Arriving In Tokyo
We departed Seattle on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Tokyo on Thursday night (although the flight wasn't nearly as long as that sounds). We hopped on the Narita express train and headed to our Hotel in Shinagawa. After checking in and getting settled we checked out the view from our room, which overlooked the Shinagawa train station, the Tokyo Tower, the Rainbow Bridge, and Tokyo Bay. We grabbed dinner in 'Ramen Alley' located underneath the train station, where we chose our orders from a ticket machine. Afterwards we headed to bed to try and overcome our jet lag.
Imperial Palace & Ginza
Our first full day in Japan we met Greg in the hotel lobby and grabbed some coffee in Shinagawa at one of the few cafes open before 10am. We then took the Yamanote line to Yurakucho station and strolled over to the Imperial Palace. The palace grounds were nice and quiet because the tour buses had yet to arrive, so we had the place to ourselves. We did not see the emperor though; he must have been sleeping in. Next we headed to Ginza, Tokyo's most upscale neighborhood, and did some window shopping and checked out a department store basement, which was full of gourmet fresh cooked food, Japanese and French style pastries, fish, meat, vegetables and fruit - including giant grapes and a honeydew that cost $120 a piece.
Tsukiji Fish Market
We continued walking east from Ginza, past the famous Kabuki-za theater, to the Tsukiji Fish market, a large mostly open air market where most of the fish that is sold in Tokyo arrives for sale every morning. We sampled some Tamagoyaki and prawn crackers and walked around the market before heading back to Ginza for sushi. We followed Greg to his favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Tsukiji Sushi Sei Ginza, sat at the counter and let Greg order. We had some of the usual sushi - salmon, tuna, toro, mackerel, and tamago - as well as some more adventurous varieties like anago eel , uni, and pickled radish. The meal was rounded out with a couple of beers, sake, miso soup, and green tea.
Yurakucho & Tsukishima
In the evening, we met up with a small group to take a food tour of Tokyo. Our tour guide, Meg, took us through a series of narrow, smoky alleys in Yurakucho to a street level Yakitori restaurant. We ate a bunch of different skewers, some of our favorites being chicken and leek, shishito peppers, and chicken wings. After the Yakitori, we made a quick stop for some takiyaki cakes - fish shaped pasteries stuffed with sweet fillings like red bean paste, cream cheese, strawberry, and pumpkin - and took the subway to the island of Tsukishima. Tsukishima is famous for monjayaki, a Japanese fried omelette that is made at your table. Our monjayaki included cabbage, corn, and pork. We also had a few bites of our neighbors spicy monjayaki. On the way back from Tsukishima, Rachel accidentally fed the ticket machine a crumpled subway ticket and the machine broke! A subway employee had to come out and try to fix it before they would let her through.
Ebisu, Shibuya, & Harajuku
The next morning we woke up and took the Yamanote line out to Ebisu. Ebisu is a trendy, young neighborhood with lots of bars and restaurants, but nothing was open yet so we just strolled around for a bit before hopping back on the train to Shibuya. In Shibuya we headed to Hoshino coffee, a specialty coffee cafe with a great view of Shibuya crossing. We ordered a soufflé style pancake - an amazing fluffy tall pancake that is popular in japan - and a Japanese style cheese pastry to go with our coffee. Afterwards we did some sightseeing in Shibuya before hopping on the train to Harajuku. In Harajuku we ambled down the famous Takeshita street full, which is full of bizarre shops and strange people. We stopped at the Calbee+ potato chip store and had some fresh made potato chips with a cheese sauce and a melon flavored Pepsi. It was a strange place.
Shinjuku & Ikebukuro
We took the subway from Shinjuku station out to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building to get a birds eye view of Tokyo. The recently built government building has two free observation decks that feature a 360 degree view over the whole city, although the city is so large it disappears in the distance. We jumped back on the train and headed to Ikebukuro, a neighborhood north of Shinjuku, and headed to the massive Seibu department store. We wandered the basement food levels of the store looking for souvenirs and bought some odd flavors of KitKat at the special KitKat counter. We then headed out into Ikebukuro and found a Cat Cafe, which was more depressing third story pet store than cafe, so we headed back to Ginza for dinner at a shabu shabu restaurant that Greg recommended.
The next morning we took the crowded Yokosuka Line to Kamakura and met up with Greg at the station. After taking the local train a couple of stops we visited Hase-dera temple, Greg's favorite temple in Kamakura. Hase-dera is a beautiful temple on a hill that has views of the city and the sea below. There is also a small network of sacred caves that we crawled through to light a prayer candle and see hundreds of miniature statuettes. Aftewards we walked through Kamakura's winding streets to see Kotoku-in, a temple that features a giant statue of Buddha; one of the most famous in the world. While at Kotoku-in we took a bunch of pictures of the statue and purchased a beautiful Omamori. We then headed back to central Kamakura to do some shopping and grab lunch at a tempura restaurant.
After lunch we headed to the giant shinto shrine Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. Because it was a holiday weekend the shrine was buzzing with activity. Food stalls lined the walkway selling snacks, a few women were wearing fancy kimonos, and a traditional Japanese wedding was taking place. We headed back to Kamakura for some pastries and iced coffee before heading back to Shinagawa to pack for Kyoto.
Kyoto & Typhoon #19
We left for Kyoto right as Typhoon #19 was headed for the main islands of Japan. The bullet trains were packed with people heading home from a holiday weekend trying to beat the weather. We bought some bentos and made it on the train without too much of a problem, but we arrived in Kyoto right around the same time as the storm. The conditions weren't too bad, heavy rain and gusts of wind, but as a precaution the city decided to shut down all train service just as we arrived. Shops and restaurants were all closing and the train station became eerily empty. We had to settle for eating dinner at a restaurant in the hotel, which turned out fine because it was a delicious Chinese restaurant that featured famous Kyoto tofu and amazing desserts. We spent the evening watching a movie in the hotel and waited out the storm.
The next day the weather had mostly passed and the trains were running again so we headed out to Fushimi Inari-taisha, the famous Shinto shrine with all of the red gates. The shrine itself is built on the side of a mountain; it takes hours to walk to the top of the mountain, and probably an entire day to see all of the shrines and altars. We made it about halfway up the mountain before heading back down. Part way down we found a secluded shop run by a man who spoke no English, where we bought a fox figurine with a prayer inside that we added to the shrine.
We then took a subway and a taxi out to Kinkaku-ji, the famous golden pavilion. The temple and it's gardens were breathtaking. Although the pictures don't show it, we actually had some sun breaks throughout our visit and we had beautiful views of the temple. The gardens surrounding the temple are also peaceful and meticulously maintained. Before leaving the temple we tried some local treats like wasabi peanuts and green-tea soft serve ice cream.
Later that day we headed to Nishiki Market, Kyoto's ancient that sells food, souvenirs, art, and all sorts of handcrafted goods. We strolled down the market and checked out many of the stores to see what they had to offer, including a chopstick store with, believe it or not, beautiful handmade chopsticks. After leaving the market we made a quick stop in a department store to buy a tube of real Japanese wasabi, we had another incredible sushi dinner at a shop nearby.
Akihabara & Yurakucho
The next day, we headed back to Tokyo on the bullet train. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel we headed to Akihabara, Tokyo's "electronic" neighborhood full of arcades, maid cafes, and electronics stores. We had lunch at a Korean restaurant, where Rachel grilled her own food at the counter. Then we stopped in an arcade that was spread out across a block and was seven or eight stories of crane games, dance games, and photo booths. We spent some time playing the Mario Kart arcade game before heading to Shinagawa to check in to our hotel.
That evening we went back to Ginza to do some shopping at Muji and headed back to Yurakucho to get some more Yakitori. This time we found a tiny restaurant on the third floor of a building right across from the train tracks. After gorging ourselves on more Yakitori, edemamae, beer, and avacado chicken salads, we strolled through the Shimbashi neighboorhood to Bar High Five. Bar High Five is a tiny bar run by a bartender with famous reputation that we first saw on a TV show. Bryan had some Japanese whiskies and Rachel had a refreshing drink that had the flavor of Japanese cherries.
The next morning we took the Keio train all the way to the end of the line to Mt. Takao, a popular hiking destination on the edge of Tokyo. After taking a 10 minute ride on a courtesy bus, we arrived at a place called Ukai Toriyama, a complex of gardens and tea houses that is run as a gourmet kaiseki restaurant. We ate lunch in an historic tea house overlooking the gardens. The service is very traditional, the waitress would always kneel before and after entering the room to slide the door closed and were dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. The food was also prepared in traditional ways, including a whole fish on a skewer grilled over charcoal. After the meal we spent time wandering the gardens and looking at the other tea houses before heading back.
Roppongi & Shinjuku
Next, we headed to Roppongi to check out the Roppongi Hills complex. On the way to Roppongi we passed a pet shop selling designer kittens (and a few puppies). The cats were special breeds, and were adorable as well as expensive ($1,500 - $2,000) per cat. Rachel thinks they were probably worth it, and if she had the credit card with her, we would probably now have a new kitten.
We spent some time walking around Roppongi's curvy, hilly, ex-pat friendly streets before finding a good looking sushi place for one last sushi experience in Japan. Afterwards we walked across the street to stop in to a basement level shaved ice shop that severed mounds of delicate flavored shaved ice, like an elegant snow cone. Afterwards we headed to Shinjuku to do some sightseeing before taking the Yamanote line back to our hotel in Shinagawa.
Hamamatsucho & Shinagawa
Our last day in Tokyo, we woke up early and checked out of the hotel before heading out for one last half-day of sightseeing. We took the train to Hamamatsucho and headed to the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden. The garden is a traditional Japanese garden right in the hear of Tokyo and it offered stunning views of both the park grounds and of the city of Tokyo. We then took a walk through Hamamatsucho to Shiba an d the Zojo-ji temple. On the way to the temple, we spotted a store called "Vashon Bar & Grill" which featured Washington wines and beers and Pacific northwest inspired food. Afterwards we hopped on a bus and headed to the airport for our flight home.