Japan

When was the rating made?
We were there May 17 – June 2Where did we go?
Kyoto (& Nara)
Hiroshima
Koya-san
Takayama
Tokyo

 

Note: All of our accommodation, with the exception of the airport Ramada, was traditional Japanese style with futons placed on tatami mats nightly and a shared bath.

Note 2: Japan has such amazing food beyond the sushi that is available at home. It is really worth seeking out a variety of meals at the various specialty restaurants. Some to make sure to include: Okinomiyaki, Tempura, Katsu-don, Kaiseki, Ramen, Udon, Soba, Sukiyaki or Shabu-Shabu, Sushi / Sashimi. With the exception of the last two, all of these meals can be had very inexpensively at a multitude of restaurants, especially in Kyoto.

Kyoto

Accommodation

  • Matsubaya Inn – A short walk from the Kyoto Station, this inn provides a good introduction to a ryokan. 2 stars.
  • Ramada Kansai – This is located a short distance from the KIX airport. It is a good (and least expensive option) to stay if your flight gets in late at night. 2.5 stars.
  • Hirota Guest house – A lovely small ryokan run by Hirota-san. She is very helpful in providing recommendations and directions to wonderful attractions all over the city. The tatami rooms are quite comfortable. 3 stars.
  • Three Sisters Inn Annex – This place didn’t have as much personality as Hirota’s, but the space is very functional and the price is quite reasonable. The staff is also very helpful. 2.5 stars.

Restaurants

  • Tamura Restaurant (Gion) – A tiny place with a delicious home cooked style food. 2.5 stars.
  • Omen – Serves Omen set (udon noodles) and is an absolutely delicious lunch. Located near the Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) behind to the bus parking lot for the temple. 3.5 stars.
  • Ganko – A relatively inexpensive way to try kaiseki (set menu), but the food is nothing to write home about. There are several branches in the city. 2 stars.
  • Mishima Tei – Sukiyaki restaurant on Sanjo-dori and Teramachi-dori. This is supposedly a classic Kyoto restaurant with its highly polished dark wooden floors and very attentive service. The woman who cooked our sukiyaki stayed with us at the table throughout our meal. The price for sukiyaki is quite high and I am not convinced this is the best place in town. Nevertheless, it is worth having at some point on a visit to Japan. 2.5 stars.
  • Waraji tei – The best homestyle cooking restaurant we found in Kyoto (based on several creditable recommendations) This restaurant is out of the way which makes it all the more of an adventure. No English is spoken but the food is fabulous. To make reservations, have a Japanese speaker call 075 801 9685. 3.5 stars.
  • Ippo(o)-do(o) tea – A very snazzy place to have formal Japanese tea service in a very modern setting. Depending on the tea you select, they will provide you step-by-step instructions on how to properly prepare the tea. Nijo-kita Teramachi. 2.5 stars.
  • Takasebune – A tempura restaurant only in a tiny little restaurant with delicious tempura. 188 Sendo-cho Shijo-sagaru on the little street just on the east side of the Hankyu department store. 3 stars.
  • Small place across the street from Hirota Guesthouse with a sign that says “Seafood” in English – Serves series of small dishes specializing in seafood. A nice dinner out without costing an arm and a leg. The grilled fish was particularly delicious. 3 stars.
  • Okaru (Nara) – A great classic little okinomiyaki restaurant in Nara. They cook the okinomiyaki or yakisoba at your table for you. Delicious. 13, Higashimukiminamimati. (0742) 24 – 3686. 3 stars.
  • Yorum – Sake bar on Nijo dori about 4 blocks west of Hirota’s on the south side of the street. Yorum has extensive sake knowledge and speak English fluently (he’s Israeli). If you like sake, this is definitely worth the trip. (And even if you don’t he will introduce you to one that will make you like it!) During the daytime, the space is used by another man, that makes delicious soba. 3 stars.

Activities

  • Temple visitation – There are many wonderful temples to see in Kyoto. Some of the most impressive are Kiyomizu temple and Kinkakuji (Golden temple), although both are also quite busy tourist attractions.
  • Monthly flea markets – If you are in town when one of the flea markets is on 21st of the month (Toji temple) or 25th of the month, this is a wonderful (but overwhelming place!) to visit. They are huge and provide the opportunity to buy many things including vintage kimonos at very low prices.
  • Geisha performance – A few times a year, the various geisha houses will offer public performances to display their dnacing and performance skills. While the whole thing is in Japanese, it is still a fascinating performance to attend.
  • Sample tastes and crafts from “Old Kyoto” – there are many different traditional types of shops in Kyoto including fresh rice crackers (Funahashi-ya on Sanjo-dori at Kawaramachi-dori) and hand crafted brooms at Naito (located right next door).
  • Miho Museum – The museum specializes in ancient relics from all over the world. The collection is small, but the real draw is the incredible building designed by I. M. Pei. It is built into the mountains about 1.5 hours from Kyoto. It is truly a spectacular building.
  • Day trip to Nara – Viewing the Todaiji temple in Nara is among the most impressive temples in all of Japan. The wooden structure surrounding the Buddha is the largest wooden building in the world and is well worth the trip. There is a covered arcade on the walk from the train station to Nara Park with many restaurants including some very authentic (and inexpensive) okinomiyaki restaurants. The deer park is also lots of fun for kids.
  • Walk around the fresh food market of Nishiki – For several blocks there are many different speciality food vendors selling their goods. Many different sights, smells and tastes! This also includes the famous Aritsugu kitchen store, specializing in knives. Gokomachi nishi-iru, Nishiki-koji-dori.

 

Hiroshima

This section can’t be written up in the same way as the others because we went to Hiroshima with the sole focus of paying our respects to the city as Americans. The city has done an amazing job both memorializing a horrific event as well as committing itself to trying to make the world a more peaceful place for future generations through the abolishment of nuclear weapons. It is a difficult trip, but absolutely worth it.

Peace Memorial Park has many different memorials worth viewing. You enter at the A-bomb dome which is a physical demonstration of the destruction caused by the bomb. Then you pass the Korean memorial. One in ten of those killed were Korean laborers working in Hiroshima. The centotaph and eternal flame is the centerpiece of the park. The Children’s Memorial is a moving dedication to the children killed by the bomb and the paper cranes that have been sent from all over the world in recognition of Sadako Sasaki’s effort to fold a thousand paper cranes to cure her of the leukimia she developed as a 10 year old. More people visit the Peace Memorial Museum, but it is also worth visiting the Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims. This sobering space provides names and faces of the victims of the bomb.

 

Koya-san

Koyasan is unlike any place else with the incredible amount of temples all on this mountain top. The main event is to stay in a temple where you are provided dinner and breakfast the following morning.

Accommodation

  • Ekoin – All of the accommodation in Koya-san are in temples. This place was friendly to foreigners who don’t speak Japanese. The breakfast and dinner served in our rooms were both delicious. The morning services were beautiful and it felt much worth the effort of having traveled there..

Activities

  • Kongobi-ji – The central temple in Koya-san. The amazing paintings on the screen doors telling a series of stories are quite impressive as is the rock garden.

 

Takayama

Accommodation

  • Minshuku Kuwataniya – This guesthouse is located relatively near the train station. The facilities are fine, although not remarkable and the rooms are quite small. There is no English spoken and there is little interest among the staff in helping bridge the language barrier. 2 stars.

Restaurants

  • We mistakenly failed ot note the name of any of the restaurants we ate at in Takayama. (Although that is partly because are stops were fairly unremarkable.) There are a few local flavors worth seeking out. Hida beef is the local beef and is quite tasty, often compared to Kobe beef and while it is expensive, it isn’t quite Kobe prices. We found a butcher / restaurant, where we selected a steak from the refrigerator when we entered, they sliced it up for us in the back and we cooked it over hot coals brought to our table. This restaurant is right on the corner about 1/2 a block from Minshuku Kuwataniya in the opposite direction of Kokobun-ji on the corner, upstairs from the butcher.
  • Hoba miso is also worth seeking out. The sweet miso is cooked with magnolia leaf, giving it a unique and tasty flavor.


Activities

  • Strolling around town – one of the most interesting parts of Takayama is that it provides an opportunity to see a town, rather than the hustle and bustle found in many of the larger cities more common on the tourist path. Many of the buildings are quite old, particularly in the historical area of town and this provides a little insight into how the area may have looked several centuries ago. There are also many places to buy crafts that are made in the area.
  • Try sake from a local brewery – There are several small local breweries in Takayama, no larger than a storefront. Although they are not producing sake for much of the year, it is still worth stopping in, having a drink and taking in some of that atmosphere.

 

Tokyo

We really can’t do this section just because we only had a very short time here and it was mostly filled with the logistics of getting ready to leave. But I will share our thoughts on the few places we can.
Accommodation

  • Katsutaro Ryokan Annex – This is a great option for Tokyo. It is a very modern hotel. It has tatami mats for sleeping, but en suite western style bathrooms. The staff was moderately helpful and the neighborhood had lots of charm. 3 stars.

Restaurants

  • Seitarou – A very tasty sushi bar at reasonable prices. It is about a 5-7 min walk from Katsutaro Annex on the same street. With your back to the hotel, walk right and it is on the right side of the street, right before the larger street. 3 stars.
  • Asano – A simple tempura or sashimi lunch set about 200m from Katsutaro. The food was relatively average, but the people were very friendly. 2.5 stars.
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