Inspiring Things To Do In Kyoto, Japan

Visiting Kyoto was high on our priority list when it came to planning our Japan adventure. We’d admired photos of its stunning pagodas and beautiful gardens, read stories about ancient traditional tea ceremonies and were intrigued by mysterious geisha. We couldn’t wait to explore!

As soon as we arrived to Kyoto, swiftly deposited by an incredibly punctual bullet train, we immediately felt a contrast to fast-paced Tokyo. It was remarkably more peaceful and had a relaxing atmosphere of calm in comparison. Ahhh. Although we’d enjoyed discovering the unique wonders of Tokyo city, the clear air and sense of tranquility was a welcome change.

Since we only had a short time in Kyoto (approximately 3 days), we didn’t delay in dropping off our trusty backpacks and getting out and about to explore. Little did we know how much we would discover in just a few days! Read on for our own personal highlights and inspiring things to do in dynamic Kyoto.

Inspiring Things To Do In Kyoto

1. Admire A Traditional Japanese Archery Ceremony

From the perfectly proportioned sushi and always on-time bullet trains, to the beautiful traditional Ryokans, meticulously laid out, the Japanese LOVE precision. So it was no surprise when this level of precision was taken to another level at a traditional Japanese archery ceremony.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

We’d just arrived in Kyoto when we heard of a special archery ceremony taking place the next morning in the North of the city, at an important temple called the ‘Kamigamo Shrine’ on the banks of the Kamo River. We couldn’t believe our luck in getting the opportunity to witness a traditional Samurai Archery Ceremony!

However it wasn’t until we arrived that we realised how much of a big deal the ceremonies are. Television cameras and all, it was so exciting!

Luckily we arrived just in time for the archery area being set up, and took up our position alongside a large crowd of spectators that were eagerly waiting for the ceremony to begin. It wasn’t long before the archers arrived. Resplendent in beautiful, colourful outfits, they slowly emerged from the temple and made their way, calmly and gracefully, to the archery area. This was to be another lesson in patience, precision and attention to detail.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

Slowly but surely, the archers made their way to the staging area where each archer prepared themselves with meticulous poise and grace. The detail in every movement was incredible. Before attending, we’d learned that the aim of Kyūdō (Japanese archery), is to train the mind and body through learning to focus on firing an arrow with the right ‘ma’ai’, or timing. We were captivated.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

Slowly adjusting their robes to prepare for the bow and arrow and steadying themselves in preparation for action, we watched in anticipation as the arrows were presented to the archers as if they were a newborn child being given to their parents for the first time.

And then it came to the firing of the arrows. The first was a pair of men, who slowly adjusted their robes and steadied themselves for the spectacle. And then, finally, the release. Letting go of the arrow, the arrow travelled majestically through the air, emitting a low gentle hum as the crowd audibly gasped and crowed, and burst into applause.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

We watched as other archers repeated the mantra, a meticulous routine which was in every way as interesting as the firing of the arrow. It was another fascinating insight into Japanese culture, amply demonstrating ancient rituals combined with absolute focus on detail.

After the ceremony, we explored the grounds of the temple, another victory in design and organisation, as streams and trees effortlessly coexist with the temple and its inhabitants.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

Admiring the spectacle that is a traditional Japanese archery ceremony was an amazing experience and one we’ll never forget. We’d highly recommend seeking out this opportunity when visiting Kyoto.

2. Experience A Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

Home to many traditional Japanese art forms, Kyoto is also a great place to experience and learn about the ancient custom of the Japanese tea ceremony. From the methodical preparation of the tea through to the principles and significance behind the ceremony, it’s another fascinating insight into Japanese culture. For the full story of our Japanese tea ceremony experience in Kyoto, click here.

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

3. Beautiful ‘Kinkaku-ji’, The Golden Pavilion

Kyoto is extremely blessed when it comes to beautiful pagodas and temples. You only have to walk around the city’s Geisha District to witness many of them, but it’s also worth jumping on a local bus to explore some of the city’s best, such as the magnificent and iconic Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji.

things to do in kyoto
Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavillion

We were lucky enough to witness the iconic temple on a lovely winter’s day with clear blue skies. The temple looked stunning with its beautiful golden reflection shimmering across the rippled surface of the pond before it. We could have easily admired it all day.

It’s also possible to explore the area around the temple, but we’d recommend visiting in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the large crowds.

4. Sushi & Ramen Food Heaven!

We arrived to Kyoto after spending a view days admiring magnificent Mount Fuji by quiet Lake Shoji, and were excited to explore the city’s many amazing restaurants. Little did we know that we’d discover some of the best sushi and ramen we’d had so far on our Japanese adventure!

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

things to do in kyoto

If you’re a food lover like us, then Kyoto’s main market, ‘Nikishi’, is also a great place to explore. Known as the best traditional food market in the city and open most days from 9-6pm, it’s a buzz of activity and a great place to see the locals stocking up on everything from delicate fish to traditional sweet treats from the many stalls. Simply grab some fresh sushi as you wander the more than one hundred shops and restaurants, it’s great fun!

So that’s it! A short journey through our Kyoto highlights. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and are feeling inspired to plan your own Japanese adventure. We can’t wait to return someday!

Where To Stay In Kyoto?

When it comes to Asia, we always recommend the hotel booking site Agoda.com. We usually book our accommodation in advance as you typically get a lower rate and the most popular spots get booked up quickly in Kyoto, especially during peak seasons and public holidays!

We like Agoda.com as it offers a wide range of accommodation, from cheap guesthouses to high end chain hotels, typically with free cancellation or the option to change your dates if needs be. Plus you can book most places for free!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

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From Tokyo To Mt Fuji, A Perfect Escape From The City

Travelling through Japan taught us much about patience and respect. From the smart neat queues that organised themselves at regular intervals along train platforms, to their great patience as we grappled to articulate ourselves (sometimes resorting to complicated and creative hand gestures), we took guidance from locals and their behaviour in every day life in Japan.

We found that english is not commonly spoken, or more likely not confidently spoken, meaning asking for directions can be difficult. Even if you figure out where a place might be, most of the street names are incomprehensible symbols to us. So finding a restaurant with photos of food became our guiding light at times. What we lack in Japanese language skills however, was compensated by the helpful, friendly and patient people who were always offering to assist in any way they could, especially on our journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji. That’s what we loved about Japan.

On announcing we would be going from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, the key word apparently would be patience. You see, a cloudless Mount Fuji can be elusive, and we weren’t to get our hopes up. There were, however, methods to improve our chances of seeing her.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
A bath with a view!

Firstly, January is one of the best times to make a journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, especially to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, which also coincides with low (cold) season. We didn’t, however, bank on practically having the entire place to ourselves.

Secondly, if you’re making the effort to visit, spend a couple of nights there at least, ideally in a Ryokan to get the traditional Japanese experience.

Thirdly, be prepared to stand on a freezing cold rooftop for an hour and a half from 05:30 in the morning to get a 3 minute glimpse of Mount Fuji. I did this on our first full day there, and was so glad as the top of Mount Fuji was revealed around whips of cloud as the sun rose.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji nestles itself in the ‘Fuji Five Lakes’ region, so if you’re making the journey from Tokyo to Mt Fuji and staying overnight, you’ll need to pick a lake to catch your glimpse of the mountain. Our decision was based on our usual criteria: find the least developed and quiet area. And so it was clear, we would be staying on Lake Shoji.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Relaxing in our traditional Ryokan
Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Day time set up in our Ryokan

Sitting in our Ryokan, a fresh steaming pot of green tea brewing on the table after our early start, we admired our vista. In front of us, the mostly frozen Lake Shoji glistened in the early morning light, as Mount Fuji remained completely covered by clouds. Perhaps today wasn’t to be our day.

After spending most of the morning under cloud cover, around lunchtime to the West, there was a break in the cloud and it was heading our way! The result was two hours of almost perfectly clear conditions. There she was in all her beautiful glory.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
A crystal clear view of magnificent Mt Fuji

Sitting on the freezing cold sand and stones in front of the frozen lake, we admired the view as small wisps of cloud moved around the mountain. It was at this point that we noticed the peace and quiet bring interrupted by what I can only describe as some sort of sonic whoosh across the lake! It took us a few seconds to realise it, but these noises were coming from the lake as it thawed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

A few minutes later and the sonic whoosh returned, this time forming huge cracks in the ice! Our attention was now focused on where the next crack would appear rather than Mt Fuji. Yes we are easily entertained, but we couldn’t help but be fascinated and excited by it! And so we sat for hours and enjoyed the magnificent show of nature. 

From Tokyo to Mt Fuji, a different taste of Japan

That evening brought another experience we’ll never forget, but for a different reason. Sitting in our Ryokan on the shore of Lake Shoji, we had our first truly authentic Japanese banquet. A table brimming with ‘unique’ locally sourced ingredients…the kind you never imagine eating or even consider to be edible!

To set the scene, we like to think we are pretty open-minded eaters, and are generally willing (and excited) to try almost anything, especially on our travels. In fact it’s one of the aspects of travelling that we love most and is usually a big factor in our decision-making on where to visit next. We especially love sushi and couldn’t wait to eat as much as possible on this trip. However from Tokyo to Mt Fuji and its lakes, we had no idea it would be such a different experience.

Starting with the positive, we couldn’t believe the attention to detail and incredible number of plates we were presented with for just the two of us! Another example of the patience and care inherent in the Japanese people that we’d already fallen in love with. Every single dish was beautifully presented in its own unique plate or bowl. In fact this table of dishes made it into our ‘The 20 Best Japanese Food Experiences’ article.

Tokyo to Mt Fuji
Our traditional Japanese meal

Without hesitation, we tucked into the delicious tempura and sushi that was beautifully presented in front of us. For the tempura, lots of colourful and varied vegetables and fish. Everything from courgettes, mushrooms and jalapeño pepper to fresh tiger prawns, each lightly battered and accompanied with a sweet dipping sauce.

Alongside the tempura were 3 deep pink slices of fresh tuna sashimi, sitting in their own delicate bowl accompanied by a generous helping of soy sauce, wasabi and fresh ginger. It was absolutely mouthwatering and by far the freshest and tastiest we’d had so far in Japan!

These two dishes were the highlights. Where we became a little unstuck was in the presentation of some of the other dishes on our table. There was one dish in particular that caught our eye (for all the wrong reasons). A large curled-shaped shell with a small piece of meat sticking out the top of it skewered by a toothpick. What the heck is that, I thought to myself as I gingerly picked up the shell and took a closer look. Without any instructions as to how to eat it, Laura grabbed the two ends of the toothpick and delicately began to pull the piece of meat out of the shell. And this is what happened next….

Oh. My. Goodness.

The more polite version of our reaction to its scarily long length and unappealing colour! I’ll never forget the look on Laura’s face. Ever the optimist, it was a hilarious mix of shock, confusion, anticipation and a little fear…

Unsurprisingly, “I think you should try it first” were her next words.

Well I wasn’t one to turn down a challenge. So after studying the creature for a little while, which I can only describe as some sort of unusual dark brown sea shell animal, I decided to try it. Eyes now closed, I took a small bite from the end and was instantly overcome the saltiest flavoured thing I had ever encountered in my life. It’s not often I say this about food from around the world, but it was disgusting. After an awfully loooong chew later, it was over.

(Later, one of our readers explained to us that our little brown urchin shell friend was in fact a species of sea snail known as a horned turban, or a ‘Sazae’ in Japanese. Apparently they are best in Winter and Spring (mm this was it at its best?), and apparently I wasn’t meant to eat the very bit I chose to eat as that is actually the snail’s intestine. Trust me to pick the worst part of the snail to try! Well at least that explains why I didn’t appreciate the ‘authentic’ taste!)

I was feeling a little less open-minded by now, and so was Laura.

“I’ll try ANYTHING else but that” she said.

I didn’t blame her!

It was at this point our waitress brought over the last dish for our table. A lovely big bowl of hot steaming fluffy rice. We’ve never felt so relieved and happy to see plain old rice!

From Tokyo to Mt Fuji, we’d now officially tried at least 4 or 5 new species including eel tail, squid arm, octopus and turbo cornutus. Wow! We were most definitely on a culinary adventure as well as a cultural one. We couldn’t wait for the rest, despite not particularly enjoying Mr ‘Sazae’!

Full and satisfied by what had been an extremely memorable day, we decided to retire and set our alarms for (hopefully) another exciting Mt Fuji sunrise. After all, she was worth waking up early for.

How To Get From Tokyo To Mt Fuji

We caught a morning train from Shinjuku station. To get to Kawagichiko station (the main station for the five lakes area), take the Azusa, Super Azusa or Kaiji trains on the Chuo line, and change in Otsuki for the Fuji Kyuko line to Kawagichiko station. From there, we caught a local bus to the Fuji Five Lakes area and our chosen quiet spot, Lake Shoji. The buses are less frequent in the low season (winter) so be sure to plan your timings ahead if you’re visiting at this time! Enjoy! (For up-to-date information, we recommend checking this website.)

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japanese tea ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony Experience In Kyoto

Nothing sums up the careful and attentive approach of all things Japanese quite like the rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony.

In all our travels across Japan, we were constantly surprised at the attention to detail placed on many seemingly unimportant things. Whether it be the delicate and intricate preparation of all Japanese food, or the way everything just works, Japan constantly made us grin a little when we realised a solution had been designed for a problem we never knew existed.

A Japanese tea ceremony, however, took things to a whole new level.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

We’d always known about traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, how they formed an integral part of the Geisha experience, and that depending on the type of ceremony they can run for hours!

I mean, how long does it take to make a cup of tea? Boil the kettle, add a tea bag, wait a bit, remove said tea bag and drink. Alas, it seems, despite drinking on average 3.5 cups a day in the UK, we are all complete amateurs when it comes to tea making!

Anyway, onto the tea ceremony itself.

We arrived to a small, wooden room with a sliding Ryokan style door in front of us. Removing our shoes as is customary, we slid open the door and stepped up, and into, a beautifully decorated, calm and serene traditional ryokan.

japanese tea ceremony

We were greeted by one of the sweetest smiles we’d encountered during our time in Japan so far (and there had been many already). Welcomed by our host, we happily took our crossed legged positions on the bamboo mat floor with a small pillow to make us comfortable.

As our eyes adjusted to the light, we could see all of the instruments that would go into making one cup of tea.

Laid out before us was an intriguing set up consisting of a stove, a clay teapot, a small bowl, a spatula & a whisk made of delicate wood…interesting. We sat in quiet contemplation as our host prepared in a room behind us.

japanese tea ceremony

And then it was time for the ceremony to begin.

Our host, dressed delicately in a beautiful traditional dress, began proceedings by thoroughly cleaning all of the tea making utensils and positioning them ready to begin the actual tea making ceremony. Every move was delicate and purposeful – I honestly didn’t know such a simple process could be so fascinating and beautiful. Slowly and gently, we watched the intriguing hand movements, from traditional gestures including use of a special red hanker chief to simply placing and adjusting various bowls and utensils until they were in exactly the right position.

From this point, the bowl of tea was created. First, a small amount of green tea powder was lifted from its box on a small metal spoon, and placed in the bowl. Then it was time for the hot water, brewed to a specific temperature and taken from the pot that had been steaming away in front of us. Then the mixing of the water and tea, done with a small brush to stimulate the powder and water, creating a foamy and frothy green tea mixture.

japanese tea ceremony

After around 10 minutes or so, the bowl of green tea was ready to be sampled. The verdict? It was, of course, delicious. Green tea can be slightly bitter, but this was subtle, colourful and just perfect. And we’re not just saying that because it took half an hour to make!

japanese tea ceremony

Japan is famous for many things, from the highs of Japanese food, to onsen, karate, sumo, ryokans and Mount Fuji, there are a wealth of rich cultural traits and quirks. A Japanese tea ceremony for us is something that is quintessentially Japanese, but it also brings together some of the biggest themes in its culture: patience, respect, care and attention to detail. After our tea ceremony experience, we made our way back into the cold streets of Kyoto with a sense of tranquility, knowing we’d just witnessed something we had always wanted to experience.

Have you experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony? What did you think of the rituals and process? Let us know in the comments below, and check out some of our other articles from Japan!

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The 20 Best Japanese Food Experiences

You’d be hard pressed to find a country in the world where the food splits opinion quite like the way Japanese food does.

We love Japanese food, in particular sushi and sashimi. We think it’s fresh, healthy and absolutely delicious. But we know not everyone feels the same way…

Japanese food creates the most extreme of views, and for many people, the idea of raw fish is a culinary step too far. From our travels around Japan, we know Japanese food is much more than just sushi and sashimi, from steaming bowls of ramen to deep fried octopus balls, and from our Japanese culinary odyssey, we present to you 20 of the very best food experiences in Japan.

Prepare those tastebuds…

1. Deep Fried Takoyaki Octopus balls

japanese food

We start with one of my all time favourite quick bites, a snack so good I’d make it mandatory in all restaurants (if I had the power). Takoyaki are balls of meat made from Octopus, deep fried in cheese and other delicious ingredients and they are especially good when accompanied with some chilli sauce and a beer. They are a snack fit for Kings (and Worldly Nomads).

2. Stand Up Sushi Bars

japanese food

Stand up sushi bars are something we stumbled across whilst in Tokyo, and we had one of our favourite evenings trying all manner of exotic treats. I mean, why sit down when you can crowd into a tiny space, lean against a counter and admire as the chefs a couple of feet away prepare each sushi dish with delicate and intricate fever.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

This is a must do in Japan. The bonus is that no Japanese is required, you can simply point at the various creatures in the displays or on the menus, and watch the chefs work their magic. If you’re not sure, the chefs will be more than willing to ply you with the things they think you should try.

TIP: try the flame grilled baby squid, outstanding.

japanese food

japanese food

3. Risking It All At A Japanese Banquet

Our stay at Mount Fuji also coincided with our most adventurous encounter with Japanese food, and probably the most confusing meal we will ever eat.

japanese food
We’ll be honest, this is when we struggled most with Japanese food. Coupled with the fact that we were so remote that there was nowhere else to eat (in fact, there was nowhere else full stop), made meal times all the more ‘exciting’.

As part of our Ryokan experience, we had signed up for the traditional dinner and breakfast option, which we’d read online was a banquet with all manner of delicious treats. It was here that we experienced some foods that 1) we had no idea what they were, and 2) we were not sure which part of said thing we were meant to eat. A case in point:

japanese food

We still don’t know what this is (if you do please let us know in the comments below!).

In all seriousness, which piece of it would you eat? In the end, I nibbled off the dark bit at the end and ate it. It was, quite frankly, awful. And I do feel bad about saying that, but it was. It tasted like a pool of sea water that had collected in rocks on the beach, with said pool full of various crabs and shells. I don’t mean to sound uncultured about it, after all as you can tell I love Japanese food, but this was all a bit too much for me.

We also had some blockbuster dishes as well, like these morsels of goodness.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

Much of what we were served was as expected: beautiful cuts of sushi and sashimi, delicious pieces of beef ready to be cooked in a hot broth on the table and vegetable tempura – all absolutely delicious.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

The rest of the banquet went without too much of a hitch, each dish was meticulously prepared and presented, and we tried them all once. For some, we couldn’t figure out what we were eating, like these things:

japanese food

japanese food

And others we gobbled down with delight. Moral of the story? Be adventurous, try everything once, take on a Japanese banquet, but maybe do it somewhere where you can get something else in case it doesn’t quite fit your tastebuds!

japanese food

japanese food

4. Cook Your Own Sukiyaki Meat Soup

Picture the scene. You’re in a buffet style restaurant with all manner of heavenly salad options and dressings, all accompanied with a cacophony of condiments. You feel like you’ve landed in green heaven. But I’m a meat eater I hear you scream, never fear, meat is here.

japanese food

japanese food

The idea is pretty simple. Pick a couple of soup stocks, and wait as they are delivered to the centre of your table, bubbling away as the rich aromas tease your nostrils. Quickly following behind the soup stocks are three plates of raw meat: beef, chicken and pork, all thinly sliced and delicately laid on the plates. You’re halfway there. Head up to the buffet bars, and grab yourself some noodles, mushrooms, other vegetables, whatever you feel will go with the soup and meat. Head back to your table, pronto.

japanese food

japanese food

Now comes the biggest decision of all, which broth are you going to cook your meat in, and what are you going to cook it with? We must have looked like complete amateurs to begin with, the two local Japanese girls giggling quietly to our left as I put something unexpected into the broth.

For the next hour or so, we dipped our thin slices of raw meat into the bubbling hot soups, along with various combinations of noodles and vegetables before scooping them out and placing them in a bowl with chilli, soy and garlic all waiting. My goodness we ate well that day.

5. Okonomiyaki Fried Noodle Heaven

For most meals, the crescendo comes when the food arrives. After all, thats what you’ve come for, and what you’ve been sitting waiting patiently for, trying desperately to not eat another bread roll which sits in that bowl in the middle of the table. Anyway, I digress.

When you go for some Okonomiyaki noodles, the best part is the show that goes into the preparation of the meal. Teppanyaki plates are super heated, and then your meal is rapidly built in front of you. The expert ladies in our place threw down some paste onto the super heated plates, and added cabbage, noodles, various sauces, vegetables, maybe some prawns if you’re feeling flush. Bang, on goes the pan lid over the dish, allowing it cook and steam.

japanese food

japanese food

To your left, someone has made the incredible decision to order some mussels, and they suddenly come alive on the grill. Well, when I say alive, they are very much dead but making some serious sizzling noise. Again, the pan lid bangs down over the top to allow them to steam.

Everywhere we look things are happening. Another beer arrives, these ladies know what I want and when I want it. I sit mesmerised, and then my food arrives.

It’s best described as like a stack of pancakes, filled with vegetables, barbecue sauce, noodles and other herbs and spices. I’m given what looks like a paint brush, which I’m told to use to paste more BBQ sauce onto the top. After all, you can never have enough BBQ sauce. I enthusiastically slice my tower open and devour it.

The Japanese guy to my right who ordered the mussels offers one to me, I refuse at first out of embarrassment as I have nothing to offer him, but he insists. I take one, taste it and indadvertedly let out a wow. He laughs, his friend laughs, the ladies laugh, I’m glad I reacted the right way. It was delicious. If we’d found this place earlier, we would have been back every day. Go somewhere like this when you’re in Japan, you won’t regret it.

6. Conveyor Belt Sushi

japanese food
You’ve seen them, or at least heard about them. They are a rite of passage for visitors to Japan. Grab a seat, and then help yourself. Just remember to keep the bowls, the number you have helps them work out your bill. Try things out here you wouldn’t otherwise have.

7. Inadvertently Almost Eating Raw horse Meat

A confession, we didn’t actually try this, but we came close, completely by accident. We entered a lovely looking, small restaurant with a few tables. We sat down, our waiter provided us with hot towels and menus. We thankfully cleansed our hands and face with the hot towel and sat it down on the table. And then we looked at the menu.

The realisation came slowly at first.

The first thing that confused me was the outline of a cow with all the various cuts in Japanese, except it was a rather lean and tall cow, much like a horse shape. The penny didn’t drop.

Then the descriptions, translated into a version of English where the words were all clear individually, but together made up sentences which left us scratching our heads, ‘saddle cut’ being one that stands out.

And then it hit us, this was a horse meat bar. Not only that, a raw horse meat bar. We’ll try pretty much anything once, but we decided we didn’t quite fancy the idea of raw horsemeat. What to do though? I mean, we’ve already used their hot towels, that’s practically a signed contract in restaurant land. And, of course we don’t speak any Japanese.

We decided the best course of action was to feign sickness, and we headed back into the cold Tokyo night, in search of a steaming bowl of Ramen.

8.  Steaming Bowls Of Ramen Noodle Soup

Japan has some serious competition from Vietnam and its steaming bowls of Pho. As soup connoisseurs, Ramen was one of the main reasons we travelled halfway across the world. Our opinion? Whilst it doesn’t topple Pho from the soup podium top spot, it certainly comes close.

japanese food
What we didn’t expect from Ramen was just how hearty and filling it is, you’ve got to be hungry to tackle one of these bad boys. There is also so much choice, and normally you can order a set meal which comes with soup, some dumplings and maybe some pickled delicious treats. Dive in and try any one of the soups below!

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food
9. Sake

Enjoying a small bottle of sake with sushi is a pretty common occurrence in Japan. we’re sad to say we failed miserably at liking sake – trust us we tried it a few times but we just can’t get our tastebuds around it. Sorry, Japan.

10. Deep Fried Tempura Heaven

A pretty regular occurrence around the world, the style of tempura has made its way into everyday life in many places, with various non-Japanese restaurants offering it.

japanese food

japanese food

We’re big fans of it, obviously. I mean, who doesn’t like things deep fried? With most of the sushi banquets we had, tempura came part of the deal, but you’ll also find tempura prawns floating in your ramen sometimes as well, which we never quite got used to.

11. Edamame – Better Than It Sounds

japanese food

To describe Edamame to someone who has never tried it, you’d struggle to enthuse your audience.

“Well, it’s like peas still in their pods with a bit of salt. You kind of throw the whole thing in your mouth, squeeze the peas out and deposit the pod in the bowl”.

That sentence there is why we are not salespeople. Its not exactly complicated, but oh boy do we enjoy a hot bowl of Edamame as a pre cursor to our meals, and you should try it at least once!

12. Well Massaged Kobe Beef

This is meat romanticised. Cows fed the very best feed, massaged on a daily basis and allowed to roam free. I’d been told this made the meat the most tender and delicious on the planet, and as a meat eater I just had to try this.

The good news? The meat is absolutely delicious, I mean outstanding. The meat has a depth of flavour I’ve never experienced before, and it was as tender as can be. The downside is the size and the price.

japanese food

japanese food

On one evening in Kinosaki, I splashed out and ordered a steak, which was easily 6 times the price of a regular meal. What I failed to do was check the weight of the steak I was ordering. I’ve never felt more crestfallen when a steak arrived at a table, it had to be the smallest piece of meat I had ever seen. Perfectly cooked, aromas wafting from it, but small. I could have had a weeks worth of dinners for the price of this piece of meat! Nevertheless, I savoured every morsel and as I said, it was delicious. And yes, I did give Laura a bit.

13. Naughty Katsu Curry

japanese food

japanese food

So the sauce may come straight out of a plastic bag, what you gonna do about it? This is the treat of Japan, and isn’t anywhere near as healthy as sushi and sashimi, but when you need something to eat at a train station before a long journey, get yourself a bit of Katsu curry action. Salty curry sauce with salty, deep fried chicken and pickled radishes. You’ll be healthy most of the time eating raw fish, so allow yourself this little treat.

14. Nikuman Meat Doughballs On The Go

What a treat these bundles of joy were.

japanese food

japanese food

I picked the brown and white bundle from a van on the street in Kinosaki, and devoured it en route to yet another onsen. It’s a sweet tasting outside with a meat and onion filling, or even better how about the deep fried meat and cheese morsel I picked up at a train station on the right?

Both amazing snacks when you’re on the move.

15. Japanese Beer

If you’ve followed my previous Worldly Beer adventures, you’ll know I have a soft spot for the amber nectar. Japan has a lot of beer to choose from, from national brands to smaller local microbreweries, and the stuff is pretty good as well. The Yebisu brewery in Tokyo is worth a visit.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

16. Traditional Ryokan Dining

A stay in a traditional Ryokan is a must in Japan, especially when you can stay in your room and have the food delivered straight to your table. Your hosts will also make up your beds for you in the evening and remove them in the morning.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

17. Go To A Weird Themed Restaurant

We like our culture and unique experiences, but we also like to act like normal tourists as well. Do yourself a favour, if you ever find yourself in Tokyo, go to one of the multitude of themed restaurants in the city. We went to some sort of Asylum themed place, the food wasn’t great but the experience was, well, interesting I guess. You get to meet people like this as well:

japanese food

japanese food
What’s not to like? And yes that is a beer in a bedpan.

18. Wait, No Ketchup?

Take a moment to think about what is typically on a table in restaurants in your country. If you’re from the UK (as we are) you can almost guarantee on a table you’ll find salt, pepper and probably tomato ketchup. Standard, boring condiments to supplement our meals. Not so in Japan, in fact it got to the point that we were excited to see what else we could add to our already amazing meals!

japanese food

japanese food

Not only did we have access to lovely chillis, garlic, ginger, soy and fish sauce, lots of places had cold green tea by the tap! Imagine that?

19. See Where All That Sushi Comes From

If you’re wondering how they keep the fish so fresh for the sushi, you’ve got to head along to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo to get to the source of all things sushi. It’s not for the faint hearted though, and it is a working market where deals are done and all manner of creatures from the deep are hooked, filleted and thrown away in front of your very eyes.

japanese food

japanese food

japanese food

We wrote more about this place in our article: The Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo! We still can’t believe they let tourists in to just wander about!

20. What Did We Miss Out On?

We tried as much as we could in the time we had in Japan, but alas there is always something new to try everywhere you go! Have you been to Japan before? Do you have any experiences that we missed? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

And so to our challenge for you.

We travel to see things we’d never see at home, to experience highs and lows which are more extreme than those in our normal lives. We travel to meet new people, to experience new cultures, to see the world.

We also travel to eat foods completely alien to us, and Japan fit the bill perfectly for us. So what one food are you going to try THIS WEEK that you’ve never had before? Go ahead and do it, try something new once, you never know, you might just like it. Let us know how you get on in the comments below!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


Living With Monks In The Mountains Of Koyasan, Japan

As the snow fell and the mercury dropped on the thermometers, we ascended the mountain on the steep funicular railway, its old gears and winches creaking and groaning as it dragged us to our destination.

We were on the final leg of our journey to a temple retreat, nestled in the heart of the mountains near Koyasan, an area home to some of the most important religious sites in all of Japan and we’d arrived to a beautiful scene.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Perfectly manicured trees perched delicately around a small pond, a layer of snow resting lightly on each branch. Above us, to our left, a large temple was only accessible by some steep stone steps, and to our right lay the entrance. The temple was beautiful. Inside, its wooden floorboards stretched out along perfectly straight corridors, flanked on either side by the thin white sliding doors to various ryokan accommodation. It was quiet, and it was cold.

koyasan japan

Our ryokan style room was simple and sparsely furnished, decorated lightly with tatami mats across the floor. A small table sat in the middle, adorned with a fresh flask of hot water, two cups, some green tea and two sweets. The room was ‘heated’ by a small kerosene heater, fighting a losing battle against the harsh conditions outside. The smell of kerosene was intoxicating. We’d chosen to spend a few days here to do, well, nothing really. And that was just as well, given the heavy snow falling outside, coating the temple and surrounding areas in a thick white blanket. We sipped our tea and requested another heater for the room to avoid having to wear all our clothes, all of the time.

Our first morning required an early start, awakening before the sun rose to witness one of the ancient rituals carried out on a daily basis in the temple. This morning fire ritual turned out to be the highlight of our time in Koyasan.

Throughout the ritual, each task was given fervent attention and focus, with every move purposeful and precise. From the blessing of the various instruments, to the careful and methodical building of the fire. Prayers were made for various people, the papers briefly exposed to the fire. The constant beating of a drum provided routine and rhythm to the ritual, and as the fire rose in front of us, finally began to warm us in the freezing dawn air. It was a fascinating insight into the lives of these monks.

koyasan japan

Warmed slightly from the fire ritual, we trudged through the snow to the nearby mausoleum of Okunoin, an important and respected religious site, where we wandered for a couple of hours through the 200,000 shrines, tombstones and temples as the snow once again fell on Koyasan.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Seeking shelter in one of the many temples, we sat and watched a group of monks go about their daily rituals inside the temple. After spending time carefully and methodically closing a large wooden chest, it was taken outside into the cold air and quietly and solemnly taken away from the temple.

koyasan japan

As the snowstorm whipped up into a frenzy, we sought the shelter of a nearby soup restaurant, and the warmth of a hot bowl of ramen to reheat us. Koyasan was an intriguing experience, one we were glad to have sought out despite the freezing conditions. Sitting in quiet contemplation alongside monks in a temple in the mountains was something we had come to Japan to experience. As the mercury dropped once again into the night, our second heater arrived to fight the battle against the cold night, and we settled in for another evening of green tea and books.

koyasan japan

koyasan japan

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


From Japan With Love

A chorus of “Irrashaimase” loudly welcomed us as we slid open the patio door and stepped into the cramped and humble food stall.

The place was a buzz of activity. Businessmen perched on wooden stools, lunching on steaming bowls of ramen noodles as the trio of kitchen staff strained noodles, blowtorched slices of pork and effortlessly built up various bowls of rich broth and noodles. We’d arrived in Japan, and thrown ourselves head first into it.

Barely two hours earlier, we landed at Tokyo Narita airport, jumped on a train to the city centre, hopped on the metro and dumped our bags at our hotel. Standing in the food stall, we clearly looked tired, hungry and slightly bewildered. We stood patiently for 2 seats to become available, sat down and waited to order. Ah, the first of many mistakes.

first time japan

Our friendly and energetic waiter took one look at us, a wide grin forming across his face, and motioned for me to follow him. Led to what looked like a cigarette vending machine, the system (which we instantly fell in love with) seemed pretty simple. Put your money in the machine, press the image you want to order, hand the waiter the receipt. Simple, efficient and perfect for us non-Japanese speakers.

Two bowls of pork ramen noodle soup ordered, we relaxed and took in our new surroundings. The place was a hive of excitement, everywhere we looked there was another new food to try, all accompanied by a symphony of slurps, sucking and talking in a language completely indecipherable to us. It was the Tokyo we had dreamt about.

first time japan

We sat there both seriously jet lagged and began day dreaming about our upcoming adventure in Japan, until a jolt awoke us from our sidetrack. Two HUGE steaming bowls of ramen landed in front of us. Our eyes widened, it was time to try our first bowl of soup in Japan.

Despite all of our adventures across the world, Japan provided us with some of the most unique cultural quirks and traits we’ve encountered, especially given the subtlety involved in them.

You see, with Japan, it’s the little things that count.

first time japan

Arrival at the airport was smooth, and without incident, and we cleared immigration quickly. In the arrivals hall we were confronted with a scene of quiet serenity. No hustling taxi drivers trying to get us into their cars.

The train to the city was clean, quiet and on time. On our way to the train we had to use a set of escalators, which were managed by two ladies. One at the top giving advice and guidance to users about to use the escalator, and one at the bottom to help us off.

first time japan

From the outside looking in, Japanese culture seems extremely alien to us, from its minor, almost imperceptible quirks to its grander, cultural points of view. In our few weeks there, we didn’t even scratch the surface of this unique culture, but what we saw, we liked.

first time japan

There are the little things that make the big differences. Being handed something with two hands instead of one meant more to us. The toilets with the ‘shower’ option or the more exciting ‘jet’ option provide a bit of additional fun where none normally exists. And the fact they flush a little fresh water when you sit down is nice as well, or play running water noises if you don’t want anyone to hear what you’re up to. Oh and the toilet seats are heated too.

first time japan

Whilst we don’t speak any Japanese, there have been many people who have helped us on our way. From the young student on the streets of electric city who stopped to help us with directions, we thank you. To the lady at the metro who approached us at the machine as we tried our best to buy a ticket, we thank you too. To all our servers and chefs in restaurants, we thank you as well, especially the guys at the raw horse meat bar who graciously guided us on our way after we had sat down, washed our hands with their hot towel, and then realised all they offered were variations on raw horse meat. We thank you too.

Would we recommend a visit to Japan? That really depends on what you want, but we’ve never felt more safe and welcomed in a country so quickly. We came to experience the culture and the food, as well as see some sights. If you’re interested in sushi, sashimi, ramen, noodles, sake, tea ceremonies, temples, interesting toilets, sumo, karate, karaoke and geishas, Japan is the place for you.

We fell in love with Japan, and we have no doubt that we’ll be back again in the future.

Looking For Accommodation In Japan?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Japan, or anywhere else in Asia, check out the options below!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.


The Chaotic Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Bewildered and disorientated, we stood on the sidelines studying our map of the market intently. A mere metre in front of us, a mixture of motorbikes, vans and strange little stand up driven machines weaved and swerved around the two of us.

We were slap bang in the middle of a busy fish market, wondering why we’d ever been allowed in in the first place. We’d arrived at the entrance to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, ready to see one of the world’s largest fish markets in action. Over 2,000 tonnes a day pass through the market, as restaurants and merchants battle to satisfy the Japanese thirst for sushi and sashimi.

tsukiji fish market

We knew it was a working market, but we had no idea just how seemingly inappropriate it was to have tourists visit. We were shocked at being allowed to simply wander around, although all the guidance was pretty clear, be aware of yourself and don’t get in the way. Easier said than done when the walkways are only one person wide, and various huge carcasses are carried through the narrow polystyrene alleyways.

tsukiji fish market

We gingerly dodged the various vans and lorries ferrying the days catch back and forth to enter the wholesale market where the main action happens. Instantly we were disorientated by the spectacle. A fishy polystyrene maze stretched out in every direction, each full of things we had never seen before. Some routes were brightly lit, others less so and some seemed impassable as eager merchants completed deals with various buyers.

tsukiji fish market

We made our way further in. Huge carcasses from various unfortunate sea life littered the walkways, one man using a huge hook with great skill to slop huge fish heads into his van, destination unknown.

tsukiji fish market

Tentatively, we picked a narrow walkway and proceeded with caution. It was a mesmerising experience, everywhere we looked there was something interesting to observe; the old man filleting a huge tuna with tender care, a man using an electric saw to cut up a huge frozen tuna, another trying to persuade us to buy an octopus arm. I think it was anyway, it’s hard to tell when it’s been detached from its owner.

tsukiji fish market

The market is incredible, with some of the strangest things we’ve ever seen all sat in ice waiting for the buyers to take them to their final homes. Eels, huge starfish like things and various crustaceans littered the alleyways.

tsukiji fish market

And then the various characters that made up this place, from Mr fish hook head who took great delight in collecting all the unwanted bits and pieces, to the drivers of the quirky one man cylinder trucks, to the ladies in the tiny offices who dealt with the money.

tsukiji fish market

tsukiji fish market

tsukiji fish market

Each had their own job in a unique ecosystem, and despite the chaotic nature of the market, it all worked with fantastic Japanese precision and efficiency. We spent two hours in those cramped alleyways, and tired of asking each other “any idea what that is?” as another polystyrene box presented itself with an unknown being.

The Tsukiji fish market was an incredible experience, one we would happily see again given the chance. We dodged the final challenge of vans and lorries scurrying to various restaurants and made our way back into Tokyo in search of some breakfast sushi.

Looking For Accommodation In Japan?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Japan, or anywhere else in Asia, check out the options below!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Japan inspiration? Click here.