What makes a “good” sushi restaurant?

It is probably cutting fish just before serving. For a big size fish, keep its skin on the meat during the process of preparing and cutting into half, and at every serving use sogigiri* as much as customers eat. Protected by the skin, the fish flesh will expose to air for the first time as it is cut. The skin blocks the oxidation process significantly because the fat in fish centers right  under the skin in general. Needless to say, even with any amazing fish, it loses flavor if the fat gets oxidized.

*Sogigiri-A method of cutting which makes a slice thinner with a greater surface, by holding the knife diagonally and cutting in line with the cutting board. Usually used for white fish with firm flesh because it is easier to be eaten when served thin.

Hirazukuri-A method of cutting which gives thickness to each slice so that the texture of sashimi can be enjoyable. This is used for akami like tuna.


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Revision date: April 1, 2020

What are side dishes at sushi restaurants?

A side dish at a sushi restaurant is a wonderful experience. It’s best when they serve seasonal sashimi, grilled items, or sake and fish that are fit well in sushi restaurants, but some places serve dishes that are easily mistaken as the main dish, such as deep sea bass hot pot. Eating an exaggerated dish like that doesn’t leave much room for sushi. Side dishes at sushi restaurants are only meant to be an appetizer to the sushi. A sushi restaurant that serves small dishes that don’t fill you up, but help tickle your appetite, transitioning into the sushi pieces, is a good restaurant.


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Revision date: March 2, 2020

Sushi restaurants are a place for conversation!?

Even Japanese people can be overwhelmed by the somehow special atmosphere when they sit down at the sushi counter. This continues even when starting to eat. Other customers are concentrating on eating, quietly. You kind of get the feeling that if you utter anything, you will be asked to leave. If you don’t end up mustering up the courage, you just end up paying the high price for your meal and going home without much more to say of the evening.

Eating sushi at a counter is not inherently this dull. So why do sushi meals so often end up this way? The problem is knowing so little about the sushi, and feeling like you’re the visiting team on the field.

For example, it is taboo for new customers to take the seat positioned directly in front of the sushi chef. This is a special seat reserved for regulars. Even if the seat is empty, a newcomer will be shown to a seat in the back. This is an unspoken rule.

Contrary to their countenance, most sushi chefs are actually friendly and experts in the art of conversation. They especially value the back and forth with regular customers. For example, they have a keen memory, and can reiterate to the customer that their last visit was on the way home from a baseball game and they ordered a second helping of Chutoro fished in Oma. Of course this pleases many customers. A master sushi chef prepares sushi while standing in front of the customer. If there was to be no conversation with the customer, they can make the sushi back in the kitchen and have it served. Sushi restaurants are a place for conversation.

The customer ends up not remembering which fish they ate. For example there are very few people who can name the order of the 15-piece Omakase course they ate. You may be sure you ate tuna. But where was it caught? Was it the belly side or the back side? How long had the fish been matured? To be a bit more frank, how much did it cost? If you ask the chef these questions, next time you visit, you’ll be able to compare different taste based on the fishing location. Knowing the difference in taste based on the part of the fish, and difference in flavor depending on where it was procured, and different taste depending on the preparations will certainly improve your sushi literacy remarkably. It will also lead to a better awareness of your own taste preferences.

But there are limitations to the time allowed for personal conversation. For example, in a normal 2-hour Omakase course, there may be five minutes or so available for conversation. It might not sound like much, but that is also the amount of time allocated to regular customers. Newcomers often can’t find a time to get a word in and end up with only the initial greeting, which takes about 10 seconds.

Of course that’s for Japanese customers who speak Japanese. What about foreign customers who cannot speak Japanese? First of all, conversation is impossible, so this cuts the enjoyment factor of the sushi restaurant in half. But the sushi is delicious, right? Perhaps, but you’ll end up satisfied with the small-world view cultivated for you by the media, limited to whether or not the fish is fatty, or if the meat is fresh and firm. This is something you can experience anywhere that sushi is served in the world.

What we offer is a totally different experience.

You get a seat in front of the master sushi chef, a knowledgeable interpreter is seated by your side, and the Omakase show is presented right in front of you. The obliging chef explains each piece of sushi as you eat with a gentle demeanor. He will also answer any questions you think of on the spot. You won’t be able to say that you don’t know what you ate. We prepare a translated list of your Omakase menu. You are also welcome to take pictures whenever you’d like to preserve the enjoyable memory. All you need to do is forget time and immerse yourself in the Edo-style sushi, one of the staples of Japanese food culture.


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Revision date: November 27, 2019

Why does it taste a little bland when you had tuna at high-class sushi restaurant?

Tuna at top-end restaurants is light in flavor. Its Akami (red meat) has an indescribable acidity with a delicate harmony between the shari vinegar, the nikiri soy sauce, and wasabi. However, on the other side of the coin, it feels almost like a waste to eat it without a sense of luxury. Of course tuna with delicious akami, also has delicious fatty tuna (toro). And you’ll never get tired of it. It would be easy to polish off 10 pieces as a light snack. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the high fat content that makes it so easy to eat. However, it is because of that popular belief that many people feel that the big chain store farmed fish with lots of fat is more delicious than luxury natural fish.

 


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Revision date: April 16, 2019

A Michelin Guide secret eater from the US?!

The other day I had a very interesting guest at Sushi University from America. I’d like to introduce them to you. It was their first time in Japan and they stayed in Tokyo for a week. They planned to see Asakusa, the Shibuya scramble crossing, Meiji Shrine, the robot restaurant and all the other usual tourist sites. However, the conversation all seemed to be focused on food.

I asked what they planned to eat. They answered that they would be going to restaurants like Tsunahachi (Tempura), Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta (the first ramen restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star), and Steakhouse Sato. They had already lined up early in the morning at the Sugamo ramen restaurant, Tsuta, to collect a numbered ticket apparently.

The thing that surprised me most is that they were going to Sukiyabashi Jiro the day after their Sushi University experience.

If you are visiting Japan, I hope that you too will come to Sushi University before going to an expensive Michelin Star restaurant, so you can learn a bit about Edo style sushi. The reason is that sushi masters are just humans who want to provide something delicious to customers who will understand their sushi. For example, just slightly different parts of tuna have a totally different tastes. In order to understand these kinds of details for your chef, you need to have some knowledge of sushi toppings and Edomae-style sushi.

If you like sushi, you can’t continue to only judge the toppings on freshness and the fat content. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, with repetition, I hope you will reach a level that you can meet the challenges set forth by the sushi chef (understanding the Edomae-style techniques that have gone into each piece).

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a special trip to visit a restaurant with a Michelin star as part of your vacation so you can boast about it with your friends. I have also visited Paris’s Guy Savoy and Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri, and treasure those memories myself.

Returning the conversation to the American guest, they did already have impressive knowledge about sushi. Even their sushi chef was impressed at their knowledge. They had also done their own research and were talking about Ginza’s Sawada (two Michelin stars) and SUSHI BAR YASUDA. On top of that, they had come to Sushi University to test their skills and took that knowledge to Sukiyabashi Jiro. In the major American cities, there are a wide range of omakase sushi courses that cost over $300, at which they had eaten many times and had negative comments.

They didn’t want California Rolls, they had an interest in traditional Edomae sushi.

Perhaps they were a Michelin secret eater.

If so, that’s perfectly fine. You can find sushi delicious even if you don’t have the knowledge. But with each learning experience you will enjoy the sushi even more. I hope it helps in improving your experience, even if it’s just a little bit.


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Revision date: March 12, 2019

Is the handmade ginger in quality sushi restaurants free?

The ginger served in sushi restaurants is called “gari”. There are people who just chomp down the gari since it’s all free.

However, in certain prestigious restaurants where the gari is handmade, it does end up on the bill. This is because considering the time and ingredients that go into making the gari, the restaurant will be losing money if they don’t charge for it.

 

However, most sushi restaurants purchase their gari from companies that specialize in it. These mostly include pickling manufactures that have expanded to China or Southeast Asia and have factories there.

When made at these factories, large amounts of ginger is soaked in the stock solution, creating gari in bulk. The quality has improved greatly over the years, but often the fibers are crushed making it soggy, or the gari is stained from ume vinegar.

On the other hand, homemade gari and gari made in Japan is flavored with vinegar and salt while sugar is used sparingly as a subtle flavoring. Handmade gari is crunchy and chewy. The color is also the original pale yellow of ginger.

And during the fresh ginger season at the beginning of summer the price of fresh, domestic ginger jumps up to thousands of yen per kilogram. Since ginger has a high water content, it can be wrung out to reduce 1kg of ginger down to 300g. Making delicious gari by hand costs money. It is also a daunting task of making a year’s worth in advance. Once it’s done there has to be a refrigerator dedicated to storing only the gari.

When you put it that way, homemade gari is far more expensive than its imported equivalent. Providing homemade gari is one of the things that sets sushi restaurants apart from each other. Of course even if you’re not charged for the gari, eating too much will affect your sense of taste for the meal.


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Revision date: October 8, 2018

Why do sushi chefs make the sushi in front of the customers?

Many regular patrons of sushi restaurants look forward to having casual conversations with the sushi chefs. It might be difficult to understand for visitors who don’t speak Japanese, but sushi restaurants are the only restaurants in the world that customers can speak directly with the head chef. If you don’t need conversation, then the waiter could just bring the sushi made back in the kitchen. Of course they also want customers to see the beautiful act of making sushi, but there is no particular reason that the sushi has to be made in front of the customer. The technical term for this is “Exposed Business,” meaning that the chefs are putting themselves on display for the customers. Did you learn something new?


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Revision date: September 2, 2018

What are good sushi restaurants!

You can determine how good a sushi restaurant is just by glancing at the topping box (neta-bako). The toppings should all be bright and shiny. This seafood was selected that very morning throughout Tsukiji Fish Market. Even when marinating in vinegar, it’s clear how lively and fresh the fish is.

Every single good sushi restaurant is small. The maximum counter space for a single sushi master to keep up with each customer is 10 seats. These excellent restaurants also have a number of regular customers and almost seem like an exclusive club.

The master conditions his customers to enjoy the toppings that he believes to be the best and the customers train the master into making the dishes they like. After all, making sushi may be a single profession, but it is a relative business and it takes time to build this deep understanding between the chef and customers.

Good sushi chefs do not play favorites to their regular customers. Good regular sushi customers are well-mannered and don’t make an unpleasant atmosphere for first-time customers. Both the chefs and customers are educated in this way. There is this sense of pure pressure in the restaurant.

Good sushi restaurants close their doors early. They need to get to Tsukiji Fish market first think in the morning.  This means they need to get to bed by midnight. So the regular customers at these restaurants get up to leave when closing time rolls around. Somewhere along the way they’ve been trained to do this.


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Revision date: June 25, 2018

Are the most prestigious sushi restaurants all in Tokyo?

It is called Edo-style sushi, so the most appropriate place to eat it is Tokyo, formerly known as Edo. The skills of chefs raised in this long history of sushi. The best fishery products in Japan — no, in the world, are all found at Toyosu Market. There is no question that combined with the veteran sushi experts, Tokyo is the battleground for sushi restaurants and where you’ll find the most prestigious locations.


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Revision date: July 16, 2019

Sushi Sho (in Hawaii)

Sushi Sho (in Yotsuya) is a restaurant where you cannot make a reservation easily. Its founder, Keiji Nakazawa, can be described with a keyword of having raised so many disciples. And the point, they run sushi restaurants that are also hard to make reservations, leads to how Nakazawa’s ideal sushi master should be. Having such a great intriguing personality, Nakazawa left his safe haven “Sushi Sho” in the hands of disciples. September 2016, he opened up Sushi Sho (in Hawaii) in The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach on Oahu. We can’t take my eyes off that now.

Address:383 Kalaimoku St, Honolulu, HI 96815

http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/hawaii/waikiki/dining/sushi-sho


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Revision date: October 9, 2017

Kozasazushi (in Shimokitazawa)

Kozasazushi (in Shimokitazawa) was opened by the legendary sushi chef, Shuzo Okada (passed away in May 2004). His successor, Tsutomu Nishikawa was, of course, his apprentice. The Omakase course is not an option at this restaurant. The only way to order is to look at the topping board and choose for yourself. This is a shop for experts and may be difficult for guests who can’t read or speak Japanese.

Address:3-7-10 Daizawa Setagaya-ku, Tokyo (10 minutes walk from Shimokitazawa Station)


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Revision date: September 29, 2017

Surprisingly, there are sushi restaurants established from over 100 years ago in Tokyo.

 

About 200 years ago (around 1810-1830), Yohei Hanaya opened up the oldest nigiri sushi restaurant in Japan. It is said that this was the beginning of edomaesushi. As expected, none of the restaurants remain to this day, no matter how popular they were in those days. However, if relating to those lasting more than a century, as many as 10 still exist in Tokyo. It is such a surprise and many respect that they’ve managed to survive, still keeping their business running now. We will introduce those old restaurants in the order of its establishment.


KUDANSHITA SUSHIMASA

First started as a stall in 1861 at Nihonbashi area, relocated to Kudanbashi and then opened the restaurant in 1923. The beauty of wooden architect managed to survive the war and it has a 100-year history. They carefully prepare sushi ingredients with appropriate amount of vinegar and salt. Take Kohada for instance, they adjust the amount of salt depending on the thickness of fish fillet, fat content, temperature and humidity of the air. Check the glossiness of the vinegared kohada fish, and decide the best timing to serve. Enjoy superb sushi prepared with the traditional recipe passed on for generations.


JANOMEZUSHI HONTEN Established in 1865


BENTENMIYAKOZUSHI Established in 1866


YAHATAZUSHI Established in 1868

During the end of Edo period, many of samurai lords who had served for Tokugawa government lost their jobs. Many of them disguised themselves as dango rice dumpling seller. The first owner of Yahata-zushi was one of them, started the business as dango rice dumpling stall and then the second generation owner began serving sushi. The fourth and fifth chef now run the kitchen behind the counter. The fourth chef has a 62-year experience and he is the respected patriarch chef in Tokyo and serves traditional Edomae-style sushi with careful preparation. The fifth chef adheres to basic principle of sushi making while embarking on new-style. He uses sun-dried salt produced in the French Basque Country for well-matured akami red fish such as tuna, and sea urchin from Hokkaido. Other must-eat ingredients are, the highest quality tuna from long-time partner vendor at Tsukiji market and rare tuna caught at the sea near Miyakejima island and matured for good five days.


OTUNASUSHI Established in 1875


YOSHINOSUSHI HONTEN

Opened in 1879, Yoshino sushi has served excellent Edomae-style sushi. Now the fifth-generation owner runs the restaurant. The second-generation owner first started using Toro, fatty tuna meat while most of the chef discarded it. That was because food freezing was not in widespread use at that time and fatty content of fish went bad quickly. Soon Toro was quickly raved by their regular customers as delicious treat. First it was called “abu” as it came from “abura” meaning fat in Japanese, but it didn’t sound as good as it tastes, so they changed it to “toro” meaning mild and tasty. They will feed you interesting stories to go along with sushi dish. One of them is that they had never considered Gunkan roll of ikura and uni sea urchin as sushi since Gunkan never requires hand rolling techniques as other hand roll sushi does. They use only salt and vinegar to make sushi rice not a slight use of sugar and mirin. And then they carefully prepare fish ingredients to go with vinegared rice. Enjoy delicious sushi dish however you like in a casual atmosphere.


JANOICHI HONTEN Established in 1889


ASAKUSA SUSHISEI Established in 1891


KIBUNZUSHI Established in 1903


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Revision date: April 11, 2017

Relax and Enjoy under Cherry Blossoms off the Beaten Path!

More and more visitors from overseas are making a point of timing trips to Tokyo during the cherry blossom season. Guidebook in their hands, they head to Meguro River, Ueno Park, Sumida River, Chidorigafuchi Park, or another popular spot. It goes without saying that the blossoms are beautiful in all of these locations.

However, to be frank, there are so many people sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re there to see blossoms or to see crowds. If you’re visiting Japan and you’d like to really experience cherry blossoms, we recommend Shakujii River.

Around 1000 trees bloom on both sides of the river and there are very few people, making it perfect for enjoying cherry blossoms on a stroll. There are actually more cherry blossoms here than on Meguro River or at Ueno Park.

After enjoying the scenery, stop by Makitazushi, established in 1972. Entering this flagship shop of Nakaitabashi is like stepping back in time to the Showa era (1926-1989). Make sure to splurge and order the special sushi selection for JPY 3024.

Location : A few minutes walk from Nakaitabashi Station on the Tobu Tojo Line

Cherry Blossom Season : April 3-April 9

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Revision date: March 28, 2017