How to make a reservation and dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo

How to make a reservation and dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo

 

As a cook and writer whose fascination with food is beyond the ordinary, I am willing to spend my time, energy, and money for a great meal. I am privileged to have dined at some Michelin-starred restaurants like Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in London and a handful more in Europe and Japan. While I enjoyed all of them, my most memorable fine dining experience was at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.

Perhaps because of my respect, almost reverence, for Jiro-san after watching ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’; my love for Japanese-everything; and its exclusivity – the most expensive meal I’ve ever had is worth every yen. If my wallet permits, I will go again in a heartbeat. Besides Jiro Ono said:

“In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food” – Jiro Ono

I have been getting a lot of questions on how to book a seat and here is my experience:

How to make a reservation

This is perhaps the trickiest part. You cannot walk in or call the restaurant to make a reservation. In fact, it is deemed one of the most difficult reservations to get in the world. To dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro, you must make a booking through a concierge of a reputable hotel in Tokyo. However, to have access to the concierge in the first place, you generally must have stayed previously with the hotel.

Another problem is that the restaurant is normally fully booked for the next few months. So it is impossible to go to Tokyo, stay in a reputable hotel, and get a reservation during the duration of your stay.

Most of the hotels in Tokyo with concierge services will assist to make reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant and you will need to book at least 1 month prior to the reservation date and confirmation are upon availability.

What you need to do is to get access to a hotel in Tokyo with a concierge service. You then speak to the concierge to assist in making the reservation. You are likely to only book your flight tickets and hotel (assuming you don’t live in Tokyo) after you secure a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Once the concierge has confirmed your booking, you will have to confirm you are staying at the hotel (so make that reservation), and you will also have to forward your credit card details (in case you somehow don’t make it to Jiro!).

These are a few hotels with concierge services:

  • Grand Hyatt Tokyo
  • Park Hyatt Tokyo
  • Imperial Hotel, Tokyo
  • Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo

Sara’s experience and tips:

I stayed at Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Roppongi Hills a couple of times. For a few times, I have tried to make reservation via the concierge on the dates that I will be there. Unfortunately, it was fully booked for the next few months and I have to wait till the next time reservation is open. I think I have waited for more than half a year!

Out of sheer desperation to enjoy the best sushi in the world before Jiro retires (or kicks the bucket), I told the concierge to get the next available seat – at whichever date available. This trick works. Finally, my partner and I made a trip to Tokyo just to dine at Jiro. 

Perhaps because Grand Hyatt Tokyo has established a good relationship with Sukiyabashi Jiro, we were seated right infront of Jiro-san and he personally served us. The other two diners were served by his eldest son.

Read more about making reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro’s website

How much does it cost and how long is the meal

This is the most expensive meal that I have had in my life. Dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro alone costs about 30,000 Yen (USD 270/ RM 1150) per person without taxes (notwithstanding flight tickets and a five-star hotel stay).

For the price that you pay, you get an omakase menu with 20 pieces of sushi. That is about RM 60 (USD 13.50) per sushi! You will eat it as Jiro-san makes it – one sushi after another – without stopping. The meal is probably over in about half an hour.

There is a cancellation policy. In the event that you cannot make it, you will be charged 16,200 yen per person.

Sara’s experience and tips:

As I am a small and slow eater, my meal takes longer than usual – much to Jiro-san’s chagrin. After the 15th piece of sushi, I felt rather full. At one point, there were two pieces of sushi on my plate (ideally, it should not happen if you don’t want to cross Jiro-san).

I was the last guest to leave. I think my meal took about 40 minutes – twice longer than a man seated next to me who finished his meal in 20 minutes! I even stayed to have a few words with Jiro-san and for a photo. One of the best hours in my life!

Do’s & Don’ts

The hotel supplied us with a letter containing important information. There are some rules to follow:

  • Refrain from wearing any perfume or item with strong scents
  • Photographs are not allowed in the restaurant
  • Dresscode: shirts with sleeves and collars are required for gentlemen
  • Casual clothing such as beach sandals, no-sleeves, T-shirt, jeans and shorts are not allowed
  • Please be there early as they are very strict about time, and taking photo at the restaurant

Upon arrival, you remove your jacket (if any), bags and mobile phone. They will be placed near the counter. You’ll then be seated accordingly (you do not choose your seat) and your meal should start shortly.

Sara’s experience and tips:

When I lived with my host family in Japan, my entire family dress very well even when they go to the supermarket or to communal bath. In Japan, dressing up is a form of respect. Hence, if you normally dress casually, I suggest that you put a little more effort. I wore a sleeved dress and a pair of covered shoes, whereas my partner was dressed in shirt, pants and leather shoes.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a young staff who asked if I could speak Japanese to which I replied “Sukoshi!” (a little). He took my belongings and placed it in the counter. He then led me to my seat. That was when I laid my eyes on Jiro-san for the first time, and stood there for a few seconds feeling overwhelmed. Shortly after, Jiro-san started placing his hands in a bucket of vinegar rice and our meal officially started.

The ambience in Sukiyabashi Jiro is rather solemn. Everyone looked very serious; it gave me the feeling as though we were not allowed to laugh!

How to go to Sukiyabashi Jiro

The restaurant is located at: 4 Chome-2-15 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan.

Take a train to Ginza, exit at C6, and walk towards the beige building shown in the photo (Tsukamoto Sogyo). The restaurant is located inside, on the lower ground.

Sara’s experience and tips:

Do go a little earlier. Despite being rather familiar with Tokyo, we had trouble looking for the building and arrived just in time for our meal. 

Dining etiquette you should know

There are etiquette in eating sushi. Here are some from Jiro’s book:

  1. Pick it up with your fingers or chopsticks
  2. Avoid spilling the sushi toppings
  3. In the event that the sushi master forgot to flavour your sushi (which is unlikely to happen), pick up ginger to dip in soy sauce, and then use it as a brush to flavour the topping
  4. Drink tea or water in between (Jiro recommends tea)
  5. Don’t dip sushi rice into soy sauce
  6. Don’t turn sushi upside down
  7. Don’t separate the sushi topping
  8. Don’t break sushi into two
  9. Don’t let sushi sit – Jiro says there’s nothing more delicious than sushi that is freshly placed on the plate

Sara’s experience and tips:

At Japan, I always start my meals by putting my hands together and say ‘Itadakimasu!’ and end it with ‘goshisosamadeshita!’ a habit I picked from my student exchange days. I did the same in Sukiyabashi Jiro and ate the sushi with my hands. I didn’t dip it in soy sauce (despite it being provided) and placed the entire piece of sushi into my mouth. Drink tea in-between sushi to cleanse your palate. There are many more rules, but that’s all you need to know and do.

How to get the best experience

If you go will through all the trouble just to taste Jiro’s sushi, you might as well have the best experience that you can. I recommend that you watch ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and read two of his books:

  • Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy
  • Sushi: Jiro Philosophy

I was not there just to taste the best sushi in the world – but to meet Jiro-san who’s philosophy in food and life I deeply admire. I went for a student exchange programme in Japan, and learned some Japanese values: diligence, hard work, discipline, respect for nature and time, and serenity. Jiro embodies these qualities.

I think understanding the craft of making sushi, the effort put in creating every piece of art, will take your experience to the next level. I was not eating just sushi, I was appreciating art and philosophy.

“Saying ‘too troublesome’ is forbidden in Jiro. We invest time to create delicious flavours'” – Jiro Ono

Sara’s experience and tips:

I watched ‘Jiro Dreams Of Sushi’ many months before dining there – it spurred my interest to dine at his restaurant one day. That was when I learned that his apprentice made the tamago (sweet egg which is served as a dessert) for a few months, about 200 tries, before Jiro was satisfied. And that Jiro massaged the octopus for an hour to release its fragrance and flavour. It’s a method he founded in three years as octopus are only in season for a short two months.

A few days before dining at sushi, I went to the nearest bookstore, Tsutaya, to get two of his books which cost 1000 yen each. It’s a very small book (11 x 14 in) of about 100 pages – I finished reading them in a day.

In his book, it was mentioned that Joel Robuchon, the master French chef, said that octopus normally taste rubbery to him, however Jiro’s octopus tastes like lobster! With all these facts, I was super excited to find upon my arrival that I will be having octopus sushi! (True. I don’t normally like octopus/cuttlefish/squid because its rubbery texture. But Jiro’s octopus was sublime!)

I highly recommend that you buy Jiro’s Gastronomy. It shows you photos and explanation of the sushi that you will be eating. As diners are not allowed to take photos in Jiro’s restaurant, you are unlikely to find them on the Internet. Studying the book did make me a lot more aware and appreciative of the food, and allowed me to guess what will be served to me.

Getting a photo and speaking with Jiro-san

Diners are allowed to take a photo with Jiro at the end of the meal.

Sara’s experience and tips:

I heard that Jiro-san can be temperamental and strict. That is why some diners prefer to go to Jiro’s second branch at Roponggi Hills run by Takashi, Jiro’s Ono second son. Upon hearing that, I did feel quite anxious when I was seated right in front of him. I have never feared and been in awe of a person since maybe primary school!

So before arriving, I polished up my language skills and learned a few new Japanese phrases (it helps that I can speak a little Japanese):

  • Could you please take a photo together with me? Shashin wo isshioni totte itadakemasuka?
  • I watched your movie: Watahi wa anata no eiga wo mimashita
  • and I read your books:  Soshite watashi wa anata no hon wo yomimashita
  • My Japanese is not good. But I am studying it. Watashi no nihongo wa jyozu jyanai. Demo ima benkyo shite imasu.

I also added the usual

  • I love eggs! Tamago daisuki desu! (In which Jiro happily handed it to me)
  • Very delicious! Totemo oishii desu!

Almost at the end of the meal, I was feeling rather full and I could not finish the last few pieces of sushi (Gasp! Horror horror). Jiro-san looked at me with a piercing eye and mumbled some Japanese to his son. Apologetically, I said “Gomen nasai. Onaka ga ippai” (I am very sorry. I am full).

Much to my relief, he laughed (he had been looking very stern since arrival) and he started saying something ‘chisai’ (small) and made smaller sushis for me. He even insisted that I eat their speciality sushi (sea urchin) and sliced half of the sushi for me. At that point, he felt like a loving grandfather instead of a stern Michelin-starred chef.

Jiro-san normally would only take one photo, but obliged to take another one just with me when I asked “Shashin wo isshioni totte itadakemasuka?” (the most polite form of Japanese). He even extended his hands! I was a little shocked as I read that, to ensure that he could feel the condition of the vinegar rice, he keeps his fingers sensitive by wearing gloves since he was 40 years old.

“Hands are the most important tools for craftsmen” – Jiro Ono

Is it worth the price?

Many people ask me this question “Is it worth the price?” or “Is it really that good?”. Perhaps it is not to everyone, but given that I’m into gastronomy; Japanese philosophy and culture; and that I admire Jiro-san’s work ethic – it is a resounding ‘Yes!’.

Jiro’s sushi will dispel your existing impressions of sushi. Sushi rice is supposed to be warm. Fresh seafood prepared properly tastes significantly different. If you think you don’t like certain seafood -like sea urchin, octopus or eel – the sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro will change your mind.

The restaurant gets the freshest seafood from the Tsukiji Fish Market every morning (they select knowledgeable fish monger who keeps the best catch for them). They buy a certain type of rice from a supplier which refused to provide it to Hyatt (because he believed that the hotel cannot make it as good as Jiro). Jiro values quality, preparation and innovation.

“It’s never too early to prepare. You can start preparing way in advance” –  Jiro Ono

Jiro places his hands in the rice bucket, and when his hands are out, the sushi is already formed and he swiftly places a piece of sliced seafood on it. You get warm rice with just the right amount of vinegar, and the most delicate topping, in a 3:2 ratio. Sushi cannot get fresher and more exquisite than this.