The Foodie's Guide to Japan

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Advisor - Chris Hutchins
Curated By

Chris Hutchins

  • Japan

  • Kyoto

  • Osaka

  • Tokyo

  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • International Travel

  • Foodie

  • Local Culture

  • Sightseeing

sushi chef in Japan
Chris’s Take

For me, so much of visiting Japan is about eating my way through the country, enjoying every last bite of the incredible food on offer. But there’s a lot more to traveling this beautiful place: the people are so kind and friendly, the history is fascinating, and everything is clean, orderly, and on time. Oh, and did I mention the food?

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Where to stay

Day 1: Gather your bearings in Osaka

Temple in Japan with green trees

Stay at the St. Regis

Located in Midosuji, the St. Regis is close to a lot of popular attractions, including the city’s shopping districts. Enjoy the views of Osaka’s skyline from the 12th-floor terrace, then relax at the luxurious Sothys spa. The rooms are large and well-appointed, guaranteeing a top class experience through and through.

Visit the castle

One of Japan’s most visited landmarks, the Osaka Castle, feels otherworldly large and a cool highlight of your time in the city. The climb up to the top is pretty steep, so make sure to have your walking shoes on. The park is truly stunning and a delight for photography enthusiasts, even more so than inside the castle itself.

Dine at Wajo

Wajo serves possibly one of the most expensive steaks you’ll ever have, but it’s well worth it for an incredible experience in an over-the-top way. The restaurant is located inside the St. Regis, making it an extra convenient location.

Have a nightcap

If you need to burn off that amazing dinner, head to the Bible Club, one of the coolest underground speakeasy type bars you’ll find. It has an old school American vibe and it’s a true hidden gem, away from the hustle and bustle of Osaka.

Day 2: Eat your way through Osaka

Japanese street lit with neon lights

Wander down the main street

Osaka is all about the food. One of the most fun things to do is to walk around the many street food stalls, stopping to sample whatever takes your fancy. Seek out Japanese souffle pancakes, take your pick between the many offerings of dumplings or try takoyaki, a ball-shaped snack made of wheat flour usually filled with octopus.

Lunch at Kushikatu Daruma

Easily recognizable thanks to the angry chef sculpture adorning the entrance, Kushikatu Daruma serves fried everything on skewers, if you still have space from your street food discoveries.

Go shopping

Osaka is a business city, which means it’s packed with restaurants and shopping areas. Shinsaibashi-suji, a covered shopping arcade, offers everything from independent boutiques to chain stores, along with a few restaurants. The Amerikamura district is great for younger, fashionable shoppers while Den Den Town is the place to go for electronics and games.

For souvenirs and a more authentic shopping experience, head to Tenjinbashi-suji, supposedly the longest shopping street in Japan.

Visit the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

Whisky enthusiasts will enjoy the tours at the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, the factory where the award-winning Suntory is made.

Dine at Ajinoya

Osaka is known for its okonomiyaki restaurants and Ajinoya is one of the best. Okonomiyaki are savory pancakes typically fried right at your table.

Day 3: Arrive in Kyoto

Japanese garden in Japan with yellow green and red trees and sliding wood and white doors

Stay at the Park Hyatt

This stunning property will amaze you from the moment you arrive. The rooms are perfectly designed rooms with amazing finishes, the gardens are beautifully maintained, and you’re in for a treat at the onsen. The hotel offers a western-style breakfast, but it’s the traditional Japanese offering (kaiseki) that will make you want to leap out of bed in the morning.

Visit the Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

If you go early in the morning, you might beat the crowds at Kyoto’s most popular temple, the Kiyomizu-dera Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a beautiful walk to get there and feels very serene and quiet.

Get a matcha latte

This part of Japan is famous for its matcha and Yugen is an amazing place to get your fix. The lattes are thoughtfully prepared by the expert staff right in front of you. Highly recommended.

Dine at Kokoraya

Sit on the floor at Kokoraya, a casual Japanese-style pub (known as izakaya) for a relaxed dinner after a day of exploring the city. Groups can also book a private room.

Drink at The Bee’s Knees

You’ll first have to find the bright yellow door marked “The Book Store” with a discreet bee symbol on it. Behind it, you’ll find a speakeasy bar called The Bee’s Knees serving creative cocktails for a truly awesome night out.

Day 4: Kyoto’s Greatest Hits

Red and black pillars in Japan temple

Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine

Famous for its endless rows of bright orange torii gates, this shrine is best visited in the morning, before the crowds gather to take pictures. There are trails behind the main building and you can climb all the way to the top if you’re up for a long walk.

Lunch at Ramen Sen-no-Kaze

Ramen Sen-no-Kaze is a tiny little restaurant serves delicious ramen – some of the best in Kyoto – in a no-frills atmosphere. Expect a very long line, but you can get a ticket to reserve your spot and then head to explore the city some more and work up an appetite until it’s your turn.

Rent a bike

Get a different view of Kyoto by cycling around the city. It’s also a great way to see the Imperial Palace.

Drink at Rocking Chair

Rocking Chair is a cocktail bar that has such good vibes and is simply an amazing place to end your day. Enjoy great people watching while you sip on the delicious drinks.

Dine at Pizzeria Napoletana Da Yuki

If you happen to need a break from Japanese food, Pizzeria Napoletana Da Yuki is the place for you. The chef traveled to Naples to train in the art of pizza making and the restaurant’s wood-fired oven was directly imported from Italy. The Japanese don’t do things halfway!

Day 5: Cultural immersion in Kyoto

Cultural immersion in Kyoto Japan traditional wear and red lantern

Discover Gion

You’ll feel like you stepped back in time as you walk around Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Explore the little streets lined with old wooden houses and visit some of the shops and tea houses while admiring the locals in traditional garb walking alongside you. 

Lunch at Nishitomiya

There are many croquette shops in town, but Nishitomiya is well worth stopping by for a casual lunch with a cool vibe. There’s a great variety of fillings to suit all tastes but all the croquettes are delicious.

Day 6: Tokyo’s Greatest Hits

bridge in Japan with temples and tall green trees with hills and a lake

Stay at the Conrad Tokyo

Expect some of the best in hospitality at this conveniently located luxury hotel. The whole space is beautifully designed, the staff is extremely helpful and friendly, and the breakfast is delicious. 

Visit the Imperial Palace

The official residence of the Emperor of Japan in Tokyo, the Imperial Palace is one of the sights you simply have to tick off the list. The palace grounds and nearby Kokyogaien National Gardens make up a large part of central Tokyo, though a lot of it is not accessible to the public most days.

Visit Shibuya Crossing

You’ve seen it all in the movies, but don’t miss the opportunity to watch a crowd of several thousand people coming from every direction and taking over the road every few minutes at one of the world’s most famous street crossings and probably the busiest. 

Dine at the Robot Restaurant

Don’t go for the food but for the absolutely wild ride you’ll experience at Robot Restaurant, a  theme bar/restaurant where robots, dancers and samurais perform among lasers and neon lights. It’s entertainment like you’ve never seen before and you’ll leave wondering what on earth just happened.

Advisor - Chris Hutchins

A note from Chris

One of the key benefits of staying at a large reputable hotel is the concierge service. Many restaurants in Tokyo require reservations and any internationally renowned five-star hotel will have those relationships to make it happen.

Day 7: Tokyo music & culture

Nighttime in Japan city street raining umbrellas people walking

Grab coffee at Deus Ex Machina

You’ll feel instantly cooler at Deus Ex Machina, a cafe-slash-clothing-store that also sells motorcycles. Good for coffee in the morning or for a sandwich at lunch.

Visit Meiji Jingu

The Meiji Shrine offers an awesome walk up to the shrine which feels very peaceful, especially if you go early in the morning when it’s not as crowded. It’s a fun and easy hike to do. The shrine is also right near Harajuku, a bustling shopping neighborhood where all the cool kids hang out. 

Dine at Tatemichiya

This punk rock izakaya tapas bar is amazing for a night out when you want to feel like a local. Enjoy the yakitori surrounded by posters of the Sex Pistols and the Clash while listening to Japanese rock.

Finish your day with cocktails at Bar Trench or Bar Tram.

Day 8: Go off-the-beaten-path in Tokyo

pink lantern in Japanese street with white flyers and grey concrete streets

Explore the fish market

The Toyosu Fish Market is a bit more closed off nowadays, but worth a visit if you’re craving the freshest of fresh sushi. 

Immerse yourself at teamLab Exhibitions

Near the fish market is teamLab Exhibitions, an immersive museum that you just have to experience. You’ll walk through water and feel like you’re making one with nature. Buy tickets in advance.

Visit Design Sights 21 21 

Discover the latest in Japanese design through interactive exhibitions at Design Sights 21 21, an old-school art museum. It’s located in a newer and cooler part of town, which is great to walk around as you work up an appetite for your next bowl of ramen. 

Dine at Kikanbo

Great ramen abounds everywhere in the city, but Kikanbo is a hands-down favorite. The sichuan peppercorn is amazing and you can choose your spice heat from one to five. Highly recommended.

Drink at Golden Gai

This fun little alleyway in Shinjuku is packed with hole-in-the-wall bars. Take your pick or, even better, plan a few hours to hop around and taste all of the different sakes.

Day 9 and 10: Visit Satoyama Jujo

Japanese zen garden with white walls and wooden floors

Now comes the relaxing part of the trip – Satoyama Jujo. Slip into the robe and slippers you’ll find in your room and chill at this amazing resort where you can pick herbs and spices in the garden. Then enjoy them at dinner! Room balconies feature wooden soaking tubs and the whole place is so beautifully decorated that it has its own furniture store. The food is amazing, too and the staff will make you feel like a most valued guest. 

You could easily spend two days there without ever leaving but, if you feel like it, walk to the little downtown area nearby for soba noodles. The region is known for it.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out Fora's guide to where to stay in Tokyo.