Talking About Drinking on Television

Today Japan welcomed a new sumo champion, Goeido. It’s most interesting as in this tournament had he not done well he was going to be demoted. Well, he rose to the challenge and went 15 days undefeated. Bravo!

The television cameras were on Goeido just before the awards ceremony and the announcers filled in with some banter. Following is the conversation (that I could catch) between a former sumo wrestler, Mainoumi, and an announcer. I love that in Japan talking about drinking is normal and not shunned upon.

Announcer (A): 舞の海さん、Mainoumi-san…

Mainoumi (M):はい、Yes…

A: 豪栄道は酒飲むの? Does Goeido drink sake?

M: あ、飲みます。Yes, he drinks.

A: 飲むの? He drinks?

M: え、Yes.

A: あ、そう。。。Oh, really?

M:  気合が入ると良く飲みますよ。When he gets into it, he can drink a lot.

A: 今日は美味い酒は飲めます。。。I bet he’s going to drink really good sake tonight.

M: そうですね。Yes…

A: 遊びに行きたい。(it sounded like the announcer said that he wants to go over to Goeido’s celebration party this evening.)

I had to laugh when I heard this. Such a great commentary on how we approach drinking in Japan.

Congratulations to Goeido. The first time a sumo wrestler from Osaka has won in 86 years. Omedetou gozaimasu! I hope you are drinking very good sake tonight.


Vegetarian in Tokyo?

It’s very tough being a true vegetarian in Tokyo. That is not my case, but it is for some of our clients and friends who come to travel, or live and work in Japan. Here are some suggestions for restaurants that are vegetable-friendly. They may not be strictly vegetarian, so be sure to inquire if you follow a very strict diet.
When I am craving vegetables, I make a beeline for Rose Bakery and get the salad lunch. There is a branch in Ginza, but you most likely will find me at the Kichijoji branch.
Sougo is a lovely vegetarian restaurant in Roppongi.
Daisuke Nomura is the owner. His family owns another famous restaurant called Daigo in Atago, also Buddhist vegetarian.
I LOVE Dhaba Indian in Kyobashi for dosa. It is a short walk from Tokyo Station:
I often ask for vegetarian tempura at places like Tenmatsu (there is also a branch in Shibuya):
This is my favorite pizza in Tokyo:
If you like bagels, this shop is also nearby the pizzeria above:
Also, I LOVE TY Harbor restaurants as they are very good about substituting vegetarian dishes for meat or seafood components.
The following are all in the TY Harbor group:
Aoyama Cicada
Daikanyama Ivy Place
Some other spots from my blog:

Atami Mugitoro Doji 麦とろ童子

Atami is a seaside resort south of Tokyo. If you have access to a car, then put Mugitoro Douji on your radar. I believe you could also come by bus, but best to look into the details.

Mugitoro is a dish made from rice cooked with barley (mugi) that is topped with grated yamaimo (mountain potato), which we call toro. The Atami area is also famous for shirasu, tiny anchovies that have been quickly blanched in hot water. The shirasu are soft and rich in calcium as you are eating the whole fish, head to toe.

Here is shirasudon, short for donburi, or rice bowl, here topped with the boiled anchovies. To the side in the brown bowl with a lip is the grated mountain potato with some dashi and soy sauce which is poured over the leftover rice after eating the fish. The right bowl is simply green tea soba with the grated mountain potato.

The setting is fabulous, with a wall of windows overlooking the sea. The entrance is charming with the handwritten noren banner, and who wouldn’t loved to be hosted by this chef, smiling like a little boy.

Mugitoro Dōji 麦とろ童子

Shizuoka-ken, Atami-shin, Izusan, Gōshimizu 210


closed Wednesdays

Craft Beer – Yoyogi Watering Hole

Watering Hole near Yoyogi station is a great spot to try Japanese and imported craft beer. I felt like I was back in the US with the stickers on the wall and refrigerator. The menu is basic, fish and chips, mac n’ cheese, seasonal pickles, and rice crackers. Sadly, I believe the sweet potato chips are no longer on the menu. Bummer.

Watering Hole opens from 3 p.m., for those of you who are here on holidays, or if you finish work early. Friendly staff who help answer my questions about the brews. Check their website as they update their beer menu daily.

Watering Hole is a short walk from Shinjuku Takashimaya.

Watering Hole

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-26-5-103 渋谷区千駄ヶ谷5-26-5-103

Yakumo Saryo Asacha Breakfast

Yakumo Saryo is a tea lover’s paradise that is open for breakfast. It doesn’t serve coffee, so if you are like me, have an espresso before you come. The name of the meal is 朝茶 asacha, morning tea.

The restaurant does not allow photos, so the best I could do was these two pictures of the entrance.

If you are familiar with Higashiya, a lovely wagashi shop in Ginza and Aoyama, you’ll be familiar with the aesthetics and sense of Yakumo Saryo, as they are the same company.

The breakfast included a flight of tea served with breakfast. It’s a brilliant start to the day. The setting is a dark tea room with a small window that looks over the upper part of a garden. There is a large communal table and a small counter. The room is quiet and only interrupted by the sound of tea being roasted. Highlights for me was the colorful selection of pickles and the different tea that were served. The meal ends with wagashi, which was also a surprise. I don’t want to spoil the experience, but do consider putting this on your Go List as a special meal. It is not cheap, about 4,000 JPY, and it is a long meal.

Reservations can be made online. My only advice is to please dress up for the meal. Do not come in shorts and Tevas, please. If you plan on traveling in Japan without one nice outfit, then don’t bother coming to places like this that require a reservation.

Yakumo Saryo 八雲茶寮

Meguro-ku, Yakumo 3-4-7 目黒区八雲3-4-7


reservations required – may be made online

This restaurant first appeared in my column in The Japan Times on Japanese breakfasts.

Kuoesu Breakfast

Kuoesu is the rare kaiseki restaurant that is open for breakfast. It is a long walk from Hiroo station, but worth the journey. The set morning meal starts at 900 JPY, so without the kaiseki prices.

I was greeted by a female chef who guided me to the quiet counter. I was the first diner this morning and loved the peaceful setting. She worked in the back kitchen so I had the whole dining room to myself.

She first came out with tea and an oshibori (wet towel). Then came the tray with five dishes: rice, miso soup, turnip and cucumber nukazuke (rice bran pickles), red-veined spinach lightly blanched and deep-fried hamo (conger eel). The last was a large round earthenware dish, almost as big as the tray, with a charcoal-grilled managatsuo (pomfret) and grated daikon.

The meal was colorful and nutritious. My favorite was the rice, which was a revelation. It was very firm, almost al dente. The chef told me that it is cooked in an cast iron pot with a small amount of water.

There is also a menu for supplemental dishes like omelet and nattō.

As I finished my meal she was setting up a few more settings. I wish I lived closer, but it is worth making a special trip across town. Reservations are required.

Kuoesu 栩翁S

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 7-14-6 港区南青山7-14-6

03-6805-0856 reservations required

This first appeared in my monthly column for The Japan Times on Japanese breakfast.

Risaku Onigiri Breakfast 利さく

My last monthly Japanese breakfast column for The Japan Times was on onigiri. The highlight of my research was this lovely gem, Sendagi Risaku. All of the other shops were part of a chain, but this was an independent shop that, for me, is worth having on your radar when you visit the Yanaka area.

The Japan Times column for more details:

Risaku 利さく

Bunkyo-ku, Sendagi 2-31-6 文京区千駄木2-31-6


opens 8 a.m.

closest station: Sendagi



Sweet Potato Chips

Fried as chips, sweet potatoes are a fun alternative to potato chips. The trick is to let the sliced sweet potatoes to dry a bit before deep-frying. The chips are very crispy and have a rich texture. Slightly sweet balanced with some salt call out for an ice cold beer.

Wash and dry the sweet potato. Do not peel. The chips on the left are cut with a vegetable peeler.  The chips on the right are simply sliced thin with a knife. Let the strips of sweet potato dry on cooking paper or newspaper until the flesh dries out.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown and sprinkle with salt as soon it is removed from the oil. Eat immediately.

Bruno Menard and Don Melchor Wine Dinner at Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel recently hosted a wine dinner with winemaker Enrique Tirado of Don Melchor from Concho y Toro. Don Melchor has partnered with Michelin 3-star chef Bruno Menard for a series of wine dinners in Asia. What a treat it would be to taste the wines paired with chef Bruno’s cuisine in different countries. Tokyoites were happy to welcome back chef Menard who was most recently at Ginza L’Osier.

The evening opened with an aromatic and refreshing 2013 Terrrunyo Sauvignon Blanc. Strong notes of citrus on the nose and the bright acidity sings of cool climate vineyards. Perfect start for a hot summer evening.

The first course was a beet tartare with geranium essence and cocoa. Paired with the 2013 Don Melchor that has 9% Cabernet Franc and 93% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Franc floral aromas danced above the wine and shined as the geranium essence brought the two together. The wine also had intense dark fruits of cassis and blackberries with some pencil lead. It was a well-balanced wine.

Enrique stopped by my table during this wine. He is charming and talks passionately about the wines and the vineyards. He said that he put 9% of Cabernet Franc in this vintage as the fruit was so beautiful in that harvest.

The second dish was a buckwheat (soba) risotto topped with smoked eel and foie gras and garnished with, sansho leaves, yukari (dried red shiso) and soba-cha. I could see chef Bruno’s influence of his long time in Japan in this dish.

This was paired with a 1988 Don Melchor, from before Enrique’s time. This had a nice acidity and a pleasant bitterness. The tannins were still quite rich for a wine almost 20 years old. The wine reminded me of Gene Wilder, who had recently passed away, refreshing and bitter. The food pairing was nice as the smoky notes from the eel and sansho stood up to the wine.

The main course was roast duck and mushrooms with a verjus sauce with a carrot mouse. I believe the duck was marinated in miso. This was paired with a 2005 Don Melchor that had intense tannins, dark fruit and chocolate. It was calling out for meat and this was a nice pairing. The sauce brought a nice acidity, with the verjus, to round out the pairing.

Even dessert was paired with a 2010 Don Melchor. I was skeptical, but not surprised when it did come together. Bruno’s father is a chocolatier so he grew up around a kitchen and sweets. The wine sung of intense fruit, spice, and ripe tannins. Dessert was a granité of griotte cherries and red wine, chocolate biscuit, and a five-spice chantilly. This was a great match, one as a sommelier I never would have been brave enough to pair. My eyes have been opened.

Chef Bruno came to speak to the diners. I was so impressed as he is fluent in Japanese! He said that he spent 14 years working in Japan, and that they were very important years in his career. He obviously knows the Japanese palate well. The menu was not too heavy and the dishes were created with a nod towards simplicity. He was easy to speak to and obviously loves his work.

The wines paired with the cuisine made for a memorable evening.

Chef Bruno mentioned that he has worked with the Imperial Hotel’s Les Saison chef, Thierry Voisin, since 1983 in France. The two have a long history and apparently also have played together in a band – now that is something I would LOVE to see.

Chef Bruno will be returning to Les Saison in October for a collaboration dinner with chef Thierry. Details for Bruno Menard week, October 17-23, lunch and dinner, here (in Japanese):




The Latest on the Tsukiji/Toyosu Move – Updated 23 September 2016

Our company, Food Sake Tokyo, offers guided food lectures to markets in Tokyo. We are at Tsukiji Market usually four days a week, five if Tsukiji is open that Wednesday. Our business is very much based around Tsukiji Market so we are carefully watching the news and staying up-to-date with our friends who work in the market.

Following are updates as we know them, about Tsukiji Market’s move to the new Toyosu Market, which was scheduled to happen on November 7th, but now is on hold.

The current location, Tsukiji Market, is in dire needs up upgrades. Food safety standards have changed dramatically since 1935 when the market was originally built. It definitely needs to be upgraded.

*** Updated 23 September 2016

Governor Koike has returned from the Rio Paralympic Games and now her energy is focused on the Toyosu issue.

While she was gone, talk came up of other possible options for the market:

  1. Odaiba – which is in the relatively same area, however, it is very hard to access.
  2. Ota Shijo – home to Tokyo’s largest produce market. There is already a small market here for seafood and flowers as well. A good point of moving Tsukiji here is that it is next to Haneda airport, and a lot of the seafood coming into Tsukiji now comes by plane.
  3. Moving to Toyosu on a temporary basis. In the meantime, creating a brand new market in the current Tsukiji location and then moving back to Tsukiji.

What if the Toyosu Market is never used?

The buildings could be converted possibly into a casino or maybe used as storage for non-food items.

What if the market moves to Toyosu?

Some of the fishmongers at Tsukiji have said that their new space in Toyosu is very expensive. And, that it is inevitable that the prices will go up for seafood and passed along to the customers.

What about the water that was found in the new Toyosu site?

It is reported that some cyanide was found in the water below the Toyosu buildings.

Moving forward. What’s next?

Governor Koike has a team that will report to her at the end of September. At this point, it’s a waiting game.


*** Updated 20 September 2016

Water was found in the underground space under the new market. It was checked and while benzene was not found, it did have some arsenic, but permissible amounts.

Former Tokyo governor Ishihara is saying that he had no idea that the buildings would be built without the required 15 feet of dirt as recommended by specialists.

Current governor Koike is expected to have another press conference in the near future.

What to do with the Toyosu site, if Tsukiji doesn’t move there? Some are suggesting that the buildings be used for a casino. There is also talk of temporarily moving the market there and rebuilding on the current Tsukiji Market space, and then moving the market back to its current location.

Some super-freezers at the new Toyosu site have already been started up. These are not small plug-in machines, but giant buildings that go down to -76 degrees F (-60 degrees C). Once these have been turned on they can NOT be turned off without possibly doing damage to the buildings. These companies are now paying expensive electricity bills for empty super-freezers. The question is who should pay for this?

*** Updated 12 September 2016

Today in the news it came up that in 2007 a team of specialists recommended the clean dirt be put in over the contaminated dirt before construction of the buildings.

Then in 2008 it was decided to ignore the recommendations of the specialists and to construct the buildings directly over the contaminated dirt and to install thick cement floors and walls. However, this new plan was never run past the team of specialists, nor was it told to those at Tsukiji Market. Seems that it was a well kept secret between Tokyo government officials and the construction company. This is so disturbing, frustrating, and most of all, unbelievable.

What has come up today is that there is water in this pocket of space under the buildings. It was expected that there would not be any water in this space, which was supposed to be filled with clean dirt. The question today came up with where this water came from. Is it rain water or is it ground water? More importantly, is it polluted?

*** Updated 10 September 2016

Governor Koike held a press conference today (Saturday in Japan, so obviously urgent news) about a major oversight with the new Toyosu location.

As mentioned in the past, the new Toyosu Market location was priorly used by Tokyo Gas as a coal plant. The ground is polluted, which has been known from day one.

Part of the delay for the move, which was originally scheduled to happen in 2014, was because the topsoil was being dig up and decontaminated. The decontaminated soil was to be returned and then was to be covered by more dirt.

The photo above on the top left shows that the plan was to have 2 meters (6.6 feet) of decontaminated soil topped by 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) dirt. see photo bottom right

Today in the urgent press conference Governor Koike showed a photo of the current situation in one of the buildings. see photo upper right

The buildings were constructed without the required 4.5 meters of clean ground (about 15 feet). The photo shows a building with what looks like a basement. In fact, that basement is meant to be completely filled in with clean dirt.

This brings up many questions, starting with “Really?”

How unbelievable is this? Seriously. This process of decontaminating the dirt and putting it back and covered before construction of the buildings were to begin.

So, what next?

In today’s press conference Governor Koike said that her Project Team (see below) will continue to look into the Toyosu Market and will make their recommendations early next year.

For now, we can just stay tuned for news updates like today.

Original post follows:

Tsukiji Market’s scheduled move to Toyosu on November 7th came to a sudden halt yesterday. For our Food Sake Tokyo business this has ramifications as we do many tours each week to Tsukiji Market. Following is information that has been culled from the news the last few days and what I find interesting regarding the world’s largest fish market and its potential move from Tsukiji to Toyosu. Here are some interesting tidbits worth chewing on.

Tsukiji Market has been in operation since 1935. There is a wholesale seafood and a produce market at Tsukiji Market in the jōnai (inner market). Originally the jōnai was a market only for professional buyers and Shinji worked there as a buyer for a large retail and restaurant chain in Tokyo. There are roughly 800 shops in the inner market.

The inner market has become a popular tourist destination. In the past you could go in at anytime, including to observe the tuna auction. At one point the visitors to the tuna auction were intruding into the auction space, touching tuna, jumping on the moving turret vehicles and becoming a nuisance for the workers. So, Tsukiji now limits the number if visitors to the tuna auction to 120 per day. One must now go early in the morning to hopefully get one of the golden vests that will allow them into the tuna auction.

For those who still want to experience the wholesale seafood market they must now wait until 10 a.m. to see the shops selling tuna, frozen, fresh, and processed seafood, as well as the produce market.

So, why is the market even moving?

The current Tsukiji Inner Jōnai Market has been around since 1935. There are no walls in the market so animals such as cats, crows, seagulls, and yes, even mice are in the market. No walls also means that the market is not refrigerated. In the summertime the market can get upwards of 100 degrees. Seafood is kept on ice and there are superfreezers (-76 degrees F).

The market needs to be modernized and that is how the new Toyosu Market came into existence. The new facility is refrigerated and walls will keep out animals and tourists. Visitors to Toyosu will be able to observe the tuna auction, but from a second floor overlooking the auction. At least this is how we are told it will be.

What about the Outer Market? Is that also moving?

There are about another 600 shops in the outer market that sell knives, pantry staples like kombu and katsuobushi, and there are also many restaurants in the Tsukiji Jōgai Outer Market. The outer market ill NOT be moving to Toyosu.

What about the Tsukiji 築地 name?

The new market will be called Toyosu Shin Shijō 豊洲新市場, Toyosu New Market. The Tsukiji brand name will stay with the outer market shops which are not moving. Naturally, the outer market shop owners are concerned about their business in the future as some of their business comes from buyers going to the inner market.

On a side note, 60 of the inner market shops will be staying at Tsukiji Market in a new facility that has been built. The list (in Japanese) is on my blogpost:

Need to Know – Tsukiji Move to Toyosu

Some of the outer market shops, like Tsukiji Masamoto knives, also have a sister shop in the inner market. So, shops like Tsukiji Masamoto will be able to have a shop in both locations, but this is unusual. Most shops are either in the inner or the outer market, not both.

Where is Toyosu Shin Shijō?

The new Toyosu market is only about 2 km away from the current location. However, it is not as easy to access as Tsukiji market. Tsukiji is near two subway lines, the Oedo and the Hibiya lines. Toyosu is accessible by monorail and inconvenient for most people. It is said that about 42,000 people come to the inner market daily.

How do the fishmongers feel about the move?

Some are for the move, like 3rd-generation Tsukiji fishmonger Yoshikatsu Ikuta (Twitter is for moving to Toyosu as soon as possible. Others do not want to move. Bottom line is that the current facilities need to be renovated and modernized.

What is the talk about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games?

The move to Toyosu was decided before Tokyo was award the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The fact that Tsukiji needed to be upgraded was decided in 2001, 15 years ago. The move was supposed to have taken place last year, in 2015. The move keeps getting pushed back.

As part of the bid for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games the package included a road that would connect Toranomon to the Olympic Village which will be on an island next to Toyosu. The road would be constructed through the current Tsukiji Inner Market.

When Tokyo was named as the host city, then the move date was finally set as November 7th. This date was selected based on how much time it would take to tear down the inner market and to build the road.

So no, the market is not moving because of the Olympic Games. The move was decided long before Tokyo was announced as the host city.

So, going forward, what do we know?

On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, Tokyo Governor Koike, who is new to her position, announced that Tsukiji Market’s scheduled move to Toyosu on November 7th will NOT happen. Keep in mind that she is a former Environmental Minister and has been keenly on top of this topic for years. Also, that she inherited a project that is has apparently been poorly managed and over budget.

Koike outlined three main points for the delay in a press conference yesterday.

  1. 安全性への懸念 Safety concerns.
  2. 巨額かつ不透明な費用の増加 Unclear costs that have ballooned. Why?
  3. 情報公開の不足 Poor communications between related parties.

The land that Toyosu is being built on used to be a coal plant making gas for Tokyo residents. While the grounds have been sanitized the tests clearing it as safe have not been completed. Recent water tests have also come back as not safe. The safety checks are coming back with benzene as a product that is in the area. Benzene is a cancer-causing chemical, that is often used as a gasoline additive, so it is not a surprise that it is here. It is a disappointment that it was expected to be removed from the grounds before the move and that it still exists. Bottom line, the market feeds the Tokyo metropolitan area and needs to be cleared as a safe area to host a market that trades raw seafood and produce.

Construction costs have ballooned three times over what was budgeted. Delaying the move will also add to costs as it is estimated it will cost $70,000 USD per day for the Toyosu operating costs, even when it is not occupied.

There needs to be better communication between all affiliated parties, which has not happened to this point.

Moving forward….

Koike has said she has put together a Project Team that will analyze and make recommendations following the next results of a safety check of the Toyosu area. The next results are scheduled to come back in January, so until then everything is put at a halt. Leading the project team is a lawyer, Kojima-san, who worked under Koike when she was the Environmental Minister.

There are some issues with the current Toyosu, including the fact that the size of the stall is smaller than the Tsukiji location making it hard for workers to work with knives. There are also concerns about the turrets moving up and down ramps and being able to make sharp turns in the tight space allowed, so other safety issues are being raised with the already developed facility.

If the market does move to Toyosu, will prices go up?

From our friends who drive to Tsukiji for work, they have said that while cheap parking exists at the current location, the new Toyosu parking is expensive. So their business costs will go up, which may be reflected for higher prices for smaller shops and businesses.

Is there a chance that Tsukiji will not move to Toyosu?

Koike said that she can’t rule it out. It will depend on the results of the Project Team.

Bottom line for now is the safety of the Toyosu land and water. Until January the move is put on hold. We can only wait for updates from the Project Team and the results of the safety check which will be announced in January.

“Tōmin first” has been repeated many times, “Tokyo citizens first”.

We will keep you posted here on our blog and on our Twitter feed (



9/2 Koike mentions HAACP in a press conference. This is a food safety management system that did not exist in 1935 when the market was built. From what I have heard from planners of the Toyosu Market, the whole facility will be HACCP certified.