Tag Archives: Japan

Memoirs of a Day in Kyoto


Home to 2000 temples and shrines, Japan’s former Imperial capital, Kyoto, should be a priority on any trip to Japan.  We took the shinaksen bullet train from Hakone, which cut down the trip from 4-5 hours to 2.

It was interesting to see all of the domestic tourists in Kyoto dressed up in traditional Japanese clothing, an apparently popular local vacation activity.

Shinkasen bullet train



  • Kiyumizu-dera Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – the most  visited site in Kyoto
  • The 1300 Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine – the inspiration for the 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Calude “The Gates” exhibit in Central Park, NYC
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavillion) (UNESCO World Heritage Site) whose top 2 floors are covered in gold leaf

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple


Fushimi Inari Temple

1300 Gates at Fushimi Inari Temple

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion Temple


Eat at: 

  • Nishiki Market for everything – this one covered street in Kyoto is the best places to taste bits and bites of Japan from the dozens and dozens of merchants selling everything from mochi-wrapped strawberries and tofu donuts to live loach fish and octopus tentacles.  The market was one of our top Kyoto highlights
  • Gogyo (just off of Nishiki Market) for well-priced ramen (vegetarians beware – get something in Nishiki Market instead)
  • Kikunoi – one of Kyoto’s top rated restaurants — but make reservations in advance! (We didn’t get to go)

Mochi at the market…yum!

Nishiki Market Stall

Win & Ari at Nishiki Market

Shop atKyoto Handicrafts market for high-quality and reasonably priced souvenirs of all types (lacquer, kimonos, katanas, tea sets, etc.)

Wander throughGion for Gesha spotting


Gion at night

Spotted: Gesha!





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A Room with a View: Hakone & Mt. Fuji, Japan


For the second leg of of our Japan trip, we traveled an hour outside of Tokyo to Hakone, a resort town known for its onsen hot springs and views of nearby Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji in the background

Unexpected and wonderful:

  • Transportation:  Upon arriving at the Hakone train station, visitors check luggage with a transportation service that shuttles guests’ bags to their hotels. No shlepping for us! This enabled us to freely ride the many modes of transportation that comprise the Hakone sightseeing loop including: train, cable car funicular, bus, ropeway, and pirate ship (around Ashi lake).
  • Onsen Tamago:  eggs that have been hard-boiled in the volcanic hot springs, yum!
  • Open Air Museum: Our fault: we expected this amazing space to be boring. Nope! It had dynamic, interactive exhibits including a maze and climbing structures. We got weird in the best way.
Ropeway to the pirate ship
Onsen Tamago
Giant Sculptures at the Open air Museum
Stained Glass climbing tower at the Open air museum
Open Air museum
Sculptures at the Open Air museum
View of Lake Ashi from the pirate ship
Lake Ashi

Staying at a Traditional Ryokan near Mt. Fuji

The most memorable part of Hakone was our traditional Japanese guest house (ryokan), with serene onsen hot springs overlooking Mt. Fuji. Furnished with tatami woven mat floors and traditional futon beds, the traditional Japanese rooms each presented picture-perfect views of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest volcano. Ryokan guests wear traditional yukata robes (cotton kimonos) and enjoy a traditional kaiseki dinner, consisting of several, small, elaborately displayed dishes including:

Kaiseki Menu
Our beautiful kaiseki dinner

Where to stay & eat:  We loved the inexpensive Fujimien Ryokan. The ryokan reopened after some renovations in 2015. Availability seems limited. For a similar traditional ryokan and onsen experience, check out Yoshimatsu (traditional) or Centurion Hakone Bettei (luxury).

Visitor tip:  Buy the Hakone “free-pass;” The pass includes the roundtrip train fare from Tokyo and unlimited access on all of the modes of transportation within Hakone.  Very worthwhile.

Me & Ari in yukata robes

Looking for other Japan suggestions?


Filed under Asia, Japan

Lost in Translation: 36 Hours in Tokyo, Japan


Arrived in Hong Kong!

Our whirlwind tour through Japan began with 36 hours in Tokyo.  Though Japan as a country is steeped in tradition, Tokyo is a city of the future.  We arrived on the cusp of spring, with the lesser-known plum blossoms heralding the anticipated arrival of cherry blossom season at the end of the month.  Our group of 4 – 2 CBS friends, my brother Ari, and me met up with friends old and new – college friends, business school friends, and friends of friends, creating the illusion of familiarity in a foreign place.

Meeting up with CBS friends for Yakitori

We packed in as many sites & bites as was possible.  Highlights include

  • Imperial Palace where we meandered only  through the manicured gardens, given that the Palace itself is only open 2 days per year

Plum blossoms in the Imperial Palace Gardens

Walking around outside the Imperial Palace Gardens

  • Tsujita Ramen restaurant (@ Kanda Station), where one orders through a vending machine, receives a meal ticket, and is then served an incredible meal at a counter that surrounds the kitchen – YUM

Ordering our ramen from the vending machine to get out meal ticket…

Waiting to be seated at the ramen counter…

Waiting for our ramen at the counter…

  • Asakusa Cat Café one of 39 cat cafes in Tokyo, this is the only one that has rescues cats.  There space is filled with cat beds, houses, climbers, and toys for people to come and interact with the cat, and the modest entrance fee/beverage fees help subsidize the cost of sheltering the cats until they can be adopted.  Oddly, about half the cats were the size of small dogs.

Asakusa Nekko/Cat Cafe

  • Sensoji Temple
  • Nakamise Shopping Street filled with gifts and goods and sweet shops

Senso-ji Shrine

Lantern outside of the Senso-ji Shrine

  • Harajuku & the Meiji Jingu Shrine – somehow, in the bustling neighborhood of Harajuku, there is a wooded area that contains the Meji Shrine.  Though we arrived just before closing, we were able to walk through the magnificent structure.
  • Ari at the Meiji Jingu Shrine


  • Shibuya Crossing – one of the busiest intersections in the world, something like Times Square…if Times Square was orderly and everyone crossed at once.  The streets went from car-filled and devoid of people, to a sea of humanity intersecting at the change of the light.

Shibuya Crossing

  • Tsukiji Fish Market – we woke up at 4:10 AM to arrive at this world-famous fish market where the 400+ lb tunas are auctioned off each morning.  Despite our early arrival, we were not amongst the limited 120 people allowed in for the viewing – I can only imagine what time everyone else arrived.  The silver lining is that we were the first to arrive at Daiwa Zushi where we had the best omakase sushi, served fresh piece by piece, sitting at a counter with the sushi chef.  By 6 am, we had the breakfast of our lives and, stuffed with fish, departed Tokyo for the next leg of our trip.

New Obsession:  The 5-per-block cold and hot vending machines.  Yum.

5 AM at the Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Our amazing sushi chef at Daiwa Zushi

Tuskiji fish market sushi breakfast at 5:30 AM

First bites of the omakase Sushi

Big thanks to Saul, Rene, Darren, Wright, Kei, Troo, Paul, Win, Michael, Russell, Ethan, and Ari for all of the recommendations!


Filed under Asia, Hong Kong

5 Things You Didn’t Think to Pack for Japan


It’s that time again.  In 3 days I’m leaving for  16 day trip to Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto), Hong Kong, and South Korea.  

Not having ever been to this part of the world, I started Googling what I should pack and came across this amazing list from Lonely Planet on “The 5 Things You Didn’t Think to Pack for Japan.”  Love!

Is there anything that’s missing from this list?  Anything specific to Hong Kong or S. Korea that should go into my suitcase?  Let me know what you think!

Non-Lacing Shoes

One of Japan’s best-known customs is removing shoes upon entering a home. But a lot of other places you might visit – ryokanstemplesmuseumshistorical sites, even some restaurants – may require that you doff your footwear at the door, too. Make things easier for yourself – and save time – by forgoing those high lace-up boots for shoes that simply slip on and off, or else have Velcro fasteners.


If you’re eating out casually in Japan – in cafes, getting takeaway, etc – you’ll notice that napkins often aren’t given out to customers. It’s a good idea to carry a travel packet of tissues with you for snack times (especially if you’re travelling with kids).


Public bathrooms in Japan usually don’t have paper towels, and there are some that don’t even have hand dryers (or else there’s only one, which might mean waiting). Keep a small towel or washcloth in your bag for drying your hands after you’ve washed them. (A cool, moist towel on your neck will also help keep you cool during Japan’s hot and humid summer.)

Hand Sanitiser

Similarly, some bathrooms you encounter may not even have soap, especially on shinkansen (bullet trains). A small bottle of hand sanitiser will come in handy, even for the non-germophobes.


Even if you’re visiting outside of ‘plum rain’ season (June and July), Japan’s island-weather system means it can rain almost any time of the year. Inexpensive umbrellas are available for purchase, of course, but they don’t fold up, and you may find that a compact travel umbrella is easier to carry when the sun comes out again

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/37418#ixzz2MgQBSzrF

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Filed under Asia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Travel (General)

Spring Break 2013 – East Asia!


More details to come, but excited to share that I  just booked travel for Spring Break to East Asia!

Spring Break 2013

March 9-13: Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto)

March 14-16: Hong Kong

March 17-24: South Korea (Seoul, Uslan, Busan, DMZ)

Guidebooks are ordered, now time to do some research!  Recommendations and suggestions are welcome.


Filed under Asia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Travel (General)