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traveling through Japan


RossyW
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It would also be useful to know how much a "splurge" is. In Japan, I consider a meal more than Y10 000 to be a splurge, but then I'm poor. My Japanese friends can spend more and still think it's reasonable. I would consider a dinner of Y4000-5000 per person to be about average, and less than Y3000 to be cheap.

By knowing your budget a little more precisely, it would be easier to point you to appropriate places.

And will you be just in Kyoto when you're in the Kansai area, or will you venture out to Osaka and/or Kobe, as well? I know a great teppanyaki place that is very reasonable for lunch. It's between Kobe and Osaka, and they have an English menu (a recent addition). Very friendly people there, too!

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It would also be useful to know how much a "splurge" is.  In Japan, I consider a meal more than Y10 000 to be a splurge, but then I'm poor.  My Japanese friends can spend more and still think it's reasonable.  I would consider a dinner of Y4000-5000 per person to be about average, and less than Y3000 to be cheap. 

By knowing your budget a little more precisely, it would be easier to point you to appropriate places. 

And will you be just in Kyoto when you're in the Kansai area, or will you venture out to Osaka and/or Kobe, as well?  I know a great teppanyaki place that is very reasonable for lunch.  It's between Kobe and Osaka, and they have an English menu (a recent addition).  Very friendly people there, too!

yeas price ranges would be very helpful, even Rona and I have quite different ideas... :biggrin:

For me a splurge in over 6,000 ($60) a person and average (dinner) 1500 to 3000. Under 1500 ($15) is cheap....

Rona it looks like you eat much better than I do! :laugh:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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We could spend around Y10,000-20,000 on two or three splurge meals. We'd definitely like to try some serious kaiseki, sushi, and kobe beef. I was considering trying Hyotei for kaiseki.

So hopefully you can help me identify good places for these special meals. We could certainly do lunch instead of dinner if it's a better value. We'd rather stay in less expensive hotels to save money for eating.

We can venture outside of Kyoto when we're in Kansai. I'd love to hear general thoughts about our itinerary, since it's up in the air. Does it sound good to do 4 days in Kansai, 2 days somewhere else (maybe Takayama, which Nate Gray enjoyed), then 4 days in Tokyo?

Looking forward to your suggestions,

Josh

Edited by jg488 (log)
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I spent several days in Takayama on my last trip to Japan, and it's a place very much worth seeing. I stayed in a minshuku while I was there... I don't remember the name and it wasn't the one I'd originally booked. Very friendly, good food (local mountain specialties), but I did speak enough Japanese to get around.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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We can venture outside of Kyoto when we're in Kansai.  I'd love to hear general thoughts about our itinerary, since it's up in the air.  Does it sound good to do 4 days in Kansai, 2 days somewhere else (maybe Takayama, which Nate Gray enjoyed), then 4 days in Tokyo?

I think I'm prejudiced in favor of Kansai, but personally I'd spend more of that time in Kansai, and less in Tokyo.

First off, you'll have jet lag and the time difference when you first arrive, so at least part of the first time in Kansai might not be spent as fully as it might. On top of that, Kyoto itself has so much to offer. Basically there are so many temples that, on your way to the famous ones, you'll be going past at least another half dozen of them. Must see temples are, of course, Kiyomizudera, and Yasaka-jinja (just pass the Gion area, where you'll probably also want to spend time), Nishi and/or Higashi Honganji, and of course the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and (nicer than Kinkakuji IMO), the Ginkakuji, whatever that famous temple is with the sand garden (and a REALLY cool moss garden behind it). Got it, Ryuanji.

Anywhere in the hills around Kyoto is good for walking, though the danger of getting lost is really high (voice of experience here). It is also theoretically possible to hike all the way through the mountains from Kyoto to Osaka - though I have got seriously lost every time I tried to do this.

From Kyoto, you can also travel to Nara. Visit the temple there, of course. If you like cycling it's possible - or used to be possible, at least, it's been a while - to rent bicycles and cycle in the area around Nara. Present-day Nara is far smaller than it used to be when it was a capital, so you end up cycling through farm land and visiting sites that now seem to be scattered but were once part of a greater whole.

A bit of a longer journey, but as a day trip you could also go to Himeji and see the castle there. Well worth a visit.

On such a short visit, I would seriously recommend not bothering to try visiting Osaka or Kobe unless you learn of some food place in either that you desperately want to try. People will probably throw rotten eggs at me for this, but I find them less interesting destinations than Kyoto, Nara, and Himeji. One exception might be Mino waterfall northwards from Osaka. I used to live 10 minutes from here, and love this place (again, good for hiking, especially if you go beyond the waterfall (takes about 35-45 minutes to reach) and continue into the national park behind there).

Have you never been to Japan before? Worth bearing in mind is that most streets do not have street names. Factor in time for getting lost on the way to various destinations, be those destinations sightseeing or food related. Finding accomodation close to subway entrances and not somewhere within a maze of tiny un-named streets should make your life easier.

Bringing the subject onto food. As I'm sure you know, Kansai and Kanto food differ, and personally I prefer the Kansai taste (told you I'm prejudiced). That's another reason why I'd suggest longer in Kansai and less time in Kanto.

As far as enjoying food goes: I can't give recommendations for specific places, as it's been too long since I lived there. Things have probably closed or changed. Instead, some more general comments:

If you haven't been to Japan before, do be sure to go to the food sections of any major department store and just enjoy the atmosphere and the food. Usually on two levels in the basement part, and such good fun, as well as aesthetically wonderful food presentation. I like to go to these and do my Japan 'sightseeing' here. (Even though my husband is used to my obsession with food, he still finds this weird). If trying to save money for splurge meals, you could try smaller amounts of various things in the department stores, and thus try a variety of things without (perhaps) spending too much money.

Keep an eye out for regional snack-type/gift-type foods specific to local regions. For example, the Mino waterfall I mentioned above is famous for it's red maple leaves in the fall. All year round (I've always wondered about the mechanics of this - they freeze the leaves perhaps?), before you get to the path leading to the waterfall, you run the gaunlet of food places where someone (usually a little old lady) is hunched over a pot of oil making the local specialty - maple-leaf tempura - one by one. Not worth trying more than once as the taste is not that great :wacko: , but how to pass up the opportunity of eating something like that which you'd never dream of making or eating otherwise? By the waterfall itself are stalls selling dango on skewers, and such like things. So again, snack-type foods which you won't get in finer places, but still part of the Japan culinary experience (and again, relatively cheap, so you can save money for your splurges).

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I am partial to the Kansai area as well but agree with Anzu that unless you have an agenda, Osaka is really not worth visiting (says the girl who lives in Osaka). :huh:

Funny enough, I am on my way to Minoh and the waterfall today - I will try to have maple tempura and report back here.

Kyoto, Nara, and Himeji are all wonderful. I was in Takayama in June and stayed at a temple which is part of the hostel association. I HIGHLY recommend staying in hostels. They are CHEAP, fabulous, clean and comfortable, which is more than I can say for some of the 15,000 yen a night closets I have stayed in!!! It will give you the extra yen for some of those finer dining moments you are sure to want to experience.

I am sure you know already but get a Japan Rail pass and you will save heaps of yen...

"Thy food shall be thy medicine" -Hippocrates

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yeas price ranges would be very helpful, even Rona and I have quite different ideas... :biggrin:

For me a splurge in over 6,000 ($60) a person and average (dinner) 1500 to 3000. Under 1500 ($15) is cheap....

Rona it looks like you eat much better than I do! :laugh:

It helps that I'm single without three growing kids to support! :biggrin:

I think that many of my friends are quite a bit older (and more established) has given me a warped view of what cheap is here. I actually rarely spend more than Y3000 for dinner, and usually spend in the Y1000-Y1500 range.

Back to the original question...

Like anzu and easternsun, I would spend much more time in Kansai if possible. In fact, I would fly into Osaka rather than Tokyo, and bypass Tokyo altogether, but that probably isn't possible at this point. And, like anzu, I'd spend most of my time in Kyoto. Kyoto was where I spent my first two years in Japan, so I am very partial to it . :wub:

I know some reasonably-priced places to eat in Kyoto, but a number of the places I know aren't Japanese, but French, Italian, etc. I don't know if you'd be interested in those places. I do know a good tonkatsu place, and a good place for unaju if you're up for that. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at remembering names, just locations. Maybe I can make it to Kyoto before your trip, so I can give you specifics.

I would also by-pass Osaka and Kobe. Those are the two places I visit most often (since I live right between them!), but I mostly do ex-pat-type stuff in those cities. There is actually very little in either place to interest tourists (in my opinion). Except, my favourite teppanyaki place is in Okamoto (the eastern part of Kobe, I think). If you're going to Himeji, it might be an easy stop on the JR line. It's really quite a bargain, especially if you go at lunch. But at lunchtime, the better wagyu options aren't offered. It's called Lapin. They have an English menu, and though they don't speak English terribly well, the staff is very friendly and helpful. It's also quite a small place, so you'd best make reservations if you're interested. I'd be happy to join you, too! It's one of my favourite places to eat!

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Thanks so much for all of the great ideas! I finally got a hotel reservation in Kyoto for the first part of our trip. It was very difficult because of the Kurama-no-hi Matsuri (Fire Festival) which takes place when we arrive.

The reservation is at a hotel called Nagomiyao-Towa. Anyone heard of it?

I thought a good place for a big splurge in Kyoto would be Hyotei. (35 Kusakawa-cho, Nanzen-ji, (81-75) 771-4116; www.hyotei.co.jp)

I suppose we could save some money by going there for lunch instead of dinner. I tried calling to make a reservation, but couldn't get anyone who could speak English, and I know no Japanese. If any eGulleter could help me out with reservations, I'd really really appreciate it. I'd also like to know if anyone has experience with Hyotei. Is it the best place for a kaiseki blow-out meal?

Josh

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I thought a good place for a big splurge in Kyoto would be Hyotei.  (35 Kusakawa-cho, Nanzen-ji, (81-75) 771-4116; www.hyotei.co.jp)

I suppose we could save some money by going there for lunch instead of dinner.  I tried calling to make a reservation, but couldn't get anyone who could speak English, and I know no Japanese.  If any eGulleter could help me out with reservations, I'd really really appreciate it.  I'd also like to know if anyone has experience with Hyotei.  Is it the best place for a kaiseki blow-out meal?

Josh

Lunch is not much cheaper than dinner. At the main restaurant, lunch is Y22 580 while dinner is Y25 000.

Have you ever had a kaiseki meal, or very traditional Japanese food before? I was talking with my co-worker today, and she said that if you really like traditional Japanese food, then Hyotei would be a good place to go. However, if you're not really familiar with it, then there are more affordable places that would (at least for the average diner) also provide good food.

I've had kaiseki before and have enjoyed the experience, but not so much the food. I find traditional Japanese food to have much too much of a delicate flavour for me to really enjoy it. I would much rather have a more reasonably-priced kaiseki meal, and be able to spend a little more on my other meals--like really good sushi or teppanyaki.

That being said, if I had the extra money to spend, I would definitely try it, if only for the full experience.

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I really agree with Rona here, for me the kaiseki meal is more about the experience and atmosphere than the food. I have only enjoyed a kaiseki when someone else in paying :biggrin: I could have ten better meals for the price of one kaiseki in most instances.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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If I was going to eat kaiseki but didn't want to pay kaiseki prices :biggrin: I would go to Ukai Toriyama. This is, I believe, actually a robatayaki restaurant but the meals are served kaiseki style (brought one course at a time). It is the most beautiful setting for a restaurant that I have ever been to, every group is served in separate rooms all connected by footpaths and bridges. It is hard to believe you are in Tokyo (actually it is Hachioji, the outskirts of Tokyo). The menu is very simple you have a couple choices for meals ending with either grilled chicken or grilled beef. The chicken courses start at 4700 (about $45) and go up to 6800 (about $65), beef are a little more pricey.

The restaurant is located on the slopes of Mt.Takao and it would be a wonderful day or half day trip from Tokyo.

Some info in English

their Japanese homepage

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

When I visited Japan on vacation a few years ago I loved Takayama. Please, please be sure not to miss the tiny Inro Museum. It was by far my favorite museum during the trip.

I stayed at a place called Ryokan Sumioshi recommended by the Frommer's Guidebook at was exactly as described. It's small and very old fashioned (even slightly funky/worn), the staff are increadibly friendly, it has a lovely location on the river, and the rates are ridiculously low considering they include an excellent breakfast and dinner served in your room.

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  • 1 month later...

Ok, guys. I really need your help...

I'm headed to Japan this coming January (I loved it so much last May I just had to find a way to come back), but I don't know where to go! I know I'll be staying in Tokyo at least for a few days and that I'm eager to check out Yokohama. Besides that, I'd like to pick maybe one or two cities in somewhat close proximity to each other and accesible via Shinkansen, but I don't know where to begin!

If you had to choose two locations in all of Japan that are somewhat near to each other to visit, which would they be? My priorities are:

1. quality/assortment of local cuisine

2. sightseeing and all the rest of the touristy stuff

Thanks for your input.

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In January I think some of the best food is to be found in Hokkaido... not really all that accessible by shinkansen though. :hmmm:

After reading about everyones trips here I really want to make a trip to Takayama.

The Hakone area is nice and in January might be able to get some gorgeous views of Mt.Fuji.

EDITED TO ADD

there are lots of nice things in Yokohama! :biggrin:

Edited by torakris (log)

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Hi Peter NYC,

I vote for Kansai. Obviously, I am biased since I live in Osaka! :biggrin:

Kyoto is one hour by local train (15 minutes on the Shinkansen), Nara -30 minutes on a rapid train, Hiroshima - 1 hour on the Shinkansen, Kobe - 30 minutes local train. Himeji (best castle in Japan) - 30 minutes by Shinkansen.

I dont think Osaka is much of a sightseeing destination but for the foodie there is nothing but pleasure to be found. When friends visit from neighbouring prefectures or from abroad, they are likely to get the gastronomic tour of the area. We take all our visitors on an eating tour of Osaka rather than pretend it is aesthetically something to marvel at :wink:

Please let me know if you will be in town! I will be happy to show you some good eats and give you a heads-up on the sightseeing as well.

As Kristen mentioned, Takayama is amazing, but it will be cold in Gifu-Ken come January. c-c-c-c-c-c-cold!!!!

"Thy food shall be thy medicine" -Hippocrates

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Please let me know if you will be in town!  I will be happy to show you some good eats and give you a heads-up on the sightseeing as well.

Thanks so much, easternsun! I appreciate the offer.

The only problem is that my travel companion has been to Osaka, and I'm not sure I can convince him to return (he's not so into the foodstuffs as I). To make matters worse, his girlfriend, whom he is bringing along for the trip, is a vegatarian :wacko: .

Yeah, we're thinking that it's going to be frigid cold up north that time of year, and we will be travelling during blackout dates for much more reasonably priced airline tickets Tokyo->Sopporo... the train thing seems not the most convenient of travel options.

Maybe I could convince him to make the trip out to Kansai if we include a stop at Hiroshima (he's also been to Nara and we've both been to Kyoto and Kobe). Are you aware of any gastronomic highlights in Hiroshima?

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Maybe I could convince him to make the trip out to Kansai if we include a stop at Hiroshima (he's also been to Nara and we've both been to Kyoto and Kobe).  Are you aware of any gastronomic highlights in Hiroshima?

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki! Very different from Osaka-style - made in separate layers, has yakisoba in the middle, almost like a crepe sandwich kind of construction... complicated enough I've never made it myself, I'm an Osakan okonomiyaki girl all the way, but it's fun to watch the pros do it and fun to eat....

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Maybe I could convince him to make the trip out to Kansai if we include a stop at Hiroshima (he's also been to Nara and we've both been to Kyoto and Kobe).  Are you aware of any gastronomic highlights in Hiroshima?

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki! Very different from Osaka-style - made in separate layers, has yakisoba in the middle, almost like a crepe sandwich kind of construction... complicated enough I've never made it myself, I'm an Osakan okonomiyaki girl all the way, but it's fun to watch the pros do it and fun to eat....

When in Hiroshima one must try the kaki (oyster) okonomiyaki as it is what they do best. It is much thinner than the Osaka version. A thin crepe layered with beansprouts, soba noodles and oysters...yum!

Peter, a couple of tips for the veggie girl (I dont eat meat myself but I do eat fish) - the best way to ensure no meat dishes is simply to say that you are allergic to meat. I am not kidding. It really works!

I forgot to mention Koya-San in Wakayama (one hour local train plus a cable car ride to the top of the mountain) It is a veggie paradise :smile:

"Thy food shall be thy medicine" -Hippocrates

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  • 2 months later...

Greetings all,

(Hey! First post!)

I've been a lurker for eGullet for some time, and I must say that I've really enjoyed reading all the forums, especially the Japan one. My husband and I both spent time in Japan in college (study abroad) and reading some of the threads really brings back memories-- the food was one of my favorite aspects of my trip!

That said, we are planning a two-week trip to Japan in November of 2006, and there's something in particular that I was hoping the members of this forum could help with...

My husband and I are both very interested in Japanese history (we belong to a re-enactment group), and in particular, Josh is currently working on a translation of Ryori monogatari, a "cooking manual" from 1643. We also have done some research on Heian-period foods and cuisine, and have had some themed events (check out here for an amusing picture...)

Are there any restaurants, shops, etc. that we could visit that specialize in "historical" food and cooking (mostly pre-Edo, although Edo is certainly interesting itself)? We would love to include such places in our trip plans if possible (in the interest of both research and fun). We plan to spend a good amount of time in both the Kyoto and Tokyo areas, but I would still love to hear about places outside those areas, because that might be a great reason to travel elsewhere.

Thanks in advance for your assistance!

Edited by FlyingRat (log)
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Your question about historical foods really had me stumped for a bit. Most of what are considered the foods that Japan is well known for are quite recent "inventions". Dishes like modern day sushi, sukiyaki, tonkatsu, etc became popular in the Edo period and later. However if you take a look at Japanese home cooking you will see that it has strong roots to shojin ryouri or the vegetarian temple food.

I guess you could even call kaiseki a historical food, though there are many modern versions of it.

Kaiseki can be found anywhere while shojin ryouri is a little bit harder to find. If you really want to enjoy it in the atmosphere of the period your best bet would be Kyoto.

Here are some Kyoto area shojin ryouri restaurants

Many Japanese can go back 100's of years, are there any specific dishes you are interested in?

EDIT:

oh, and welcome to eGullet!

Edited by torakris (log)

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Dishes like modern day sushi, sukiyaki, tonkatsu, etc became popular in the Edo period and later. However if you take a look at Japanese home cooking you will see that it has strong roots to shojin ryouri or the vegetarian temple food.

I guess you could even call kaiseki a historical food, though there are many modern versions of it.

Kristin,

Thanks for the link! Yes, shojin ryouri is definitely something we would like to try (we were thinking about staying at a temple, which I've heard is an interesting experience and a good way to try the food depending on where you go). As for kaiseki, anything is good but cha-kaiseki is something I've been reading a lot about and would really like to try if possible.

Many Japanese can go back 100's of years, are there any specific dishes you are interested in?

I remember finding a link at one point to a restaurant that actually serves Heian-style banquet food, but I'll have to dig that one back up!

As for specific dishes, I can't think of any off the top of my head-- but I know there are a lot of places serving "traditional" recipes. I'll have to talk it over with Josh and see if there's anything specific from Ryouri monogatari that he would like to try to find.

oh, and welcome to eGullet!

Thanks, and thanks a million for your help! :biggrin:

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Found it! The specific restaurant I was thinking of is Rokusei-- a (very good) kaiseki restaurant that also does "royal court cooking". I guess it's stuff in this vein that I would like to find more of, if possible!

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...However if you take a look at Japanese home cooking you will see that it has strong roots to shojin ryouri or the vegetarian temple food...

Chris, this sounds like the Buddist vegetarian ryouri I've had at some restaurants. If so, i recommend a really nice place I sometimes go to in Tokyo up and right of Ueno koen called "Bon".

If my mail archives are correct, the phone number is 03 3872-0234.

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