Japan Trip Report - Tokyo February 2024

#illuminatiPhone

Connectivity varies by provider. E.g. T-Mobile might work better than Verizon.

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@formersushichef Haven’t been to Ine yet! I remember Amanohashidate in that area is one of the 3 classic scenic views of Japan and it has peaked my interest; just no opportunity yet. Tamagawa would definitely be high up on my list as I really enjoy their sake but that looks pretty tight. I just threw up Google Maps and it looks like a 1-hour one-way train ride for that detour so not actually that close.

@CiaoBob some US phone providers like T-Mobile automatically give international roaming. I think by international roaming my basic understanding is that it just pretty much borrows local provider networks or something so your connectivity should be great. I remember when I used it in 2019 it worked perfectly out of the box and I don’t think I needed pocket wifi either. However, I think I used it for a little last year and the speed was very slow. There might be some details to ponder there if you have an upcoming trip.

I remember the main reason why you shouldn’t just bring your cell phone and use whatever international options your US provider has is because it’s significantly more expensive. If cost is not an issue then there are many choices.

I’m going to Japan in December with the family. 4 people total. Looking at eSim vs pocket Wifi options. But the problem is not sure how much data we will need?
Ubigi 10GB for 11 days is $68 total
Ninja Wifi 3GB per day is $75 total

For the extra $7 I’m leaning towards Ninja. Pickup at the airport is supposedly very simple. Even if my kids are going crazy on Pokemon and we’re using Google Maps all day I don’t think we’d go over 3GB per day.

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Thanks - will have to do some research: going in November, a few days in Tokyo, but the focus of the trip is Kyushu and Yakushima.

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Unless you are streaming video consistently and constantly it will be very difficult to surpass 3Gig a day.

I would go with the ninja always better to have more than less, 7 dollars is an in’nout combo

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@CiaoBob I enjoyed Kyushu; haven’t been to Yakushima. Another thing with pocket wifi if you’re going multi-location is that you have to remember to drop off the pocket wifi at some point which I remember being a last minute annoyance to consider.

@js76wisco Agree with hippos that generally 3 GB/day is tough to use if you’re not doing anything too intensive. I think with a group of 4 and multiple people wanting internet, a pocket wifi is good just for that easy convenience factor. Pocket wifi pickup is indeed easy as you just go to a counter with the info and they grab it for you. Like I mentioned with Bob, the dropoff is an annoyance but convenience for the group during the trip probably offsets and then some. If problems crop up, you can always add an eSIM later mid-trip and just pay for what you want for the rest of the trip.

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Hi There,

Awesome post!

Curious as to how you are getting reservations to Arai, Hashimoto, Motoyoshi?

Are you getting lucky via Omakase?

Any insights on how to be able to book those would be very much appreciated :pray:

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Hi @562, thanks! I guess a bit of luck is involved. yes, pretty much everything is booked online. I go to Japan several times a year, in fact I’m in Tokyo now, so it helps as I keep a semi-flexible schedule. I’ve never used a tour or guide. Unfortunately, a concierge will not be of any real help getting the most hard-to-get reservations, no matter how nice the hotel is.

I first went to Arai several years ago. In general, I think access opens up more when one is a returning customer.

There are so many good options for food in Tokyo that I wouldn’t be too fixated on getting into a particular shop…With that said, a lot of shops tend to have a specific style or feel, so one strategy might be to book at a new restaurant of someone who is venturing out from a bigger name shop you want to try…and to see if their style is to your taste. There are already several alums of Arai to try, for example.

I believe that Motoyoshi is rather easy to book and very good for foreigners.

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I appreciate the answer! I’ve dined at most of the alumns of top sushi-yas that trained under the different styles but am still curious as to what that gap would be to try the “best.” Whether it be Hashimoto → Sugita, or even the reverse Sushisho → Arai , Umi → Amamoto.

There is still much to be explored!

Anyhow thanks for the response and very much appreciate all your other posts in regard to Japan. Learned a few new spots to try from your posts!

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When it comes to Hashimoto vs Sugita, yes they are different experiences. I really do appreciate how Hashimoto is a great all-rounder - the otsumami is great, I quite like the nigiri, the sake selection, ease, value, ability to add on extras (and still come out for very reasonable price), comfortable service, etc. Sugita is a very special experience but way harder to get into.

Regarding Arai, i think that doesn’t resemble Sushi Sho all that much, though Sho’s ankimo narazuke and ohagi are mainstays in their menu. Based on my friend’s recommendation, I may alternatively suggest Takeru.

I also really like the new Minami-Aoyama location of Kurosaki - in fact, it’s been one of my best meals in Japan several times. Nakano is in Kurosaki’s old location (Shibuya) is much easier to get in to. Try Kurosaki if possible, though the main counter is indeed preferred.

There’s always somewhere new to try, and I always like to try somewhere with history as well. I’ll report back.

Happy eating!

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Haha speaking of new to try I just went to Sushi Tada in Tsukiji/Shintomicho and was very pleasantly surprised by a place that seems to have gone completely under the radar. Apparently friends with or patronized by Yoshizumi of Sushi Yoshizumi in SF and I can understand why! I enjoyed it a lot and was surprised at some of the things I was given. There are so many amazing places to always try!

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Heading to Japan for the first time next week…here’s our current bookings if anyone has any input on things they’d sub out/avoid let me know! ALSO: we’ve kept most of our lunches free and a few dinner slots open so open to any fun things people recommend. Also looking for great bakeries/pastries or breakfasts…

Tokyo
Day 1 - Land, dinner @ Sowado
Day 2 - Lunch open, Dinner @ Sushi Murase (booked thru hotel)
Day 3 - Lunch Open, Dinner @ Crony
Day 4 - Lunch open, Dinner @ Den

Kyoto
Day 1 - Monk
Day 2 - Tempura Kyoboshi
Day 3 - Free!
Day 4 - Cenci

Naoshima - Just kaiseki dinner @ our Ryokan

Osaka -
Day 1 Dinner - Open! Any recs for Osaka streetfood or okonomayaki?
Day 2 - Lunch @ Sushi Sanshin, Dinner open
Day 3 - Dinner @ Yakitori Ichimatsu

Hakone - Dinner @ Ryokan

Back to Tokyo
Day 1 - Open, maybe Maz for dinner?
Day 2 - SushiSho Masa but also have a rez at Tsubomi if someone could help me decide
Day 3 - Open

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Pretty nice itinerary! I see quite a few notoriously difficult places on there too.

Nothing to add on bakeries/pastries since I’ve never actually gotten any while in Japan. Breakfast-wise I only recall for Tokyo that there’s a bonito-focused place in Shibuya called Katsuo Shokudo (Katsuo Shokudo - Google Search) and there’s a horumon specialist in Tsukiji called Kitsuneya (Kitsuneya - Google Search). Disclaimer that I’ve never gone to the former and it’s been many years since the latter. I personally actually preferred the meat tofu bowl more than the horumon when I did a side-by-side at the time.

Kyoto I tried to get Japanese breakfast at a more famous place but it had a lot of reservations and cut off the walk-in line so I just walked in to a place on the way to Kiyomizudera and it was great. I had also intended to try to fit in Muku in Arashiyama but had to skip it due to my schedule. For Kyoto, I like to try a tofu restaurant as I think I read ages ago that tofu is a specialty there. I had Sagano in Kyoto and Tousuiro in central Kyoto but ended up cutting them as I had plenty of Kaiseki restaurants on my agenda.

I don’t see any Kaiseki restaurants on your itinerary (ryokan just don’t count for me unless the ryokan is specifically known for food) so would suggest that if you can fit one in. I’d suggest Hassun (Hassun - Google Search) at lunch. Hassun was amazing value and and easily delicious. Kyoto Kaiseki can be considered austere and I enjoyed my dinner at a different place but not sure I’d suggest. I would note that I came out of my Hassun lunch quite full so I’d try not to do anything heavy for dinner.

I see a lot of Western options and another idea might be Lurra in Kyoto. Customers were all foreigners but I enjoyed it and thought it reminiscent of Somni if you’ve been to that pre-COVID.

If you like Japanese sake, I’d give Sake Bar Yoramu (Sake Bar Yoramu - Google Search) in Kyoto a shot. I stopped in before close and wish I’d had time to go again. For Tokyo, I’d recommend Eureka Sake Bar (EUREKA! Minato City - Google Search) where I’ve gotten lots of interesting and delicious drinks. The food menu is interesting too but I always end up eating beforehand and lack room to try much while there. A friend told me they’re known for food/sake pairing and there’s a related restaurant I might try. But they’re not the only ones in town doing sake and food pairing.

In Tokyo, honestly there are too many places to recommend in terms of food. I’m pretty sure I’ve stuffed my last few Tokyo trips full of food, lunch and dinner reservations all over the place, and still have plenty to explore.

Do you like pizza? Maybe Pizza Marumo (pizza marumo - Google Search) in Ebisu. All the Pizzeria Sei staff I talked to recommended it to me and it was Bun-san’s (previously worked at Savoy and then was at Sei before returning to Japan recently) recommendation when I asked him about a pizza place he liked in Tokyo. Reservations strongly recommended. I tried walking in later at night and they turned away walk-ins. I did see some walk-ins for a late lunch get in but it’s not guaranteed. I got a Margh/Marinara half and half and thought the Marinara was really special. Also got a Red Hot Chili and enjoyed that a lot too. I’d say for me it was Marinara > Red Hot Chili > Margherita.

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Lol I’m literally taking the same trip as you next week, @mzonelli, just in slightly different order it seems!

Any opinions y’all on Koke, Ogata, or Ogawa in Kyoto? Or Menya Inoichi? What about soba in Kyoto?

And what about PST vs Savoy vs Marumo vs Sereinkan?

Thanks in advance!

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No idea on Koke and Ogawa. Koke has a lot of favorable reviews online. Ogawa I think I took it off my radar because it wasn’t on the main 3 sites I use for online reservations nowadays. Ogata with a 4.6 Tabelog and a side store at Higashiyama? That’s like one of the highest rated Kaiseki restaurants in all Japan if I remember right. Pretty much regulars only at this point? If you can fit it in and get in I would go for it. Not much of a soba person sadly.

I’ve been to PST, Savoy, and Marumo. I’d say I’m not really all that discerning on pizza, I just like what I like lol.

PST I always enjoy, mainly the Tamaki style. It’s tougher and tougher to go to though without a reservation and I don’t think you can make it online. I got in barely as a solo walk-in and was supposed to finish within a certain time frame to allow the next group in. Walking in at dinner worked before but probably easier as solo or maybe even duo but could be different given the flood of tourists and their fame.

Savoy I only did walk-in lunch combo which was very affordable (about 1k JPY? so about just around or under $7 USD). I remember thinking their Margh was similar to Pizzeria Sei. Marinara was nice. I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on Marumo. Bonus points on Marumo is you can make and see their reservations online via Tablecheck. Usually easy if done a few days out I think.

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Thanks for all this. Really appreciate it.

I’ve had no luck with Ogata, Appointment Trader or otherwise. Trying to figure out how to get a rez at Hitomi, or if you have another yakitori place I’m all ears.

I will take a look again at Marumo, and we have a rez at PST. I’m excited to do Italian/pizza but will probably only spend 1 meal on that during our trip. So many other options it’s overwhleming, and I wanna eat stuff I don’t typically do in LA!

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Have a great time! Seems like you’re off to a great start in planning.

It will likely be warm. Google Maps is your friend when it comes to the metro planning, especially on the quickest metro exit to minimize walking around the stations, some of which can be quite big. If you need a sun umbrella, you can easily pick them up at any corner Family Mart / 711 / Lawsons, which are everywhere. As a practical hint, it can be hard to find the Suica/PASMO metro cards at the stations themselves due to the IC shortage, but you can reserve one online or simply pick one up for tourists - a Welcome Suica (good for 28 days) - at the Haneda airport. While the coin system is easy, a Suica card to tap at train stations or even the above mentioned convenience stores makes paying very easy. You’ll also want to complete the Visit Japan Web online to get the QR code (you just need one QR code now, no longer two), to make arrival through customs easy.

I’m a fan of keeping the lunches open as well. As you’re exploring the areas, you don’t want to overbook with reservations at every meal, because it may take some time getting around to different neighborhoods.

With that said, you have many options for lunch - other popular cuisines that don’t usualy require reservations include

  • soba
  • ramen
  • udon
  • curry
  • unagi
  • Chinese food
  • tonkatsu
  • yoshoku (Western food, such as demi-glace stews or omurice)

maybe shabu shabu, sukiyaki, yakiniku, or steak restaurants would more likely require reservations.

you may also want to consider checking out

  • wagashi
  • coffee
  • bars

Since it’s your first time to Japan, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trekking across town for specific restaurants for lunch. Rather, I would choose a neighborhood or event to see, or activity you want to do, and figure out a couple of options nearby to walk in to.

I went to Ogata last April (the honten in Shimogyo, not the Higashiyama branch). Great ingredients, simple in composition, lots of subtle symbolism, but perhaps a bit austere in taste for some. Like the title of the chef’s book, it’s “finding beauty in rustic cuisine.” There are some dishes whose presentation is double-entendre, some reference folklore, etc. The artwork behind the bar changes seasonally, too, and the plates are very precious. I believe his favored seasons are for hanasansho (briefly during spring - we had it in April, allegedly for 2 weeks or so but I’ve seen it last for longer), matsutake (early fall), and taizagani (December-ish).

Note that the Higashiyama branch is run by one of his alums and is usually about 25-30% less expensive. But occasionally, chef Ogata goes there, and the price go up to match that of the honten (June 17, 23, July 1, 22)

(Shokudo) Ogawa is very hard to book, and I’ve never been. The food looks great, though.

In Kyoto, you may want to give yahata/yawata maki a try, unagi wrapped over gobo rolls. It’s a specialty from nearby, and it takes considerable time to make - something I’ve never seen executed well in America. Shokudo Ogawa has a nice looking rendition. We had it at multiple kaiseki places, but if reservations fail, you can always grab it at the Nishiki market.

And oh, if anybody loves great grower champange - Orexis in Tokyo or Recontre in Kyoto. But I always drink as much sake as I can in Japan after starting with the requisite nama beer.

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I haven’t done much Yakitori yet in Japan. Just in Tokyo and only at two places. I enjoyed Yakitori Shinohara but it’s dinner only and sometimes closer to a Yakitori Kaiseki. I have no idea how it compares to the hard to book places as I’ve never been to those. Yakitori Shinohara is always an easy reservation.

Adding on to @pomodoro comments on Suica… Do you have an iPhone? You can add a SUICA card to your iPhone wallet and charge it there. You would then hold your phone over the tapping stations at the train stations and 7-11s etc.

Just make sure to do it all in one go and don’t let your phone sleep or anything during the process. I’m pretty sure I screwed up the first time and have $30 some USD in a digital Suica account that will never get used anywhere because I can’t access it anymore and don’t want to make a fuss by contacting the Suica company itself or charging it back via my credit card. Regardless, it’s great and I just added another 5k JPY to it while the exchange rates are amazing from SoCal. I don’t know if you can do it with an Android.

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Yakitoriguy on insta has a shop rec story tab that has a list. Also if you message him, he’ll likely respond.

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