This week we bring you GO Tokyo/Kyoto, replete with our food/hotel tips, adventures, some great stores and beautiful photos. As incredible as Japan is, it's a world away from English speaking culture and getting on the subway can be crazy intimidating, so we relied on an awesome travel agency, Black Tomato, to tell us how to do it right. See below for everything from how to cut fish for sushi to a beautiful tea ceremony in Kyoto.
P.S. Keep an eye out for our full list of what to eat, see, do, where to stay and more in our Japan guide, coming soon as part of goop's city guide app.
This week’s goop collaboration
Getting There & Travel Notes
When making restaurant reservations, and for many of the temples, you almost always have to go through a travel agent or hotel concierge. Also, for many of the more coveted seats, like a few of the restaurants we list below, it’s best to book pretty well in advance.
Black Tomato’s Japan experts were super helpful with everything from getting reservations, to advance temple authorization in Kyoto and more - we'd totally recommend them if you're planning a trip to Japan or elsewhere in the world. We also love that they send you a Japan-related novel to read on the plane.
The whole ocean is here at Tsukiji fish market. This is where the best sushi-ya’s in town come to auction for the highest-quality cuts of fish each morning, and after that locals and other restaurateurs come to see what’s fresh in for dinner. Here’s what we saw:
After the market, we head over to a nearby sushi school to learn how to make sushi - from fileting the fish to perfectly forming the rice for the nigiri to putting it all together.
1. We use in-season horse mackerel. First, slice off the head. Then, make a clean slice along the belly and wash away the blood and guts. Dry the fish and place back down on a clean, dry cutting board.
2. Holding the fish steady with one hand, use the knife to slice the top half away from the bone. Then, place the half (with bone still attached) flesh side down on the cutting board. Starting from the top, slice the fish away from the bone.
3. Place both halves flesh side up and run your fingers along the top to feel for any extra bones – remove with tweezers.
Tsutaya is a Japanese DVD rental chain, but what makes this bookstore remarkable is that it's housed in the architecturally-stunning Daikanyama T-Site, spread across three interlinked buildings. The store itself is prolific, with everything from art books, hoards of magazines, antique periodicals, English-language titles, music, DVD's and more with high-tech features like browsing for titles on tablets. The lounge/café upstairs, Anjin, opens early and closes late and is as cool looking as the rest of the store, with beautiful couches, lamps and furnishings, including the bar, which is made out of stacked books.
The just few months old Akomeya, by rice retailer Sazaby League, is like a Japanese Dean & Deluca on steroids, in the best possible way. With thousands of rice-related products, including wooden boxes used for measuring rice and sake, rice pots and beautiful utensils, food products such as crackers, and much more...
Time to check in, regroup and refresh before going out again for the evening. A couple of our choices include the Peninsula Hotel and The Palace Hotel, just a few blocks apart. Both are stand-alone luxury hotels (a rarity in Tokyo where most hotels occupy the top floors of other buildings), which overlook the Imperial Palace. The Peninsula’s rooms are particularly luxurious, yet still maintain a distinct Japanese feel.
Anniversary Building 1F, 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku 03 6434 0652
Gen is bringing serious mixology to town. Having started at Bar Totto in NYC’s little Tokyo and then at the bar at Brushstroke, he’s returned to Tokyo to open up his namesake where he serves an innovative cocktail tasting menu, which includes his (amazing) signature sweet tomato cocktail. Not your typical bar, there’s no music and little talking, just the sound of really well made cocktails being shaken and stirred in the minimally-decorated, handsome room, which is dominated by a long wooden bar.
Kasumicho Suetomi is located on the third floor of a random building on a street full of much more obvious restaurants - you will never find it if you don't know about it. Take a dingy elevator up to be greeted by the kimono-clad hostess who guides you into the tiny dining room with only about 10 seats...
Kyoto, Japan’s former imperial capital, remains the cultural capital of the country with countless World Heritage sites including a couple thousand Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. These are only a small few that have impressed us.
56 Matsuo Jingatani-chō, Ukyō-ku
You must write by post to visit the Moss Temple, or Saihō-ji, which still requires all visitors to trace Buddhist sutras (prayers) before being able to walk through the beautiful gardens.
２ Ginkakujicho Sakyo Ward 075 771 5725
The Silver Pavilion, aka Ginkaku-ji, is not actually silver, but was intended to be before construction was halted due to war and then eventually abandoned when its presiding Shogun Yoshimasa died.
Shogun: de facto rulers of Japan between 1192 to 1867, appointed by the emperor.
After lunch, experience old Kyoto by participating in a traditional tea ceremony. Tondaya, the perseved Machiya townhouse where the tea ceremony is held, belongs to descendants of its original family (who still live here) but has also become somewhat of a historical landmark in Kyoto, as it’s one of the only ones left of its kind – apparently it’s quite expensive to preserve and upkeep such a traditional structure. The lady of the house poses for us above. Notice how small the original doorways are, which you have to crawl through during the traditional ceremony.
Next, head to the contemporary kimono shop Omo. Stylist Motoko Morita who runs this cute shop will help you pick out everything you need to rock contemporary geisha style. If you can’t spring for the whole kimono (they are expensive) there are also shirts made from extra kimono fabric and shoes to choose from.
Opened a few years ago in the historic Gion district, Sfera may be Kyoto’s coolest shop. With a café on the first floor, furniture and furnishings on the second, including a variety of gorgeous Japanese pottery, and a gallery space and bookshop on the third. It’s a must for design lovers. Oh, and there’s also a bar (separately owned) on the top floor, which doesn’t get going until nighttime.
This stunning ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in the west of Kyoto is for those looking to unplug and relax. You get to the resort by boat, and the ride over on the river between the mountains is just breathtaking. Once you get to the resort, you’ll be greeted by a welcome song of chimes and led to one of the luxury ryokan style rooms overlooking the river. In the morning, have a Japanese breakfast in the room before joining in on breathing exercises by the water. This is a really unique place.
The Hyatt Regency is a modern and comfortable city hotel in a perfect location for getting in and out of the town center. The concierge and management here are really great for any kind of information on Kyoto you may need.
Have a drink at this discreet bar in the back of the Kanga-an temple. Rad.
3-283 Miyagawasuji, Higashiyama-ku 075 531 5999
Just opened a couple of years back, this tiny six-seat restaurant has already earned itself two Michelin stars. Run by a young husband and wife duo who are innovating the traditional kappo cuisine (fine food served over the counter that falls somewhere between a formal kaiseki and a casual izakaya), the food is incredibly fresh and seasonal, with a heavy focus on fish and veggies, many of which are grilled. Even though everything is quite simple and allows the flavor of the food to star, there’s something in every dish that is exceptional and unique.
An Evening with a Maiko
4-296 Miyagawasuji, Higasiyamaku 075 531 0606
An evening with a maiko (an apprentice geisha) can be difficult and pricey to book (it's even more difficult to book a geisha). But many teahouses, like the one listed here, are happy to offer these geishas-in-training for some traditional Kyoto-style entertainment. It’s truly special to sit next to one of these almost mythical young, painted women who sing, play instruments and are educated in traditional Japanese dance and the art of conversation.
Snaps from Kyoto
left: Kappo cuisine in action; right: Citrus graters at knife shop Artisugu.
left: View from the Hoshinoya resort boat; right: Yuka and matcha at Aijiro.
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.
by Martha Postlewaite
Special thanks to Black Tomato for flying us over and hosting us on a few of the activities. We'd also like to thank the hotels listed in this issue for kindly hosting us on our trip.