How to get reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro and my experience there

Introduction

My wife and I were traveling to Japan in December 2015.  She loves sushi, and so we decided to try to get reservations at Jiro’s sushi restaurant.  Here is my review of the restaurant and how you can get reservations too.

 

How to get reservations

I called up AMEX Platinum concierge on October 18th, a full month and a half before I would be in Tokyo.  They informed me that they could not make reservations to Jiro’s and that only hotels could do it.  They then asked me which hotel I’d be staying at.  I told them the Park Hyatt and gave them my reservation number.  They then emailed the PH and cc’ed me.  The PH responded and said Jiro would not be taking reservations for December until November 2nd, which was a Monday.  That implies that on the first day of the month, Jiro takes reservations for the entire following month.  We gave the hotel 3 dates to choose from lunch or dinner (we’d work our schedule around the meal.)

Fast forward to 10/31, I received an email from the Park Hyatt securing our reservation for noon on one of our days!  This means it was 11/1 Tokyo time, so either Jiro opened his book early or the Park Hyatt had some pull.  Regardless, if you want to make a reservation, you’ll want to email your hotel 2 months in advance so they can plan for it.  I am assuming the nicer the hotel, the better.  Plus, time flexibility helps as well.  Maybe Jiro got tired of no-shows or he just doesn’t like foreigners making reservations directly with him.

The PH did mention that they would need a credit card on file if they were successful with the reservation, and I’m going to assume AMEX concierge gave them my credit card number once they secured the reservation.  You may need to provide this info to your hotel if they make the booking for you.

As for cancellations, you have 72 hours up to the date of your time slot to cancel.  If after that, you’ll be charged 50%.

Dress Code

I was reminded 3 times – once from the initial PH email and on 2 different sheets when I checked into the Park Hyatt that the dress code is simply – dress shirt and slacks (no casual clothing like shorts or beach clothing.)

 

How to get there

We actually took a taxi from the Park Hyatt, which I don’t recommend.  It was nearly a $30 cab ride when we could have easily taken the metro.  Here is a picture of the basement you want to go down into.  Go down it, make a left through some glass doors and you can’t miss it.  DON’T GO RIGHT into the subway.

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The experience

DO NOT BE LATE TO YOUR RESERVATION!  We were reminded of that 3 times as well.  Although our reservation wasn’t until noon, we left the hotel at 10:30, and got there at around 11:10.  We went into the Starbucks in the mall to wait.  At 11:45, we walked over and was immediately greeted at the door with an English speaking waiter.  He took our jackets and sat us down at the end of the 10 seat sushi table.  No other customers were there yet.  At first I didn’t see Jiro and was slightly disappointed (I had read online that he might not be there at times.)  I saw the son and the help; when I finally looked to the left of the son, I saw the man himself.  He didn’t acknowledge me or us.  I had read he wasn’t the friendliest of people, so I knew what to expect.

The waiter gave us a sheet to set our phone on.  You can take photos of the sushi, but not the restaurant or the chefs.  There is a soy sauce dipping plate, but it’s sacrilegious to use it since Jiro has already perfectly seasoned each piece of sushi.  They also give you chopsticks, but I had read someone tried to use chopsticks, and Jiro motioned to them to use his hands instead, so we just used our hands from the get-go.  There is also a small plate with a wet towel for you to wipe your dirty fingers between courses (genius I tell you.)  There is also a purple napkin like thing (picture below) that we didn’t realize what it was for until mid-way through the meal – you can either use it at the restaurant or take it as a souvenir.  It was already close to the end of the meal, so we just kept it unused.

The waiter then asked us what we wanted to drink; my wife chose tea and I chose water.  Looking back, I probably should have gotten the tea; the cold water disrupted my palette I think.  He then told us to open the menu and asked if we didn’t want anything.  I had read that even if you say you don’t want something, you’ll still get it (albeit it a smaller portion.)  I don’t know if that’s true or not, so we just got everything.  Here’s the menu when we went in December of 2015.

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Etiquette

I had read online before my meal the etiquette for the experience – you basically eat the sushi as fast as you can because the temperature of the rice is perfectly timed for you.  He paces the sushi for you.  By the time I had put a piece of sushi in my mouth, he had already set up my wife’s next piece (he served her first the whole time.)  I had read he will look at your facial expressions, but I never once caught him looking at our faces.  There were times when he and his son made a comment and laughed (no idea what they said.)

You are not supposed to talk with your friends.  You are not supposed to play on your phone.  You eat sushi and that’s it!  When we were nearly done, we saw a non-Japanese gentleman come by himself.  After 4 pieces of sushi, he was tapping on his phone and falling behind (I think he had 2 pieces on his plate.)  The waiter gently reminded him he needed to eat his sushi and not tap on his phone.

A group of 3 non-Japanese girls came in after him, and was pretty loud and obnoxious.  They were talking like it was a girls’ brunch.  It annoyed ME, so I know it must have annoyed Jiro.

Here’s the thing – I’m sure most people will find these unwritten rules too strict for a restaurant.  I for one love the rules.  Eating at a 3 Michelin-star restaurant is an EXPERIENCE.  If you can’t follow the rules, don’t go!  Respect the chef and the written and unwritten rules that he has set.  Do some RESEARCH before you go! Don’t be like this girl.  Just because I sell you a ticket to my pool party, it doesn’t mean you can come in a banana hammock and pee in my pool, right?

 

20 of the best minutes of my culinary life

I had read that you had better not be a slow eater.  Most people said it takes 30 minutes for the entire meal, so we skipped breakfast and wanted to be as hungry as possible.  He also paces you as well, so you can’t be too slow.  Since we were the only 2 people in the restaurant, things moved quick!  You basically had 1 helper who helped Jiro’s son.  Jiro’s son then cuts the fish and gives it to Jiro.  Jiro prepares the rice, wasabi, and the fish and hands it back to the son.  The son then brushes soy sauce on it and puts it on your plate.  This may be different based on where you are sitting.  At the end, when a later group arrived, we saw Jiro putting the sushi on their plates [because he was closest to them.]  As soon as you picked up the sushi, the son or the helper wiped your plate clean.

Here is the tuna progression and the shrimp (massive.)  I didn’t want to post all of the sushi photos to give you some mystery in case you do go yourself

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By the time we got to the umi, I was stuffed! It had been about 15 minutes by that time, and the bite of umi was so massive that it took a while to swallow. Then the scallops and salmon roe were also really big. By the tamago, I was really slowing down. It took me a couple of bites to finish it.

What people don’t tell you is that the portion size at Jiro’s is huge. Each piece of nigiri is at least 33% to 50% bigger than your normal sushi restaurant. The jumbo prawn alone was one of the biggest prawns I’ve ever had in my life. And since you are eating so fast, you’re basically trying to outpace your brain on the fact that you were “full” before the umi course.

Was it in fact the best sushi of our lives?  My wife said it was.  If you did a blind taste test, I’m sure you’d pick his sushi over your local sushi joint.  However, because we didn’t try his other son’s restaurant, I couldn’t tell you how much better his sushi is compared to his other son’s.  This was also the only sushi restaurant we ate at in Tokyo, so our only frame of reference are US based sushi restaurants.

 

Picture with Jiro

At the end of the sushi, you are asked if you want anything else. Both my wife and I were full so did not ask for anything. I know some people have asked for things and gotten it while others got rejected. Guess what type of customer got what they asked for and who didn’t.

When we said we were full, we were escorted to another table to enjoy our melon and tea. At this point, there were the 4 other guests who were slowly eating. I asked the waiter if I could wait until Jiro was done to take a picture with him. The waiter told me he wasn’t sure when he’d be done. Sad by this, I understood.

When we stood up to pay the bill, Jiro asked the waiter something and next thing we know, the waiter told us Jiro would take a picture with us! That was the highlight of the trip. When we were walking out, we could see the other 2 parties had like 2 pieces of sushi still on their plate. I’d like to believe Jiro was so disgusted with their pacing that he felt he had time to walk out of the kitchen and take a picture with us. We don’t know if the 3 girls or the lone guy got a picture with him or not. When we left, we saw 3 Caucasian men in suits arrive for their seating.

Let’s talk about the seating for a minute. Our rsvp was for noon. We arrived at 11:45. The restaurant opens at 11:30. So did a group miss their 11:30 seating? Was there even a 11:30 seating? You must know that the Japanese are very punctual. When we got up from the sushi table, they didn’t plate our seats for the next seating. There were only 3 empty settings when we left which the 3 Caucasian men took. So I don’t really know when the first seating is and when the next seating for our seats would occur.  I’m assuming they don’t book all 10 seats for the same exact time, and that it’s staggered.  The lone guy came at 12:00; we would have gotten there at 12:00.  The 3 girls arrived at probaby 12:05.  The 3 caucasian men arrived at 12:15.  My guess is some people were late.

Cost

We paid 32,400 yen ($267 at the exchange rate when we went) per person.  They take credit cards and you usually don’t tip in Japan.

 

Conclusion

A part of me feels bad for Jiro. He’s the most famous sushi chef in the world due to the documentary. I’m sure he wants to cater to Japanese clientele, but because of his fame, his clientele are now mostly tourists who probably don’t follow his rules. If I were him, I’d be angry with all the disrespectful tourists on a daily basis too. On the other hand, due to his fame, he can now charge a lot more (I don’t know how much he charged before he became famous.) Like I said, when we went, all 10 people were foreigners.

Some people say his sushi has too much of a vinegar taste or that he has a different “style” of sushi. Whether you like that or not, just know that there may never be another sushi chef like him. What other 3 Michelin star restaurant still has the chef actually cooking or preparing your actual meal?  Similar to Venice sinking into the sea or the Maldives going underwater, I think eating at Jiro’s is one of those YOLO things you must do before he retires or passes away.

  • Lucy Condé

    Where is your photo with Jiro? Please post it! Im going to Japan on April and I will try to book it… Jiro is my dream!

  • Heather

    What an interesting experience! I’m totally jealous.

  • Steven

    To verify after having done the experience, you feel it was worth $267 and all things being equal you would do it again having gone through the process?

    • Vinh

      I’ve paid more at Eleven Madison Park so this wasn’t outrageous. Would I go again? Probably not. Just because it’s the experience more than the quality of the sushi to be honest.

      Would I go again for the first time? You bet!

    • Miles per Day

      Odd; my reply from months ago didn’t post. Anyway Steven, I felt it was worth $267 for the first “experience” and I’d do it again in a heartbeat; however, I wouldn’t go back a 2nd time.

  • HanksTravel

    So jealous… Just booked a flight to Kyoto next year via NRT. Tempted to overnight in Tokyo if we can get a reservation to Jiro. Just got Hyatt Diamond status as well.

    • Vinh

      I would do it but that’s me, but you have a very tight window to secure a reservation.