Niigata Echigo Yuzawa

Just one hour from Tokyo on the shinkansen, Echigo Yuzawa is a fun get-away to a snowy paradise. There are mountains for skiing, and even play areas for kids to sled. Even ski gear and snow boots can be rented, so no need to go up with heavy bags. We left sunny Tokyo and after passing through a long tunnel near our destination, was surprised to be arriving in a winter wonderland.

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Yuzawa Ski Park Resort

We used Yuzawa Ski Park Resort with a free shuttle from the station. After arriving we signed up for a kids’ ski lesson and rented a sled.

Yuzawa Kogen is walking distance from the station. We took a cable car from the base to halfway up the mountain where there was a blizzard and we were in the clouds.

We stayed at Taki no Yu and had our own private onsen (photo above right) in our room. The kid-friendly ryokan had Purare-ru train set in the lobby.

The cuisine was very good. Below are photos of the small dishes for the okayu breakfast (left photo) and the appetizers for dinner (right photo).

Taki no Yu. Request the Kikyou Room for the private onsen in the room. The water made my skin feel soft and the temperature was not too hot. The rotenburo, outdoors onsen, was set in snow. Soaking in a hot tub while snow falls down is so relaxing. The room we stayed in had two beds and a separate tatami room for futons. It said it could sleep up to seven, so a good option if traveling with family.

http://www.yuzawa-takinoyu.com/rooms/#con_kikyou

The station has a large shopping area for omiyage including regional food products, knives, fresh produce, and rice. Niigata is famous for Koshihikari grown in Uonuma. There are several restaurants including a sushi-ya, soba-ya, and a nice cafe for mattcha latte and soft serve made with local milk.

Ponshukan is a saké tasting room for a flight of five saké starting at 500 JPY.

There is a visitors’ center in the station that is a warm seating area and has free wifi as well as some brochures in English.

For the return shinkansen we picked up two bentō at the ekiben stand in the station. Both bentō  include a heating unit under the bentō that heats it up in five minutes. There is a big selection of cup saké sold at the station.

Echigo Yuzawa would also be an easy day trip from Tokyo. Round-trip tickets are less than 15,000 JPY. One tip, ask for seats on the second floor of the shinkansen for better views. Another tip, many roads and sidewalks have running water to keep the snow from accumulating. Be sure to go with waterproof shoes, or rent a pair of boots at the information center just outside of the station.

Family-friendly Yakitoriya

Once in a while we adults want to have yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, but many yakitori-ya are smoky joints that are not kid-friendly. Iseya in Kichijōji near Inokashira Kōen Park is both family-friendly and a good value. It is also perfect for groups as it is a large space. The only challenge is that it is wildly popular. On weekends there is a perpetual line out the front door. Bring along something to keep your kid occupied while standing in line.

First things first, large mugs of cold beer for the adults and barley tea for the kid. We ordered vegetables like edamame, potato salad, green salad, kimchi, and cucumbers to get started. At the same time we ordered a variety of chicken skewers like thigh, gizzard, liver, chicken balls complete with minced cartilage for crunch, and chicken skin. The vegetables come out immediately and just when we are ready for the yakitori a giant plate is placed on the table with the skewers.

Inokashira Kōen is a great spot for the kids to run around after lunch. On the north side of the station is a great shōtengai shopping arcade with many food shops.

Iseya Sōhōten いせや総本店

Musashino-shi, Kichijōji Minami-chō 1-15-8

武蔵野市吉祥寺南町1-15-8

12 noon – 10 p.m.

closed Monday

no website

 

Sushi Chain to Put on Your Radar

Living in Tokyo it’s good to have a few sushi chain on your radar, especially if  you are parents and dining out with kids. Some popular sushiya on the budget side include Midori Sushi, Sushi Zanmai, Sushiro, Choshi Maru, and Kurazushi. One to know about is Uoriki, which is not only a sushiya, but also a seafood retail shop, so the company is buying a lot of seafood and can offer sushi menus at a good value.

Uoriki is unbelievably cheap for what it is offering. The set lunch in the upper right photo was only 1,290 JPY ($13). Check out the size of the anago (simmered sea eel). It also included ikura, chutoro, scallop, and shrimp.

The bottom photo is of silvery skinned fish, which took me a long time to get used to, but now I love these. At lunch this was only 750 JPY and consisted of: Pacific saury, horse mackerel, sardine, Pacific mackerel, and gizzard shad. As these are the fishy in flavor, they are often garnished with ginger, garlic, chives, or even pickled in salt and rice vinegar to make them more palatable.

A very easy branch of Uoriki Sushi to get to is in the Shibuya station building in the Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. There are a few shops on the Chuo line which we frequent. The take-away sushi is also very cheap and is usually made without wasabi so it is kid-friendly. Wasabi is served on the side.

The name, Uoriki 魚力, literally means strong fish. What a great name for a seafood retail and restaurant chain.

Uoriki Sushi

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1, Tokyu Toyoko-ten Depachika B1

渋谷区渋谷2-24-1 東急百貨店西館B1F

Other branches (in Japanese):

http://www.uoriki.co.jp/tenpo/index.html#insyoku

I was recently interviewed for this piece for Saveur magazine, by Laurie Woolever:

http://www.saveur.com/conveyor-belt-kaiten-sushi

Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse

Ruby Jack's Tomato Salad

Ruby Jack’s Tomato Salad

Ruby and Jack are chef Matthew Crabbe’s grandparents name. Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse is a great spot in the Ark Hills South Tower building. High ceilings, outdoor seating if you want on a spacious terrace. The interior feels very upscale with the white tablecloths, but it’s very friendly and without any attitude. Here is a tomato and blue cheese salad.

Ruby Jack's Caesar Salad

Ruby Jack’s Caesar Salad

The Caesar salad is covered with a generous amount of cheese, which is a treat in Japan.

Ruby Jack's Pork

Ruby Jack’s Pork

While it is a steakhouse, I couldn’t resist the Japanese pork. A meaty portion that was just right for lunch.

Ruby Jack's burger

Ruby Jack’s Burger

I had such a great meal that I went back right away as I wanted to try the burger and fries. It’s a messy burger, as they should be, and with a barbecue sauce. All of the lunch sets come with an appetizer and coffee or tea. Here is my review of Ruby Jack’s for Metropolis magazine.

The wine list is rich and there are several selections under 10,000 JPY. At lunchtime the restaurant is kid-friendly and there is even a kid’s menu. Don’t bother coming if you are a vegetarian, or you may leave hungry.

My only advice is to allow yourself some time to get lost in this area. There are many buildings in the Ark Hills complex and I have been lost here several times.

Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse

Minato-ku, Roppongi 1-4-5, Ark Hills South Tower 2F

rubyjacks.jp