Date: March 28th to April 9th
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo
Day 3: Tokyo
Day 4: Tokyo
Day 5: DisneySea
Day 6: DisneySea
Day 7: Hakone
Day 8: Kyoto
Day 9: Kyoto
Day 10: Nara
Day 11: Osaka
Day 12: Osaka
DAY 1-7 | TOKYO, HAKONE
See Part 1.
DAY 8 | KYOTO
Kurasu: A third-wave coffee shop near Kyoto Station, not only offering high quality pourover coffee and delicious treats, but also beautiful ceramic coffee accessories.
Nijō Castle (二条城): Consisting of several imposing wooden structures and gorgeous gardens, this ornately decorated castle was once the residence of Shōgun, the military dictator. You can walk through the main reception hall Ninomaru Palace, with its maze-like corridors made of unique squeaky floors, and many decorative panels and carvings.
Higashi Honganji Temple (東本願寺): Kyoto has so many famous temples and shrines that this temple (and its sister temple Nishi Honganji) is often missed by visitors, but it’s just as impressive – the largest wooden structure in Kyoto – and even more enjoyable for the lack of crowds.
はなまる串カツ製作所: A small but cozy restaurant for Kushiage/Kushikatsu, deep fried skewers, for ¥80 each. Their menu options can be overwhelming, but part of the fun of kushiage is trying new things, so be adventurous! The waitress actually misheard one of our orders and brought us this plate of thick-cut fried tofu, which turned out to be one of our favorite dishes in Japan.
Gion Tsujiri: Tea is my favorite type of souvenir; and this shop in Gion (祇園) district is a perfect place for various teas and Matcha desserts. If you’re not sure what to get, try the sample pack that includes five kinds of classic Japanese teas: sencha, gyokuro, kabusecha, hojicha, and genmaicha.
DAY 9 | KYOTO
Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏见稻荷大社): Located right outside of the Inari Station, this is one of the most iconic sites in Japan. The highlight here is Senbon Torii, the thousands rows of torii gates densely built along the trail, leading into the wooded forest of Mount Inari. Don’t be overwhelmed at first; the crowds can be especially bad in the beginning part of the trail, but the deeper and higher you go, the less people there are.
Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka (二年坂 三年坂): Lined with beautifully restored traditional architectures, this area makes for the most atmospheric stroll in Kyoto. Although it’s filled with souvenir stores, snack food stalls, teahouses, and restaurants, the stone-paved street still maintains some of the old Kyoto’s charm and peacefulness.
Kamanza (釜座): A restaurant in Ninenzaka specialized in eel, soba, and many traditional tofu dishes. Their grilled eel rice combo with hot udon noodles and a slice of fresh tofu skin is extremely hearty and filling.
Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺): Walking along the steep and busy lanes of Higashiyama (東山) district, you’re approaching possibly the most famous temple in Japan. The main hall’s wooden stage, constructed without any nails, juts out of the mountain side overlooking Kyoto. The main hall was under construction when we visited, but it still offered an impressive view of the city.
310 Saredowa: Typical Japanese food is not exactly vegetable-centric, so after days of meat-and-carb diets, we were very excited to find this hidden gem near Kyoto Station. This modern dining establishment has a clean and hip environment, a very creative and balanced menu, and mixes Japanese ingredients with Western-style cooking.
DAY 10 | NARA
Nara Park (奈良公園): Located less than one hour from Kyoto and Osaka, the city of Nara is most famous for its deer residency all over Nara Park. Over a thousand wild deer freely roam around the park and sidewalks, bowing to visitors for these yummy looking “deer crackers” sold around the park. It’s quite a fun activity to interact with wild city animals, but these deer can be surprisingly aggressive when they know you have food in your hands.
Kasuga-taisha (春日大社): Through the lush garden that leads up to the main shrine, you’ll walk past thousands of stone lanterns along the path, each representing the deity that it’s donated to. These moss-covered lanterns (and the roaming deer) create such a mystical atmosphere that effortlessly clears your mind and connects you with nature.
DAY 11 | OSAKA
Pokémon Center: On the 13th floor of Daimaru Umeda mall, the Pokémon Center is not exactly what I expected – a hub with decor authentic to the games where you can rest and socialize with fellow Pokémon trainers, and buy merchandise. This is simply a themed gift shop. It is still worth a visit if you are a fan; there are a lot of very fun and unique products that will bring you enough joy or even nostalgia.
Suehiro Honten (スエヒロ 本店): With Shabu-Shabu (Japanese hot pot) on one floor, and steak on the other floor, this quiet restaurant has an amazing lunch set menu that offers many grades of Wagyu beef. The steak set is served in either Western style –with butter, garlic and potatoes – or Japanese style – with scallions, shaved radish, rice and miso soup. We ordered several different types of steak, and they’re all delicious – tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Orange Street: Just a few blocks from the touristy mainstream shops in the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade, is an area full of independent clothing boutiques, interior design stores, and hip cafes. Orange Street has gathered the most talented creatives to curate a store for every style. One of our favorite stores is Real McCoy’s, known for their no-expenses-spared reproductions of iconic mid-century American casualwear and workwear.
Banchou: A modern izakaya near Osaka Station, offering many menu options ranging from sashimi, rice bowls, to their specialty yakitori. Their yakitori selection is a lot wider than the famous Torikizoku chain, and their flavor is more unique and complex. Our favorite yakitori are the lotus root and chicken liver.
DAY 12 | OSAKA
Osaka Castle Park (大阪城公園): Starting with a late morning stroll in the urban park surrounding historic Osaka Castle made for a lovely finale to our Japan trip. The garden is also one of the best cherry blossom viewing spot in Osaka, but we were only able to see the late blooming Kanzan Sakura trees. However, we did taste an unforgettable cherry blossom flavored ice cream, with tiny mochi bits swirled in there!
Takoume Kitaten (たこ梅 北店): Hidden in the Shin-Umeda Shokudogai (新梅田食道街), an indoor food mall under the elevated railway east of Osaka Station, resides numerous tiny restaurants like this one. The only thing they serve here is Oden soup – a big pot of daikon radish (a surprise favorite!), fishcakes, tofu, boiled eggs, and other ingredients stewed in a savory broth. You sit in a U-shaped wooden counter surrounding the chef and his enormous simmering pot, and order as you eat. It can be a bit intimidating, but the environment and the food is so unique and authentic that it became one of my favorite experiences in Japan.
Chibo (千房): A teppanyaki restaurant franchise that is best known for its Osaka specialty, Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made of flour, egg, shredded cabbage and ingredients of your choice. You can also get Wagyu beef, seafood, and veggies to be grilled and plated right in front of you by your personal chef; a teppanyaki meal is not only a feast for your mouth, but also for your eyes.