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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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Karuizawa – A Tale of Two Shoppers

The day felt like somewhere between late winter and early spring as we dashed to Tokyo station and jumped on an early Shinkansen train to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa hoping for some retail therapy and much needed relaxation in hotspring baths at Hoshino Onsen. It was the perfect time to visit without the crowds of spring, summer and autumn. We’d heard about the infamous two-hour taxi ride through unreasonable seasonal traffic from Karuizawa station to the outer reaches… 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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Out with Tsukiji, In with Toyosu and (who knew), Adachi?

After the demise last year of one of the world’s best-loved wholesale fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo (and its relocation across the river to a soulless, gleaming building at Toyosu), the biggest surprise has been the continuing appeal – for tourists and locals alike — of the myriad shops and restaurants tucked in the narrow lanes that comprise Tsukiji’s old “outer market.”  The specialty shops and stalls here initially sprang up to cater to the culinary needs of wholesalers,… 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 »

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Yugawara – Ancient Relics, Hot Springs and the Deep, Blue Sea

Of the many legends about the origins of the hot springs at Yugawara, south of Tokyo, my favorite one tells the story of Gyouki, the high priest of Yakushiji Temple in Nara. According to this tale, while Gyouki was traveling through the country seeking funds for the construction of the Great Buddha of Nara, he met an ailing beggar in the mountains of Hakone, west of Tokyo. Gyouki carried the beggar on his back and, following his directions, descended the… Read more »

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Konpeki No Umi – Fresh Seafood in the Heart of Roppongi

If you happen to be in Roppongi at lunch time, looking for a high-quality yet reasonably priced lunch in comfortable surroundings, try Konpeki No Umi in the Piramide Building just behind the Roppongi subway station. Loosely translated as “deep blue sea,” Konpeki No Umi is a Japanese restaurant that highlights seafood and serves both traditional and contemporary dishes in a minimalist setting of light wood and white walls decorated with ceramic art work. Although the restaurant’s promotional brochure says it is… Read more »

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Kayanoya – an Umami Wonderland

Japanese are their own best food critics, rewarding quality establishments with outstanding success while leaving shoddy places to languish. But some quality restaurants and food businesses have been propelled to even greater heights by the influx of foreign visitors to Japan in recent years. Such is the case of Kayanoya, a Kyushu-based soy sauce brewery specializing in shoyu (soy sauce), dashi (soup stock) and other traditional seasonings. Over nearly 130 years, Kayanoya has built up a devoted following among Japanese…. Read more »

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Mamianazaka Honoka – Traditional Cuisine Meets Contemporary Cool in Azabu

Tokyo has no shortage of high-end restaurants but sometimes a simple meal of sophisticated but unpretentious dishes served in stylish yet comfortable surroundings is preferable to an elaborate multi-course kaiseki meal, meticulously prepared and painstakingly presented. So, it was a great joy to discover Mamianazaka Honoka, a Japanese restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Higashi-Azabu. In a reminder of what the area used to be like, the unwieldy name literally translates as badger hole. Honoka is hidden from street… Read more »

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R.N.S.Q. – Refined French Cuisine in Relaxed Surroundings

An eatery with a name like R.N.S.Q. (pronounced “erunesque” in Japanese) which claims to be neither a bistro nor a restaurant but a “bistaurant,” might sound too puzzling for the average diner to want to check out. Does it serve French cuisine or some unfathomable new style of  fare? And what kind of atmosphere could you expect in a place that is, presumably, more formal than a bistro yet more casual than a restaurant? But don’t let such minor matters… Read more »

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Tantansai – Delicious Fare in Beautiful Wares

Japan can elevate the simple form of counter dining to lofty levels or turn it into part of the entertainment. Whether a rowdy izakaya bistro, rarefied sushi bar or a top-end kaiseki restaurant serving traditional haute cuisine, the counter (if available) usually affords a ring-side view of chefs plying their trade. It is a place where diners can interact and chat with the chefs, watching them slice, grill or assemble ingredients into the dishes of the day. At Tantansai (full… Read more »

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History, Hot Springs and a Hamlet from a Bygone Era in Kagoshima

The mountain seemed to be staring at us wherever we went. It sat quietly spewing an almost indiscernible puff of white smoke, dominating the skyline of Kagoshima city and the coastline that stretches from there in an arc around the eponymous bay to its east. The mountain, known as Sakurajima, or Cherry Blossom Island, sits forbiddingly in the bay on the southern coast of the island of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands. It is the country’s most active… Read more »