Japan in 7 days
Kyoto – Days 1-3
Kinkaku-ji “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”), officially named Rokuon-ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting many visitors annually. It is designated as a National Special Historic Site, a National Special Landscape.
The times to visit are in the early morning or dusk because the crowds are thinner and the rising and setting sun creates some magnificent lighting off the gold leaf and water.
The Philosopher’s Path is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto‘s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city’s most popularcherry blossom viewing spots
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world.
You can access it directly from the main street of Arashiyama, a little to the north of the entrance to Tenryu-ji Temple, but it’s best paired with a visit to that temple (exit the north gate, take a left and you’ll be in the grove in no time). There’s just one main path through the grove, which leads slowly uphill. Once you get to the top of the hill, the entrance to the sublime Okochi-Sanso Villa is right in front of you (go in, you won’t regret it).
The amazing Kyoto Train Station. We stopped to grab a lunch snack, coffee and a views. In the main ticketing area you can ride escalators to the very top of the station’s immense rooftop and walk around the rooftop garden and view the city from one of the tallest vantage points.
Osaka – Days 1-3
View from Ebisu Bridge at night in downtown Osaka. We were blown away by the amount of activity along this strip of narrow riverfront. There is no shortage of places to eat, shop and explore.
Dotonburi Don Quijote Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheel. This recently reopened after nearly 9 nine years of being out of commission.
This attraction is just the exterior riverfront decoration of the Don Quijote 24-hour discount shopping tower where you can find anything from electronics, to flavored Kit Kats to Hello Kityy facemasks. It’s also a great place for Japanese souvenirs.
Gora/Hakone – Days 3-4
Inside the LaForet Club Hakone Hotel. This is a cross between a traditional Ryokan and a modern hotel. The entire hotel is shoeless and you can choose from rooms with a private onsen or just the on-site public onsen.
Gora is small town which is completely walkable. There are just a few sights to see including a public garden and a modern art gallery. There are many delicious culinary options as well. Our favorite was the Itoh Dining by Nobu. The chefs here have trained under the world famous Nobu Matsuhisa. The Wagyu steak is amazing, but really anything you order here will likely place near the top of any meal you’ll have in Japan. Go for lunch and you can likely just walk in. For dinner, you’ll need a reservation.
Tokyo – Days 4-7
Trains and JR Line. While the trains are super efficient in Japan, they will take some getting used to, especially if you are vising different cities in the country. Luckily there are helpful information booths and ticket sales people are extremely accommodating to visitors. It is quite refreshing.
The world famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. While it can often get mixed reviews, this is a quintessential Tokyo experience. We didn’t actually go there for the food (they offer boxed bento boxes) we did enjoy a few drinks and were blown away by the audio-visual experience of robotized battles, musical shorts and quirky but theatrical storylines.
We even had a chance to check out the lobby of a newly opened Google office in Shibuya. It’s in a really hip and modern new constructed shopping highrise.
One of the tastiest treats to try while in Japan are their fluffy pancakes. They are thick and softer than normal pancakes, but they are so worth it.
Lunch time at Itoh Dining by Nobu. The food is prepared and exquisitely cooked right in front of you. Don’t forget a wine pairing.
Related: Tasting the World’s Best Zinfandels at Napa Valley’s Storybook Winery
This was our sushi meal while at Arashiyama. This little hole in the wall place served up some of the most generous sashimi portions and ALL the fish here was prepared just right. The chef here is known for being super friendly and he didn’t disappoint, but the star is really the fish.
Finally, if you are in need a ramen (noodle) dish at 3am (which if you’re exploring Japanese nightlife you mostly likely will), you can’t go wrong by finding the local Ichiran. This place KNOWS ramen and they have refined the experience to a new level. From ordering electronically, to the single-booth style service, the focus here is on getting the customer the most delicious ramen possible with the smallest number of distractions. Even if you not out on the town you should give it a try for the dining experience alone.
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