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7 nights in Tokyo - Please help me chose and refine my list!

I'll be spending 7 nights in Tokyo this coming October.

In fact, I'll be spending 30-days travelling all across Japan for my honeymoon - but I'd prefer to start with Tokyo as it's our first destination, so that's the focus of the thread! ;)

I would like to do 2 sushi restaurants.

I've been planning for Seito and Araki.

Kanesaka and Yoshitake are also on my radar, but from reading through this forum, it seems as though Seito and Araki are the most interesting and distinctive. Am I off to a good start so far?

That leaves 5 more nights.

I was planning 3 of those at RyuGin, Ginza Okuda, and Ishikawa.

I'm worried that these choices may be too similar however. They all serve modern kaiseki style meals and I would appreciate your advice and suggestions as to whether any of these choices should be altered or swapped out as I don't want things to get boring. Kanda was also on my radar, but the above 3 seemed most interesting. Again, your opinions on this would be very helpful.

That leaves 2 mire nights.

Aronia de Takazawa is a must for me. I've been following feedback both here and through travel blogs, review sites, etc. and I'm very much looking forward to our meal at this restaurant; it seems like a unique dining experience!

I would like to do 1 high-end tempura meal.

I have the following on my radar and am undecided as to which would be best: Seiju, Konda, Yokota, Raku-tei.

I'm leaning towards either Seiju or Konda (though one CH poster seems to feel Yokota is the way to go) - what do you think?
Please help me decide!

Other restaurants we have considered, yet did not make the cut due to time restraints, were Tofuya Ukain and Argento Aso.

We decided that if we were to eat a single meal on our trip that was not Japanese, it should be Italian! Afterall, pasta originated in the East and I'd be curious to see how a modern Asian kitchen translates their version of Italy, which culinarily is so deeply rooted in Eastern heritage yet imported to Europe and the West and has since become such a strong and symbolic cultural trait of their cuisine. I think we'll probably give Argento a pass however, as we could eat this sort of food elsewhere.

On to lunches now...

Nodaiwa for unagi seems a must.

Butagumi for tonkatsu as well, although Maisen was also a consideration.

If you had to chose between a single tonkatsu lunch in Tokyo, which of the two would it be and why - Butagumi or Maisen?

Tempura Tsunahachi Honten is on the short list for lunchtime tempura and a contrast to the more refined Michelin dining selections above. A good call?

For ramen, I have Gogyo and Rokurinsha Tokyo Ramen Station. Gogyo seems a must. What about Rokurinsha? Are these good choices? Ichiran was also recommended to me, but seemes less interesting from what research I've done. Again, I put the discerning vote to you knowledgable CH'ers!

For soba, I'm told that Hirosaku is divine, however it seems more of a kaiseki restaurant with soba as a side. Am I correct in this observation and is it worthy of a lunch meal?

Sarashina-Horii was also on the short list. Of the two (Sarashina-Horii and Hirosaku) which would you recommend for soba, and should Hirosaku be on the list regardless, soba or not? Feel free to make other suggestions as well!

For breakfasts, brunches and snacks, we'll be wandering the Shinjuku Takashimaya, Iseta and Takashimaya courts, as well as the stalls at Tsukiji Market.

Omusubi Gonbei also seems like a good breakfast option.

That should cover all 7 days and nights... I think a second thread would be required for cocktails alone as my list is triple the size of our eating & dining file! :)

Please post your thoughts, feedback, suggestions and any other bits of advice or recommendations you might have!

I should briefly mention that we will be travelling a lot to many smaller and more rural towns over the course of 30 days, and will be sampling many of the more rustic regional cuisines, as well as plenty of bento meals from the countless ryokans we have booked. We'll also be spending 5 nights in Kyoto, 4 nights in Osaka and 3 nights in Nagasaki - of the major cities! I will start a separate thread for each, as I'm not entirely familiar with the many districts in each city and I do not want this thread to get too complicated or confusing, where people end up recommending places in different cities and it gets too difficult to follow. I'll also start one inclusive thread in future to cover all of the small towns and villages we'll be passing through between big cities. I only mention this so that you view this thread and it's content in proper context and to take these considerations of regional dining, bentos, market stalls and street food in contrast to our more refined dining itinerary in Tokyo. Hope that makes sense! :)

Thanks so much for any help, advice and tips you can offer!

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  1. I've just read that Sushi Araki is no more; is that true??

    If so, would Sukiyabashi Jiro be a worthy replacement?

    How would it hold up to Kanesaka or Yoshitake?

    Sushi Saito is an absolute must but I would like to add a second sushi dinner and cannot seem to chose between the above three. I'm really disappointed that Araki has closed.

    1 Reply
    1. re: OliverB

      Just note that you might want to have a backup in case you can't get reservations at sushi saito. Now, more than ever it is an extremely difficult reservation. I would operate under the assumption that you won't be able to get the reservation, but might luck out.

    2. I'm not knocking your choices as you've picked some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the city by Michelin/international standards or whatever. But gotta say that you're setting yourself up for a lot of precious, solemn, hands in lap pre-fixe experience type meals. This seems to be the trend now on the Japan board by foreign visitors. How exquisite can we get? And the answer is none. None more exquisite.....Also just a heads up that the depachika, where a lot of the good stuff is, are not food courts really. They are retail counters. But you can buy and then need find places to eat- the roofs are often good spots. There are of course decent restaurant floors. Not sure how destination-worthy any of them are though...Tsukiji stalls are not snacking type of operations. However the outer market has various types of places to eat....I'm interesting in learning which small towns you will be visiting.

      1. Ramen wise: I don't like Gogyo. I don't think it's that well done. I believe I went there with Asomaniac a ways back and neither of us thought it was worth a return trip.

        Rokurinsha IS good, but the line is massive most of the time. I'd head to Ramen Street and if the line is too long -- just try out Honda or Shichisai for something light and delicious. Alternatively, you can get something heavy and delicious at Junkadelic or Mutsumiya.

        2 Replies
        1. re: lost squirrel

          Think you mean Junk Garage ! Junkadelic is the burrito joint.

          1. re: ninnikuramen

            Oops! that's correct. Thanks for catching my mistake

        2. Thank you both!

          Silverjay, could you please offer some suggestions or recommendations since you feel our food itinerary is a bit too delicate or high end?

          We'll be spending 2 nights in Hakone-machi, 1 night in Yamanouchi and Matsumoto, 3 nights in Kaga-shi and Kanazawa, 5 nights in Kyoto, 1 night in Nara, 4 nights in Osaka, 3 nights in Matsue, 1 night in either Miyajima or Okanawa, and 3 nights in Nagasaki. Originally we were to spend more time in Takayama, Toyooka, Chikushino-shi and Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Aso-gun, Beppu, Kirishima, and Yakoshima... but our trip was way too long and exhaustive so we had to trim it down.

          If you feel we should eat a bit more "down to earth" and have suggestions for some not-to-miss places - please let me know!

          We've tried to plan our more casual meals for lunchtime and so I had thought that we'd included a number of less fancy omakase, tempura, soba, ramen, etc. places but please feel free to offer alternative suggestions.

          As this is a honeymoon, we want to splurge a bit and so we're sor tof using Tokyo as an excuse to do so. We won't be eating like this everywhere. I think our itinerary for Osaka is a bit more balanced in terms of fancy Michelin starred restaurants and street level counter type places. I would not want to miss any great restaurants in Tokyo because they aren't formal dining though - that's not a factor in our chosing. As mentioned, Tokyo in all it's excesses, is our big splurge but we're still open to all of your suggestions!

          Lost squirrel, thanks for the tip on Gogyo! I've scratched it off the list and we'll save our ramen for Rokurinsha. I usually don't mind lines (within reason) if it's worth the wait... Do you have any alternative suggestions for Ramen Street?

          Thanks!!

          1. I've dropped Gogyo and added Chukasoba Suzuran instead! :)

            Silverjay, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the sushi and tempura choices, as well as your thoughts on the many keiseki restaurants. And my question re. tonkatsu!

            Do you have any recommendations for excellent izakaya bars that should not be missed while in Tokyo?

            Thanks!!

            3 Replies
            1. re: OliverB

              Sushi has been covered thoroughly here. It's not Michelin starred or anything, but I enjoyed my time at Kozasa in Shibuya because it was surprisingly a good value and the chef is a really nice guy and it's in a convenient location for when I'm in Japan... If you are looking for like the total beginner, narrated "experience" and top end quality Michelin stars etc., you can look into Hatsune Sushi in Kamata. It's location makes it a little easier to get a reservation. The room is classic Japanese loveliness, the setting is very intimate and personal, and the chef is very sweet and chatty and loves teaching. Might be an ideal part of a honeymoon trip.

              I don't particularly enjoy full-on tempura meals, the kaiseki experience, or even tonkatsu all that much. So I defer to the information on these that has been posted on the board a millions times.

              For izakaya, myself and others have posted a myriad of options over the last few years. You need to put in some due diligence. There are more restaurants in Tokyo than the state of California. If you want specific custom recs, suggest mentioning a type of experience/food/drink and a neighborhood.

              Report back if you get to Suzuran. I posted it on it years ago but haven't made it back in a while. It's located directly behind the police station in Shibuya.

              Outside of Tokyo, my two favorite eating cities in Japan are Kanazawa and Fukuoka.

              1. re: Silverjay

                I make it back to Suzuran at least once a year when I'm in town and was last there in December 2012. It has been remarkably consistent for years if you have the standard tsukemen (dense chewy hand-made noodles, oily sauce, wok-seared cabbage and bean-sprouts to mop up the grease) and the side order of pork belly. But they seem to have more seasonal specials which come on and off the menu, like a chilled summer noodle that's much more delicate than the house style.

              2. re: OliverB

                Suzuran is really pretty good. I like it. I don't think they have an English menu, but you'll wait in line inside and a worker will come around and ask what you want. If I remember correctly, there are some pictures up on the wall and you can point. Also, there are ordering guides for Suzuran somewhere else on the web. Enjoy!

                Sometimes there can be hefty lines there too. If so, there is a new Nagi location about a block away, it's up the hill from Suzuran. They do a VERY fishy broth - it's pretty good too.

              3. Thank you,

                We actually already have our reservation booked for Saito. We had our travel agent (she speaks Japanese) arrange it months ago in anticipation!

                I realize there are already many threads re. kaiseki, sushi, tempura, etc. but I had thought that my inquiries were quite specific and already narrowed down a fair bit. Can anyone please offer advice on the itinerary posted above?

                Silverjay seemed to think it was geared too much towards the high end experiences, but hasn't offered any alternatives. This honeymoon to Japan will have been a lifelong realization for me and my wife and we're so excited about our upcoming trip, I'm really just hoping to get some helpful feedback to refine our itinerary.

                I would like to know if we have too many similar kaiseki restaurants planned for our evening meals. I would like to know about Araki and whether it's no longer in operation.

                Re. sushi experience - we're not so much concerned with value as this is a honeymoon trip and a splurge for the both of us. We're more concerned with finding the most delicious, unique, freshest, inventive omakase experience to be had in Tokyo. I will definitely look into Hatsune Sushi and read more about it - thank you, Silverjay!

                As for your comments re. type of experience/food/drink and neighborhood -- I have done most of that already, I think. Neighborhood and location is not so important to us as we're willing to travel anywhere within Tokyo for the best meal. We're staying at The Peninsula but will be in the city for 7 nights which will give us plenty of ground to cover! We plan to be all over Ueno, Roppongi, Harajuku, Ginza, Golden Gai, Kappabashi Dori, Yanesen, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Kabukicho Shinjuku, Shiba, etc. We'll be visiting/touring/spending time in most districts over the course of our stay!

                As it's our first trip to Japan and Tokyo, I'm afraid I cannot be more specific re. what type of experience we're looking for as apart from what I know (sushi & omakase, kaiseki, tempura, unagi, soba, ramen, tonkatsu, etc.) I'm really not familiar with what is available and was hoping that you might be able to point me to certain places that you feel are "must-visit" or best representative/finest examples of Tokyo's food scene and culture. Just as if you were to visit San Francisco, I would be able to point you in the direction of a wide diversity of restaurants at the high, medium and low ends, to give you a good overview of my city.

                Here are my questions again -

                I would like to get some feedback on the kaiseki restaurants and whether they are too similar and whether it seems like overkill.

                I would like to get feedback on the sushi selections, whether Araki is still around and what would be the best substitute if not and what would offer an exceptional contrast to Saito.

                I would like to get opinions on Butagumi versus Maisen.

                Seiju, Konda, Yokota or Raku-tei for tempura on the high-end. I would appreciate your help in deciding upon one, for first time visitors without budget constraints.

                Tempura Tsunahachi Honten for one of our lunches - good call or do you have other recommendations?

                Best soba - Sarashina-Horii, Hirosaku or elsewhere??

                I would love to get feedback on our other choices as well.

                And lastly -- what are we missing that we absolutely should NOT be missing??

                Thanks so much for any help that you can offer!

                9 Replies
                1. re: OliverB

                  I heard Mitsuhiro Araki closed his restaurant to move to London. Not 100% sure if this has happened yet or not. The phone number is (was?) 03 3545 0199 so you could try to call.

                  1. re: OliverB

                    >> Seiju, Konda, Yokota or Raku-tei for tempura on the
                    >> high-end. I would appreciate your help in deciding upon
                    >> one, for first time visitors without budget constraints.

                    if you really don't have budget constraints you could consider 7chome kyoboshi. price would be ~$1000usd for 2people, though. this has been at least tied with my favorite japan meal. (though i'm not sure i'll go back -- crazy expensive.)

                    1. re: OliverB

                      >> And lastly -- what are we missing that we absolutely should NOT be missing??

                      My girlfriend and I really enjoyed our fugu (blowfish) meal at tsukiji yamamoto -- if only because it was so different from what we've had before. This is another really-expensive-is-it-really-worth-it meals, though.

                      1. re: OliverB

                        Myself and others have posted lists of izakaya and all sorts of other casual places on here before- based on type and location. Do a search...Robb's Bento.com also covers a lot of ground... You are making the common mistake that many (of us) Americans do by assuming the restaurant landscape in Tokyo is a relatively finite realm where you can spout off blanket must-do recs for first time visitors. It's not like that. San Francisco is like that. New York is like that. Tokyo is not. Apples to bowling balls.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          Silverjay makes an excellent point that people visiting Japan might find beneficial -- Tokyo is not like San Francisco when it comes to eating.

                          Apparently San Francisco comes out on top in the US for number of restaurants per 10,000 households, at over 39. See:
                          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jed-kol...

                          Digging around in Japanese, figures from around 5 years ago show that in Tokyo, there are around 116 restaurants per household. In the central areas of the city, the amount just boggles the mind.

                          I can walk for 5 or 6 minutes from my office, and reach well over 150 restaurants! Including at least two Michelin starred places, a shop specializing in sausage, an old, tiny family run yakitori shop that seats around 7 or 8 people at most, with a stand-up only outdoor bar next door with only two "barrels" for tables, and on and on. Part of the enjoyment in dining in Tokyo is the atmosphere of the place, the care taken (or not) in arranging the food so that it's as appealing to the eyes as to the palate, and the personal interaction with the chef / staff due to the intimate (OK, sometimes tiny or cramped) layout.

                          I realize that you're on your honeymoon, and price is no object, and I hope that you completely enjoy yourselves! But for your next trip, remember that part of the fun of Tokyo, even Japan in general, is finding a place you didn't expect, in a strange location, that turns out to better than anything written up in travel guides, blogs, newspapers, whatever. One of the best meals of my life was at a seafood izakaya somewhere on Izu many years ago after playing golf. We happened to notice it in a taxi early in the morning, and stopped by around 5pm on the way back to the station. Sometimes those experiences turn out to be a bust, but when it works, it's something that you'll truly remember for years and years.

                          Cheers

                        2. re: OliverB

                          At the Hotel Peninsula, don't miss the desserts ! oh, the mango puddidng is the best in Tokyo, and the 'annin tofu(made from almond)' is more like a cream desert, but very good also.
                          Sushi Araki closed in January, and moved to London. Now, different to sushi Saito, you can have sushi Yoshitake. Sushi Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza is one of my favorite, the dinner menu is on a short tempo, about 45mn. But the taste of warm sushi is really something, and then after, you still have the night to play ! Time to taste coktail...

                          1. re: OliverB

                            "I would like to get feedback on the kaiseki restaurants and whether they are too similar and whether it seems like overkill."

                            Yes. Much of a kaiseki meal is subtle-tasting and features the same traditional flavour notes throughout (dashi and soy in their many minor variations) and delicate cooking techniques (the middle portion of the meal can often seem like a parade of steamed/ poached/ boiled fish-based courses).

                            You'll enjoy this if you are attuned to the flavours - I am, as I am an east asian fish-lover and have been eating this style of food in Japan for years. But I know many people with more conventionally Western palates for whom Ishikawa, Kojyu/ Okuda and similar have been disappointing meals, and even I wouldn't have more than 1or 2 of these meals in a week.

                            I also concur with Hiyodori and Silverjay that Tokyo is not like SF. It is a much much larger city with a much much larger population of restaurants/ food-service places. I've been traveling there for years and often recommend places to friends and family which I know will make them very happy, but which I would never describe them as "'must-visit' or best representative/ finest examples of Tokyo's food scene and culture". But certainly you already have all the names popular with visiting Chowhounders on your list, if that's any help.

                            1. re: OliverB

                              Ryugin, Okuda and Ishikawa are Tokyo style (more modern) kaiseki, but original and different enough from each other. As you may know the japanese love the seasons and seasonal food, and this means that some ingredients or dishes might appear in every menu and get repetitive (october is the month for matsutake mushrooms, and Okuda will probably use it A LOT). I would pick Kanda over Okuda and Ryugin, but Ryugin tends to be the favourite for foreigners.

                              For soba I'd go to either Kyorakutei or Sangoan. Hirosaku is very nice, but as you said, his soba is just one more dish of his small kaiseki lunch.

                              I also would include a good yakitori restaurant.

                              1. re: OliverB

                                I would like to get feedback on the sushi selections, whether Araki is still around and what would be the best substitute if not and what would offer an exceptional contrast to Saito.

                                -- Personally I would suggest Sawada or Sushi sho(http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/venue/...) since I have read that both of them tend to age their fish to maximize the flavour of the fish

                                I would like to get opinions on Butagumi versus Maisen.

                                -- Definitely Butagumi

                                Seiju, Konda, Yokota or Raku-tei for tempura on the high-end. I would appreciate your help in deciding upon one, for first time visitors without budget constraints.

                                --As Dustin_E has mentioned earlier, 7chome kyoboshi is supposed to be the best but with the price to match! Amongst that list, I would choose Kondo

                                Tempura Tsunahachi Honten for one of our lunches - Yes it is a good option for its price, although you might want to plan it before your visit to a high end tempura place.

                              2. since it sounds like you're from san francisco, I felt the experience at Ryugin was somewhat similar to what i have had at Saison and Atelier Crenn -- for better or for worse.

                                I preferred Kanda, if only because it had a minimalism that i haven't really found in SF.

                                1. Thanks Dustin, I appreciate your feedback, especially re. Crenn and Saison! I'll have to reconsider Ryugin. I think we'll pass on the fugu as I've read too much feedback about it being overhyped and not all that flavorful or interesting a fish. I wouldn't want to spend all that money just for the "adventure" and would rather put it towards a really outstanding and unforgettable meal instead.

                                  Silverjay, thanks for the tips about the izakayas -- I will do a search on the forums, but hopefully you can list your top three to help narrow things down? I don't really understand what you mean about Tokyo's food scene, but I do respect your opinion and perhaps I'll realize this better when we're in Japan. I guess it's just a cultural divide or something? Anyway, thanks for your advice!

                                  1. Okay, for izakaya with great food and good sake I've dug up the following places which I'm hoping you can help me narrow down to two or three (perhaps a couple for dinner options and a couple for lunch options)...

                                    • Koyu
                                    • Ishii
                                    • Ranman
                                    • Honoka
                                    • Wakamatsu
                                    • Moromiya
                                    • Kaeru

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      Izakaya open from 5-6pm. They are not lunch options.

                                      I'm sorry, I cannot in good faith to the folks that run Honoka, recommend you go there without some Japanese speaking and reading ability. It's a tiny, tiny temple to Japanese sake. They are not set up for foreign tourists, even the most intrepid ones. Sorry. The context in which it came up was for Japan vets...

                                      I just ran a quick search on izakaya and tons of discussions came up.

                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        I see you have cherry-picked the top five izakayas on Jon's blog. I'd tread with caution there as IMHO those recommendations are more suitable for locals or visitors with some Japanese proficiency. I second Silverjay's advise to pass on Honoka. It's an impossibly small place and the owners are already overworked attending to the needs of the handful of customers they can squeeze in each night - I don't think it's an appropriate choice for you.
                                        In regards to Koyu, I've already commented here and in Jon's blog about my experience there: the owner's wife has made very clear that she doesn't delight in having foriegn customers (Japanese speaking or not). You're not missing much, it's pretty devoid of character or anything worth justifying the train fare across town for.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758569

                                        I suggest you try somewhere like Nakamura, in Shibuya, where you can try a good selection of sake and, although the staff don't speak English, you can order from an English menu.

                                        http://foodfile.typepad.com/blog/2011...

                                        Or, if you book a few weeks in advance, get a counter seat at Kotaro (also in Shibuya). The menu is in Japanese, but you get around that by ordering an omakase course (around \5,000), so that you can try a wide variety of dishes. The owner only speaks a little English, but understands more, and he's looked after many a foriegn guest for me.

                                        http://wiawekabeka.blogspot.jp/2013/0...

                                        Sake no Ana, in Ginza, is a good option for sake and lunch. They have a reasonabily priced set menu of standard lunch fare... Though I'm not sure if an izakaya is a place I would choose to spend one of my few lunches in Tokyo.

                                        http://wiawekabeka.blogspot.jp/2012/1...

                                      2. Okay, thanks. I do have one fluent Japanese friend living in Tokyo and perhaps we'll meet and befriend a local who'll accompany us... otherwise, how do the others rank overal in terms of food and sake? Would you prioritize any of them or are you indifferent?

                                        Thanks again

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: OliverB

                                          I've never heard of the others...Kaeru looks like it is up in Kita-Senju. Not sure I'd schlepp up there from central Tokyo...As I suggested, you are better off dialing in on specific neighborhoods and/or themes.

                                          Here's the latest Tabelog sorting for izakaya in Tokyo. There are 1200 listings- which actually sounds low to me... http://tabelog.com/izakaya/tokyo/0/0/...

                                        2. Yep, definitely Jiro if you have never been there before. Manten Sushi at Tokyo station also is good.

                                          1. Hey Oliver!

                                            We just came back from our trip to Japan and we spent about a week and a half in Tokyo. We can only give you our advice on restaurants we've been to so of the ones you listed, we went to Sushi Yoshitake for our 3 Michelin star restaurant. All I can say is that our experience there was phenomenal! The service was impeccable, they had such strong attention to detail. The selection of fish was extremely fresh. I've attached a few pictures of our meal there. Mind you it was our first michelin star restaurant experience so I can't say how it compares to others in Tokyo.

                                            As for breakfast in Tokyo, we highly recommend you check out Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji Fish market but mind you they open at 5am and you gotta get there before that time or else you'll be stuck in a 2 hr line up. The fish doesn't get more fresh than that since they got it straight from the fish auction.

                                            We've been to Tokyo Ramen street and overall their selection is good. We went to the one at the end of the Ramen street (forgot the name of the place because it was Japanese) but it's prettty famous for their super long lineups that go up the stairs and they are known for their dipping noodles. I'm not sure if it's ramen per se but it looks like udon noodles. Check that out too!

                                            --- Skinnychopsticks
                                            skinnychopsticks.com