Dining at the 3 star kaiseki restaurant Kikunoi in Kyoto for our 8th year wedding anniversary was a highlight of the trip. Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine, and a big influence of the Michelin tasting menus we know today. A kaiseki dinner is made up of many courses (our’s had 12) that change monthly with the season.
Arashiyama is a beautiful district located in west Kyoto, tucked along the base of the Arashiyama Mountains (meaning “Storm Mountains”). Arashiyama is a must for anyone visiting Kyoto, and although it takes a bit of time coming from central Kyoto, you can easily fill your day with all of the sites.
We arrived in Kyoto after dark, but were filled with energy and wanting to explore. Luckily the Fushimi Inari-taisha is open 24 hours, so we headed to the shrine after dinner. Fushimi Inari-taisha is the head shrine of the kami Inari. A kami is a spirit worshipped in the Shinto religion, like a god. Inari is the kami of harvest and business – in fact each red torii was donated by a Japanese business.
Koen’s only request for our trip to Japan was to visit a couple of whisky distilleries, specifically Nikka. Nikka Whisky is actually comprised of 2 distilleries: Miyagikyo in Sendai and Yoichi in Hokkaido – both in northern Japan. Seeing as Yoichi was a 10 hour train ride from Tokyo, Sendai seemed more than doable at 3 hours each way by train (so 6 hours travel in total). Well worth it for whisky lovers!
Hakone is an easy and popular day trip from Tokyo. You can escape the busy city and head to the mountains for beautiful scenery and delicious black eggs. Boiled on site, the eggs turn black due to a chemical reaction with the sulphurous water. According to Japanese legend, each egg will add seven years to your life. Plus the taste is 20% more umami than normal boiled eggs!
Lake Ashi is at the center of Hakone, as well as the setting for the iconic image of Mount Fuji with the torii of Hakone-jinja rising from the water. Unfortunately we visited on a cloudy day, so the notoriously shy Mount Fuji was hidden from us.
Kamakura is a coastal city about an hour away from Tokyo – perfect for a day trip! Lonely Planet introduces Kamakura:
The glory days of Japan’s first feudal capital (from 1185 to 1333) coincided with the spread of populist Buddhism in Japan. This legacy is reflected in the area’s proliferation of stunning temples. Kamakura also has a laid-back, earthy vibe complete with organic restaurants, summer beach shacks and surfers – which can be added to sunrise meditation and hillside hikes as reasons to visit.
During our day out with Kyoko, we explored two wards of Tokyo: Asakusa and Sumida, both located in the northeast of Tokyo.
The Hamarikyu Gardens in the Chiyoda Ward of Tokyo, offer a bit of peace in the middle of the busy city. In stark contrast to the skyscrapers surrounding the garden, Hamarikyu is a beautiful oasis where you can enjoy a stroll along the pond or a bowl of matcha with sweets at the traditional teahouse.
Akihabara, aka Akihabara Electric Town, is the otaku cultural center of Tokyo. What is otaku? A Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly anime and manga. Akihabara is also a shopping district for gamers and gadget enthusiasts with many shops selling video games (like Super Potato) and consumer goods. We couldn’t wait to visit and end our evening with the best tonkatsu in Tokyo!
The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is the largest and busiest fish market in the world. The market opens most mornings at 3AM, so it’s recommended to visit when you first arrive and are still jet lagged. So we headed to Tsukiji for a sushi breakfast on our first full day!