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Aug 6, 2013 11:54 PM

sushi in tokyo with a toddler

My husband and I are taking our first trip to Japan next month, and we're hoping to sample a range of dining experiences while having our almost 2-year-old with us. We've traveled to a lot of countries with him (ranging from Paris to SE Asia) and often bring him out to eat with us, but Tokyo seems particularly intimidating to me for dining out with a small child. To clarify, I'm not looking for high chairs or kids' menus, etc., but more for places that would allow / not mind having a small child on the premises. He is reasonably well behaved, and if he gets too antsy we take turns walking him outside. I've searched the boards and other sites as well, and here are some of my ideas that I would love anyone's thoughts or suggestions on. We will be staying in an apartment in Shimokita -- probably will spend a little time exploring that area but otherwise we plan to venture out to at least Shibuya and Ginza.

(1) Quality sushi: I've been trying to figure out the best way for us to experience excellent sushi in Tokyo given our circumstances, since it doesn't seem likely we'd be able to dine at one of the high-end sushi restaurants. I was hoping we could try a lunch option at a less-intimate, less-formal place and reserve for the earliest time possible. One place I found is Fukuzushi, since they seem to have a great lunch deal (¥2,625+) and I've read that the supposedly larger space makes it more family friendly. Can anyone comment on the sushi quality here and whether it's doable with kids? Another place that may be a stretch is Kyubei. I was hoping since they are bigger and more tourist-friendly it may work, if they allow children in the first place. If not, I did notice that their menu has a takeout option with a 20% discount if picked up before 2pm. Has anyone ever tried that before and can comment on the quality of their takeout? Is it worth it as a way to sample quality sushi, or does taking it out kind of defeat the whole purpose?

(2) Tsukiji: Is a visit to Tsukiji doable with a toddler? We plan to carry him in a carrier (he wouldn't be running around, and we don't travel with a stroller). I don't have a super ambitious plan: was just hoping to arrive around 7:30 and look around at whatever they will allow us to, and then get a sushi breakfast at one of the outer market places that doesn't have a line.

(3) Fish from markets: Since we're staying at an apartment, we were thinking an alternative to dining out is buying fresh fish from a market and making sashimi / chirashi at home. Would this give us a comparable taste of what sushi in Tokyo is like? I know we won't get the restaurant experience, but maybe this would still allow us to taste good quality fish while we're in Japan. Any suggestions on markets? (Does Tsukiji sell fish to the public?) Is this worth the trouble, or are we better off getting takeout at a dept store or grocery store?

(4) Cheap (but decent) sushi: On the other end of the spectrum, we're also hoping to try some decent but cheap sushi places, both for value and for allowing small children. We were planning to try Sushi Zanmai and/or Magurobito for a decent conveyor-belt experience. Would welcome any thoughts or suggestions. We'd also be interested in all-you-can-eat sushi (Hina Sushi?).

(5) Yakitori, izakaya, ramen: These are the three other things we really want to experience in Tokyo, but again I'm not sure about how welcoming / appropriate these types of places would be for children. The places I'd really like to try are Toritama for yakitori, a friend recommended Teyendei for izakaya, and we'd like to try a couple ramen places like Suzuran or Rokurinsha for tsukemen, and Ichiran just 'cause it seems popular and easy. I hear Ippudo is very kid-friendly, but we have been to the one in NY and would prefer to try something new.

(6) Lastly, as an extra, we would love to find somewhere that serves uni pasta. I saw Ristorante Honda recommended on one of the boards, but wasn't sure if Sept would be the right season for them to have it on the menu? (Also not sure if children are allowed.) We love uni and would welcome any suggestions on where to have a good uni experience.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. 1) Trying sushi restaurants located in hotels or department stores might be your best bet.

    2) Please do not take a two-year-old to Tsukiji Market.

    3) I think you'll do fine getting take-out sushi or sashimi at a department store or even a grocery store.

    5) Izakaya might be okay if you go very early - on the other hand they might also be very smoky. Basically izakaya are drinking spots that serve food, but sometimes you'll see children in more casual neighborhood places.

    Good luck!

    1. While I was living in Japan, a cousin of mine was transferred from San Francisco to live and work in Tokyo for a couple of years. He came at that time with a toddler and a 1-year-old. We wanted to get together with them sometimes with the kids, so I'm mildly experienced with this sort of thing.

      First thing: There are English speaking babysitter services available in Tokyo. These, a few years ago at least, were staffed by friendly and experienced Filipino women. My cousins would use them from time to time. It might be something to explore for a night out. Re: your questions:

      1) Follow Robb's advice.

      2) Agree with Robb...In the past I've recommended taking turns staying with the kid in the outer market area while one parent cruises through the inner market. It's not a retail market with regular shoppers puttering about. It's a hardcore operating wholesale market with a lot of activity- human and motorized.

      3) & 4) There are a couple of branches of Sushi Zanmai in the outer market area of Tsukiji. I believe the honten is the larger one and reasonably family friendly. Prolly best to go toward 8 or 9am when I'm assuming it's less crowded.

      5) With my cousins, we went to large upscale, usually chain izakaya early in the service- like 5:30pm. I don't think there are other izakaya options really for non-Japanese speaking tourists with small kids...For yakitori, Toritama looks way off limits. You might want to look into a branch of Imaiya, which is a small upscale chain that has private rooms or enclaves that you can book....Ramen- no way Suzuran or Rokurinsha. I'm not sure they would let you in...Ichiran is doable because frankly, there is no one from the restaurant you even see more than like 3-5 seconds. You eat in little cubicles.

      6) Uni pasta, I suspect, is pretty ubiquitous. I don't have any recs though.

      1. thanks, robb and silverjay. appreciate your advice.

        it sounds like people with children are relegated to department stores and grocery stores and chain restaurants. must confess it's a little disappointing, even though it seems these places have decent food. are there any standouts worth mentioning the names of?

        i'm honestly a little surprised... is it because there is so much high-end dining, and that's where all the recommendations i'm reading fall under, that it's seems hard to eat out with a child in tokyo? or is dining out with children not as common / less acceptable there? honestly, we have never even thought twice about this issue in our previous travel and dining experience and have taken him everywhere without any problems. this is proving to be tougher than i expected.

        6 Replies
        1. re: jch18

          You are choosing to eat foods that adults eat and that are part of the drinking/ social culture.

          1. re: jch18

            There are plenty of kid-friendly places in Japan, the locals also breed them, although not in the necessary abundance. The places you are asking about aren't in that category in general, but there are plenty of places that will do so. Upscale-ish dining (and above) is not kid-friendly in Japan, just not part of the culture.

            1. re: jch18

              I think you would be fine in one of the nicer sushi places in a good department store if you eat at a table. The upscale department stores like Isetan have surprisingly good restaurants. The sushi experience in those places would be much better than take out from Kyubei. As for sitting at the counter, I will give a case in point - My father owns a sushi restaurant. and he never let me eat at the counter a single time until I was 14 years old. That was also at a time the restaurant happened to be completely empty. As soon as someone came in and sat at the counter he told me to move. I remember it very clearly because it was a very big deal for me to sit at the bar for the first time. Every child in my family had to wait until they were a teenager. Sushi chefs do not consider the counter an appropriate place for kids. As someone who made sushi for ten years, and still cooks professionally in Japanese restaurants, IMHO I don't think it's appropriate either. If you have well mannered children eating at a table in a neighborhood place shouldn't be a problem, but I have never seen a small child in an upscale sushi bar in Japan.

              As far as Tsukiji goes, Silverjay's rec of taking turns going into the inner market is a good one. Tsukiji is a pretty dangerous place. I have seen people get hit by the motorized carts there, and it's usually a tourist. It's much more chaotic than most people realize. That's what makes it fun, but even adults have to be very careful.

              1. re: la2tokyo

                With the understanding that my experience in Tokyo eating sushi is about four places last month............

                At Jiro Roopongi a young couple speaking Japanese came in for the 5:30 seating, at about 6, with what apperared to be a child about eight years old. She took turns sitting on each parents lap. Takashi Ono was not bothered and even took the time to talk to her and good naturedly tease her about her fingers. For what its worth,their meal seemed very different then that served to all the others guests, non Japanese. This of course is just a snapshot of one place, one night.

                1. re: la2tokyo

                  thanks la2tokyo. i didn't realize all the upscale restaurants were bar-dining. that makes sense. we'll definitely check out isetan. so, would a good rule of thumb be not to take a child to any place that only has bar seating? we may be modifying our plan to just playing it by ear at this point and hopping into whatever restaurant looks appropriate during mealtimes.

                  thanks again for your advice and perspective!

                  1. re: jch18

                    In regards to places being all bar-dining, it really depends on the place. Almost all places have a bar, but most places have tables too. One thing that hasn't been discussed is reserving a private room. You could possibly get a small room at the opening time of a more casual restaurant, and they would probably be comfortable with that. Rooms with four seats or less are not uncommon. Restaurants in department stores typically do not have any private rooms. As far as all bar-seating goes, I can't think of many restaurants that only have bar seating besides a few tiny restaurants that you would be very unlikely to walk into. If I were you I would ask your concierge to find a couple restaurants that have private rooms that they think would be good fits and call ahead to reserve, and fill the other meals in at department stores and more casual places. Walking around Tokyo looking for a restaurant you can walk into without a reservation is a lot more intimidating than most people anticipate, it's always better to have a plan.

              2. I wouldn't take a toddler to Ristorante Honda. It is a small restaurant and there would be no place to put the tyke. At the first sign of fussy that'd be the end of your meal.

                1. Ramen shops with toddlers are definitely doable. The key is to go there during off hours, when there are not long lines waiting to get in, be respectful of the shop by not letting your child make a mess and not taking up too much time at a table if there are people waiting, and to other customers by taking your child out if they cry or fuss.

                  Generally your best bet for child friendly ramen places will be in ramen parks / streets. If you visit the Tokyo station ramen street, most (or possibly all) of the shops there, including Rokurinsha, have table seating in addition to counter. The Shinatatsu ramen street in Shinagawa also mostly has shops with tables, and at Nakamoto (one of the spiciest bowls of ramen you can get) they even have a child's set with a small bowl of shoyu ramen and karaage. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Musuem very much caters towards families and children, with shows, candies/treats from 1920s Japan, although strollers are near impossible to use there.

                  Robb is the authority on this, but my guess is that the same principle will hold true for yakitori as well - that if you go to a collection of yakitori shops or "theme park", children will generally be more accepted. Haven't been there, but here's one place in Marunouchi (by Tokyo station):

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ninnikuramen

                    thanks, ninnikuramen! the theme parks sound great. thanks so much for the recommendations!

                    1. re: jch18

                      As a follow up, I ended up going to ZenyaRen the yakitori "theme park" this past week with coworkers. It was a large place, with plenty of private rooms on the side (that you would need to make reservations for at least one day in advance). And I definitely saw families with children in the private rooms. Lots of variety of yakitori, and other meats on sticks, from all over Japan. Might be easier to explore here than going for a set menu, counter seating, at a typical yakitori place.

                      Amusingly, they also have a special for Mega Yakitori. It's a stick that is over a meter long, with large almost fist size pieces of chicken, that you can order for the table. In addition to the size, the other amusing aspect was that you could order it, but they have a lottery system to determine who will get them (believe it was two winners at 6pm and 2 at 8pm). Luckily, we won the draw !