Usually I am not very much attracted by Asian culture and landscapes. The only occasions I had to visit Asia so far have been exclusively for business purposes. But Japan is something different. Since I was kid I have always been fascinated by japanese cartoons (oh! sorry…Manga!) like UFO Robot, Mazinga Z or Jeeg and Samurai legends. Therefore Japan had to be sooner or later a destination for me to visit. And the expectations were totally matched. This was an amazing trip indeed and it’s a great pleasure for me to share moments and snapshots from this incredible journey of 12 days in Japan. Everything was super, except the weather: august in Japan is terribly hot and humid, thanks God there were vending machines for water, tea or other beverages almost in every corner…
Snaphots from Tokyo
Gastronomy take aways from Tokyo
Well Tokyo is probably the city with the largest gastronomic offer in the world (it also has the highest number of Michelin Stars awarded restaurants in the world) so it is impossible to give an exhaustive recommendation overview. Below I list the places where I have been…and yes I absolutely recommend them.
Sushi HARUMI: this place was recommended by Park Hyatt. If you are not able to reserve a table in one of the temples of sushi worldwide (like Sukiyabashi Jiro or Saito), that is very likely, Sushi Harumi in my opinion is one of the best alternatives. Located at the 4th floor of an almost anonymous building in Ginza (Ginza YAYOI Building, 7-6-19 Ginza Chuo-ku) that means almost impossible to find (and this is a valid reason to go there!) this is almost a jewel of 8-10 seats sushi bar where Chef Keisuke Yoshiya will accompany you in an incredible sushi journey. He is very kind, will explain you where the fishes are from showing a book and at the end will make a dedicated origami for you!
Creative Japanese Cuisine
In Tokyo there is a strong pastry tradition. One of the most interesting emerging streams is definitely the french school. Probably the best in town among these patissiers is Hidemi Sugino and his fantastic mousse cakes in Kyobashi
Well, this was THE experience. Go to the food hall of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza and look for the fruit corner SUN FRUITS. You will be astonished. This is not a fruitstore, it’s a jewelry not only for the unimaginable care of the fruit in display, but especially for the prices (one peach 10 USD…one watermelon 50 Euros!)…yes I had my peach!
One place that was intriguing is definitely Zoetrope in Shinjuku. The owner is not the nicest person in Japan, but the place is worth a visit. You will choose among a selection of about 300 japanese whiskies with a projection of silent movies in the background. Surreal.
Last but not least I cannot avoid to mention the bar at the top of our hotel: the New York Bar. Really a great place with a breathtaking view of Tokyo…but above all it’s the bar used as main setting of the film Lost in Translation
Snapshots from Nikkō
If you stay in Tokyo for longer than 2 days, I strongly recommend to dedicate one-day trip to Nikko (Unesco World Heritage). It’s approximately 140 km north of Tokyo and usually the hotel concierge can easily arrange an organized one-day trip by bus. You can also take a train, but if you choose the organized bus trip like we did you can have the chance to see not just Nikko and its main attraction (Tōshō-gū) but also other interesting spots in the surroundings like Lake Chūzenji and Kegon Falls.
This is another must go destination if you visit Tokyo. It is quite easy to get to the first location to admire the Mt.Fuji: Kawaguchi Ko, in the Five Lakes area. In our case the problem was that, because of cloudy and foggy weather,…we only trusted the Mt Fuji was actually there. Next time Fuji San!
Snapshots from Kyoto
Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in my life: amazing landscapes, outstanding food, fantastic atmosphere (you can easily walk on the street together with ladies and gentlemen wearing elegant kimonos), hundreds of temples immersed in a surreal calm environment, mysterious zen gardens.
It would be useless and difficult to say what to see in Kyoto, too many things to see and visit (there are 17 Unesco World Heritage sites!). Here I show what in my opinion are the ones that are worth at least one look.
Arashiyama (Bamboo Groove and Ōkōchi Sansō)
Street Markets: Nishiki Market
Manga! (International Museum of Manga)
Gastronomy take aways from Kyoto
Well, I already described in this blog the most exciting gastronomic experience ever had in my life (Kitcho), but Kyoto is not only haute cuisine kaiseki. We had fantastic dinners also tasting amazing Ramen and Tempura.
We stayed in a cosy (and pricey) Tempura bar : Tenyu. Nice place, fantastic tempura journey
Himeji Castle…back to the Samurai era
If you are fan of history in general and of Samurai in particular this location cannot be missed. It very easy to reach: take the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima and you will be in Himeji in about 1 hour. We made it in one morning!
Himeji Castle (Himeji Jo) also known as “the heron of Himeji” is the only one preserved castle in Japan. It survived heart-quakes, fire, bombing and today for sure is one of the few places where you can still breath the old samurai atmosphere. The castle was one of the most important of the country and it is often mentioned in many japanese historical novels like Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. It’s Unesco World Heritage.
At 5 min walking from the castle there is the Koko-En garden. It was the old Samurai village.
Snapshots from Nara
Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto. It is another unmissable destination if you go to Japan. It is famous for the most important Buddhist Temple in Japan (Tôdai-ji) with the biggest Buddha statue of the country (almost 15 mt height), for the other temples and shrines and for its park populated by dozens of deers (yes, deers!). Of course the whole area of Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara is Unesco World Heritage.