Five of the best: Where to get your fix of Japan in the inner west

A TASTE OF TOKYO: Chef Toru Nakajima outside his Haberfield restaurant, Yakitori Jin. Picture: Washokulovers
A TASTE OF TOKYO: Chef Toru Nakajima outside his Haberfield restaurant, Yakitori Jin. Picture: Washokulovers

Before the pandemic hit, Japan was the seventh most popular destination for Australians heading oversease, and with international travel back on the cards sooner than expected, it may not be long before a trip to Japan is a real possibility.

In the meantime, the inner west has some top-class Japanese dining and cultural experiences which are back on offer now that lockdown has lifted. From izakaya to Kyudo Kai, here are five of our favourites.

Tokyo express

Tucked away in the backstreets of Tokyo are hundreds of 'izakaya,' small bars frequented by the city's salarymen after a busy day at work.

Third-generation chef Toru Nakajima opened Yakitori Jin in Haberfield to introduce the inner west to izakaya culture. "There weren't so many good Japanese restaurants in the inner west, so I saw an an opportunity to bring Japanese cuisine here," he said.

As well as yakitori (chicken skewers grilled over hot coals) chef Toru and his team serve up ramen, sushi and other Japanese classics. He says since he moved to Australia from Japan 15 years ago, people have become more familiar with Japanese food.

"Some of the customers have travelled to Japan many times, before corona of course, and they know the real flavour of Japanese food. They often say to us, 'I feel like I'm in Tokyo without boarding a plane'."

Yakitori Jin, 101 Ramsay Street, Haberfield

Ramen revelation

NEWTOWN'S NOODLE: Breakfast ramen with butter-infused broth is one of Rising Sun Workshop's signature dishes. Picture: Facebook/Rising Sun Workshop

NEWTOWN'S NOODLE: Breakfast ramen with butter-infused broth is one of Rising Sun Workshop's signature dishes. Picture: Facebook/Rising Sun Workshop

A communal motorcycle workshop isn't where you'd expect to taste some of Sydney's best ramen. But that's what you can expect at Rising Sun Workshop, with quirky menu items like butter-infused Breakfast Ramen.

While some might scratch heads over how award winning ramen came to be in a motorbike workshop, the mash-up actually makes sense. After all, Japanese brands like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki dominate the motorbike market.

Chef Nick Smith says there's a philosophical link too. Both motorbike customisation and ramen "obey central ideas of tradition and history" while being "open for reinterpretation and reinvention." He said in Japan Ramen isn't one thing, but differs region to region and Rising Sun ramen is the Newtown take on the classic.

Rising Sun Workshop, 1C Whateley Street, Newtown

Aiming for inner calm

ENLIGHTENED ARROW: Students build personal skills through this traditional form of archery. Picture: Sydney Kyudo Kai/ Erell Delesvaux

ENLIGHTENED ARROW: Students build personal skills through this traditional form of archery. Picture: Sydney Kyudo Kai/ Erell Delesvaux

For practitioners of Kyudo Kai, it's more than a sport, it's a path to self-improvement.

Kyudo is a form of Japanese archery dating back to 500 BC, and for the past eight years Sydney Kyudo Kai has been keeping the ancient art alive in the inner west. The not-for-profit group runs beginner classes for anyone looking to "polish the spirit and calm the mind".

Instructor Peter Dodd learned the art in Japan in the 1980s, and he says students "enjoy the feeling of acquiring a set of esoteric skills outside of normal Aussie experience".

"It's a non-competitive environment too, you only measure yourself against yourself," he said.

Sydney Kyudo Kai, Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus, Leichhardt

Touch of tradition

TEMPLE TREATS: A traditional temple food cookery class at Ryokan Gojyuan. Picture: Ryokan Gojyuan

TEMPLE TREATS: A traditional temple food cookery class at Ryokan Gojyuan. Picture: Ryokan Gojyuan

If you're looking for the quintessential Japanese experience you can't go past Ryokan Gojyuan in Balmain - although you will have to join the queue.

The traditional-style guesthouse holds workshops in Japanese tea ceremonies, kimonos, calligraphy, origami and flower arrangement, and you can also stay the night. The two-room inn is set around a koi pond and a Japanese garden so guests can enjoy the tranquility of the far east in the inner west.

Expect tatami floors, futon bedding, a traditional Japanese bath and a philosophy of 'omotenashi,' a mindset of wholeheartedly looking after guests.

While they are booked out for the rest of this year, reservations are open for 2022, when their workshops will also resume.

Ryokan Gojyuan, 208 Darling Street, Balmain

The sharpest tools in the shed

Looking to sharpen your kitchen skills? The Chef's Armory has you covered. With high-end Japanese knives, cookware, tableware and hibachi grills the Chef's Armory will have you cooking in like an Iron Chef in no time. To save you the stress of deciding, the team says they curate only the best kitchen products Japan has to offer.

But if you'd rather skip dinner and go straight to drinks, Chef's Armory founders Leigh and Stephanie Hudson are also certified 'kikisake shi' or "sake sommeliers." The wide range of sake, and the Chef's Armory tasting workshops, will certainly keep you in high spirits!

The Chef's Armory, 105 Percival Road, Stanmore