In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.
Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019
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All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.
|Day 1 – Hiroshima (introduction)||Day 2 – Okayama/Kurashiki|
|Day 3 – Osaka||Day 4 – Mount Koya|
|Day 5 – Kyoto||Day 6 – Kyoto|
|Day 7 – Arashiyama||Day 8 – Kyoto|
|Day 9 – Uji & Nara||Day 10 – Hakone|
|Day 11 – Hakone||Day 12-14 – Tokyo|
Japan Day 12-14 – Tokyo
Much like Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, our trip ended with rain being a persistent feature for the remainder of our trip, following us from Hakone to Tokyo with little respite. Any more and I might’ve started sprouting mushrooms.
This inclement weather, combined with the state of mind shaped by our Hakone stay – that is, relaxed insouciance – was a sign to take Tokyo at a chill af pace, with the understanding that once you visit Tokyo the first time, you’ll realise right then and there that it won’t be the last. As such, I don’t have much to recap on the tourist highlights front. And to think I had grand plans to take y’all through a Lonely Planet tour of Tokyo’s greatest hits. Actually maybe the rain was a good thing after all.
We checked into Palate Hotel Tokyo (which was way more hotel vis-a-vis the nightly rate than what we needed but still cool to stay at this iconic property at least once) and pretty much remained the rest of the day doing SFA (sorry no profanities here but I sure will link you to it!). The end. Thanks for playing!
Okay not really. We did somehow manage to collect ourselves prior to dusk (a nap may have occurred – is there anything nicer than sleeping in the pitter-patter of rain?) and managed to monorail it to TeamLab’s Tokyo exhibit – ‘Borderless‘ – on the artificial island & tech hub that is Odaiba. TeamLab is best described as a collective of digital artists that take over spaces in cities around the world, using lighting in creative ways to conjure magical worlds straight out of
a magic mushroom user’s head science fiction. Their popularity is such that explaining them to y’all feels fully redundant – you probably already know, and if you’ve visited a city where TeamLab has a presence, you’ve probably already been.
As I actually, you know, wanted to enjoy the experience, I barely took any photos (notwithstanding a ton of crappy now-expired Instagram stories) and the ones I have just aren’t very good. Definitely one for the influencers to do the actual good work of showcasing TeamLab’s work.
After TeamLab, the parentals retired back to the hotel and I had the rare chance to meet up with some old Tokyo-based faces at Yakiniku Jumbo Hanare’s private room. I’ll kindly redirect you to the linked blog post for an explanation on why this wagyu temple is the be-all-end-all for all things bovine, but a top ten restaurant of 2018 should sum it up nicely. Frankly, Jumbo Hanare could have re-qualified for 2019’s edition if it weren’t for the rule of no repeat entrants (I snuck it in as one of the best dishes hehe).
(yeah, we really did eat all that much at Jumbo.)
The next day (Day 13?) was about as uneventful as a bored boyfriend being forced by his girlfriend (excuse the stereotyping – for illustrative purposes only) to go shopping all day. Except this time it’s the son and his parents. Ok, I guess I should pour one out to dad as well. I feel ya pops.
Thank god for lunch, for it is no longer just sustenance but also a delicious way to interrupt four hours of shopping: we arrived at an interesting ramen-ya called Mugi to Olive, literally ‘wheat & olive [oil]’. Do you see how this gets iNtEreStinG?
That’s right, halfway through chowing down on the tokusei tori-niboshi-hamaguri triple soba (I’m just going to assume you’re lawful good enough to order the house specialty on a first visit), you stop and pour in a generous (like, at least 1 tablespoon) of olive oil into the fray and mix it all up. The result is a surprisingly effective harmonisation of the bowl’s umami undertones (and given what the broth is made of, it’s quite the undertone) and even if you don’t believe in that nonsense sentence, you can at least believe that you effectively get two dishes for the price of one. Deal.
Dinner was at Sugalabo, a modern French-Japanese restaurant by ex-Joel Robuchon alum Yosuke Suga that, at the moment, is beyond my feeble capacity to describe in words – such a peerless experience it was. Okay, maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but I’ll say that it was one of my top ten restaurant experiences of 2019, and makes a convincing argument for one of the best such experiences of my life. I may one day write about it, but it’s entirely possible tuna may become extinct first. Besides, it’s not the easiest restaurant to get into. Point is, if you like French food or Japanese food (isn’t that…everyone?) and fancy yourself a gourmand, Sugalabo should be on the bucket list, one that includes giants such as The Fat Duck, Ledoyen and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. An incredible experience.
Our final day in Tokyo (and Japan – Day 14) felt like Groundhog Day: shopping, shopping and shopping. Thankfully, lunch also happened, a monotony-smashing deep-fry-everything (literally) at Michelin-starred Tempura Fukamachi. The hot crack of the first bite into perfectly-crunchy batter, drawing out an explosion of the ineluctable essence of the inner ingredient – whether it may be, vegetable or meat – and the theatrical satisfaction of watching the tempura chef in front of you transmuting these bite-sized goopy flour-covered pockets into morsels of deliciousness. You know what’s better than having world-class tempura? Having it instead of shopping.
And then we had to go back to pack our bulging suitcases (all 7 of them!). Yikes.
My final meal in Japan was at Seizan, a kaiseki restaurant that along with Sugalabo, earned a place as one of my top ten restaurant experiences of 2019. As with the modern French-Japanese diner, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get a blog post out so I included pictures here for reference. If you’re ever short of a kaiseki recommendation (I don’t think so – you’d be short of sand on a beach first) you will definitely find much worse and not a lot better than the Seizan’s pure elegance. That’s assuming you’ll be able to score a reservation in the first place (yeah, I know, life’s hard. Sorry).
Our flight back to Sydney departed at the crack of dawn the next day, so it was off for a final night’s rest before the conclusion of the trip.
Aaaaaand, that’s it! 14 days in Japan. 疲れた! (‘Tired!’)
I hope you enjoyed the B-roll diary (the whole series felt like B-roll, tbh), which is by no means comprehensive since, you know, this ain’t my first Japan rodeo. If you have any questions on any aspect of the trip, feel free to drop a comment on any of the posts in this series and I’ll be more than happy to elaborate. Until then, じゃまたね (see you next time!)