Where to visit in Tokyo & Kyoto?

Where to visit in Tokyo & Kyoto? Recipe

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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  • 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

    tom | tall clover farm
  • 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

    Terry Thomas Photos (Atlanta)
  • 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.

    Laurel from Simple Spoonful
  • 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.

    georgie
  • 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.

    Deals
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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!

    Claudia
  • 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.

    AcidFlask
  • 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]. :)

    m
  • 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.

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

    Pearl
  • 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.

    morgana
  • 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?

    Mettch
  • 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.

    Melissa
  • 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.

    Jessie
  • 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!!

    aya
  • 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.

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

    Deb
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