Statistics from the Tokyo Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health indicate 20 to 44 incidents of fugu poisoning per year between 1996 and 2006 in Japan (a single incident may involve multiple diners). Each year, these incidents led to between 34 and 64 victims being hospitalized and zero to six deaths, an average fatality rate of 6.8%. Of the 23 incidents reported in Tokyo from 1993 through 2006, only one took place in a restaurant. All others involved fishermen eating their catch.To obtain the fish, take the bus to the Kamon Wharf area. The recognised symbol for a certified fugu chef's establishment is the blue-and-white puffer fish image:
Kobe Beef in Kobe
Since I was staying in Kyoto, I thought a day-trip to Kobe to sample one of Japan's most famous culinary products was in order. That turned out to be a very smart, if expensive, decision. I took a train (round trip Y2100) to Kobe, about one hour distant, on the last night of my stay. Don't take the train all the way to Kobe proper, but get off at Sannomiya station instead. Come out the central gate, turn left, cross the street and make your way to the restaurant row. I ate at a place called "Steakland" and can highly recommend it.
Sashimi and More, in the Ginza
I arrived in Tokyo on Saturday afternoon, found a clean, well-located hotelthanks to the TIC, Tourist Information Center (which is located a confusing block north of Tokyo Station, but worth finding if you don't already have a booking), and went out for a night on the town. Ginza is Tokyo's top shopping destination, and it is also a famous dining and nightlife spot. I hadn't eaten lunch, so I was hungry. Ginza is famous for sushi, so I gave it a shot, and found (well, hard to miss actually) a restaurant a few steps from the Higashi-Ginza subway stop called Bikkuri Sushi Ginza. I selected the number 2 item on the menu, called Tsukuri-Moriawasi sashimi, the "Black Currant mixed platter", for Y2980.
I began wandering the neighborhood, vaguely keeping an eye out for a few of the places listed in the Rough Guide and/or the Lonely Planet Tokyo app for my iPhone. Luck was with me all night, for I stumbled upon Ginza Lion, though it looked like a big, old-fashioned restaurant. I explained to the maitre d' that I was looking for just drinking a beer, and was shown to this amazing beer hall downstairs. What a place--almost a Bavarian beer-hall, Ginza Lion was built in 1934 with colored-tile walls and pillars, as well as 10 murals. I fell into conversation with a nice Japanese couple, pictured, when music started playing and costumed members of the waitstaff burst into song. The Japanese people told me they visited regularly but had never been treated to the floor show before. The house beer was only Y577 (300 cc) and an order of pretzels, warm, soft, lightly salty and good, was Y2980, not bad by Tokyo standards.
This place caters to a younger crowd, and with my Japanese of course non-existent, and the average Japanese person's English not much better, I began to feel the wangtta, until a young fellow with decent English took the place of two girls I had more or less chased away I'm sure totally because of the language issues. Well, soon his friends joined him, another guy and two girls, and we talked. Somehow or other, the topic of Karaoke came up, and I suggested we could go--I would pay for the room, we would pay for our own drinks. Off we went for a fun hour together, they were so kind and funny and really made my Saturday night in the Ginza a truly memorable night! On top of everything else, they wouldn't let me pay anything at the end. We exchanged email addys, so I'll be sending them along this photo: