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May 6, 2014 07:30 PM

Sister's first trip to Japan

Hi there guys! Sorry in advance for the wall of text. It's my sister's first trip to Japan (will be my third), and I'll be pretty much acting as her tour guide. She loves Japanese food but has never had anything really good, and the goal of the trip will be to introduce her to great examples of many types. I'd love any tips on the rough plans we have so far.

We have 6 nights in Tokyo and this will be the main food blitz, 4 in Kyoto for mainly temples and sightseeing, 4 in Osaka. We leave in a few days and don't speak Japanese. High end / expensive isn't out of the question but preference is for bang-for-buck. Places like Steakhouse Satou and Sushi Dai - high end food in low end settings, with prices in between, are my favorite type of places. Also high end restaurants with great lunch specials.

Tonkatsu: Katsukura. Near our hotel and was my favourite versus Maisen and Butagumi. If she loves this I'll take her to Butagumi.

Sushi: My favorite food and I want to fit a lot in. Overwhelmed! We will goto the fish markets and do tuna auctions then line up for Sushi Dai. I'm not sure how much of this was luck, or an unrefined palate - but last trip I had 2 really solid meals at Sushi Zanmai, so will try Zanmai again and if I like it will just keep going there for sushi. FukuZushi in Roppongi looks interesting for lunch also. Would love to goto a place like Saito for lunch but think we have no chance of getting in. Any sushi tips would be appreciated.

Steak: Steakhouse Satou. Going here for the 10,000 yen matsusaka is a ritual for myself and all my friends. Any tips for a second place (probably Japanese BBQ style)?

Yakitori: Fuku. Missions is medium-rare chicken basically, I had a great meal at fuku last time but this was years ago.

Eel: Worth doing? She's never eaten eel before.
Tempura: No idea, totally lost. Was thinknig of just going to somewhere in Osaka or Kyoto for this.

Kaiseki: We are staying a night at a fairly high end Kyoto ryokan with Kaiseki included.

French: L'Atelier lunch. For ~6000 jpy this seems like a steal, she hasn't done any fine dining so this will be a good experience for her.

Bakery: Takashimaya Times Sqaure Depachika. She has a big sweet tooth and out hotel is right next to here, so pretty sure she will live here haha.

Ramen: Will try Ippudo and if she likes this a couple more.

Soba: Honke Owariya in Kyoto

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  1. For ramen, I recommend going to Gonokami-seisakujo (shrimp base) and/or Fu'unji (chicken/pork) based as the former is very close to Times Square the latter is a 5-10 min walk away. Get the tsukemen style noodles.

    I'd absolutely do eel. I like Ishibasi in Edogawabashi. Reservations required for tatami mat room.

    1. Before tempura, I would seek out himono: dried fish, grilled. Maybe my favorite item in Japan that you don't find easily elsewhere.

      This place on Tabelog looks very good, but it is not a personal rec:

      1. Isn't there a ramen "museum" in Tokyo? Last time I was in Tokyo I didn't know about it - saw it on a food show stateside. Is it too touristy?

        9 Replies
        1. re: rudeboy

          As the name implies, the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum is in Yokohama, about an hour away by train from Tokyo. I've been there twice, and it is an exceptional experience.

          1. re: Steve

            Oh, sorry - rookie mistake! I don't remember Yokohama being a whole hour away. Maybe 40 minutes from the central station? You would definitely know better than me.

            Looks like there's another ramen museum on Osaka - know anything about that or which would be better?

            1. re: rudeboy

              The Museum is located near the Shin-Yokohama station, so coming from Tokyo one would have to transfer, I think, on the Yokohama subway a couple of stops from Yokohama JR Station - all told I am guessing it is an hour at least.

              Since the acclaim of the museum in Yokohama, a bunch of places have riffed on the idea and I know there is an agglomeration of ramen somewhere in Tokyo, Kawasaki, and other cities. Though I doubt any of them are as elaborate as the one in Yokohama.

              1. re: Steve

                You must have taken the milk run train. It's about 40 minutes changing trains at Shin Yokohama via the Tokaido Line. Or 18 minutes on the Shinkansen, directly to Shin Yokohama.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  Actually I've just gone directly from the airport both times, staying in Yokohama, and I don't think the train stopped at Shin Yokohama.

                  Good to know it's such a fast trip from Tokyo, makes it all the more logical for a Chowhound to visit.

                  1. re: Steve

                    Ah sorry, yes, changing trains at Yokohama station. The Shinkansen is the non-stop, and all Shinkansen stop at Shin Yokohama now.

                  2. re: Uncle Yabai

                    My son lives in central Tokyo (near Shibuya) and works in Yokohama, so he does that ride daily. He says its about 35 minutes on the train for him (plus walks on either end). He transfers once; not sure where. He doesn't do the Shinkansen; his employer pays for his train pass to work and doesn't spring for that luxury (unless you have a pass, and I believe the JR pass only allows several Shinkansen rides for its period of use, the Shinkansen is quite expensive). I would stick to the regular line and enjoy the people watching on the train. Do keep in mind that the regular lines have express and regular trains; no difference in cost. The express just make fewer stops. You just have to watch the signs in the station (they are in Japanese and English) to see which is coming when.

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      If you're on the Tokyo Station/ Shinagawa side of town, AND you have an activated JR Pass, and you want to go to Shin-Yokohama shinkansen station, it doesn't make sense to take a regular train (vs. Shinkansen), spend an extra 30 minutes, and go through the confusion of figuring out where and how to change trains.

                      Obviously if you don't have a JR Pass and/or you're coming from the other side of Tokyo, the calculation changes a bit.

                2. re: rudeboy

                  In addition to the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, there are also two branches of the Cup Ramen Museum, in central Yokohama (Minato-Mirai) and somewhere in Osaka. Both Raumen and Cup Ramen are worth a trip IMO.

                  Shin-Yokohama is actually easiest to get to from Tokyo, especially if you have JR passes. Just hop on the Shinkansen and you're there. (Eleven minutes from Shinagawa station.)

            2. Oh, also, I went to a sushi place in Atsugi where they had live fish swimming in a tank. I don't know what type of fish that was, but it was fished out, filleted live, and then skewered from mouth to tail. You ate the slices of meat from atop the fish, which was still jerking around on the plate, but hampered by the skewer. If I hadn't had so much sake I'm not sure I could have eaten it.

              Any place like that in Tokyo?

              4 Replies
              1. re: rudeboy

                Atsugi is too far away for a trip from Tokyo - do any locals know where this experience can be recreated in Tokyo or Osaka?

                1. re: rudeboy

                  The name for this preparation according to Wiki is ikizikuri (活け造り). If you ever get stuck looking for a particular item in Japan, you can always search the amazing database at, which is in japanese, but pretty easy to use with a bit of cut and paste skills.

                  There are two search boxes in tabelog, the first is for location, the second is keywords. So cut and paste the japanese for tokyo region 東京都 in the first box, and the japanese for ikizikuri in the second box. All results will have copious photos of the food and a map location as well as tons of other info that can be gleaned even if you don't read Japanese. I don't. I get my japanese food translations from Wiki.

                  Also, anyone who is more familiar than I, please correct me if I'm wrong - which has been known to happen.

                  1. re: Steve

                    The Japanese you posted says "ikezukuri". But "ikizukuri" works as well. "Ikizikuri" doesn't make sense.

                    This preparation is ubiquitous.

                    Here is a Tabelog helper thread:

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Here's a TL listing. I used "活作り" as that is probably more common way to write it. The search seems to be pulling the term from "kuchikomi" which are the reviews.


              2. As you said you were going "in a few days" I'm guessing I'm too late.

                In case I'm not...

                For tempura, I enjoyed Tsunahachi Honten in Shinjuku.

                Like you, I preferred Katsukura to Maisen (though enjoyed both). On our first trip, we went to the branch in Kyoto station. On the second trip, our hotel was closer to the original branch in Teramachi Dori (or near it). Food in both was excellent, the original branch was a more elegant space. I've not been to Butagumi.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Kavey

                  Katsukura's honten is on Sanjo. In my memory, there used to be a shop somewhere around Oike maybe that was the original. I could very well be wrong about that one--I'm talking a memory from 20-ish years ago.

                  1. re: prasantrin

                    Yeah could be Sanjo -- it was in that little warren of covered streets, Sanjo cupola or Teramachi -- our hotel was round corner so we ate in the area a fair bit.