My Japan Trip Recap & Travel Guide
I can't believe it's already been a week since I went to Japan! Although I was on a trip with Shiseido, I got to explore so much in a short time span. I loved experiencing Japanese culture, seeing the beautiful architecture, and eating all the delicious foods. Everything about it made me so proud to be half Japanese.
Anyway, the trip was perfect because it's cherry blossom season and the blooming trees and flowers were sooo romantic and epic! I really love Japan because it's full of natural beauty but also has bustling cities like Tokyo that light up at night, and is great for people watching. Plus, everyone is so respectful and goes out of their way to make sure you're comfortable. It was such a breathtaking experience, and I'd highly recommend you jump at any opportunity to go because you won't regret it!
Here's a recap of all my favorite places to stay, eat, and see!
I feel like you get to experience two worlds in Tokyo - the past and the future! It's busy, modern, and fast-paced but holds true to its traditional roots. What's great about Tokyo is that you don't need a set itinerary to enjoy the city. It's overflowing with amazing shopping destinations, restaurants (fun fact, Tokyo houses some of the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world!), and cultural landmarks. The train rides and bright lights are enough to keep you entertained for days - I was stunned at every moment!
Where to stay...
If budget isn't an issue, I'd highly recommend staying at Aman Tokyo for an ultra luxe experience. It's probably one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed at, and you get the most AMAZING view of Tokyo, plus a killer pool that felt unreal to dip in! I LOVED the modern, minimal decor mixed with the natural wood textures. And the spacious rooms made me feel right at home! My favorite part would have to be the wide open windows and the DEEP BATH TUB (Japanese style of course).
Where to eat...
One of my favorites during the trip was Aoyama Kawakami-An because they had the best soba noodles and tempura. I know tempura sounds so basic but it's next level good here! So crispy and FRESH. Locale Tokyo is another great choice if you're looking for a taste of home. It's a farm-to-table restaurant with super home-y vibes, using only local ingredients and is cooked by a Californian! I highly recommend sitting at the counter so you can see the chef prepare the dishes in front of you! Another delicious ramen choice is Bankara Ramen. You order through a vending machine outside the store before sitting down. It's inexpensive and the ramen is FULL of flavor. They also have gluten free ramen as well.
For a superior fine dining experience, you can't go wrong at L'Osier. This is a Michelin 2 Star French restaurant in Tokyo that exceeded my expectations from the unique flavors to the impeccable presentation. If you are a dessert lover, the dessert course was just as long as the appetizers and main dishes combine. It was fantastic and did not disappoint!
Another high-end option is Tokyo Tower Tofu House. Go here if you want an exquisite dinner with a view! The restaurant is located at the foot of the iconic Tokyo Tower and is nestled in a beautiful Japanese garden. You'll feel transported back in time here as you enjoy a diverse menu centered around tofu and seafood!
Where to shop...
There's no shortage of places to shop in Tokyo but my all time favorite was Ginza Six! It's Tokyo's latest luxury mall filled with so many endless boutiques. The picturesque views from the rooftop garden were so perfect for scoping out Ginza and Tokyo from above. I also liked that there was more than just high-end shops. I discovered the cutest book store and bonsai trees for sale - wish I could have brought one back with me! Even if you don't buy anything, Ginza is worth seeing for its unique architectural and interior designs. Just wow!!
Also definitely go check out LISN while you're in Tokyo (Aoyama area) for an incense buying experience like no other. It's like walking into a chocolate store but for colorful incense presented in the most beautiful way. It's what I've been burning everyday since being home to remind me of the trip : )
Things to do...
And finally, you have to see Harajuku, known to be the center of Japan's pop culture. There's sooo much to see and do here from the endless fashion boutiques and kawaii-themed cafes to thrifting and embracing your childhood toy and pirukura obsession. It's also great for people watching because the city dwellers come decked out in lolita fashion and more! Definitely walk through Takeshita Street (so busy but worth seeing!) and grab some delicious crepes and cotton candy or browse the biggest Daiso ever - we can't compete here in LA! Harajuki isn't all modern though. You can get away from the hustle and bustle by visiting the tranquil Meiji Shrine where you can make a wish and hang it under a tree!
Hakone is about an hour away from Tokyo by train and is famous for its hot springs and natural beauty. Here, I stayed at Gora Kadan, which provided a luxurious Japanese onsen experience (more on this later!) The highlight of this hotel was the indoor hot springs bath which was so scenic and clean! The room itself was minimally decorated and spacious - I loved that there was nothing touristy about it. And finally, the service and amenities went beyond my expectations from the massages to the exceptional seasonal dinners.
If you get to visit Hakone, I suggest checking out the Picasso Museum (Open Air Museum), which I showed briefly on my stories. I have visited many museums before but this one was special because it features sculptures and artwork outside. That means you also get to see some stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It's an unusual set up but spectacular and really makes you appreciate art!
Thank you Shiseido team for showing me around Tokyo and for all the amazing experiences!
Next up is Kyoto which is about a two-hour journey from Tokyo if you use the bullet train! I highly recommend getting a JR- PASS around $300 for all you can ride during a certain length of time. It saves you so much money!
Kyoto is a totally different vibe and it was GORGEOUSSSSS during Sakura season . WOW. Unlike Tokyo where I was struck by the fast-paced city and blazing lights, I found myself in constant awe by Kyoto's quiet tradition with the standalone temples, shrines, and Zen gardens. You can also find plenty of sakura lined (when in season) walkways so it's also a great opportunity to get active while exploring!
Where to stay...
To get a real taste of Kyoto, you should get an airbnb. We stayed at a charming Kyoto Machiya in a forest and it was the perfect getaway! It's about a 10 minute bike ride into Kyoto which was close enough to the city so we could so we could easily get in and out. The best part was the electric bikes that were provided. I HIGHLY recommend biking around Kyoto as a way to get-around and electric bikes make it sooo much easier! The best part was coming home and taking a bath in a wooden bath tub. It was so relaxing and the tatami style beds were very comfortable as well.
*If you are new to Airbnb you can book through this link to save $40 off your next stay <3
Where to eat...
If you're looking for a unique but tasty sushi restaurant, then def try Awomb! It's like the afternoon tea of Japan but more hip. The platters are so artsy and you can really get creative with how you want to eat it. The food is served temaki style which means everything you order comes out on a platter and you can roll the different ingredients into sheet of seaweed or eat it as is. Delish!!
You guys know udon is one of my weaknesses and I discovered the best at Omen. They specialize in dip udon noodles served with hot or cold broth, but you can also get plenty of yummy side dishes to go with your meal. The noodles were a PERFECT consistency and mixed in with all the flavors, it was sooo tasty!
My trip wouldn't be complete without traditional Japanese skewers, and Ichiban Yakitori was THE BEST! The "mi" was sooo good and a must-have if you get the chance to visit! You can order a variety of chicken cuts, other meats, AND vegetables of course! Every single thing was delicious. You really can't go wrong here!
Where to shop...
If you love tea and matcha as much as I do, then be sure to check out Ippodo Tea - the perfect spot for tea drinkers. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and can help you find the perfect matcha to take home. It makes a great souvenir too. On that same street, there are plenty of other stores (art and book shops) that make for great shopping opportunities.
Also, check out Pass the Baton, a great stop for recycled treasures, gifts for family back home, and accessories. If you need a snack, stop by the tea and sake room for shaved ice and other delicious sweets! I didn't have a chance to get the shaved ice, but I heard it WAS DELICIOUS. please get it for meee <3
Things to do...
There's so much to see in Kyoto because it's full of history and heritage! But if I had to narrow down to a few, here's what I'd recommend:
Murin An - The traditional, peaceful garden is a sight to see! The ponds, streams, and views of the meandering slopes were breathtaking! You must enjoy a cup of matcha while watching the garden. It's a relaxing experience worth having!
Hanamikoji Dori - Nothing beats the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. I was awestruck by the traditional architecture and lanterns of Hanamikoji Dori. That paired with blossoming trees was like a dream! It really transports you back in time and makes you feel like you're in a movie - especially if you spot a few geishas. Nothing beats the sakura against the historic temples and shrines! They're beautiful all over Japan but that ancient feel in Kyoto makes it all the better!
Fushimi Inari Taisha (Torii Gates) - I also recommend walking up this vibrant shrine which is so mesmerizing! I biked 8 miles here then hiked through the endless torii gates and loved every bit of it! I love seeing places that allow me to get active and this is def one of them! You'll also find tons of restaurants, shops, and food stalls conveniently located at the entrance if you need some refreshments!
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) - I always admired this temple in photos but it looks even better in person (minus the crowd). I HIGHLY recommend going to all of these sites I'm mentioning SUPER EARLY- before 9 am is ideal! This temple stands out because it is covered in gold leaf and sparkles in the reflection as well. Not only is the temple magical, but the gardens are an amazing sight to walk through as well.
Also, if you're looking to explore beyond the tourist spots, check out Curated Kyoto. It's a highly curated tour that allows you to see various parts of the city whether that's photogenic locations or local favorites. We got the most out of the day with them and can't recommend them enough!
This was the magical town I couldn't wait to show you guys on Instagram! It's got a serenity and stillness like I've never seen before which is no surprise considering it's one of Japan's UNESCO heritage site. The natural environment and high mountains create a beautiful atmosphere and gives you a taste of traditional mountain life.
Def stay at Nodaniya for a clean, comfy and home-y feel. You'll also get home-cooked country dinner and breakfast which was definitely a one of a kind experience!
Izu is a peninsula that offers amazing panoramic views of the coastline and mountainous terrain (an unexpected but sensational combo)! It's about an hour away from Tokyo and is one of those places that are perfect for immersing in nature...and I NEVER KNEW JAPAN COULD BE THIS SERENE. I stayed at the beautiful Cliff House Airbnb which gave me the most incredible, unobstructed view from SOO high up. The deck was perfect for my morning stretches and even a work out. There's nothing around here so we bought 2 days worth of groceries and just kicked it like crickets and spent the last two days of our Japan trip relaxing here. It was PERFECT. I think the best part was watching the sunset from up there... we got a video of it on time lapse and it still gives me chills to watch it.
We also recommend getting an International license and car to drive to the cliff house which is a 45 min drive from the station. On your drive up, you will be surprised with fields of nanohana so be prepared to take some photos in the fields, it was epic!
I hope you enjoyed this recap and that it gave you a taste of Japan. Be sure to bookmark it for later in case you ever get to visit!
Until next time xx