Asakusa Kamiya Bar 浅草神谷バー

Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, opened in 1880, is one of Tokyo’s classic bars. Known for its signature cocktail, Denki Bran, made from brandy, gin, wine, curacao, and herbs. At 270 JPY per drink, it’s cheaper than coffee. Bottles of pre-mixed Denki Bran are popular omiyage (local gifts) that tourists can bring back home to share with their friends, is sold at a retail window on street.

The bar menu includes classic Japanese small plates like pickles, sashimi, and grilled skewers. In the winter months kaki furai, deep-fried oysters, is popular. Nikomi, offal simmered in Shinshu miso, is a signature dish and a classic shitamachi dish. Shitamachi refers to older parts of Tokyo.

The clientele is made up of a mix of locals and tourists. The second and third floors are restaurants, but it is the first floor bar where you want to go.

I wouldn’t make a special trip across town, but Asakusa is a popular area for the historic temple, Sensoji. It is also walking distance to Kappabashi, a must-visit spot for kitchenware, tableware, and to see plastic food samples. If you find yourself in the area and need a break, stop by for a Denki Bran and a few bites.

Kamiya Bar 神谷バー

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-1-1 台東区浅草1-1-1

  • Kamiya Bar usually closes on Tuesday, but also on other days of the week, so do check the calendar on the bar’s website.



Sumo 101

When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s, there was a great wrestler named Chiyonofuji, nicknamed “The Wolf”. He was very strong and handsome. I became hooked on sumo. We went to Ryogoku to the Kokugikan stadium in Tokyo and watched from the cheap seats in the last row. A decade later I was invited by a friend of mine who had corporate tickets that were in the front section. It was a night and day experience watching up close. It reminded me of seeing opera in New York City. My first time, as a college student, was standing room tickets in the back of the house. After I moved to NYC and had a budget for orchestra seats, it made a world of difference.

Here are some tips for you to enjoy your sumo experience, notably the food side of things.

The sport has gone through ups and downs in popularity, and now it is hard to get tickets. When we go we prefer to sit up front in the masuseki 升席 seats that are down on the floor. However, if you are not comfortable sitting on tatami mat for a few hours, then you should get seats on the second floor.

Go early and watch the sumo wrestlers as they come in. In Tokyo the top wrestlers walk into the stadium usually between 2 and 3 p.m. They are often escorted by lower-ranking wrestlers from the same beya. Fans line up with cameras to watch them come in. You are surprisingly close. You can clap your hands and wish them good luck, “ganbatte kudasai“. Be sure to check out the backs of their kimonos as there may be lovely designs, such as the kabuki mask on Endo’s back in pink above. On the right is Tochinoshin, from Georgia (the country).

When you go into the stadium, be sure to rent the English-language radio so you can have a play-by-play. There is plenty to see in the stadium, so allow for some time to walk around.

Be sure to get a bowl of chanko nabe. In the stadium there is a banquet room that has serves up a bowl of the famous hot pot that sumo wrestlers eat.


Bring your own food and beverages. Many sports venues allow customers to bring in their own food. We love bringing in our own food as that way we don’t waste time standing in line. At the Kokugikan you can even bring in your own beer, sake, or wine. Above are inari zushi, deep-fried tofu that is simmered in a sweet soy broth and stuffed with seasoned rice. If you are in Tokyo on holidays, then just stop by a depachika and pick up a bento and a bottle of saké. Ask for small cups at the department store as they usually have tasting cups on hand. Alternatively, a convenient store will have the essentials, beer, onigiri (stuffed rice balls), and chips.


Watch the wrestlers come on the dohyo. You should be in your seats by 3:45 p.m. (earlier on the final day). This is the only chance you’ll see all of the wrestlers together. At the end of the day, we also like to watch the closing ceremony. One of the wrestlers artistically swings a large bow in a dramatic fashion. The sound of the drums is a sign that the day has come to an end.


Divide your trash into paper and plastic and discard on your way out.

  • The sumo tournament in Tokyo is in January, May, and September.
  • If something unexpected happens, some spectators will throw their zabuton (cushions) towards the dohyo. It doesn’t happen often, so it’s great fun to witness.
  • Many of the top wrestlers are not Japanese. Many are from Mongolia, but other countries include Bulgaria, Georgia, and Egypt.
  • The trains can be very crowded when the day ends. Consider grabbing dinner or a drink near the stadium before jumping on the train.

Renkon Chips

Lotus root (renkon, 蓮根) are a vegetable that is hard to forget. The first time one comes across one it is fascinating to see the natural holes in the vegetable. It seems like a work of art at first.

Lotus root start to come into the market in the fall, in September and October, and continue until about January. It has a lovely dense texture and can become a bit slippery when it is cooked.

It is lovely as kinpira, sliced thin and stir-fried in a sweet soy sauce and then accented with some red chili (tōgarashi, 一味唐辛子) or seven spice (shichimi, 七味). It can be cut into thick slices, stuffed with ground meat and fried. Grating lotus root and mixing it with potato starch (katakuriko, 片栗粉) makes a chewy mochi when fried.

It is found in regional food as a local dish from Kumamoto called karashi renkon, the wholes are stuffed with Japanese karashi mustard.

At Izakaya Sakamoto we love frying it into chips. The earthy chips are great on their own or add a nice depth as a topping to salads. With a Benriner mandoline, thinly slice the lotus root. Set it on a bamboo plate or on newspapers and let it air dry in a sunny spot for 30 to 60 minutes. This extra step makes it much easier when cooking in oil. Deep-fry until it turns a golden brown and season immediately with salt.

On a side note, we were hoping to get our cooking school up and running last year, but have been so busy with our Food Sake Tokyo tours that we have not made much progress. We do currently offer cooking classes, but only to those who have kitchens in Tokyo. We will start posting recipes on this blog and will keep you updated on when our cooking classes begin.


Shibuya Shunju 春秋 – Colorful Vegetable Salad Bar

** Updated Sunday, 16 April 2017. Shibuya Shunju no longer offers the vegetable salad bar. The restaurant is still a good choice for lunch in this part of Shibuya. Arigato, to David Richards for letting me know the buffet was not there when he went recently.

Buffet lunches abound around the city. Some of my favorites include the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Motif at the Four Seasons Marunouchi, but these gorgeous buffets deserve a leisurely long lunch so that you can enjoy all that is offered. I was meeting a girlfriend for a casual lunch in Shibuya and wanted somewhere that offered a vegetable-friendly meal.

Shunju, just across the street from Bunkamura music hall and museum, was exactly what I was looking for. There is a small, but thoughtfully assembled organic salad bar and diners choose a main course. I opted for a simple onigiri as my main course. The other options included fish grilled over sumi charcoal, chicken, and pork. The buffet lunch with onigiri starts at about 900 JPY ($9 USD). For a supplemental 500 JPY you can add a protein main course to the meal.

Yellow and orange carrots, red cabbage, simmered lotus root, tempura eggplant, and a creamed cabbage were some of my favorites. The carrot juice at the salad bar was sweet enough to stand in for dessert. The only meat product on the buffet was some ground meat in the miso, an umami-rich dip for the vegetables.

The restaurant was busy at the noon hour. Mostly young girls making several rounds to the salad bar. Shunju has a few other branches around the city, and I imagine that they also offer a similar lunch.

Note that the buffet is on weekdays only. On the weekends the restaurant is course lunches only. Arigato to David Richards for sending this helpful information via the blog. Arigato and thankful for your notes.

Shunju 春秋

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-23-12, Fontis Bldg. 1F


Shibuya Torikatsu Chicken とりかつチキン

Katsu refers to panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) encrusted and deep-fried goods. Tonkatsu, deep-fried pork, is the most popular, but there are many others such as torikatsu for chicken. Furai is another Japanese word that is used to describe the same preparation, and is often seen with seafood such as kaki (oysters), aji (horse mackerel), or ika (squid).

Torikatsu in Shibuya is hidden on the back streets, a short walk from both Shibuya JR and Inokashira stations. This shop is often featured in magazines and television shows as a great spot for cheap eats. Diners select two or more fried items that is served with rice, julienned cabbage, and miso soup. On the counter is homemade pickles that diners can help themselves to.

It’s a popular and chaotic shop. The open kitchen on this day is staffed with three very busy aunties. They each multitask and take turns doing different jobs. If you understand Japanese it’s quite fun to watch as they ask each other for help, reconfirm orders, and often ask customers to repeat what they ordered. As diners pay on their way out, it is on the honor system and each diner is asked what they ordered so that the price can be determined. Very Japanese.

A narrow counter with fifteen seats surrounds the kitchen. There is a small table tucked into the corner which seats three, and diners are asked to use this as a communal table. As you can imagine the seats at the counter are squeezed quite tight together and there is no room to set your belongings, aside from the narrow area between you and the counter.

Smoke rises non-stop from the deep-fat fryer. The cutting board next to the fryer has been used for so long that the surface is no longer flat. The knife on the cutting board is oily and covered with deep-fried panko.

Customers at the counter are asked to bus their own dishes to the high counter into the kitchen after they are done. New diners are asked to wipe down their area if it was not done by the prior diner. It feels like you are dining at your auntie’s home in the countryside with the friendly ambience and the casual service, “please set your dishes on top”. “Sorry, but if your dining area is not clean, feel free to use the wet cloth to wipe it down.”

The menu starts at 650 JPY for two items, 800 JPY for three, and 1000 JPY for four. Some of the items include: torikatsu (chicken), tonkatsu (pork), menchi katsu (ground meat), aji furai (horse mackerel), ikafurai (squid), nasu (eggplant), kani kuri-mu (crab in a white sauce), and tamanegi (onion). In season at the moment is kaki furai (oyster).

The popular set, which comes at a discounted price, is the ninki teishoku (650 JPY) which consists of chicken, ham, and croquette. Hamu katsu may be the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen, a thin slice of ham that is breaded and deep-fried. The coating is thicker than the ham.

The rice serving is generous, so I suggest asking for gohan sukuname, for a smaller portion to begin with (see photo above). You could always ask for more rice if you would like more. It is considered impolite to leave rice in your bowl, so I try to do this at most restaurants.

On this day the crowd was mostly young students with a handful of salarymen mixed in. Many solo diners in the group. There is an old television over the refrigerator. The older people, myself included, watched the talk show program while waiting for our food. The rest of the diners were busy with their smartphones.

The tail was cut off of the horse mackerel after it was deep-fried, making it much easier to eat. The chicken was tender and juicy. The pickles made from greens this day was a bit on the salty side, so maybe take a small serving to see if it is to your liking.

This is a great local spot and hard to beat for this price. The ambience itself is worth a trip here. There are two entrances to the 2nd floor shop. One on a side street and the second off of a narrow pedestrian street on the backside of the building. Finding it is part of the fun.

Torikatsu Chicken とりかつチキン

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-16-19, Miyakoji Bldg. 2F


Nanakusa Gayu 七草粥

2016 Nanakusa

The Japanese calendar is filled with many food rituals. While we start the year off with a big bang with お節料理 osechi ryōri, the next event is a nourishing bowl of rice porridge with seven greens, 七草粥 nanakusa gayu. Kayu is rice porridge and nanakusa refers to the seven edible greens. The daikon and turnip are also chopped up and cooked with the rice.

In order clockwise the haru no nanakusa 春の七草:

  1. 仏の座 ほとけのざ Lapsana apogonoides – nipplewort
  2. 菘 すずな Brassica rapa – turnip
  3. 薺 なずな Capsella bursa – shepherd’s purse
  4. 蘩蔞 はこべら Stellaria neglecta – chickweed
  5. 蘿蔔 すずしろ(大根)Raphanus sativus – daikon
  6. 御形 ごぎょう Gnaphalium affine – cudweed
  7. 芹 せり Oenanthe javanica – water dropwort

These are the traditional seven greens that are sold in packs at the supermarket, but in the past the seven were not decided. Seven edible sprouting greens were picked and cooked in a hot soup. So even if you are not in Japan with access to these seven, you could create your own version in your home countries using seven greens.

The ritual of eating this soup on January 7th, in the past was believed to ward off evil spirits and keep your home from disease and disaster. Nowadays it is eaten with the spirit of good health for the year. It is a simple and healthful bowl that is a big contrast to the big meals at the beginning of the new year.

To make okayu we wash one cup of rice a few times. In a pot add three cups of water to the uncooked, washed rice and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer until the rice becomes soft. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the pot. Meanwhile wash and finely chop the seven greens, including the root vegetables. Add to the rice porridge and cook until cooked through. Season to taste with salt.

2016 Nanakusa Gayu

Here is my favorite iron chef, Kimio Nonaga, on youtube with his take on nanakusa ryōri, dishes made using the seven greens.

In the autumn, there is also a collection of seven greens 秋の七草 aki no nanakusa, but these are not meant for eating, but for appreciating the beauty of the seven plants.

  1. 萩 はぎ Japanese clover
  2. 尾花 おばな Japanese pampas grass
  3. 葛の花 くずのはな kudzu flowers
  4. 撫子 なでしこ pink dianthus carnation
  5. 女郎花 おみなえし patrinia honeysuckle
  6. 藤袴 ふじばかま thoroughwort
  7. 桔梗 ききょう bellflower




Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Cuisine

お節料理 Osechi ryori, colorful food in lacquer boxes, is a traditional cuisine, which is eaten in the first three days of the new year. Its origins can be traced back to about 400 years ago. It started as simple food to serve the god of the Shinto shrines and to wish for a peaceful year. It developed its appearance over time and now it looks like food of a jewelry box.

Osechi consists of three or five layers of lacquer boxes. The top includes a lot of dish called 祝儀肴 shūgi sakana, literally celebratory dishes for saké. The second includes 酢の物 sunomono, vinegared dishes, the third is 焼き物 yakimono, grilled dishes. The forth includes 煮物 nimono, simmered dishes. And the bottom is filled with leftovers from the other layers.

Osechi is made with many ingredients and takes several days to prepare. Most foods are usually richly seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. In olden days, stores were closed the first few days of each year. By having richly seasoned food, the osechi would keep families fed until the shops opened once again. In modern days most shops close only for January 1st. But even now we have the luxury of 24-hour convenience stores, that even carry a nice selection of saké, beer, and shochu. I got a call at the last minute to bring some saké to our new year’s party. I stopped by 7-11 on the way and look what I found. I couldn’t have been happier, and all three came to just about 3,000 JPY. These are lovely sakes that would round out any meal.

7-11 sake

Masumi junmaishu, Kikuhime junmaishu, Sawanoi Okutama Yūsuijikomi

Essential ingredients for osechi are black beans, anchovies, and herring roe.

They have a deep connection in the old Japanese agricultural system.

  • Anchovies were used to be the most cheapest and richest fertilizer for farms, so the dish from dried anchovy is called 田作りtazukuri, which literally means make rich fields.
  • Black beans, 黒豆 kuro-mame in Japanese, mame can be translated to beans but also as a word play, can be translated as work hard.
  • Herring roe, 数の子 kazunoko, in Japanese, have millions of eggs in a sack, so that we believe it is good for fertility.

Rich fields and hard workers make for an abundant harvest, and it can feed a lot of babies and make more power to create rich country.

The colors are well considered using red and white for happiness, gold for a fortune, and green from decorative leaves for many wishes include long life, change of generations, keeping away evil, etc.

Osechi is not just a new year cuisine, but it also includes many wishes. So it is very important for us to cook and eat them with our hearts full of hope. However, this tradition is kind of disappearing. These days, fewer families make osechi by themselves but will order it from department stores. At the end of year, you can find long queues for osechi at department stores selling sets made by famous restaurants. It is interesting to note that osechi nowadays is not limited to Japanese cuisine, can be also made by French, Italian, or Chinese restaurants, a big departure from the past. Osechi at department stores start at about 10,000 JPY (about $100 USD) and can run up to more than 100,000 JPY ($1,000 USD).

Last year while Shinji was in culinary school he made osechi using Tsuji recipes. He wanted to challenge himself once more and spent six days in total for shopping and cooking. It is a long process that starts with getting all of the ingredients. Japanese supermarkets stock up on many of these key ingredients starting in December. Following are photos of what he made.

2016 Osechi Shugi Sakana

sunomono (vinegared dishes) clockwise from top left:

生寿司 kizushi – vinegared and cured in kombu fish, it is covered with a shaved piece of shiraita kombu

  • 真鰯 ma-iwashi – sardines
  • 本皮剥 hon-kawahagi – filefish
  • 赤甘鯛 aka-amadai – tilefish
  • 真鯖 ma-saba – Pacific mackerel

tako – octopus

チョロギ chorogi – Chinese artichoke

なます namasu – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, and yuzu

がり gari – pickled ginger

叩き牛蒡 tataki gobō – burdock root with sesame, sugar, and soy sauce

なます胡麻和え namasu goma-ae – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, yuzu, and mitsuba in a sesame miso dressing presented in a yuzu cup

奉書巻き hōsho maki – smoked salmon and vinegared turnip tied with mitsuba stalks

蓮根 renkon – pickled lotus root

2016 Osechi yakimono

yakimono (grilled dishes) clockwise from top left:

天然海老 tennen ebi – wild Australian tiger shrimp

牛八幡巻き gyū yawata-maki – beef wrapped around burdock root

松風 matsukaze – chicken meatloaf garnished with white poppy seeds

きんかん玉子 kinkan tamago – egg yolk marinated in miso and mirin

甘鯛塩焼き amadai shio-yaki – salted and grilled tilefish

のし梅 noshi-ume – apricot jelly

いくら ikura – salmon roe in candied kumquat

鰤西京焼き buri Saikyō-yaki – Saikyō miso marinated and grilled yellowtail

ふき fuki – butterbur stems simmered in dashi

2016 Osechi nimono

nimono (simmered dishes) clockwise from top left corner:

竹の子 takenoko – bamboo shoots

椎茸とすり身 shiitake to surimi – shiitake mushroom stuffed with fish paste

焼き豚 yaki-buta – pork grilled and simmered in sweet soy sauce

あん肝 ankimo – monkfish liver simmered in dashi

薩摩芋 Satsumaimo – candied sweet potatoes

里芋 satoimo – taro root simmered in dashi

くわい kuwai – arrowhead colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

真鱈の卵 madara no tamago – Pacific cod roe simmered in dashi, sugar, and soy sauce and garnished with julienned ginger

金時人参 kintoki ninjin – red carrot from Kyoto

さやいんげん saya-ingen – snap peas

awabi – abalone simmered in a sweet soy broth

2016 Osechi sweets

祝儀肴 shūgi sakana (celebratory dishes) clockwise from top left:

伊達巻 datemaki – Japanese omelet made with fish paste

海老と豆の佃煮 ebi to mame no Tsukudani – shrimp and beans cooked in a sweet syrup (gift from a friend)

黒豆 kuromame – sweetened Tamba black beans garnished with gold (Tamba in Kyoto is famous for black soybeans)

いくら ikura – salmon roe in sweetened kumquat cups

数の子 kazunoko – herring roe marinated in dashi and coated with katsuobushi powder

手作り tazukuri – dried baby anchovies candied in a sweet soy sauce

子持ち鮎佃煮 komochi ayu Tsukudani – sweetfish rich with roe candied is a sweet soy sauce (gift from a friend)

栗金団 kuri kinton – sweet potatoes and sweetened chestnuts colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

紅白蒲鉾 kōhaku kamaboko – red and white fish cake made from croaker (Kagosei is the producer)

鰊昆布巻き nishin kobumakikombu wrapped around herring and tied with kampyō (note that the name of the dish is kobumaki, not kombumaki)

2016 Osechi full course

This is the full spread. Shinji also made sashimi platters to round out the osechi. This was also served with ozōni, soup with mochi and saké.

We hope that 2016 is the year we finally get our cooking school up and running. We have been very busy with our food tours for Food Sake Tokyo. Best wishes to our friends who follow this blog. We hope to meet many of you this year.

2016 Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers

Tsukiji 2016 tuna.JPG

  • This year’s most expensive tuna sold at 14,000,000 JPY or roughly $117,220 US dollars.
  • The bluefin tuna weighed about 200 kg (about 440 pounds).
  • The price per kilogram was about 70,000 JPY or roughly $585 US dollars.
  • The tuna came from Ohma in Aomori prefecture and was caught on January 3rd.
  • The tuna was bought by the sushi chain, Sushi Zanmai. Kimura Shacho (president) commented that 3 days of aging makes it for perfect eating for today.
  • Sushi Zanmai has bought the winning tuna the last four years in a row.
  • The 2013 year’s record tuna sold for 155,400,000 JPY or roughly $1.76 million US Dollars.
  • This year’s tuna came in at about 3 times last year’s record-winning price.
  • This is the last opening tuna auction to be held at Tsukiji Market. Next year the tuna auction will be held at the new market, Toyosu Market. The name Tsukiji will stay at the current location. The current Tsukiji Market’s outer market will remain and can keep the famous brand name that is named after the area.

Tsukiji tuna graph

Graph of the winning tuna price over the last ten years.

Tsukiji Sushi Zanmai

Kimura Shacho (president) of Sushi Zanmai. Proud owner of the best tuna at Tsukiji’s last opening tuna auction. Each year he brings the winning tuna to his main shop in the outer market. The shop is just behind him in this photo, with the winning tuna waiting to be cut into.


初競り はつせり first auction

黒鮪 くろまぐろ bluefin tuna

大間 おおま Ohma port


Dominique Ansel Bakery Tokyo

For my birthday we went to Dominique Ansel Bakery’s Cafe on the second floor of his shop. The menu has always intrigued me, especially since I saw a photo of his avocado toast.

New on the menu is chicken pot pie, which was the best pot pie I have ever had. A crispy golden crust over an umami-rich stew packed with chicken and vegetables. I woke up the next day thinking about this. The avocado toast comes with créme fraiche and a salad. The butternut squash was accented with cinnamon marshmallow squares.

The first floor of the shop is almost always full. The cafe has a full drink menu as well, including champagne and wine. There is an open kitchen and on my way out I could see a lobster roll being assembled.


Dominique Ansel DKA

We were so full from lunch that we celebrated at home with chef’s signature DKA, Dominique’s version of the kouign amann. This pastry is very popular in Tokyo and many bakeries serve their version of it. This one is not too sweet, has a rich texture from the buttery dough.

The shop is very popular and the line can be very long on the first floor. Reservations can be made for the cafe and sweets from the first floor can be had in the cafe, along with a drink order. The only thing that is only sold on the first floor is the cronut. From what I hear from friends in NYC, the line here in Tokyo is much shorter for cronuts.

The bakery is in Omotesando, just off the main street. It is worth the short detour if you are in the area of Harajuku, Shibuya, or Meiji Jingu Shrine. The first floor opens at 8 a.m. and the cafe opens at 9 a.m. A great spot to start your day in Tokyo.

Dominique Ansel Bakery

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-7-14 渋谷区神宮前5-7-14

shop information and access:

Click to access DAB_MENU_2F.pdf