LATEST REVISION 2 MAR 2019
This page, map and information will be constantly updated as new trips take place and more hot tips come in from our friends, plus you guys (if you have anything you think MUST be on the list, send me a DM on Instagram!) so be sure to check back frequently and share with your friends…
Afuri - Yuzu Ramen - Afuri is an ramen joint that has yuzu shoyu ramen. There are a few locations in Tokyo, visit the OG spot in Ebisu. I enjoyed it, but not as good as your regular / traditional ramen. The great thing is it has numerous locations.
Ichiran Ramen - numerous locations - this is a bit of a chain joint (with locations all over the world / Asia) but it is still really REALLY good!!! Don’t let that hold you back! I love it. Thick, rich, hot and has a real Japanese vibe.
Maze Soba Mitubosi - "Dry" Ramen - Our last meal for the 2019 trip to Tokyo and possibly one of the best! Amazing "dry" ramen. We got the classic (one spicy and one non-spicy) plus a beer each for lunch. There was a short line but quick turn around (if you are in a large group you probably won’t be able to sit together so take seats in ones and twos as they come available, the place is that small you will be pretty much next to each other anyhow.) So bloody tasty and filling and warming on a cold day!! AMAZING! (Sort of like Japanese carbonara)
Kaoriya Soba (Ebisu) - small, traditional, locals only.
Rokurinsha (Tsukemen Ramen) - a little bit out of the way but worth the wait!
Sushi ya - This is where we did our one big sushi hit. Only seven seats at the counter with the sushi master (he was a young guy and spoke really great english when we went in). It is expensive but it is one of those Japanese experiences you really need to have. Explore more on instagram here..
Hakkoku - A little more innovative sushi that I have really been getting in to and he just moved from his place sushi Tokami to this new place: Hakkoku. Uses a red vinegar. Great meal and not as pricey as may of the others. Featured in Michelin Guide here, and more here…
Iwata Sushi - find this place in the Tsukiji Outer Market, a hot tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram.
Fuku Yakitori - this was our choice for yakitori in Tokyo and it was well worth it. We were fortunate to sit at the counter (which is rare for parties larger than three in Japan) so we had a perfect view of the grill and the yakitori master. Plus we were served by the owner himself. Our skewers were amazing, with none costing more than 300 yen and with our final bill, including drinks coming to about $60USD per person (and we were full!). Favourites included: chicken heart, chicken skin, leg meat and leek, shitake mushroom, enoki rolled in bacon, the wings and the neck meat. However, it is all pretty amazing! So go nuts. We stayed away from the seafood (only a small selection) and just ate chicken and vegetables. One of our favourite dining experiences in Japan. TIP: Get in early (we arrived around 8:30pm) some of the more popular items were beginning to run out when we arrived.
Ton Ton - a tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram. “Under the train tracks is a walkway, have Yakitori at Ton Ton, it is the one with a big carved wooden pig outside under the tracks.” We didn’t eat here, but the location is on the map. Seems pretty sweet and would love to check out the whole alley when we are back next!
Tonsui - “tiny tonkatsu place. About an 8 seater by a couple that have served a menu of about 10 things for 40 years. His cheese (and pork) tonkatsu is bloody ace and about $10…. and they’re so sweet - plus you can go shopping as it’s right were all the second hand places are….” a tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram.
Katsuzen - Michelin Star tonkatsu joint.
WAGYU / KOBE
Yoroniku - Dinner her was great. We were hoping to do the chef’s omekase menu but there were none left available for the night we went. This is a great opportunity to try a range of different Wagyu dishes and cuts all grilled right in front of you by your server. The “silky loin” was the best cut. Not cheap but a great experience.
Daikonman - a tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram. We didn’t find this spot so I don’t have a location for you but you should try and find it. This is what Huck said: “…sit in front of chef if you can… drink beer and get the buttered oysters and the cheese and prawn okinomiyaki. He’s been doing it for 37 years. It’s a hole in the wall.”
Yakumo Saryō - this was our fine dining experience in Tokyo. An incredible, memorable moment with Jax and her parents, this is an experience we could not have had without Seth and Angela. Thank you. This was hospitality and Japanese experience to a tee. From greeting at the door, to our entrance, table setting, the produce used (each month the restaurant highlights a seasonal item, the month we attended, Feb, it was Fugu, or the puffer fish! Quite the experience.). Check the website for the seasonal produce during the month of your visit. However, to get to the dinner experience you have to be “introduced” to the restaurant, either through contacts or by attending a breakfast or lunch dining experience first. We were fortunate in that Jax parents received a recommendation and approval for us to attend the dinner service first up. This is not a cheap experience, but a once in a lifetime moment to savour.
BARS & NIGHTLIFE
Shubiduba - Tsukiji (Outer Market) - Natural Wine and Sake Shop - This is more of a hole in the wall wine shop that you can also have a glass of wine. It features natural wines and sake and also has a great selection of local Japanese wines.
Bar High Five - Ginza - For those serious cocktail lovers! There isn’t a cocktail list, but your server will ask you what you like out of a cocktail (sweet / savoury / fresh / ice / fruit etc) and what sort of spirit you like, then ask you your preferred glass along with any special requests and aversions. We all had two cocktails each and they were pretty amazing. An incredible space with a HUGE selection of spirits and an array of whisky. Please note, there is smoking inside.
Shimokita Komorebi - Natural Wine Bar - “…next to the station (south exit) turn left and it’s about 25 metres on the right. Downstairs - standing bar - for about 7 people.” A tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram.
Golden Gai - an area of twisting, winding alleys packed full of tiny little bars and taverns.
Gen Yamamoto - cocktail tasting menu.
Bees Bar by Narisawa - looks really amazing, we didn’t make it her however…
Shibuya Hikarie large shopping complex (so many options!)
D&Department - Described as: “Classic midcentury furniture, plus modern tableware & home goods on offer in this hip shop.” This place was amazing, artisanal wares, including condiments, clothing, homewares etc etc. Bought a heap of stuff here, plus there were some gems that were reasonably priced, great place for a gift for yourself or others. (Authentic stuff not tourist crap!)
D47 Museum - This is a gallery / area of the department store (Level 8) that has design items from each of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Some amazing items. You can then buy these from the D&Department store adjacent. Not sure if this is a permanent gallery but was in place Feb, 2019.
The Conran Shop - I think of this place as (sort of) the Ikea of Japan (but probably a bit better quality???) heaps of homewares, tough with some of the bigger items if you are travelling but lots of cool stuff to look at and plenty of smaller items and inspiration.
Nude Trump - hectic second hand vintage
Muji - Shibuya / Seibu Store - A Japanese classic - these days a worldwide brand - basically everything you could ever need.
POSTALCO - Document holders, leather bags / wallets.
Kapitale - some wild has handmade shirts, jackets, and pants - male & female, one of a kind and only available in Japan! Denim, shirts, and wonderful accessories - many hand died.
Shibuya Publishing and Booksellers - Find some epic new discoveries in the publishing world, sharing new and used books and magazines. Only a few english items however the Japanese stuff is really cool!
Studious - Japanese Menswear.
Aritsugu - Knife Shop - One of the oldest knife makers in Japan, founded 1560.
Tsukiji Masamoto - Knife Shop - super helpful and happy to chat through the exact knife you are looking for!
SITES & ATTRACTIONS
Tsukiji Outer Market - The “outer market” of the old fish markets - bustling with people, vendors, store holder; here you can get it all, from fresh fish, to grilled food, to plastic display sushi! A great spot if you are into crockery and cutlery as there are some unreal spots selling cheap japanese bowls / sake cups / tea cups / match bowls etc. Plus a number of knife stores (see map).
Toyosu (Fish) Market - the new relocated Tokyo Fish Market. We did not make it here.
Shimokitazawa - A tip from restaurant critic @huckstergram. “We stayed in Shimokitazawa - which is like the Newtown of Tokyo (has also been described as “the east village of Tokyo”. Very grungy with bars, restaurants and second hand shops - lots of cool shit - for fuck all money (stores include chicago, flamingo, New York Joe exchange, there’s loads if you walk around). It’s fucking awesome. Just two stops (or one for fast train ) from Shobyua.”
TIPS & INFO
Some key Japanese etiquette tips (particularly around dining) that are important to understand and stick to when eating out in Japan, and especially at some of the more high end locations:
Don’t double book. Be smart, plan ahead (that is what this guide is for!) and don’t double book yourself or put yourself on wait lists that you may not be able to make if your other booking comes through (universal rule really!) Use hotel concierge / a friend who speaks Japanese (I am fortunate, my cousin is fluent Japanese so that helps!) or a online booking service such as Omekase or Tableall.
Arrive early. Get there 5-10mins before your reservation time (however do not arrive too early!) The Japanese are a prompt people and punctuality is important and respectful.
Allergies / Aversions. When making your booking, let the restaurant / chef know of any allergies or aversions at the time of booking so there is time to plan ahead (this is just courteous and you should follow this practice no matter where you are dining.)
Dress Code. Smart casual is a must! No shorts. No singlets. No thongs (you know that sign you see when you go to an RSL in Australia, yeh it’s like that!!!). Keep it sharp and enjoy the experience.
No perfume! This is particularly important for sushi shops when you are sitting at the counter, as the whole sensory experience is needed to enjoy and enhance the meal (plus these places are small and you don’t want to pong out the whole room with your eau de toilette.)
Loud voices. Now if anyone knows me, this one is a tough one. I am a loud person. But in Japan everyone is very respectful of others space and experience. Keep voices low and not boisterous (or even worse, drunk and over the top like the English woman at dinner last night!!!). **note** there are moments where this is common and expected; i.e. when you have a few too many sake’s with the locals at a small izakaya.
And don’t be that westerner who Kuuki Yomenai (“can’t read the air”)
Photos / Phones. Ask before you take your phone / camera out. One of the main reasons a chef will not want photos taken of their food is so that you can enjoy it in its prime and not 5mins later after you have taken your insty photos.
Many places in Japan are phone free zones. Do not take phone calls at the table / counter. Also in airport lounges do not talk on the phone at your seat, make your way to phone cubicles. No flash. No photos / video which include other guests. Keep phone on silent or airplane mode.
Eat right away. Eat your food as it hits the table. Foods like sushi and tempura need to be eaten right away to get the best product. Do not wait for the others in your group to get their food. If it arrives to you first. Eat it. (This is a common western practice and something that is fine at a dinner party or with your grandparents on Christmas but when you eat out, ANYWHERE, eat your food when it hits the table, don’t wait, the quality of the food will suffer..)
Countertops. If you are sitting at the counter please be mindful not to rest any items on the counter; phones, cameras, handbags etc. Most countertops are made with exquisite wood or stone and are expensive and in pristine condition. This area is meant for food only.
Hands or Chopsticks? For your tsumami (Japanese style appetiser dish) use chopsticks. For any nigiri (fish on top of rice) use your hands or chopsticks, whichever you are most comfortable (I prefer hands in this instance as I know I am not going to drop anything!). Please note, nigiri / sushi should be eaten in one bite.
Soy Sauce. For the tsumami, your chef / server will advise if it is to be eaten with soy sauce or salt. Your sushi will already come seasoned and you should not add any extra soy to the bite, unless directed by the chef. If doing so, only lightly dip the fish section of the bite into the soy sauce. Again, the chef should advise how best to eat each dish. If in doubt, you can ask.
Ginger (Gari). DO NOT add this to your sushi! Its purpose is to cleanse the palate between courses.
Wet towel. At the start of most meals in Japan you will be given at wet towel (either hot or cold depending on what the season is). In most western cultures this is then taken away from you, in Japan it will remain on / at the table for you to wipe your fingers in between bites.
Salt / Dipping Sauce (Tentsuyu) / Lemon. These (or a selection of these) will be at your table, the chef / server should advise the best condiment for each different tempura dish. If in doubt, ask.
Radish. This is served with the tempura and is there as a palate cleanser (similar to ginger in sushi shop). You can also add this to your tentsuyu.
Shime (or final dish). Sometimes at tempura restaurants (or even yakitori) it can be hard to keep up with what you have ordered and what has come to the table (or if you are doing an omekase where you are up to). The shime is a good indication that the meal is coming to an end point. In a tempura shop this will generally be tendon (tempura soaked in sauce over rice) or tencha (tempura over rice covered in hot tea) or kakiage (tempura fritter with a side of rice). When I have had yakitori the shime dish has been a small bowl of light chicken soup.
GENERAL TIPS & TRICKS
Ramen Ordering Machines. When going to a ramen place that operates with a vending machine style payment kiosk (which is pretty much all of them) be sure to insert your yen / $$ - if you do not do this then you won’t be able to select anything.
Subway (Tokyo). This is not as daunting as you might think - use the larger ticket machined that have LCD/LED screens where there is the option for “English” language. Plan your trip prior on Google maps so you know timings / entrance locations and which are the best exits for your final destination. (Also, the trains / stations have free wifi which is great!)
Taxi. Taking a taxi can be daunting, but a couple of tips will be able to help. Simple phrases like the ones below will help you. Plus having a business card / the address of your destination written in Japanese is key (what we did was just screenshot Google Maps with the Japanese address to show to the driver. This worked perfectly). Also, keep an eye out for “english speaking” or “foreigner friendly” signs on taxis. There are also “Women Taxi” in Japan. I only saw one of these.
Smoking. In general you are able to smoke inside at bars. For some this can be hard (myself included) but you sort of just have to deal with it and take it for what it is. Most venues will have great ventilation and it won’t be too bad, and some are non smoking or have specific smoking sections. For those that love and inside cig, you are in luck!!! Haha.
Markets. Do not eat and walk at food markets - most stalls have little zones for you to eat. very bad form and you will offend the vendors and locals. Same with drinking - do not walk and drink- same vibe, in short the japanese value the food and experience. Furthermore, do not eat food from another vendor in front of a different vendors stall. Stick to your stall.
Queuing / Waiting in line. The Japanese are very orderly and efficient - whether awaiting a train, a bus or a line-up for ramen. Everyone waits in a orderly fashion. The same at boutiques for check out. Or on the escalator - follow the lead of the locals- stay to left on escalator - right is for passing.
Groups. If you are a group larger than three it will be unlikely that you will be at at the counter. Groups larger than three will be seated at a table if there is one available.
LANGUAGE CHEAT SHEET
Here are some of my favourite / most used words and phrases (I love languages and I love giving them a crack, it is endearing and if you just try a little, people will love it and want to help you out more…..most will then talk back to you in English if they can…)
I have broken these words / phrases down phonetically so that it is easier to get your head around them...
Hello + Good Day + Good Afternoon / ko⋅ni⋅chi⋅wa
Good morning / o⋅ha⋅yo (go⋅zai⋅mas)
Good evening / kom⋅ban⋅wa
Thank you / a⋅ri⋅ga⋅to
Please / ku⋅da⋅sai
Yes / hai
No / i⋅e
Sorry / go⋅men⋅na⋅sai
Excuse me / su⋅mi⋅ma⋅sen
Do you speak (English)? / (e⋅go) go ha⋅na⋅se⋅mas⋅ka
I’d like a (beer) please / (bi⋅ru) o o⋅ne⋅gai shi⋅mas
What’s that? / so⋅re wa nan des ka
Where is the (toilet)? / (toy⋅re) wa do⋅ko des ka
Please bring the bill / o⋅kan⋅jo o ku⋅da⋅sai
Please take me to (this address) / (address / location you want to go to) ma⋅de o⋅ne⋅gai shi⋅mas
Here are some of my favourite online references for Japan…
Japanese Restaurant Guide: https://savorjapan.com/
Reservation service for Japan: https://www.tableall.com/
Reservation service for Japan: https://www.omakase-japan.jp/en
Site for things to do in Japan – attractions, food, events etc: https://jw-webmagazine.com/
Great list of Tokyo restaurants: https://www.eater.com/maps/best-tokyo-restaurants
Video on eating at the counter in Japan: https://video.cntraveler.com/watch/tokyo-counter-culture
https://tinyurbankitchen.com/ - Good blog covering a lot of Asia (including Japan)
https://www.thesushigeek.com/ - Sushi only (US and Japan)