Today happened to be the Japanese version of Labor Day, so most of the stores and restaurants that I wanted to visit were closed for the day. We decided the group should split up and explore the city on their own in order to get to where they wanted to go. I spent a good amount of time walking around Harajuku looking for places that were open. I knew I needed to buy a winter jacket because the chances of snow happening were basically 100%. Not only that, but if you notice in all of the pictures, I packed very light. I wasn't really prepared for snow and I usually try not to pack too heavy when I'm not certain that I'll need a certain piece of clothing. Over the course of the next 4 hours, that was my mission. Luckily, I was able to find a nice Le Coq Sportif Japanese winter coat and gloves that would last me through the rest of the tour.
The highlight of the evening was our dinner plans at Nihonryori RyuGin. A little background on this place if you've never heard of it... Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s Kaiseki restaurant is located in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. While his approach leans more towards the traditional, there’s always a focus on learning and evolving. For 11 years, Yamamoto trained under one of Japan’s most revered chefs, Hirohisa Koyama of Aoyagi restaurant. After opening Nihonryori RyuGin in 2003, he gained acclaim for his use of modernist techniques. It’s hard to say what a typical dish is when the menu changes daily, but what is consistent is freshness – dishes are decided each morning depending on what is available at the markets. Among what you might find are bamboo shoots and wild herbs in spring, sweetfish in summer and the wild mushrooms of autumn.
All I can say is that Ryugin served me one of the best meals in Japan that I've ever had! It was so good that I immediately cancelled all of my reservations to all of the expensive restaurants I booked following after I left. My friend was able to book the reservation to Ryugin a month in advance from the states, which was incredibly difficult to do. When I heard how much the meal would cost, I wasn't too thrilled. I had never heard of this place prior to coming here and I was discouraged because I had no idea what to expect. If you're going to pay 30,000 ¥, you want to know what you're getting. There are strict rules when dining at these types of establishments which the hostess will do a great job explaining to you. At this point, I hadn't eaten anything all day and I was ready to make this happen. I won't get into the details, but Chef Seiji Yamamoto delivered a kaiseki course the likes of which me and my friends have never seen. Every dish was made to perfection, and I mean, PERFECTION. Perfectly cooked, well seasoned, and tasted amazing. Everything from the palette cleansers, soups, main dishes, and desserts justified the wait and the pay. Needless to say, we all had a huge smile on our face at the end of the meal. We didn't want it to end!
If you're curious what I ate, I documented every dish through pictures. Kaiseki at Ryugin is seasonally based, so if you come here in the spring, you might receive a completely different set course entirely. Either way, if you manage to get a reservation here, all I ask is that you keep an open mind and enjoy your dining experience.
We made our way back to the Tokyo Dome after dinner completely satisfied, but not ready to call it a night. In order to digest, we wanted to find a nearby arcade and get rid of our coins. Luckily, we found a Sega arcade right next to our hotel! We wanted to try our hand at the crane games, so we made an agreement to not leave until we all won something. My goal was a Mew Pokémon doll that I was eyeing. It was so close to the hole that all I needed to do was nudge it and it was mine. After about 10 tries or so, I managed to get it! Everyone else left with some decent prizes as well, so I would call it a victory night.
Tomorrow, I head to Fukui for an all day trip and to visit an old friend that I haven't seen in a long time.