Friday, April 4, 2014

Japan - Tokyo and Kyoto

In January 2012 my husband and I decided to travel to Japan but when we started looking into hotels we were stumped. We didn't know where to start! There were so many neighborhoods in Tokyo and each seemed so different. We started by putting together a list of the sights we wanted to see and picked neighborhoods situated close by.

We ended up picking two Tokyo neighborhoods to be our home base:
  • Asakusa: Well known for the Senso-ji Buddhist temple and shopping street lined with stalls offering a variety of traditional and local snacks. The atmosphere and architecture feels like it has been preserved for centuries. I mispronounced it so at first no one knew what I was talking about. It's not pronounced "asa-kusa" but rather, "aa-saak-saa". :o)
  • Chiyoda: We picked this neighborhood because it was centrally located and close to the Hanzomon station. Our hotel was also walking distance to the Imperial Palace and gardens.
We broke apart our time in Tokyo (6 days total) by taking the shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto for 3 days. We applied for a Japan Rail Pass by purchasing a Exchange Order from an authorized agent BEFORE arriving in Japan. You cannot purchase the Japan Rail Pass inside Japan. Once we arrived at NRT airport we exchanged the orders for passes. This gave us discounted shinkansen tickets from Tokyo-Kyoto and unlimited 7-day use of the JR Group trains. Subways and train lines were a little confusing because there are a few separate companies that run trains through the same stations. The Tokyo Metro operates additional lines. We ended up purchasing a PASMO stored value card to take the metro as well as our Japan Rail Pass when navigating throughout Tokyo and Kyoto.


The Japan Rail Pass makes a pretty souvenir
The Japan Rail Pass makes a pretty souvenir 

Observations about Japanese culture
  • I was told by friends who lived in Japan that eating while walking down the street or on the subway is frowned upon. It was confirmed when we bought a snack from a vendor near the Senso-ji temple and the lady who sold it to us asked us to step to the side of the vendor stall to enjoy it.
  • Talking on your mobile phone while on public transit is discouraged. I saw signs posted in subway cars and during our entire time in Tokyo I witnessed only one person talking on her mobile. She covered her mouth and spoke very softly and ended the conversation quickly.
  • I never felt unsafe walking around even very late at night. People are honest and helpful - one woman noticed that another subway passenger left her mobile phone on her seat when she exited. She grabbed the phone, ran off the subway car, returned the phone, and came back on board.
  • People are helpful but they won't go out of their way to ask if you need help. If you ask for directions people are generally very accommodating but even if you're struggling with a map and looking around, no one will stop to ask if you need help. I believe this is because people are embarrassed to speak English. We had a few people tell us that their English was very poor when it was actually pretty good. 
  • Addresses rarely contain street names but rather numbers which denote the block (how is any foreigner supposed to know a city's block number?) and building number. It was extremely hard for me to find anything, even with a map and a phone with a working GPS. We had to ask for directions often.
  • If you decide to visit any bath houses (onsen) be aware that they may not let you in if you have tattoos.
Tokyo Part 1 - 3 days
  • I highly recommend getting a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees - I used my Discover card (known as Diner's Club in Japan). I also have a checking account at First Republic Bank that allows me to make worldwide ATM withdrawals without a fee. 
  • We stayed at Sakura Hostel in Asakusa. I love hostels because you have access to a kitchen (you can make your own cheap breakfast!) and you meet really interesting people from all over the world. One night when I was getting ready for bed I met a woman from Spain named Livi who was traveling with her mom and brother. We all hung out one evening, exchanged contact information, and became Facebook friends. More about Livi later! Read reviews of Sakura Hostel in Asakusa.
  • For some reason I love visiting Family Mart stores while in Japan. They're kind of like 7-Eleven but in Asia they're amazing. Perusing their cold coffee drink selection alone is worth a visit.
Tokyo - A coffee-lover's dream at Family Mart
Tokyo - A coffee-lover's dream at Family Mart
  • We visited the Senso-ji temple and the street vendors surrounding the area. The doors to the temple were massive - everything was so enormous that it was difficult fitting it all in one picture. Especially if you wanted to be in it!
Tokyo - Senso-ji temple
Tokyo - Senso-ji temple

Tokyo - Massive lantern and doors of Senso-ji temple
Tokyo - Massive lantern and doors of Senso-ji temple

Tokyo - You need a wide-angle lens to fit yourself in a photo with Senso-ji temple!
Tokyo - You need a wide-angle lens to fit yourself in a photo with Senso-ji temple!

Tokyo - Vendors selling traditional and local snacks line the streets near Senso-ji temple
Tokyo - Vendors selling traditional and local snacks line the streets near Senso-ji temple

Tokyo - A schoolgirl (love her hat!) buys a rice cracker from a street vendor
Tokyo - A schoolgirl (love her hat!) buys a rice cracker from a street vendor

Tokyo - My husband enjoys a red bean dessert
Tokyo - My husband enjoys a red bean dessert

Tokyo - The streets of Asakusa look like something from centuries past
Tokyo - The streets of Asakusa look like something from centuries past
  • We happened to be in Tokyo during a sumo tournament so we took the subway to Ryogoku and visited the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium. We bought tickets at the box office and got settled into our seats. Tickets ¥3600/US$33 per person.
Tokyo - Sumo wrestling
Tokyo - Sumo wrestling. It was still early in the tournament - notice all the empty seats?

Tokyo - Toilet gadget found in the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium
Tokyo - Many toilets in Japan come with fancy gadgets. Each stall in the ladies room at the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium came with this - push this flushing sound effect to mask any unpleasant sounds. I wonder if you find this in the men's room as well?

Tokyo - This is a control panel for your toilet in the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium!
Tokyo - This is a control panel for your toilet in the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium! 

Tokyo - More sumo wrestling. As the afternoon progresses we see higher ranked and more elaborately dressed athletes and officials.

Tokyo - Ordering kitsune udon from a ticket vending machine
Tokyo - You can order food in the stadium but we ventured out nearby to get a bowl of noodles. You don't order from a waiter, instead you put your money into this machine and push a button that corresponds to your order. I was overwhelmed with the menu choices and I couldn't read anything so I ended up gesturing to someone who worked at the restaurant and he showed me how to use the machine. After paying you receive a ticket which you hand to an attendant.

Tokyo - Kitsune udon
Tokyo - Kitsune udon ordered from a ticket vending machine! Cost: US$9 for 2 people.

Tokyo - Back to the ring in time to catch the final group of sumo wrestlers take to the stage before they face off in their matches.

Tokyo - One of the final matches of the evening
Tokyo - One of the final matches of the evening. Notice how all the seats are now filled!
  • We checked out Akihabara, a neighborhood known for its electronics stores and maid cafes where costumed workers offer simple and cheap food and drink and conversation. Nothing suspect goes on here but for some additional yen you can get extras like cute messages written in ketchup or a snapshot with a maid.
Tokyo - The streets of Akihabara
Tokyo - The streets of Akihabara

Tokyo - A maid cafe worker and a potential client
Tokyo - A maid cafe worker and a potential client
  • We ate as often as we could and on one particular night we had 2 dinners. :o)
Tokyo - Dinner #1 of sushi
Tokyo - Dinner #1 of sushi. Cost: US$40 for 2 people.

Tokyo - Dinner #2 of grilled unagi, hitsumabushi style
Tokyo - Dinner #2 of grilled unagi, hitsumabushi style. Hitsumabushi means you enjoy your unagi in 3 ways: (step 1) eat it as it is, (step 2) mixed with a selection of seasonings, and (step 3) in an ochazuke style, with a dashi broth poured over the top. Cost: US$30 for 2 people.
  • The next day we went in search of a restaurant called Sasa no Yuki (2-15-10 Negishi, Taito-ku) to try their 7-course tofu lunch. Read reviews for Sasa-no-Yuki on TripAdvisor. I don't remember every course but I'll try to describe them the best I can. Cost: US$80 for 2 people.
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #1
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #1 - plain with dipping sauce and garnishes

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #2 - acorn tofu
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #2 - acorn tofu

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #3
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #3 - the sauce was mildly sweet, the mustard was spicy

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #4 - tofu milk
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #4 - tofu milk

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #5 - fried tofu
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #5 - fried tofu

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #6 - rice, tofu, and broth
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #6 - rice, tofu, and broth

Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #7 - tofu ice cream
Tokyo - Tofu lunch course #7 - tofu ice cream
  • For dinner we went to Maisen (4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) for pork tonkatsu. It was so incredible that we came here again on a different night. Read reviews of Maisen on TripAdvisor.

Tokyo - First dinner at Maisen
Tokyo - First dinner at Maisen. So good that we came back on another night.

  • Asakusa is known for its tempura so on the day we left for Kyoto we went in search of Tokyo's most famous tempura restaurant, Daikokuya (1-38-10 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo Prefecture). It's been around for over 100 years and the line went out the door so I was expecting it to be amazing but I was disappointed - I couldn't get over the sogginess of the tempura. Read reviews of Daikokuya on TripAdvisor.
Tokyo - Tempura at Kaikokyua. It was tasty but I found it to be soggy.
Tokyo - Tempura at Daikokyua. It was tasty but I found it to be soggy. :o(

Kyoto - 3 days
  • We took the shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.
  • We wanted to try a few different accommodations while in Kyoto so we stayed in a different location each of the 3 nights we were there: (night 1) a capsule hotel, (night 2) a ryokan, and (night 3) a regular hotel.
Tokyo-Kyoto - Shinkansen bullet train
Tokyo-Kyoto - Shinkansen bullet train

Kyoto - The first picture I took in Kyoto is of this vending machine
Kyoto - The first picture I took in Kyoto was of this vending machine

Kyoto - Beautiful lanterns line the street
Kyoto - Beautiful lanterns line the street
  • We were told that people in Kyoto are a little more traditional. For example, when you're done with your meal, your waiter and the restaurant host will walk you to the restaurant door to send you off. Sometimes they'll even step outside to watch you walk away; they'll remain there until you've turned down another block. 
  • We arrived in Kyoto at around dinner time so we found an izakaya place near where we were staying. They didn't have menus in English and our waiter didn't speak much English but we were able to communicate through hand gestures. And we got some recommendations from fellow patrons who were seated at our communal table. After dinner, our waiter and restaurant host stood outside on the street to send us off. :o)
Kyoto - Various small dishes
Kyoto - Various small dishes

Kyoto - Tempura
Kyoto - Tempura

Kyoto - Grilled salty mackerel
Kyoto - Grilled salty mackerel. Enjoyed by breaking off a small piece of mackerel, adding it to the rice, and pouring in a dashi broth. The mackerel is very salty so the rice and broth help mellow it out.
  • For our first night in Kyoto we stayed at Nine Hours Capsule hotel. Read reviews of Nine Hours Capsule Hotel on TripAdvisor. Capsule hotels have been around since the 70s, catering to business people looking for a place to sleep for a few hours after staying out too late and missing their last train home. At Nine Hours, men and women stay on different floors so Mike and I said goodnight in the lobby before heading up to our capsules.
Kyoto - Nine Hours sign
Kyoto - Nine Hours sign

Kyoto - Nine Hours front lobby
Kyoto - Nine Hours front lobby

Kyoto - Leave your shoes in a locker in the lobby
Kyoto - Leave your shoes in a locker in the lobby and slip into Nine Hours issued slippers

Kyoto - Leave your luggage in another locker in the lobby
Kyoto - Leave your luggage in another locker in the lobby

Kyoto - Men and women take separate elevators to men-only and women-only floors
Kyoto - Men and women take separate elevators to men-only and women-only floors

Kyoto - Find your floor based on your assigned capsule
Kyoto - Find your floor based on your assigned capsule

Kyoto - locker room at Nine Hours
Kyoto - Stash your street clothes in your locker and change into Nine Hours issued sleeping garments.

Kyoto - Brush your teeth using your Nine Hours issued toothbrush
Kyoto - Brush your teeth with your Nine Hours issued toothbrush

Kyoto - Step into a numbered shower stall
Kyoto - Step into a numbered shower stall

Kyoto - capsules
Kyoto - Ready for bed? Take the stairs to the capsules. Some of your neighbors have already settled in. Leave your slippers on the floor and draw your shade down for privacy.

Kyoto - Locate your capsule number
Kyoto - Locate your capsule number

Kyoto - Hope you have a good night's sleep!
Kyoto - Hope you have a good night's sleep!
  • The next day we checked out a grocery store where we picked up a few things for lunch. I love the amazing selection of ready-to-eat items!
Kyoto - Boxed lunches
Kyoto - Boxed lunches

Kyoto - Onigiri rice balls
Kyoto - Onigiri rice balls with different fillings, some wrapped with seaweed

Kyoto - So many types of chips
Kyoto - So many types of chips

Kyoto - Indoor mall
Kyoto - Indoor mall 
  • We rented bikes from Nine Hours and rode them around the Gion district
Kyoto - Streets in the Gion district
Kyoto - Streets in the Gion district

Kyoto - Starting off on our bike adventure
Kyoto - Starting off on our bike adventure

Kyoto - Cool tree and exposed roots at a temple
Kyoto - Cool tree and exposed roots at a temple

Kyoto - Elaborate gate to a temple
Kyoto - Elaborate gate to a temple and gardens

Kyoto - Zen rock garden
Kyoto - Zen rock garden

Kyoto - Ornate roof of a temple
Kyoto - Ornate roof of a temple

Kyoto - Lanterns
Kyoto - Lanterns

Kyoto - Streets of Gion district
Kyoto - Streets of the Gion district

Kyoto - Streets of Gion district
Kyoto - Streets of the Gion district

Kyoto - Shops line the streets of the Gion district
Kyoto - Shops line the streets of the Gion district

Kyoto - Hostesses from a nearby restaurant
Kyoto - Hostesses from a nearby restaurant
  • For our second night in Kyoto we decided to stay in a ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn that features tatami-matted rooms, baths, and kaiseki included in the price of your stay. Kaiseki is a meal of a number of small, varied dishes. We stayed at Hiiragiya Bekkan Annex where we enjoyed a small snack upon check-in. Cost: US$410 for 1 night stay which included a private bath, dinner and breakfast kaiseki meals for 2 people.
Kyoto - Matcha green tea, tea, and a small pastry made the perfect snack
Kyoto - Matcha green tea, tea, and a small pastry made the perfect snack
  • Kaiseki meals consist of several courses of small dishes. Since each dish is meant to be enjoyed at the proper temperature, guests must confirm their dinner time and be punctual for their meal. Our kaiseki dinner wouldn't be served for a few hours so we decided to wander around and find a more substantial snack. We asked our hostess where we could find ramen. It might have been a language barrier or disapproval (why on earth would we want to ruin our appetite with ramen when we're about to have an amazing 8-course dinner?) but we set off without any guidance. 
Kyoto - takoyaki stand
Kyoto - We didn't find ramen but we did find a takoyaki stand in a mall

Kyoto - Takoyaki
Kyoto - Takoyaki (octopus balls) with various toppings (bonito flakes, spicy mayonnaise, ponzu)

Kyoto - This is no relaxing foot massage
Kyoto - I was looking forward to a nice foot massage given all the walking we were doing. This was no relaxing foot massage!
  • We came back to the ryokan and it seemed word had spread among the staff that we went to eat right before our kaiseki meal. The man who opened the front door greeted us and asked, "Did you have... ramen?" The man who took our shoes and gave us slippers looked at us incredulously and asked, "So I hear... Did you have... ramen?" We got settled back in our room, ready for dinner. Our hostess came in to confirm the start of dinner service, followed by, "Did you have... ramen?" We smiled and said "No."
  • Our 8 course kaiseki dinner was both aesthetically beautiful and deliciously tasty. Well, most dishes were wonderful and a few weren't (I am not a fan of natto). We received a menu in English so it was fun to follow along and identify everything listed.
Kyoto - our waitress starts off our 8 course kaiseki meal
Kyoto - our waitress starts off our 8 course kaiseki meal

Kyoto - course #1

Kyoto - course #2

Kyoto - course #3 finally something I recognized!

Kyoto - course #4

Kyoto - course #5

Kyoto - course #6

Kyoto - course #7

Kyoto - course #8 dessert 
  • After dinner our hostess scheduled us for a private bath at one of the ryokan's 3 baths. When we got back to our room our hostess put away the dining table and set up our beds for the night. Buckwheat filled pillow and super fluffy comforters. It was heavenly!
Kyoto - Sleeping on the floor is more comfortable than I imagined
Kyoto - Sleeping on the floor is more comfortable than I imagined
  • The next morning our hostess woke us up for our in-room breakfast service. We donned our traditional ryokan issued robes for the meal. :o)
Kyoto - Breakfast is served!
Kyoto - Breakfast is served!

Kyoto - Breakfast of various small dishes
Kyoto - Breakfast of various small dishes

Kyoto - Posing with our hostess
Kyoto - Posing with our hostess. When we left the ryokan, she stood outside to send us off. We kept looking back and she stayed outside while we walked for 2 blocks!
  • We checked into our 3rd accommodations (in 3 days) in Kyoto - a regular hotel called Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto. Read reviews on Royal Park Hotel on TripAdvisor. We wanted to check out more temples in the area. But first we ate some more food. :o)
Kyoto - Pastry shop
Kyoto - Pastry shop next door to our hotel

Kyoto - Pastry shop
Kyoto - Pastry shop

Kyoto - miso ramen
Kyoto - We finally had ramen in Kyoto! Miso ramen. Cost: US$15 for 2 people.
  • We went to the nearest subway stop and found an info counter. I had heard that you can see deer just roaming around in an area called Nara. I walked up to the counter and asked the lady where we should go to see temples and deer. She smiled and circled a few temples on a map. The map even showed pictures of deer!
Kyoto - Stone temples line the pathway to Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - Stone temples line the pathway to Kasuga-taisha Shrine

Kyoto - Deer on the grounds of Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - And deer!!

Kyoto - Deer on the grounds of Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - Deer on the grounds of Kasuga-taisha Shrine

Kyoto - Deer on the grounds of Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - Lots of deer. They're checking if you have any food.

Kyoto - Rows of lanterns line the pathway
Kyoto - Rows of lanterns line the pathway - there are 3000 stone and bronze lanterns on the grounds

Kyoto - Deer are everywhere in Nara

Kyoto - Shrine maidens wear wisteria flowers in their hair
Kyoto - Shrine maidens wearing wisteria flowers in their hair sell fortunes written on strips of paper. 

Kyoto - Tie the paper to promote good fortune
Kyoto - Tie the paper to a wire rack promote good fortune or negate unfavorable predictions

Kyoto - Lanterns along the pathway to Kasuga-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - Lanterns along the pathway to Kasuga-taisha Shrine
  • We also visited the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, famous for its thousands of red torii gates. It takes 2-3 hours to hike through all the gates - we only walked for about 45 minutes before we turned back. Fushimi Inari is one of thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers which is why we see fox statues throughout the grounds.
Kyoto - Heading up to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
Kyoto - Heading up to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

Kyoto - Fox statue near the gates
Kyoto - Fox statue near the gates

Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates
Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates. All torii gates are donated by individuals or corporations. The donor's name and donation date are inscribed on each gate.

Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates
Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates

Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates
Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates

Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates
Kyoto - Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine gates 
  • We also visited Nijo Castle, the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period. The castle's main attraction is Ninomaru Palace (tickets ¥600/US$5.50) which served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. The palace consists of multiple separate buildings connected by corridors with so-called nightingale floors which squeak as you step on them, alerting security guards of intruders. No photos were allowed inside the palace.
Kyoto - Ninomaru Palace, located inside the Nijo Castle grounds
Kyoto - Ninomaru Palace, located inside the Nijo Castle grounds. To enter the palace you leave your street shoes just inside the entrance and change into slippers.

Kyoto - Ninomaru Garden, located behind Ninomaru Palace
Kyoto - Ninomaru Garden, located behind Ninomaru Palace

Tokyo Part 2 - 3 days
  • We took the shinkansen back to Tokyo and stayed for 3 more days
  • For our second block of time in Tokyo we stayed at Hotel Monterey Hanzomon because we wanted to stay in another neighborhood in Tokyo. Read reviews of Hotel Monterey Honzomon on TripAdvisor.
  • My husband and I are swing dancers (we met dancing!) so we wanted to make it back to Tokyo in time for dancing at a bar in Shibuya. We ended up meeting people from all over the world, funny enough almost all of the dancers there that night were visitors. The organizer knew some of the swing dance instructors we knew back in San Francisco. I love the dance community! We met a dancer named Jeff who took us to his favorite ramen place near Shibuya crossing.
Tokyo - Swing dancing at Tokyo Salon
Tokyo - Swing dancing at Tokyo Salon

Tokyo - Jeff takes us to his favorite ramen spot for galic butter cheese ramen. Yup.
Tokyo - Jeff takes us to his favorite ramen spot in Shibuya for garlic butter cheese ramen. Yup.

Tokyo - Streets of Shibuya
Tokyo - Streets of Shibuya 
  • The next day we visited the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. There's a daily tuna auction that's open to the public with a limit of 120 visitors per day on a first-come first-serve basis. Auctions start at 5:20am so we arrived at the visitor registration center at 4:30am (we went dancing the night before so we got about 3 hours of sleep that night!) and we were one of the last visitors to make it into the first group of 60 for the day. Registration is on the first floor of "The Fish Information Center" by the Kachidoki Bridge entrance. There had been some accidents involving tourists so we were all required to wear bright neon green vests. We had to move quickly through the market to a section reserved for visitors - meanwhile, dock workers moving crates of seafood on extremely fast-moving trolleys zip about. If you don't watch where you're going you could easily get hit! Visit this official website for more information: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/market/tsukiji.html
Tokyo - Visitor line
Tokyo - Waiting in line at Visitor Registration at 4:30am

Tokyo - We made it into the first visitor group!
Tokyo - We barely made it into the first visitor group of 60!

Tokyo - Moving quickly to the inner market
Tokyo - Moving quickly to the inner market

Tokyo - Trolleys zipping around
Tokyo - These guys on trolleys move extremely fast - look how close they get to each other!

Tokyo - We quietly observe licensed buyers inspecting tuna
Tokyo - We quietly observe licensed buyers inspecting tuna

Tokyo - Auction houses mark and estimate the value of each fish
Tokyo - Auction houses mark and estimate the value of each fish

Tokyo - Auctions start and finish quickly
Tokyo - An auctioneer steps on a stool, rings a bell, and starts the bidding. It's over before we know it.

Tokyo - Licensed buyers test the quality of tuna they're interested in
Tokyo - Licensed buyers test the quality of tuna they're interested in. These buyers include immediate wholesalers who operate stalls in the marketplace and agents who buy for restaurants, food processing companies, and large retailers.

Tokyo - Visitors are restricted to a sectioned off area inside the market
Tokyo - Visitors are restricted to a sectioned off area inside the market. We're not allowed to use flash photography or make any noise or gestures that may interfere with auctions.

Tokyo - A close-up of some tuna
Tokyo - A close-up of some tuna

Tokyo - Bidders get to inspect tuna they want to purchase
Tokyo - Bidders get to inspect tuna they want to purchase 
  • We watch a few auctions and then we're escorted back to the visitor center so the next group can come in. We line up at one of the sushi restaurants within the market because what's better than a full plate of sushi at 7am? You'll never eat fresher sushi!
  • We lined up at Daiwa Sushi (5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture) because the line at Sushi Dai was incredibly long. Read reviews for Daiwa Sushi on TripAdvisor.
Tokyo - Sushi breakfast at 7am
Tokyo - Sushi breakfast at 7am. Cost: US$67 for 2 people.
  • We went back to our hotel to catch up on much-needed sleep. Later that day we visited the exterior of the Imperial Palace - it's surrounded by moats and a massive stone wall.
Tokyo - Imperial Palace
Tokyo - Imperial Palace

Tokyo - Imperial Palace
Tokyo - Massive hinge for a gate around the Imperial Palace

Tokyo - Imperial Palace moat
Tokyo - Imperial Palace moat 

Tokyo - Soba noodles for dinner
Tokyo - Soba noodles for dinner

Tokyo - Dinner with our hostel mate Livi and her family
Tokyo - We met up with our hostel mate Livi and her family for dinner
  • We took it easy on our last full day and went to see the Hachiko statue near Shibuya crossing. Hachiko was an Akita dog known for his loyalty to his owner, even many years after his owner's death. In 1924, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, took Hachiko as a pet. During Professor Ueno's life, Hachiko waited for him at the end of each work day at the Shibuya station. This continued until one day in May 1925, Professor Ueno did not return. He suffered a stroke and did not return to the train station where Hachiko was waiting. Every day for nine years until his death in 1935, Hachiko returned to the train station when Professor Ueno's train was expected to arrive. A bronze statue of Hachiko was erected at Shibuya station and it remains an extremely popular meeting spot today.
Tokyo - Mural for Hachiko near Shibuya station
Tokyo - Mural for Hachiko near Shibuya station

Tokyo - Any dog lover wants to pose with the statue of Hachiko
Tokyo - Any dog lover wants to pose with the statue of Hachiko
  • We spent the rest of the day visiting the Harajuku neighborhood and of couse we ate! We returned to the tonkatsu restaurant, Maisen for dinner.
Tokyo - Hot soba for lunch
Tokyo - Hot soba for lunch. Ordering lunch here was a bit challenging as there were no other staff other than who I assume are these two owners. Their ticket machine menu items were written only in Japanese so we waited by the door and asked someone we hoped could speak English to help us. We picked right and found someone to help. We didn't go hungry!

Toyko - Shopping in Harajuku
Toyko - Shopping in Harajuku

Tokyo - Dinner at Maisen... again!
Tokyo - Dinner at Maisen... again! Cost: US$40 for 2 people.
  • On our last day in Japan we visited the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. 
Tokyo - Large torii gate along the pathway to Meiji Shrine
Tokyo - Large torii gate along the pathway to Meiji Shrine

Tokyo - Torii gate
Tokyo - Torii gate

Tokyo - Wedding procession near Meiji Shrine
Tokyo - We witnessed a wedding procession near the Meiji Shrine

Tokyo - Self-portrait near Meiji Shrine
Tokyo - A self-portrait by one of the gates surrounding Meiji Shrine
  • Mike and I wanted to get one last bowl or ramen before we returned home. He found a recommendation for a place near Meiji Shrine but as I mentioned before, it's sometimes very difficult to find places. We were circling around for at least 15 minutes and I was ready to throw in the towel but Mike was persistent. I get cranky and angry when I'm hungry (hangry) so we got into a bit of a fight trying to find this place. Kyusyu Jangara Ramen (1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo) was located on the 2nd floor of a building - it was so worth the fight!
Tokyo - Tonkotsu ramen
Tokyo - Tonkotsu ramen at Kyusyu Jangara. This was the best bowl of ramen on the trip! Read reviews for Kyusyu Jangara on TripAdvisor.

Tokyo - Look at that pork belly!

Tokyo - Tommy Lee Jones, like a boss
Tokyo - In America, Tommy Lee Jones is a movie star. In Japan, he's the boss

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my trip report for Tokyo and Kyoto. Feel free to post questions or comments below.

Remember my friend Livi who I met at my hostel in Asakusa? We stayed in touch on Facebook and when I went to Spain later that year I stayed with her for a few days in Barcelona. She showed me around and took me to few of her favorite restaurants. I'm so excited to have a friend in Spain. She knows that if she visits San Francisco she'll have a place to stay and a host! Please read about my 2 week trip to Spain in another blog post Solo travel in Spain: San Sebastian, Barcelona, Granada, and Seville.

If you enjoyed this please check out my other trip blogs:
Happy traveling and thanks for reading!

14 comments:

  1. This is a great blog to take notes from. I'm going to Japan end of next month and will visit most of the places you went. Thumbs up!

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    1. Thanks Juliana! Have a blast in Japan - the weather should be perfect. Enjoy all the wonderful food and sights!

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  2. Thanks for the wonderful photos and descriptions of your trip. My wife and I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Takayama, and Shirakawa-go in 2009 during Sakura season. Your descriptions of your trip (an food!) brought back some great memories.

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    1. You're welcome William! Wow, it sounds like you had quite an adventure in Japan - you covered so much ground. All those blooming cherry blossoms must have made for some beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I really enjoyed your report. Now I am so hungry! How do you manage to stay so slim with the amount you eat! Just jealous :)

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    1. Thanks for your compliment, you're very kind! I guess we could eat because we walked it all off! :o)

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  4. Conny, this blog post has been very helpful to me as I plan my trip to Tokyo and Kyoto for 53 end of December. I am wondering, is there anything that you and Mike did not see or do that you two wish you had seen or done while there?

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    1. Hi bittersweetie,
      Glad I've been able to help! Stay warm when you're out there in December. :o)

      Two things come to mind - I wish we had spent some time in Roppongi, even if it was to just check out the neighborhood and nightlife.

      We tried to find Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, the sushi restaurant owned and operated by sushi master Jiro Ono. I honestly don't know if I would've had the guts to go in and dine had we found it (reservations are required).

      I hope you have a great trip!

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  5. I saw the photographs of the Fushimi Shrine. I have just read a samurai novel, Forbidden in Jade, and it says that Fushimi Shrine was built by a powerful Korean clan called the Hata clan. Also the shrine predated Kyoto. Near the shrine is where the poweful shogun Toyotomi lived: Fushimi Castle. Also there was a huge battle where samurai cut open their stomachs and the floorboards are displayed in temples around Kyoto. I went to Kyoto many years ago and I didn't know about all this. If I had, it would have made my trip a bit more interesting.
    I like the photographs.
    .

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    1. Thank you! I have a similar experience - I tend to read more about a place I just visit and realize that it would've been more meaningful had I understood what I was looking at at the time. Definitely learnings for my next trip!

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  6. Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip. We also have a great time in Japan and will be going back end of the year :-)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed my blog post! It was a fun way to relive the trip. I hope to return to Japan again someday.

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  7. Thank you for posting this blog. My husband and I will only get 5 nights in Japan, and we have been trying to go through other people's stories to grasp the best way to tackle this country. I see most people gravitate towards Tokyo and Kyoto. If you have any suggestions if you only had 5 nights, let me know. Kyoto seems more my style from your photos.

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    1. I think there's so much to see in Tokyo but if Kyoto is more your style then definitely spend most of your time in Kyoto. I think you could easily fill 3 days in Kyoto but still leave at least 1 day for Tokyo. I think it's worth it to spend some time in Tokyo but keep in mind the shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo takes about 4 hours. And it really depends on what you want to see in Tokyo because each neighborhood is so different. To make the most of your time you could fly directly to Osaka Airport and journey to Kyoto and then take the shinkansen to Toyko and depart from Narita Airport. You'd be going from a peaceful and quiet location to super urban and potentially sensory overload if you go the Kyoto to Tokyo route. You could go the opposite direction if you want to end with peaceful and quiet. :o)

      Enjoy Japan!

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