TGB’s Tokyo Local Restaurant Guide

Tonkatsu Tonki by George Nobechi
Tonkatsu from Tonki, Tokyo, (c) 2016 George Nobechi

Tokyo is my hometown. I grew up there and worked in the giant city for a decade, meaning I have over 20 years of experience eating at Tokyo’s finest and not-so-finest establishments. I think this qualifies me as a local, hence the “Tokyo Local Restaurant Guide.”

Tokyo’s restaurant scene is ever-changing, and several former favourites of mine have closed since I moved away in late 2011. However, I have spent two months in each of the past two years back in the mega-city and revisited old haunts, as well as tried out new ones. Over the next while, I hope to keep adding to this Tokyo Local Restaurant Guide, which is by no means exhaustive (and current Tokyo residents will likely inform me of several great spots that I am missing). I will likely keep coming back to this post to edit and update it, so go ahead and bookmark this one.

EDIT- Two of the early criticisms I have received (other than being called some nasty names by people who don’t know me-fun!) have been that that the Ramen section is “weak” and that there aren’t enough $ (under $25) category entries. For those of you who don’t know anything about me and wish to, please refer to the “About” section and maybe you will understand why I chose to call this site “The Gentleman Backpacker” (hint- I am not a backpacker) and this may help you better understand my choices. I spent 10 years in Tokyo entertaining clients for work as well as exploring cheaper hole-in-the-wall type places in my spare time. So you are going to get a blend of high end with more affordable options. I now work as a photographer and I take people to Japan to explore that wonderful country, so I wanted to provide some good options for them that are easier to try out as a newbie to Japan.

Both criticisms  (ramen and price point) above are fair. I must confess that my favourite ramen spots in Tokyo have recently closed. I have plenty of suggestions in Sapporo, my mother’s home town, and I have some suggestions for the best ramen spots to hit to fill up your stomach at 3am after a late night of drinking in Tokyo, but I need to further brush up on my ramen latest in Tokyo–and I will. In fact, I know more about New York City ramen right now than I do about Tokyo. Ramen is an intensely personal thing. Some people like tonkotsu (pork bone, fatty broth), others like simple shio (salt). For example, in NYC I don’t like Ippudo and wouldn’t line up for it again. I did love secret pop-up joint Sanshiro (RIP) in Midtown East, which was a secret spot for Japanese people working in Midtown to hit up on their way home late at night. That place was all about a very clean broth, so you understand my tastes in ramen.

On the second point about lower price-point options, I have two responses to this. The budget includes DRINK plus MEAL and I am being conservative. I don’t want you to go to a place I said was “under $25” and it comes out to $27.50 and you are upset. I want to keep it true. So even the noodle joints or burger joints, well, you would probably come in under the mark, and you definitely would if you don’t have a drink, but I want to be safe in my estimates, especially with a rapidly strengthening yen. The original audience for this post was more for people who can afford a little bit more (since you are flying all the way to Tokyo anyway), rather than backpackers on a shoestring. Nonetheless, I will try to be more inclusive with my post and update it, so please bookmark this one. Lastly, for those claiming they don’t trust people who aren’t living there…I was born and raised in Tokyo and have spent almost 25 years there. I go there regularly, several times a year. It is my hometown, and I am half-Japanese and fluent in the language. My list is designed to be accessible for people not only living in Japan and wanting to try spots they have never been to, but also be helpful for first time visitors as well.

I’ve also added a “reservations” comment to each entry to help you determine whether to call ahead or not, as that was some useful feedback from people.

And if you have any suggestions, please add them below! Many thanks and happy eating!

Continue reading TGB’s Tokyo Local Restaurant Guide

Japan Photo Tour in Winter Light

goldfish pond, Shirakawa-go, Japan
A goldfish pond in Shirakawa-go, Japan. (c) 2016 George Nobechi

“Hello! Your image is currently featured on Instagram’s The Week on Instagram…Every week, we look back and highlight some of our favorite emerging voices across the globe. We’re excited to highlight yours this week. Thank you for everything you do!” –The Instagram Team

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I have been undertaking a grand transition from a stock trader in the Big City to a photographer and “Gentleman Backpacker,” well, anywhere the prevailing wind takes me.

The wind last summer took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and this past winter it carried me back to Japan, the land of my birth.  This time, in the form of a Japan photo tour, I brought with me the illustrious photographer Arthur Meyerson, most famous for his great work across four decades as a commercial photographer shooting for the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, and a group of 13 photographers from Canada, the UK, the US, and Japan.

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The Gentleman Backpacker Year in Review: “Courage”

Lady in the Wind, Antelope Canyon
Lady in the Wind, Antelope Canyon

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of the year that was. Today I received an email from a complete stranger, one who came to “know” me through a hockey blog that I follow and post on regularly. It was a congratulatory email for the path that I am taking. If I may quote a small passage from it, he says:

“There will come a time, perhaps it has occurred already, when you will question what you are doing. You will second guess the choices you have made. When that time happens, just remember that many of the people you know, back in the corporate world, admire you for your resourcefulness and courage. Most of them would like to follow your example and do something audacious, but they are too tied to social norms.”

Thank you for those words. This has been a year of many highs and lows–a transitional year that was one of the toughest of my entire life, but also one to celebrate.

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