The Japan Regular’s Guide to Japan
Arts & Culture
Japan is paradoxical in many ways. For one, the more I go (10 times and counting) the more I realize I don’t know – it is truly a land of “endless discovery.” One thing is for sure: every visit is filled with the wonder of the first. And the Japanese dedication to omotenashi – or hospitality plus – should be a model to us all. This guide offers travelers a glimpse at the amazing sights and sounds of Japan, but in a country with so much to do and see, I highly recommend chatting so that I can help to personalize your trip to your style.
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Where to stay
Palace Hotel Tokyo
The best Tokyo hotel you don't know – The Palace at 1-1-1 Marunouchi is the center of it all.
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Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
A seamless blend of ryokan design and modern luxuries set in a peaceful forest just outside of Kyoto
A Tadao Ando-designed minimalist gem that’s more museum than hotel, on Japan’s art hub of Naoshima Island.
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Things to do
Tokyo can be overwhelming – and this is coming from a New Yorker – so it’s all about carving it up into doable doses.
A great first-day orientation is to start at Yoyogi Park and walk among the enormous torii (gates) of the Meiji Shrine, then exit the park Harajuku side and amble down the broad, leafy Omotesando Street, home to some of the city’s most notable “starchitecture.”
The tiny side streets here are filled with small local shops, restaurants, cat and rabbit cafes and more. Stop in the Ota Memorial Museum for one of Tokyo’s best collections of ukiyo-e, the “pictures of the floating world” woodblock prints by the masters Hokusai and Hiroshige.
For anyone who loves anime, plan in advance to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum, dedicated to the movies of Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and many more).
The digital art/tech collective teamLab has several long-term exhibits in Tokyo (Borderless and Planets) with temporary shows popping up regularly as well.
Eat & drink
Where to start? Ask 100 people what the best places to eat are and you'll get as many different answers. You can’t listicle dining in Japan. But here are some of my personal favorites:
Heiroku - (conveyor belt style) on Omotesando, perfect fueling place for walking the side streets of Shibuya and Harajuku.
Yoshikawa:You can book rooms for private geisha entertainment at this Kyoto landmark, but the real experience is rubbing elbows with locals at the 11-seat tempura counter.
Honke Owariya: Some of the best soba in Kyoto at this 550-year-old family-run gem.
Cignale Enoteca: Regularly cited by clients as a top culinary memory in Tokyo. Twelve seats around a small open kitchen where four chefs prepare exquisite Italian / Japanese dishes.
7-11 (or Lawson, Family Mart chains): The person(s) who invented the double-wrapper system of keeping onigiri nori crisp deserves a Nobel. Convenience stores (kombinis) in Japan have good food and their ubiquity means no day need be ruined in hanger. They are a particular life-saver with kids.
Osaka often gets short shrift, unjustifiably. Do a day trip (30 minutes by express train from Kyoto) and set out on a street food tour. Some highlights:
Toyo, a street stall izakaya
Fue okonomiyaki, for the fried veggie pancakes popular throughout the Kansai region
Hozenji yokocho, an alley lined with traditional shops and restaurants.
Need to Know
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