Five Ways to Make Dining in Tokyo a Little Less Frustrating
1. Get good advice . . .
Tokyo isn't set up like other cities. The name on an address refers to the general area rather than a specific street. Plus, the numbers on two neighboring buildings aren't necessarily in numerical order. Also confusing is the fact that the metro system (tokyometro.jp) has recently changed its naming rules; now each station goes by a combination of a letter and number (e.g., E06 and A12), instead of a name. For the time being, they're using both. Having access to a concierge who can print detailed street maps with landmarks and directions (in Japanese for taxi drivers) might be worth the price of staying at a hotel with a good concierge. (See how the Grand Hyatt does it on page 71.)
2. . . . in two languages
Ask your concierge for restaurants' names in romaji (western letters) and Japanese characters--you never know how the name will be written on the facade.
3. Accept the fact that you'll end up lost
It's inevitable. Luckily, Tokyo is safe and endlessly walkable, and its residents are always happy to help you find your way.
4. When in doubt, search out visual cues
Most often, an English menu is a tell-tale sign that a restaurant is a tourist trap. There are better methods to know what you're eating--and to make sure it's good. Start by going places where you can see the food, such as kaiten-zushi, rotating sushi bars. A gathering of office workers patiently waiting in line is a mark of quality (not necessarily the case in other cities). Eel displays in the window generally signify affordable unagi restaurants. And red lanterns indicate that a restaurant is an izakaya, a Japanese-style pub with casual food.
5. And don't overlook convenience stores
Found all around Tokyo, convenience stores are utterly fascinating (for starters, many have cash registers that show weather reports). They are also stocked with all sorts of tasty items, such as French pastries and odd buns, which in a pinch make a fine fast lunch. You may scoff, but you'll end up there. Trust us.