Is there anything better than going to a sushi restaurant and enjoying fresh rolls with a side of miso soup? Even if you've found the perfect sushi spot in your city, you'll likely have a new experience when you try authentic sushi in Japan. The Diplomat explained how sushi is one of Japan's national dishes, in addition to ramen noodles and Japanese curry.
Before you pack your bags, book the flight and pay for international travel insurance, learn about sushi's development and discover the best restaurants in Tokyo.
The history of sushi
Sushi got its beginning about 2,500 years ago, according to The Diplomat. The original process involved cleaning and gutting fish, then stuffing them with salt and leaving them to ferment in a barrel for six months. This practice moved from southern China to Japan over time. It became popular with Buddhists around the ninth century, because it fit well with their vegetarian diets, the Public Broadcasting Service explained. During the 16th century, people began fermenting rice in the barrels with the fish.
Sushi took off in modern-day Tokyo when a man named Hanaya Yohei opened a sushi stand where he would sell freshly made rolls. According to PBS, he would add rice vinegar and salt directly to the rice then top it with fresh fish, effectively moving sushi-making away from the fermentation process. More sushi carts opened over time, but many of the operations were moved indoors following the Great Kanto Earthquake. By the 1950s, sushi was almost solely served in Tokyo's restaurants. However, the 1970s brought widespread refrigeration, which allowed sushi to be shipped all over the country, and eventually, the world.
Once sushi spread to the Western world, untraditional ingredients were added to rolls, including mango, cream cheese and imitation crab meat. Sushi like this exists around the world now - rolls made with vegetables, meat, fruit, tofu, fish eggs and more.
Tokyo's top sushi restaurants
Fukuzushi doesn't take reservations, so you may have to wait a bit for the delectable sushi that they serve here. According to CNN, it's been a family-owned restaurant since 1917 and its expansive setup allows you more room than many other sushi bars. You should get a seat at the wooden counter if possible for a front-row view of the master chefs at work. This spot is open for lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday.
Hantei is a top choice on Lonely Planet and highly recommended on TripAdvisor. People who've visited this restaurant before praised its traditional decor, pleasant ambience and friendly staff. There's an English menu and some waitresses who speak English, so you won't feel lost at Hantei. The restaurant is a short walk from Ueno Park and the Zoo, in an old wooden building. When it comes to food, Hantei is known for its meat skewers and side dishes, in addition to sushi rolls. Drop by Hantei for lunch or dinner on Tuesday through Sunday for your own taste, but consider making reservations first.
Sushi Iwa has a slew of positive reviews on TripAdvisor, with tourists calling the experience "one of the best meals of my life" and "This ... was my best sushi experience so far." One visitor reported that she started and ended a three-week trip in Japan with meals at Sushi Iwa, and found it to be the absolute best. This is another spot where you'll likely be able to find English-speaking staff. Although the dinner menu is a bit pricey, Sushi Iwa is the perfect place to enjoy a lunch special. Don't forget to have hot sake while you're there as well.