Spring always arrives with a rush. One week it can feel like mid-winter; the next, there’s cherry blossoms everywhere.
Where best to view it? For location, it’s hard to beat Izuei Umegawatei.
This old-school unagi (eel) specialist stands in the heart of Ueno Park, just steps from the zoo and the historic Toshogu Shrine, surrounded by a sea of sakura (cherry blossoms).
That’s the view from the upstairs dining room, if you are lucky (or patient) enough to snare one of the tables — and happy to sit in traditional style at low tables on tatami mats.
Izuei was founded 300 years ago as a street stall. But its current incarnation is more a throwback to the 1990s, with waitresses in kimono, retro kitsch decor and “plinkety” koto music, with the tune “Sakura” on heavy rotation. So, too, with the food, which is adequate, but institutional.
Besides eel — served on rice either as kabayaki (in boxes) or donburi (bowls) — Izuei Umegawatei offers set meals ranging from light bento boxed lunches to elaborate banquets.
Look carefully, though, and you will find a small, hand-written menu of daily specials of seafood, seasonal vegetables or sansai (wild plants).
With a flask or two of sake, that is the way to celebrate the blossoms in classic style.
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