From the blog

A journey through Japan

I fell in love with Japan as a young girl watching Memoirs of a Geisha. Everything about the place – the culture, the people, the clothes, the food – enthralled me for many years. After a long wait, I finally visited the Land of the Rising Sun, and it exceeded my expectations. I cannot recommend it enough. As for time, the more you have the longer i suggest spending there – it is virtually impossible to run out of things to do or see. I went with just over 3 weeks for my first trip, and hope to return to explore some more.

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The busy, huge capital city is obviously a must-visit when in Japan. There is plenty to do, see and eat to keep you occupied for days on end, and even then you will only scratch the surface. It is hard work trying to fit in the many sights into your visit and deciding on an area to stay; I can suggest the below places to visit and basing yourself in Shinjuku for a good feel of what the city has to offer. A number of previous visitors told me that Tokyo was not their cup of tea, but I absolutely loved it.

Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s liveliest districts, is the main commercial and administrative centre of the city and houses the busiest railway station in the world.

Cafe Aaliya’s french toast exceeded all my expectations; you cannot quite understand how fluffy and creamy the bread is until you’ve tasted it yourself.

A break from the hustle and bustle, Shinjuku Gyoen is an enormous park that allows for hours of exploration and offers an oasis of tranquility right in the centre of the city.

Funabashiya Honten offers patrons a chef’s menu of lovely tempura freshly prepared at the chef’s table and a few other items; picky eaters should be warned, however, that none of the staff speak English, so unless you understand Japanese some items will be a mystery until you taste them.

Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, the oldest shrine in the city. A five-story pagoda, the smaller Asakusa shrine, and a number of stalls selling souvenirs and a variety of items are all found on the site. Being one of Tokyo’s most popular sights, it gets extremely crowded from 08:00 onwards, so an early visit is suggested.

Tsukiji market is the largest wholesale fish market in the world. Outside the market there is a large area of stalls open to the public, selling seafood and other foodstuffs as well as a wide variety of other items; get there early to avoid the large crowds.

A seafood breakfast is mandatory when visiting Tsukiji, and a number of small eateries are available in the area if you prefer a more substantial meal to snacking from the stalls. Sushikuni offers bowls of sticky rice topped with sashimi, uni and/or salmon roe – the sea urchin I had from here was the best I’ve ever tasted! It opens at 10:00 but I suggest you get there before 09:30 to beat the long queues that will gather soon after.

The Imperial Shrine of Yasakusa is a Shinto shrine dedicated to all those who gave their lives in service of the Empire of Japan including, controversially, a number of Class-A war criminals.

Butagumi is a cosy and atmospheric restaurant that serves some first-rate tonkatsu, with a wide variety of pork for you to choose from.

Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing is rumoured to be one of the busiest intersections in the world, making it a popular tourist spot.

Grab a cup of coffee and a seriously delicious, gigantic doughnut from a variety of flavours from Dumbo Doughnuts and Coffee.

If in Tokyo during the Grand Sumo Tournament, don’t miss out on the fantastic atmosphere at Ryōgoku Kokugikan. Tickets sell out fast for certain dates, so you might want to book online as soon as they come on sale.

Shibuya’s Standing Sushi Bar is a great spot for some quick, fresh sushi at good value.

Meiji Jingu is another popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.

Manneken make some great waffles to go, including some Japanese flavoured ones such as matcha and Japanese sweet potato butter. Grab a mixed box to try various flavours.

The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are free for you to explore or rest in.

J Box Long Potato offer a fun and cheap street food while shopping in Shibuya.

Only a few roads away Luke’s Lobster sells lovely lobster, crab, shrimp or combination rolls.

Jazz lovers shouldn’t miss out on a night at the legendary Blue Note Tokyo if there’s anything on that interests them. Performances are usually sold out well in advance and the reservation portal is only for Japan residents, so ask your hotel to book tickets for you.

We stumbled across Omoya, an Udon joint, on our way to our hotel and decided to give it a try; the kind and humble chef made the noodles right before our eyes and the result was an understandably fresh udon with perfect texture and plenty of flavour.

Hanazono shrine is a surprising sight hidden amidst the buildings of Shinjuku.

The world-famous Domonique Ansel Bakery now has two branches in Tokyo, bringing with it its well-reknowned creations such as the Cronut (a marriage of the doughnut and croissant) as well as some new sweets inspired by Japan. The frozen smore – a centre of vanilla ice cream encased in bruleed marshmallow – is impressive in its originality but of little excitement in the flavour department. The cronut, however, did not disappoint – the texture was spot on and the month’s flavour elevating it to one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.

I can’t even begin to put into words what an incredible (and affordable!) dinner of Kobe beef, perhaps the most well-known Wagyu, we had at Hakushu. Put this at the top of your list.

Tokyo DisneySea ranks on the majority of lists as Disney’s best park in the world. While the number of rides could be higher, it is definitely visually impressive and, because this is Japan, has a very high number of food options.

While shopping around Shinjuku station the choice of eateries is endless. We tried Himawari Sushi for conveyor belt sushi at affordable prices, Katsukura for a great tonkatsu set meal and the nearby Breizh Cafe Creperie for a crepe dessert, and the world-famous French-born Ladurée for their unbeatable macarons (make sure you get the matcha flavour and marvel at how incredibly well-balanced it is!).


Matsumoto makes for a great short stop en route to your next destination, but seeing as there is only one attraction here and touring it is very short business, I wouldn’t personally suggest going much out of your way to fit this in. We stopped in Matsumoto on our way to Takayama from Kyoto, and we stayed under 4 hours, which included a visit and tour of the castle, lunch, and all the walking required from and back to the train station.

Matsumoto Castle is considered to be one of the premier historic castles in Japan, also called Crow Castle due to its distinctive black exterior. It’s a very picturesque sight. It’s interesting to look at the small interior of this wooden castle, but those who are physically impaired might want to keep in mind that it will involve climbing extremely steep steps, the steepest at a 60 degree angle.

We were looking forward to a bowl of ramen from Sakura only to find out that it was closed. Instead we happened to discover a soba eatery called Soba-dokoro Kippo which seemed to be popular with the locals, where we enjoyed an authentic, delicious, filling, and great value menu of the day.


Perhaps not on people’s list when their days in Japan are few in number, especially seeing as it is quite out of the way of the more popular spots, but I enjoyed my short stop in Takayama immensely, it perhaps being the closest I came to seeing Japan as it once used to be.

A walk through Takayama’s old town feels like a walk through old Japan; if you can mentally photoshop all the electricity wires and shops, that is. Sanmachi Suji is the finest of the roads in the area, which means that it is also the busiest.

Those brave souls who enjoy Sake can taste a variety from Harada Sake Brewery for just 200 yen, which includes a small Sake cup that you can take home with you.

Nakabashi bridge in Takayama is an appealing sight, with its bright red wood linking the new and old town across the river. You can enjoy a good matcha latte to the sound of the flowing water on the outside terrace of Honjin Hiranoya Annex.

The tonkatsu with cheese sauce at Kotaro, a small eatery run by an older couple, hits all the right spots.

Takayama’s morning market is a good way to while away an hour or two, with various stalls and surrounding shops selling fresh produce, snacks and souvenirs. Do try the small fish-shaped treats, basically a batter similar to a pancake with an interior of sweet red beans, pumpkin cream or custard – all were delicious!

Japan is well known for its beef, and Hida beef is popular in the Gifu region so it’s a must-try in Takayama. We enjoyed some excellent Hida beef at Suzuya at a reasonable price.

Yoshijima Heritage House is an absolutely gorgeous traditional property that was constructed over a hundred years ago for a wealthy family.

Grab a snack of exquisite hida beef sushi from Hida Kotte Ushi; perfectly seasoned and flavourful while still allowing the beef to shine. A number of eateries on the same road also sell various ice creams and hida beef steamed buns.

Sakurayama Hachiman-gu is a peaceful Shinto shrine a short walk from the old city centre.

Hida Takayama Gyoza Sohonzan is a good option for quick, cheap gyoza, if you don’t mind too much about service.


Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of gassho-zukuri houses (some dating back 250 years), makes one picturesque day trip. Some of the houses are open to the public at an entrance fee.

An uphill walk or a shuttle bus to the panaromic viewpoint allows you to enjoy the view over the small village amidst the surrounding mountains.

Across a bridge over the river, the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum displays 26 original houses in a beautiful and serene natural setting.


Kanazawa is another ideal short stop for those with some more time on their hands, with the old district being a particularly beautiful draw.

The well-preserved streets of the Higashi Chaya district, the largest of Kanazawa’s old geisha districts, is great to wander both during the day, when it is a hub of activity and shopping, as well as at night, when it transforms into a quiet and atmospheric area.

Elbowroom offers excellently executed dishes, from sushi to a variety of other small plates, perfect for sharing – one of our favourite meals.

Kenrokuen garden is considered to be one of Japan’s top three gardens, although that means that it tends to get a bit crowded and noisy.

Fluffy is a small, popular place serving up both savoury and sweet pancakes.

Kanazawa Castle is also surrounded by large gardens and grounds for a leisurely stroll.

Some ice cream shops have capitalised on Kanazawa’s industry of gold leaf production by offering vanilla soft serve sprinkled or wrapped with gold leaf.

The Nagamachi district is home to what used to be the residences of Samurai families.

Jiyuken is a good value stop for some simple fare, such as omurice.


If you have limited time in Japan, Kyoto, the old capital, should be at the top of your list. Like the new capital, there is so much to see here that no amount of time is quite enough, and in fact it was my longest stop. With sights being very spread out and the industrial feel of some of the city, the city itself can leave you feeling a bit cold, something which you will quickly forget when seeing the beauty that its main sights have to offer, or which you can avoid if your budget allows you to stay in the old centre of the Gion district. Many would tell you that if you haven’t visited Kyoto, you haven’t visited Japan.

Toji Temple, apart from having two halls with very impressive interiors with a number of large buddha statues (which cannot be photographed), contains in its grounds Japan’s tallest pagoda at 57 metres in height.

We had a lovely tempura set meal at Shunsai Tempura Arima in a friendly atmosphere.

Fushima Inari-taisha is undoubtedly one of Japan’s most famous sights, and as you walk through the thousands of orange vermilion torii gates you will understand why; it really is a special place, personally my favourite spot from all those I visited in Japan. We knew it would get crowded so we arrived there at 06:30, and while we weren’t alone, there were few enough people to allow us to enjoy the place and take photos in relative peace. By the time we were walking out around two hours later, people were arriving in droves, so take my word for it and go early.

We enjoyed a quick breakfast at Ogawa Coffee in Kyoto station. The matcha cake was great, with just a subtle matcha flavour.

Nijo Castle is a large castle complex consisting of two concentric rings of fortifications. It is interesting to walk inside the interior of the Ninomaru Palace which used to be the residence of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Kikyo Sushi is a great stop close to Nijo Castle for a fresh sushi lunch.

Eikando Zenrinji was our favourite temple from all those we visited in Japan. It is one very fine example of the Japanese skill of harmoniously combining architecture and nature. In Autumn it is very famous for its trees, which we got a little taste of.

Matsuzakagyu What’s is a top choice for sampling Matsusaka beef, one of Japan’s top three Wagyu. It is hard to explain how incredible this meat is, so make sure to try a high grade piece yourself.

Gion is possibly Kyoto’s most famous district; the popular geisha district with a number of streets of well-preserved traditional Japanese houses, although the large number or shops and restaurants takes away from its authenticity. We managed to catch a glimpse of three geisha being driven away in a taxi, but didn’t come face to face with one in this popular geisha-spying area. The nearby Shinbashi Dori is considered by many to be the most atmospheric road in all of Asia, especially in the evening.

Excellent iced latte from Kurasu.

Higashi Honganji is one of the headquarters of contemporary Japanese Buddhism; a large and beautiful complex containing Kyoto’s largest wooden structure in its main hall.

Hamburg Steak & Pound serves up some highly flavorful and juicy burgers made from matured Japanese beef.

Had a great night at Shishin Samurai Cafe & Bar, a samurai-themed restaurant in an old house with a wide menu including a samurai menu consisting of food enjoyed by actual samurai and great service which will include some tidbits of information about the samurai. We were lucky enough to be seated at the best table by the small garden, perhaps because we booked many weeks in advance.

Heian Shrine is pretty enough for a quick photo or two, but offers little of interest to see beyond that.

Cafe & Dining Fleur is a popular spot for fluffy Japanese pancakes, and you can expect a wait to get your hands on these. Although the flavour suffers in comparison to the American pancake due to the high percentage of egg white that produces the fluffiness, the texture is second to none and they’re worth a try.

Kyoto’s famous Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the hottest spots in town, with people flocking to see the Golden Pavillion’s gold-leaf-covered top two stories.

Had to try the famous Japanese fast-food chain Mos Burger, an alternative to McDonald’s, and we were quite pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed our quick meal, despite portions being small.

Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove is a highly popular photo spot and truly a peaceful haven, if you get there extremely early, that is. We arrived at 06:30 and there were already a number of photographers there.

Ramen Todai is a good stop near Kyoto station for a quick ramen between trains.

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are two lovely preserved roads in Kyoto with plenty of shops, although they tend to get very crowded.

Had an unexpectedly lovely French dinner with some Japanese flare at Meli Melo, which we happened to walk by hungry and tired. Very attentive service and a large number of tasting dishes at an excellent price – we couldn’t believe the value!


Nara is a popular half-day trip from Kyoto, with one of its main attractions being the hundreds of tame wild deer that roam freely around Nara park. The deer were considered divine for many years due to local folklore, and killing one was a capital offense up until 1637. Today, the over 1200 deer are designated national treasures. These beautiful and cheeky creatures want one thing from you – food, and plenty of vendors sell crackers that you can feed them.

A must-see is Nara’s Daibutsu, or Giant Buddha; the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana at 15 metres high, housed in the largest wooden building in the world, Todai-ji’s Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall.

We had a lovely lunch in a beautiful, traditional restaurant called Kikusuiro. The gorgeous complex is actually made up of two restaurants; one serving up unagi rice dishes and another serving a variety of other Japanese food.

Japan loves its soft-serve ice-cream, and there were plenty of flavours to choose from in the busiest section of Nara Park. The peach one I chose was one of the best ice-creams I’ve ever had, and my friend also loved her grape choice.

Nara has plenty of temples; we climbed to Nigatsu-do for a few moments of peace and quiet overlooking the Nara plain.


The world-famous green tea producing city is a must-visit for all matcha and green tea lovers, and a great half-day trip from Kyoto. We attended an intimate traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the famous Taihoan, and had the pleasure of viewing this beautiful art while sampling a delicious matcha sweet and a cup of high-quality matcha.

The stunning Byōdō-in Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of my favourite spots in our trip.

Uji’s river promenade makes for one peaceful stroll.

Enjoyed a delicious, plentiful and great value lunch set at Jidoriya Kokoro.


Yamazaki Distillery, a short train ride from Kyoto, is a must visit for all whisky lovers. The Distillery is the producer of the world-famous Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt, and at a very cheap price you can partake in a tour of the beautiful distillery as well as a tasting that exceeded my expectations.


Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is dedicated to documenting the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. The Peace Memorial Museum is an informative centre focused on imparting information on atomic weapons while paying tribute to all the lives that were lost in this dark moment in the world’s history. The A-Bomb Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a few metres above which the bomb exploded on August 6th, 1946. “As a historical witness that conveys the tragedy of suffering the first atomic bomb in human history and as a symbol that vows to faithfully seek the abolition of nuclear weapons and everlasting world peace, Genbaku Dome was added to the World Heritage List.”

Okonomiyaki makes for a filling and surprisingly satisfying meal, and Okonomiyaki Nagata-ya is a great spot for one just a few steps from the Peace Park.


Miyajima, close to Hiroshima, is an absolutely idyllic island, especially peaceful in the early mornings and evenings for those staying overnight when most tourists would not have yet arrived or would have departed.

Miyajima’s ‘floating’ Great Torii is one of Japan’s most famous photographic spots, considered a boundary between the human and divine world. During high tide, the torii gate appears to be floating on water; during low tide, you can walk up to its foot.

Oysters are one of Miyajima’s specialities, and you can sample them in a variety of cooking methods at Yakigaki no Hayashi, a famous lunch spot. I must say, however, that I am a far bigger fan of the oysters we get here in Europe, which are very different, although of course there is no beating the freshness (and size) of the Miyajima ones.

The views from Mount Misen over Miyajima, across the bay to Hiroshima, and over the surrounding islands are considered to be amongst the top three most picturesque views in Japan. A short ride on a ropeway gets you to the Shishiiwa Observatory where you can sit and enjoy the view, or continue on foot to the summit. The Miyajima Ropeway is a two stage system; the first stage is a circulating ropeway type which carries  gondolas each holding up to 8 passengers, while the second stage is an exciting, larger funicular type ropeway which is described as ‘walking in the sky’.

All ice cream lovers must try a melon pan ice cream sandwich; with a variety of ice cream flavours available, the real star of the show is the delicious biscuit-like bun. I found a shop selling them right near the stop from where you catch the shuttle that takes you to the ropeway.

The Great Torii is part of the stunning Itsukushima Shrine. If you go early in the morning when it first opens, you can enjoy it virtually alone.

Had some lovely fresh sushi from Yamaichi Bekkan, being one of the few restaurants open at night on the island.


Himeji is another half-day trip option or, in our case, a stop en-route to our next destination.

We stopped in Himeji for a few hours to visit its castle, considered to be the finest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture. Himeji Castle is sometimes referred to as the White Egret Castle due to its distinctive white plaster facade.

豚屋とん一姫路駅前 (doesn’t seem to have an English name) right next to Himeji Station serves up very good tonkatsu set meals.


The second-largest metropolitan area in Japan after Tokyo, Osaka is a very popular stop in many’s travels around Japan. We chose to spend more time in Tokyo, which had far more things to do to which interested us, and just a short while in Osaka.

With a two-night, very rainy stop in Osaka, there was little to do but shop and eat; and Osaka is just the place to do that. The rain stopped for a short while to allow us to sample some of Dotonbori’s popular street food. We tried gyoza from Osaka Ohsho, takoyaki from Kukuru Dotombori, and yakitori from Teppanjinja Dotombori, and we couldn’t resist Totti Candy Factory’s huge and colourful candy floss. The Osaka castle and the popular long, roofed shopping malls are great option to while the time away in Osaka.

Yoshima Sushi is well known for its hako (boxed) sushi, where the rice and seafood are pressed together in a rectangular wooden mold resulting in flat, rectangular sushi.

Had a wonderful breakfast at Northshore, with excellent coffee and stunning food packed with fresh vegetables and fruit. When it’s not pouring outside you can enjoy your meal on the terrace overlooking the river.

Pablo, which you can find all over Japan and in various locations in Osaka, including in the popular Shinsaibashi shopping area, sells heavenly baked cheesecakes.


A visit to Japan would not be complete without a view of Mount Fuji. There are plenty of viewing spots to choose from; we chose Kawaguchiko.

The second largest of Fuji’s Five Lakes, Kawaguchiko is a popular Fuji viewing spot. We thought we would not be able to get a good look at the famous mountain, but we got lucky for a few hours when the sky cleared up to give us a complete view of Fuji-san.

Fujinokura serves up simple, cheap ramen close to Kawaguchiko station.

Fujiyama Cookie is a very popular shop selling Fuji-shaped cookies in various flavours; I tried matcha, peach, and earl grey – all were great, especially the latter.

The Fuji Lake Hotel Lounge made for a cosy and inviting spot for us, with a gorgeous view of the lake in the bad weather and a pot of tea to warm us up.

Fuji Tempura Idaten is a good spot for a tempura lunch.

Japan is a beautiful and diverse country with plenty for everyone to enjoy and I only had time to scratch the surface, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the above places for a good taste of what it has to offer. Planning this trip took many weeks of research, and being well-prepared was the only way in which to ensure that I could see so much in a relatively short amount of time. If you’re planning a trip yourself and have any questions or queries, or should you simply wish to pass a comment, please do no hesitate to post below or get in touch.

Until the next adventure!

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