Two Weeks in Japan

Two Weeks in Japan Recipe

After two weeks in Japan, I begrudgingly boarded a 747 - final destination San Francisco. I have to tell you, there are times on trips like this when I get anxious to get home. I miss the little things. For example, being able to cook my own meals, having access to a washing machine, high-powered hair driers. I get tired of rummaging through my suitcase pockets looking for things. But this trip was different. I would have liked to stay longer, visit more places. We touched down in Tokyo on a chilly afternoon and spent the next two weeks bundled up and taking in as much as possible. We eventually made our way by bullet train to Kyoto, then onto Mt. Koyasan before flying back from Osaka.

I thought I'd try to outline some of the highlights of the trip in case you find yourself there. So many of you offered up suggestions, it quickly became clear I'd need another year there to explore all of them. I couldn't be more thankful for your insights, it was a bit overwhelming trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and more importantly, what to skip this time around. Your notes and emails helped immensely in that regard - enabling me to narrow things down. As far as traveling there in winter, it was quite cold, and it rained a lot, and snowed some. That didn't bother me much, it certainly isn't for everybody, traveling in winter, but I'd still go back this time of year. If you don't mind perpetually numb fingers and toes, the misty mornings were magical, and you could see the very first signs of spring in the handful of rogue plum blossom trees that had somehow exploded into full bloom despite snow still falling from the sky.

As far as restaurants go, we ate in many of the vegetarian or macrobiotic cafes in both towns (Tokyo and Kyoto). More often than not, the offerings were simple, fresh, and delicious. Meals were satisfying without being overly filling. Vibrant produce made an appearance at nearly every meal, the food was handled meticulously. Their lettuce absolutely glows on the plate, even in the simplest cafes. Thankfully it seems as if the Japanese have yet to discover bagged lettuce.

Two Weeks in Japan

Tokyo Highlights: Brown Rice Cafe served up the best tempeh I've ever tasted. It was fresh and nutty, didn't need any sauce, marinade, or spices whatsoever. Just a pinch of salt was all. We went back twice. /// Stocked up on snacks and breakfast items at Natural House, just a couple blocks from Brown Rice Cafe. /// A walk around the neighborhood streets of Nakano and a cozy lunch at Govinda's Veg Kitchen with our friend Kurt. /// PURE Cafe (in the same area as Brown Rice Kitchen) /// Meiji-Jingu Shrine in rain so strong the drops were jumping back from the ground. /// Lunch at Macrobiotic Marche (attached to a Macrobiotic cooking school). The cafe is also attached to a little macrobiotic pantry where you can stock up on some fantastic grain blends, miso pastes, seaweeds, seasonings, and the like. /// Stroll along the river to Cow Books in Nakameguro, spotted some really cool lunch trucks parked there as well. (Tokyo Paella & Soup Girl) /// Also in Nakameguro (across and diagonal from Cow Books), I popped into cute cafe drole for a slice of extra-moist banana bread. Then, a few blocks later stumbled on the exquisite mochi treats at Higashiya. They are presented in a beautiful baton box, wrapped, and place in a bag with a mini ice-pack to keep them chilled until you get home. Hard to resist. /// I found myself at the Shinjuku Muji store and the Shinjuki Isetan basement food court more than once. There is a nice grocery store, if that is what you call it, in that food court, and I stocked up on a bunch of Japanese salts and spice blends. And then I bought a six-pack of Pierre Hermé macaroons to take back to Wayne. We don't have those in San Francisco. /// Great photo book store / gallery, Sokyusha, also in Shinjuku. The little gallery was showing some huge, stunning Kohei Yoshiyuki prints - The Pond series. /// Leica store in Ginza. /// I got an email from a reader (thank you Caitlin!) who sent me a link to this article about a chef doing ital soba in Tokyo. The miniscule restaurant is called Asahi, and it is Tokyo's only Rasta-vegan noodle house. Chef Koichi Nakajima is it. It is just him, you, and maybe four or five other diners. He turned out our very best meal in Tokyo, and (at second glance) I think he did it using a couple of deluxe camping stoves. Well worth the effort it took to seek out the tiny, off-the-beaten path location (a couple subway transfers, and a 15 minute walk). I promise to write more about it in more detail later. There's a map on this page. /// Watching a snowstorm from the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower at Tokyo City View in Roppongi. We kept warm in a nearby bookstore with a great photo book selection as well - Tsutaya. Had a cozy lunch at nearby Eat More Greens. /// Organic Show & Earth Garden/Earth Shows with Chika - good company, and lots of interesting heirloom beans, grains, seeds, and arts & crafts for sale.

Two Weeks in Japan

Kyoto Highlights: After a week in Tokyo we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. /// Dinner in Gion at Yamafuku with our friends Aaron and Yuko - tip: bring your favorite Japanese speaking friend. In addition to many other things, a few highlights of this meal included a whole, small roasted eggplant with a double miso slathered crust, and sesame silken tofu. /// A friend gave us four tiny pastries when we arrived. The petite ginger-crusted cakes were made to look like baked sweet potatoes. I'm still trying to figure out how they are made, the cake inside the crust seemed like some sort of mochi cake, but I'm not exactly sure. It was our favorite pastry of the trip. /// An early morning walk through thousands of orange temple gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. /// The Golden Pavillion. /// The Bamboo Forest. /// Cozy, tasty set lunch at Biotei back near our hotel. /// Shopping at Angers. /// Knife shopping at Aritsugu in the Nishiki market. /// Best ever daily drip coffees around the big round counter at Inoda. /// Philosopher's Stroll. /// Soba noodle soup topped with egg and yuba skins and chopped green onions at Kyoto Ukiya on the ground floor of The Kyoto Museum. /// Most special meal in Kyoto was a shojin-ryori lunch at Shigetsu adjacent to the Tenryu-ji temple, near the Bamboo Forest.

Koyasan: We took the subway to a train, to another train, and then a cable car up the side of a mountain to get to UNESCO World Heritage site Koyasan. There are a few dozen monasteries visitors can stay at, but no hotels - we booked our stay through Japanese Guest Houses and stayed two tranquil nights. We spent most of our time walking around the town and temples - and enjoying the temple meals. You are invited (encouraged) to observe the early morning chanting with the monks, I imagine a rare opportunity for many including myself. And our misty forest stroll through the Okunoin Cemetery to the Lantern Hall was otherworldly. /// There is a fantastic little cafe (Bon On Shya International Cafe) on the main road in Koyasan where a couple, Veronique and Takeshi, serve espresso drinks as well as a lunch set each day.

I recognize writing about our trip in a list like this is quite this reductive, but I wanted to keep it to a somewhat reasonable length. I look forward to getting into more detail about some of the places we visited in the coming weeks/months. I'll likely post more pictures to my Flickr stream over the coming weeks as well. I shot the photos in this post the morning we visited Meiji-Jingu Shrine near Harajuku Station. Wayne took the two shots of me, one of them I'm a little damp from the rain, and trying to keep my camera dry using my hand (not particularly effective).

I hope this is a good start for those of you who think you might want to visit Japan. We definitely thought of it as an "introductory" visit, and can't wait to go back.

Apologies, comments are closed.

Comments

  • Sounds like a great trip. Definitely somewhere I'd love to go in the future. Thanks for the highlights on food too!

    Crystal
  • Heidi- I'm thrilled you got the chance to go to Koya-san! We spent part of our honeymoon there for a couple of nights and still talk about the breakfast and 6AM chanting! The cemetery stroll was particularly memorable- we were there in the peak humidity of September and received a few hundred misquote bites, but I loved taking photos of the shrines and all of the little hats and cloaks that people had made for the buddhas. Hope you had good lighting when you were in there- it was absolutely fantastic for us! -Siri

    siri
  • Sounds like you had an amazing experience. I would love to go someday. Thanks for sharing your travels with us!

    Hayley
  • Looking forward to hearing more about your trip and the amazing meals you had there. I love Japan and am very keen for a return trip there.

    Gourmet Chick
  • The camping stove you describe is very standard in homes in Japan. Most Japanese homes come with only a two burner gas stove - which I associate with a what you'd cook with in a caravan. Deluxe versions have a small slide out fish grill in the middle. Small kitchens need small appliances....

    Sasutan
  • I love the photos! Food sounds amazing. I'm envious of your trip to a nice country! I wanted more info on weird toilets.

    Meg
  • You are so fortunate to be able to travel like that..you know this, right?! Thank you for sharing with us. It's the only way I'd ever get there: vicariously through others. And your photos and recipes add such a lovely touch to it all! I will settle in with some tea and nut-and-seed-biscottis for the journey as you detail out your trip in the coming weeks! HS: Thanks Trish, I do feel very fortunate.

    Trish in MO
  • A few years ago I took a group of students to Japan, and we visited the Meiji-Jingu Shrine as well. I remember being fascinated by the workers meticulously raking the gravel road (your second picture). Thanks for reminding me of it!

    CW
  • I think the most wonderful thing about traveling is experiencing another culture and the food that brings the people together. How amazing that you were able to spend 2 weeks in Japan. I can't wait to see the recipes that come our way.

    Emily
  • It sounds like you had a wonderful trip! I'm very excited to get your Tokyo tips as we're moving there next month after a long time in a small town in the mountains. Too bad it was so rainy - there's usually a bit less rain and more snow that time of year..

    skye
  • Great post! You make me homesick for Japan. (I lived there for six years, from mid-20s to early 30s, and feel like I "grew up" there.) And I love that you went to Govinda's in my very first neighborhood in Tokyo! Are there still as many cats running around Nakano as I remember? HS: Definitely some cats still around Jennifer :)

    Jennifer
  • i love these photos above. beautiful. HS: Thanks Christie!

    christie
  • Sounds absolutely wonderful, I really hope I'll get to go some day. I've been eating my way through all of the lovely Japanese cafes, restaurants and bakeries in Düsseldorf lately, so I can't even imagine what sampling the real deal would be like... And I was wondering what camera you were using? The pictures are all gorgeous, they have this depth to them that I mainly associate with analogue cameras. I can't figure out what camera you're holding, so it would be lovely if you could put this camera nerd out of her misery. ;) HS: Thanks Julia! It's my medium-format Fuji. But I shot some digital on the trip as well.

    Julia
  • What an amazing trip. I've had a Japanese penpal since I was a kid (that's a long time, believe me!) and she's invited me many times. . . your photos motivate me to keep saving so I can finally get there!

    Ricki
  • Your photos are beautiful. I'd go to Japan just to walk down that road:)

    Rebecca
  • Oh...my husband went this summer and enjoyed it immensely. We mostly eat Japanese when we 'eat out' which is not that often anymore. However, it occurs to me then that perhaps I might ask you this question here and now...do you have a recipe for Ebi Sunomono? I sooooo want to learn to make that at home. Email me if you post something akin to that....thanks. Love the blog...great photos

    Trish
  • I am incredibly jealous! It sounds like a wonderful trip and I can't wait to see what recipes you come up with from your Japanese cache.

    Erin
  • This just makes me want to go back to Japan even more. I loved it there. Thanks for sharing your pictures and adventures!

    Eliza from Eliza Domestica
  • Comments are closed.

    Apologies, comments are closed.

    More Recipes

    Popular Ingredients