Restaurants & Bars

Advice for first-time visitors (family of 4), where one has a fish allergy?

smiles33 | Jan 6, 201909:51 AM     11

My family of four (2 adults and 2 tweens who will be 10 and 13) will be visiting Japan for the first time in Sept. 2019. We are a very food-oriented family and pick our vacation spots based on food. By way of background, we live in the San Francisco Bay Area so we often take our kids to casual ethnic restaurants (Afghan, Korean, Salvadorean, etc.) and they regularly enjoy unique foods like lengua tacos, empanadas, and Indian chaat. We also take them to more upscale restaurants when we're on vacation since they're well behaved. Thus, my kids have eaten escargot, foie gras, grilled octopus, raw oysters, roasted bone marrow, and other atypical fare. So I feel like anything is fair game provided it's not too awkward to bring kids to that venue.

When we go out to eat, we generally favor seafood, ethnic food, and unique ingredients (e.g., items we can't easily source or prepare as home chefs). My husband and I have enjoyed omakase meals at several excellent sushi bars here, but we usually take our kids to "Japanese American" restaurants so my younger daughter (who is allergic to finned fish, sesame, and peanuts) can order udon, ramen, or some other non-fish dish. While we love many cuisines, I want to capitalize on being in Japan and eating Japanese cuisine that is less available in California rather than fusion cuisines (although I hear Japanese fusion is sometimes superior to the original cuisine!).

Budget is not an issue. I don't know where we will be staying yet and I know Tokyo is huge. We’re willing to travel for a great recommendation. Since we only have about 9 days, I'm thinking of focusing on food in Tokyo but also booking a 1 night stay in a ryokan nearby (Hakone? Somewhere else?) to try a kaiseki dinner.

I am starting my research now, but my primary concern is that my youngest has a fish allergy (as well as allergies to sesame and peanuts), so I'm a bit worried about our options. I know we can print out a card with her allergies written in Japanese to show to waiters, but what about dashi, sesame oil, and "hidden ingredients" that may not be obvious? She can eat shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), but not any finned fish. Has anyone else had experience with a fish allergy in Japan? Any advice?

The other challenge is that the remaining three of us love sushi. Initially, my husband wanted to leave our 13 year old at the hotel/apartment rental with the 10 year old while the two of us go to sushi, but I think that's sad as she loves sushi more than me. Yet I assume there's no way we can bring our youngest and just have her sit there watching us eat since the restaurant would be unhappy with the seat being taken. I also can't imagine sushi bars in Japan will allow us to order sushi to go....Any suggestions?

Finally, we do not speak any Japanese. We are of Chinese descent, so upon first glance, locals may not realize we are gaijin. I am hoping we can ask our hotel concierge to make reservations for us. I usually only book apartment rentals (we like more space to relax and read a book or watch a movie between meals). However, my preliminary research seems to show that reservations are far harder to make in Japan (especially if one doesn't speak any Japanese). I was able to email restaurants in Italy, but it doesn't sound like that's a common practice in Japan.

Thanks for any advice and suggestions!

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