A trip of a life time
Japan was always on the top of our list of places to visit so we were stoked to visit this past December! We spend 3 days in Toyko and 4 days in Kyoto, totaling 7 days. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I wanted to do a recap of the trip + share some highlights. I organized it by some of our favorite things we did and food we ate from each city. At the very end, I’ll also share some travel tips that I hope are helpful to anyone who is planning a trip to Japan in December. A week is nearly not enough time to see everything but that makes it even more exciting to return! Now let’s get started our favorites from Tokyo!
Day 1-3: Tokyo
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I always try to visit museums when traveling and when I saw this on Instagram, I had to go see it for myself! Teamlab is basically a giant art installation using lights, movement and colors. There are multiple rooms with different themes like flowers, crystal rain, waves and more. The objects are projected by light which moves and changes frequently. Some of the installations are interactive so if you “touch” the projected object, it will “react” to your movements. There were also obstacles, a bounce house and a slide which was fun to participate in. If you’re sensitive to light, I wouldn’t recommend this museum but personally, I thought it was a super cool experience!
Sekaido Shinjuku (art store)
This place is truly heaven for art supplies & stationery. There are 6 floors filled with literally everything you can imagine! The price is slightly cheaper than US art supplies so I stocked up on brush markers and microns. I could’ve totally bought more things but I had to save luggage space :P I didn’t get a chance to visit The Pigment Store but I heard that shop is also beautiful.
Patrick and I definitely wanted visit a Japanese hot springs so this is the one we chose! We went with Toshimaean because they had a large common area where both genders can hang out (with bathing suits.) They also have private sections where you can dip in the buff! After hot tubbing, we ate lunch (they have bomb food), got a massage, and walked around their gorgeous Japanese garden. I would highly recommend this place but keep in mind, tattoos aren’t allowed! Luckily, I snuck in by covering my small tattoos with bandaids ;)
Omoide Yokocho (aka piss alley)
We were walking around Shinjuku and randomly stumbled upon this adorable side street! Later I found out omoide yokocho is a famous alleyway filled with street food and yakitori. The street is filled with amazing food smells and laughter. It’s just magical to walk through!
Day 1-3: Tokyo
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1. Afuri Ebisu
Fun fact: A lot of ramen places have vending machines where you can place your order. Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You put some coins into the machine and select the type of ramen + toppings you want. It’ll spit out a ticket for you to hand directly to the cook so there’s no need for a waiter! It was interesting to order this way but we found it challenging since we didn’t read Japanese. Selecting our order was a gamble but both dishes ended up being delicious!
2. Rostro Cafe
Patrick and I are both coffee snobs so finding a good coffee shop was a must. We stumbled upon this adorable cafe and they had all this high tech coffee equipment! Their serving is on the smaller side so we each got a cup of black coffee and a cortado which were both amazing. PS coffee shops open pretty late in Japan (around 10am or after) so keep that in mind for mornings!
3. World’s second best melon pan ice cream
I always crack up when hearing the name of this place. Why is it called second best? Who knows. Despite the name, the melon pan ice cream was delicious! I got a melon pan with green tea ice cream and the combination was perfect.
4. Gyukatsu Motomura
This was hands down my favorite meal in Toyko! We got seated after about 45 mins and the first thing I noticed is that each seat had a mini grill. Later I found that the katsu is served rare so you can cook it on that mini grill yourself (similar to kbbq.) I love how it came with a few dipping sauces and a bunch of side dishes! If you’re in Tokyo, I would 100% recommend stopping by this place.
We were exploring Shinjuku and found this American styled gastropub serving beer and sausage. The overall ambience was cool with Japanese hip hop and old American movies playing on the screen. I thought the beer selection was great but some of the dishes were interesting. Some of the items we ordered was fermented quail eggs and pork tongue. It wasn’t my favorite but I still think it’s worth visiting if you’re open to trying experimental dishes!
I coudn’t find the name of the actual restaurant we went to but you can find okonomiyaki nearly anywhere! It’s like a Japanese omelette with grilled noodles underneath the egg. It has this sweet, tangy sauce which sounds a bit weird but I swear it’s worth a try! The cooks who served us were a married couple and they were the literally the sweetest. Everywhere we went, I found that Japanese people were super hospitable and helpful!
Day 4-7: Kyoto
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Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari is a place like I’ve never seen before. There are rows of red towers that lead up the mountain with smaller rest stops and shrines. Each tower is purchased by a Japanese business as they believe it will bring them success and prosperity. There are literally miles of them up the hike and it’s quite a sight to see. We didn’t go all the way to the top but we got up high enough to enjoy the gorgeous view of Kyoto. I would recommend getting there before sunset and wear comfy shoes!
Pontocho Alley, Gion
Growing up, I’ve loved reading and watching Memoirs of a Geisha so I had to go see Gion for myself! In Gion, there’s a street called Pontocho alley which is famous for geisha spotting. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see any but it was still fun to walk through. There are so many gorgeous traditional buildings and doorways to little shops and restaurants!
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
This monkey park was way cooler than I expected! There were a bunch of monkeys just out in the open and they seemed to be comfortable with having people around. It’s an open park with staff members who are there to make sure everything is okay. The hike up is a bit steep but absolutely gorgeous. Just make sure to wear comfy shoes!
Tom’s Mr. Hedgie
We were walking in a shopping area and stumbled upon a hedgehog cafe! A place where you can play with hedgehogs? I couldn’t resist. We paid about $5 for 15 min playtime and it was totally worth it. Our hedgie’s name was Piglet and he super friendly and just whiffled the entire time! Too cute.
Clamp Coffee Sarasa
Every morning, we went to Clamp to get our coffee fix. We thought about trying out different coffee shops but this cafe was too good not to return! First of all, the interior is beautiful. They have a minimal style with rustic windows that are covered in red and yellow foliage. It is THE cafe of my dreams. Plus, everything we ordered (coffee + food) was excellent, what’s not to love?
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Nadai Tonkatsu Katsukura Shijo Hagashi no Toin
Nadai has the reputation of having the best katsu in Kyoto so it was totally worth the 30 mins wait! The style is more traditional than Gyukatsu from Tokyo and equally delish. If you love katsu, this is a must stop!
One of my favorite things about Japan is their street food! I love that they had bite-sized snacks accessible at all times. This fish shaped pastry is filled with red bean and brings back all the childhood memories for me :)
Kyoto is the birthplace for matcha so I pretty much had matcha flavored food + tea every day! One of my favorites was this matcha & black sesame soft serve icecream. So, so good.
Chojiro Sushi Conveyor Belt Sushi
We popped into this sushi bar for a quick 20 min lunch. I love how easy it was to grab it off the conveyor belt and the fish quality was excellent!
Going back to point #2, this place is heaven for street food! They have a large variety of different cuisines so you can pop in and try everything. Some of the things we got were octopus on a stick (with a quail egg inside!), roasted sweet potato, uni, sushi, tempera on a stick, hot sake, and more!
As far as the weather goes, it wasn’t as cold as I expected winter to be in Japan. It was typically between mid 40-50 degrees and mostly sunny. The temperature did drop on the last day we were there but for the most part, it really wasn’t too bad. If you’re planning on going early December, I’d recommend wearing lots of thin layers and bringing a rain coat. There was never any heavy rains, just light drizzles here and there, but it came in really handy on windy days. As for shoes, we walked around 5-8 miles each day so definitely wear comfy shoes! I’d also recommended bringing a backpack to carry necessities and trash. I know, it’s weird to put trash in your bag but there’s seriously no trash cans anywhere! We found this so strange since there are street food and vending machines everywhere with no trash cans to be found. For wifi, there are pocket wifis available to rent or often times, the airbnb will provide you with one.
& that’s a wrap! This was one of my favorite places to visit of ALL time and a trip I will cherish forever. I really want to return and see more of land and learn more about Japanese culture. Thanks for reading!