Using a guidebook published more than 20 years ago, this New York Times writer searches out the bars and restaurants that express Tokyo's traditional eating and drinking culture.

Uosan Sakaba, an izakaya on the far eastern side of Tokyo, May 2023. (Photo: The New York Times/James Whitlow Delano)

Upon landing in Tokyo in December, three years since my last visit, I thought about where I should first eat and drink in this vast, wondrous city. The answer was obvious: Iseto, an ancient sake-drinking den operating in the same wooden house since 1948.

I strolled down a narrow alleyway in the Kagurazaka neighborhood, slid open a door and was greeted by the owner, who asked me to wait while he cleared a spot at the bar. Four lone drinkers sat at the counter, pensive and serene. Two couples chatted quietly on the floor in the neighbouring tatami mat room. The homey yet horrifying scent of grilling kusaya, a salt-cured fermented fish, wafted through the place. It was just as if I was setting foot in here five, 15, maybe even 50 years ago – exactly as Iseto wanted it.