Japan Trip Report - Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka Spring/Summer 2023

Reporting back from a couple of visits to Japan this Spring/Summer. I already posted a casual / semi-casual eats report here, so this report is for places I reserved that were more destination spots.

Instead of clogging the board with many threads giving a full rundown, I figured that I’d just post here with a synopsis and a couple of pics from each restaurant that I liked.


  • Nihombashi-Kakigaracho Sugita

Exceptional experience in all regards. Sure it’s #1 on Tabelog in Japan but beyond that, it’s just a super delicious and harmonious meal with excellent hospitality. Strong tastes in balance and textures done so nicely. The famous ankimo pairing with Hinotori is out of this world. Komochi yariika with eggs underneath and yuzu as nigiri was one of many highlights. 27 servings (10 otsumami, 16 nigiri and tamago).

  • Sushi Arai

Excellent sushiya and consistent over multiple visits. Nigiri was very well composed and texture was light on the palette. Their ankimo-narazuke homage to Sushi Sho is the best rendition I’ve had by far outside of Sushi Sho and the “ohagi” (nakaochi setoro) is pretty amazing. The tuna from Oma was indeed great, but they’re much more than that, too - great anago, aji, amate-garei, etc. Shop has an old-school feel with the wooden sign placards but despite its relative youth, Arai is already producing some notable alumni. Super delicious all around and consistent.

  • Sushi Sanshin (Osaka)

Took the Shinkansen to Osaka just for this. Wow, very forward thinking and just super delicious. He treated ayu like kohada, and packed the guts underneath. Nisshin sujime roll, hamo as nigiri, and a very clever way of double butterflying (for lack of a better term) kurumaebi to make it drape as nigiri. Started super strong with a sunomono-like dish of Hokkaido kegani with Aomori murasaki uni and frozen pickled mountain tomato and shiso. Incredibly clean and expansive umami especially with Juyondai sakemirai. Looking back, I had many favorites - shiroamadai, ayu, shinko, chutorozuke, hamaguri, kurumaebi, anago, kasugodai, and aji. Great flow to the meal - his old-school handwork is fast and smooth and the team was so coordinated. Nice setup, too - after your meal, you take your dessert in the adjacent teahouse. I’ll be back for sure.

  • Kurosaki

One of my favorite meals overall. New location in Minami-Aoyama is relaxing. After 26 servings I wanted to keep going and was sad it was over. Pickled herring nigiri was one of the most memorable bites of the trips and nihamaguri also blew me away. Fast and clean old-school handwork was pleasant to watch. If I lived in Tokyo, I’d want to be a regular here.

  • Sugaya

Super delicious with some of the best tuna I’ve had. I rate it very highly and I think it’s Tabelog score (while already quite high) is weighed down a bit by cost-performance. Sugaya is from Sushi Arai and despite its relatively high cost, Sugaya is booked out quite far and regarded as one of the best shops to open in the last few years and I can see why. His “char siu” ankimo is super delicious with sake and the product here is tops. A fair portion of the price seems to be the inclusion of the super fat maguro roll that was basically an expensive extra add-on at Sushi Arai. Would happily return and keep going with extras because the variety isn’t huge. People debate “value” and I get it, but everything we had was so good.

  • Sushi Hashimoto

Great meal all around and excellent value Relaxed counter in Shintomicho near Ginza, but you’re not paying top Ginza prices here. I ate with add-ons, drank excellent Jikon junmai daiginjo, Juyondai, Nichi Nichi, and a few other sakes all for under $300 out the door. Love that they have a wide selection of extras including 6 types of makimono on the day I went. All things considered, variety, value, relative ease of booking, etc. I can see why this would be someone’s go-to favorite. The skill level is very high as well - chef trained under Takaaki Sugita-san when it was Miyakozushi. Excellent packing, consistent shari.

  • Sushi Shunji

From the new location in Motoazabu. Shunji-san is famous for running the private counter at Sushi Saito. Excellent meal with good sake and service. Very well-formed nigiri with light akazu. Super tender abalone, but shiro-ebi and huge uni maki may have been the standouts. Very efficient handwork. Stylistically, less aggressive rice but also so easy to keep eating. Both Shunji-san and Aya-san are great hosts.

  • Sushi Taira

A nice surprise from a new shop from the former general of Umi. This shop is actually right around the corner of Shunji in Motoazabu. Taira-san was jovial and quite talented. The meal was very much our speed - start with sashimi duos comparing texture or complementary flavor (Akashi tai vs. hoshigarei; botanebi vs. murasaki uni; shakko vs. hokkigai; etc), then a simmered dish and a bunch of nigiri. Loved the quadruple layer aji with chives and the akagai with its himo packed underneath.

  • Kioicho Mitani Bettei

A new location actually steps away from the other branch, Kioicho Mitani (which I visited a few years ago and quite liked). The setting is quite nice and the nigiri is certainly enjoyable, but the Mitani outposts are perhaps best known for the creative otsumami and alcohol pairings. A couple of Juyondai and some Burgundy, and some standout otsumami make this a really nice and luxurious feeling affair. The meal is a little bit creative and polished but easy to understand. Along with say Yoshida, Sugaya, Hatano Yoshiki, and Udatsu, Kioicho Mitani Bettei represents one of the more elegant atmospheres for a sushiya. For otsumami, the best dish of this visit was lightly fried awabi, in an awabi-jus ankake sauce with crisp seaweed with some 1er St. Aubin and Juyondai honmaru. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon and dining companion enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • Saeki (Kyoto)

Nice garden-facing setting by the Nijo castle. The hotaruika was presented live and still moving, something you don’t really see often in Kanto region. They take some chances with the otsumami (young tuna in tuna shuto, shiroamadai with lightly smoked caviar, nodoguro with sweetened corn sauce, live hotaruika shabu shabu, etc.). With two counters, it’s not quite as intimate as other shops, but it does do well to accommodate an international audience now. Saeki has a strong reputation in the Kansai region, but the namesake general is now working in a newer Ginza shop. Apparently they use just akazu and it’s homemade!

  • Kyubey Ginza

Had to visit this prolific 5-story icon. I love that one can just walk-in and have a solid sushi meal for a reasonable price. I requested makimono to end and the chef made 1 roll with 3 varieties, cutting precisely so the ingredients paired off so cleanly.

Kaiseki / Kappo

  • Ogata (Kyoto)

“Rustic cuisine” of great ingredients done simply and with a fair amount of symbolism. The menu changes quite often. Glad we got the ultra-seasonal hanasansho pot, just a great spiced floral base for beef shabu shabu. I’m surprised that some people next to me didn’t finish it; chef seemed quite disappointed by that, because it was kind of a signature dish of Wakuden where he trained. Ogata’s reputation is sterling but the food can be a little austere for some since it’s quite “simple” in presentation. Nonetheless, we found it a great meal, though we may prefer to visit next time during middle of autumn when it’s matsutake or taizagani season.

  • Myoujyaku

One of the standout meals for me. The food was very “essential” in its deliciousness. I don’t want to use hyperbole, but it was at times extremely delicious and impressive in how the flavors were so dialed in despite there being few ingredients. The suppon (snapping turtle) with nasu and ankake sauce blew me away - probably a top 10 dish for me. So smooth with the right slipperiness and warmth. The key is eggplant from Osaka (very naturally “sweet” as is, like the raw, hand-torn one I had at Sushi Tokiwa in Hawaii a couple of weeks before). It was fried, then skinned, then blended with a concentrated suppon broth. The flavors were comforting, deep, and pure, and the suppon was basically used in whole. Then ayu (“sweetfish”) in 3 servings (presented live and swimming at first) - grilled over binchotan, then another grilled and smoked over tade leaves (grilled ayu is often served with tadezu vinegar), and then as a “handroll” with its intact skeleton fried, but its body grilled (by what I jokingly refer to as Wolverine-style) and placed sizzling on top the skeleton and fresh and fried tade leaves. Somen from Nara and mildly nutty yuba from Kyoto was incredible. Sweet Shizuoka corn was stuffed with karasumi and fried. The penultimate course was a blueberry sherbet with smooth anko (adzuki bean paste), a really new flavor combination for me, with a sweet earthy nuttiness and smooth delivery of bright berries.

I knew from the starting aka uni with edamame mousse without sauce or yamaimo steamed simply in salt and water that there was some confident cooking going on. When it came to otsukuri - tai and tako, both from Akashi (considered top provenance for madai), had excellent texture of course with the right pleasant bounciness but the kicker is salt made of dehydrated octopus and a clear dipping “fish sauce” of the tai bones. Another side note: you can find very good maguro at high-end sushiyas abroad, but the whitefish, clams, and cephalopods in Japan appear to be at a different level than what is served elsewhere. And the Lake Biwa trout, grilled skin side down only, was killer. Also helped that they served some great Aramasa (a couple of Astral Plateau series even) and Jikon to match. Lovely service all around.

  • Ginza Kitagawa

A new shop from chef Kitagawa of Ginza Shinohara. Elaborate hassun with many small bites, from yahata-maki (unagi wrapped over burdock rolls, and lacquered with tare over a fairly long grilling), to nuta, kamorosu (duck), figs with sesame miso, etc. Other very nice items were hamo (conger eel) tempura in a suppon ankake sauce and robata skewer of more suppon. I had a bottle of champagne, but I’m very convinced that sake is going to be a much better match with washoku (and most sushi) 98% of the time (even if it is fun to experiment with wine).

  • Kiyama (Kyoto)

Very nice kaiseki in Kyoto. No pictures allowed. Off memory, I quite liked the yahata-maki. Sashimi was shiroamadai! Nice counter run by chef Kiyama. He didn’t do the katsuobushi grating in front of us, but he’s known for experimenting with other types of “bushi.” Very nice, high quality dinner, and I hear that lunch is an exceptional value.

Counter other

  • Sugalabo V (Osaka)

I got an invitation here, so it was back to Osaka by shinkansen. This is a hidden French Japonais restaurant by LVMH, but the food is actually excellent. Impressive room and experience - they pass the ingredients along the counter before announcing most courses. The “Parsut” (word for “ham” in Parma dialect) is actually a Japanese product. Diners are instructed to eat it by hand, not rolling it up. This is the only time I’ll use the word “gossamer,” but it was so thin and translucent, it seems appropriate because it just melted. The ise-ebi (spiny lobster) ramen gazpacho was next level and the combination worked really well. The bouncy chew of the fresh noodles complemented the mi-cuit tenderness of ise-ebi. The gazpacho was bright and super umami with excellent tomatoes and shiso oil . Really creative “cold noodle” as it was like 98 degrees that day.

The last two savory courses were simple in a sense - beef (Satsuma-gyu) cooked on teppan with a ratatouille and a curry rice with pickled onions - but I was shaking my head at just how delicious they were. I was stuffed but everyone who goes there wants the large portion of curry rice. Really polished experience, e.g. they present you with your own tray of fresh mini madeleines (about 10), but I, like everyone else, was so full and asked for them to go. When I got home, they had given me about 30 madeleines and a small lemon cake as a souvenir.

  • Azabu Kadowaki

A pioneer institution of kappo cuisine that was an early adopter Western ingredients (and invented classics like fried shark’s fin, truffle rice pot, etc.). Chef is still cooking at the counter even after reaching 3* Michelin. Our menu was the 62k jpy one, and while it was a little bit short, there were some great dishes. I think the thing about Azabu Kadowaki is that one should probably opt for as long of a course as he or she can commit that night. It is expensive, but there is quite a good portion of luxury ingredients done very nicely. It would be reductive to say it’s just luxury, because chef Kadowaki brings a rare balance to them. Fried marinated shark’s fin and the truffle gohan pot (shaved for about 15 seconds) were standouts.


  • Nikuya Tanaka Ginza

I posted about this here. Pinnacle beef experience for me.

  • Yoroniku (Ebisu) & Yoroniku (Aoyama)

Popular yakiniku course menu. I went to both locations in the same week. I had a business meeting where my colleague booked the Aoyama one a few days after I ate at the Ebisu one with friends. I believe that the Aoyama one is bookable only by locals, and seemingly all patrons at the Ebisu one were speaking English or Chinese, anyway, but the service was super attentive and pleasant. When booking the Ebisu one through Omakase, you commit to a set menu which is actually quite large. The Aoyama branch’s atmosphere is darker and more private, whereas the Ebisu branch is much brighter and louder. Really good yakiniku experience. Sando is great but I liked the tongue courses. Pics are from the Ebisu one because I didn’t snap pics in Aoyama.


  • Noma Kyoto pop-up at the Ace Hotel

I posted about this here. The flavors didn’t taste very “Japanese” for the most part, but I believe they weren’t aiming to replicate Japanese dishes. It was interesting to see a new take on Japanese ingredients, especially in the context of coming full circle in Kyoto. It was certainly an elaborate production logistically and to create a “gesamtkunswerk” from basically the other side of the world. The ise-ebi was the standout.

  • T.T. (Rust sabi) (Kyoto)

Japanese tea ceremony with an alcoholic tea cocktail option paired with wagashi. Calm space. Seated counter, with a pretty formal introduction of each tea course. Along the lines of say Ogata sabo in Paris, Sakurai tea house in Aoyama, etc. but a bit more ritual with the introductions.

Actually in Gion at one of the newest tenants in a plain black machiya, upstairs of the fashion store by T.T. (the late artist Taiga Takhashi). Taiga Takahashi had trained under stone mason Masatoshi Izumi (collaborator of Noguchi), and one of his sculptures sits at the base of the stairs.

No pictures allowed on that street. There are signs and all of those Gion photoshoots on prohibited streets should really stop.

On another note…tourist photography in general is getting a little out of hand with the rise of IG / TikTok videos (seems like everyone has a narrated Reel on “can’t miss spots in Japan”). When in restaurants, please ask to take pictures first. Rarely if ever is video allowed, and please, please do not take pictures of the staff or other patrons candidly. Not really talking to you guys just ranting, because the open videoing with other patrons’ faces showing is absolutely annoying as fuck. At the very least, blur out the faces…and you can see that in most cases, except for a few, most staff appear uncomfortable with being photographed candidly on the job. (end rant)

An upscale izakaya in Nishiazabu. there are no prices but rather a minimum per person, and everything is courses by pieces (no set portion sizes). The “luxury bowl” of uni and ikura is Instagram famous and quite good, but look out for the excellent curry rice, fried Nagasaki sausages, simmered eggplant, and toro katsu.


  • ShinoiS

Modern Chinese counter dining in Shirokane. Really nice - for exmple, a fried spring roll with 2 kinds of braised shark’s fin, with smoked caviar and 2-yr aged Comte, with Jacquesson 743. Or dried Yoshihama “kippin” abalone rehydrated with just pure water. But there are some more modern touches like a hot and cold “hot and sour soup” with a sorbet of grilled corn with a mala jelly or a “sizzling rice soup” with snapping turtle and kaffir lime. Modern Chinese in Japan is a cuisine with which I trust the pairing, because there are strong flavors like shaoxing wine, doubanjiang, etc. 32 yr. old shaoxing wine with edamame and shima ebi was a bold knockout.

  • M_Mugen

I already posted about this here. Nice, clever meal

  • Fureika

Japanese take on Cantonese (mainly) Chinese food. Elegant room in Azabu Juban with quite good course menus. Not a counter or as modern as ShinoiS or M_Mugen. In fact, quite nice traditional feeling decor. This is one of the branches of Chugoku Hanten, which has various Chinese concepts throughout the city.


Love your report. And thanks for reporting back! Strongly disagree about Sugaya (I’m never going back there again), but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed Japan through your report.

Sounds like you had a bad experience at Sugaya, sorry to hear that! Can I ask what was wrong with the meal?

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Sugaya, to me, was a straight tourist cash trap. Non-punctual start of the meal - All the customers waited >10 minutes outside the restaurant in the cold weather past our collective reservation time before they’d even open the door.

Once inside, cold, passionless service awaited us. I’m willing to overlook all that up to that point, except then Sugaya’s shari was over-vinegared to the point to inedibility, completely washing out any nuance his neta had to offer on the diner’s palate. This means that every piece of nigiri tasted “off” that evening. I get that higher vinegar levels in the sushi meshi reflect a current trend in Tokyo, but what happened at Sugaya felt to me reflected a disastrous lack of quality control. (My lovely meal at Keita, the night before Sugaya, likewise featured vinegar-forward rice, but unlike Sugaya, Aoyama-san’s rice at Keita completely and beautifully matched the neta that evening). And at more than USD$600 per diner, I did feel robbed at Sugaya.

Sounds like a bad experience indeed. We went for lunch in April and were the only tourists / first-timers (all other diners were local regulars). I didn’t include descriptions or pictures of each sushiya’s rice above, but I did find the rice at Sugaya nicely punchy (but not overly so), a bit more vinegared than Arai’s. Perhaps an off day or there’s been changes. I was thinking of bringing a guest to a nice sushiya next time and was considering Sugaya, but perhaps I’ll have to try it again to check before doing so. The new Kurosaki is off to a really strong start, and I think that may be the play. Next time, I will look into Sushi Keita among others.


Ah, maybe lunch is better than dinner there.

Can you put a kind word in for me at Sugita and Arai? I am planning on going back to Tokyo for tabe aruki this December… Yoroshiku onegasimasu!

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Haha sorry I don’t think I have that kind of clout or reservations ability yet. I don’t think I’ll be back in December. But if we happen to be in Japan the same time in the future, I hope that I may be able to help then. Happy eating! You’re going to love it of course. Looking forward to any report you might write up.

What an amazing report! Thanks for taking the time to post. We just got back but will keep in mind for next time.

Thank you. I hope you enjoyed Japan, actually I’m pretty confident that you did because there’s so much there. The hospitality and quality are always so great in Japan I’m already loosely plotting my next trip! Looking forward to hearing about yours.

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