Two Nights In, our favorite travel agent, designed the most incredible Japanese vacation for us and we have been so excited to share the itinerary with all of you. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what to do/see in Japan (it is truly endless!), but we hope that our travel diary will serve as helpful inspiration for your next Japanese GLOW adventure.
DAY ONE :
Arrive in TOKYO.
The Grand Hyatt Tokyo, located in Roppongi Hills, is the perfect place to begin your Japanese adventure. The welcoming staff will make you feel right at home from the moment you walk in. The rooms are beautifully designed featuring rich mahogany furnishings made of natural woods and fabrics, and a luxurious king-sized bed with some of our favorite Frette linens. The bathroom provides a dreamy Japanese bathing experience, equipped with a deep soaking tub, soothing rain shower, and gorgeous cotton yukata robes. Arigato gozaimasu!!
After checking in and making yourself comfortable, head out to explore a bit of the charming Azabu-Juban neighborhood, just blocks away from the hotel. Grab a bite at Sarashina Horii, a wonderful old school soba restaurant. Take your shoes off, and get cozy on one of their traditional Japanese mats. Make sure to order their famous namesake white soba noodles, made with just the core of the buckwheat, and don’t miss the Kariage, a mouthwatering shrimp and herb tempura cluster. Their refreshing and earthy buckwheat iced tea keeps flowing throughout the meal and when you finish your soba, the waiter will bring fermented broth used to cook the soba to mix with the remainder of your dipping sauce for you to drink. So good!
The Nagomi Spa at the Grand Hyatt is beautiful and not to be missed. Indulge in a relaxing massage and take a dip in their impressive indoor pool… the perfect jet lag remedy after a long flight!
You will likely be exhausted after traveling, so if you’d like to have dinner at the hotel, we recommend the Grand Hyatt’s Teppanyaki restaurant, Keyakizaka, a glowy spot that sources all their veggies from local farmers. A great option is to order the Omakase beef sampler, allowing you to try five different types of beef, which are all absolutely delicious, flavorful and cooked right in front of you to perfection. Other stand outs include the garlic fried rice with shiso leaf and the sea bass with farmers market vegetables and truffle (!), delicately steamed on the grill in a special heat-resistant plastic.
If you are up for a dinner outing, believe it or not, our recommendation for this neighborhood is Savoy Pizzeria. Yes, that’s right, PIZZA in Japan. This tiny ten seat restaurant boasts some of the best Neapolitan style wood burning pizza we’ve ever had. There’s something really special about a Japanese man making fresh pizza right in front of you. Don’t miss the refreshing green salad with Japanese dressing and make sure to order BOTH the Margherita and marinara pizza. Oishi!!
Wake up hungry because the breakfast buffet at The Grand Hyatt is epic! ((There are very few restaurants open for breakfast in Tokyo, so you will want to take full advantage of breakfast at your hotel.)) Help yourself to a traditional Japanese breakfast of miso soup, white rice, salmon, hijiki, picked veggies, glazed soy sauce and scallions. There is also a beautiful Western breakfast spread, including eggs, French toast, the ripest mango, grapes and cantaloupe with yogurt, cappuccinos and some pastries for your sweet tooth (and much more!).
We had such a wonderful stay at the Grand Hyatt and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants a convenient location paired with a comfortable and luxurious experience.
Next up: Japan rail bullet train 🚂 to KYOTO!!
* Pro tip * Make sure to purchase your Japan Rail pass in advance so you can just pick it up at the train station in Tokyo. The bullet train is super clean and SUPER fast. Such an efficient and awesome way to travel. When you arrive to the impressive and gorgeous Kyoto train station, carve out some time to explore the infinite food options, or at least make sure to do so on the way back to Tokyo.
Stay at The Ritz Carlton Kyoto and be ready to have your mind blown!! You’ll be greeted by a lovely geisha who checks you into your into your room (make sure to request one over-looking the river — Two Nights In always hooks up the best rooms). The hotel is ryokan-inspired but modern, comfortable, perfectly located on the river but walking distance from the action of the city and truly AMAZING.
If you’re hungry after checking in, walk to nearby local gyoza shop, Chao Chao for “the best gyoza in Japan”, and trust us, it lived up to the hype. Tiny, delicate, crispy morsels of goodness — we tried the classic pork gyoza (16 of them!), long shrimp and crab, steamed ginger and even got chocolate gyoza a la mode for dessert. Everything was so tasty and we left wanting more.
There is so much to explore and discover within Kyoto, especially from a culinary standpoint. The Takashimaya food court, which can be found in the basement of a high end department store, is mind blowing!!! One side is dedicated to the most beautiful, colorful Japanese sweets and the other to endless savory options. They have everything you could ever dream of.
The Nishiki outdoor market is a total feast for the senses that goes on and on for blocks… this has to be one of the most interesting and impressive culinary experiences of all time.
Stroll through Pontocho Alley, lined with countless awesome restaurants to discover.
For dinner, try the most delicious pork and shrimp Katsu at Katsukura. Grind your own sesame seeds for the dipping sauce, ( a first for us!!) and enjoy the all-you-can-drink miso soup, and all-you-can-eat-cabbage salad. This establishment really hit the spot.
The Japanese breakfast at the Ritz Carlton’s Japanese restaurant, Mizuki did not disappoint! We loved the wellness elixir, a shot of apple cider vinegar alongside a shot of grape juice, that they serve before breakfast. Very glowy.
Be sure to rent electric bikes from The Ritz to explore Kyoto’s many shrines and temples. We truly can’t recommend this way of transport enough; the electric bikes are way faster than a normal bike, so you can cover more ground, yet they still provide a nice workout. Explore the Fushimi-Inari Shrine and walk up the stairs beneath the endless orange Torii gates. Keep going to the top for a great workout, and you’ll be happy to know the crowds diminish the further you go. Along the way are countless stations for offerings, and blessings– a peaceful and spiritual place surrounded by green forest.
It is surprising and impressive that the little shops within the shrine felt authentic and not too touristy. Make sure to stop into Vermillion, the coolest coffee shop, to have a Melbourne-style latte and a freshly baked banana muffin.
Bike along the river to Efish, a very hip coffee shop/ cafe/ boutique situated on the Kamogawa River. Order a beer or a delicious jasmine milk tea. The sandwiches and pastries looked divine with a glowy vibe and view of the river to match!!
With all the biking and sight-seeing, you’ve likely worked up an appetite, so head over to Kyoto Gogyo, a spot famous for their burnt miso and burnt soy sauce ramen. Order one of each, because they are equally interesting and unique– really flavorful, delicious and definitely worth trying.
Make a stop at the bakery attached to Cafe Bibliotec Hello! for the most scrumptious apple pastry. Order a coffee, people-watch and chill out at this vibey cafe while you enjoy your sweet treat.
If you happen to be in Kyoto for the most magical Higashiyama Hanatouro Festival, like we were, start at the Shoren-in Temple and walk all the way down past Kodaiji Temple to the Yasaki Shrine Tower. You’ll be blown away by the beauty of 2,500 lanterns lighting the walk way. Discover many unique sculptures and installations as well as food stalls and shops that are open late.
The Ritz’ La Locanda’s Western breakfast really hits the spot. Fresh berries, kiwi, melon, prunes, yogurt with strawberry & rose compote, muesli, incredible Pierre Herme croissants and raisin bread, cheese omelet and cappuccinos. So good!!
Walk to the Imperial Palace to enjoy this spacious, peaceful park, and maybe even see some cherry blossoms in bloom.
Eat lunch at Kyoto Curry House Kariru for Japanese curry. Here, 8 bucks will get you the most satisfying, hearty and delicious plate of comfort food. Order the chicken (spicy/cinnamon) and pork (sweet) curry plate – both incredible. We devoured it with plenty of their homemade pickled vegetables- some of the best we ever had! Carrots, cabbage and onions. An amazing meal!
Cab to Arashiyama and drop your bags at the boat dock for your next Japanese home for the night, the most magical ryokan, Hoshinoya. Check in isn’t until late afternoon, so go get some matcha/tofu soft serve at one of the many kiosks to enjoy while walking through the beautiful bamboo forest. Endless towering bamboo trees with beams of sunlight streaming through. Not to be missed.
Enjoy the peaceful 15 minute boat ride to Hoshinoya. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted at the dock with their gracious staff bowing to welcome you. You’ll be escorted up the stairs to find a woman sitting on a stone in the middle of the pond playing a beautiful Japanese instrument in honor of your arrival.
The Ryokan suite was absolutely beautiful!! So spacious with three different rooms, all with views of the river. With a big cedar tub in the bathroom, gorgeous bath products, and a super comfy bed, the accommodations are equipped with everything you could need. They even stock the closet with Japanese lounging outfits to wear while relaxing on property.
After settling in and changing into your leisure-wear, head to the communal lobby area to enjoy herbal tea and some light Japanese snacks on the floating deck with views of the river.
When you are ready for a cocktail, check out the bar/game room, equipped with all the arts and crafts supplies you can imagine. Beautiful stamps, every colored pencil imaginable and Japanese paper to draw on. Get your creative glow on and then head to your Kaiseiki dinner, set up in a private room. Highlights included the beef, the iced milk+almond brittle+whipped cream dessert, and the most juicy melon for dessert (the fruit in Japan is just insane!!).
Upon returning back to your room, freshly made herbal bath tea and a sleep CD will await on the bed. Such a lovely touch. The music was so relaxing and really set the perfect evening mood.
Awake to the most impressive in-room Japanese breakfast of your life at Hoshinoya, all set up for you in the living room of your suite. We loved the hot pot, filled with flavorful broth and fresh vegetables, as well as the salmon, tofu, pickles, rice, salad… just heavenly.
If you’re craving a latte once you get back to town, the line for % Arabica Coffee is worth the wait. This coffee shop is perfectly situated on the river with an impressive Slayer coffee machine. Savor your perfect Melbourne-inspired lattes on your walk to the local train station, which will take you back to Kyoto station.
When you arrive back at the Kyoto train station, head up through the department store to the 10th floor, dedicated entirely to RAMEN. That’s right, 10+ ramen restaurants in one little zone. We randomly chose a spot (they all looked equally amazing) and had miso ramen and spicy miso ramen. Soooo good. They had bowls of perfectly-boiled eggs on the table that you could add to your ramen for free.
Zip back to TOKYO via the bullet train.
Check in to Four Seasons Tokyo, conveniently located literally right beside the Tokyo train station. Perfect place to stay when coming from or going to Kyoto!
For dinner, head nearby to Tenmasa Tempura for a decadent feast! You haven’t tasted REAL tempura until you’ve had it in Japan. The freshest, lightest, and most refined tempura of your life!
Enjoy a wonderful breakfast at Four Seasons. Load up with fresh fruit salad with passion fruit, berries, yogurt, pastries, iced coffee with frozen coffee cubes, and the coolest part is that you can enjoy your breakfast overlooking Tokyo Station.
Take the train to Nakameguro – one of our favorite neighborhoods, and walk around the peaceful river. There are many adorable boutiques, cafes and coffee shops to discover.
Eat at the cutest Korean cafe AOYA + get dessert at AOYA next door, then have a latte at Sidewalk Stand Coffee. If and when you get hungry again after walking the river, have a delicious omusubi plate at the cute and charming Onigily Cafe or the awesome fried eel sandwich from Deli Fu Cious.
If your legs and feet are tired from a day of exploring, take a break for a relaxing massage at Natura.
For dinner, go to Toritake for some real-deal authentic yakitori in Shibuya. Request to sit downstairs– order the most delicious crispy chicken leg, chicken wings, cucumber with miso, quail eggs, tofu and more!! They will ask if you want your skewers with sauce or salt, make sure to definitely try it both ways! We actually ended up preferring the salt preparation, it keeps the skin perfectly crispy.
Check into The Peninsula Hotel and be blown away by the most gorgeous design, beautiful rooms, stunning views, impeccable service and perfect location. We couldn’t love this place more.
Head out for lunch at the Michelin star Unagi spot nearby called Nodaiwa — spotted Jiro across the hall.
Train to the Nezu Museum, a zen oasis of green within the city. Here it is all about the gardens! And make sure to check out their dreamy cafe that feels like a treehouse perched amongst the leaves.
Make your way over to one of Tokyo’s most charming neighborhoods, Aoyama. Post up at the cutest Shozo Coffee Store and check out Blue Bottle next door. Walk through Common 246, a very glowy open-air cluster of food and beverage stalls with some great vegetarian options.
Stop into the magical Aoyama Flower Mart for some lunch or tea and pastries in the glowiest setting.
Make a reservation for dinner at Narukiyo Izakaya, for an unforgettable and entertaining dining experience. Request to sit at the bar so you’ll be in front of the chef, a provocative, flirty Japanese dude with an “I love sex” pin on his apron. Order some Japanese high balls and the Omakase (there is no english menu here so you’ll have to trust the chef). The menu started with grilled broad beans, which like giant Lima beans from gigantic pods that you dip in a little salt. Pork with miso, some sashimi, pork stew, a delicious grilled fish called half-beak, chicken and egg stir fry and so much more! This dinner is a very unique experience and a place to let loose.
Have breakfast at The Peninsula Hotel in their lavish lobby restaurant. The banana bread French toast is beyond delish, as are the omelets and fresh fruit salad.
Train to Hakone, a peaceful and beautiful getaway one hour from Tokyo, known for their healing Onsen (hot springs).
Stay at Gora Kadan, a gorgeous Ryokan with a blend of traditional and modern design or The Hyatt Regency, where you’ll feel instantly at home in front of the fire place of their cozy lobby restaurant bar, The Living Room. Spend some time in the Onsen at your hotel. The healing water will make your muscles release, leaving your body totally relaxed.
To be honest, the Open Air Museum is reason enough to visit Hakone, even if just for the day. The sculptures and grounds are spectacular and there is an entire building of Picasso’s early works. Make sure to get some of their delicious milk soft serve ice cream and iced coffee at the museum cafe!!
Eat dinner at Gora Yoshicho, the coziest casual yakitori spot run by a lovely husband and wife. Delicious fresh salads and skewers, and some of the tastiest fried chicken!
DAY NINE: Train back to TOKYO
Stay at The Ritz Tokyo, urban oasis atop one of the most dramatic skyscrapers in Tokyo, surrounded by an elevated experience that will leave you with the best memories.
Occupying the top nine floors of the tallest building in Tokyo, you will feel like you are in a Japanese oasis perched in the sky. The Magnificent club lounge on 45th floor offers a gorgeous spread of food, which rotates all day long!! Enjoy the most delightful high tea experience at the Ritz as you overlook Tokyo’s endless urban sprawl.
Visit The National Art Center Tokyo. For special exhibitions, buy your tickets in advance and then show up right when it opens to avoid the long wait.
Have dinner at Eattrip, located in the center of Harajuku. Surrounded by natural foliage and a wide sky view, dining at Eatrip one is instantly transported away from the bustling streets of Tokyo. Enjoy their farm-fresh organic produce, that they use to create a thoughtful set menu that changes daily based on what they receive from their farmers. They also have organic wine.
There’s no better way to end your trip to Japan than with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market to have the freshest sushi for breakfast.
Stop by 7/11 to get some tasty rice balls and snacks for the plane. Yes, 7/11 is a staple in Tokyo so please don’t leave without trying one of their prepared items!
Head to the airport …Sayōnara, Tokyo!
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