By Kumi Matsumaru / Japan News Staff WriterTokyo Eatrip
by Yuri Nomura
Kodansha Ltd., 283pp
“Are you, by any chance, taking me to the Sakurai now?” my friend asked, rather excitedly, responding to my brief explanation of a Japanese teahouse I was about to take her to in Tokyo’s Aoyama district.
“Do you know the place?” I said.
She replied, “That’s a tearoom I wanted to go to!”
This friend on a short trip from Seoul to Tokyo clearly knew about the Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience, possibly through images posted on Instagram. It was on the aesthetically minded, tea-culture-loving woman’s must-do list in Tokyo.
After being served by a white-clad Japanese tea expert in a restrained manner in an intimate, low-key, meticulously designed cafe in a modern building following explanations about tea leaves, my friend was satisfied. I myself was pleased to find her happily sipping a cocktail prepared before our eyes with rum and house-roasted tea, accompanied by delicate Japanese sweets of the season.
After that memorable day, I found the distinctive teahouse listed in “Tokyo Eatrip,” an English-Japanese bilingual eating out guide to Tokyo. Author Yuri Nomura, a restaurateur in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, lists 57 dining places, bars and cafes in six different districts in Tokyo.
According to the preface, Nomura, who also teaches cooking and does catering, chose “places where I want to dine with someone important for me” for the book. These are eating and drinking places she found “reliable” through her business and personal experience.
They vary from a small izakaya bar in Nonbei Yokocho, a Shibuya backstreet with rows of tiny bars, to a soba shop in the Kanda district with a history of more than 130 years. A Japanese ryotei-style cafe restaurant designed by photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto (where, again coincidentally, I had a dinner with my friend, admiring a view of a Japanese garden) is on the list, too.
Nomura also lists a Japanese sweet shop in Shibuya Ward, whose confections mesmerized her when she first had them at a tea ceremony, as well as French bistro Le cabaret, where she often dines with her mother.
It would have been even better if the list included more places in eastern Tokyo, where there must be many good eateries and cafes.
Nomura adds dining and shopping information for five of the six districts, allowing readers to take advantage of her park, gallery, lifestyle shop, bookstore and other recommendations. A 30-page primer on eating out in Japan teaches, for example, the “9 basics of soba.” You’ll learn how to grate wasabi, what length of zaru soba noodle is best to dip in soba tsuyu sauce and how to enjoy soba-yu buckwheat water after finishing the noodles.
You may find the seafood and vegetable calendar in the book helpful, too, when choosing sushi at sushi counter or imagining what a dish is like when finding an unfamiliar vegetable named on a menu. The list of markets — farmer’s, flea, antique and craft — should also be handy if you want to learn more about Japan’s food-related culture through goods and products.
It was a pure coincidence that the Sakurai tea house was a place where my one of dearest friends loved to go. But I’m confident I can refer to Tokyo Eatrip when someone important for me visits Tokyo again.
— Kumi Matsumaru
Japan News Staff Writer