Irrashaimase! If you love Japanese food, and you live in Makati, you're in luck: Little Tokyo is literally just around the corner. All you have to do is drive long Pasong Tamo (a.k.a. Chino Roces), look for the torii with the words "Little Tokyo" emblazoned on them, and you're there!
Founded by Japanese nationals who eventually settled in the Philippines, Little Tokyo has a unique culture of its own. Most of its restaurants are open only during lunch and dinner, and some of them have rules you won't find anywhere else. To illustrate, some restaurants will require you to take off your shoes before you eat, so it helps to wear slip-ons and the like.
For those who can only spare 24 hours in this destination unlike any other, here's a list of restaurants you can check out to get a feel for the culture of Little Tokyo.
Opening Hours: 11:30 A.M. – 2:30 P.M., 6:00 P.M. – 11:00 P.M. (Monday – Friday), 11:30 A.M. – 11:00 P.M. (Saturday – Sunday)
Compared to the others on this list, Hana is quite small: The place can accommodate around 20 patrons at most. However, as anyone who's been there will tell you, their takoyaki is to die for — with half a dozen well-seasoned, large octopus balls that make for a satisfying snack. Hana also serves great kakigori or flavored ice, in case you're craving for dessert.
Opening Hours: 11:00 A.M. – 1:30 P.M., 6:00 P.M. to 10:30 P.M. (Monday – Sunday)
This one's a regular on Booky's "Most Loved Restaurants," and with good reason. Aside from its distinctly Japanese ambience, Kikufuji is also known for its high-quality sushi. You also want to give their gyu kushi (grilled beef barbeque) a try, as it is soft, tender and tasty.
Opening Hours: 11:30 A.M. – 3:00 P.M., 6:00 P.M. – 10:30 P.M. (Tuesday – Sunday)
It's hard to describe okonomiyaki, apart from the name translating to "cooked as you like." You could say it's a sort of Japanese pancake — except it's covered in meat, vegetables, sauces and other ingredients you normally wouldn't find on a pancake. At any rate, if you want to try this unique food, Kagura is the place to go.
Opening Hours: 11:30 A.M. – 2:30 P.M., 5:00 P.M. – 12:00 M.N. (Monday – Sunday)
Those who like sumo-sized dishes will feel right at home in Sekitori. Oddly enough, they don't serve the traditional sumo wrestlers' meal chanko nabe, but they more than make up for it with generous amounts of noodles complete with side dishes that would make you think twice about ordering seconds.
Opening Hours: 11:30 A.M. – 2:00 P.M., 6:00 P.M. – 10:30 P.M. (Monday – Sunday)
For a "real" sushi experience, you can't go wrong with Seryna. If you're lucky enough to sit at the counter, you can watch the chef himself whip up your meals with skill, speed and grace. Their teppa maki (tuna roll) is a must-try, and it goes well with wasabi if you like spicy food.
Opening Hours: 10:30 A.M. – 11:00 P.M. (Monday – Sunday)
Shinjuku calls itself the "home of authentic ramen," which is pretty accurate. Their ramen is warm, delicious and comes in large servings. Plus, their interiors are clean and stylish, so it's perfect for both casual and formal occasions.
Opening Hours: 5:00 P.M. – 1:00 A.M. (Monday – Sunday)
Every Monday to Wednesday, Urameshi-Ya offers unlimited yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) to the lucky customers who get there first. This restaurant is best for groups, though solo food trippers will find stuff like their yakisoba (fried noodles) satisfying enough.
Opening Hours: 9:30 A.M. – 9:30 P.M. (Monday – Sunday)
Yamazaki Bento is part-restaurant, part-convenience store. Here, you can order perennial, budget-friendly favorites such as katsu curry, or browse through their selection of ingredients directly imported from Japan.
Opening Hours: 11:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M., 6:00 P.M. – 1:00 A.M. (Monday – Friday), 11:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M., 6:00 P.M. – 12:00 M.N. (Saturday – Sunday)
Technically, Dojo Dairy is more of an ice cream station than a restaurant. You can literally just drop by, and ask for unique flavors like green tea and black sesame. Despite how they sound, those flavors are actually quite good, since the ice cream is made from the famously light yet creamy Hokkaido milk.
Opening Hours: 11:20 A.M. – 2:30 P.M., 5:00 P.M. – 1:00 A.M. (Monday – Sunday)
According to Japanese expats, this is the place that serves dishes most similar to those of their home country. They also serve seasonal food like the infamous fugu, so be sure to ask the waiter about these before you order.
Opening Hours: 10:30 A.M. – 2:30 P.M., 5:30 P.M. – 11:00 P.M. (Monday – Sunday)
Oishinbo has an unassuming izakaya atmosphere, which is as basic as it gets for Japanese restaurants. It serves a wide variety of must-try dishes like sashimi, yakitori and gyudon.
Opening Hours: 5:30 P.M. – 12:30 A.M. (Monday – Saturday), 4:30 P.M. – 11:30 P.M. (Sunday)
Aside from alcohol, Riozen also serves ramen, nabe (Japanese hotpot), sushi and yakitori. Sometimes, the owner serves special Okinawan treats as a tribute to her place of origin.
A Few More Words
Of course, these restaurants have so much more to offer than what's been said here so far. The best way to get to know Little Tokyo is to actually visit it, so why not do that right now?
Little Tokyo is located at 2277 Don Chino Roces Avenue (a.k.a. Pasong Tamo) corner Fernando Street, Makati City.