Quick recap of notes and highlights from my previous Japan trip:
Japan is not the city to go to if you’re looking for fireworks and crazy partying for NYE. Of course there are clubs to satisfy true party-goers and foreigners, but city of Tokyo does not have fireworks. The meeting point for those who want to celebrate in public for free is at the Tokyo Tower where everyone still counts down, but that’s all. The giant LED year on the tower simply switches nonchalantly from one year to the next. Then, everyone leaves.
Tokyo is still as awesome a city as I remember from last year. It has something for everyone, literally. I had so much ramen and sushi and curry and udon and taiyaki and currypan, well, you name it and I had it. A surprisingly amazing ramen experience I had was at Gogyo where they serve burnt miso ramen. The broth had a bit of a charred taste, which I’ve never had before. I also loved the street food at Ameyoko. I was able to get a decently sized sushi bowl for about USD$6, and the woman making the takoyaki had awesome cooking skills worth watching. My most non-food experience in Tokyo this time has to be my visit to the Ghibli Museum. It’s everyone kid and grown-up’s dream come true with childhood animations coming to life.
Yokohama is a must-visit since it’s only a short distance away from Tokyo. They have the largest clock – the Cosmo Clock 21. They also have the largest Chinatown in Asia (and one of the largest in the world). Here, are crazy over: soup dumplings (and the panfried version) and mooncakes, but what I really loved was a fatty pork bun from 皇朝. It’s a couple very thick, fatty slices of braised pork inside a white, steamed, then deep fried bun. This was one of the best things I ate. They also have a foie gras + Kobe beef version for a whopping USD$20, but I still much preferred the regular fatty pork.
Kyoto was beautiful, full of history. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is surreal with all those red gates lined up, one after another. The Kinkaku-ji is another beautiful site – a golden temple – but that’s pretty much it. The famous Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama is better in pictures. I’m thinking the wild bamboo forest around Adashino Nenbutsu-ji is much better because you can actually walk through them, if you dare. I stumbled upon a very good ramen shop that just nailed everything called 紫蔵. It had a long line, but it was worth the wait.
Osaka was nice, but nothing particularly stood out other than the infamous Glica running man in Dotonbori. Otherwise, it is great for shopping. In terms of food, Osaka is known for okonomiyaki and takoyaki, but I waited until Hiroshima to eat okonomiyaki.
Kobe was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t realize it was right beside Osaka. I got to eat Kobe beef from the source. LOL! They also have a nice Chinatown that seems less (foreign) touristy. In this Chinatown, the food item that particularly stood out was tantanmen.
Hiroshima is one of those places that everyone should go to. It’s a history city – where the first atomic bomb was dropped. It really gives you the yearning for peace. Hiroshima is also known for their version of okonomiyaki, nicknamed the hiroshimayaki. It’s basically okonomiyaki on top of stirfried noodles, and the okonomiyaki is not as thick and starchy as the regular one.
Miyajima is a must visit if you are at Hiroshima. Here, you are one with the deers. They roam around freely as if they are also fellow citizens. Miyajima also has the famous torii (red gate) in the waters. Oysters is the thing to eat here. They are large, fresh, and very smooth.
Fukuoka, particularly Hakata, is a ramen lover’s paradise. Tokyo Station has Ramen Alley, but Hakata Station has Ramen Street. But wait, over at Canal City in Hakata, they have a Ramen Stadium, which is the biggest and has famous ramen shops from all parts of Japan, each specializing in different types of ramen. They also have lots of food/ramen peddlars (yatai) in the streets at night. Fukuoka is also great for Korean-style shopping since it is so close to Korea.