Japan’s insulated history has helped to create one of the world’s most intriguing food cultures. One would be hard-pressed to discover another place where the cultural ties to the food are so strong.
The culinary center of Japan is undoubtedly Tokyo, and the vestibule of Tokyo, if not its epicenter, is sushi. While there are numerous, often underappreciated, forms of Japanese cookery, it is the "ancient" tradition (sushi began in Japan in the 700s) of slamming super-fresh fish onto some delicious vinegar rice that has become synonymous with Japanese cuisine.
While fine sushi is available worldwide, the sheer number of elite fishmongers in Tokyo is something to behold. Eating at any one of these pristine sushi bars is a privilege; to find yourself seated at four of them inside a week is an epic honor. Unlike so many honors, this one isn’t really earned… it’s just bought. Be that as it may, worshiping in a "Temple of Sushi" is an experience that will make you feel special.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a top five list of the best sushi bars that excluded Sawada, Mizutani, and Kanesaka. Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Saito would fill out my top five. I’ll pause while some of you protest the omission of one of the dozen or so other spots that could be included…
We had hoped to visit all of them; however, scheduling conflicts arose and adjustments had to be made. In lieu of the Honten mother ship, we substituted Sukiyabashi Jiro’s Roppongi outpost. Meanwhile, snagging a seat at these joints isn’t a picnic and we were left to do our best Louis Winthorpe III impression with Saito.
Each establishment offers a unique experience within the framework of a high-end sushi-ya (sushi restaurant). Weaving them into the tapestry of a single week offered a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast. Ultimately, these itamaes all offer something deeply personal. Even when you find yourself amid a gregarious single-serving friend (aka another customer), there’s something incredibly intimate in a visit to one of these hidden away gems. Sushi at its best is a peaceful, highly introspective occurrence.