Instead of completely stressing out about securing reservations at the most exclusive restaurants, I focused on crafting an itinerary to include a varied representation of the different types of cuisine that Japan has to offer. And after eating more food than I even imagined I could, I’ve concluded that there are 5 must-try dining experiences in Japan for a well-rounded introduction to Japanese cuisine.
I recommend that at least once during your stay you splurge for a high-end omakase experience, a meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef. Although meals like these can cost several hundreds of dollars per person, some may argue the combination of master sushi chefs, the freshest ingredients, and an intimate dining setting is priceless.
Make reservations in advance for most, if not all, of these top establishments. Contact your hotel concierge (or if you have an Amex Platinum card, the Amex concierge) if you need assistance.
One of the most memorable sushi meals I had during my recent stay in Tokyo was at Sushi Iwa. Located on a small street in the Ginza district, this intimate Michelin-star sushi bar style restaurant seats only 6 guests. The chef carefully prepares all courses directly in front of you and instructs you on how to eat each piece (“soy sauce,” “no soy sauce,” “use fingers”, “wasabi”). The food was amazing, and the sake flowed freely. I could not have had a better experience.
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Tel: 03-3572-0955 (+81-3-3572-0955)
For an exemplary kaiseki experience in Kyoto, I recommend Gion Nanba. Tucked away in a small alley in the Gion district of Kyoto, Gion Nanba is a one Michelin star restaurant serving fresh, seasonal courses. We were greeted by an adorable older lady in a kimono who subsequently guided us through our entire meal, carefully explaining each dish and its ingredients, as we dined in a private tatami room.
Higashiyama-ku, Hanami-koji Higashi-Hairu
(In front of APA Kyoto Gion Hotel, near Yasaka Shrine)
At Bird Land, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo, we opted for the prix fixe menu for approximately 6,000 yen per person where we sampled various parts of the chicken. The atmosphere was buzzing, and the chefs were gracious and accommodating. I recommend this for those who prefer a more refined dining experience, but I founding eating my yakitori at the yakitori-ya to be more authentic and enjoyable.
Traditionally, yakitori-ya are small restaurants that serve yakitori to be consumed with alcohol. In Shinjuku, where we stayed for several nights, we found a number of yakitori-ya in Omoide Yokocho, a small network of streets lined with these hole-in-the-wall shops that we could pop in and out of as we pleased.
Whether consumed as part of a fancy meal or during a night out of drinking, yakitori is one type of cuisine that can’t be missed in Japan.
Tsukamoto Building B1F, 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku,
+81 3 5250 1081
4-10-3 Ginza | 1F Central Bldg.
Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture
My favorite spot in Tokyo for gyoza is Harajuku Gyozaro, a lively and casual establishment located in the Shibuya district. Order one of two types of gyoza, fried or steamed, and watch the chefs cook them before your eyes. Enjoy with a glass of beer and some bean sprouts too.
6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture
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