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traveling through Japan


RossyW
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If you are a chef, you should leverage your professional connections. Personal introduction is very important in Japan. Speak to any Japanese colleague you know (even if it means visiting the stagieres in the local 3-star--many apprenticed in good kitchens back home) and ask if they can help arrange a few visits. And once introduced to chefs in Japan, ask to be introduced to their suppliers.

There may be some European chef of your acquaintance who has Japan connections, so ask who they met on their trips.

Tour companies are of value only to real novices.

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...but while you're in Nara, make sure to nibble on dried persimmons - the big, expensive kind!

You may have trouble meeting up with chefs as it is a busy time of year, unless their restaurants are completely closed, of course.

If you really get desperate, bento from department store basements (or even convenience stores) should be available any day of the year.

There are all sorts of New Year events over this period - when I have a bit of time in a day or two I'll look up festival schedules - though some don't take place till mid-January. Can't remember exact dates, but the Masuo Taisha (major shrine) in Arashiyama (western Kyoto) is linked with sake production, and used to serve sake over New Year in freshly cut hinoki boxes - wonderful smell! I remember drinking it by a huge fire they had burning right through New Year.

Nearby in Arashiyama is Nintendo's head office...they have an interactive walk-through game of the 100-nin Isshu poetry game, always played at New Year, so that should be jumping, so though you would need to know Japanese to play it, there will be other attractions there.

You don't mention how early in December you will arrive - usually the last tori-no-ichi (market day) of the year around December 21 is a good time to eat snacks and look over flea markets.

Edited by helenjp (log)
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woow what allot of nice feedback, it sounds like i'm best of with a Japanese friend there.

I know a Japanese Chef going home to Kyoto for Christmas, maybe it's best to take contact with him , i just don't wanna be a leech, and then only go to Kyoto for this time.

Also when i asked for gourmet tours, i didn't mean like big groups, more like they give some advice to what is possible in the different area's.

Best regards,

Gilbert

Food blog - www.floss.dk

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woow what allot of nice feedback, it sounds like i'm best of with a Japanese friend there.

I know a Japanese Chef going home to Kyoto for Christmas, maybe it's best to take contact with him , i just don't wanna be a leech, and then only go to Kyoto for this time.

Also when i asked for gourmet tours, i didn't mean like big groups, more like they give some advice to what is possible in the different area's.

You don't have to be a leech. Get your own hotel room (I stayed in the Granvia in the train station and really liked it - the train station is huge and modern - complete with a department store with several food floors - and dozens of shops and restaurants underground). Take his family to dinner. Bring them gifts (gifts are very important in Japan). Help in the kitchen if there are family dinners.

Then ask him for some introductions in other places you might want to visit. Heck - as a chef - perhaps it might be fun to volunteer to work in the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant for a few days.

By the way - I think you'll find more English in Tokyo than most places in Japan - but you won't find a lot. Robyn

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  • 4 weeks later...
Two places i realy like to go is Kyoto and Tokyo, but this only becouse that is almost places i know.

My reasons for trip will inspiration, i have worked with Japanese food for some years, but never been to japan.

Gilbert

Food blog - www.otal.dk

Gilbert,

My wife and I were in Tokyo this spring and I could recommend a few areas and/or restaurants for you to try. I realize this isn't quite the information you're looking for, so let me know if you're interested and I can post them to the topic.

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  • 11 months later...

It's a little late in planning, but it looks like we will be spending our first Christmas and New Year in Japan. I've never been there at this time of year and have some questions for you locals:

1. Is train travel utterly crazy? We arrive on the 22nd, and we were thinking of heading to a nice ryokan/onsen somewhere, then return to a major city, like Osaka or Tokyo, no later than the 29th and pretty much stay put. Or is the 29th going to be nuts? Should we forget about making day trips outside of the city?

2. What would be the best place to go for some only-in-winter specialties? Last August we went to Kanagawa for Kaga cuisine, but I got the idea that maybe winter would be a better time to go back. There is also the lure of fugu in Shimonoseki, suppon, Inland seafood... We've never been to Nagano or Niigata or Matsumoto.

3. I imagine a lot of things will be closed over New Years. How long do these closures last, and is EVERYTHING closed?

4. What would be the best way to enjoy New Year's in Japan as a visitor? I do have family there, but I have not yet decided whether I should impose on them.

Any advice appreciated!

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While this may not help you in your travel planning (actually it might), if you're a foreigner or a Japanese national with permanent residence in the UK or married to someone who's not of Japanese origin, then you can basically get a "free pass" for all the JR lines except Shinkansen-Nozomi and sleeper trains across Japan.

http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html

You might already know about it, but a surprising number of people, even from Japan, don't know about it so just thought I'd toss that out there for ya! :)

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Just a couple quick tips as I don't really have the time to be posting right now.

I would aim to arrive back into a major city by the 28th at the latest. The busiest time for travel is going to be the 29th to 31st, though those getting a head start will be leaving on the 28th.

From the 31st thru the first week in January I would avoid the vicinity of any large temples and the train lines running to them. We made the mistake of trying to visit Kamakura on the 3rd or 4th of January a couple years back, we had nothing else to do and it was a short trip and a nice day. Biggest mistake of our lives, The roads were so congested we decided to park our car halfway there and take a train (another huge mistake). Once we got off the the train there were just so many people I was scared the kids were going to get lost. We squirmed our way to the Giant Buddha took a picture and decided to head back home.

During the first couple days of January, central Tokyo is actually quite dead. No traffic jams and the trains are quite empty as well. While most smaller stores and restaurants will be closed any of the larger shopping areas will be open. Most department stores don't even take the 1st off any more but I would still check to make sure if you have spcific plans for that day.

I would base yourselves in Tokyo (or Osaka) during this period just making short day trips. The roads and trains are pretty quiet and so are many tourist spots as most people are spending the days with their families. Avoid Kamakura though! :biggrin:

We have often headed out to Hakone for a day trip during that first week of January, we ride some of the old trains, the rope ways, go to the sculpture museum, etc.

This year we are leaving the country on the 26th! :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Thanks so much. I remember making the mistake of traveling during Golden Week (with the JR pass, as always!) 20 years ago, and I didn't want a repeat.

The current plans:

Fly into Nagoya on the 22nd. Look for chicken and kishimen and ???

24th--Takayama and our favorite ryokan for 2 days

26th--Either Matsumoto or Nakai. Suggested eats? We were hoping for something unique but excellent in this traditionally isolated part of Japan. I heard about an apple-fed beef, and of course the horsemeat, soba, sansai, bee larvae and pregnant snails, but where to have them? And is Taiman worth visiting? I'm not sure about eating French in Japan.

27th--Nagano

28th--Korakukan, Jigokudani

29th--Shinkansen to Tokyo

Leave Japan on Jan. 3 or 4. The only tough travel days will be the 26th and the 29th, and I think it may not be worthwhile to get a JR pass for this unless the flexibility helps during peak times.

Alternatively:

22-25 same as above

26-28 Kanazawa

29 Fly to Osaka or Tokyo

The problem with this trip is that it is almost a repeat of our visit last August. However, I suspect Kaga cuisine might be better in winter.

Torakris, where are you heading on the 26th?

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I would probably stick to the Kansai area during Oshogatsu, because you have more options in the area. If you stay in Kyoto, for example, more things might be open because there will be more tourists around, plus Osaka, Kobe, and Nara are reasonably close, and there are a number of different modes of transportation to choose from (potentially making it less crowded). I know a lot of hotels and ryokan are already booked for that period, though, so that might limit your options.

Have you considered Hokkaido for your winter food specialty destination? A lot of my students go to Hokkaido during the break, and also to Shinshu (for skiing, but I heard there's good food out there, too).

Nagoya is also famous for misokatsu. I haven't had it, yet, but a friend said she didn't think it was much different from regular tonkatsu. It's worth a try, though.

I think French food is a very good option in Japan, but I've never been to France, so I don't have much to compare it to.

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Kaga cuisine might very well be better in winter (and if it isn't, it's a good area for sake...). My parents made a trip round that area and up the Noto peninsula in midwinter, in 1990. They stayed in smaller minshuku (private guesthouses) and enjoyed a lot of good family-style food). The only problem they had was snow delaying trains, which meant that the time and sometimes platform was changed, and not speaking Japanese, they weren't sure if they were catching the right train or not.

Recent winters have been warm and not very snowy - winter was predicted to be cool this year, current predictions are for "average" rather than warm, but who knows?

Going shopping at New Year might be fun in itself. Also, you will see plenty of interest at the local shrines and temples, without braving the crowds at the major destinations.

If I were in Kyoto at New Year, despite the crowds I would probably head to Matsuo Taisha in Arashiyama to drink o-miki, or new year's sake, always served there on New Year's Day, as the shrine deity's special province is the brewing of sake. It wasn't terribly crowded when I went, over 25 years ago, but I can't say what it would be like now.

Near Arashiyama is the Nintendo headquarters, with an interactive life-size game of hyakunin-isshu (a game where you have to guess the first line of poems by 100 different poets).

Matsumoto - there is a castle there which didn't strike me as greater than those in Himeji or Kyushu, but which fascinated my husband as being one of the first castles designed for gun warfare (was that what he said??). It is a small town, definitely less sophisticated than Nagano. All I remember about it is the supermarket...

Not far from Matsumoto is Lake Suwa, and near there are some hot springs. It seems like a nice spot to hole up in a hot springs resort over New Year, if you could get a booking - although I've planned to do exactly that for several years, I've never actually got as far as Suwa, so I hope somebody else can tell you whether Suwa, Matsumoto, or some other place is the ideal destination in that area.

If you want to try temple cuisine over winter, pack WOOLLY SOCKS for padding round corridors without your shoes in!!! Temples are cold anyway, and since many are on top of mountains, they are particularly chilly.

Hokkaido is naturally cold outside, but homes are well-insulated, and much warmer than my home near Tokyo. We spent New Year there a few years back, and I seem to recall that we had sushi delivered for New Year's Day, and there were enough places open from Jan. 2nd to get by.

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Prasantrin, I'm sure Japanese French is excellent judging from the number of Japanese chefs doing stages in Europe, but used to live in Paris and now live in London, so my instinct says to skip French food in Japan. :raz:

One day I might visit all the European outposts in Japan, but it's hard not to just binge on great Japanese food.

Helenjp, great suggestions, thanks. We are most likely to be in Osaka or Tokyo, depending on which city offers the best restaurant options at that time, but we may stop by Kyoto.

Anyone know where to try high-quality creepies--zazamushi, inago, hachinoko, tanishi? It sounds like a lot of them are canned or in tsukudani.

I also found a reference to a gourmet onsen ryokan on Lake Suwa called Gingetsu, but I have not located any reviews.

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FoodZealot's blog on Doguyasan-Suji which is the kitchenware area of Osaka (nearest station maybe Namba??). I don't know when their New Year holiday will be, but they should be BUSTLING at the very end of the year - and Osaka being Osaka, food will never be far away where people gather.

Japan Times mention of the Chinese-style Buddhist vegetarian temple cuisine served at the restaurant attached to the Manpukuji (or Mampukuji) temple. It handily mentions that the restaurant is only closed Dec 31/Jan1.

I think you need to book at least a week in advance though, or even ASAP if you wanted to eat there. It's expensive but unique. You can also get bento (also order in advance) versions. Access from Osaka would be from the JR Nara line.

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Anyone know where to try high-quality creepies--zazamushi, inago, hachinoko, tanishi? It sounds like a lot of them are canned or in tsukudani.

I remember when I was a kid and my mom put inago tsukudani in my bento. All the kids around me screamed :P But I would think the asakusa area would be the home of some of the best tsukudani in Japan.

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Some changes---Kitcho's main restaurant closes Dec. 23, so we will go to Osaka first. We have booked our favorite ryokan in Takayama for Christmas, then Nagoya, Matsumoto and Nagano (husband has strange desire to bathe with snow monkeys), finally Tokyo.

Any recommendations in Matsumoto and Nagano?

Husband has also developed curiosity about ordering an osechi box, and we have been going through Takashimaya's online catalog. Some are really expensive! Any recs for that?

Helen, by coincidence I was just reading about fucha-ryori at BON in Tokyo. Thanks for the tip, could be useful if we stop by Kyoto for lunch.

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