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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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

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.

Jerome

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!

Chris

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.

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

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!

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.

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!

Julia

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

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!

Kellie Holway

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!

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.

Tamelise

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).

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.

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

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.

Bob

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.

julie chang

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.

Laura

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!

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