Japan is done – oh, the memories

The Japan trip is over and I’m back on American soil, just in time for the world to end. That would be fine, for I will never have to be subjected to that stuff they call “fish” here again – to think my friends called me a sushi snob before.

Meals ran the entire gamut – disgusting, bad, good, great, and unbelievable. I really did not expect the highs to be so high – think two meals in my all-time Top Five high.

If you plan to visit Tokyo, I can not stress enough the importance of buying the Streetwise Tokyo city map – it’s a work of genius that will make everything oh-so-clear. With it, you can get to the block you need to be. The only obstacle at that point is deciphering Kanji in some cases. What is not genius is losing it with two days to go – they don’t sell them in Tokyo!

A second tip – for more obscure restaurants you read about online or in books, bring a picture of the doorway whenever possible. This can get you past the Kanji obstacle. Use Streetwise to get to the right block, hold print-out of doorway in hand, and start comparing. This helped a few more times than you can imagine. I tried taking doorway pics for the upcoming reviews whenever possible.

If you plan to visit Kyoto, Diane Durston’s Old Kyoto: A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns is full of ideas and history for your trip. If you need an inspiration to book that ticket, buy the book – you’ll be on a plane to Kyoto soon. Out of three restaurant suggestions, it only led me astray once; but the real value is in targeting different stores for artisan products.

My one restaurant tip, before the reviews cycle through the blog: Ryugin. It’s beginning to receive more and more press, but it has a conflicted identity that might dissuade some from considering it. The chef made an international name for himself with some zany experiments; however, he has largely abandoned them for the pursuit of a more traditional kaiseki experience. The ingredients I ate there, particularly red snapper from Osaka and wild large eel, were eye-opening, mind-changing, and they might forever spoil me.

Here are a few pictures of various meals to whet the appetite until the reviews come:

Ryugin (Tokyo) – Blue Swimming Crab and Shanghai crab (with roe aplenty!) topped with Chrysanthemum Gelee

Hyotei (Kyoto) – one of the most beautiful bowls I’ve ever seen – this picture does no justice to the color

Yagenbori (Kyoto) – Ayu with roe popping out

Koju (Tokyo) – Three magical pieces of wagyu beef on a gorgeous plate of fall

Sushiso Masa (Tokyo) – Lightly grilled swordfish – one of the best bites of my life, thanks to the layer of fat between the skin and meat.

Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo) – Poor little turtles, too bad you taste so good.

Kasagi-Ya (Kyoto) – Fresh, made-to-order o-hagi, yummmm

- chuck

  • http://www.alifewortheating.com Adam

    Looking forward to hearing about some of these restaurants, Chuck … from the pictures … it looks like you had a great trip !

  • http://www.luxeat.com Luxeat

    The pictures are gorgeous, Chuck.

    P.S. Its funny, because when i went in Japan last spring, i was prepared to eat fish everyday, but ended up eating the wagyu beef almost every day. Finally, don’t know what is better- Japanese beef, or fish :)

  • Mike


    I leave on Sat. Give me your 2 best? Best sushi? We had Jiro reservations, but the rest of the crew balked at the $$$ for 45 min and 20 pieces, I am bummed, but will have to make it back some time.




  • paul

    Chuck did you end up getting turned away from any restaurants out there for being a Gaijin?

  • chuckeats

    Aiste – the beef was certainly good but the fish is incredible!

    Mike – if your party wants budget, I’d do Kyubei for lunch in Ginza – $55 for 10 pieces or so. The quality rivals nearly everything in America. The dinners are $200-300, and that could be a decent choice since they are more involved and, presumably, last more than 45 minutes.

    Paul – I did not try to get into Jiro (Ginza); I stuck w/ people that would want my business. Overall, I was very surprised by the hospitality of the Japanese – many, despite limited English, took great care in trying to explain everything and serve – truly inspiring.

  • chuckeats

    Paul R – no Robuchon, i’m not the biggest fan and i wanted to focus on Japanese restaurants. L’Osier will probably be targeted for the next trip though, in between many sushi meals.

  • http://verygoodfood.dk VGF

    You make me want to plan a trip to Japan!

  • Mike

    VGF – It’s a no brainer! I am leaving tomorrow and hit Ryugin last night. On par with the best. Kyubei lunch was far better than any sushi I have had here (my bay area standard is Ino) and $30 at Sushi Dai and Sushizanmai went loooong, not to mention the ramen.

  • http://www.tasty-bits.com Misha

    Chuck – how does Urasawa stack up with what you had in Japan? I am finally going to make it to back to LA next week and plan to stop by Urasawa and Providence.

  • chuckeats

    Misha – Urasawa stacks up very well. The fish I had in Japan at the best places was better but not everything Urasawa serves needs to come from Japan. I’d give it a 9/10 for fish; his rice was just as good.