Kyoto

Kyoto was the ancient imperial city of Japan. Today, many of its temples and structures are still standing and enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status.

Kyoto is a 75 minute train ride from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, or a two and a half hour shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.

The Kyoto Gion Matsuri Festival happens each July and is one of the most famous in all of Japan. The city celebrates with parades, floats and festival food stalls. While crowded, it is an unforgettable time to visit.

EAT

Nishiki Market A fun place to walk through and have a meal.

Kaiseki Kyoto’s haute cuisine is a beautiful, multi-course meal that originated 500 years ago.

DRINK

The Gion District This part of the city escaped bombing in World War II and remains one of the most well-preserved areas of the city. Visit the old tea houses in this old geisha district, and if you are lucky, you may spot one of the few geishas left. Hanami Street is a particularly lovely walk.

Pontocho This narrow, ancient alley is over 500 years old. The area is well known for its excellent nightlife, dining, and is in general a lovely area to walk around at night.

PLAY

Arashiyama Beautiful, tightly packed bamboo groves.

Fushimi Inari A short train ride outside of Kyoto’s main station, this Shinto shrine is a spiritual place. Thousands of brightly colored tori arches are arranged throughout the forest like dominoes.

Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji Temples The Silver and Golden Pavilions, respectively, are among the most famous of Kyoto’s thousands of temples. Rent bikes for a self-led tour.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Shosei-en Garden Traditional temple garden.

The Philosopher’s Path A nice walk or bike along a peaceful stream. The path is very near Ginkakuji.

Yasaka-jinja A Shinto shrine in Gion.

STAY

We recommend basing yourself in Kawaramachi, Gion or near Kyoto Station. All are within walking distance of good food, nightlife and most of the top sites.

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Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the most dynamic and fascinating cities in the world. The Japanese capital is a bridge between centuries of tradition and the modern world.

The easiest way from the airport to city center is via the Narita Express or a JR train to Tokyo, Shinjuku or Shibuya Stations. The trains run a few times an hour and the journey takes one hour.

Tokyo is a great starting point for a longer trip around Japan. Kyoto, Osaka, Nagano and Kobe are all a few hours by shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train. If you have time, consider heading out of Tokyo for a 48 hour visit to one of the picturesque towns around Mt. Fuji. Lake Kawaguchiko, a hot spring resort town with stunning views of the mountain, is a lovely option for hiking, biking and relaxing in the onsen (a traditional, Japanese bathhouse).

Coming for Cherry Blossom (sakura in Japanese) season? The best viewing time for Tokyo is near the end of March, beginning of April.

Want to see a sumo wrestling tournament during your trip? Check the Grand Tournament schedule to align your visit.

EAT

Fonda de la Madrugada A Mexican restaurant in Harajuku with mariachi singers.

Lawson’s or Family Mart These convenience stores are all over Japan and sell tasty fast food. Try the curry or pizza buns, and onigiri (stuffed rice balls wrapped in seaweed).

Toyosu Fish Market Tsukiji Fish Market was formerly the world’s largest fish and seafood market, but closed its doors for good in 2018. The new market, Toyosu, is slightly further east and twice the size. The market is surrounded by tiny sushi shops, all serving the freshest fish in the world.

DRINK

Izakaya alley in Shibuya or Shinjuku. Izakaya are Japanese pubs that serve umami snacks. Try a Japanese whiskey or one of the top beer brands - Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin or Suntory.

Starbucks Shibuya Not one to visit a Starbucks abroad? We promise the views are worth it! Grab a coffee and watch thousands of people cross the street at once.

Shinjuku, Shibuya or Roppongi Go out in these neighborhoods and you won’t go wrong.

PLAY

Asakusa Visit the ancient Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji, and surrounding festival area.

Harajuku Know for its fashion, this neighborhood is for shopping and people watching. Look for the teenagers dressed as Little Bo Peep, pop into an arcade to take photos in a purikura photo sticker booth, or head to the DAISO shop for cheap home wares and gifts.

The Imperial Palace

Karaoke Duck into any karaoke bar and pass a few hours singing your favourite 80s jams.

Shibuya One of the busiest areas in the city. Besides its famous crosswalk Shibuya is full of crazy electronic and adult shops.

STAY

K’s House Tokyo For the budget minded, K’s is a clean and safe backpacker’s hostel in Asakusa.

Keio Plaza Hotel Four-star, luxury hotel near Shinjuku station.

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