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Japanese Spaces & Places…




…so our coastal road trip is on hold for now because…we’re going to Japan in September! Bob has conference in Kyoto, so I am tagging along for some much needed vacation and inspiration. We’ll be spending most of the time in Kyoto with just a day in Tokyo. So, amazing readers…any suggestions on things to do during our trip? Also, any recommendations you have for food, shops, anything you’ve experienced that you’ve loved in Tokyo or Kyoto…I’m all ears! {Thanks in advance for whatever thoughts you may have!}

{UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your amazing suggestions and emails! I am still working my way through them and will be responding to your suggestions as I go through them.}

{Photos by Shigeru Ban}


  1. SO lucky!! I have been wanting to go and visit my family in Kyoto for quite sometime now! I would definitely recommend visiting the temples, especially Kiyomizu-dera, for serenity, traditional Kyoto-feel and inspiration. Also, the Gion area is where the Maiko women/Geisha girls are and is quite interesting.
    I would also recommend trying some Sansho Chirimen Jako with some hot pipin’ rice~ So delicious!!
    Have a wonderful trip!

  2. great shopping in Harajuku and Shibuya. high end to thrifty boutiques. mayonnaise and raw eggs are popular toppings for many japanese dishes but don’t be afraid to try something new. If you find yourself craving something familiarly American, definitely hit up Kua’Aina Burger instead of McDonalds. Yoyogi Park is a popular spot to socialize or chillax. You’ll see bongo drummers, skate boarding, picnics, and a sidewalk flea market on the weekends. Explore as much as you can Joy! It’s an amazing place!

  3. Oh I absolutely LOVE the museum of Arts & Crafts in Kyoto. Their perfect amazing art really moves me.

  4. kyoto – so lovely & well-paced & calm. make a visit to the temples, villas, gardens! my favorites: ryoan-ji, shugakuin, shisendo, ginkaku-ji..
    tokyo – see the fantastic retail architecture in omotesando (tod’s, prada..), & walk the intersection at shibuya.
    stock up on clear umbrellas (ubiquitous there, rare here). & o, the food! seek out the ramen noodle houses, & try okonomi-yaki. if you see mos burger, grab a soda & fries to go…
    lastly, muji muji muji.

  5. From Kyoto you should definitely visit the city of Nara. The train ride won’t take long and it’s worth the effort.
    Maybe you should see the Himeji -castle as well. In my opinion that was one of the prettiest places I saw in Japan!

  6. For a perfect day in Tokyo, I would start out with breakfast Sushi Dai at the fish market. Then browse the market before heading over to Shibuya and Harajuku for shopping, ramen and soaking in the streetlife. Finish the day at Ai Ai for some delicious Okinawan cuisine for dinner in Harajuku:
    I highly recommend visiting Himeji Castle, it’s an easy day trip from Kyoto. Also, the Sunday market in Kyoto is lovely.
    Travel in Japan is so easy and efficient, you’ll have no problem exploring on your own while Bob is busy conferencing. Enjoy!!

  7. In Kyoto, I like going to the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) and then walking downhill on the Philosopher’s Path from there – you can hit a few temples/shrines that way. Near the Silver Pavilion, you can go to Omen’s main shop for a good noodle lunch. Nearby is also Mt. Yoshida which has 11 shrines on it. Kiyomizu is so pretty, and it offers a great view of Kyoto since it’s on a hill. Daitokuji has a little vegetarian/Zen stop, Izusen, great for lunch. I also like the Nishihin textile district.
    Miho Museum! It’s not in Kyoto but it’s a gorgeous IM Pei building in the middle of the mountainside.

  8. I recently returned from my honeymoon in Japan and one of my husband & I’s favorite places was Kyoto. If you are looking for a mindblowing meal try Giro Giro, it’s a tiny little restaurant (reservations needed) in a renovated old wood house in Kyoto. There’s a U-shaped counter with the chefs in the middle and each night they serve an inspiring set menu. It was probably the best meal I’ve ever had (and it was really reasonable price-wise)
    It was written up in the New York Times (#2) which is how we found out about it. It’s off the beaten path (our taxi driver was dubious there was a restaurant where he dropped us off) but well worth it.
    Also there are many beautiful temples in Kyoto, one of my favorites was Kiyomizudera. There are three fountains there symbolizing love, wisdom, and longevity. If you drink from them they are supposed to grant you those qualities…Although the story goes you are only supposed to drink from two out of three or else it’s greedy 🙂
    I believe it is near Kiyomizudera that there are cute little shops along the way. They are touristy but fun to look into.
    Also, Nara is a nice day trip from Kyoto. The largest Buddha statue in Japan is in Nara (at Todaiji) as well as tame deer (that will try to eat your ice cream and anything else they can get to!). There is another shrine in Nara (I think it is called Kasuga Taisha) which has hundreds of lanterns leading up to it. It’s a beautiful walk (~1/4 – 1/2 mi or so) to the temple and each side is lined with gorgeous stone lanterns.
    I could probably babble about Kyoto for awhile so I’ll stop here! Have a fabulous time, it’s a beautiful city.

  9. oh, i am lime green with envy. my hubby took me to japan a few years ago and i absolutely loved it. kyoto was one of our favorite places. it is so charming and historic. we took the opportunity to visit their beautiful temples; choose at least one to visit and you’ll be hooked! they will inspire you and leave you completely at peace. each so unique and breathtaking. here’s my list of favorites.
    Kyoto faves: Kiyomizu-Dera, incredible temple and scenic views, has really fun cobblestone paths leading up to it. Darling shops along the way. (Kiyomizu-Dera walk).
    The Gion District: restaurants, geisha sightings and more.
    Ginkaku-ji Temple (the silver temple): classic zen gardens
    Nanzen-ji Temple: simply stunning, stone staircases leading up the mountain in the ‘sacred’ forest. really lovely.
    Kinkaku-ji temple (golden temple): a touristy stop, yet still serene and wonderful.
    Heian-jingu Shrine: this was a favorite of mine with stone bridges, lily ponds and weeping cherry trees. You’d love it especially if you’ve read The Makioka Sisters.
    Favorites in Tokyo:
    Ginza is a major shopping district with a fantastic stationery/pen store that is over three stories tall.
    The Meji Shrine is a beauty.
    Shinjuku is busy and great night life; full of delicious ramen shops.
    The Imperial Palace Gardens is breathtaking.
    Kamakura is a wonderful city to visit too. Kenchoji Temple and the Daibutsu (Big Buddha statue) was awesome. If you go to Kamakura, do not miss the hike to Hasedera Temple; absolutely gorgeous gardens with an ocean view (completely worth the trip). I found a paper store in Kamakura that you’d absolutely love.
    P.S. Go into lots of stationery stores and oogle at the paper and pens for me. And buy more Japanese teacups than you think you’ll need. You’ll wish you’d bought more! Enjoy your trip.

  10. Having lived in Japan off and on over the course of 5 years, Kyoto is one of my favorite cities and I am so excited for you!
    Maki, of the justhungry / justbento blogs, has some of the best off-the-beaten path English Kyoto guides I have ever read – Her posts are filled with both food and local places of interest. She also has links on google map for easy reference. [It’s safe to say that you can find the Kiyomizu-dera/Kinkakuji/Nijo Castle recommendations anywhere, but she listed places that I have only seen in Japanese travel guides before or that friends took me to.]
    Keibunsha (bookstore/craftstore) and LoFT (home goods department store) should not be missed. Also, if you have time, the back alley streets of Sanjo and Shijo are wonderful ways to pass your afternoon + evening. You can nibble on food, peek into shops, etc.
    If you like tonkatsu, Katsukura should be on your list of places to eat. They have a few locations in Kyoto (but don’t let the fact that it’s a chain restaurant deter you!). You should ask your concierge to recommend a location convenient to where you will be exploring that day. See the chowhound thread on Katsukura:;results_list
    If you only visit one museum while you are in Japan, please, please, please make the effort to visit the Miho Museum. It will take some planning (buses only run once an hour) but the museum was designed for a family by architect IM Pei, and is built into the mountains of Kyoto. It is the most beautiful museum I’ve been to anywhere in the world.
    If you can fit it in while you’re in Tokyo, the Nezu Museum just reopened. The architecture and gardens are gorgeous. (

  11. Loft, Ginza, Tokyo – Loft is the 3-story building filled with wondrous stationary, including your beloved Happy Tape.
    Ghibli Museum, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo – the museum of the amazing animation by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It has a giant robot on the roof along with a bamboo garden, inside there is an amazing display of the history of animation, and you are able to see a short film that is only available in the museum. It’s a magical, amazing place!
    1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi,
    Tokyo 181-0013
    Tsukiji, Tokyo – eat the freshest sushi, caught early that morning, in the row of sushi restaurants right outside of the fish market.
    Zojoji Temple, Tokyo – temple right by the tower of Tokyo. If you walk by it late at night, you can sometimes hear the monks having a service, chanting and hitting a gong. Its very quiet and serene in the middle of the hustle and bustle to watch their movements in shadow and listen to their ancient rituals.
    Only 1 day in Tokyo! This is like a puzzle trying to figure out where else you have to go! I spent a month and a half in Tokyo last year while working on a film, and I had a ton of exploration time. You will love Japan!!!

  12. born and raised in Kyoto.
    There are just way so many places to visit.
    yes, sure I can recommend many temples to visit, but my obsession is food & shopping.
    here are a few places to start.
    Since I was 17 I’ve been eating their green tea ice cream.
    this is my first stop coming back from NY.
    easy to order. they have a picture menu.
    this is a fab incense boutique. also try all the stores in this building.they are all good design stores. you will love the first store on the left when you enter.
    it’s an old paper/ design store.
    e-mail me, I would like to tell you all about my home town.

  13. Pastries! Oh my god… This was the most memorable part about going to Japan for me (who knew!) I spent 3 weeks in Tokyo and must have eaten my weight in pastries several times over, particularly something called ‘mild bread’ (it looks like a 4″ diameter cream colored flat topped muffin and it seems to have been made out of butter, sugar and layered air). I’d go back in a heart beat just for that one thing…
    My favorite Tokyo neighborhood was the little area of Azabu (close to Roppongi) it has a quite, stately and beautiful residential feel (lots of small embassies in this area) with narrow sleepy streets ‘health food’ stores and some lovely little restaurants and shops… Mount Thabor pastry shop in Azabu also had the best milk bread (which is probably a very large reason why I loved the neighborhood so much!)

  14. Gion district in Kyoto is great for a meander at night, spotting Geisha and trainee geishas going into teahouses, admiring the old wooden houses, traditional wrought-iron lampoosts and the stream that runs through the middle of Gion. Kyoto’s taxis have cute heart/moon/star-shaped lights on top, so if you’re quicker off the mark than me and can get a photo I’ll be very jealous!
    The park of 10,000 Torii gates is lovely, and great exercise if you walk to the top of the hill and view the city spread out below. There are so many beautiful temples there that I didn’t get to see (only 1 full day there!) though, so use your time wisely 🙂
    Whatever you end up doing, have fun!

  15. if you’re stopping by shibuya… be sure to make a stop at LOFT! they have the greatest collection of stationary! trumps muji anyday!
    also the sakura/green tea ice cream shop just beside kiyomizudera (in kyoto) is a must!

  16. Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is a must. We spent hours there; there is just so much to see, smell and enjoy AND purchase.
    As for food, everything in Tokyo was fresh and fantastic. Try the ramen at Ippudo. It was the best ramen I’ve ever had. Have fun you two!

  17. Japan!!! wow that’s so exciting! I’ve always wanted to visit Japan (maybe someday) – have loads of fun. And those images you posted are so beautiful – that window is quite overwhelming.

  18. Here are 2 of my favourite places in Tokyo, I went there in November 2008.
    There is a cafe called Omamori, it has a tree within it. It’s walking distance from Meijijingumae station. The food is healthy and tastes fabulous! The service is superb too. We found it while getting lost!
    Another review and Contact/Location details:
    And my favourite Garden & Park:
    Koishikawa Korakuen
    It took my breath away when i visit it in late November. But i’m sure it looks pretty amazing in the Summer too 🙂
    How to get there:
    Have fun!

  19. It’s very easy to get around by train. I would even recomend day trips to Tokyo – there are some amazing art galleries and fashion. I loved the history and temples in Kamarura. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Mt. Fuji. It is as beautiful as they say it is.
    Enjoy your trip!

  20. oops, forgot one more thing…
    in tokyo, make sure to check out the neighborhood of Daikenyama and Naka-meguro.
    there are so many excellent shops there (including tsumori chisato).
    and if you’re in need of a place to stay, the claska hotel is not too far off.

  21. these are two places I always go to in Tokyo:
    – Spiral Bldg in Aoyama (great design store on 2nd floor)
    – basement floor of Parco Part1 in Shibuya (next door to Opening Ceremony) has the best Fashion/Art bookstore as well as other design shops and fashion boutiques!
    bon voyage!

  22. SO fun! I got to tag along on my husband’s biz trip last year too and Tokyo and Hong Kong were by far my favorite places I’ve ever been. You are going to have the best time!!
    Tokyo is amazing. There are SO many people but I found it to be remarkably quiet and clean – even in Harajuku, which is like Times Square. The people are enormously polite and will never tell you no (it’s a cultural thing and I like!).
    Even the taxis are cute. The drivers wear white gloves and the seats are covered in lacy doily things.
    Everything is really expensive — especially transportation (and hotels). Unlike in NY, you don’t pay a flat rate, you pay by the distance you travel (just something to keep in mind). For instance a taxi from the airport into Tokyo would have been $160. But the buses were really nice and a lot less. And the train we took to Kamakura was nice (of course, we accidentally sat in “first class”).
    The food everywhere is insane. SO good. Top quality. I love the mom and pop restaurants, where the pop is the chef and the mom is the server (I forget what they’re called). I had the best pizza of my life in Tokyo (somewhere in the Ginza). Speaking of the Ginza, it’s like Fifth Avenue in NY, except there are like five Fifth Avenues (multiple Chanel stores within blocks of each other, for example). The amount of shopping is incredible, as is the way everything is displayed. So artful.
    We only went to Kamakura as a side trip (fun!), so I’m really looking forward to hearing your Kyoto suggestions!

  23. I live about an hour’s train ride away from Tokyo, but I’ve visited Kyoto a couple of times and I LOVE IT. It’s my favorite place in Japan. I HIGHLY recommend that you purchase Lonely Planet’s Japan guide, as it covers all the must-sees of Kyoto and anywhere else you might visit. There is just way too much to list here; Kyoto is Japan in a (big) nutshell. My favorites are the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the bamboo forest. The golden and silver pagodas are must-sees, and Philosopher’s Path is very pleasant. The gardens of Nijo-jo are beautiful. For souvenirs, the Kyoto Handicraft Center ( is well worth a stop! As for something NOT in Lonely Planet, you MUST MUST MUST eat at Grill Miyata ( in Gion. Make reservations and take cash. Expect to pay 9000 yen (about $100) per person, but it is INCREDIBLY worth it!!! Hiroshi-san loves Americans and loves entertaining in general. I use all the time for dining out and drinking. It’s an amazing resource. Also, if you get a chance, you really should visit Hakone, my second favorite place in Japan! It’s a beautiful area with amazing views of Fuji-san and interesting transportation! I recommend staying at the Fujiya Hotel and the Setsugetsuka ryokan. Again, you must get the Lonely Planet guide! I hope you have a wonderful time in Japan!!!

  24. Greetings from Japan!
    Kyoto is a magical place. I think you would really enjoy Nishiki Market, a covered “street” full of shops & restaurants selling everything from fresh veggies, fish, quail egg stuffed octopus on a stick to specialty knives. I think it’s been there for quite a good 100 or so years..? But, in any case, it’s a good place to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of traditional Japan.
    If you do end up going there, I recommend heading to Kitao (, part sweets shop, part cafe. They have some really good mochi dango, and what’s unique about this place is that they give you soy beans and your own grinder to make your own kinako flour to put on top of your freshly made mochi! It’s great with a cup of tea!
    Enjoy your trip!

  25. I second the suggestion to make a little side trip to Nara from Kyoto. Such a cute laid back town, and all the deer are adorable! Ok, some of the deer are adorable. And some of them will just be after your biscuits.
    When touring temples east of the river, I totally recommend renting a bike to do it. The temples are a bit too spaced out to walk it comfortably, and you’ll see more if you’re not in a taxi.
    And, there is surprisingly good food to be had in the department stores. Really!
    Have a lovely time 🙂

  26. Been to both places many many times, because of my husband’s work…. I would agree with any of these suggestions. Also, in Tokyo, a fair priced restaurant that serves seasonal food is Maru, a review for you….
    In Kyoto,eat in the alleys of Pontocho. Potoncho is an alley way that follows the river. It’s a traditional street with many restaurants and tea houses which have verandas over the river. enjoy!

  27. I live in Tokyo.
    So,I’m just one of the fans of your blog.
    BUT! I want to applies to guide Tokyo for you If it possible.
    Please E-mail me if you want.!!!!!!!!

  28. i just returned from tokyo+kyoto trip myself!
    you have to check out the purse shop in kyoto.
    there are many of them but i found that has more reasonable prices.
    also go to nishiki market and try those tofu donuts. yum
    my favorite was hushimi inari temple where they filmed a scene of memoirs of a geisha.
    and the rock garden at ryoanji is amazing also.
    do you know where youre staying?
    i stayed at this lovely boutique hotel in gion area.
    you should check it out.

  29. Hmmm, where to go in Kyoto & Tokyo that hasn’t been mentioned?
    Depending on how long you are there, it is well worth getting out of Kyoto and visiting other cities nearby. Kyoto is very near to Nara, Osaka and Kobe, and all of these cities have different feelings to them and are worth a wander. If you do plan to travel around, I would strongly recommend buying a JR Pass before heading to Japan. For about $300, you’ll have unlimited use of the Shinkansen and other JR trains and buses for 7 days. With the JR pass, you can do return trips around Japan and still base yourself in Kyoto.
    Department (depa-chika) store basements are wonderful. The gorgeous array of food isn’t to be missed, but can be a bit overwhelming!
    LOFT and Tokyu Hands are a must on any visit to Japan. Simply fun to wander through floor after floor of “creative life goods”! And, of course, finding a good Daiso (100 yen shop), Muji, and Uniqlo are always high on my list. As well, it’s always fun to head to a big supermarket to stock up on all sorts of food to bring home – we always find the local AEON or JUSCO (type of mall) and there’s sure to be a substantial supermarket.
    One of my favourite places to shop is called Shimojima. These can be found throughout Japan – there’s a complex of multiple shops in Asakusabashi in Tokyo, but I’m sure there’ll be one somewhere in the Kyoto area. It’s basically a huge office supply shop, but sells a variety of stationery, ribbons, tapes, chiyogami / yuzen, seasonal decorations, and all sorts of other wonderful stuff at wholesale prices. By September, they might even have their fabulous collection of calendars in!
    In Kyoto, eat yatsuhashi – a traditional sweet you’ll see everywhere. Made from rice flour and cinnamon, and either served raw with filling or cooked like a cookie. The texture of the raw version is like mochi. The black sesame is to die for! The shops on the way up to Kiyomizudera are wonderful! I’ve visited Kyoto 5 times (I think?) and we always do the Kiyomizu route. There are lovely little artisan shops tucked in between the tacky souvenir places, great for a wander.
    My favourite shop in Kyoto is Daishodo, a shop selling antique woodblock prints and rare books. Found in the Teramachi (a well known covered shopping street), it’s great for unique souvenirs.
    This year is the 1300th birthday of Nara, I think there’ll be special events throughout the year. The deer can be a bit too friendly but there are some gorgeous sights.
    Himeji Castle is wonderful and well worth a visit. There’s a really great covered shopping area between the train station and the castle that’s worth a visit.
    Kobe feels very fresh and international with its lovely port and Chinatown. Osaka is a bit rough ‘n’ tumble, but has some great shopping. (And is pretty much the love hotel capital of Japan! Though you’ll find them throughout the country).
    Well, this is turning into a novel, so I’ll stop. But I do have lots more suggestions if you’re interested, or would be happy to answer questions about any of these suggestions! I lived in Nagoya for about 4 years, and my husband lived in Japan for about 8.

  30. NAOSHIMA ART ISLAND–it’s close to Okohama (you would have to travel some from Kyoto, but TOTALLY worth it)
    Most beautiful and quaint town–bursting with contemporary art.
    It’s hard to figure out what’s there and how things work in your research, but once you’re there it’s so simple.
    Look it up! I was there for 2 days and out of my three trips to Japan, it was my favourite. Actually, scrap that out of all my trips it was my favourite place.
    But don’t believe me—go see for yourself!!!!!!

  31. I add more information to the above info which is about NAOSHIMA.
    when u are in japan, there is Setouchi international Art festival. NAOSHIMA is one of the places for it. you can go to small islands by boat and see many contemporary arts at there. this is URL for it.CHECK IT!


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