Japan

3 days in Kyoto, Japan

Watch my Kyoto video here.

I stepped foot into Kyoto on the first day of the year. January 1st, 2017.  This beautiful city is a hop, train ride and a bento box away from Tokyo and home to more than 400 Shinto shrines. 

 

What I very soon found out is that Hatsumode festivities are held across Japan at the start of January which is a tradition for the first shrine or temple visit of the year. You’ll find streets foods, festive atmosphere, lucky charms and endless crowds at the shrines and temples around Kyoto during this time. What was really inspiring though was to know that I was surrounded by thousands of those wanting to make positive wishes for the new year ahead.

 

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Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari’s famously recognisable orange gateways are well worth the visit and in the first few days of the new year, can see more than 2 million people line up to get in. After a busy afternoon visit on the 1st, I snuck back again the next morning at 6am to witness this beautiful place without all the people. 

There are more than 5000 of these orange vermilion torii gates that are spread up the mountain side. The shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. 

 

Nara Deer Park

A day trip from Kyoto, Nara is 40km away and was Japans first permanent capital which was established in the year 710. 

This temple filled park is one of the most magical places i’ve ever stepped foot into. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure.

After wandering around and feeding crackers to the deer, I picked up lunch and too many cute souvenirs at the surrounding stalls. of all the places I visited in Japan, this was hands down my favourite.

 

 

Back in the middle of Kyoto, I loved wandering through the Shijo Kawaramachi area which has plenty of design and clothing stores and a real cafe culture. Two of my favourite brews were at Drip & Drop cafe underneath piece hostel and Kissa-Master which is located in the back of a men’s clothing shop on Sanjo Dori, just east of Teramachi. This tatami style cafe has sunken seating with big windows overlooking a Japanese style garden and the perfect place to rest tired legs. 

 

 

Remaining well caffeinated, I explored the nearby Nishiki Food market which is a must for street food, shops and all the hustle and bustle. I kept myself busy here buying lots of little knick knacks and drooling over all the sweets. If you’re shopping here around New Years, you’ll see lots of Lucky Bags, traditionally known as Fukubukuro Bag, a Japanese New Years custom which is a sale bag and you’ll not know the contents until you buy it and open it. Stores of all different kinds do this- from beauty shops to tech stores and candy shops, too.

 

 

Pontocho

As the sun goes down and within wandering distance is Pontocho, a narrow, atmospheric alleyway running alongside the Kamogawa River which is lined with lanterns and restaurants. With most places opening from around 5pm, it’s a quaint area of Kyoto that I went back to after dinner every night of my three day stay here, just to soak up it’s charm. 

 

 

Gion

Another area filled with bustle and just across the bridge from Pontocho is Gion, where tourists flock during dusk to spot Geishas on their way to work. The area has plenty of quaint homes, great shops and eats and a must try is Issen Yoshoku, who’s large a3 sized menu displays inside just one item- their infamous okonmiyaki. Served with worcestershire sauce and chopped onions, this is a Kyoto must try. 

 

 

 

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

If you’re wondering if all I did in Kyoto was eat and buy souvenirs in the shape of food, you’re not far from the truth. Aside from running around a supermarket like it was Disneyland and eating nearly everything in sight, I loved visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. This dreamy forest glimmers with dappled light and is an incredibly idyllic place, filled sound of leaves in the breeze and accents from all over the globe. 

I spent a good couple of hours here wandering through the trees and loved the stroll back to the station through the township. 

 

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Kinkakuji

One of Kyoto's most famous shrine, I didn’t miss out on getting a glimpse of the Kinkakuji Shrine which means ’Temple of the golden pavilion’. It costs 400 yen to visit and the gardens surrounding the shrine itself are every little bit tranquil. 

 

 

Kyoto was filled with everything I love- kind locals, charming laneways, too many cafes to fit into three days and street food for days. It’s rich in culture and history and a place that I can’t wait to come back to. 

 

Tokyo Guide- where to begin

Watch my Tokyo video on youtube here

I grew up in a country of four million and to step into Tokyo, a city of nearly 14 million, it was hard to not feel overwhelmed with the bustle of this colourful, cultural and not to mention, polite city. I loved everything about Tokyo and this trip has to be up there as one of my favourites I’ve ever had. 

Tokyo kept my busy from dawn until well after dusk and it was a city that didn’t disappoint. I traveled to Japan with Jetstar on this trip during New Years- a busy season in this already chaotic city but exciting and enjoyable none the less. 

I could spend weeks in Tokyo just wandering and exploring. The city is filled with so many little laneways and amongst all the exploring and activities I did here, my favourite part was simply just people watching. I loved getting lost in the back streets, waking up early and getting the opportunity to see Tokyo without crowds and of course, stumbling upon great eats at almost every turn.

There is so much to say about this incredible place and notably the kind locals, efficient train systems and delicious food that I was so lucky to try. What I loved about Japan overall was how it was so well thought out, clean and how within all the crowds everything seems to flow in such great order.  

Tokyo left me inspired beyond words and was an endless puzzle that I’m already planning a trip back to. 

Special thanks to Jetstar for getting me to Japan safely

www.jetstar.co.nz

 

I chose a new area to see each day and these were my favourite spots:

 

Harajuku

Harajuku was my favourite area of the city and a place that felt like all my childhood dreams come true. I grew up watching anime, playing computer games, caring for my Tamagotchi (which I learnt at the Tamagotchi store that I owned the first, original version released in 1996) and looking forward to my annual visits to the Japanese arcades and stationary stores in the city each school holidays.

As you can imagine, trying not to squeal from excitement wasn’t easy and made all the more harder due to the fact that I was travelling alone and had only myself to share my emotions with (the hardest part about travelling solo, in my opinion!).

Daiso

Because who can really resist a 4 level store where everything is 100 yen? I left Daiso with bags of candy, snacks and beauty products.

 

Takeshita Street

Harajuku’s main street had me jumping up and down though this might have been heightened by all the sugary sweets I consumed around here. From cream filled crepes to mammoth sized rainbow fairy floss from Totti Candy Factory to the sweet matcha lattes and peach soft serve, be prepared for a sugar rush of the best kind.

Make sure to explore the streets behind Takeshita, too as there are plenty of hidden streets that are filled with great stores but are much quieter than the main strip.

If you love that tumblr pink, take a visit to Honey Mi Honey to pick up a strawberry iced latte and shop their racks of upmarket Harajuku clothing. 

Meiji Shrine

Give yourself a few hours to wander through this beautiful park and shrine. The dappled morning light and lack of crowds in the early a.m make this a really beautiful spot for a morning coffee and a strawberry, cream and sponge filled mochi from Lawsons. 

 

Roppongi

Though most visitors like to visit Roppongi in the evening for their night life, I decided to visit during the day to see the Mori Art Museum at Roppongi Hills and take in the sunset from the sky deck viewing platform.

The perfect day trip or afternoon trip, sitting in the windows of the viewing deck and watching the sun go down across this never ending skyline was one of the highlights of my time in Tokyo. There’s something so fascinating about watching the bustle from above and watching the millions of lights come alive. 

 

Omote-sando

Shopping in Omote-sando was such a highlight- from sneaker street to the designer concept stores- I could have spent days here. 

For a floral filled tea & dessert spot, Ayoama Tea House is a must and if you’re seeking coffee, you can’t pass up Cafe Kitsune which is my favourite cafe in Paris which debuted recently in Tokyo with a simple yet effortlessly cool space.

For dinner, I ate at famed steak spot, Red Rock with my friends where like many places in Japan, you order your food from a vending machine where you can choose from 3 different dishes in 2 different sizes. 

 

Shibuya

You can’t pass up having a coffee and watching the crowds crossing over at Shibuya Crossing, with Starbucks boasting some of the best (and free) views though as we know, not the best brews. So for a good cup of joe, head up to the top floor in the same building as Starbucks and you’ll also discover a beautiful magazine and cafe store (though sadly no views from up here but a beautiful place to sit and read).

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Tsutaya Book Store

One of the coolest book stores I’ve stepped into. This designer space is perfect for grabbing a coffee, enjoying the relaxed vibe and browsing their extensive selection.

 

JBS Jazz Club

A cosy and impressive jazz bar and a one-man show, JBS bar is hidden upstairs off on a side street and boasts a collection of over 11,000 records which are all organised alphabetically by instrument. Each night, tracks are carefully selected and with over 15 years in the business, this little bar certainly knows what it’s doing.

All drinks are 500 yen and if you’re feeling adventurous ask owner Kobayashi-san for his favourite Japanese whisky, it won’t disappoint. Serving coffee during the day and drinks in the evening, this was one of my favourites nights out.

 

 

Ginza

I spent my first days in Tokyo staying in Ginza at The Fresa Inn. This little hotel was in a perfect location with easy access to transport and a good place to recover from a day of walking. The rooms are tight but perfect for solo travellers.

Dover Street Market was wardrobe goals and one of the best fashion concept stores i’ve visited in a long time. There’s a rooftop cafe and walkway which crosses over to the 8 level Uniqlo next door. Toys are a plenty at Hakuhinkan Toy Park and I can ensure you this place is not just for the kids.  

That famous egg omelette you might have seen on that viral youtube video can be eaten at it’s original home at Kissa You.

For hot and steamy soba, Ginza Noodles, was a cute and cosy location off the main strip and if you’re after a brew, you can’t miss Cafe de l’ambre which has been around since the 1940’s.

The best part about staying in Ginza was being able to get up early and take an easy 15 minute walk over to the famous Tsujiki Fish Market. Though I wasn’t brave enough to wake up at 3 am for the popular tuna auction, I did head over at 7am to grab breakfast and walked the packed market laneways, picking up a tonne of cheap street food and seeing what all the fuss was about. I loved exploring this area on this cold but sunny winters morning, warming up with green tea and hot miso and choosing a little stand to eat at where I picked up a bowl of fresh tuna sashimi and rice for 800 yen. 

Asakusa

I spent a few nights in Asakusa staying at trendy design hostel Bunka which was recommended to me and was such a perfect place to explore the northern area of Tokyo. An easy walk to the bustling markets at Nakamise street and nearby Sensoji Shrine, Asakusa is certainly worth a visit. 

Spend a whole day wandering the streets here and if you’re looking for ceramics to bring home, you’ll want to visit Kappabashi street too where there are roads just lined with homewares and ceramics shops with plenty of bargains. 

If you stroll down Dempoin street in the early morning, the garage doors of the closed shop stalls are decorated with colourful Japanese graffiti and art and such a beautiful sight- especially for photos. 

 

Akihabara

The tech and anime filled area of Tokyo, Akihabara’s multi level tech stores and game arcades here had me pretty excited to say the least. 

 

Owl Cafe

I visited Akiba fukurou, an owl cafe located on the back streets of Akihabara where I paid about 2000 yen for an hour with their owls. A strange yet interesting experience which allows you to get up close with the owls which are all different breeds and sizes. 

 

 

Other bits and pieces

Miyagi Fox Village

A long day trip that I took but well worth the effort was the journey north to Miyagi Zao Fox Village. A two hour train and a 30 minute taxi up the town will get you to the off the beaten path destination where foxes roam in an enclosed park. The minute I stepped out of the train station here it started snowing and there’s no doubt that watching foxes play in the snow was a pretty magical sight. 

 

Maricart

I rang in the New Year riding a go kart around the streets of Tokyo dressed as Mario and it was something that i’ll never forget. With Maricar you can choose from a selection of 2 to 3 hour courses which take you around some of the city’s biggest sights and you’ll get to drive through Shibuya Crossing.