January 18, 2007

Restaurants In Japan

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 4:51 am

[Editor’s Note] This is old material imported from my now-defunct Wiki

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Japan: you’re not going to find anything if you don’t have a map, preferably a map with the thing you’re trying to find clearly marked on it. If you buy a guidebook, it will warn you that things are hard to find. This is a lie. Things are impossible to find. Very few streets have names, very few buildings are numbered, and very few numbers go in order. Outside of Tokyo, and even in the less touristy parts of Tokyo, very few businesses have Roman script on their signs—an establishment’s name written in kanji is an essential item for finding anything.

The second thing you have to know: if your Tokyo guidebook is more than a year out of date, it will be almost completely worthless for restaurant recommendations. Said worthlessness will be disguised for a time by the difficulty of finding anything, but eventually you will figure out that the restuarant you are looking for is not just very hard to find, but non-existent. In fairness, the guidebooks will suggest that calling ahead is a good idea. In fact, if you have your heart set on eating at a particular restaurant, calling ahead is absolutely required, or else your heart might very well get broken.

The good news is, if you’re willing to eat almost nothing but noodles and rice, you can get a decent meal at almost any ramen, udon, or soba shop you pass. Tasty, filling, and usually pretty cheap.

I spent my honeymoon in Japan in June 2005 with the guidance of Time Out Tokyo (3rd edition 2003) and Lonely Planet Japan (8th edition 2003). Here are some addenda for travellers of the future.

Time Out Tokyo

Time Out does not give the kanji for anything. Outside of the central city, this can be a problem.


(p. 125) Couldn’t find it. Ended up at a perfectly wonderful, seemingly quite popular place in the same area near the fish market. (BTW, the guide books aren’t kidding when they say to arrive early for the fish market. We got there around 11 AM and it was like a ghost town—no signs of commercial activity whatsoever.)

Ikebukuro Gyoza Stadium

(p. 128) This exists and is in fact quite easy to find. Time Out errs in not making it clear how strange and interesting this theme park dedicated to steamed and fried dumplings is to the Western visitor. Definitely check this out.


(p. 128) Couldn’t find it. In addition, Roppongi is overrated. Like Bourbon Street mixed with Times Square. (Every neighborhood in central Tokyo is like something mixed with Times Square.) We ended up at Freshness Burger, which wasn’t too bad, if a little stingy with the meat.

Pumpkin Cook Katsura

(p. 148) We scoured the neighborhood looking for this restaurant and I’m pretty confident in saying it doesn’t exist. Kiddy Land, around the corner from where this restuarant used to be on Omotesando, is a great place to stop for Japanese toys.


(p. 149) We were pretty tired of searching for restaurants when we came looking for this one, but I’m pretty sure it’s not there.

Lonely Planet Japan (Tokyo)

Lonely Planet gives the kanji for all the restaurants (and other sites) that appear on the neighborhood maps. Location on a map + kanji = good stuff.

Keika Kumamoto Ramen

(p. 194) No English sign; kind of a surprisingly dumpy little place. But the ramen was quite good. The salad comes with corn flakes.


(p. 196) No longer exists. This was kind of mind-bending, because this was kind of a “food mall” that occupied a whole block. We thought we might be losing our minds when we couldn’t find it. But the waiter at the (very tasty) okinamaya restaurant on the 4th or 5th floor across the street confirmed that the building had been torn down and replaced with a mall full of clothing stores.

Lonely Planet Japan (Kyoto)

Tagoto Honten

(p. 366) Don’t be fooled by the description of this restauarant as “one of Kyoto’s oldest” soba restaurants: it is located in a shopping arcade and looks brand new. We walked past this several times before we realized it was the place. There is no English sign, as I recall.


(p. 367) We found this one, though not with the help of an English sign. It is quite good, though fairly expensive and has a very pleasant deck on the river.


(p. 369) Found this one with no problem, just a few blocks off the Philosopher’s Walk.

Harajuku Girls

Not a restaurant, but none of the guide books make it clear that the infamous fashionistas of Harajuku show up in full force on Sunday afternoon, in the square just South of the JR station. You will see the odd Gothic Lolita on other days of the week, but Sunday is the day to see them on parade in Harajuku.


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