FOOD TRAVEL GUIDE TO JAPAN by Kevin J.
Kevin J. is a Fellow Foodie, Urban Explorer, and Music Lover (in that order :)). He loves to wander and get lost exploring new locations and restaurants around the world. He'll try anything at least once and he loves meeting new people, so feel free to say hello and trade notes in the ICBRKR app. Here is his food guide to Japan… enjoy.
In Kyoto, we stayed in the Sakanoue Ryokan, which was a pretty cool experience and felt a bit like we had just traveled back in time. It was nice to participate in Japanese culture but if you are jetlagged and want sleep, I wouldn't recommend it. During the day they remove the bed setup and make room for tables/chairs for a Kaiseki meal. So if you want to venture out and explore with a cozy bed to come back to, this experience isn't the best for you. I would say try it, but maybe only for two days.
If you're looking for high-end restaurants that are hard for foreigners to book, ask your hotel concierge. They were how we got most of our reservations considering that a lot of restaurants don't allow online reservations or non-Japanese speaking tourists. We've heard it helps to stay at a nicer hotel as well. The Ritz Carlton seems to be the "big deal" in Japan so we stayed there to secure some fancy reservations.
Honestly, we loved the fine dining experiences but some of our best meals were just the simple, easy to grab options (i.e. Ramen, Gyoza, Udon, Soba, etc.). There are so many Michelin stars it's hard to try them all, so maybe look up a few of the 1-stars and load up.
In Toyko, Sukiyabashi Jiro (**) is owned by Jiro Ono’s son Takashi Ono. It was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend if you cannot score a reservation at the famed Ginza location. Just make sure you really love raw fish of all kinds as a lot might be challenging to stomach for a Westerner’s palette.
Still in Toyko, Narisawa (**) was incredible. One of my favorite dining experiences from the entire trip with Turtle and Blowfish being the standouts.
RyuGin (***) was also an experience with an incredible view of the city. Make sure to ask to see their owls before you leave. Beautiful creatures. This was our last Michelin-starred meal and at that point we really just wanted some good street food. I would try and check out DEN (**) but we couldn't get a reservation in time. They should accept emails which is a big plus if you're able to book far enough in advance.
One of our best meals was at Teppanyaki Ranma so make sure to check it out if you want a cozy local hangout. Butagumi is an amazing spot for Tonkatsu with various cuts of pork that you can choose from. They don't accept reservations so make sure to arrive early as the lines can get pretty long.
Definitely check out the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. It's a jaw-dropping tourist trap but well worth the time and money. Make sure to buy tickets in advance. You’ll still have to check in at the front but it saves a lot of time and effort.
Hari Hedgehog Cafe was a lot of fun to see some cute and cuddly. For a small fee you can hang with the hedgehogs and see some other animals (bunnies, squirrels, etc.).
One of the must-try foods in Japan are the fluffy pancakes which you can find at many chains across town. Our favorite was from A Happy Pancake. They’re pretty much glorified souffles but I wasn’t complaining :)
If you’re looking for something to wash them down with, make sure to walk a few blocks over to Koffee Mameya. It’s a beautiful cafe with master “baristas.”
Hands down the best Gyoza in Tokyo is Harajuku Gyozalo. The line gets quite long but the service is quick and the menu is simple. Choose from a few different types of gyoza and wash it down with some nice beer or sake. Simple and SO delicious.
Top it all off with a tasty treat from Eiswelt Gelato in Harajuku. Choose from several cute creatures and make sure to make all of your insta-friends jealous.
teamLab Borderless is a MUST SEE. Trust me, the wait and price of admission is totally worth it.
Generally speaking, when you’re walking around, make sure to stop by a few of the many vending machines around the city. There are a bunch of cold and hot drinks to check out and they’re pretty good! It’s a cheap and fun way to explore new beverages while you’re out and about.
Safe travels and happy food hunting!
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