(Tokyo) : tips and ideas

Starting to research places to visit. I will be staying in Shinjuku. I will probably keep my meals to less than $75 USD per meal.
Would love to hear about your favourite places and foods.
I have looked at the trip reports and other posts I have found from a site search.

Thanks for any ideas :slightly_smiling_face:

We probably have elsewhere mentioned our admiration for the department store basement food halls that make for memorable “picnics in the room”.

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I love this tip. I’m always recommending shopping at the dept store basement food halls when people visit Austria, Switzerland and Germany :slightly_smiling_face:

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Too bad, the Tsukiji market is closed, I’ve heard the restaurants section remained, we had a fabulous morning sushi meal, after the tuna auction. We had a few good ramen meal, a nice BBQ place, wagyu was grilled and deliciously melted in the mouth.

Last visited Tokyo in 2008.

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Like @naf I was in Tokyo in 2008. It’s one city where I’d be fairly confident of picking a random place and getting a good meal, particularly ramen places. One place I do remember is one of the yakitori places in a small alley by Shinjuku Station. More info here

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Quite true. It might be the last time that I didn’t really do a lot of restaurant research before a trip.

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@naf
Lately, I save anything interesting to me on a Google map, that way I have a wishlist in all sorts of neighborhoods, so I always have a few places to consider.

I’ll mark specific dishes I want to try, specific coffee shops, bakeries. Most recently, in Manhattan, I was seeking out bourekas around town. In Washington, DC, I had a few special bakeries, coffee shops and some nice brunch spots on the map.
I usually don’t make too many reservations in advance.

I did that too! Even with colour codes with different types of restaurants. Very useful when you are on the road and just want a place close to you. Just note that I’m not sure google map is very accurate in Japan. Korea has been a nightmare last year.

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Thanks for letting me know about Korea . I will report back about Japan :slight_smile:

Just read a bit on the best map app used by the Japanese. In general, google is not very accurate in Asia. We had problem also in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, things can be 1 or several streets away.

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@prima Ah yes, and don’t forget to use the magic word “Sumimasen” if you want to ask for help on the street, the Japanese will freeze whenever they hear that. I’ve many experiences of asking in English (been to Japanese 4 times), they would actually accelerate and run away as fast as possible! :rofl:

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@naf I’m hoping I can pick up 100 words or phrases before my trip . I usually take an intro course, and I’m good with European languages (I speak 2 other than English well, 3 at a basic level, another 2 poorly).
This is a last minute opportunity, so no chance for me to enroll, but I will pull out my trusty phrasebook. This will be my first visit to Japan

English is pervasive in the Japanese curriculum and many on the street understand you perfectly well. According to a stranger American Japanese speaker who heard our difficulty and then helped us in Osaka, natives are frequently reluctant to sound less than perfect to a stranger despite their far greater fluency with English than the tourist’s stumbling with Japanese.

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The French are a bit like this too! Back in the days I could barely speak French, I asked questions in English on the street, they replied in French. The day I could speak more and asked in French, they answered me back in English!!!

@prima
I think it’s a good idea to speak and read some Japanese. (For your enjoyment of the trip) Well they will see you try using their language even badly, they will be much more enthusiastic to help you out.

But things has changed now, you can just use Google translate and show them your phone. Last year in Korea, the sellers spoke only with their phone. They didn’t even try to speak one word in English!!

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It’s very easy to get around Tokyo with its efficient subway system, and also the JR Yamanote line which links all parts of the massive city together.

But since you’re in Shinjuku, these are a few dining gems you should explore. I’ve included the telephone numbers which you can get your hotel concierge to call for you, and get them to write the addresses in Japanese for you, just in case.

  1. Tsunahachi (tempura). This place dates back to 1923, and its tempura sets are unforgettable. Address: Shinjuku ku Shinjuku 3-31-8. Tel: 03-3352-1012

  2. Kakiden (kaiseki). It’s a short hop away from Shinjuku station and serves very good Cha-Kaiseki, traditionally served prior to a cha-no-yu (traditional tea ceremony). Watch out for their shop signage, which is the calligraphic work of Nobel Prize for literature laureate, Yasunari Kawabata.
    Shinjuku ku Shinjuku 3-37-11 Yasuyo Building 6F-9F
    Tel: 03-33535121 (Reservations required)

  3. Nogata-ya (yakitori) - very good skewered pork and various parts of the pig, down with fizzy Japanese beer. Shinjuku ku Nishishinjuku 2-1-11 (opens 4pm to 1am daily). Tel: 03-33442057

  4. Watanabe (soba noodles) - try their sudachi soba, where the dashi broth is accentuated by the sudachi citrus fruit. Shinjuku ku Nishishinjuku 1-12-10 Hachi-yo Building 1F. Open 11am-10pm Mon-Sat. Tel: 03-33489126

  5. Onyasai (shabu shabu). Shinjuku ku Shinjuku 3-36-15 Shinjuku Naiya Building 3F. Opens 5pm to 11pm daily. Tel: 03-53621129 (Reservations required)

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Thank you so much @klyeoh. Appreciate your thoughtful reply.

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My pleasure, @prima. My list is from 2014, so hopefully things have not changed too much.

Anyhow, some of my other fave places in Tokyo worth exploring are:

  1. Ten-Ichi (tempura formal dining) at the Ginza district. This is the place which made tempura world-famous, and its list of famous customers is long. My first time there back in 2001, the-then Paris mayor (and ex-French president), Jacques Chirac, had also just dined there. I sat in one of the private dining rooms where there was a black-and-white photo of Frank Sinatra celebrating his birthday in that very same room half a century ago (the restaurant is 8 decades old). Prices may exceed your budget, but it’s worth a try!
    Chuo ku Ginza 5-3-1 Sony Building B1F. Opens daily 11.30am to 10pm. Tel: 03-35713837

  2. Birdland (yakitori), also in Ginza, incongruously-named, but this 1-Michelin-starred yakitori restaurant is right next to the legendary sushi spot Sukiyabashi Jiro (3- Michelin-stars) - this place is much more affordable. The ingredients used are nonpareil: Okukuji shamo (the branded chicken counterpart of Kobe’s wagyu beef) and the golden-yolked eggs from Ibaraki prefecture.
    A JPY6,000 (US$56) omakase set yields 8 skewers of yakitori.
    Chuo-ku Ginza 4-2-15 Tsukamoto Sogyo Building B1F. Open: 5pm to 9.30pm Tue to Sat.
    Tel: 03-52501081

  3. Kimukatsu (tonkatsu mille-feuille) in Shibuya district. You won’t believe how the chef pulverised fatty pork and folded it into a 25-layer meaty mille-feuille before breading and deep-frying it. The flavours and textures stay with you long after the meal.
    Shibuya ku Ebisu 4-9-5. Opens 11am-3.30pm, 5.30pm-11pm daily. Tel: 03-54202929.

  4. Okinasoba (Nanban curry) in Asakusa district. Nanban curry was said to originate in 1910 during the Meiji era. “Nanban” basically means “southern barbarians”, referring to the peoples of South-east Asia: the curry-loving Thais, Indonesians, Malayans, etc. Thanks a heap. :joy::joy::joy:

Later on, “Nanban” was used to refer to the Portuguese (as they sailed up to Japan from the south, where the Portuguese had already established colonies centuries before in Macao and Malacca), and their impact on Japanese consumerism (European dress, tobacco, cuisine) and took on a “foreign & desirable” effect.

I preferred Nanban curry, which utilises buckwheat noodles/soba over the more widespread curry udon, as I felt the udon has a much thicker circumference, so it doesn’t absorb the sauce much, retaining its original taste (something the Japanese call “nobi”).
Taito ku Asakusa 2-5-3. Opens 1.45pm-3pm, 4.30pm-7.30pm (take note of how early it closes after dinner-time) Mon to Sat. Closed on Sunday. No reservations - first-come-first-served. Tel: 03-38414641.

  1. Hainan Jeefan Shokudo - this last one is a shout-out for a friend of mine, Shigeki Koshiba, who worked as a chef in the kitchens of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore back in the 1990s before returning to his native Tokyo. His passion for Singapore hawker fare saw him recreating those flavours back in Tokyo, and his Hainan Jeefan Shokudo has grown from one original outlet in Azabu to two other branches in Ebisu and Omotesando. Go there if you suddenly feel like having something “nanban” - Hainanese chicken rice, curry laksa, etc. :joy::joy::joy:
    https://route9g.com/en/
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Funny, although it is easy getting around Tokyo, I found it nearly impossible to find anything specific in Tokyo (except major tourist sites). We were last there in 2014. I recall one incident where a local took pity on us as we stared at the unbelievably complex subway map. He called over a police officer who also couldn’t get us in the right direction (some restaurant that I can’t recall).

Like @paprikaboy and @naf, we had uniformly good food at random restaurant choices. Tokyo is also one of the few places where my advice is prepare to have your mind blown and don’t worry too much about an itinerary - there is something interesting around nearly every corner.

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Somehow, the maps in Tokyo are sometimes pretty vague in pinpointing exact locations.

I remembered trying to locate Ten-ichi at the Ginza one time. I had two friends in tow and one of them was getting rather annoyed. Thankfully, I suddenly saw a signage in front of us in classical Japanese “天一”, which was similar to traditional Chinese (for Tian-Ee, i.e. “First in Heaven”). I realised then that we’d finally stumbled upon the restaurant.

If I’d been more proficient in Japanese, I’d probably get its local guidebooks, which can be extremely detailed and informative. I’d seen Japanese language food guides which even segmented its readers according to their age groups, e.g. “Tokyo Restaurant Guide for 30-50 year olds”, “Tokyo Restaurants for Teens-20s”, etc.!

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FYI

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