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Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the Eastern part of Kyoto is one of the most popular temples in Japan. During the autumn when the maple leaves are changing color and the evening light festivals take place, it is spectacular. The temple is Buddhist and was founded in 778 on the side of the Otowa Mountain. The Otowa Waterfall contributes to the temple's name as Kiyomizu-dera literally means “Pure Water Temple.” At the base of the mountain where the waterfall is located, the water descends into three streams. There is a shrine where visitors can drink from each stream. The waters are said to have a different benefit: longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. Drinking from all three is considered greedy, so it is up to the visitor to select carefully! The temple is part of a large park with plenty of space to enjoy the various temples, shrines and halls. There is a teahouse and cafe for refreshment as well.
The curved eaves of Tokyo’s intricate Buddhist temples and the orange tori gates of the Shinto shrines endure as reminders of the city’s over four hundred year history. Walk beneath the massive gates of Meiji-jingu, Tokyo’s largest Shinto shrine, and transport back to the time of shogun and samurai. Receive an omikuji (fortune) at Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, but beware these fortunes can be curses or blessings. Surrounding Sensoji is Nakamise-dori, the central street in the centuries old shopping district with shops offering kimonos, fans, and tapestries among other traditional goods. Photo courtesy of Austin Rea (http://www.flickr.com/photos/austinrea/)
I may be writing the dictionary of ramen noodles. I promise this is the last—Abura Soba, translated as "oil noodle." I saw this place late at night in Ginza, while looking for something different to eat. This place serves the Abura Soba, which is noodle in the oil sauce. Okay, it sounds strange but is very tasty! The oil is spicy (with different options), the noodle is fresh, and the scallion is crispy. It is very addictive, and before you realize it, you've reached the bottom of the bowl.
Lovely ladies in kimonos brave the rain in Kyoto. This was taken in front of Chion-in Temple near Gion earlier this week. Even in the pouring rain the Sakura, which are in full bloom, were lovely to behold and holding up nicely.
Growing up, I had always seen pictures of Fushimi Inari Taisha so when I stood at the entrance in real life, I felt instantly inspired. I arrived around nine in the morning on a Saturday and there were already tourists here. If you can, definitely try to get there even earlier for a more tranquil experience. Also plan at least two or three hours here, as there is so much to see and do. I chose to talk all the way to the highest point, passing thousands of mini shrines and temples along the way. About three-fourths of the way up, there is a nice view of downtown Kyoto and a few benches perfect for an afternoon picnic. More on Bohemian Trails.
I left tropical Southeast Asia for Japan in the dead of winter for one reason - to see snow monkeys. I'd always seen pictures like the one above, of zen macaques in steaming hot springs surrounded by snow, and had no idea how accessible they were but was determined to find them. Turns out, it's just an hour bullet train to Nagano from Tokyo, and then another train to Yudanaka, a sleepy winter wonderland offering onsen galore... and the Jigokudani Snow Monkey park! A morning encounter with these primates, the only ones other than humans known to thrive in a snowy environment, is not to be missed. While the adults soak in the springs, appearing to follow a strict code of conduct surrounding this activity - much like their local human counterparts do! - the mischievous youngsters practice acrobatics and start snowball fights.
After the best sushi, there must be as well a best ramen noodle place in Tokyo. The Menya Musashi located at Shinjuku is a famous and of course busy place for a bowl of hot ramen noodle soup. Many times, the waiting line is street long. Luckily last time when I visited not during a meal time, the line was short. The pork belly ramen is the best! Just remember that you have to use cash to order your noodle from a vending machine by the door, and hand the ticket to the chef/server. Inside, it's bar seating around the noodle station, so you can watch the action and hear the chef cheering as well.
Harajuku, Tokyo Dome, and Odaiba are Tokyo’s kid friendly shopping hubs. The winding, narrow streets of Harajuku hide a multitude of cutesy shops including Kiddy Land Harajuku, which sells heaps of Hello Kitty goodies. Tokyo Dome City surrounds Tokyo’s baseball stadium and has over seventy shops, an amusement park, a large indoor playground, and a bowling alley. Odaiba has a variety of shopping complexes including Decks, which has indoor theme parks, Aquacity, with Fuji Television’s kids café, and Venus Fort, which has an interior inspired by medieval Europe. Photo courtesy of Austin Rea (http://www.flickr.com/photos/austinrea/)
Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake created this experimental design museum, and star Japanese architect Tadao Ando constructed the building. The museum always has great installations by artists such as the industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa. —Kashiwa Sato Midtown Garden, 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, 81/(0) 3-3475-2121. Photo by Marie Takahashi. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue. Read more about Kashiwa Sato’s Higashi neighborhood of Tokyo.
In western Kyoto, there is a very large forest of bamboo. As you can see in the photo, the shoots grow very tall, making those who stroll by look quite small. I'm sure there are times when this road is crowded, but when we were there, people were few and far between. My only regret was not understanding that this forest would be the only one we saw. I wish I had taken more photos. Bamboo grows extremely fast, which is why it is the fastest renewable plant product that I know. It is not a tree, it is a grass. Some forests have grown to 20 to 30 feet in a growing season of four months. Just Google Arashiyama bamboo forest and you will see more photos and more data about this location and how to get there. The walk through this forest was most peaceful.
There's an awful lot that's inexplicable and bizarre in Tokyo. One of the stranger sites is a group of grown men, dressed as Greasers, dancing nonstop to Elvis tunes. On weekends, head to the Yoyogi Park's Harajuku gate and listen for the classic American tunes. This will lead you straight to men in black leather jackets and white tees, sporting slicked-back hair, smoking cigs, and twisting the day away. Take a seat and turn on the video recorder.
Touring Tokyo via Rickshaw is something I never thought I would do. For whatever reason it always seemed wrong to have a man standing where a horse would be in other cultures. But then again, every country is different and I soon learned that this was a popular, albeit expensive, form of transportation for tourists. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my thirty minute ride and I was surprised how much information my guide presented. I was also impressed by his physical fitness level but that probably goes without saying. The area surrounding Asakusa Shrine is perhaps the most popular part of Tokyo and it was thrilling to see scenes of local life while taking photos from my rickshaw seat.
Just outside of the Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan lies this spectacular pathway. Getting there just after sunrise it is still quiet minus the knocking of the bamboo in the wind. I found it to be very peaceful. I will change my profile photo to a sulfide I took there later to give you a more accurate perspective. Right now I'm staring at my second Statue of Liberty in Japan. Double freedom!
The new T-Site shopping complex is home to the flagship store for the Tsutaya chain of video and book megastores. (Full disclosure: I made the logo for them.) There’s a beautiful garden next to the bookstore where I like to read. —Kashiwa Sato 17-5 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku. Photo by Marie Takahashi. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue. Read more about Kashiwa Sato’s Higashi neighborhood of Tokyo.
This is one of my favorite places in Japan, and in the world. It is one of the most beautiful temples. It's very nice to come here when it's not crowded. I often try to come here during the rain, as odd as that sounds (that's when it is least crowded!).
From Shinjuku’s bar scene to Roppongi’s polished cigar bars and Shibuya’s all night karaoke, Tokyo nightlife offers something for everyone. Dogenzaka’s Love Hotel Hill is sprinkled with small Love Hotels, Japan’s kitschy themed rent by the hour lodging, and is home to some of Tokyo’s most famous clubs including Womb, a mecca for techno lovers. For the full Tokyo experience spend an evening in Shibuya engaged in the highly popular, all night karaoke. For a more mellow evening the Shin-Marunouchi building, across from Tokyo Station, has a collection of bars and restaurants with outdoor patios and dazzling views of the illuminated Tokyo Station.
Honmura An in Roppongi is famous for its housemade soba (chewy buckwheat noodles). Owner Koichi Kobari uses a sobabocho (soba knife) to cut the noodles each day. I always get the soba with tororo, which is grated mountain yam, and a cold beer. —David Myers Photo by Christinab/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
On the way out the door to the Tsukiji Fish market, I tossed a CLIF bar in my bag. I had read somewhere that sushi is breakfast food in Japan and I had also read about the excellent places to pick up fresh sushi near the fish market (imagine such a coincidence!). In hindsight, the CLIF bar was a great hedge against my rapidly deteriorating appetite for sushi. After a walk through the market, I had no desire for anything that once lived in water… As I navigated my way to Tsukiji station, I grew increasingly curious about what I’d find at the market. I had seen the photos of giant tuna and I imagined that the market would be busy, but I was definitely not expecting so much chaos. Unlike many other landmarks in Tokyo, it was not immediately clear that I was in the fish market. From the outside, it looked like a garbage factory. Lots of trucks, boxes, and turret trucks. Don’t know what a turret truck is? Practically a death sentence when there are hundreds of them zipping around without much regard for visitors. The outer market was lined with merchants selling produce, and once I had made my way inside, I was intoxicated with the smell of… you guessed it, fish. I didn’t mind it at first, but after awhile, it was obnoxious and overwhelming. Boxes upon boxes of sea urchin, squid, octupus, eel, crab, shrimp, and various types of fish, surrounded me. I spent the rest of my time in Japan eating Tempura.
For the best yakitori I go to Toritama in Ebisu. They specialize in rarely served, unique parts of the chicken. There’s one dish in particular, a premature egg that’s still connected to ovaries, which they grill. —David Myers Photo by Marina Oliphant/Fairfax Media. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
Koji, a volunteer for Tokyo Free Guide, knew only that I wanted to experience something in the city related to food. Instead of taking me to the Tsukiji fish market, he led me to a shopping mall in the Ginza neighborhood. We descended into the basement of the Kotsu Kaikan building, where we found about a dozen gourmet food shops, each one representing a different region in Japan. We strolled through them, munching on free samples and effectively eating our way through the country. We tasted crispy, dried seaweed from the northern island of Hokkaido; buckwheat dough dumplings from Nagano, located in central Japan; and jam made of amaou (a kind of strawberry) from Fukuoka, in the south. Koji explained that these stores are called antenna shops, and they have an interesting function. In Japanese culture, when you go out of town, it’s customary to return with small treats for colleagues. Rather than haul back food from afar, workers will just stop by the antenna shops in the morning before heading to the office—a smart (and sneaky) solution. 2-10-1 Yurakucho Chiyoda-ku, www.kotsukaikan.co.jp See tokyofreeguide.com for a similar experience.
When I took my beautiful wife to Tokyo to celebrate her birthday in March, because we only had three days in town we had to very carefully curate our dining choices. While we did visit an old favourite, most of the restaurants we visited were new to us, including two sushi joints that we’d been meaning to try for years. One was a much-ballyhooed three Michelin-starred place in Ginza that is regularly discussed on forums like Chowhound and which many punters like to claim is the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo. The other is a much more modest (and much livelier) place in Yotsuya that has no Michelin stars and is rarely mentioned in Western or English-language media. Amazingly, though some Japanese friends tell me I shouldn’t have been surprised, we left the three-Michelin-starred restaurant feeling very ripped off and extremely underwhelmed. But, the meal we had at Sushi Sho, the cultish little joint just east of Shinjuku, delivered what I can honestly say was the single greatest sushi meal of both my life and my wife’s. She has since been describing the experience to friends as “life-changing sushi.” For the rest of this article, please read my post on http://chubbyhubby.net/travel/keiji-nakazawa-the-best-sushi-chef-in-the-world-to-us/
The Tsukiji fish market might feel overwhelming at first, but once you figure out how to navigate the different sections, everything falls into place. If you're really feeling lost, there is a tourist information center that offers free maps to tourists. I recommend getting there early, as most vendors start packing up shortly after noon. The inner market is where you will find fresh fish while the outdoor market mainly sells fruits, vegetables and items for the home. The inner market is especially crowded to keep an eye on your surroundings so you don't hold up traffic. If you're feeling particularly hungry, wait in line to eat at one of the small restaurants on site. Only a few people can be seated at a time but the food is delicious. More on Bohemian Trails.
Rokurinsha’s original shop was in the suburbs of Tokyo, a considerable hike from the nearest train station, and still patrons waited for over three hours for a bowl of soup. Neighbors complained, and when the store was given a chance to open up on the Tokyo Ramen Street, a collection of ramen shops in the basement of Tokyo Station, Rokurinsha closed its suburban location and moved in. Customers still brave massive lines to taste the tsukemen-style ramen, where the noodles are served separately from the soup. The thick, saucelike broth has deep pork and roasted fish flavors, and the noodles are thick and chewy—perfect for soaking up the soup. Tokyo Ichiban-gai B1, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. Photo by Hirotomo/Flickr.
My wife’s favorite coffee shop in Daikanyama has an open terrace that’s perfect for people-watching. The space was inspired by 18th-century Italian cafés. —Kashiwa Sato 29-3 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, 81/(0) 3-3770-9517. Photo by Marie Takahashi. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue. Read more about Kashiwa Sato’s Higashi neighborhood of Tokyo.
Most people, including myself, hear the word Gion and immediately think of Memoirs of a Geisha. While Gion is definitely known for the elusive Geiko's and Maiko's that roam the streets after dark, there is a lot more to this neighborhood that meets the eye. There are a few streets that are mainly cluttered with pedestrians and that is where many of the famous teahouses are located. The surrounding streets feel much more modern, with shops, restaurants and ice-cream parlors shifting the focus to a different type of entertainment. The Kamo River is a few blocks away from Gion and there are often times live performers and musicians playing music there. Also along the river are a slew of upscale restaurants in case you're in the mood to splurge.
After work and on weekends Japanese frequent izakaya (Japanese pubs). Izakaya are lively establishments that traditionally serve Japanese lagers alongside bar snacks like gyoza (dumplings), yakitori (chicken skewers), and horumon (offal). Many izakaya offer nomihodai (all-you-can-drink deals), where for a fixed price and you can settle in for an evening of drinking. Roppongi’s Warayaki-ya is an open air, polished izakaya usually packed with business men unwinding from work. Yurakucho, the train stop between Tokyo Station and Ginza, has streets lined with reasonably priced izakaya. Try Hinomoto, tucked beneath the JR train tracks near Yurakucho station, for a cheerful environment and enjoyable meal. Photo courtesy of Austin Rea (http://www.flickr.com/photos/austinrea/)
Kapital is a really cool clothing chain known for its denim. They have two shops in Roppongi Hills—Kapital Duffle and Kapital Legs. I always pick up tabi, these handmade split-toe socks. They are split between the big toe and other toes and are very comfy. —David Myers This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
These flaky, bite-sized pastries shaped like hearts will keep you going while shopping. The stand is at Sogo department store's depachika, the basement level food bazaar with bentos, cakes, omiyage, prepared foods, a liquor store and a grocery. I got two of each mini heart — plain, sweet nuts and cheese — for less than $2.50. Danish Heart has stands all over Tokyo.
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