Where to visit in Tokyo & Kyoto?

Where to visit in Tokyo & Kyoto?


Many of you have helped me out in the past when it comes to making the most of my travel adventures. I'm heading to Tokyo and Kyoto this spring (for a quick trip) and would love to hear any suggestions you might have. I like little shops and boutiques, art, natural foods stores, quirky little restaurants, farmers markets, flea markets, nature walks, and neighborhoods with character. I'm particularly interested in learning more about Shojin Ryori cuisine, so thank you in advance for any recommendations on that front. It's my first trip to both of these cities and I want to be sure to see as much as possible. Thanks again for any help, and I promise to post photos, highlights and my final itinerary when I get home.

The photo is of a tree near my house that exploded into pink blossoms seemingly overnight.

 
 
 
 
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Your Comments


Deb
February 4, 2009

Get up really early (5am) and visit the fish market in Tokyo. The tuna auction is quite the sight.

 

Jessie
February 4, 2009

I definitely second Deb's recommendation on the fish market!

In Kyoto, the Fushimi-Inari shrine is one of my favorites. I'm not sure if it would qualify as a nature walk exactly, but you can get lost on the mountain in tunnels of red Torii gates for an entire day, and in the evening it gets just spooky enough to spark up the imagination.

Also in Kyoto, Gion is a charming and historic area, and there's lots of good food along the river. You might even see a Geisha there--I did!

Have a great trip! And don't forget to slurp your noodles.

 

aya
February 4, 2009

In Kyoto, Nishiki Ichiba (market) is a fun place to visit. They have tons of interesting foods & ingredients. I recommend nama-fu (raw gluten-cake) and tofu soft serve.

Also, you can find a lot of good Yudofu (tofu in hot water & dipping sauce) place in Kyoto. It's so good.

Manpuku-ji is famous for their fucha-ryori (a kind of shojin ryori).

I hope your trip overlaps with the peak season of cherry blossoms. Have a great time!!

 

Jessie
February 4, 2009

I definitely second Deb's recommendation on the fish market!

In Kyoto, the Fushimi-Inari shrine is one of my favorites. I'm not sure if it would qualify as a nature walk exactly, but you can get lost on the mountain in tunnels of red Torii gates for an entire day, and in the evening it gets just spooky enough to spark up the imagination.

Also in Kyoto, Gion is a charming and historic area, and there's lots of good food along the river. You might even see a Geisha there--I did!

Have a great trip! And don't forget to slurp your noodles.

 

Melissa
February 4, 2009

Sadly, the Tsukiji Fish Market (the big Tokyo one) is now closed to tourists because to many people were coming.

In Kyoto, I would definitely check out the geisha districts (Gion and Pontocho), the gold and silver pavilions (Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji), Ninna-ji (the five storey pagoda) and especially the San-mon Gate at Chion-in. It is maybe the most peaceful place I've ever been in the world. Philosopher's Walk is certainly worth a stroll as well, and it will give you a chance to see many of the great sights of Kyoto.

 

Mettch
February 4, 2009

I agree with Deb, the fish market is a must. As is sushi for breakfast when you're there. Where are you staying and for how long?

 

morgana
February 4, 2009

The TSUKIJI market ( fish market) inTokyo is not only renowned for fish. During my last visit, I was astounded by the other specialty stalls surrounding the market, which stay open all morning. Rows upon rows of little shops dedicated toJapanese pickles, or miso, or seaweed, or tofu and so on. I spent at least 4 hours perusing this vast area which was not nearly enough time. Inspirational. Most vendors offer little samples to taste.

 

Pearl
February 4, 2009

I've never been, but please visit and take lots of pictures! :)

 

Roo
February 4, 2009

It's a couple of hours from Kyoto, but if you're interested in shojin-ryori, the Koyasan temple complex is a good place to visit. There's a whole host of Shingon Buddhist temples as well as an enormous graveyard complex that is well worth exploring. If you've got a night spare you can stay over in a temple and eat shojin-ryori with the monks.

Another place that's slightly further afield is Nara, where the temples and pagodas are scattered throughout a large park with deer - it's a lovely place to wander around on a sunny day, and if you're there in early-mid April you might be there at the right time for the cherries.

 

m
February 4, 2009

Kyoto:
I love, love Ginkaku-ji, the silver shrine, and alo, Ryo-an-ji, which is the zen garden. Both are by the Philosopher's Walk. Kiyomizudera [Kiyomizu Temple] is a bit farther away, but easily accessible. It's a hike up a huge hill, and make sure to stop in one of the many small shops!

Tokyo:
Tsukiji, the fish market. Get there by 4am! I'm not sure if you're a strict vegetarian, but if you go for the fish, you can get sashimi bowls for as cheap as 500 yen [$5].
Look out for a small shop specializing in beans. My favorite are the black sweetened soy beans.
There are plenty of mochi shops, too, in Tokyo, if you walk around a bit aways from the main subways. I like the kusa-mochi [the green ones]. :)

 

AcidFlask
February 4, 2009

I second all the recommendations above! I've tried them and they're all really good.


Tokyo:

Yabu Soba. 2-10 Awajicho Chiyoda-ku. Tokyo - old and famous soba shop. Hard to find but worth hunting down. You'll need a Japanese-literate crew though.

Tonki tonkatsu in Meguro. There may be other branches. Restaurant specializing in katsu don, i.e. fried pork cutlets.

Kappabashi district - famous for its long row of shops selling plastic fake food, the kind that is often on display outside Japanese restaurants.

I heard that Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is clamping down of tourists because too many of them mess around with the fish. If you do go try to hang around long enough for the sushi shops in the neighborhood to open. Sashimi from fish that were alive 5-6 hours before is a mind-blowing experience!


Kyoto:

I went to a shojin-ryori restaurant called Daitokuji-Ikkyu near Daitokuji (temple), it was good and not too expensive.

Re: Nishiki Ichiba, I would also try the tofu donuts from the same famous tofu store. All their tofu products are amazing!

If you will be in Kyoto on the 21st, Toji (temple) market is a must see. It's the largest of its kind, I'm told. They have might have smaller flea market events on other days.

Kiyomizudera is open at dawn, if you can wake up in time. It's a great place to start in Kyoto to work off the jet lag, before it gets crowded.

The first thing you should do is troop down to the Imperial Palace visitor's office and try to arrange for a visit to Katsura Rikyu and Shugakuin Rikyu. Both estates are legendary for their architecture and landscaping. I liked Shugakuin better but it's a little more remote and slightly less famous. If I recall correctly only Japanese guides are present, so you'll have to follow along yourself or just gawk and take pictures.

 

Christine Cassidy
February 4, 2009

In Kyoto be sure to visit the Daitoku-ji Temple complex & have a wonderful vegetarian lunch at Izusen Zen restaurant on the temple grounds. http://tinyurl.com/avlxv7

 

Claudia
February 4, 2009

I'm so jealous! I got back from Japan in September after living there for nine months. I know Tokyo much better than Kyoto, and I would definitely recommend hitting up the neighborhoods Shimo-Kitozawa and Naka Meguro, quaint yet hip alternatives to the insanity of Shibuya and Shinjuku. There are tons of cute little shops and restaurants in each, and great alleys where you can get lost in for hours. It's difficult being vegetarian in Japan, so I would recommend going to Crayon House (near Harajuku station), a small macrobiotic restaurant with an organic market attached to it, and definitely get some Shojin-ryori in Kyoto. Have a wonderful trip!

 

Jimmy
February 4, 2009

Be sure to visit Tenryu-ji, it is located in the western part of Kyoto called Arashiyama. The temple has amazing gardens, a beautiful painting of a dragon in the clouds on the ceiling of the temple and they offer an incredible Zen eating experience. They serve at Shigetsu - the meal what they prepare for festival days, a feast of 6-8 courses that focuses on the six basic flavors -bitter, sour, sweet, salty, light and hot. It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten.

 

Jimmy
February 4, 2009

Be sure to visit Tenryu-ji, it is located in the western part of Kyoto called Arashiyama. The temple has amazing gardens, a beautiful painting of a dragon in the clouds on the ceiling of the temple and they offer an incredible Zen eating experience. They serve at Shigetsu - the meal what they prepare for festival days, a feast of 6-8 courses that focuses on the six basic flavors -bitter, sour, sweet, salty, light and hot. It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten.

 

Deals
February 4, 2009

If you fly into Narita/Tokyo airport, check out Narita before heading south to Tokyo- there is an amazing temple and surrounding park. Great for walking around.

 

georgie
February 4, 2009

In Kyoto, look up a guy called Johnny (Hill)Walker.

He is an old guy who runs amazing walking tours through the absolute backstreets of Kyoto - you end up in the pastry and sweets factory, the houses where they're painting and folding fans, and you get a unique view of all the cottage industries for sure.

Also, if you haven't been to Hiroshima before, it's 100% worth the daytrip from Kyoto - heart breaking and beautiful - I was so glad we did it.

 

Wow. I wish I'd had the commentariat when I was in Kyoto. They've got amazing suggestions! (Lonely Planet can't hold a candle to this crowd.)

I agree with everyone above...Fushimi Inari Taisha for sure, and make sure to have sushi inari sometime as well. It's my favorite sushi.

 

In case you didn't know, the non-tourist bathrooms are "squatty potties" and are the norm in train stations. You can request a Western bathroom when you book a room in many hotels. On the other hand if you stay at a small or rural hotel you are most likely not going to have the choice.

When I was in the US Air Force I was stationed near Tokyo in the late 60s. Often when I was leaving the main train station in downtown Tokyo one could hear the screams of female tourists when they "had to go" and headed to the Ladies.

Next thing: they drive on the "wrong" side of the street. On the first day in Japan I almost got killed when before crossing the street I looked to my left for oncoming traffic but there was a bus headed at me from my right! Woopsie!!

If you need information or directions seek out a school-age person because most likely they will be studying English in school. All non-college school students wear uniforms so they will be easy to spot.

Clothing: the weather in Japan is very much like Ohio weather. So bring the same clothing you would if you were visiting Ohio at a particular time of year.

If you have time, climb Mount Fuji. It's a great adventure.

For a fun adventure (especially on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday) hop on a train such as the Chuo Line (they are painted red or orange, I forgot). The Chuo Line heads out of Tokyo toward Shinjuku and into the countryside. You will see out of the train windows some event or festival. Get off the train and wander thru the event. I used to do that and it's great fun.

Once you get the hang of riding the public trains you can go most anywhere in the country for very little cost. You will then get an understanding how much America could do to improve mass transit.

When I lived in Japan the northern and southern halves of the country had different electric cycles: 50Hz or 60Hz. So items like clocks could give weird results. Be sure the items you take along such as laptop or cell phone chargers will work with either 50 or 60 Hz cycles. Most should but why burn out something?

Shinjuku is a huge electronics and camera mecca. Walk the back streets. It's safe during the day.

Take a lot of film or digital chips!!!

You can drink the water. I never had any problems in the several years I lived there.

Terry Thomas...
the photographer
Atlanta, Georgia USA
www.TerryThomasPhotos.com

 

tom | tall clover farm
February 4, 2009

I lived in Japan as a young boy and made several trips back as an adult. May I suggest the easiest of field trips on your visit to the land of the rising sun: a grocery store. My senses reach overload within seconds of walking through the door.. the produce aisle, pickled goods display, delicate pastries lined up like small sachets, processed food wrapped in the most vibrant packaging on the planet. Yep visit a grocery store, it's an emporium of wonder. Safe travels, Tom

 

Erin
February 4, 2009

Oh! Kyoto is such a lovely, walkable city. I traveled there with a group of students from my art school, and one of them brought along the most wonderful, non-traditional travel guide called "Old Kyoto," which contained information about traditional shops, food places, and inns. The places we discovered using this book were truly unique — wish we could have visited them all!

Enjoy your trip!

 

Laura
February 4, 2009

If you're in Kyoto during the month of Geisha dances, definitely go. Also if you want to taste all the various Japanese desserts without having to buy full ones, head to the basement food hall of any department store. This became my afternoon snack almost every day during the three weeks I traveled through Japan last April. And visit at least one traditional onsen. Make sure you read up on onsen etiquette first but it's definitely a great experience.

 

julie chang
February 4, 2009

Heidi, you will love Japan (although it will be difficult to be strictly vegetarian there). In Tokyo, I couldn't get enough Tokyu Hands in Shibuya – so much fun. Don't miss Kappabashi for kitchen supplies, housewares and fake food! Hakone-Akatsukian in Hiroo has amazing soba. Most of the large depaatoo (department stores) have food markets on the bottom floor where you will find unique, beautifully presented foods and food gifts. Also, try izakaya for Japanese 'tapas.'
In Kyoto, I highly recommend the Toji Market – the best for vintage Japanese crafts. It also has great street food. Please pick up and read 'Old Kyoto' by Diane Durston – she writes so evocatively about the artisanal traditions you should experience while there. Ippo-do Tea House, which is in the book, was a favorite place to relax with matcha tea. I'm going back this October and can't wait to hear about the gems you find.

 

Bob
February 4, 2009

If you can, try to stay at a ryokan - a japanese inn. Aside from the wonderful baths at most of them, they also serve these wonderful kaisaki dinners with loads of small plates of sushi, cooked foods, vegetables, and some unidentifiable stuff, but all fanastically delicious. We stayed at one in Hakone near Mt. Fuji. We slept under some very heavy quilts with the windows wide open and the mountain air all aound us. The best night of sleep in my life.

 

Greg
February 4, 2009

Hey have fun!

Japan is on my short list of places to go. SO much more interesting than Europe.

 

Marc @ NoRecipes
February 4, 2009

Hi Heidi, You'll be going during one of the best times (the other best time is fall), it's before the weather gets too humid and things should be just turning green and beautiful.

Tokyo, for all it's modern bravado has a lot of older neighborhoods and sites to see as well. I'd recommend taking the ferry from Hamarikyu gardens up the Sumida River to Asakusa and and wander around seeing the temples and shrines as well as some the old homes.

Since you're into photography, you want to check out one of the camera megastores like Yodobashi or Bic Camera in Shinjuku.

I was in Tokyo over new years and posted recently about some things I did on my trip over on my blog.

For things to do in Kyoto check out kyotofoodie, they have some great posts on food and local traditions.

Feel free to email me if you're looking for specific things.

 

LJ
February 4, 2009

Hi Heidi!

I've been living in Nagoya now for over six months (due to an 18 month transfer for my husband's job) and would be happy to help with any other questions about Japan you might have.

I haven't been able to travel to Tokyo yet (although do know that the fish market has reopened to visitors), but have been to Kyoto a couple times, it is really a beautiful city. I agree with the suggestions to stay at a ryokan, and would specifically recommend the Nishiyama Ryokan (www.ryokan-kyoto.com). They have very friendly English speaking staff and can accommodate a vegetarian diet for breakfast if requested ahead of time. (Big bonus for me as it is really is quite difficult to be a vegetarian here!)

I second all of the temple and shrine recommendations as well, and would add in Heian Jingu too if time allows after the other "must sees" for the gardens. And after temple hopping, I'd suggest a stop in Sou-Sou, a shop with split toe tabi socks (and shoes) - very cute and affordable souvenirs.

Two boutiques that have been recommended to me (but that I haven't been able to personally check out yet) are:
Mina Perhonen (www.mina-perhonen.jp/) and Linnet (www.lin-net.com/), which carries a jewelry collection I love (www.odetteny.com).

 

Jani
February 4, 2009

Haven't been myself, but saw this interesting article from the 'Japan Times' online earlier today - Kyoto is big today!

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090113f1.html

 

Tamelise
February 4, 2009

I was an exchange student in Tokyo (Waseda Uni)—visit my blog for pictures and more detailed info on my time in Tokyo and Kyoto:

http://tamapple.blogspot.com/

SHOJIN RYOURI
Monk food in translation- you should hike the Takao-San mountain, and make sure to get lunch reservations in advance for the small restaurant at the top. They serve a very good Shojin Ryouri meal- all vegan I believe. I had an excellent sesame-tofu there.

You should also try “Kaiseki Ryouri” which is a very fancy, multi-course meal. This will be expensive ($100+) but well worth it for a foodie. At the beginning, the chef will come out and ask you what your food preferences are- make sure to say if you don’t like certain ingredients, meats or fish- and then they make something custom for you based on the season’s ingredients.

Also make sure you go to the bottom basement floors of large department stores (depa-to). You will find some of the finest foods all packaged in beautiful nested boxes. Great for souveniers and you can enjoy many traditional and modern foods.

TOKYO:
Sensouji Temple- get off subway at Asakusa. It's open most of day and into evening, great shops along the way that sell Kimono items, and even second hand kimono and yukata. Lot of beautiful souvenirs and a neat old-Tokyo atmosphere.

Odaiba: this is a small island, you can pay about $5 to ride a special tram there. Very futuristic buildings and architecture and a neat place to walk around. It has the Fuji TV building which is great for photos.

To-Cho (Tokyo Metropolitan government bldg): the best place for free views up high in Tokyo. Also a nice English-speaking tour info center on ground floor.

I second the vote for Kappabashi- you can pick up some cool Japanese cooking utensils there too.

Yoyogi Park: nice place to have a picnic and people watch.

St. Marc's Cafe- all over tokyo, they have a "choco cro" or chocolate croissant that is really good.

Ten-Ya restaurant chain: serves inexpensive lunch of tempura on top of rice in a bowl- very good and fast. You'll have to specifically ask for vegetarian otherwise you'll get fish too.

If you like Ghibli films/animation, get tickets before you leave the states for the Ghibli museum- a travel agent should know how to get the tickets (they are scheduled for a specific time slot).

OUTSIDE OF TOKYO:
If you want to see amazing shrines, make a visit to the town of Nikko. Hakone is also a nice place to visit a few hours out of Tokyo. Kamakura is a little ride out of Tokyo and is home to the Great Buddha (Daibutsu).

KYOTO:
There is so much to see in Kyoto and the info booths around town will help with English maps and directions. Make sure you visit Fushimi Inari like others have stated. It is a shrine complex a little out of the way but VERY worth it. There are great hiking paths lined with orange gates (“toori”) that are very picturesque. Also visit Kiyomizudera for its views.

A simple tip for getting around- try to get a guide book with the Japanese names of places written (or use wikipedia), this way you can show to a bystander and get pointed in the right direction.

 

Emily
February 4, 2009

I'm not sure if you'll have time to head north of Tokyo to Nikko (a phenomenally beautiful state park), but if you can slip it in, I highly recommend it. It's a quick train ride up. If you do go, stay at the Turtle Inn. The beds are traditional mattresses on the floor, but the bathroom....oh Lord. I still consider my experience in that traditional bathroom (showering outside of the tub, making sure you get rid of any soap on you, then stepping into the marble-lined tub to float and relax) to be one of my favorite memories EVER.

In terms of Tokyo, I don't have any specific restaurant recommendations for a vegetarian because I ate sushi practically every day. However, there are great ramen and udon shops everywhere that you'll have no trouble finding. One tip is to go to any of the Japanese 100 yen stores. You'll find absolutely gorgeous dishes for rock bottom prices.

Enjoy, lucky girl!

 

Kellie Holway
February 4, 2009

Dear Heidi,

That's wonderful you'll be visiting Japan!
Here are my top 2 recommendations:

Tokyo: Cafe Slow in Kokubunji
http://www.cafeslow.com/
http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/538/restaurants.asp

Cafe slow is such a peaceful, beautiful space. You can tell the chefs care about what they are preparing. Great food and atmosphere.

Kyoto: Village (Restaurant, Coffee/Tea/Juice) - vegan-friendly
Vegan-friendly Organic Cafe
Maizon Shirokawa 202, 95 Tsukita-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 075-712-3372
Daily: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 6pm - midnight

http://www.vegguide.org/entry/4289

I really recommend the Village. Very eclectic, laid-back, excellent food. Sometimes they have live music as well!

For Shojin ryori, Koyasan (Mount Koya) is the place to go. It is AMAZING!! If you have a chance to go there, go. You can stay at a temple and eat unbelievable cuisine.

I live in Tokyo-----if you have any questions or need some advice, please feel free to email me!

 

Heidi
February 4, 2009

I went out for a jog and a trip to the grocery store, and came back to all of your amazing suggestions. I just wanted to leave a quick comment to say that I feel very, very fortunate to be able to tap into your collective experiences (and insights!) when I need help figuring out something like this. So again, I know how busy all of you are, I just hope you realize how appreciative I am of you!

Roo - I have an overnight trip to Koyasan on my list of things to explore doing, so I was happy to see your recommendation. It looks like a very special place.

If I have any follow-up questions for any of you individually, I'll send you and email or track you down through your sites.

And, again THANK YOU for helping me plan this. -h

 

Julia
February 4, 2009

I just went to Tokyo and Kyoto myself in November for fall foliage. If you can get away from Kyoto for any time at all, I highly recommend going to both Nara and Uji. Nara was the ancient capital before Kyoto, and it has gorgeous old temples and tame reindeer that you can feed in the city park.

Uji is the center of green tea cultivation in Japan, as well as the location of much "The Tale of Genji", the world's oldest novel. It's only 15 minutes by train from Kyoto, and the air smells of green tea. I would try cha-soba (soba noodles in green tea broth), or green tea ice cream. Have a wonderful trip!

 

daniel
February 4, 2009

every morning at 6 am about 20 some laymen practitioners have an incredibly unique temple service at Toji temple (the famous pagoda south of Kyoto eki) I went there every morning for about three weeks, and miss it the most about Japan.

 

Madeline
February 4, 2009

First, hit bento.com's reviews. (They have a great review of a Kyoto food market that I missed going to.)

Second, print off Wikitravel's Japanese language guide.

Third, learn that the kombini is your friend. It has a wide selection of teas, coffees, juices, salads (good ones!) and onigiri (rice balls) that are perfect pick-me-ups.

Fourth, CARRY LOTS OF CASH. Japan doesn't do credit cards with as much vigour as North America does.

Fifth, while in Kyoto, visit the Kyoto Gyoen Park. It's bigger and quieter than Central Park and the buildings are legitimately ancient. Along the way, you'll see thousand-year-old shrines interspersed among post offices and kombini. It's wonderful.

Sixth, have a meal at the Shinsen Heihachi in Kyoto. Lunch would be good; then have noodles at one of the tiny, spooky places off the Teramachi-dori.

Seventh, order a meal from a ticket-only place in Tokyo. I recommend wandering Ikebukuro.

Eighth, visit the department store food floors at the Ikebukuro Seibu. They are a revelation.

Ninth, while in Kyoto try yatsuhashi, a pillow-shaped sweet coated in cinnamon and filled with azuki bean paste (an).

Tenth, do not succumb to the urge to buy too many unique dishware items or kitchen gadgets. The truly useful ones come from TokyuHands, whereas the simply beautiful ones come from up-market department stores. I made this mistake and came home with a useless cedar onigiri press that leaves tongue-numbing wood oils on the rice.

Phew -- I'm sorry if that was too much!

 

Amy
February 4, 2009

Oh my goodness, Kyoto is filled with such unusual architecture and gardens. Definitely take in some temples and go to a Geisha dance performance. (It's been a while - I'm no longer certain of authentic terminology.)

You might enjoy a tea ceremony, although Americans often have a hard time sitting through them.

If you get a chance to visit a hot spring (onsen), it's a lovely way to get an authentic Japanese experience.

For more info, try the JET page on Facebook. It's for Americans, Brits, Aussies & more who are living in Japan to teach for the Japanese Board of Education. The program has a rigorous application process and each non-Japanese teacher has the support of Japanese teachers, principals (usually high school) and the government. In other words, they don't end up lost, teaching in bars, and so on.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=2205152697

 

Haley
February 4, 2009

I lived in Japan for one year 4 years ago. My recommendation in Tokyo is to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine. In the middle of the madness which is Tokyo, this temple is an outdoor paradise. It's huge - you'll walk through basically a forest and come upon some beautiful temples. As an added bonus, the fun, hip area of Harajuku is right outside of the temple.

As someone else already recommended, I'd check out Narita if you're flying in there. Hanazaki-Cho is the road that leads to the temple.. it's lined with traditional Japanese restaurants, shops.. everything.

Enjoy! And try "okonomiyaki" - wonderful, make-it-on-a-grill in front of you dish.

 

Chris
February 4, 2009

If you're vegetarian strictly for "health" reasons, I'd go ahead and eat ANYTHING in japan. I was blown away by the quality of meat there. So much so that when I returned home, I started eating less meat just because I noticed the drop in quality from there to here. If you can make yourself do it, try Kobe Beef (Wagyu)... I can still remember the flavor 5 years later.. Sashimi there is wonderful OF COURSE.

Odd comment about the water being ok to drink, this is japan... not mexico! Kyoto has some of the cleanest natural water in the world, visit Kiyomizudera and drink the water from the three streams. It's amazingly clear water. Ask around for neighborhood tofu makers. They use wells in their own shops. Wonderful!

 

Jerome
February 4, 2009

Currently living in Tokyo here, like was mentioned before, Tsukiji is a great experience. You can still visit there, as long as you aren't a bother to people doing business.

Basically every station in this city has its own interesting things. Around the stations there are a bunch of tiny restaurants/drinking spots.

I could write a book, but if you want or have any questions, send me an e-mail ;). If you need any help w/ Japanese I can always help out a fellow food lover.

 

Jennifer
February 4, 2009

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Tokyo and Kyoto this past Fall. We've traveled Europe a few times, but Japan we fell in love with and can't wait to go back.

Can't recommend much foodwise, but I hear that dining at a Buddhist temple is a foodie must (my husband is too picky to be that adventurous sadly). Some temples offer a multi-course Buddhist meal. Might be worth looking into.

There was an amazing kaiten sushi place in Kyoto that was very cheap but I forget the name :( It was on a major street about 5 blocks or so from Nijo Castle. Our concierge recommended it.

Speaking of sushi, if you plan on a sushi breakfast near the fish market in Tokyo, consider Zanmai Sushi (aka Sushizanmai) a few block away. The have a great tuna platter where you get a couple pieces of all the different grades of tuna and it was very reasonable. I read too many horror stories about tourists getting ripped off at the sushi restaurants inside the market area.

The highlight of the trip was the Monkey Park in Arashiyama (Kyoto area). HIGHLY recommended. It was pure delight to feed the greedy (but sweet) little monkeys. A good blog on the place is: http://www.munky.net/travel/japan/japan06-monkeypark/

Arashiyama also has a stunning bamboo forest and nice little shops while you are there.

The outdoor sculpture museum between Tokyo and Hakone was a favorite too. Next time we plan on spending a night in Hakone because by the time we got there with all the stops it was time to take a bus back to Tokyo. Taking a boat ride across Lake Ashi to the village of Hakone at sunset was very romantic. It looks like a lovely little town.

Have a great trip. The Japanese are absolutely the nicest people I have ever encountered while travelling. When I planned the trip to Japan I thought it would be a one-time thing. Now I'm learning Japanese... :)

 

Jennifer
February 4, 2009

Oh! forgot about the tea ceremony we attended. Hamarikyu park in Tokyo (near Shiodome and the fish market) has a tea house in the middle of a large pond. They serve tea there in the traditional style. It's probably a tad rushed because they are pretty busy, but it is reasonable price-wise and the view of the garden is very nice. They have a little laminated card with instructions for those of us who don't know how to engage in the ceremony. :)

We had dinner at Ninja, a themed restaurant that was very entertaining. It was a bit pricey and the food was just OK, but we enjoyed the experience a lot. They were very creative with how they served some of the food!

 

grenelle
February 4, 2009

hi heidi,

for any touristy place in japan, the key is to WAKE UP EARLY and beat the crowd (lots of them Japanese locals + students). all the shrines in Kyoto are open quite early in the morning, and if you go early (jetlag anyway!) you will be able to enjoy the peace and quiet without disturbance. Adds to the mythic feeling, too.

Lots of restaurants in Kyoto, but to get a very special experience:
http://www.wakuden.jp/ryotei/kyoto/index.html.

You have to book ahead of time (ask your hotel concierge to do so, or friends) They don't tell you what the menu is. They prepare everything in front of you, course by course. And everything is vegetarian, freshly picked. Lunch is reasonably priced (which is what I got). Get the sake served in a bamboo stick. They speak English there so it's quite pleasant. The meal is not filing, though, which is a good thing b/c you can go try all the other stuff on the street!

Also, bakeries in Japan are THE BEST. they mastered the French boulangerie + patisserie techniques and make everything even more delicate. Get the hot milk tea in the heat fridge at the counter.

Yum. And enjoy the cheery blossoms! ( i went to Kyoto last April as well. Amazing)

 

Jun
February 4, 2009

Hopefully you will get a chance to see the cherry blossoms while you are in Japan :)

In Tokyo, Ueno park is a famous place to see sakura, as well as Akasaka, and the sakura lined Kanda river between Waseda and Meijirodai is also very nice.

I second going to Sensouji and Meiji Jingu, and if you get a chance, give the ningyoyaki (a pancake like cake filled with a sweet red bean paste) a try. There are plenty of shops selling them in the market on the way to Sensouji.

If you get hungry, there are lots of places to grab food, but I really like Soup Stock Tokyo. It's a little expensive, but they have some really tasty soups, curries and fresh baked bread.

Kyoto: Kiyomizudera opens at 6am, and it a beautiful place to spend the morning. On the walk down, you can swing by Gion, Yasaka jinja, and you'll pass by lots of little ceramic and lacquer ware shops.

I second Fushimi-Inari Jinja, it's a little other worldly feeling, but a fun hike through the temple gates. Try the inarizushi, a sweet bean curd skin wrapped sushi.

If you have time, I recommend taking the train from Kyoto to Himeji, and seeing the White Egret castle there. There are free English tours available

Hope you have a lovely trip!

 

Lynna Borden
February 4, 2009

I am not sure if people have already mentioned these because you have so many responses but:

TOKYO:
The Kappabashi District is a restaurant supply area so it's a fun place to look at an abundance of well crafted plastic food and perhaps to buy some unique kitchenware. They also have great knife shops so look out for those!

Daikanyama, Meguro and Naka Meguro are small hip districts with great boutique shopping and cute cafes. I found them much less crowded are more relaxing than other more touristy spots.

I know this isn't independent or boutique-y in the least but I loved just looking at all the beautiful confections in the bottom floor of department stores like Takishimaya. They have gorgeous looking petit-fours and cute pastries!

Have fun, Japan is definitely a magical place.


 

emily
February 4, 2009

I stayed in Koyasan too! Seriously, it was the best experience ever. And the shojin ryori was amazing. It is definitely a detour from Kyoto though, but if you can squeeze it in, I would highly recommend it too!

 

Carolie
February 5, 2009

There are so many things to see and do..especially in Kyoto! Do try to hit at least two tofu specialty restaurants, and order one of the larger "set menu" meals...dinner is usually much more fun than lunch. I had a surprise birthday party thrown for me last night here in Sasebo, Japan at a tofu restaurant, and it was spectacular! If you are vegetarian, make it VERY PLAIN, as many dishes at a tofu restaurant contain chicken, squid, etc.

I am most definitely NOT a "tour guide" person, prefering to explore by myself 99% of the time. However, if you have a short time in Kyoto, it may be well worth your time to book a private guide for a day. He may or may not speak English, but if you set up an itinerary with the tour company beforehand, it won't matter. Your guide will take you to see far more places than you will get on your own, will steer you to the less "touristy" sites, will know the least-crowded times to go to various places, and you won't spend your time figuring out transportation and/or parking.

Our guide took us to an organic vegetarian Buddhist restaurant with a gorgeous, rustic buffet -- we were the only non-Japanese in the place. He also wangled us a special private tour of the studio and showroom of a famous sculptor of Buddhas, which was absolutely amazing, and almost never open to the public. He took us to a primeval bamboo forest that was like nothing I've EVER seen before, and finished the tour with a visit to his friend's cherry tree nursery, where his friend creates new types of cherry blossoms with hand pollination and traditional grafting techniques. NOT your usual tour! We also saw the Golden Pavillion, the Silver Pavillion, the Imperial Palace, the fabric center (with a kimono fashion show!) and Nijo Castle (of the famous nightingale floor).

Gion is nice, but VERY touristy, and 95% of the "geisha" and "mako" one sees on the street are fake -- they're just costumed women, not true geisha, who are rarely seen before dark. (And of course, geisha are NOT prostitutes, they are entertainers -- dancing, singing, playing instruments and revered for their grace and conversational skills.)

 

Akiko
February 5, 2009

I'm going to visit my parents in Tokyo in spring! What a coincidence!

There's tons of great suggestions here already. So, it looks that I don't need to say anything. But here's one from me.

It's worth popping into supermarkets and the basement floors in department stores. Many natural/vegetarian food might not be there, but those places are for the latest food culture in Japan. Surely they will give you new ideas.

And, if you have a chance, go to some streets off a train station, where some small family-run food shops are lined up. I know it's not easy to communicate in English when you are in an area where ordinary folks live. But it's fun!

(If you hear somebody calling you name in Tokyo, it's me!;) )

 

Carolie
February 5, 2009

Oh...onigiri in convenience stores (combini) are fresh and absolutely delicious, and can be bought in the morning as a lunch to tuck in your bag for later!

Onsen...please, please, please enjoy an onsen (hot spring bath)! Feel free to e-mail me at carolie AT wordmagix.com for more info if you want!

 

Julie
February 5, 2009

I can't recommend strongly enough a trip to the open-air sculpture museum in Hakone, as a couple of other posters have suggested. Imagine pieces of sculpture scattered on the landscape such that you can experience them one by one as you come upon them. In addition, the museum boasts a large and wonderful collection of Picasso's ceramics -- who knew? Hope you have a wonderful trip!

 

Kristen
February 5, 2009

I'm a vegetarian living in Tokyo. There are lots of great restaurants and cuisines, but more importantly there are great people!

If your schedules overlap, I recommend looking up Elizabeth Andoh. She bounces between Tokyo, Osaka and NYC and is a bit hard to catch, but she is one of the foremost English speaking experts on Japanese food and is currently working on a book project with a Japanese vegetarian theme.
http://www.tasteofculture.com/

In Shibuya, Nagi Shokudo is an all vegan fusion foods cafe run by a guy who is well-connected with the indie music scene. It is unpretentious & cosy. One of my faves when I am in that part of town.
http://nagishokudo.com/

And one of my indulgences is Pita the Great, a one-man felafel shop in Akasaka whose owner, Avi, is a true character. His shop feels like it is in Israel, not urban Tokyo. He makes his own pitas, including one called SUPERNATURAL PITA
http://pitathegreat.net

Out in Saitama (90 minutes or so by train), you will find Alishan Organic Center, run by Jack Bayles and his wife, who started their business when Jack wanted organic granola and couldn't find any. Now they have a riverside, organic vegetarian cafe and event space as well as a mail order whole foods business. Absolutely delightful folks.
http://www.alishan-organic-center.com/en/cafe/index.html

This is getting ridiculously long, but I could go on with some shoujin recommendations and destinations that fit your preferences. Please e-mail me if you haven't had enough yet.

 

cherie
February 5, 2009

You have to try Mochi cream ice cream. It's amazing. The ones I found at supermarkets weren't very good, but there's a Mochi Cream shop right outside Shinjuku JR station.You'll see the line-up. The double caramel one is my favourites. Don't miss it. See a photo of it here.
Have fun, bring lots of cash. The Japanese are the coolest people on earh. Shopping for cool clothes is a must. Here we have newsstands at train stations. Over there they have Gucci stores.
If you are going in April, get ready for madness in Kyoto. The cherry blossoms are gorgeous but there are huge numbers of Japanese tourists.
Have fun!
Cherie

 

nancy Danuser
February 5, 2009

Hi Heidi
I have lived in Japan for 4 1/2 years and I am finally heading to Kyoto for the first time tomorrow. Will give you some recommendations when I return if they are different from previous comments.

In Tokyo I would head over the bridge from Ginza Street to an area called Tsukishima. It is an older area of Tokyo where you can enjoy monja yaki (kinda like okonomiyaki but gooey). One restaurant called Keiko serves a great dessert made with an azuki bean crepe rolled around an frozen cream puff and sealed into little pockets. It's delish!

Also, the subways are handy but I like to head above ground and wander the streets to take in all the sights.

Have a great trip!

 

Marisa
February 5, 2009

I was so excited to see your blog...my husband and I are heading to Tokyo and Kyoto at the end of May for two weeks after he finishes some schooling in Okinawa. We also plan on spending a night in Hiroshima. If you get any good suggestions, send them along!

 

Trish in MO
February 5, 2009

Oh, Heidi, you are so fortunate! I have never been to Japan, or any Asian countries, but always have longed to go.

I have no fabulous suggestions like the others..aren't your readers great!?..but, I did want to wish you a very safe and awe-filled trip!

HS: Thanks Trish!

 

Autumn
February 5, 2009

I won't leave a long, detailed message, but will instead point you to a travel blog my husband and I kept when we went to Japan in 2007: http://allenautumnjapan.blogspot.com/

We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa. There is so much to see and do, I would recommend going with a plan - and a back-up for weather purposes. Also, make sure you carry a package of tissues with you at all times. Most public restrooms do not have toilet paper in them and you don't want to be caught without!

Definitely check out the Kyoto Costume Museum - it was really neat! Also in Kyoto: Ryoanji Yodoufu Restaurant - it's inside the Ruoanji Temple grounds and is also shojin ryouri.

Find a good map or take a GPS. Addresses do you *no* good! And there are little 'koban' - police boxes - every few blocks. You can ask a policeman where a place or address is located and he will look it up for you on the map. They are very friendly and helpful. You *will* get lost, though, so plan it into your day.

I am positive that Eric Gower would have a ton of recommendations for you... I'd definitely hit him up for a suggestion or two. Plus, he would be more familiar with "off the beaten path" kind of stuff. Most of us who went on short trips hit the "highlights", you know?

Oops... This was a bit longer than I intended. Have a fantastic trip and I can't wait to hear about your adventure!

 

Betty
February 5, 2009

My brother was in the JET program (Japanese Exchange Teachers) from 1997 to 2000. I visited him in March of 99 and before I left the states I purchased a train pass that was good for 15 days. It is only available to tourists and it will save you tons of money on train fares. Also unless you are staying within walking distance of your travels, the train system closes at midnight and to take a taxi back to your hotel can be quite pricey. Enjoy, it is a wonderful place to visit.

 

Katie
February 5, 2009

I have lived near Kyoto for 2 years now and definitely second the suggestions about the book Old Kyoto (and the Mochi Cream shop! so good!) But I think the number one spot in Kyoto is Nishiki Market. I take every single one of my visitors there. It's a narrow market, chock-a-block with mom and pop shops, several blocks long in a covered arcade. It's popular with tourists but remains a local market. Kyoto is famous for producing certain items, especially tofu/ tofu products, sake, and certain vegetables, which are then turned into pickles. On this street alone you can taste pickles made from all types of vegetables, sample freshly cooked Japanese omelet (with broth in it, to make it fluffy), watch fish flakes be shaved before your eyes, and wonder at just how many varieties of rice crackers there are... it's so much fun. There is a very famous knife store near the eastern end called Aritsugu. You can watch the tools being made and ogle the $500 knives :-) I highly recommend walking down towards the western end and buying a 20-piece bag of soymilk donuts. They're tiny and trust me, they go quickly! If it's a warm day try the soymilk soft-serve.

I also second the recommendation for Nara and Uji. If you go to Nara and get off at the Kintetsu station, go through the covered arcade to the end to see some fresh mochi being made (guys banging giant hammers!) In Uji, stop by Byodo-in, a temple that has on its grounds the oldest wooden building in Japan. It's 1000 years old.

For great shops and boutiques, try the Philosopher's Walk in the northeastern part of the city, and Gojo-zaka near Kiyomizu-dera. Toji does have a market on the 21st of every month but if you won't be in town then you're not out of luck. Try Chion-ji on the 15th or Kitano Tenmangu Shrine on the 25th. On the 4th Sunday of every month, Kamigamo Shrine holds a handmade market. On weekends there are often a few stalls set up on the grounds of Yasaka Shrine.

Koyasan is THE place to go for shojin ryouri. Your second best bet would be Kyoto but I'm not sure of anyplace to go. I've never tried it.

Definitely spend more time in Kyoto than Tokyo. Kyoto has every single one of those things you say you are looking for. My favorite part about Tokyo is how is easy it is to get out to Yokohama! If you have time, try visiting Yokohama's Chinatown and the Ramen Museum. Best museum I've ever been to!

If you have time let me know if you'd like to meet up! Or email me for any more info. Nishiki Market can be a little daunting if you can't read anything, but they are used to foreign tourists visiting.

One more thing: It will be VERY hard for you to remain a strict vegetarian while in Japan. Even if you speak the language and can make your desires clear, you will end up eating white rice for every meal. Whenever you don't see meat, they've certainly used fish stock to prepare your meal. I gave up on vegetarianism when I moved here. I'm sure you've heard it before, but just wanted to add my 2 yen.

 

Anonymous
February 5, 2009

While in Kyoto, any cook who loves beautiful Japanese knives must visit Aritsugu knife shop in the Nishiki Market!

 

Louise
February 5, 2009

I live in Japan right now - and am a vegetarian. It is a challenge but you'll be ok (assuming you are one) as long as you clearly stipulate you want no meat ('niku') and no fish ('sakana') - its also a good idea to explain you want no 'dashi' either - thats stock.

Most onigiris will have some kind of meat or fish filling - there are pickle ones, but unless you can read Japanese it could get tricky.

Good luck!

 

Louise
February 5, 2009

Oh and, watch out for bacon bits/pieces in your pasta (etc.)

For some reason, even when a Japanese person has explained I am a vegetarian and I do not eat meat or fish, my pasta ALWAYS has bacon in it unless I've remembered to say "no bacon!!"

 

Autumn
February 5, 2009

Also in Kyoto: BioTei Restaurant - tiny and vegetarian. And a bit more commercial but still fun: Kushiya Monogatari - skewers of veggies, cheese, etc, cooked in a table top fryer. Plus, rice, ice cream, etc., etc. Fun and delish!

 

Scott Olson
February 5, 2009

Not a lot of suggestions on places to stay showing up here - but please skip the western style hotels and book a room in a ryokan, they can be shockingly cheap if you shy away from the fancy, well advertised ones. Here is a link to where I stayed in Tokyo, the kitchen is open-air and I felt like I could have walked right in and watched, if not helped prepare daily breakfast.

http://www.homeikan.com/

Its in a residential area of Tokyo, a little off the beat path, but close enough to a train station. I think we all paid $30 a night to stay here, and it was super nice with a gorgeous garden out back for drinking your morning tea.

In Kyoto, we also stayed in a ryokan, but it was not as nice and I don't remember the name. Either way, hotels will be more expensive and less fun! Oh, and both places had western-style toilets, one of them even had the electronic style with a heated seat and washing apparatus.

 

Vicky
February 5, 2009

I haven't been here since 1991 (lived 3 years in Kyoto) but Biotei was my absolute favorite vegetarian restaurant. I loved their lunch bentos.

And Nishiki Market

I'm envious of your trip! Kyoto is magical food heaven!

Biotei
Central-West Sanjo-dori St, 2nd floor (at Karasuma-dori Main St, opposite post office)
075-2550086
Vegan-friendly, Organic, International, Japanese, Not 100% Vegetarian

Not 100% Vegetarian. Small cozy modern cafe style. Serves fresh vegetable-based food. Some English is spoken, but bring a language dictionary if you dont speak any Japanese. Open Tue-Fri 11.30-14.00, and Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat 17.00-20.30.

 

Sheryl
February 5, 2009

I've never really been to Japan but a friend recently got back and told me all about her trip. I think you should research the Kitchen District.

 

Vicky
February 5, 2009

Oh, and I definitely echo others about Philosopher's Walk, especially if you visit during Cherry Blossom bloom.

 

まり
February 5, 2009

I second that you should visit the kitchen district. It's called Kappabashi and it's pretty close to Asakusa, which is also an amazing traditional place that I would recommend. If you happen to be there when the cherry blossoms are in season, you would have to go to Ueno park, which is only a couple stops on the Yamanote line from Tokyo station.

I'm so jealous! I just got back from living in japan.

 

Nessa
February 5, 2009

Above Kyoto is a mountain town that native Japanese are always very eager to visit called Arashiyama. You can get there by bus. After seeing the sights there - lots of lovely little shops - there is another train which will take you another half hour up into the mountain where there is a shrine full of thousands of ancient statues that have been carved by monks over the last several centuries. Some are extremely old and moss-covered, others are of Mike Tyson, a baseball player, and even Colonel Sanders. It's called Otaginenbutsuji, and it's one of the rare unknown treasures of Kyoto.

Also, if you visit Ryuanji in Kyoto (a very famous zen garden), watch for an Odofu restaurant within the temple grounds on the walk out. It closes at 4 pm, but if you can get there by, say, 3 o'clock it's well worth it.

 

Kimberly
February 5, 2009

I think the Shinjuko-Goyen garden (near the Shinjuku metro station) is one of the most beautiful sights in Tokyo. Breathtaking!! I saw this on my very last day in Tokyo and it was the perfect way to end my three-week trip.

The Fukishima Shrine in Kyoto is just incredible. I recommend visiting at dusk. It's about a 45-minute walk to the top to see a perfect view of Kyoto. All the pathways are lined with torii... unforgettable.

 

Steve
February 5, 2009

Osaka, which is only about 30-40 minutes by train from Kyoto, is considered to be the culinary capital of Japan, though my tastes skewed to the low-brow while I was there. Kanto-style okonomiyaki and takoyaki are amazing in Osaka, but don't burn your mouth on the takoyaki! They stay hot on the inside for a really long time.
I also second the suggestion to walk the Philosopher's Path. It's lovely, even after dark.
I don't know why the Naritasan Shinsho-ji temple near Tokyo isn't more famous. It's beautiful and much more expansive than other famous temples. The structures are impressive but it's really the grounds that are the treat. There are lots of trails through the woods behind the main temple complex that are lined with beautiful crumbling obolisks decorated with kanji (forgive my ignorance of what these are called). It is located fairly near Narita airport, and the walk from the train station to the temple is a treat as well...lots of activity, shopping, and food (though pretty touristy). It's fun to think that shops like that have existed there for 1000 years!

 

gwendolyn
February 5, 2009

I think I'm about the fifth person to recommend this -- only because I really encourage you to go -- but definitely go to Fushimi-Inari. I have been to Kyoto several times (when I lived in Japan and again when I went back to visit) and it is in my top five list of things I did.

Go for an onsen; you won't regret it. Especially if you can get to one that has a rotemburo (an outdoor pool). There is just nothing like soaking in hotsprings, naked and out in nature. This is especially lovely at night, if possible.

As for food, the salads at the convenience stores (conbini) are oddly good in a pinch. Also try an onigiri (they do have umeboshi, pickled plum ones) that should be vegetarian. And mochi. Mmmm. I miss mochi.

Have an amazing time.

 

Maria Kalachova
February 5, 2009

Personally I'd go down to an Okinomiyaki place.. beer and Okinomiyaki, perfect!
Not many people try this out when travelling to Japan, because I guess it is sort of the 'local workers' meal choice, but I've not missed it in every Japanese city I've been to ;)

 

Big Al
February 5, 2009

If you have a chance to go to a festival (matsuri), check out the tako-yaki. They're little balls of fried octopus. Really good.

Tonkatsu/katsu curry: Katsu is just a pork cutlet, but they deep fry it and it is awesome with curry rice. You can find shops everywhere that have it.

Basashi/Sakura niku: Raw horse meat. I know what you're thinking, but FANTASTIC!! Some places you can find Sakura nabe which is just excellent, also.

Skip the blowfish (fugu). It's expensive and doesn't have much flavor.

SUSHI SUSHI SUSHI SUSHI!!! Amazing fresh fish, especially at Tsukiji as I saw mentioned many times above. Anyway, anywhere in Tokyo really has good fish.

 

Maria Kalachova
February 5, 2009

Also I'd agree with Laura on the dessert suggestion :) I have to say in all my travels, the Japanese are the best with deserts, tiny delicate perfectly balanced little things :)

 

susan
February 5, 2009

http://www.fukumitsuya.co.jp/english/sakeshop/index.html Fukumitsuya sake brewery- They make four kinds, and serve small plates of appetizers to compliment them. Bring your Japanese phrasebook because no English was spoken when we went and the menu is in Kanji, but we had no problem ordering one of each! Maybe a different bartender will speak English if you go.

 

Elaine
February 5, 2009

I used to live in Tokyo, but much of my neighborhood has radically changed since I left. Go to the department stores and check out the food hall in the basement. Hours of fascination for the foodie, plus a good source of souvenirs.
Take a small notebook and pencil with you, when you see the display in the restaurant window, write down the kanji from the label. This will usually get you the right dish. However, once we tried this in a little noodle shop and were surprised with the results. So we took the waitress outside and showed her what we wanted, and she realized the label was wrong! If you can stay in a Ryokan, do so, it is a wonderful experience, and the food. . . mind boggling.
See if you can find a place that serves kamameshi - sort of a rice casserole, we used to go to one in the Ginza district.

 

Susan
February 5, 2009

We're going to Tokyo and Kyoto this spring as well! How perfect. Now I can look at all the wonderful suggestions people have for you and try some of them myself! We will be on a tour with my in-laws. I'm not sure when we will have free time but I know we will. I'm looking forward to going to Kobe and having actual Kobe beef! Have a wonderful trip!

 

emiko
February 5, 2009

I've never commented before, but I figured now is as good a time as any. I've spent quite a bit of time in Japan, and have been to Kyoto and Tokyo numerous times. I lived in Kyoto one summer right in the center of the city- near Shijo-Kawaramachi, so I have a better feel for it. For really phenomenal tsukemono (pickled vegetables) you should go to this small store called Murakami-ju (190 Sendo-cho...you can also google the name or Murakami tsukemono to read more info on it...there were articles in the Times and the Chicago Tribune on it).

For dessert...when you're walking on Shijo (heading towards Maruyama Koen) after crossing the Kamogawa there are a couple small restaurants along both sides of the street that sell really wonderful desserts (the one I've been to is on the left when you're facing Maruyama Koen). They are very finely shaved ice, sweetened azuki beans, often small mochi balls, and green tea syrup. I always know which ones to go to due to the longs lines out the door, but maybe this isn't the case in the Spring...

Anyways, I hope you have a wonderful time!.

 

Katie
February 5, 2009

In Kyoto, visit the path of philosophy. It is so beautiful and peaceful. Also, while there, just before the entrance to the golden temple is a tiny soba shack. Eat the soba there, it is magnificent, and don't forget to have green tea soft serve! It is delish, Kyoto is famous for it (or so I hear). I recommend a twist. The food everywhere in Japan is incredible. I'm jealous you get to go.

 

Topher Click
February 5, 2009

Ryokan as much as you can.

Get up as early as you can and follow anyone carrying a shopping bag and looks like they are on a mission. I promise wherever they are going will be good.

 

Stephen Horowitz
February 5, 2009

Other people have mentioned Arashiyama in Kyoto. Definitely worth a visit. In Tokyo, I would also make a side trip to Kamakura. Besides the Buddha statue that someone mentioned above, it also has really great, old-fashioned narrow streets lined with shops.

If you're going to be there during cherry blossom (sakura) season, you should go to Ueno Park in Tokyo.

 

becky
February 5, 2009

I lived in Kyoto for a year, and if you'd like a nice area for a walk/jog, I recommend following Kiyamachi street, which is on the Takase-gawa (a small river running parallel west of the large Kamo-gawa) from Shichigo (7th) street up to Sanjo (3rd). It's really calming, there are plenty of cherry blossom trees if it's in season, and I think it's a great neighborhood to see the mix of modern and traditional Japanese life. The huge Yakuza (Japanese mafia) headquarters is located on Kiyamachi, as well as old tea houses, mom-pop stores, and old wooden homes. Kiyamachi leads up to the Shijo shopping district, which isn't the best to go running, but you can then get on the river pathway to run alongside the Kamo-gawa, which is also an amazing place to see Japanese life.

A beer on the riverbanks of the Kamo-gawa at Sanjo-bridge is what everyone does when the weather is nice at night - highly recommend!

 

chef mick
February 5, 2009

you cannot go wrong with food in either place - especially Tokyo. If you want to visit the fish market in tsukiji, you'll need to stay nearby, the trains don't run early enough. I'd definitely get to Kappabashi, the chef's district, it is on the Ginza line. My wife is a Japanese national working in Tokyo and could possibly help with further details

 

Hetty
February 5, 2009

For the Kyoto area you can prepare yourself with a Google Earth trip that follows the places mentioned in the Hyakunin Isshu, One Hundred Poets in One Hundred Poems.
http://web.me.com/heli1/My_Google_Earth/Projects.html
Enjoy your trip.
I am already looking forward to your Japanese recipes.

 

Mrs. L
February 5, 2009

I LOVED Japan, and hope to take my husband back someday. I don't have specific places to go, just three food things to look at:

1)The bottom basement floors of large department stores as most have mentioned are nothing like the traditional American "food courts". This is an entire floor dedicated to food be it fish, chocolate, prepackaged foods, freshly cooked etc. The one I went to in Tokyo looked like a big jewelry store with lots of glass cases filled with food instead of gems.

2) Be sure to take a good look at all the vending machines you come across. You'll be amazed at what you find they sell.

3) Check out all the food stands that line the subway corridors. Amazing stall upon stall of interesting finds!

 

Chikako
February 5, 2009

I recommend Ukai restaurant right by the Tokyo Tower.
http://www.ukai.co.jp/shiba/index.html#english

They specialize in tofu dishes in kaiseki style. Each table is in a private room, and the presentation is beautiful as well as the garden that you can see from each room. The lunch is more reasonable, but the night view is spectacular.

I highly recommend.

 

chef mick
February 5, 2009

Be sure to see the food levels at Sogo and Takashimaya - high end department stores - should you be in Yokohama Station, both department stores are in the station, as well as Cial. Avoid Queen Isetan as they don't allow cameras.

 

Jenna
February 5, 2009

My two favorite restaurants in Japan were:
Omen in Kyoto (near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, and the Philosopher’s Path). The best bowl of noodles I've ever had, along with lots of other delicious food in their set menu. (There's also one in NY.)
Brown Rice in Tokyo. Amazing vegan Japanese food, it's actually across the street from Crayon House (posted about earlier), which is how we found it.
http://www.brown.co.jp/english/index.html
I'm so jealous, I absolutely loved the food in Japan!

 

Maureen
February 5, 2009

I have nothing to add, as I've never been, but I want to say, I am so jealous of your trip!

and I'm even MORE jealous of your flowering tree! it's 10F here and we just got another 6" of snow!

I love winter...but your pretty flowers made me start to think it's time for spring. :)

love your blog!

 

Jane
February 5, 2009

Here is a great website all about Japanese food and restaurants I stumbled across: www.bento.com/tokyofood.html

 

Tina
February 5, 2009

Hello Heidi,
My first comment here, although am reading your blog frequently. Thank you for it!
I've lived in Kyoto for a long time and am one of those people who appreciate real food, so here are my suggestions, all for “quirky little restaurants”.
(If you eat sushi), dont do it in places other than Tokyo (or some place at the sea). Kyoto is not good for sushi, but for cooked food.
You are interested in shojin ryori, which unfortunately these days is not very common food and is often considered "a treat", thus being (ridiculously) expensive (and touristy). Since you are going to Koyasan and shojin ryori is their specialty anyway, in Kyoto you can explore Kyoto "home style" food called o-banzai. There is a vegetarian restaurant downtown Kyoto that serves it. The name is Obanzai and lunches are all-you-can-eat, offering good variety of dishes.
Koromonotana-agaru, Kyoto, 03 604-0024 Japan +81 (0)75 223 662

Another favorite is a place called Omuraya, a restaurant/pub-like place, very lively, with amazing interior (it is in an old storehouse with memorabilia from the 20s and the 30s, particularly unique). They have many o-banzai dishes, as well as other Kyoto style food. If you are a fan of sake and shochu, their collection is impressive as well. Second floor is tatami, first floor tables and you can chat with the cooks. Tends to be packed (it is close to Kyoto University), so a reservation will help.
http://www.omurahouse.com/omuraya/index.html
Their site is only in Japanese, but the telephone is 075-712-1337 and the address is Hyakumanben, behind McDonalds and next to the pachinko parlor ;)
If you happen to visit Daitokuji, plan a lunch at the best soba restaurant in town. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name, but after you get off the bus and head to the main temple entrance, it will be on your right side. You can’t miss it and usually there are people waiting in front of it. A personal favorite is soba with mountain vegetables.
Daitokuji is also famous with their natto and miso!
As for Tokyo, one worth visiting place is an okonomiyaki restaurant in Asakusa (downtown Tokyo) the location of which unfortunately is so difficult to explain, but in case you are interested, I will be very happy to take you there!
Please do contact me in case I can help you!
Tina

 

Jeff D
February 5, 2009

One of my favorite places in Tokyo was the Odaiba Onsen. A legit hot spring right in Tokyo itself.

It can be tough to find vegetarian fare in Tokyo. The Japanese don't really understand the reasoning behind it. Soba noodles should be a safe bet though.

Have fun

 

Libs
February 5, 2009

A few people have recommended the Japanese rail pass--it's a great deal, and you can even ride one of the shinkansen (bullet trains) between tokyo and kyoto. One thing though, you do need to purchase this while in the states, if I recall correctly, so I'd look into this sooner than later :). Also, even though shibuya and harajuku are very busy and hectic, there's great people watching at both.

Also, Bob's right on about Ryokans: definitely worth splurging for a night if you want the traditional japanese inn experience...plus they usually come with full, traditional breakfasts!

 

Carrah Bechtel
February 5, 2009

Dear Heidi - I just found out about you and as soon as I am done writing my Masters Thesis I will slave away in the kitchen with your book Super Natural Cooking. I can't wait.
I went to Japan when I was 10 years old and I have never forgotten the shrine of the 1001 Buddhas. Phonetically it is pronounced - Satch-oo-san-gen-do. Each Buddha is carved from ebony wood and each one is unique. It is a peaceful place and isn't overwhelming like some tourist spots. At least that's how I remember it. I got my degree in religion and Japan is the one place I'd love to return to now that I know more about it's religious history.
Have a great time. Japan is one of the easiest places to travel in the world - and the most polite. They are also quite good at escargot.

Carrah

 

Koshoji
February 5, 2009

In Kyoto, I recommend Cafe Proverbs 15:17. It has the best vegan cooking in the whole country. Besides that, you should go ANYWHERE. There are dozens of independent restaurants in Kyoto, just take a walk on the eastern side of the city and go whereever looks good.

 

mari
February 5, 2009

If you get lost and can't find any place nearby that serves vegetarian food...this my help.
http://vege-navi.jp/

I'm also planning on taking my vegetarian bf to Tokyo sometime soon, so look forward to hearing your stories!

 

Shannan
February 5, 2009

Just so happens I was cruising Chowhound.com looking for the same info. . Silverjay on this http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/571957 post was very helpful (as were others). Enjoy your trip.

 

Keyo
February 5, 2009

I went to Kyoto last year.
I liked Gogyo cafe near Kiyomizu temple.
http://www.gojo-guest-house.com/gojo-guest-house/gojo-e.html
I belive the owener can speak English, so you might be able to get some local information.

I also recommend you to wear Kimono to walk around temples.
You can rental it for about $50/day.
http://www.okamoto-kimono.com/index.html

Here is my photo wearing Kimono:-)
http://on.akysky.com/?eid=1242839

 

John
February 5, 2009

I recommend the 'philosophers walk' in Kyoto & various stops thereon - your guide book should have it - take your time

 

courtney
February 5, 2009

Hey Heidi,
Your recipes have been keeping me healthy and genki (cheerful! most ubiquitous word in the Japanese language...) all through winter here in northern Japan! Love the untraditional takes on soba noodles and sushi ingredients! Even the bf, who is baffled by the concept of food withot meat, is a fan!
not a big fan of Tokyo, personally. Not much nature! But Yoyogi park is lovely, and especially on Sundays you can find a bizarre assortment of the colorfully attired out and about in the park.
In Kyoto-- since you say time is limited, I'll just keep myself to the top 3 on my list: 1. Kiyomizudera! Pure water temple. It is a temple built into the mountainside--gorgeous! 2. kinkakuji - the golden temple. site of one of the oldest and earliest tea houses is also in the same place. 3. Nijo castle, one of the best examples of Japan's paranoid past! The castle is an excellent place to enjoy walking on "hummingbird floorboards" that prevented assassins from slipping by unnoticed. also, buy some "otabe" sweets while you are there! a delicious specialty of kyoto. like others have said as well, Gion is great for walking aruond and feeling some of old Kyoto, too.
Have tons of fun!

 

Tony Cross
February 5, 2009

Heidi.

There are too many great things to do in both of those cities, but below are my recommendations.

In Tokyo, visit the Sensoji Temple - easy to find and is fronted by an arcade of many shops, many of which are full of tourist junk. However, there are numerous little food stalls in the arcade. When I went there I just looked for the stalls where all the Japanese people were going to and bought whatever they were buying. I ended up with some wonderful red bean cakes straight off the machine - still warm and delicious.

Also in Tokyo, I think the Imperial Palace and Gardens are nice, but I think Harajuku is overrated.

For Kyoto, there is a book called "Old Kyoto" by Diane Durston which I think is a must - it lists many wonderful and old shops for crafts, food specialty items, restaurants, etc. This book was indispensable to us and I'd recommend buying it and going to as many places in it as you can. The book includes wonderful history of many of the places that you'd never otherwise know. I'm not much on guide books but this one is truly special.

The most memorable place we went to from that book was the Owariya soba noodle restaurant. In business for a few hundred years, they make their own soba and udon every day by hand. It's a nice, basic restaurant, and not expensive - the only problem is that once you've gone here, all other soba will be a disappointment, forever. I went back there many times and I bet you will too. Their signature dish is a big production of meat, noodles, soup, etc. but their basic cold soba with tempura is just as amazing and highly addictive.

My second favorite thing we did in Kyoto was the Kobo-san market - a combination flea and craft market that takes place only once a month. If you're lucky enough to be in Kyoto for this, do not miss it. We went to it at the end of our trip and ended up wishing we had saved all our money to spend at this market. There are all sorts of great craft items there and it's a big sprawling place.

For nice green tea, try Ippodo.

This is very off the beaten path, but there is a small shop called Kaikado - a family run business that has been making tea tins by hand for multiple generations. Their "storefront" is a small room on the ground floor of their house, and Takahiro Yagi (the current generation) speaks good English. The place is a bit hard to find, but if you're interested at all, it's a fun stop. (http://www.kaikado.jp/) Also, Ippodo sells a few of their tins.

Staying at a ryokan is a must for the cuisine alone. I found the Japanese Guest Houses web site immensely helpful in making an advance booking (http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/index.htm).

Other than that, I really like Kiyomizudera and the surrounding neighborhood for a great walk, and once you walk through Kiyomizudera itself the back way down is sort of a nature walk through a beautiful woodsy area, nothing strenuous though.

Have a wonderful time. I look forward to hearing about what you find when you get back.

 

courtney
February 5, 2009

nightengale!! not hummingbird! sorry, the English, she is not so good anymore...

 

Vanessa
February 5, 2009

wow such great suggestions. just to add something others haven't mentioned before, the mori art museum at the top of roppongi hills is excellent. you can check out their website to see what's being exhibited now. plus you get a beautiful view of tokyo from the observation deck and, for a small fee i think, can even go right out to the open roof top. truly breathtaking.

 

Honest
February 6, 2009

Hey been there the women damn nice but south of Kiyomizudera is awesome, well food i didnt mind what i eat but becareful...nice place.... police not very helpful with directions I dont know why....

 

KJ
February 6, 2009

A friend of mine said "We have to go here!!" and I am glad we did. In Kyoto, just outside the gate of the Kennin-ji Temple there is "The World's Smallest Museum of Ukiyoe" The gentlemens name is Ichimura Mamoru and he is a woodblock artist, and his work is amazing... i wish i bought more. The "Museum" is his home, it opens when he gets up and closes when he goes to sleep. He is a sweetheart, and his wife is hilarious. The actual address is 151 Komatsu-cho Higashiyama-ku Kyoto 605-0811 Japan.

 

OysterCulture
February 6, 2009

I agree with the recommendation on the fish market in Tokyo, if you can get in, I think it is closed to the public since tourists went a bit crazy hugging and kissing the fish. Folks objected to that being unsanitary, if you can imagine.

Here's a food blog dedicated to eating in Kyoto, which definitely has it down to an art form http://kyotofoodie.com/ When I was there I went to the Arts and Crafts center in Kyoto and was blown away by the craftsmanship. It is truly something, Bon Voyage.

 

Wayne
February 6, 2009

Wow, so many great suggestions. Here's a simple question:
best place to buy jazz CDs in Tokyo? (bonus points for Kyoto)

 

Peter
February 6, 2009

I second the thought on the fish market. You gotta get up early and walk through the big stadium with all types of seafood you can imagine-- 120 lbs. tuna wheeled on dolly carts almost running into you is unforgettable!!

 

vicki
February 6, 2009

hi Heidi, I was just in Tokyo for 4 months for school, with a 1 week trip to Kyoto.

Non-touristy places to see:
1) Spa LaQua at suidobashi in the Tokyo Dome complex. It's intimidating at first, but tons of fun.
2) The 3 temples in Kyoto that I think you have to see: Kiyomizudera, Fushimi Inari (2 hour trek up a mountain), Ryoanji zen temple. Oh and when you are in Kyoto, rent a bike and ride along the river valley (if it's not too cold).
3) A place for good photography (of insane highways crisscrossing and so much infrastructure) on the nihombashi bridge, and the edobashi bridge. This is where history in Tokyo began.
4) If you like Tuna, the Tokyo sea life park in kasai-rinkai-koen is a wonderful aquarium by the famous Architect Taniguchi.
5) The Mirai-kan on Odaiba. Odaiba is the weirdest part of Tokyo yet. The mirai-kan (future museum) is really well put together and fun and interactive (most stuff is translated into English).
6) The main Muji store. Close to the Yurakacho station.
7) Have Sumo Chanko at any restaurant close to the ryogoku station.
8) food places not to miss: under the ueno station tracks ichiran for awesome ramen. Harajuku, behind kiddy land for the bext gyoza ever. In Harajuku, walking along Omotesando from the harajuku station, about 3 minutes, on your left, advertising Jangara ramen, really awesome.
9) Hakusan porcelain, modern plates bowls vases kitchenware, that is really beautiful and well designed: Omotesando Station, close to the prada building, a brick building with stairs that lead you down to a open courtyard from the street. The store is on your left.

 

vicki
February 6, 2009

haha. scrap the ramen. I forgot that you are vegetarian. There is no such thing as vegetarian ramen.

 

Lois
February 6, 2009

I second Jimmy's suggestion of Tenryuji!. I lived in Japan for 12 years and it was a stand out.
Also try an outdoor onsen (natural hot spring bath).
Stay in a Minshuku which is a down home B and B that is less fancy (but wonderful) and less expensive than the Ryokan (a B and B with more stars). I LOVE minshuku and stayed in a few in Kyoto. I also stayed in a temple and ate temple food in Kyoto once. It was very inexpensive. North western Kyoto I think.

If you can do ANY hiking in Japan it would be an incredible experience. You get to go out in the countryside and see the beautiful little towns and meet real people who will actually talk to you (many speak english) while hiking. There's a great book, hiking in Japan. There are short, easy to do and get to hikes around Tokyo and Kyoto that would be fabulous - especially coupled with an outdoor or indoor onsen and a minshuku or Ryokkan overnight stay.
I lived there 12 years. It's a wonderful place and I really highly recommend what I've posted.
Have a marvelous time.

 

Isha Sheth
February 6, 2009

Hi Heidi,

I started reading your blog a few months ago. Your recipes are amazing and I always refer my vegetarian family (mom and dad) and friends to your page. I taught Japanese in East Harlem NYC for three years, lived in Japan for 7 months during college, and most recently worked as group leader for study abroad programs in Japan. I'll try not to repeat what anyone said already, but here are some of my favorite things to do in Kyoto and Tokyo (which the high school students I led also enjoyed)

*Eat okonomiyaki--- Japanese pancake--- very fun to go with friends. The batter is a savory one made of cabbage. You can get yours vegetarian w/ cheese.
*In Kyoto, I always take the kids to eat kushikatsu--- not healthy, but DELICIOUS and FUN. Basically you get your own personal deep fryer w/ all kinds of veggies, meat, and fish to dip into it. They provide the batter and sauces, it is fun and very tasty.
*Kyoto also has excellent tofu dishes. When I brought my Indian vegetarian parents to meet my Japanese host family some years ago, they took us for a tofu kaiseki (fancy formal multi course meal)--- the place was outside Kyoto, but I believe this is something you could easily find there. I had a 3 course tofu lunch at a place in Arashiyama.... you will love it. I believe there are a few tofu restaurants around here (see Lonely Planet)
*Definitely go to an onsen or sento. Its really relaxing and a very traditional Japanese experience--- I am obsessed.
*Odaiba is great fun--- they have a mall there with floors that resemble traditional Hong Kong and Tokyo---- really cute and a place to find interesting souvenirs.
*I think you've heard about all the good shrines in Kyoto, I do strongly recommend going to Nara for a day---- it is amazing. Only an hour train ride away--- you'll love the deer, enormous Buddha, and shrines.
You could probably even work it out w/ your Fushimi Inari trip--- though it might be a bit rushed.
*If you can, try to watch a baseball game--the way that Japanese fans cheer and participate in the game is very unique and entertaining.
*Participate in Japanese tea ceremony--- unique and interesting experience
*In Kyoto, there is an area where there are kimono makers--- can't remember where exactly--- but I went w/ my host sister. We went inside one of places and got to learn about the kimono process, which was very interesting.
*I'm guessing you don't have a lot of time during your trip---- but if you do can squeeze it in--- the shrines at Nikko (2 hours from Kyoto--- free trip if you have a JR railpass) are amazing in the snow. We stayed at a fabulous ryokan there w/ an onsen inside. I went w/ my language school when I was there in college---- it was an amazing experience. Kamakura is also really cool (only 1 hours from Tokyo)--- I think Nara is better, but if you don't have time for Nara go to Kamakura---- also has a really big Buddha, beautiful shrines, and a smaller town feel.
-- I don't think anyone mentioned Meiji shrine in Tokyo--- yes it's a modern shrine, but it is lovely and very peaceful (particularly in comparison to Harajuku). If it's a clear day, check out Tokyo Big Sight (I think that's what it's called) in Southern Tokyo. You can go to the top of a huge building and see amazing views of the city--- I wouldn't go unless it's a clear day though.

Thanks for always sharing your wonderful recipes.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. You'll love it. Definitely one of my favorite countries in the world--- w/ some of the nicest people around.

Isha

 

Stephanie
February 6, 2009

Hi Heidi,

We went to Tokyo a few years ago and while we loved the city we really loved the little town of Nikko a couple of hours by train outside of Tokyo. It is in a mountainous area that is beautiful and a great place to see temples. We stayed at Nikko Park Lodge http://www.nikkoparklodge.com/ It is run by a vegan buddhist monk who actually speaks really good English, which is hard to find in Japan. He cooked for us (all vegan of course) and the food was amazing. There are plenty of nature walks, some cute little restaurants and some arts & crafts / gift shops on the main street. I highly recommend going there, it will be a good break from the busy cities.

I think you'll love it if you go!

Stephanie

 

Camille
February 6, 2009

As mentioned above just one, go to Himeji Castle. It is not that far from Kyoto. I spent only 3 weeks in Kyoto and Osaka, and that was by far my favorite place to visit.

Himeji Castle is awesome!

 

Ms B.
February 6, 2009

You can't go past the recommendations of a fellow foodie and Kyoto expert - http://kyotofoodie.com/

 

Laura
February 6, 2009

In Kyoto, there is a wonderful tofu restaurant across the street from Honen-in Temple. The temple is charming and nestled into the woods. It has the feel of an enchanted forest.
Across the street, there is a great restaurant. The owner is very friendly and responded very well to my food allergies (it turns out that she has a close American friend who is not only allergic to wheat but also to soy which makes eating in Japan difficult). Kyoto is known for its steamed tofu, and this place is particularly fantastic and peaceful. It feels like you are in a treehouse -- you see nothing outside the floor to ceiling windows except for trees. This restaurant also serves a type of tofu made from sesame seeds instead of tofu. It is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

 

James Canty
February 6, 2009

I'm so happy for you! I think everyone should visit Japan at least once~~it's such a wonderful adventure!

Don't shy away from purchasing bottled tea from one of the hundreds of vending machines you'll be sure to see :) Many labels are also in English. It seems that hardly anyone in Japan drinks bottled water, it's tea instead~~yummy!

Tokyo has more Michelin stars for its restaurants than any other city on earth, so I'm sure everything will be delicious!

Be sure to try okonomiyaki or monjayaki. These are basically no-shows in US Japanese restaurants, and you can get them both meatless--Japanese comfort food!

 

Lizzie in Napa
February 6, 2009

I just moved home from living in Japan for two years. I loved altering your recipes with local ingredients in my rural village there! I can't wait to hear about your adventures.

Fushimi Inari is the place to go for nature walk in Kyoto. Inari is the fox protector god, and this mountain in Kyoto embodies the animistic, mysterious energy that we so often associate with Japan. Also in Kyoto is Mt Kurama, a must see. The woodblock map leads you to many different spots on the sacred mountain, home to many different spiritual and martial arts movements in Japan.

finally, just in general, a lot of shopping malls have floors at the top that devoted to all different types of restaurants...way nicer than the avg food court here...often times there are "organic buffets" at the top that have amazing, healthy food, and the buffet style allows you to pick and choose stuff that you normally wouldn't know to order.

this blog is the bomb: http://kyotofoodie.com/

have so much fun!!

 

Alex
February 6, 2009

In Tokyo-
I suggest Kitanomaru Koen (a park), there are different things to see there; I believe a science musuem, a concert hall, an ancient gate, and the park itself is lovely. I wish I hadn't messed up my timing, and thus missed out on going, but the Imperial Palace East Garden is supposed to be really amazing. Both are located in central Tokyo (Kanda, Tokyo Station Area & Imperial Palace)

Ueno is another great place to go. In Ueno Park is home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, it was a really neat stop, and there's also a zoo if that piques your interest.

Senso-ji was really cool, with a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine standing in the same grounds. There is also a shopping arcade along several of the nearby streets that offered plenty to browse.

If you have time for a day trip, Kamakura is a pretty cool place to do it. There are tons of shrines and temples in the area, suggest getting off at Kita-Kamakura station to avoid backtracking.

Unfortuantely I haven't been to Kyoto yet so no dice on advice about things to do there. Hope you enjoy the trip.

 

Anonymous
February 6, 2009

Hi, I live in Tokyo and have found a few places to indulge in high quality vegetarian foods. There is a 2 Michelin Star Shojin-ryori restaurant called Daigo in the Atago Forest Tower that I have been meaning to try. Otherwise, Kyoto is where it's at in terms of vegetarian temple food. I just discovered your blog but feel free to contact me at hpuglisi@gmail.com if you'd like a contact here in Tokyo.

 

Simon
February 7, 2009

Monkey Mountain is a must. The monkey park itself is a curiosity, but the pictures you can take of the Oi River are amazing. There is also good food available (as there often is in Japan).

Here's the Wikipedia link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iwatayama_Monkey_Park

 

Ms J
February 7, 2009

Ugh, it seems that my comment from a few days back was rejected or something...

Anyhoo, to recap:

1. the bento.com site has some great recommendations. In Kyoto, there is a great tempura place - Tenyu - that is outstanding. There is also a vegetable seller in the Nishiki market that does lunch sets. Absolutely scrumptious.

2. there is a book, "Cool Tools" on Japanese cooking utensils that is worth having a look at.

3. as mentioned, Tokyo's Kappabashi district is great. There is a great knife store there, Kamata. The owner speaks a little English.

4. for your general shopping, in Tokyo I recommend the areas Daikanyama, Nakameguro. Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa are a tad funkier. There is a great old-style food market in Kichijoji too.

5. department store basements are food heaven

As per some recent comments:

* Elizabeth Andoh is great, as are her cooking classes

* Alishan is probably worth a visit given your particular interests

* apart from the Shojin ryori eateries, chances are high that your vegetarian food may in fact use dashi (stock) made from bonito/fish

Hope this helps. And was that your Wayne asking for jazz CD store recommendations? If so, feel free to drop me an email so as not to clutter the comments any further!

 

Hiromi
February 7, 2009

Hi, there are many places to go in Kyoto, I can't chose only some, but Koyassan is great too, you can stay and taste real Shojin cuisine there. It is near Kyoto, and the place was selected as The World Heritage.

Koyasan http://www.koyasan.or.jp/english/index.html
The World Heritage http://www.pref.wakayama.lg.jp/sekaiisan/english/e-kiisanti.html

I am living in Kyoto, if you need more information, feel free to contact me at k16mi(at mark)yahoo.co.jp
I am a fan of your blog!

 

Jennifer
February 7, 2009

The philosopher's walk in kyoto is worth doing. It's through a residential area and there are all sorts of local art, food and shrines along the way.

 

Marc
February 7, 2009

* Kamakura is famous for its shojin-royi restaurants, as well as its giant Buddha and shrines. I haven't been there in years, so can't remember the name of where I went.

* I have a collection of posts on my blog about vegetarian dining in Tokyo under the "Japan" label (they are all at the bottom of the collection): http://marcsala.blogspot.com/search/label/Japan

* For a great tempura meal (which can probably be made vegetarian), go to one of the Ten-ichi locations.

* A few years ago the NY Times had a story about a splendid vegetarian restaurant in Tokyo. It's called Sen. A 2003 article by Elizabeth Andoh has this information: "Sen, 5-35-5 (second floor) Shimouma, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; (81-3) 5779-6571. Closed Sunday and Monday. No smoking. A lunch menu is $52, at dinner $70. Access: A 10-minute walk from the Yutenji station on the Toyoko train line."

* The bar upstairs in the Imperial Hotel is the only surviving part of Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the old Imperial Hotel (destroyed in the 30s).

HS: This is great thanks Marc :) It's great to hear from you. -h

 

Alishah
February 7, 2009

There is a fabulous tepenyakki place in roopongi, it's super hard to find, and ludicrisly expensive, but definitely worth it if you want to spoil yourself. My mother's boss took us when we were there a few years ago. I can't remember the name of it, but it's in this alley way. It's delicious and they'll cook you whatever you ask them to. I have dreams about that meal!

 

Annie
February 7, 2009

I had the great fortune to go last spring to Tokyo and Nara (a lovely ancient city a bullet-train ride away! Beautiful Temples and the largest collection of Buddhas in Japan. also, they have these deer that roam all over the town that you feed crackers to:)

One of my favorite places in Tokyo is a neighborhood called Shimokitazawa. It's a very bohemian, place, and every japanese person that I met told me to go there. I had a great day just exploring and seeing some underground music and theater!

Here's an article from a blog that tells you a bit:

http://blog.q-taro.com/places-in-tokyo/shimokitazawa/

 

Courtney
February 7, 2009

Hi Heidi, I'm so excited you're visiting Japan! I lived on Kyushu (the southern island) for 3 years and loved it. There's a tofu specialty restaurant that started there and is now all over, and I HIGHLY recommend you check it out. I make a point of going whenever I'm back and dream about it when I'm away. It's called Ume No Hana (plum blossom) and they do very fancy multi-course meals of beautifully presented kaiseki ryori. Tofu doesn't mean vegetarian in Japan though, so you'd have to make that clear. Here's the website: http://www.umenohana.co.jp/e/ The yuba course is the one to get; you make your own yuba at the table during the meal, and afterward the waitress comes to turn the leftover soymilk into fresh tofu. It is outstanding! You do have to make a reservation for that course though, and they can definitely do a veg version because my vegan friend also went often. I always went in Kitakyushu, the city I lived in, but I'm sure they're all over Tokyo.

Be sure to visit Kiyo Mizu Dera in Kyoto as well. It's stunning and will lead you by many yuba restaurants, a Kyoto specialty.

And you MUST go to Shidax for karaoke.

I'll let you know if I think of anything else!

 

Kay
February 7, 2009

The fish market at Tsukiji, Tokyo is not open for tourist anymore since their work was obstructed by too many tourist..

Nishiki market in Kyoto is in narrow shopping street but very unique as they carry tons of Kyoto specialty foods.
Ryoan-ji (temple) has a one of most beautiful zen garden.

Also try to visit following blog, it's one of my favorite, you might know already though.
http://kyotofoodie.com/

I hope you'll enjoy staying in Japan and try "authentic" Japanese cuisine.

 

Bambi Good
February 7, 2009

If you have enough time to plan for this in advance and have a contact in Tokyo or Kyoto who could make the arrangements for you, you might be as amazed by Kokodera (a shrine with a most remarkable moss garden which you can visit only after spending an hour copying Buddhist prayers with brush and ink). It's in Kyoto. The guidebook I have here doesn't give the information, but I'm sure you can find out more on-line or in some other guidebook. One of our favorite food treats was tasting endless samples of manju (red bean-filled pastries) outside the train station area of Hakone which is where you go if you want to see Mr. Fuji without climbing it. It can be done in a one-day trip if you leave early enough from Tokyo and the weather prediction is for a clear day.
My photos of the Tokyo fish market are among my favorites of the trip and the sushi in the little stalls at the edge of the market....!!!!!!

 

shizuku
February 7, 2009

Hello. I'm from Tokyo, but currently in Seattle, WA, U.S.A. I'm not sure about sightseeing, but I miss walking and bicycling around Tokyo. My home town has a nice park called Yoyogi Park. You can walk from the park to other nice places like Meiji Shrine. There r many Japanese gardens you can visit by train. You may want to visit a big book store which sells great guide books in English. If I were you, I would eat Shojin Ryouri at a temple. That is where shojin ryouri is eaten as you know. If I were you, i would start calling temples to get a reservation if needed. Don't forget to pick up a local free tokyo guide in English when you r in Tokyo. Don't forget to visit an English or Irish pub to find out more about Japan from your people in my country. : )

 

Jennifer Dery
February 7, 2009

Just wanted to add some Kyoto photos to everyone's comments above! I was there 2 years ago... I loved just wandering around Kyoto with no particular plan.

http://www.jendery.net/wordpress/index.php?s=kyoto

 

Hana Maya
February 7, 2009

As a Tokyoite living in NY, the followings are among the places that I am dying to go in Kyoto:

Flea markets (for antiques):

“Kobo san” market or “Kobo ichi” at Toji Temple (www.touji-ennichi.com/info/tohji_e.htm) - every month on 21st, 5 am - 4 pm
“Tenjin san” market at Kitano Tenmangu (www.kitanotenmangu.or.jp/eigo/index.html) - every month on 25th, 6 am - 9 pm

Shops:

Aritsugu (www.aritsugu.com), this is an equivalent of “Tiffany of Knives” for Japanese housewives and professional chefs. High-end and pricey but worth every yen.

Ippodo (www.ippodo-tea.co.jp/en/index.html)
Many who practice tea ceremony buy matcha (powdered tea) from this store (I practice, too). Take a break at the tea salon, Kaboku, inside the flagship store and stuffs give you private tea brewing lesson. Here, you’ll find tea canisters from Kaikado (www.kaikado.jp), Japan's oldest and the only surviving hand-made tea canister maker, with Ippodo’s crest engraved on them.

 

Jennifer
February 7, 2009

I love this blog! I am actually currently living in Japan and so many of the recipes are hard to make (this is not a land of whole grains), but I dream about them for when I return to the US!!

In terms of Kyoto, I have a recommendation for something to see and something to skip. There are 8 million temples and shrines in Kyoto (or it seems like that) and it can be hard to decide what to see. I would definitely recommend Kiyomizu-dera - an amazing setting, beautiful buildings and views and a fun uphill walk to get there along streets lined with shops. However, I would skip the golden pavilion/golden temple. The current building is a replica, you can't go inside and basically, once you've seen a picture, you've seen it.

And I second everyone who recommends Fushimi-inari. It is amazing!!!

Finally, depending on when you go, it might be cherry blossom season. If so, there is a walk along the (I believe eastern) edge of Kyoto called the philosopher's walk (it is mentioned in any guide book) and it is lined with cherry blossom trees!

Good luck and enjoy the trip!

 

Jesse
February 7, 2009

I agree with Emiko that a visit to a tsukemono ("Tskeh-mo-no" -- pickled things) shop is a must. Kyoto is famous for them, but even school lunches all over Japan feature them as a garnish. I think I have been to Murakami. I can't recall, because I was being hosted, so one of my friends brought our group to the shop/restaurant. We had an entire meal of these pickled vegetables. They were arranged on a plate in a grid of color. You wouldn't have been able to resist a snapshot. What I like about these Japanese "pickles" is that there is a variety of color and texture --and even flavor, if you pay attention. They are an acquired taste, though, so consider backup dinner plans if you find you don't like them. It seems that people who have lived in Japan and gotten used to them over time do better than folks who have never had them before.

Also, I don't know if Tokyo or Kyoto is especially famous for them (I live on Kyushu, the island in the south where Nagasaki is), but keep your eye peeled for "wakashi" --Japanese sweets. Wikipedia does a good job explaining them. There are all kinds, ranging from blocks of jelly to little mini cakes. They are usually beautiful to look at.

Finally, if this is your first trip to Japan, take a swing by the gift shops in any station to witness the unique omiyage (edible souvenirs) industry at work. Local delicacies (usually Japanese sweets) are wrapped and boxed in convenient sets. Simply find one you like, do a little math to see how many boxes your office needs, and buy. The various gift-foods in major parts of Japan are so well known that when someone brings a box to the office, I don't even have to ask where they have been anymore. Even if you are not planning to buy any to take home, let the vendors offer you a few samples anyway.

Many people have mentioned the JET Programme teachers. These people can be an amazing resource, since we live and work here in Japan. Ask around in your friends/family to see if anyone you might know is on the program and nearby. You might luck out and find a friend of a friend's sister is doing it, etc. Kyoto also has an International University, so there should be a lot of young foreigners around if you should need translation help, etc. But Kyoto and Tokyo are generally very foreigner-friendly, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Many of the suggestions here are also "Japan-wide" things -- Japanese Inns (ryokan) , futons, Japanese style communal baths (a delight for the senses, but it took me about 6 months in Japan before I was willing to get naked with strangers.) A grocery store, as was suggested, is also a good idea. I was fascinated with the way that traditional foods and fish are given so much space. Sadly, the produce section as we know it is given short shrift. Eating vegetarian is very hard in Japan. A good bet is to request Buddhist style vegetarian food. If you are okay with fish, that opens things up considerably. If you are okay with pork broth, even more so. Be aware that even if you ask in Japanese"does this contain meat"? Most Japanese people will say "no" even if it contains fish or things like pork broth. "Meat" is very narrowly defined here.

As for Kyoto, Japanese people will tell you to rent a taxi for a set-rate and tour the area. The subway is not at all convenient for getting to the major sights (temples, etc). The bus center near the station will sell you an unlimited use bus pass, though. They also have a map/guide that you can use. Armed with these two things, getting around Kyoto is a lot easier. You must plan very carefully before you go to Kyoto. It's (unfairly) my least favorite major city in Japan, largely because of the bad first impression I had (stuck trying to get around, rushed from one thing to the next) One can easily spend weeks in Kyoto, so don't be surprised if you feel unsatisfied after. But you can always return!

 

Diana-Beatriz
February 7, 2009

2 hours from Tokyo...Atami....Hot Springs to reinvigorate and de-stress. Hai, Heidi.

 

Jason
February 8, 2009

I'm a vegetarian living in Tokyo and I have to second what most people have said in that it is very hard to get a purely vegetarian meal. Even at some Shojin Ryori restaurants they will occasionally cook things in fish stock. The concept of vegetarianism is not well understood and even carefully explained instructions on removing meat will not be carried out in *your* own interest (it tastes better this way, I have been told several times). However if you are willing to compromise just a bit with stock you can eat fantastically well in Japan.

A lot of good suggestions above, but I would add that it is worth visiting the monk who sells shojin ryori bento every weekday by Daikanyama Station. It's not as nice as what you might get in some of the fancier establishments, but at JPY1250 it's a lot cheaper.

If you head north of Tokyo to the temple complex at Nikko there is a decent shojin ryori restaurant there, and another on Takao Mountain about 30 min west of Tokyo (you can take the gondola to come up).

Have a nice trip!

 

LyleAloha in Tokyo
February 8, 2009

Hi Heidi,
I also live in Tokyo, the following are my suggestions:

little shops and boutiques:
In Tokyo, KYUKYODO at Ginza 4-chome, for beautiful Japanese paper and stationery, calendars.
Definitely visit Kappabashi near Asakusa for all sorts of cooking utensils, packaging and restaurant goods.
Asakusa Temple is usually crowded, but lots of shops and good eats.

Art: in Tokyo:
Mori Arts in Roppongi Hills, Suntory Museum in Midtown; Ueno Park has several museums

Natural foods stores:
several popping up in Tokyo: a well-known one is Natural House in Omotesando and Yurakucho (near Ginza)

Try yudofu in Kyoto, in Arashiyama area.

Nature walks:
in Kyoto, there is a huge bamboo forest near Arashiyama, and all temples in Kyoto have beautiful gardens (Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple; Byodoin)

In Tokyo, Meiji Shrine, has a beautiful garden and lake, and is surrounded by trees

Neighborhoods with character:
- Nakameguro
- Shimokitazawa
- Kichijoji

Enjoy!

 

Inez
February 8, 2009

Heidi, I'm so envious of your trip. I'm a card carrying japanophile and try to go for a holiday every two years or so.

For getting around especially if you want to find out of the way places consider the bilingual atlases of kyoto and tokyo. Addresses in japan aren't like western addresses at all. Buildings are numbered but the numbers depend on the chronology of when each building was built in the neighbourhood.

I agree with the recommendation to spend a night at a temple in Koyasan. The food is great and the town is quite unique. I especially liked the walk through the cemetery - very atmospheric.

In Kyoto, definitely do the philosopher's walk. It runs along a tree covered canal for a large part. I believe they are mostly cherry trees so if your there in blossom season it's likely to be packed. It is also lined by lots of little galleries, tea shops and neighbourhood restaurants.

Okutan is a yudofu restaurant in Kyoto the Kiyomizu branch has some English speaking staff and great food.
3-340 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku
1100-1730 (closed thursdays)

I've also stayed at Yachiyo ryokan in kyoto. It was lovely. Very wabisabi, in that although interior decor of the room was obviously older, it was well cared for and unique to each room with handcrafted features.

I also recommend "Old Kyoto" by Diane Durston and "Exploring Kyoto - On Foot in the Ancient Capital" by Judith Clancy. Both great for finding small, less visited places with traditional crafts, food etc

Another side trip from Kyoto would be to the Kiso valley. Its the route of a traditional highway from Daimyo times. Severral of the towns have preserved their historic buildings (inns, shops etc) in their main streets. I would recommend staying at Fujioto Inn in Tsumago. Its a traditional ryokan with regional specialities as part of the dinner including homemade tofu which was delicious. The staff also speak english and its very reasonably priced as ryokan go. I really wished I had more time to stay here longer on my last visit. Never mind - there's always next time. www.takenet.or.jp/~fujioto/tomarie.html

The towns are filled with shops, small restaurants, some museums etc. My big buy last time I was there were cedar steamer baskets (I was sick of the cheap chinese bamboo ones that I bought in Chinatown here falling apart after a year or two). Again I wished I'd bought more in different sizes.

Tsumago and Magome both have small household items handcrafted from the surrounding forest timbers. For traditional japanese furniture go further up the rail line to Narai. The best shops are the ones furthest from the railway station.

For restaurant research, I always have a good look on Gourmet Navi in which ever city I'm going to in Japan. It gives details of the restaurant including menus (often abbreviated but it still gives an idea of the food). http://www.gnavi.co.jp/en/kansai/

Set menu meals in Japan are the norm and are always cheaper then ordering a la carte. If you want to try kaiseki but don't want to pay the high price then try a lunchtime sitting (not all restaurants have this) which is cheaper.

For tokyo restaurants, I also use www.bento.com
I can particularly recommend an izakaya in Asakasa called Den Den Den. Its very small and everyone looked very surprised when I turn up on my own, but both the staff and the other patrons were very welcoming and the food was great. I sat at the bar and watched at everything was prepared. The menu was all in japanese but the chefs and the other patrons were very keen to tell me what I should try and also offered me tastes from their own meals in some cases. (As in you just have to try this ...) Definitely a place to go back to!
Akasaka 3-14-7, Tani Bldg. 2F. Open 11:30am-1:30, 5:30-11pm. Closed Sundays.

For an idea of izakaya food and culture try to get a look at "Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Book" by Mark Robinson (recipes included)

To get a really good feel for Japan I think its better to travel outside the two main cities, but maybe this trip will wet your appetite and you'll go back to see more at another time.

 

chika
February 8, 2009

Hi,

Just a quick note for Wayne about CD shops in Tokyo: this is not a hidden gem or anything, there is a chain called Disk Union, and they have a few locations dedicated to new/second hand Jazz records - in Shinjuku, Ochanomizu, Shibuya and Kichijoji.

Their websites are in Japanese only, but I guess you can google it to find out store details. For a quick glance at what they might have:
http://diskunion.net/jazz/

Not a Jazz-only shop, but Recofan may also stock well, too (new/used).
http://www.recofan.co.jp/map/map_eng.html


Othewise, there are always Tower Records and HMV!


(I tried and posted a comment like this yesterday or so but I guess it got lost somewhere... otherwise, sorry about the duplication!)

 

Keiko
February 8, 2009

For Kyoto, I think you should definitely go to Ninen-zaka. It's a little hill on the way to the famous Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu Temple). There are many little shops like fans, chopsticks, Japanese plates, street food, and etc... Eveything is so neat, and it's so Kyoto-style.

I also recommend you to go to Arashi-yama (Mt. Arashi) in Kyoto. The best time to vist Arashi-yama is actually autumn, but spring is goo too. There, you can beautiful scenary of cherry blossoms, river, mountains, and lots of little shops. You'll have a nice little walk, but there will be lots of people since April is time of the year when Japanese people go and appreciate cherry blossoms.

So Ninen-zaka (on the way to Kiyomizu-dera), and Arashi-yama are my recommedations from me, a Japanese.

 

S.T.
February 8, 2009

My 1st.comment.How great you must feel to see so many people who want to repay you for your generous & nourishing spirit. I've been reading for an hour & am nowhere near the end so don't know if anyone's mentioned this but years ago,in Tokyo parks,hours of free entertainment were provided on weekends,by teens parading & dancing,dressed to the nines in outrageous outfits.I'm sure this has a Japanese name.Anyone?

 

Jacob
February 8, 2009

i went there and i have to say that everything i saw there was awesome and ya the tokyo fish market was so cool and i got to see alot of stuff while i was there i REALLY want to go back some day

 

Jacob
February 8, 2009

i went there and i have to say that everything i saw there was awesome and ya the Tokyo fish market was so cool and i got to see a lot of stuff while i was there i REALLY want to go back some day.

 

Ann
February 8, 2009

Inside Nishiki in Kyoto, try Hale for a great value set lunch (1000 yen) that's organic, vegetarian, and often vegan too (and really delicious). Other fun places are Yoramu sake bar, efish cafe, and Ippodo for tea (this last one is really a must-visit--the oldest tea house in Kyoto. You can order tea with a Japanese sweet and whisk your own matcha). The best place for mochi (and especially ichigo-daifuku) is just over the bridge at Demachiyanagi on the west side. You will recognize it by the long line.

 

Heidi
February 8, 2009

I picked up a copy of Old Kyoto yesterday, and (wth Wayne's help) have started plotting a bunch of these amazing suggestions onto maps. Needless to say, I'm more excited than ever to get to Japan. I was thinking to myself today that one way I might be able to repay your generosity would be to do a good post about my favorite places in San Francisco. For when you visit my city. It's something I feel like I'm long overdue on.

Again, thanks for sharing all of your suggestions, I know wrangling all those names and references into a list is time consuming! -h

 

ann
February 8, 2009

No comments on your trip but the tree is beautiful. It has not been pretty here (Indiana) in such a long time! Thanks for the beautiful photo.