If you’re looking for a very Japanese experience, this is a place you’ll need to put on the itinerary.

Whenever our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma drives around the northern Kanto region, he often sees similar-looking buildings that are lit up at night like mini theme parks. The buildings themselves tend to be so grand that they look like samurai residences, but in actual fact they’re branches of a restaurant chain called “いっちょう”, which goes by the spelling “Icho” or “Icchou” in English, depending on whether you look at the official website or the holding company that manages it (yes, it’s weird, we know).

▼ Masanuki has long been curious to try the restaurant, so it was a happy evening when he was able to stop by for a meal on a recent trip to Tochigi Prefecture.

This restaurant has branches in Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Nagano prefectures, and they’re easily identifiable by their grand exteriors, maintained by an in-house construction department. According to the holding company, this construction department builds each restaurant from scratch and carries out any necessary repairs and renovations quickly and efficiently, due to the fact that it’s all in-house.

▼ With so much attention given to the look of the building, and its 117-car parking lot, Masanuki had high hopes for what would be served inside.

The grand gate at the front was beautifully constructed, and after walking through it, Masanuki’s jaw dropped at the sheer beauty of the exterior…and the garden courtyard that wrapped around it.

▼ Like stepping back in time to another era, with private rooms that look like Edo-era row houses.

While the building looked traditional, the reception was entirely modern, as Masanuki had to press a big red button on a touch panel to notify the waitstaff of his presence. As he’d arrived late in the evening, no one else was waiting at the reception area so a waiter immediately appeared and guided him to a table.

He was glad for the guidance, because the place was so huge he could’ve gotten lost in there.

The restaurant consists of private and semi-private rooms, making you feel as if you’re in a high-class establishment. Masanuki almost squealed in delight when he was shown to his room, as it was a private one with a window that faced out to the inner courtyard.

▼ The private rooms are all arranged around the courtyard.

While the restaurant looks fancy, the prices are not, and to top it all off, the menu is huuuuge, with 700-800 dishes to choose from, covering meals for adults and children as well.

▼ Some of the options include eel, soba, sushi, and even Western meals like pizza.

▼ There are “Pair Sets” and “Trio Sets”, which are great value for money.

Masanuki was blown away by all the choices, so he ended up asking the waiter what they would recommend. They told him the Sushi Tempura Gozen Small Udon Set (1,419 yen [US$9.92]) was popular, so he decided to go with this recommendation.

▼ About 10 minutes later, the set meal arrived.

This was a hearty set of sushi, tempura, steamed egg custard, salad, pickles, udon noodles, and an almond jelly for dessert. All this for less than ten bucks, complete with a relaxing private room and courtyard view, made it an incredibly great deal, and it was much more than Masanuki had ever expected.

▼ As for the food, it was all delicious — the udon was smooth, and the sushi had been made with care from start to finish.

▼ While it may not have been as fancy as the food you’d get in a high-class restaurant, it was still tasty, good quality stuff.

In fact, it was so good that Masanuki found himself returning a number of times after his first visit to try some of the other dishes on the menu, like the Salmon Zukushi Mori Koudon Set (“Salmon Variety Serving with Small Udon Set”) and the Kaisen Midare Don (“Seafood Disarray Rice Bowl”), priced at 1,309 yen and 2,189 yen respectively.

▼ The Seafood Disarray

Every dish he tried was delicious, but perhaps because it was recommended to him, the first meal he ordered, the Sushi Tempura Gozen Small Udon Set, remained his favourite.

If you’d like to try a lot of dishes in one sitting, Masanuki recommends visiting with a group of friends. That way, you can try a bit of everything and feel like a band of hungry samurai, in perfectly suitable surroundings.

And if you’re thinking about ordering tonkatsu from the extensive menu, this etiquette manual will come in handy!

Restaurant information
Kaizentei Icho Tochigi Branch / 海山亭いっちょう 栃木店
Address: Tochigi-ken, Tochigi-shi, Jonaicho 2-2-7
Open: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. (Sun-Thu) Last entry 9:00 p.m., last order 9:30 p.m.; 11:00 a.m.-midnight. (Fri and Sat) Last entry 11:00 p.m., last order 11:30 p.m.

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