When it comes to dining, Japan is a blessed land. It has more restaurants bestowed with the coveted 3-star Michelin rating than anywhere else in the world. Its cities contain some unparalleled fine dining experiences and also some wonderfully delicious traditional fast food options, from the ubiquitous ramen noodle and kaiten-zushi sushi bars to takoyaki and yakitori grills.
For my money, it’s the izakaya that provide the richest dining experiences. Japan’s version of the pub, izakaya can be refined venues with zen decor and nouveau menus or rowdy, warren-like chain restaurants with cloned interiors, but the places that have the most atmosphere are the cramped, time-worn eating and drinking holes, many with their faded noren curtains and glowing lanterns or neon signs, that illuminate the back streets and alleys near city train stations. In Tokyo, they are clustered in the city’s more storied entertainment districts: omoide yokocho in Shinjuku, harmonica yokocho in Kichijoji, under the rail tracks near Yurakucho station, on the west side of Ebisu station, the east of Asakusa station, the north side of Nakano station.