Japan is one of the most exciting countries to visit because of the explosions of culture through art, music, entertainment and FOOD. Every time I go to Japan I'm left with this immense feeling of wanting to live there because there is SO much to explore and never enough time. Kelvin and I decided to explore Japan in the Spring because we were on the hunt for Cherry Blossom season! We spent most of our time in Tokyo, then stopped by Kyoto just in time to see some trees in bloom and finished with a trip down to Okinawa to meet my bestie who was living there at the time.
Pretty sure I gained 10 lbs from the non-stop eating during this trip but that's what made it so awesome! Ramen, sushi, yakitori, unagidon, shabu shabu, tonkastsu, and so much more. And while I am fortunate to have wonderful Japanese restaurants throughout the LA, nothing compares to the sushi you can get out there. Take me back NOW.
WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed in the Cerulean Tower Hotel in Shibuya and then at the Westin in Ebisu areas during our trip and thought it was great and both very easy to get all around to neighboring cities. Cerulean was one block again from the train which made getting around so easy. I would recommend Shinjuku if you like the fancier areas… or Daikanyama area is like the Venice's Abbot Kinney of Japan. There is SO MUCH to explore all around the different areas of Tokyo that I think you can’t go wrong staying somewhat central like Shibuya/Ebisu.
Robot Show in Shinjuku: So amazing and great to get your fix of the wacky quirky Japanese culture. Super touristy but worth it. Don’t get the bento box just eat before or after the show. Get tickets online for a matinee and they’re cheaper!
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa: Sensoji Temple in Tokyo's proletarian east-end area of Asakusa is reputedly one of Tokyo's oldest temples, founded in 628. Very touristy but fun to visit if you had to go to at least one temple in the Tokyo area. Tons and tons of kitschy souvenir stores and shops around this area.
Explore Daikanyama area. It’s like the Abbot Kinney area of Japan. Super cute streets that you can wander. Head to the T-Site at the center. There’s an expensive restaurant called Ivy Place in the middle of it but it’s a really beautiful place to chill. Wander around their awesome book store, etc.
Sumo Match: Check out a sumo match if you have some time! It’s definitely not as exciting as you would think since it’s a ton of build up and then not a lot of action.. but a great way to experience a sport that has so much tradition! General admission tickets for Ryogoku Kokugikan are sold as same-day seats on tournament days. The box office opens 8am, and competition begins at 9am and lasts into the evening. Get your hotel to help with getting tickets for this.
Mutekiya Ramen in Ikebukuro: So so amazing for miso ramen. There’s always a line out front but worth it and it moves pretty fast. Definitely worth the trip if you love fatty thick pork and nice gummy noodles.
Maisen Tonkatsu in Ometosando: There are a couple locations but the original restaurant is in Ometosando area. You can visit if you’re in the area checking out Takeshita/Harajuku street. My favorite tonkatsu place.
Nodaiwa Unagi-ya in Ebisu: Come here for lunch for the best freshwater eel meal ever! We did the set meal since it’s affordable during lunch. Much more expensive for dinner. They started the unagi business 200 years ago and one of the few unagi-ya’s that still serve wild caught unagi from Japan (vs. buy them from China). 1 Michelin Star.
Afuri Ramen in Ebisu:They have a couple locations but the one we went to is right next to Ebisu JR station. Really delicious and different kind of ramen with a yuzu citrus broth. Much lighter than miso or other shoyu bases.
Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya: Grab a drink at this secret street in Shibuya where there are a ton of little bars that only seat around 4-8 people each (like the episode of Girls where Shosh is talking to her Japanese friends!) Some don’t let you in unless you’re a regular but others are very welcoming and the bar owners are super nice.
Ichiran Ramen in Shibuya: Fun ramen experience ordering at the machine then eating in stalls. This is a chain and they’re all over but we went to the one in Shibuya. Gotta wait in line if you’re going during prime ramen hours esp post drinking. Ramen noodles are ok, broth is pretty good but the pork was not good compared to other ramen shops out there. This is really all about the experience of eating in a stall.
Imahan (Sukiyaki style Waygu beef) in Shinjuku: There are more locations than just Shinjuku. This place is not cheap but they have great meal sets for some of the best waygu beef! They prepare all of it for you and if you like the sukiyaki style of cooking you’ll love this. They also have shabu shabu if you don’t want sukiyaki.
There is literally no shortage of TEMPLES in Kyoto. You can literally just spend days and days at these temples but then they all start blend together. We actually got sick during out trip to Kyoto so had to squeeze everything into 24hrs of eating/seeing! Here are the highlights..
Keep in mind, things move A LOT slower in Kyoto. It’s not even CLOSE to the convenience of Tokyo transportation. In Kyoto the train options are limited and then you’re taking taxis or buses around. Make sure to account for that time when planning your days.
Honke Owariya:There are 4 different locations in Kyoto but we went to the original shop. We arrived during a semi-off meal time and didn’t have to wait at all. This is traditional soba and Kyoto sweets. We got this crazy tower of soba and it was delicious!! Definitely a great experience.
Kaiseki: There are a TON of different Kaiseki experiences in Kyoto that i REALLY wanted to try but because we got sick we couldn’t make it. Gotta save something for our next trip. ;)
OKINAWA EATS & FUNTIVITIES:
Okinawa was such a fun trip! Thankful that we have friends there who were able to take us around since you absolutely need a car to get around. Because of a strong military presence, there is a lot of English signage and speakers here. Felt kinda like being in Hawaii since there are so many little sleepy beach towns.
Pizza in the Sky: Silly name but SERIOUSLY GOOD pizza. Holy crap. They only have 1 type of pizza and that's all they need. It was insanely good and I'm so sad I didn't take a photo of it before gobbling it up.
Hamaya Soba: This is one of my FAVORITE bowls of noodles on the trip. While they call it soba, it's really more of a clear broth thick noodle bowl. It was soooo good! Imagine a delicious bone broth and these hand pulled thicker noodles. Ugh, this I definitely haven't found in LA yet. :(
Blue Seal Ice Cream: This place feels very Western but they have their ice cream flavors down! I was in love with their Ube flavored ice cream. Perfectly creamy and not too sweet. Yum!!
Okinawa Aquarium: This will end all aquariums you've ever been to. I find sea life so serene and beautiful. The grounds are huge and there's no shortage of stuff to see. I feel in love with their huge whale shark exhibit. The most beautiful room there. Definitely make a stop here.
Public Parks: We went to a park called Tobaru Koen and it was like they build a slide on steroids! If you have time check out more but the one we went to had this awesome spiraling tower and this FAST roller slide that will send you flying down the hill.