Sukiyabashi Jiro is not only one of the best sushi restaurants in the world, it’s also one of the hardest to get into.
The tiny Tokyo establishment was a destination of choice for Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Obama’s visit back in April, and it was also featured prominently in the documentary, “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi,” inspiring sushi fans from around the world to seek out a seat at the counter.
We spoke with three foodies who have traveled to the sushi mecca and eaten Chef Jiro Ono’s 20-course omakase menu, which costs around $US300, or 30,000 Japanese yen. Here is their best advice on getting a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro (all emphasis ours).
Andy Hayler, a food critic at Elite Traveller, has dined at every Michelin three-star restaurant in the world. He ate at Sukibashi Jiro back in 2008.
When I went, booking was not especially difficult as such, but I had to go with a Japanese speaker (a friend who lives in Tokyo came with us, so that was not a problem).
I had my friend who lives in Tokyo call and get some intel. I found out that they start taking reservations the first of the month, the month prior to when you want to go. As I was going to be there in March, I would need to call on February 1st. So on February 1st Tokyo time, I had my native Japanese speaker friends mobilized to call — a couple people in Tokyo, and one in New York. The line was busy for FOUR DAYS. By the time they got through, of course all of March was booked. Of course, this made me even more determined to score a res. After a few other desperate attempts failed, I finally had my hotel concierge in Tokyo call. They got me in, but to the Roppongi branch, not the original one in Ginza.
A food blogger who goes by Little Meg on Instagram dined at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo at the end of 2013. You can see more of her food photos from the experience here.
For Jiro, the official rule is that you should call in the first day of each month to reserve for next month’s seating. However, most people that I know who got reservations are through local Japanese people who know the restaurant well, or they have some industry connections. Concierges from prestigious hotels may be able to help, but not always. Personally, I also have to book through a Japanese friend who is a regular here and so I can’t attest to the level of difficulty to book a seat at Jiro as a new customer, especially from overseas.
One thing I do know is that they only take phone reservations. In both of my visits, I had seen people (foreigners and local Japanese) who tried to walk in to grab a seat either on the same day or for future, and they would immediately turn them down and tell them to call instead. So don’t bother to think you can just go to the shop and make a reservation in person. They won’t allow it to happen.
Adam Goldberg, a food lover who takes incredible pictures of his meals for his blog A Life Worth Eating, ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro in 2008, 2010, and 2012.
I’ve visited Sukiyabashi Jiro three times. The first time I visited in 2008, I called and made the reservation myself. I spoke to them in Japanese, and explained that I ate everything without exception. I sensed reluctance on the phone. I made the reservation three weeks to the day.
When I tried calling again in 2010 it was more difficult. There “wasn’t any availability.” I had the hotel concierge call and they were able to get three seats at the sushi counter. The same went for 2012. These reservations were made 3-4 weeks to date.
- Call in on the first day of each month to reserve for next month’s seating
- Have a Japanese speaker or you hotel in Japan call to make a reservation
- Go with a Japanese friend, or someone who speaks Japanese
Foreigners who don’t speak Japanese are known as gaijin, and may have a hard time getting a reservation at Sukiybashi Jiro or being served once they do. Chef Ono doesn’t speak English and his son speaks very little, so bringing along someone who speaks fluent Japanese is not only highly recommended, but often necessary.
Guests should also be aware that the meal may cost $US300 (or more, depending on the exchange rate), but will last no more than a half an hour. Chef Ono encourages a fast pace with each bite size piece of fish coming out every minute or so. “My last meal lasted 19 minutes,” Goldberg told us. “The meal never felt rushed, but each slice of fish is bite-sized and as soon as I took a bite there was another piece of fish waiting.”
“The experience was worth it in 2008, but I no longer think it’s the best sushi in Tokyo,” Goldberg added.
Hayler agreed, saying that while his meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro was “objectively good,” it still did not compare to other sushi restaurants in Tokyo such as Sushi Saito, Yoshitake, Mizutani, and Sawada.
And for those who love to Instagram their meals, feel free to bring along a camera. “The restaurant, and chef Ono, have evolved very much from 2008 to 2012,” Goldberg told Business Insider. “In 2008 photography was discouraged. In fact, I remember Chef Ono reminding me to ‘eat quickly’ because it would affect the texture and temperature of the fish and rice. In 2012, Chef Ono encouraged photography — even posing and smiling with guests.”
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