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Aug 12, 2012 07:00 AM

Reservation at Sawada - Mission Impossible for a Gaijin

I'm still preparing for my September trip to Japan. I managed to book Aronia in Tokyo and Hiirajiya Ryokan in Kyoto. My third and last splurge was supposed to be a high-end sushi place.

I asked a Japanese friend to call Sushi Saito, they said to call back in August... My friend called back on the "7th of august" and unsurprisingly it was already full (it's hard to explain to friends that aren't as food-centric as you that some restaurants need to be called the very first day of the month...).

So my second (and significantly more expensive, but also more recommended by this board) choice was Sawada.

Sawada will not take reservation from another country, apparently they've had too many gaijins reserving and not showing up... fine, I send an email to a friend who is currently in Tokyo with his Japanese wife... still not possible.

It seems the only way to make a reservation at Sawada if you don't live in Japan is to have your hotel concierge make the reservation for you (and it has got to be a trustworthy (meaning expensive) hotel, because my Japanese friend living in France told them about a small hotel they haven't heard about, and they wouldn't accept it).
The other way ? Go make the reservation at the restaurant and pay in advance... of course I will not ask my friend to pay 70.000Y for me in advance, so that is out of the question.

I'm pretty saddened by all this... Sawada will surely be full by the time I get to Japan, so I don't think I'll manage to make the reservation myself once there.

Before calling Mizutani, should I expect the reservation policy to be any different ?
And is there a "great" sushi place that has an easy reservation service (Aronia's emailing reservation was dream-like) for foreigners ?

Thank you for your input.

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  1. Not "impossible for a Gaijin" but rather "impossible for a non-resident."
    There is a difference.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tripeler

      Yes you are right... I would change the title if I could.

    2. Sorry to hear you are having trouble making reservations. We reserved Sawada and Mizutani through our hotel concierge (Park Hotel Shiodome, which I think is sort of a mid-level hotel). I believe when we check in they are going to make us sign something agreeing that they can charge our credit cards if we don't honor any of our reservations. If you are dead-set on one of the high end sushi places that only accepts cash, would you consider wiring your friends in Japan the money to secure the reservation for you? Also, looking on tabelog, it looks like a number of the other sushi places in the top 10 accept credit cards - maybe it would be worth having a Japanese friend call to see if you can secure a reservation with a credit card?

      BTW we're eating at Takazawa on September 4, when are you going to be there?

      3 Replies
      1. re: The Cookbook Addict

        Just insist !! A postal money order will be also possible, the rate used is the internal bank exchange rate. I think they wont refuse if you pay in advance 10 to 20%.

        1. re: Ninisix


          Thank you for the suggestion, however it seems complicated to me, and especially to impose my friends to be the link for a transaction like that...

          However my Japanese friend (in France), insisted and asked if there was nothing we could do, and they said that they're sorry but if they make an exception it wouldn't be fair for other people... something about "honor" you know... ;)

        2. re: The Cookbook Addict

          The Cookbook Addict:

          Thanks for the feedback.

          I would have no problem sending my friends the money, but I can't ask them to go by the restaurant for me... they have a baby, and I know how hard it is sometimes to find places in Tokyo, so I don't want to be responsible for them loosing half a day for me...

          I sent my friends an email, they will try Yoshitake and Mizutani for me... I hope at least one of them will work.

          I'm eating at Takazawa on the 7th or 8th (don't have my schedule with me) !

        3. Still no news from my friend... I tried calling Sushi Yoshitake (03-6253-7331) myself. Yes I'm brave sometimes (got all the phrases I should need laid out in front of me... of course if there are no complications...).

          However I get an answering machine, and I don't understand what it says (if it's stating the hours at which to call for instance...). Is there any chance someone could give them a quick call to translate the general idea of their answering machine ?

          Thank you very much.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Rio Yeti

            Well, it is Obon, time to visit the ancestors, bring them some sake, some flowers ! And Tsukiji market is closed, so sushi Yoshitake is closed from Aug12 until Aug16, it reopens on August 17th. So call them in saying 'Konnichiwa, Y-San desu, oyoyaku shitai desuga, eigo o hanaseru kata ga imasu ka ?(I am Mr Y, I would like to make a reservation, does someone speaks English.

            1. re: Ninisix

              Not to be a pedant, but if address yourself as "Y-san", you won't get any brownie points in Japan.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                Thanks both for clarifying this ! I will call on August 17th.

                And yes I know I'm not supposed to address myself as Rio Yeti-san... ;)
                I'm actually learning the Japanese language. I doubt I'll know enough once I'm there, but I'll know enough hopefully to have a bit of fun trying to talk to people. I'm also learning hiragana and katakana (kanji is another story...).

          2. Don't worry too much about getting into places that aren't that keen on having you.

            There are many excellent sushi places where you can get a reservation without the Sawada nonsense - Harutaka, Kanesaka, Mizutani (difficult but possible), Namba, Miyakozushi, Hatsunezushi, Hashiguchi, Saito (also difficult but possible)...

            Keep in mind that many of them really do not speak any English, so you should get your Japanese to the point where you can make the basic reservation converstation (as I see you're trying to do). It's going to take longer than you think, and you'll still have some really difficult phone calls :)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Gargle

              I hear you Gargle, I've let go of Sawada... I'm supposed to be on the waiting list for Saito, but don't want to try my luck, so I'm going to try to go elsewhere.

              My friend in Japan just emailed me to let me know he will try Yoshitake and Mizutani for me, so I may not have to speak on the phone... if that doesn't work I'll try to call myself one of the other places you recommend.
              Thank you.

            2. Long story short, the same thing happened to both Yoshitake and Mizutani... Can't make a reservation if you don't live there and are not planning on staying at a hotel. Apparently they all abide by the same rules now.

              Saito is the only one who seemingly accepted but was full so put me on the waiting-list...

              I'm pretty worn-out... it seems that the only solution is for me to go there with cash in my pocket and make the reservation on the spot... But all these places might be full by the time I get there (I only stay for 19 days...).

              I'll check out Gargle's recommendations... and maybe try to call myself, which will probably be even harder.

              Anyway, thank you for all your help and insight.

              13 Replies
              1. re: Rio Yeti

                Don't lose faith, don't end up at Kyubei.

                In order of difficulty:

                Hatsunezushi (two michelin stars I think? who cares) is the easiest - he speaks good English and his location makes reservations easy (and as a tourist you don't really care what the locals think of Kamata or if you're taking a 45 minute train ride to one place or another)

                Namba - also a bit out of the center, there's one guy there who kind of speaks English, pretty easy to book, very good although I think less good than the best places, still you won't be feeling too bad about not paying for Ginza rents.

                Hashiguchi, Miyakozushi - only Japanese, pretty tough bookings

                Mizutani - sorry to hear he's only dealing with residents now.

                I think someone in Kanesaka speaks English too.

                1. re: Gargle

                  Thank you for cheering me up !

                  I can't find much info about Hatsunezushi... there seems to be different locations, I'm not sure if it's the same placed that moved, or if they are different places with the same name (I found one in Nishishinbashi, Minato ; one in Kyobashi, Chuo-ku and one in Nishi-Kamata, Otaku...).

                  I actually wanted to try Kanesaka first, then Harutaka, and then Daisan Harumi which got a lot of good reviews here.

                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                    Daisan Harumi is a good idea too, actually.

                    Hatsunezushi (the good one) has just one location in Kamata:

                    Hatsunezushi Sushi Tel: 03-3731-2403; 5-20-2 Nishi-Kamata, Ota-ku

                    If you do end up needing to do this in Japanese, I can recommend setting up a spreadsheet with the day of month and weekday names and other useful expressions - it will reduce the amount of time you spend sweating while trying to parse responses.

                    Ganbaru Rio Yeti!

                    p.s. if the other side keeps moshi moshi-ing on you, it's not that they can't hear you, but that they have no idea that the weird sounds you're making constitute human speech :)

                    1. re: Gargle

                      My spreadsheet is already made :)

                      I'll let you know.

                      Arigato Gozaimasu Gargle

                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                        Kanesaka is massively overpriced and slightly overrated. The guy speaks English though, and the environment is friendly.

                        I wonder why Daisan harumi is not higher on people's list of priorities. Must be the weird Michelin fetish infesting this board (even though Daisan Harumi is regularly in the top 10 of Tokyo sushi places on tabelog, and usually above all Michelin-starred places except Saito (and occasionally one other M-starred place)).

                        1. re: Asomaniac

                          If I were to dine alone, Daisan Harumi would be at the top of my list, but all the comments about the "stiff" atmosphere and the chef being really uptight about the proper way to eat sushi makes me doubt I want to bring Mrs. Yeti there...

                          So do you suggest I don't even try Kanesaka, just forget about it ?

                          1. re: Asomaniac

                            Ok after reading some more reviews, I think I really like Daisan Harumi (I'm sold by the fact that he is an artist as well, and the pottery and calligraphy looks beautiful).
                            So I called... and got an answering machine again... So if anyone could be so kind and let me know what this answering machine says (hours for reservation ?). Thanks in advance !

                            EDIT: Ok I called back, I understand it's closed from the 15th, but don't understand for how long... I'm guessing until monday ? Can anyone confirm, that would be greatly appreciated.

                            1. re: Rio Yeti

                              They usually close for Obon, should be back on-line by Monday 20th at the latest.

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                In my opinion, you have to choose another one ! That is not mission impossible, in fact that's Tokyo style of life to book before leaving or on the week !!
                                Sushi Dai San Harumi is a good sushi-yasan, but unfortunately the seating is not the best : dark black counter, fridge in front of eyes, ., 
                                In my opinion, a small and intimate counter is far more enjoyable, for exemple you have the choice of sushi Taichi, sushi Kurusu or sushi Iwa(one star).
                                And, when in Tokyo, call sushi Sawada and say that you are here for a week in Tokyo. It might work for lunch !!
                                Sushi, that is a Japanese genie. You will forget your hard time for booking !

                                1. re: Ninisix

                                  I have seen pictures of Daisan Harumi, and although it doesn't seem as "classy" as other choices, I think it looks a bit quirky and therefore "original" (?).

                                  It's hard to find information on Taichi and Kurusu, but I will search for more.

                                  Weirdly even though I do read some nice reviews of Sushi Iwa, for some reason nothing really makes it seem out of the ordinary... am I wrong ?
                                  And what do you think of Harutaka ?

                                  Also, has anyone heard of Kikuyoshi ? (in Akasaka). Someone who should know what he's talking about, recommended him to me, but I cannot find any info about it.

                                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                                    I don't know who recommend you sushi Kikuchi in Akasaka. Chef Shimizu just published a book in 2011, translated in English recently !! The photos are beautiful, translucid sushis that are in fact size more than average, and unfortunately the neta(fish) was cold !! This sushi is a mannishly nigiri, sashimi are not is specialities., so not recommended.
                                    Sushi Iwa, in my opinion is the best sushi of the group Kanesaka-San. The work in the fish is carefully done, and put to temperature before serving ! The sushi-yasan of the group Kanesaka-San, sushi Saito(before becoming independent), sushi Mao, sushi Kanesaka all speak English. Something special will be the possibility to interfer with the chef !
                                    Nothing special about Sushi Dai San Harumi, just ordinary counter.
                                    Sushi Taichi is on the front page this month of a famous food catalog Dankyu.. and Sushi Kurusu is in Roppongi, and was on the Tokyo Pia book 2011, both are reference for Japanese gourmets !!
                                    Harutaka-San is in my opinion the best apprentice of Jiro, a stronger taste, just too famous between the celebs !

                                    1. re: Ninisix

                                      Please read Kikuyoshi (not sushi Kikuchi)!. I almost forgot the name of the place ! The chef name is Shimizu-San.

                                      1. re: Ninisix

                                        Thank you for your input... I don't know what to do, but I certainly have had a lot of good suggestions from all of you, so it's up to me now !