Japan Travel Guide – Essence

Photo JTB /

There are things about Japan that grab you instantly and stick with you. It was the first place I traveled and felt a real otherworldly world, like there was something around every corner that my eyes had never seen. A sea of ​​faces covered in white masks, an unprecedented order – from train lines to litter-free streets, the clash of generations caught between old world tradition and millennial freshness. And this food. Steaming ramen ready to be gulped down, varieties of bread on display at stations, gyoza with tender pieces of pork, sushi traveling on conveyor belts in greedy chopsticks, yakitori beef sticks for under two dollars.

If you are traveling to Japan for the first time, there are a few things you should know. First of all, you need to plan your return. The 2,000-year-old island country is far more than Tokyo, with mountainside retreats, natural springs (called onsens), temples, volcanoes (hello, Mount Fuji) and rolling countryside that breathes peace. It is also one of the most technologically and economically advanced countries in the world; kind of a toy country for adults who love gadgets, get into character and, quite honestly, just be weird.

Second, you will never understand everything. In Tokyo, you can walk down the street where there is an Alice and Wonderland themed bar across from a cafe where the women are dressed as housekeepers. Why? We do not care? It’s part of what makes Tokyo a thrilling ride for the five senses. Finally, expect to get lost, often, both in the language and in the actual direction. That too is part of the fun of the trip: having the best plans and watching them all tip like dominoes. Fortunately, I got lost enough to help you a bit.

Here is a starter course in Japan for anyone planning to visit this wonderful East Asian destination.

Where to stay
My apartment in Tokyo was a comfortable apartment in the quiet residential area of ​​Yoyogi-Uehara. For travelers looking for budget options and an opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture, Far from home is the perfect solution. A network of apartments in the populous city of Tokyo allows you to get to know your neighbors, local hangouts and trains. After a flight of over 10 hours, my apartment manager, Clyde, met me at the train station and gave me a brief introduction to the city and the keys – another special touch for your first navigation in a city and have your own private space. Another must? Pocket Wi-Fi. PuPuRuThe reliable network saved my life on this trip. Without it, I would probably still be lost on a random street.

If you are looking for an unforgettable hotel stay with flawless service, look no further than Park Hyatt Tokyo. In this luxurious 177-room property, the movie Lost in Translation comes to life. Relax in its Club on the Park Spa with a cup of steaming green tea. In the evenings, the New York Grill & Bar Restaurant offers unparalleled cuisine and views from the 52nd floor. A starter of burrata cheese from the Hokkaido region of Japan shouldn’t be missed, and a good piece of Japanese Sendai beef shouldn’t curl your toes, either. Next door, the Tokyo skyline sparkles at the infamous New York Bar to the sound of jazz and the clatter of perfectly made martinis. Sexy would be an understatement for this nocturnal atmosphere. Don’t miss it.

What to do
There is no shortage of things to do in Tokyo. For first-time visitors, Shibuya Crossing (one of the largest intersections in the world) is a must see. Think Times Square on steroids, with crowds coming from four different directions and possibly a Mario Brothers go-kart sighting for good measure. For fashion lovers, head to the upscale Ginza district. If you are looking for original and eclectic clothes, then Harajuku is your answer. In this popular district, the themed cafes are varied and fashion is not for the faint of heart. For techies, Akihabara is an electronics lover’s dream. For a hip and trendy atmosphere, do not miss Daikanyama and its famous T site bookstore and its outdoor restaurants.

At night, your options will intensify. In fact, most Tokyo nightclubs don’t close until 6 a.m. For an exaggerated experience, what exactly is going on here, don’t miss the Robot restaurant show in Shinkjuku. It’s easily one of the strangest and most addicting live music performances you’ve ever seen. For hip hop and reggae, head to the Cactus Club or Harlem.

What to eat
For memorable meals, Tokyo delivers. In fact, it is a food lover’s dream. For a top-of-the-range tasting perfectly mastered, go to the Motif Restaurant & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel. French cuisine enjoys a true farm-to-table upgrade at this intimate 57-room luxury hotel. And don’t forget the views, which are some of the city’s most enviable.

For cheap and fun sushi on the conveyor belt, Genki in Shibuya guarantees a variety of rolls that will leave you stuffed for under US $ 20. Ramen lovers shouldn’t miss Santouka or Fuunji in Shinjuku. Finally, if there’s one thing Tokyo can do, its pancakes. Grab a book and line up with the local crowd at Rainbow Pancake in Harajuku. This mound-like soufflé is the smoothest, sweetest treat your mouth will ever have.

Just three hours from Tokyo on the lightning-fast Shinkansen (bullet train), Kyoto is an enchanting city with rocking streams, verdant mountains, and a traditional aesthetic that’s not afraid to play with modernity. Think city meets countryside, with an ever-changing twist on custom. It’s a perfect weekend getaway from Tokyo.

Where to stay
The Ritz Carlton, Kyoto is a design lover’s dream, perfectly blending Japanese minimalism with lavish luxury. This is the kind of intimate hotel you won’t want to leave, with unparalleled service and cuisine. The 134-room property has four notable restaurants and bars, and stunning views of the Kamogowa River from its rooms.

For the proximity of the station, Gravia Hotel is a great option with its Cotociel restaurant offering tender wagyu beef and panoramic views. It is also central to downtown Kyoto and to a number of dining and sightseeing options.

What to eat
It’s show time at Kichi Kichi Omurice, where chef Motokichi Yukimura prepares the always instagrammable stir-fried rice topped with a perfectly whipped egg. Ask for a seat at the bar and watch the chef do all he can for the customers. It’s an intimate local experience worth checking off the list. At the end of a narrow garden path, AWOMB sushi offers do-it-yourself sushi plates, expertly prepared by an all-female staff.

What to do
Book a visit with Kyoto organized to have a real taste of cool kid Kyoto. Led by Sara Aiko, this company blends the best of traditional Kyoto with places and artists under the radar. A tour can include anything from crushed ice riverside experiences to glass teahouses with stunning 360-degree views of Kyoto.

Only a few hours by train from Kyoto, the port city of Osaka has a unique charm. If you love street food and historical landmarks without Tokyo’s crazy crowds, you’ve found your match.

Where to stay
For remarkable views and architecture, Intercontinental Osaka should not be missed. The luxury hotel has 215 rooms and 57 residential suites that overlook the city of Osaka. Contemporary art and floor-to-ceiling glass accents give the property a modern touch. In the evening, dine at the Michelin-starred Pierre restaurant for French haute cuisine, then head to the adee bar next door for the best gin and tonic of your life, to the sound of live music under sparkling chandeliers. It is the ideal hotel for any type of traveler.

For its proximity to the train station and its economical rooms, try Osaka Hilton Hotel as a great base for exploring the city. A special touch is the kimonos and slippers for the guests.

What to do
For historical monuments, Sumiyoshi-taisha is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan and is definitely worth a visit. Dotonbori, the city’s epicenter, comes alive at night with lighted signs and countless dining and theater options. On Orange Street, the ultra-cool fashion boutiques, furniture stores and outdoor rooftop restaurants are perfect for a Sunday.

What to eat
Come to Osaka hungry – it’s a foodie’s dream. Head to the ever popular food stalls at Kuromon Ichiban Market for some of Osaka’s freshest seafood. Favorites include grilled scallops and baby octopus on a stick. For a family affair and a change from traditional Japanese cuisine, Alto Tritone offers homemade pasta in an intimate and minimalist environment. The owner was trained in Italy so rest assured you will be sipping every authentic bite.

How to get there
Singapore Airlines offers nonstop flights from LAX and is always my airline of choice for service and punctuality. Upgrade to Business Class for the ultimate experience of comfort and a forerunner of true Asian hospitality. Each seat is up to 34 inches wide and feels like a fully flat bed once the jet lag begins to set in. There are up to 1000 channels on the in-flight entertainment system, KrisWorld. Another advantage? You can reserve your main course up to 24 hours online before the flight.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON JAPAN, VISIT: National Tourist Board of Japan

Kristin Braswell is a travel writer and founder of CrushGlobal Travel. Do you like this definitive take on traveling to Japan? Sign up for the first one to find out more about an organized TOKYO guide HERE, and follow the adventures on Instagram, @crushglobal

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