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Natsuko Toda’s Favorite Things

1. Where do you live and why did you choose to live there? I was born in Tokyo and lived in Setagaya ward until I was about 20. When Hiroo Garden Hills was developed, it looked like a good place to live. Back then, you could only buy an apartment there if you won a lottery. I was lucky I won the lottery and was able to buy an apartment, probably because it was on the fourth floor. (The number 4 in Japanese is… Read more »

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Atsuko Gatling’s Favorite Things

We asked Atsuko Gatling, a native of Tokyo’s trendy Aoyama neighborhood, about her favorite places, pastimes and more. Where do you live and why did you choose that neighborhood? I live in Minami-Aoyama where I was born and raised in a single-family home, which is now a condominium. Although my husband and I have moved several times, I have always lived in Minato-ku (where Aoyama is located), so it’s really my home. My mother, when she was alive, lived here as… Read more »

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Maison KEI – A Touch of France at the Foot of Mt Fuji

Social distancing restrictions triggered by the coronavirus outbreak have yielded a few modest upsides, including making it much easier to book a table, even at the most popular restaurants in Japan — with the exception of some very special destinations, including Maison KEI. Even though it is located in Gotenba, a city of less than 36,000, a good hour-and-a-half drive southwest of Tokyo, trying to book a table at this French restaurant requires patience, determination and above all, luck. We… Read more »

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Autumn in Kyoto Offers a Feast of Colors and Seasonal Dishes

Autumn is one of the best times to enjoy Kyoto in all its glory. The weather is generally mild and the city’s historic temple grounds and gardens are transformed into a kaleidoscope of fiery autumnal colors. It is also the season to sample some of Japanese cuisine’s most beloved ingredients, such as matsutake mushrooms, It is impossible to predict when nature will perform its magic on the maples, gingko and beech trees that adorn Kyoto’s famous architectural sites and surrounding… Read more »

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Okadamae – a Feast for Carnivores

When Kenichiro Okada worked at a grilled meat restaurant in Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu neighborhood, customers would often ask to sit at the counter right in front of him where they could watch the diminutive chef wield his knife and expertly slice choice cuts of meat while offering nuggets of culinary insights. Those loyal customers coined a phrase for that special spot – Okadamae, or “in front of Okada.” As chef Okada tells it, when he decided to open his own restaurant… Read more »

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An unexpected gourmet night in Hiroshima: Nikai Sasaki

The name Hiroshima means different things to different people. For most foreigners, the name of this medium-sized city in southwestern Japan immediately evokes images of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in World War II. To baseball fans in Japan, the name brings to mind the beloved local team, the Hiroshima Carp. And for car buffs, it is the birthplace of Mazda and its legendary rotary engine. One thing the name Hiroshima does not usually bring to mind –… Read more »

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How the Pandemic Threatens Japan’s Culinary Culture

TOKYO — Hanasato, a high-end Japanese restaurant housed in a sprawling mansion surrounded by lush gardens, has been serving traditional multi-course kaiseki cuisine in the suburbs of Yokohama for decades. But on July 19, Hanasato welcomed diners for the last time, ending its 40-year history as a purveyor of traditional Japanese fine dining. Hanasato’s decision to close its doors follows in the footsteps of Tokyo Mimiu, a Japanese restaurant famous for its udon sukiyaki, which closed its six restaurants in… Read more »

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Gourmet Bentos for the Homebound

When I was growing up in Japan, ordering meal deliveries from restaurants was a common way for housewives to take a break and for families to enjoy professionally cooked dishes in the comfort of the home. These deliveries, known as demae, were typically from local eateries that served casual food, such as udon and soba noodles, donburi, or bowls of rice topped with various ingredients, from pork cutlets (katsu-don) to stir-fried chicken and egg (oyako-don). Young delivery men (I have… Read more »

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Narisawa – Cuisine Inspired by the Japanese Countryside

Before the coronavirus put a virtual halt to dining out in Tokyo, we visited Narisawa in Tokyo’s chic Aoyama neighborhood on an unseasonably warm day in early March with a cloudless sky and a light spring breeze. I had not been to chef Yoshihiro Narisawa’s innovative restaurant for several years, partly due to the frustrations of trying to get a table at this expensive yet highly popular establishment with its 2 Michelin stars and partly because I was not confident I could… Read more »

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Hanare, basement haven in Ebisu

With its fine balance between contemporary and traditional home-style Japanese cuisine, Hanare, a cosy yet refined izakaya in Ebisu, was an ideal venue for a small, casual dinner on a chilly autumn night. While rooted in traditional concepts, this low-key establishment echoes the quality of its more creative and western-oriented big sister, Au Gamin de Tokio, which is two flights up on the second floor of the building they share. Trattoria Mode, a casual Italian eatery in the same Au Gamin… Read more »

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Tenoshima – Contemporary Japanese Cuisine in a Relaxed Atmosphere

The casual, stylish atmosphere and friendliness of the staff mask a seriousness and dedication to a mission of modernizing Japanese haute cuisine that is at the core of Tenoshima, a promising, newish kaiseki-style restaurant in Aoyama. On meeting the affable chef and co-proprietor, Ryohei Hayashi, it is hard to imagine that such a seemingly easy-going person could have spent many years training at one of Japan’s most prominent kaiseki restaurants under the grueling tutelage of proprietor chef Yoshihiro Murata.  In… Read more »

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Farewell Aoyama Maru, Hello Maru Bengara

It’s sad when an outstanding restaurant closes its doors. Such is the case of  Aoyama Maru, one of our favorite Tokyo eateries for relaxed yet high quality dining that combines contemporary twists with traditional kaiseki or haute cuisine concepts, at remarkably reasonable prices. After 15 years in its warm, stylish basement premises off Aoyama Dori, Maru is closing due to building renovation. Owner and executive chef, Keiji Mori says he plans to reopen next year in a new location. But… Read more »