Japan

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looking for some tips + tricks for your next adventure that don't break the bank (or your finally-developed self-care habits)?! i've compiled everything i found during my favorite trips around the globe so you don't have to! 


Oh my gosh Japan - can I be more obsessed?!?!

This might be one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited, and I know that this trip will definitely not be my last. Japan hadn’t been on my bucketlist radar until recently, and I can’t believe I almost missed out on visiting this amazingly modern-but-zen country.

I was lucky enough to spend about a week here during the last part of my Southeast Asia adventure with D in the beginning of 2019 - and wow, did it knock my socks off. Bottom line: If you have the chance to make it to Japan, book your ticket ASAP.

Though I have many favorite parts, I especially loved how humbly committed every single person was to whatever the heck they were doing. Whether it was taxi car drivers dressed to the nines (their suits + hats!) or sushi chefs zeroed in on perfecting that one piece of sashimi - I was in awe of how quietly dedicated it seemed that every member of society was to the betterment of it.

It also helped that everything - from public toilets (seriously!!) to the magical shrines of Kyoto were immaculate, clean and oh-so-adorable. Ah! I can’t wait to go back + explore more soon.

sleep

We spent three days in Tokyo and stayed in the Shinjuku neighborhood at the Granbell Hotel. The hotel was really nice + located close to the subway / shopping areas. I would recommend!

Looking back, I’d probably stay in Shibuya (Harajuku or near Yogini Park). But, everything is honestly pretty close to a train and has a unique feel!

We went to Kyoto next and stayed in an adorable Airbnb near Shijo station - it’s where all the action is (if you consider it that!) and I thought it was a pretty good value for money. It’s considered a “hostel” but you definitely have your own room + bathroom and the in-room amenities are super nice. I would imagine any Ryoken or guest house is quite comparable!

We also spent an evening in an Onsen-village (hot springs!) called Kinosaki and it was amazing. I would highly recommend if you’re heading to Japan in the fall/winter. This tiny town is known for its high amount of public onsens + fresh crab dinners. It was truly magical.

A note: Both Tokyo and Kyoto are much more expensive than anywhere in Southeast Asia, so we tried to keep a semi-low budget for stay. If we were doing this as a shorter trip, I would recommend splurging on a nicer hotel in both places - the service is amazing and I’m sure it would be worth it!

move

You’ve probably heard - getting around in Japan is insanely easy.

Tourists get tons of special deals on travel, such as really inexpensive unlimited subway cards (you can opt for 1, 3 or 5 day passes) and the JR Train Pass (unlimited rides for ~$260). Be sure to ask in any of the train information stations and be sure to have your passport!

We ended up not getting the JR Train Pass because it was cheaper for us to buy individually - and they don’t allow you to reserve your seat (which for an extra $5 - 10, sitting for 2+ hours is totally worth it!). But, if you’re doing a roundtrip experience from Tokyo-Kyoto, it may be worth it.

In terms of getting your train tickets - you can usually show up that day and purchase; there are many trains each hour (even for long-distance destinations!) so don’t worry!

One last note: Follow the rules on public transportation! The Japanese are very rule-focused. Be sure to watch the volume of your voice, wait in line to enter/exit trains, and use the correct side of the stairs/sidewalk. The little things count!

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eat

Oh wow, where to even begin. There are so many good places - I’ll choose some of my favorites though know that I’ll definitely be leaving some off.

Most importantly, do not underestimate the food in 7-11 / Family Mart / Lawsons. It is for real + so, so good - nothing like at home! Overall, explore, explore!

  • Sarutahiko Coffee (Tokyo) - This coffee is delicious + the spot is adorable. We only went to the walk up location in Shinjuku because it was close to our hotel, but their original spot is in Eibu + supposed to be wonderful!

  • Ichiran (Tokyo) - My first real Japanese ramen experience and it was truly amazing. You order from a little machine + eat at individual little stations, so be sure not to come in a big group! This place also has a Michelin star, so try to come for lunch to beat the crowds.

  • Yia Yia (Tokyo) - this cozy spot in Harajuku was perfect for a winter night. Sit at the chef’s counter + order Okonomiyaki (savory “pancakes”) - either with potatoes or flour + pick your fillings. So yummy!

  • Fuglen (Tokyo) - This coffee shop is literally vibes if I ever saw it. Perfectly designed + in a really cool area of Shibuya. Go here for sure!

  • Manten Sushi (Tokyo) - Oh wow, this sushi experience was out-of-this-world. Be sure to make reservations in advance; there are only about 10 seats in the whole place. Also know it’s a tasting experience (+ Michelin star spot; but no need to get all fancy!). This changed the way I look at sushi!

  • Orchard Bar (Tokyo) - There are tons of cool cocktail spots in Gion, but this one is a family-owned tiny spot that has a pretty cool concept. Select your fresh fruit + they make an interesting drink with it as the focal point; the fruit options change each day!

  • The Weekenders (Kyoto) - A tiny coffee spot with beautiful design + yummy pourover. It’s close to Nishi Market; stop by before browsing!

  • Yamafuku (Kyoto) - We stumbled upon this tiny dinner spot near Pontocho Alley + it was awesome. Only 6 spots in the whole restaurant + such a wonderful experience! The staff was so nice (and helpful - D + I had never had hotpot) and the food was delicious.

  • % Arabica Higashiyama (Kyoto) - This coffee spot is kind of an institution and I can see why. It’s insanely popular but consistently has really good (real) coffee. Come here while browsing around Sannezeka + Kiyomizu Shrine.

  • Nokishita 711 Gin + Cocktail Lab (Kyoto) - WOAH! If you’re into craft cocktails this is your spot. There’s one genius dude running this whole tiny spot - he creates crazy, interesting cocktails (with lots of flowers + local, fresh ingredients!)…and it’s all pay-as-you-wish. Definitely show him some love for all his creativity though!

  • Yakitori Hitomi (Kyoto) - This place might be one of my favorite spots in the world. Their speciality is chicken yakayori (skewers) - but done so perfectly it’s unreal. Also, the chef is the nicest person I’ve ever met! Go later in the evening or make reservations - it’s popular.

There are so, so many more places that I want to list so I’ll just leave them here: Rostro Coffee (Tokyo), Cheese Stand (Tokyo), Jazz Bar (Kyoto), Sowen (Kyoto), Spice Chamber (Kyoto), Wajouryoumen Sugari (Kyoto).

do

My favorite part about Japan is strolling around + taking in the culture. But, here are some of the must-do things that I really enjoyed:

  • Go shopping (!!): For real. I’m not one to advocate shopping usually but the culture, especially in Tokyo is amazing! Some of my favorite vintage shops were in Harajuku - Chicago, Bingo, Awase.

  • Visit the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park: Try to go here early or in the evening as the park is closing (around 5pm). Don’t forget to get your fortune told!

  • Eat at the Tsukiji Fish Market (+ Nishi Market in Kyoto!): Get here early, obviously, and be ready to eat seafood, mochi + loads of other delicious, fresh food. You can’t miss this!

  • Meditate in the shrines: Kyoto has so. many. beautiful shrines + parks. My favorites were the Fushimi Inari shrine, the Kodaji Temple + Bamboo Forest (this is the tiny one!) + the Kiyomizu temple. But of course, walking around you’re bound to find tons of beautiful ones!

Katina Mountanos