Contributed by: Sam Adler | Last Date of Travel: March 2008 (With contributions from Josh Margo | Last Date of Travel: April 2006)
Kosher Info: Eating kosher in Japan is very easy… if you have a kitchen! With some of the best quality fruits and vegetables being shipped to Japan, and of course the fish, if you are planning on being in Tokyo for more than a few days, staying in a place with a kitchen is well worth your while. That said, most will be passing through and staying in a hotel, so keeping kosher here is a bit more tricky. My wife and I lived there for 2 years as one of about 4 to 6 frum families (depending on the month…people come and go), so we know the ropes of this town, and of Kobe, where we visited a few times. The Chabad house will supply meals for travelers, and of course, Shabbat hospitality. Visit Chabad.jp for more info.
Kosher Restaurants: There are currently no supervised Kosher restaurants in Tokyo. The Chabad House is planning on opening one when their renovations are complete later this year (2008). However, the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills has worked with Chabad for years, and can prepare a kosher meal, under the supervision of Rabbi Sudakavich, but it’s not cheap. We had a sushi dinner there for our anniversary and it was about $150 per person…but worth every single bite! There are also some Zen Buddhist restaurants that are vegan and most likely essentially kosher, however cannot be recommended for the basic reasons of: Bishul, Avoda Zarah, and of course, unsure of what processed products they use (oils, vinegars, any glycerin drops in their tofu making, etc. since there’s no supervision. If you speak Japanese, have kashrut supervision knowledge, and want to do a mitzvah, go and convince these places to become kosher!
Kosher Food Shopping: There are 2 international supermarkets in the Minato-ku area of Tokyo, both near Roppongi. One is called National Azabu, the other is called Nissin. While expensive, both have many hechshured items including frozen H&H bagels, canned foods (tuna), cereals, chips, etc (and there is frozen pizzas & burritos by Amy’s Organic’s). We were told that 100% Milk (not 2% or skim or any other) is ok, but is obviously not Chalav Israel, and I have heard some people dispute the kashrus of Japanese milk recently. I was told by Rabbi Hertsel Simantov, who is a mashgiach for the OK, that 100% milk was ok in 2006/2007, but we no longer live there, and I cannot vouch for it now. Ask your Rabbi, or contact Rabbi Simantov, who can be contacted through the Chabad Rabbi (www.chabad.jp).
Tourist Info: There is so much to see in Japan but I will highlight some places that cannot be missed. If you like shopping and the high tech industry Tokyo is the place to be. They have some nice museums and parks. But if you really want to get the Japan experience you need to go to Shinjuku during rush hour. Its the busiest train and bus station in the world. Probably about ten times busier than Grand Central Station in New York (no joke).
If you are the historical and art buff like I am the place to be is Kyoto (consult your Rabbi about rules for entering shrines and temples). Kyoto is host to some of the most beautiful architecture in the world. I would definitely recommend going to the UNESCO sights first and even just walking around the city is a learning experience. The train station in Kyoto is world class, with a shopping mall attached to it there is a lot to do and some very nice shopping in the area.
As for day trips to the country side. I would check out Nara and the Mount Fuji areas. Nara is home of the largest Buda and the city of the deer. You have never seen anything like it there are deer everywhere. In the Mount Fuji area besides the great hiking is home of Fujiku, which is a great amusement park. The rides are some of highest and longest in the world and the Haunted is house in no joke. They know how to do scary!
Jewish Info: There are few places to spend Shabbat, but there is only one official Chabad house in Tokyo that services the frum community, centrally located in Shirokane-takanawa. They have recently opened their new location, scheduled for full completion in the Fall of 2008. The new location will have a mikvah, shul, restaurant, school, library and lounge. They also host very well attended dinners for all of the holidays. Past holiday meal events like Passover and Rosh Hashanna were held at the Grand Hyatt, and given they get over 200 people for them, will most likely continue to be there. The ones we went to were amazing. 5 star food. There are hotels recommended on their website which are Shabbat friendly, and the new location is closest to the wonderful Miyako hotel.
The JCC of Tokyo has recently demolished their building and are in temporary facilities until they complete their renovation, scheduled for August of 2009. The rabbi of the JCC is affiliated with the Conservative movement.
For a little history on The Jews of Japan, check out this article.
Check out the blog of this author, Sam Adler, as he and his wife spend 3 years in Japan: