The sign on the door clearly said “Reservations Only,” but we were too hungry and entered anyway. The six customers turned around in unison, jaws and eyes frozen on us. I asked if we could eat, prompting one of the customers to speak to the chef.
“How did you find the restaurant?” he asked.
“It showed up on Google Maps,” I replied.
After some conversation in Japanese between the customers and chef, a woman told us to sit and wait. While we didn’t feel like we were intruding, there was a sense we were a slight inconvenience.
Fifteen minutes passed. Our uncertainty (and hunger) grew as all but one of the customers gradually left the restaurant. Eventually, we graduated to the sushi bar.
“Only sushi, OK?” chef Susumu Yajima grunted. It was more than “OK”; it was exactly what we were craving. Chef Susumu’s serious tone indicated it might be an intense and strict dinner.
He served carefully crafted sushi on shiny black plates, giving us clear instructions.
“Eat quickly! No chopsticks. Grab, grab!”
After the first piece, I was in sushi heaven. The flavor was beyond oishi (delicious). As soon as we finished the beer we had, he rinsed our glasses and served us sake from a big bottle. Each piece of sushi was now paired with small sips of Japanese rice liquor. His sake accentuated the richness of each bite.
After a few plates, Chef Susumu again asked how we found his restaurant. I repeated our story: we had found it on GPS, and liked that it was secluded from busy streets.
Chef Susumu explained proudly that his restaurant had been the subject of an article titled ‘The Ten Commandments of Sushi.” Bringing it up on an iPad, he asked if we had read it. We hadn’t, but noted it was indeed an impressive endorsement.
We talked about our trip to Tokyo, including sites we had visited, as we continued eating. Chef Susumu filled us in on his restaurant’s history; it was a local family business with an international reputation. Our conversation was possible thanks to Yoshiko, his wife, who along with a lingering customer spoke great English.
Not only was the sushi was excellent, but the natural and honest exchange we had with Chef Susumu and Yoshiko made dinner more than just a memorable meal. Earlier in the day we had eaten sushi at Tsukiji, Tokyo’s famous fish market, which Chef Susumu dismissed as an “amusement park.” While we thought the sushi there had been great, it was no match for the Yajima experience.
A must-see culinary destination in Tokyo if you want to experience authentic sushi. Just be sure to reserve in advance!
Yajima Sushi 1–26–31 Higashi Floor B1, 大島Building Shibuya-ku