starve, but there are a lot of small mom and pop or gourmet places that shut down between the 29th and into the first week of the year- often to about the 5th, and then reopening on the 6th. A lot of ramen and yakitori places, which cater to business diners also do this, as well as sushi or seafood places dependent on Tsukiji.

          Hotel restaurants and chains are open as Robb noted. But it can be hard to find really good destination type places to eat at this time. Even in the last few days of the year, the good places fill up with end of the year parties and get-togethers. You should consider booking in advance all major meals during this time.