Today marks exactly one year since G and my last international trip. And what an epic “last” trip it was. For our belated honeymoon, we decided on an epic trip to Japan. Though reports of Covid-19 were trickling in, around the same time the CDC was cautioning against wearing masks (lolz), we felt confident. I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that it was a trip of a lifetime. While a lot has changed with the pandemic, we both have appreciated the time at home and the new opportunities we would have missed out on had we not been “grounded.” We can’t wait to get our vaccines and for future travels, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share the travel diary I kept during our trip. I hope you enjoy. – A
Day 1: 東京 | Tokyo
We arrived in Tokyo after a 15 hour journey. After breaking a cardinal travel rule (no cat naps while you’re adjusting to a new time zone), we set out for dinner. Based on a single pictureless google review, with a single word description “delicious”, G found the best Udon restaurant in Tokyo. We sampled the Niku Udon (Udon with Beef), and our life was changed when fellow diners told us to add a yuzu spice halfway, which dramatically changed the already perfect broth.
Day 2: 東京 | Tokyo
After a late start, G and I opted to try the infamous Japanese Egg Sandwiches from Lawsons (a convenience chain throughout Japan), which were, no joke, the best white bread sandwiches I’ve ever had. (The best sandwich is hand’s down from Lorenzo’s Sandwich Shop in Belmont, CA). We then took a stroll from Shinjuku, stopped at a local shrine, to the Harajuku Adventure, stopping only to sample the delicious french toast at Aaliya’s. The Harajuku District was sensory overload– from the squishy toy shops to the Shiba Inu cafe, you can easily get lost for days in the bright colors. Dinner was another adventure in deciphering Kanji. With the help of several kind locals, we ended up on the second floor of a hidden grill room. Words cannot describe the tenderness of this meat. The night ended in a Starbucks overlooking (and documenting) in the infamous Shibuya Crossing.
Day 3: 東京 | Tokyo
We woke up at 4AM to go on the best tour of Tokyo’s Tsukiji (Old) and Toyosu (New) Fish Market. Words cannot describe watching the 6AM Tuna Action, getting a private tour of the Intermediate Market, and a fly by visit to the Asakura Shrine. All of this followed by a 9 course Kaiseki Meal. Toshi-San’s tour was life-changing. After rolling out of Toshi-San’s place, we decided to grab Tokyo’s ultra modern ferry to the #TeamLabsBorderless exhibition, which was one of the coolest and most fun art installations I’ve seen in a while. We then took a trip to the Akihabra District to explore the electronics wonderland, and finally rewarded our 30,000 step day with some delicious Tantan Ramen.
Day 4: 白川郷 | Shirakawa-go
Today, we took our first Shinkansen (bullet) train to Noyama, where we had the most incredible train station soba. At this point we have had 9 course meals, convenience store sandwiches and train station noodles, all of which have been exceptional. Though our Japanese is terrible, every one has been extremely kind and patient helping us choose the best possible meal. We then continued by bus into the snow capped mountains into the UNESCO World Heritage site, and our next destination: Shirakawa-go, a small, traditional village filled with gassho-sukuri farmhouses. We were fortunate enough to be able to book a stay in one of the iconic gassho houses for the night. After dropping off our bags, we stopped by the local museum to learn how these beautiful houses were built. We then took a walk through the village and up the overlook point to view the gasso houses nestled in the valley. Of course, G decided to ignore the “No Trepassing Sign” and take us down the more…exciting path back to town. He’s super lucky that at the base of the path was some delicious Takoyaki (Octopus Dumplings). At night, we dressed (first incorrectly) in the provided Kimonos, and start next the hearth, where we had an incredible meal with tempura, veggies and the famous hida beef. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Day 5: 金澤市 | Kanazawa
The day started with an incredible breakfast in our gasso, and a rainy walk through the village. We then made our way to the beautiful northern city of Kanazawa. It is definitely a city less traveled for tourists, which made it even more special. After dropping off our bags, we headed out for some lunch and discovered what we thought was a Tonkotsu (Ramen) shop but turned out to be the absolute BEST Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) shop. This restaurant was set up in the living room of a house, with Jiro and his wife, Nobiko, deftly frying up delicious breaded pieces of pork. Clearly, this was a spot for the locals, with patrons quicky coming in and out for this single dish meal. Perhaps the things I will remember the most about Kanazawa is just how NICE every single restaurant owner was. Jiro and Nobiko spent so much time, via translation apps, telling us about themselves, about the city, and advice on where to go. Later that day, after two stunning museum visits to a Samuri Museum and a Pharamacy Museum, we stopped in at a coffee shop as it was closing. I’m devastated that we didn’t get the coffee shop owner’s name, as he spent TWO hours with us, also via translation apps, chatting with us. As a skeptical New Englander, I will always be touched by their kindness. (I also just want to mention that the coffee shop owner, upon finding out we were on our honey moon, gave us the most beautiful wind chime that is hanging up in our Providence apartment as I write this.)
Day 6: 金澤市 | Kanazawa
Today we visited one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan- Ken-rokuen. We discovered that at many sites they offer free tours in English, which made a world of difference. Matsu (Pine) our guide took us through how the Maeda family transformed this beautiful garden. Afterwards, we traveled to the Higatashi district for the most fluffy (and delicious) pancakes, and gold leaf peeping. Then it was time to say “sayonara” to Kanazawa and domo Osaka, but not before grabbing the most delicious eki-ben / train snacks for our Shinkansen journey. Upon arrival to Osaka, our hotel went out of their way to welcome us for our birthday/honeymoon celebration.
Day 7: 姫路城 | Osaka
Our whirlwind tour of Japan continued with a magical day trip to Himeji Castle and Koko-Ren gardens. Despite the name, this wasn’t a palace, but rather a arms storage facility from the 1600s onwards. It was constructed in 8 years, 8,000 workers a day, and NO written plans. It is honestly one of the most beautiful and innovative designs. Thanks to Seo for our in-depth tour. After catching a hikari train (second fastest)- we proceeded on a impromptu food tour of Osaka. We samples kushi katsu via a train delivery system and ipad app ordering, and matsusaka beef. The night ended, and Gabriel’s birthday began with a speakeasy cocktail bar. Jiro dazzled us with his incredible mixing skills.
Day 8: 姫路城 | Osaka
It’s Gabriel’s birthday! And what a (continued) celebration it was. The day started with some more fluffy pancakes and cheese fondue. We wandered until we stumbled on our local sushi shop. Of course, the otoro was the best of the bunch. We then trained over to Sakai, where artisans specialize in Japanese knives. We first stopped at the local museum to learn about the history and craft, and then went to the famous @jikkocutlery_sakai! What an experience! 2 hours later, we walked away with the most beautifully handcrafted gyuto with the handle made from rosewood and buffalo horn and the blade made from super blue carbon steel clad in stainless steel. Of course, all that oohing and awwwing fueled our hunger so on our way out of Kyoto, we stopped for some of the best kushi katsu I have ever tasted. It was so hard to leave Osaka as it is such a beautiful city, with friendly people and some of the best food we’ve tried. Now we’re in our second of last city of the trip- beautiful #Kyoto.
Day 9: Kyoto
I keep wondering how this trip could get any better and here we are- Kyoto. The day started with a gorgeous breakfast at our hotel @kyoto_yura_mgallery. Tea over looking an indoor bamboo garden is just …incredible. We then took the train out to the popular #fushimiinari. While it has become a very “instagram able” destination- it is also super peaceful. Counting The hundreds of torii gates, sponsored by different families, is deeply mediatative. And the sharp contrast of the electric orange gates to cool greens of the surrounding forest are unreal. We were sad to leave but knew we wanted to catch a glimpse of the infamous 八坂の塔 (Yasaka-no-to Pagoda or Hokanji Temple) in the beautiful Higashiyama district. It did not disappoint…nor did the fantastic zaru soba at a nearby local shop. Sitting on takami mats takes some getting used to but what an experience. We then made a lighting spot to the Kyoto Heritage Center, and got to see an aristan working on damasac art. There are so many incredible crafts- watching him hammer tiny flakes of gold into a tiny black box, using a pattern from his mind, was beautiful. And then, the best part of the day (trip even) was our dinner at Gion Sasaki. This 11 course kaiseki was unparalleled. We snuck some photos (sorry) of some of the dishes. Words cannot describe how truly wonderful and tasty this meal was! I’m only sharing a couple photos from the night but the grilled trout and crab dishes were extraordinary. As was having a private room to enjoy the meal. Perfect night, perfect vacation.
Day 10: Kyoto
Our Kyoto adventures continued with an early morning visit to 金閣寺 (Kinkakuji | Golden Temple). Despite the overcast forecast, the skies opened open for a stunning spotlight on this golden temple. Though recently rebuilt after a mad monk burnt it in the 1950s, this temple has a classic and timeless feel. The surrounding gardens were so peaceful despite the chilly weather! We then headed to the incredible Ryoanji, to sit and count the 15 rocks in the infamous Rock Garden. Our goal keep all rocks in eyesight from one spot. G did it in an astonishing 5 minutes. After our sightseeing we needed to feed our bellies at Nishiki Market. We started with a soy milk donuts and finished with some Kyoto Udon. Nishiki Market was a sight to see with hundreds of stalls and shops selling everything from matcha to tako tamago (octopus and quail egg). Nearby we stopped at the gorgeous @wakabaya_kyoto for some gorgeous pottery. Checking out the different ceramics across Kyoto has been endlessly gratifying. The night started with the best ramen (8 seater restaurant and the BEST “meat dumplings” around. We have tried seven different types of noodle soups and all have been different and wonderful in their own right. As you can guess, our trip has truly been an exploration of different Japanese foods. We will truly miss popping into side streets and trying new foods. Though we were full and desperate to catch some zzzs. G and I ended the night at the most incredible bar- @escamoteurbar |L’Escamoteur. Our incredible bartender Hiro in Osaka recommended we stop by, and boy were we glad we did! The atmosphere (steampunky magical top hats) was so fun and festive, and the drinks superb. It was a truly incredible end to a magical city.
Japan Day 11 + 12: Kawaguchiko, Mount Fuji and Tokyo
Gand I have sadly come to the end of our trip. Our last two days in Japan have been….you guess it…incredible. We took our last hikari train- the second fastest bullet train- to Mishima and two bus rides later we were in Kawaguchiko. While we had planned some adventures into town, the view of Mount Fuji from our window was too scenic. We spent the days sipping hot tea and bathing in the hot onsens (public baths), taking in this glorious view. It is no wonder that this view inspired so many famous works, including my favorites by Hokusai. It was hard to leave, but we said a good bye to our beautiful hotel on Saturday and snuck in a quick Michelin meal at Nakajima in Shinjuku in #tokyo. It was a feast of sardines- fried, egged, and sashimi. I remained stunned at the mastery. As we board the plane for home, I am in awe of this beautiful, kind country.