Our first night in Tokyo (photo below)

Getting around…

As usual, we did a lot of walking around Tokyo and we also frequently used the trains.  Tokyo has a world class public transport system so it’s very easy, even for those with basically no Japanese to negotiate as well!  If you can, it’s best to avoid the rush hour as the trains and buses can be very crowded.  It’s also possible to hire a bike.  

Photo above:  A lovely little restaurant in the vibrant and very popular Shinjuku Odakyu district of Tokyo.  It was a small and welcoming restaurant…more like a bar.  It was called Tenkane (2013).  There were two friendly young women sitting beside us and one spoke English quite well so she helped us with the menu.  There was no English menu so she probably saw us checking out her food!…last resort may have been to point to whatever they were eating and use sign language to order the same – we had done similar in Moscow!  It ended up being a really fun night plus the food was delicious as well.  It was their idea to take a photo which ended up being a nice memory.

Our hotel in Tokyo was the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku…it was easy to get to the district described above (I’d read about in Gourmet Traveller…a tip, most of our public libraries have both new editions to read there and older ones on loan).  Back to our hotel…the highlight was the indoor pool;  the downside was the price of breakfast (a very upmarket affair) so we looked elsewhere and found a cafe across the street selling a range of food to suit most tastes.  We don’t often have a large breakfast so that suited us perfectly.  The good thing about this hotel is that it was only a walk to see the cherry blossom at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (photos in next post) – a must see if you’re there in the right season, even if you’re not!  Just check for directions/opening times at the nearby Tourist Information Centre.  Also, check if the Tea House (or similar) has reopened??… as we couldn’t find a place for lunch there…other option is to pack a picnic beforehand (a popular thing to do as can be seen from the photographs in my next post).

Photo below:  bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto…highlight was seeing Mt Fuji from the train.  We had contemplated doing a day trip to Mt Fuji but on reading reviews, we got the impression that the fog/smog can block views.  Perhaps we were just lucky on the day of our train trip – the view was lovely but the train was going so fast that we didn’t have time to get our camera out again.  We just wanted to enjoy the moment – sometimes a better thing to do anyway!  The other image below is from the Net – we did glimpse a similar view but the blossom had almost finished by the time we left Tokyo – if timing your visit to Tokyo for the cherry blossom be aware that the season doesn’t last long although we did see some stunning blossom trees at the gardens mentioned above. (Photos in my next post)

KYOTO…we stayed at Hotel Granvia (great location as easy access to trains and taxis) plus the 

Photos below:  Cooking Class in Kyoto

A correction to this post

My apologies to the people who liked this…I must have been very tired and I made a mistake – the cooking class was in Kyoto not Tokyo so I’ve just made corrections to this post. 

The train trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes approx 2.5 hours – if interested also see my other post on Japan

Now that we’re retired and have more time, we like to break up the long flight from Australia to Europe with a stopover in Asia.  Japan has been one of our favourite destinations, not only because of the welcoming people and fascinating history and landscapes but we also love the culture and of course the food!  A highlight of our stay in Kyoto was a cooking class in the home of a local woman – Emi – she runs the Uzuki Cooking Class.  To get there from our hotel in central Kyoto (near railway station – see separate post on Kyoto) we took a bus – Emi gave us detailed instructions and even accompanied us back to the bus stop for our return trip to central Kyoto.  A 1ish hour ride on the bus was a wonderful experience in itself as the bus went through the vibrant suburbs of Kyoto and in the evening the lights made it a magical experience – a great memory!   If we hadn’t done this class in the suburbs we may have stayed in central Kyoto.  Anyway, will pop a few photos in now and return to this with more information on Tokyo another day…gorgeous autumn day in Canberra and I want to get out and enjoy itšŸ˜Ž
Photo below:  Views from the bus/walk to the house where the cooking class was being held


The Kyoto Railway Station (photo below) is a modern Architectural masterpiece that incorporates a hotel (Granvia – where we stayed), an indoor shopping mall as well as many restaurants.  The second photo below was one of the restaurants we enjoyed – of course there are a huge range of restaurants in Tokyo but we just went to casual places because we were usually so tired from busy days of sightseeing.  We would like to return to Tokyo for a longer stay and try at least one fine dining restaurant – we love Japanese food.

Photo below:  A casual restaurant we enjoyed near our hotel…it’s situated in “The Cube” which is the modern, shopping complex right above/around the “new” railway station – that was in 2013 so not so new now (2017)!  Time flies!  I think this restaurant was called Kushikatsu Furaisenmon Kushinobo – the food was simple, tasty fare (a lot of fried up options that didn’t appeal so much) but the atmosphere was vibrant and the staff on the night very helpful.  There seemed to be a range of tourists and business people so there was a nice buzz plus we struck up a conversation with some pleasant people from Canada – the sharing tables facilitated easy communication so we enjoyed that part of the evening too.

Day trip on the train from Kyoto to Nara

As we were staying right next to the Kyoto Railway Station, it was very easy to take the train to Nara for the day.   So glad we did as it was such an enjoyable day.  Once off the train we took the bus to the deer park;  easy to miss the bus stop so might be worth asking at tourist information. The bus was worth taking as very comfortable, efficient and cheap.   Nara deer park and surrounds is a very touristy place with lots of Japanese school groups as well;  being a retired teacher I found that interesting as well, seeing the traditional uniforms teamed with colourful shoes & backpacks.

We had lunch at a small, traditional restaurant (many of these in nearby streets – we can’t remember the name but it was on the main road/pedestrian crossing right near the entrance to the park (see photo).   Traditional food sets (photos on menu) & food was delicious and reasonably priced.  We also went to a traditional Japanese garden (quite inexpensive for “foreign tourists”), as well as a beautiful wisteria/bonsai display – stunning.
The return train trip to Nara from Kyoto was excellent and it was very interesting to see Japanese housing, lifestyle and landscapes along the way.  Even though you’ll find lots of tourists and cheap souvenir shops in Nara, you’ll also find beauty and tradition that has been well preserved so well.  The historic buildings are huge and a sight to behold.  So, we would highly recommend either a day trip by train from Kyoto or staying in Nara if you have more time available.

Photo below:

Restaurant we enjoyed in Nara.
 We don’t have any Japanese except Konbanwa (Good Evening) (plus a few other words we looked up in a small phrase book beforehand) and there wasn’t much English at all in this restaurant but they were very welcoming and we just decided on a “set” which kept things easy for all!  So it was a bit of a lucky dip but we were happy with our meal – we had another couple of plates after what can be seen in the photo.  

More photos of NARA in my next post.

2nd Photo below (back in Kyoto):  a small, relaxed Teppanyaki bar called Gion Tanto.   This one was very popular…I think it was recommended by Lonely Planet guide on the Net + it had some good reviews too.

Photo below:

After ourTeppanyaki meal we had a stroll around the historic Gion district.  We took a taxi here from our hotel (near the railway station).   The lights along the canals are something to see – a most pleasant evening if the weather is good.  It was easy to find a taxi for our return journey…a return trip in the taxi was $A20 in 2013.

Post over the next few days will be of the gardens and sights of Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara – stunning and unique.

Other places we would like to visit in Tokyo one day:

Toyosu Market…“In 2016 the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, better know as Tsukiji, relocated to Toyosu…in a separate building there are retail vendors and small restaurants.” (Lonely Planet 2016)

Tsukiji Outer Market – part of it was the old market (see above) but it’s now like a giant Japanese food/kitchenware market.  “Also many tempting treats…freshly shucked oysters and fat slices of tamagogoyaki (sweet/savoury rolled omlettes), which make delicious snacks to sample while on the go.”  (Lonely Planet 2016)  There are also “cafes and restaurants including a new shopping complex “Tokyo Uogashi” with a rooftop terrace overlooking Harumi-dori.”  (Lonely Planet)

There are lots of other suggestions for Tokyo in Lonely Planet’s Food Trails (2016)…if staying for longer than a few days we highly recommend that you buy or borrow a copy.  Lonely Planet do put some travel guides on the Net but we’ve found this book particularly helpful and fascinating!  I should add…we’re not getting any commission by recommending it!