Japan Review 10 days through Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Tokyo
We had an amazing first trip to Japan! Thank you to everyone who helped us make our trip so memorable. We tried to fit in as many meals as possible. Below are our experiences:
Day 1 Osaka
Breakfast: we bought a bunch of snacks at the local convenience store like 7-11. the best treat was the corn dog! it was fresh and only 105yen. it's available at most of the convenience stores and we'd highly recommend it. we must have had the corn dog at least 5 more times during our trip.
Lunch: Kiji: this was our first meal in Japan and the okonomiyaki was
solid. the server was friendly and it wasn't too crowded when we arrived before noon. there is no english menu and the server spoke very limited english so we just shared one yakisoba and one pork okonomiyaki and they were both good. we saw someone next to us order some dish with some type of egg on top that looked good. i wouldn't go out of my way to eat here but since we wanted to check out the Umeda sky observatory, the location in the basement of the building was very convenient.
Early Dinner: Mizuno: this was our favorite restaurant in Osaka and we'd visit again. there was no wait when we went at 6pm but by the time we left, there were a few people waiting. we shared the 3 different okonomiyaki sets and all of them were so fresh and tasty!
Late Dinner: Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M Houzenji Yokocho: we read about this restaurant in the NY Times and wanted to try the Matsusaka beef. Since we already had dinner, we both ordered the 2500yen top quality beef set. The meat portion was tiny and would not be sufficient for hungry diners. It only came with 8 pieces of beef each plus a few veges. One of the beef cuts was incredible but we weren't sure of the cut.
Day 2 Nara
Lunch: Maguro Koya: Amazing tuna! My fiancé ordered a fatty tuna rice bowl with layers of tuna and rice, with some sweet soy sauce seasoning. This was delicious! I ordered fatty tuna sashimi which came with miso soup and a bowl of white rice. We also ordered tuna karage which tasted like the Japanese fried chicken. I didn't like the fried dish so much and it was just too much food for two people. We spent about 3500 yen for two.
Dinner: Udon-tei: great value. My fiancé ordered a udon set with fried pork cutlet/egg over rice, plus a bowl of udon with a tempura shrimp. His tempura shrimp was soggy bc it was soaked in the soup but everything else was good. I ordered a bowl of udon with 2-3 tempura shrimps and the shrimp was served separately so it kept its crunchiness. Dinner was only 2000yen.
Day 3 Kyoto
Lunch: Tosuiro Tofu: we made the last lunch seating at 2pm and ordered the two cheapest lunch sets. everything was delicious. they provide free refills of the cold tofu. we were glad we tried Kyoto tofu. Lunch was around 5500yen for two.
Dinner: Wabiya Korekido: we had yakitori here because it was relatively close to Kiyomizudera Temple. The restaurant was very nice and seemed more upscale than normal yakitori places. The location only allowed foreigners to choose between three different sets of menu and we picked the most expensive one at around 6500yen. Everything was delicious and it was one of our favorite meals. We think it's comparable to Yakitori Tori Shin in nyc. (However we enjoyed Fuku in Tokyo even more).
Day 4 Hiroshima/Miyajima
Lunch: Hassei: it was pretty empty when we went on a Saturday at 1:30pm. we had two half portions of different okonomiyakis. we had one with udon noodles and one with soba noodles. we prefer the one with the soba noodles. the half portions are huge and what other restaurants would consider a normal portion. would highly recommend as a place to visit for Hiroshima style okonomiyaki near peace park.
Dinner: Watanabe Ryokan in Miyajima. the kaiseki dinner that came with our stay was delicious. highlights included the duck and the steak. the male owner is a bit impatient though.
Day 5 Miyajima/Kyoto
Lunch: Anago Meshi at Watanabe Ryokan restaurant. I wanted to go to Ueno but since it was pouring rain, our relative from Hiroshima wanted to eat anago meshi at our ryokan as he said it's famous in Miyajima. It was very good. I still want to try Ueno next time.
Dinner: Shiraume ryokan: the kaiseki dinner that came with our stay was even more delicious than the previous night. highlights included kobe steak (and i don't even like steak) and sesame ice cream. service was impeccable.
Day 6 Kyoto
Lunch: Yoshikawa: our only tempura meal and it was excellent. there was only one other diner at the counter seating when we went at 2pm. we both ordered the most expensive lunch set at 4000yen each. the batter is light and crispy. it was fun to watch the chef. however my fiancé does not really understand the idea of high end tempura and probably wouldn't pay for it again.
Snack: Gion Kinana Honten: the ice cream palor is hidden in an alley and at first i thought it was the restaurant next door that was closed (as it had some of the same kanji characters) but then after asking some locals, we finally found it. the fresh soy ice cream was by far the best ice cream by far. the Japanese parfait was good except for the odd vegetable/herb flavored ice cream. my fiancé ordered the berry parfait and liked it. we spent about 3000 yen, which is quite expensive for ice cream.
Dinner: Izuju: we arrived at 7pm which was the restaurant's closing time (not 8pm as I had noted). however they kindly allowed us to order takeout which was perfect as we were taking the train to tokyo. they said everything was sold out except for the inari and mackerel sushi, so we ordered two sets of inari and one set of mackerel (we are not big fans of mackerel). it was only around 3500yen. my fiancé really liked the inari and i liked the mackerel a bit more. the kyoto style sushi has a lot of rice though so it's very filling.
Day 7 Tokyo
Lunch: Tonkatsu Maisen: terrific black pork tonkatsu. My fiancé ordered the black pork tonkatsu rice bowl with egg and I ordered the tonkatsu fillet. They were both tasty. It was around 4000yen. He then bought an edamame croquette in the Maisen stand outside the restaurant.
Snack#1: Angel crepes at Harajuku: this was huge and filling. we ordered the strawberry, cream, vanilla ice cream and cheesecake flavor. it was good to try but i wouldn't order it often as it's pretty sweet.
Snack#2: Calbee chips at Harajuku: it was really fun to watch them fry the chips. we ordered the original herb and salt flavor? it was really good and only 220yen for a small tub. we want to try another flavor such as cheese or hot n spicy.
Snack#3: Pierre Herme: we were looking for our favorite vanilla tarte from paris but sadly they discontinued it. we ordered an ispaphan, which is a large rose macaroni sandwich with fresh raspberries and cream. it was even better than i remembered. we also ordered another tarte that the server said is similar to the vanilla tarte but it wasn't as good.
Dinner: Fuunji ramen: this is a tiny hole in the wall. we started panicking because none of the patrons near us spoke English and we couldn't read the vending machine but one of the chefs came out and tried to help us. he basically told us the most popular dishes which is what we ordered. we wish we could have added an egg when we saw other people eating them. my fiancé ordered the most popular dipping ramen and i ordered the ramen with the soup in the bowl already. the broth is very thick and tasty but slightly fishy. it was really good but i think we still prefer ippudo, where the soup base doesn't have a fishy taste to it.
Day 8 Tokyo
Lunch: Sushi Iwa: Sushi Iwa didn't serve us as we forgot to request it but the friendly chef next to him served us. the chef spent his childhood in san francisco and spoke fluent English which was helpful. we both ordered the 8000yen omakase which came with 13 pieces of nigiri, a tuna roll, a vegetable roll and miso soup. the sushi was incredible and Chef Iwa served us our last nigiri which was the best piece of eel we had on our trip. it was a great experience.
Snack: Hidemi Sugino: we got there too late around 4pm and there was barely anything left. We ordered a cheese/mango mouse cake which was good, and a raspberry mousse cake which was too sweet. we saw them bring out a plate of cakes (that we didn't see in the display case) to another patron but maybe he ordered it ahead of time.
Dinner#1: Nodaiwa at Nihonbashi Takashimaya: we both ordered the unagi sets and I ordered 310grams and he ordered the layered rice/eel one with 300grams of eel. They were too many bones in the eel and one bone scratched my throat for awhile. I really liked Nodaiwa though and would go back. My fiancé thought it was overpriced for eel and doesn't understand the concept of michelin star eel.
Dinner#2: Rokurinsha in Tokyo Station. We only waited about 20 minutes at 9pm and the server helped us with an English menu so it was much easier to use the vending machine here. My fiancé preferred this place to Fuunji ramen. he said it may also be attributed to the nicer environment. we would visit Rokurinsha again. too bad i was too full to enjoy it. i only ate half my bowl.
Day 9 Nikko/Tokyo
Lunch: green tea donut from crispy creme. it was good but not worth going out of your way for. we bought the donuts because we were in a rush to catch the train to Nikko.
Dinner: Fuku: this was probably our favorite meal of our entire trip! we ordered crazy amounts of food as it was our last night and the bill was only 8000yen for two. highlights include the chicken meatballs, chicken and leeks and bacon wrapped mochi. we tried the chicken sashimi since we had never had this dish before but didn't like it. the restaurant is a bit hard to find. we followed one of the chowhounders instructions which was precise but we circled the same street a few times and had to ask several people. the sand colored facade is very nondescript but the trek is well worth it!
Day 10 Tokyo
Lunch: Katsukura in Takashimaya Shinjuku: we ordered the two most expensive tonkatsu sets here since it was our last meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. they were the tonkatsu with the Japanese pork (rather than Canadian pork) and were very tasty. It was really fun to grind our own sesame seeds to make our sauce for the tonkatsu. we preferred the food here slightly over Tonkastsu Maisen but maybe it's an unfair comparison because we ordered more expensive dishes. the bill was around 6500yen.
As a sidenote, it was very hard to find some of the restaurants and we had to rely on google maps, studying directions prior, and writing down the Japanese name and address in Japanese (so we can ask people on the road). The most helpful Japanese phrase I learned was "Where is _____?" ( _______ wa doko desuka?).
Some restaurants we wish we had tried so we will have to plan another trip: Sushi Dai, Sushi Taichi, Narutomi Soba, Takoyaki Wanaka, Omen Noodles, Yamamoto Menzo, Ueno, Sumibi Torito. Thank you again to all the chowhounders who contributed to our plan and I hope our reviews help out future travelers :)
Hardcore on all the double dinners, I'm most impressed!
We preferred Katsukura to Maisen too, though we enjoyed both very much. We didn't order the black pork at Maisen, but we did order the Japanese pork at Katsukura, so I think what we had was about same level. Both were great but Katsukura definitely edged it. We also went to one much greasier Katsu place when other choices were full and we were tired, which was nice but no match for the other two...
Excellent report! I love that you bounce around from inexpensive places to high-end places. I am planning a trip to Osaka/Nara/Kyoto for later this year. If I don't drive my group crazy with food destinations, we will try some of these places.
Funny, I don't like the shrimp tempura soaked in the soup. I'm not sure why they take delicious, crispy tempura and drop it in soup. Having said that, my wife and I are not strangers to high-end dining, but I am not sure we appreciate high-end tempura either.
As a snack, I loved the ice cream filled crepes in Harajuku. You could add cake, brownie cubes, fruit, mochi, various flavored sauces and other items to the freshly made crepe cones. It's ice cream/crepe on steroids. I think it can be found elsewhere in Japan.
The address system in Japan is very challenging. From what I remember, addresses refer to building blocks that have little meaning to visitors. It is not as systematic as say Chicago. I also remember that we had to remember to look up because many restaurants are on higher floors and the signs of the establishments were stacked up. We walked right past places several times.
Lastly, it sounds like you are a fan of okonomiyaki. Do you think it's worth going out of the way for excellent okonomiyaki? I have had limited experience with okonomiyaki in Japan. For me, the vinegar based sauce seems to be one of the prominent flavors.
As to the okonimyaki, we've always been fans of it, so we did not mind going out of our way (if it meant so) to try different variations. Osaka is known for okonomiyaki as well as takoyaki, so it's worth trying them if you're there. Hiroshima is also quite well known for okonomiyaki -- and their style tends to be larger, while incorporating a good amount of noodles.
we'd like to try "wasabi" next time -- an upscale skewer restaurant where they deep fry everything. it's in Osaka and requires a reservation (otherwise we would have tried eating there when we stumbled across it). it's been mentioned by others on chowhound. similarly, there's a michelin star rated yakitori place named "Ayamuya Yakitori," but of course it was all booked up when I tried to make a reservation. there's always next time.
I've attached a few photos okonomiyaki
The first is from Osaka (restaurant called Mizuno .. dotonbori)
The second and third pictures are from Hiroshima (restaurant called Hassei)
My favourite okonomiyaki is buta cheese--okonomiyaki with strips of side pork (practically bacon) and cheese. Sometimes I'd add mochi to the mix, but that tended to be on the heavy side, so that only happened when I was very very hungry.
I really like okonomiyaki, but I don't know that I'd travel far for it. That being said, my favourite Osaka-style okonomiyaki place was in Kobe, not Osaka, and I actually did travel for it regularly (once a month or so?) when I lived in the area (though not in Kobe). And this was in addition to whenever I'd make it at home (I can make really good Osaka-style okonomiyaki. Well, I could if I could get nagaimo where I live now).
If you decide to try it, I would recommend asking them not to put the sauce and mayo on, and to do it yourself. I find the sauce too sweet, and places tend to load both the sauce and mayo on. By doing it myself, I could add just the right amount for me.