Coming from the Akita prefecture in Japan, these kiritanpo celebrate one of the regions major industries: rice growing.
Supposedly kiritanpo was developed as a travel ration for hunters, keeping the fellas content as they traipsed into the mountains in search of something to kill and bring home.
This rice on a stick is held together by the process of pounding cooked rice while it’s still hot, just enough to make it sticky. Moulding the pounded rice with hands dipped in salted water helps season it before it’s put infront of coals, burnishing the surface and drying the insides at the same time.
In Akita they tend to toss it into nabe, a soup containing loads of goodies like vegetables, meats and tofu. This rehydrates and flavours the kiritanpo and gives the soup even more substance.
I haven’t gone as far as making the kiritanpo-nabe, but I have done my skewers much like how you could expect to have them at festivals in the prefecture.
A delicious glaze is made by combining white miso, sugar, soy and honey. This is generously brushed onto the kiritanpo after it gets a little colour from sitting infront of hot coals. Once the glaze is on, the kiritanpo spends a bit more time by the coals; drying out the glaze and almost fusing it to the rice.
Chomping into one is kind of delicious. First you hit the salty and sweet glaze, and then the crispy surface of the rice that gives way to a hot, chewy centre.
One thing I would definitely try next time I make them, is mix toasted sesame seeds and crushed nori through the rice before moulding it.
Recipe by Adam Liaw.
Kiritanpo - miso-glazed grilled rice
Coming from the Akita prefecture in Japan, these kiritanpo - or grilled rice on a stick - are the perfect street snack or addition to a hearty nabe soup.
Wash the rice really well until the water runs clear. Put it into a large saucepan and top it with enough cold water to reach 2 centimetres above the rice. Bring it to the boil over high heat, uncovered, until the water boils down to the surface of the rice. Holes will appear on the rice with steam bubbling out.
Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot with a lid and continue cooking for 12 minutes.
Turn off the heat, move the saucepan off the heated element and let it sit for 5 minutes, still covered.
Put the cooked rice into a large bowl or mortar and half mash it with a pestle while it's still hot. Don't over-do it as it will become pasty, but don't under-do it as they'll fall apart during cooking.
Divide the rice into 6 even portions.
Dissolve the salt in the 1 cup of warm water, then dip your hands into the water, take one portion of the rice and shape it into an 18 centimetre sausage shape. Take your stick and gently pierce it into the rice, stopping a couple of centimetres before it comes out the other side.
Repeat with the remaining rice and sticks, remembering to keep your hands nice and wet with the salted water.
Cook the kiritanpo over or around hot coals, turning occasionally to get some colour all over the rice. Generously brush the glaze over the rice after it gets charred colour on it. Continue cooking and turning until the glaze gets toasted and looks nice and golden brown.
Serve while still hot.
Combine the miso, honey, sugar and soy sauce until smooth. Set aside.
Here it is, Osaka, the final stop on our little jaunt around Japan’s largest island of Honshu. All we allocated, as the title suggests, was one night in the Dotonbori precinct – right in the heart of the city’s entertainment district.
We may have managed to fit just one day in Osaka, but I can’t say I wasn’t satisfied with everything we got up to. Let’s start with coffee . . .
This tiny cafe is the furthest we ventured from where we were staying; a whopping 10 minute walk from Dotonbori. Mill Pour can be found in the Shinsaibashi neighbourhood, Osaka’s best known shopping district. No shopping for us, though, as it was the stellar espresso we were here for.
Most of the clientele is of the takeaway kind, but the few cube seats out front help take a load off as you enjoy your expertly made coffee, hot chocolate or affogato. They even whip up a hotdog.
Mill Pour – 3-6-1-105 Minamisemba
Visiting Kuromon Ichiba Market is an absolute must for any first-timers to Osaka. Known locally as Osaka’s Kitchen, this 580m stretch of 150 seafood and fresh produce vendors, pickles, sweets, meat and dried fish is a sight to see.
It’s a big draw for tourists as there are dozens of eateries and numerous stalls offering on-the-spot snacks, meals and samples. It’s the first place I’ve come across whale being sold for consumption, and despite not eating it, it’s obvious this delicacy is enjoyed by some.
Grilled jumbo prawns
Eel on egg omelette, charred Kobe beef, torched seafood in shells and on skewers
Grilled faux crab
White strawberries, strawberry mochi, melons and toasted chestnuts at Kuromon Ichiba Market
Architecture fiends may find Namba Parks an interesting spot to admire some unique design, right by Nankai Namba Station. Nine floors of fashion, food and entertainment are set in a canyon-like shopping centre that’s softened with cascading greenery, terraces and roof-top parks. Whether you’re up for some shopping or a little sunshine and beautiful views over the city, Namba Parks is one to explore.
Namba Parks – 2 Nanbanaka Naniwa-ku
The thumping heart of Namba is none other than Dōtonbori, one of the city’s biggest attractions. This area is an unashamed tourist trap – busy by day and absolutely heaving at night.
Here you can take a river cruise for ¥900 and ride the bright yellow ferris wheel for ¥1200; although if you make a purchase at the Don Quixote variety store, you supposedly get a free ride.
Everywhere you look you see food, so it goes without saying that Osaka is dubbed as the “Nation’s Kitchen”. There are stand-up noodle bars, okonomiyaki vendors, and if you look out for the huge guy that looks like he’s snarling or squeezing out a fart, you’ve found Daruma.
This is the famous kushikatsu store, where golden, crumbed skewers of chicken katsu (cutlet) and vegetables are snap-fried, then dunked in kushikatsu sauce before being eaten.
Then there’s the famous takoyaki (fried dumplings with octopus) which seems to be on every street corner. The most famous are those from Konamon Museum, where for ¥750 you get 8 piping hot takoyaki. Head upstairs after your takoyaki fill and try your hand at making wax takoyaki as a souvenir!
Takoyaki at Konamon Museum
Just steps away from Kuromon Ichiba Market is a little joint we discovered for lunch, when nothing much around it was open. Ten-ti-jin uses the meal ticket system where you order and pay at the outside vending machine, then squeeze into the tight 10-person space and grab a seat at the counter.
What a little gem this was! The solo cook chars meat and whips up bowls of goodness in a flash, and it’s mighty delicious. For ¥1000 you can indulge in the mini pork rice bowl set. The braised pork is impossibly juicy with charred edges, and the ramen wades in beautifully rich, collagen-thick soup.
Ten-ti-jin – 1-6-14, Sennichimae
You can temporarily escape the Dōtonbori madness if you head down the backstreets, and you just may come across Hozen-ji Temple. This tiny oasis of calm was once a much larger complex including stalls and teahouses, but sadly destroyed by bombs in WW2.
All that remains is the statue of Fudo Myo-o, a Buddhist spirit that represents discipline and moral character. The statue is now completely covered with moss due to visitors making a wish and tossing a ladle of water over it.
Staying in Dōtonbori quite likely means you’ll be spending your evening in the precinct. You could easily spend the night wandering the waterfront and streets gazing on snacks, but there are plenty of restaurants to try, too.
Grab a few snaps of Dōtonbori canal in its reflective splendour, then settle in at a bar, get pissed or chow on some really good food.
Kyoto is, without a doubt, one of the jewels in Japan’s elaborate crown. Filled with beautiful parks and gardens, markets, shopping, countless temples and delicious food to try, it’s definitely somewhere you need several days to properly enjoy.
We spent four days in this former national capital – reputably the country’s most beautiful – and we barely even scratched the surface. There’s so much to see in Kyoto, so should you find yourself heading in its direction, save some of these for your to-do list.
There’s a plethora accomodation in Kyoto, from hotels and guest houses to more traditional ryokans and machiya. Choose what part of town you want to stay in, set your budget, get online and start searching.
We stayed at the RC Hotel in the Higashiyama Ward, right in the heart of the historic temple district. The building served as a residential block for 50 years, before being gutted and remodelled into a contemporary hotel. Some may see it as a concrete bunker, others will see it as industrial chic. Either way, you’re just steps from one of the city’s most impressive pagodas and in the thick of one of the city’s historic districts.
2. Explore Higashiyama
Located on the foothills of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, Higashiyama is one of the city’s best preserved historic districts. It’s here that you can get a taste of old Kyoto. Wander narrow laneways lined with traditional wooden buildings and merchant shops, cafes, souvenir stores and restaurants.
Yasaka-no-to Pagoda dominates the skyline, yet it stands alone as the temple it belonged to – Hokan-ji Temple – was destroyed over the years by fires, wars and earthquakes.
3. Play dress-ups
Many people indulge in getting made up as a maiko, geisha or samurai, just to wander the tourist hotspots and soak up the atmosphere. It’s hugely popular! I mean, who wouldn’t want to shuffle about the streets and stop every five minutes to take countless selfies? Your followers will love you for it!
4. Start your day with a curry
Head to Higashiyama’s vibrant Yasaka Street and settle in for breakfast at Toh no shita. Sit amongst Scandi tableware – most of which is for sale – and fill the tummy with a delicious vegetarian morning curry (¥750), a wholemeal toast set (¥680) or Finnish pancakes.
5. Drink coffee excellence
Just metres from Yasaka-no-to Pagoda is pure coffee heaven. It doesn’t take much to spot % Arabica, as all you need to look out for is a line of people waiting patiently for their jolt of caffeine. Whether it’s espresso, iced Americano or milky latte, these guys sure deliver.
There are two other % Arabica outlets in town, one of which is mentioned further down my list.
6. Eat soft cream
If you don’t see people dressed in colourful kimonos clutching their phones or a takeaway coffee on Yasaka Street, you’ll see them clutching a soft cream. Probably with a phone in their other hand! Mizuirotei is a tiny shopfront on the popular shopping strip that offers many flavours of soft cream. Try their house matcha kyoto special – green tea soft cream topped with brown sugar syrup and kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour).
7. Lunch on cheap bento
Yūshokutei is a tiny fast food-style bento joint that offers a temporary escape from traffic-filled Bishamoncho in east Kyoto, not far from Yasaka Street and Yasaka-no-to Pagoda. The pricing is seriously cheap – as little as ¥360 – so you can fill up on the likes of yaki bento (¥695) with tender pork yakiniku, fried chicken, pickles and rice. The beer’s cheap, too.
8. Hit up the supermarket
Checking out supermarkets in foreign countries is always on my agenda. It’s a great way to get an idea of the local cuisine, you always make some great discovers, and in places like Japan, you can pick up some cheap ready-to-eat meals like bento and sushi.
Fresco is bigger than the usual 7-Eleven and FamilyMart, so the choice is greater. We often dropped in to pick up beer, wine, juice and snacks, and how excited was I when I found packets of potato crisps branded with dark chocolate?!
9. Explore Hanami Lane and the Kennin-ji Temple precinct
These are just two small pieces that form the much larger historic Gion district. During the day it’s virtually impossible to avoid the tourist crowds, so it’s best to look past the hoards and appreciate the gorgeous traditional architecture, streetscapes and gardens.
Hanami Lane – or Hanami-koji – is lined with traditional wooden teahouses and, if you’re very lucky, you just may spot a geisha (or geiko, as they are known in Kyoto). Kennin-ji is one of five great zen temples in Kyoto, and being founded in 1202, it’s considered the oldest. The gardens around it are stunning, as are the dragon artworks, so it’s no wonder people flock here. Entry is ¥500.
10. Follow the footsteps of a philosopher
In the northern part of the Higashiyama district is The Philosopher’s Path, an almost 2km stretch of stone walkway along a cherry tree-lined canal. Visit in April and you’ll witness a sea of colourful blossoms.
The path gets its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous 20th-century philosophers, where it’s believed he meditated whilst walking along the canal to Kyoto University.
11. Explore the grounds of Nanzen-ji temple
The leafy foothills of the Higashiyama Mountains are home to the sprawling grounds of the 13th-century Nanzen-ji Temple, not too far from the Philosopher’s Path. Within the grounds are numerous sub-temples, paths and some beautiful gardens; all worth exploring.
It’s difficult to miss the Suirokaku Aqueduct, which cuts a swath through the temple grounds. The still-functioning aqueduct was built during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), and is an impressive sight to see.
Access to the Nanzen-ji Temple grounds is free, but entry to the temples, sub-temples and climbing up Sanmon Gate incur separate fees.
12. Have coffee with a side of zen
A hop, skip and jump from Nanzen-ji Temple is Blue Bottle Coffee, housed in a beautifully restored century-old building. The simple wooden interior is the perfect place to take a moment of zen, and re-caffeinate before or after exploring the temple grounds.
13. Take an afternoon stroll by the Kamo River
It may not be the prettiest stretch of water you’ve seen, but the Kamo River is the ideal spot to escape the busy streets and breathe in the fresh air; especially at dusk when the light is magical. During summer, restaurants and bars that face the river open their doors and decks for customers to enjoy the cool air and water views.
Notice how perfectly spaced the couples are, sitting on the riverbank? This comes from the impressive Japanese culture of people respecting each other’s space. I love it!
14. See Kyoto from 100 metres up
It may look completely out of place on the relatively flat city skyline, but the 1960s Kyoto Tower is a spot for those that like to get 360° views from above. You can even see as far as Osaka on a clear day. The building on which it sits is a labyrinth of souvenir shops, restaurants, plus a hotel.
Costs ¥700 weekdays, ¥750 weekends.
15. Get your ramen fix at Kyoto Station
The beauty of Japanese train stations, as well as shopping centres, are the food options they also house. Kyoto Station doesn’t disappoint as, if you head to the 10th floor, you’ll find Kyoto Ramen Koji – or Ramen Street. This corridor features 10 ramen joints selling different varieties of ramen from different parts of the country. And they’re all well priced.
Famed for its giant floating Torii Gate, the island of Miyajima makes for the perfect day trip from Hiroshima. It can easily be done in a day, but staying the night makes for a less rushed experience, as we discovered.
The moment you step off the ferry from Miyajimaguchi, you’re met with resident deer roaming the streets. It’s an endearing sight, but these little critters – believed to have been on the island for over 6000 years – are absolute thieves in a cute outfit. If they’re not sunning themselves, they’re on the prowl for any plastic bags or bits of paper you may be holding, of which they’ll swiftly snatch from your grasp.
As cunningly cute as they may be, only feed them pellets sold specifically for that purpose. Food for humans doesn’t agree with these guys, so be kind, not stupid.
Hit the shops.
Miyajima’s main shopping street is Omotesando – a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants and plenty of food to snack on. Follow your nose and discover small kiosks tempting you with skewers of grilled seafood.
Or dive head first into oysters, a rather large variety that’s well-known in these parts. Try them fresh, grilled, crumbed or grilled on rice cakes!
Many places sell the quintessential Miyajima snack called Momiji Manjyu – which is basically a dense maple leaf-shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste. There are other flavours to try, too, and they make the perfect edible souvenir.
Omotesando shopping street
Goju-no-to & Senjo-kaku
Visit temples and shrines.
One of Miyajima’s most striking landmarks is Goju-no-to, or the Five-Storied Pagoda. The 27.6 m vermilion-coloured structure is dedicated to Benzaiten – the goddess of music, art, poetry and wealth. It was originally built in 1407, then reconstructed in 1533.
Next to it is Senjo-kaku, a shrine built in 1587 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in remembrance of his fallen warriors. Many artworks can be seen on bulkheads inside the shrine, but thanks to power diverting to Tokugawa Ieyasu and not Toyotomi’s heirs, the entrance and ceiling were never completed.
The most famous shrine on Miyajima is the UNESCO listed Itsukushima Shrine, which has a 1400 year history. The island has been a spiritual and religious sanctuary since ancient times, and this shrine was built over water because the island was originally believed to be too sacred for common folk to walk on.
The current shrine – dating from the 13th century – comprises several shrines and a theatre, interconnected with bridges and boardwalks. Entry to the complex is ¥300.
The best known landmark on Miyajima is that impressive Great Torii Gate, which represents the boundary between the human and spirit worlds. The current torii was erected in 1875, making it the eighth gate built since the original one went up in 1168.
At high tide it appears to float on water, but come low tide, the shallow inlet clears and visitors can walk around it. Either way, it’s an impressive sight, and I can understand why it’s regarded as one of Japan’s top three views.
Great Torii Gate
Considering the tiny size of the village, there’s a lot to be tried if you’ve only allocated a day for Miyajima. Thankfully everything is within short walking distance, so good food and a decent drink are just steps away from one another.
It’s best to pace your intake on small snacks like oysters, cakes and chocolate-dipped bananas if you want to fit in lunch, but there’s always room for coffee.
Miyajima Itsuki Coffee is one of the island’s go-tos for a jolt of caffeine, so if it’s standard drip, an Americano or a bitch-slapping espresso you need, these guys can accommodate. Non-coffee drinkers can indulge in tea or a fresh fruit smoothie, or go all out and grab half & half soft cream dusted with Oreo crumbs!
Miyajima Itsuki Coffee – 1-8 Miyajima-chō
With view over to Itsukushima Shrine and the Great Torii, Cafe Lente is a very nice spot to enjoy a delicious chicken curry (¥800) or veg risotto, a coffee or piece of cake. Wine and beer is available if you’re up for it.
Cafe Lente – 1167-3 Miyajima-chō
Had it not been for the sweet lady that enticed us in to Ittouan, we probably would have kept on walking. This tiny restaurant – which is nothing more than a ramshackle hut – can be found on the main waterfront street between the ferry wharf and Torii Gate.
The seating area is as casual as can be – plastic chairs and beaten-up tables – in a leafy outdoor space. The food is all about udon, croquettes, rice bowls and small snacks, and none of it will break the bank.
Our choices: niku udon (beef noodle; ¥600), niku donburi (beef on rice; ¥600) both of which come with sides of flavoured boiled egg and delicious braised radish. The furai mochi (rice cake; ¥200) is divinely crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, lightly doused with brown sugar syrup.
As daylight fades and the day-tripper numbers dwindle, the town begins to wind down with shops and many eateries closing their doors. We were hoping to grab a few beers at Miyajima Brewery, but it had closed its doors, as well.
Was it because it was winter, or maybe its non-trading day, who knows?
The town became disturbingly desolate at night and nothing seemed to be open. No evening drinks? Nowhere for dinner?
Luckily the pub at Kinsuikan ryokan was open, so their 5-6.30pm happy hour served us well. Seeing nothing else was open for dinner, we settled in and enjoyed a delicious udon hot pot (¥1500) filled with seafood, veg and shrimp tempura; plus a tempura udon (¥1080).
The time we spent in Hiroshima was brief, so come on a short walking tour as we scratched the surface of a city that deserves a couple of nights, at least.
Sadly we gave it less than a day.
After checking in to the ANA Crowne Plaza we made a beeline for Peace Memorial Park, but the Shirakami-sha Shrine by the hotel got our attention, first.
The name of the shrine means “White God” and comes from the time when the location of it was vastly different to now. Before the growth of the Hiroshima Delta and land reclamation, there was a small white reef that poked from the water. It grounded many ships, so white paper and scarves were erected to warn off ships. When the land was reclaimed a small shrine was built, which was lost in the 1945 devastation. The current one – built in 1955 – is still a popular spot for locals and workers to stop, pay their respects, and get on with the day.
Shirakami-sha Shrine – 7-24 Nakamachi
Peace Memorial Park is situated by the Motoyasu River and stands on what was once the city’s commercial and political heart.
The Peace Memorial Museum is a two-building set-up that exhibits a collection of imagery, stories and items related to the horrors, damage and suffering caused by the atomic bomb. It’s a harrowing experience, to say the least, and listening to personal accounts sure brought a few tears to my eyes.
The Memorial Cenotaph is an arched concrete structure erected for those that died from the bomb’s initial blast or side-effects from the intense radiation. More than 220,000 names are registered in a stone chest beneath the arch.
Other notable sites are the Children’s Peace Monument, Peace Flame and the Rest House.
It’s difficult to ignore the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is the shell of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall; closest to the hypocenter of the bomb. This UNESCO site is one of a handful of buildings in the city that survived the blast; a grim reminder of what happened on that very tragic day on August 6, 1945.
Peace Memorial Museum – 1-2 Nakajimacho
Our next stop involved a session of afternoon beers and grilled oysters at a nifty little resto-bar called Mercado de Hiroshima Antonio, just near the west entrance of Hondori Shopping Arcade.
The waiter thought it was a bit odd that we wanted to sit in the relatively chilly air at their only outside table, but we’d have it no other way. I mean, what’s better than sitting on a commercial shopping strip, surrounded by pachinko parlours and watching the world go by?
Mercado de Hiroshima Antonio – 1-5-18 Ote-machi, Naka-ku
There were just four things I wanted to do in Hiroshima in the very short time we had in the city. We’d done the Memorial Park, so it was time to progress with the remaining three – all food related, of course.
Ichiran Ramen is a joint specifically designed to efficiently feed solo diners, and not one word needs to be said as you’ve already ordered and paid for your food before taking a seat. Perhaps an arigatou, when you get your edibles.
What’s the procedure?
Once you step up to the restaurant entrance you approach the vending machine and feed it some cash. Next step is to choose your ramen, any additional toppings, side dishes and drinks. Hit the “Change” button and you get your change.
Grab the tickets that come out of the machine and then move to the other vending machine to choose your seat. This machine was out of order, so we just pushed open the door and grabbed a couple of seats. There are partitions between each seat, so if you’re more than one in a party, simply unlock and hinge the partition back. Voila, you have your own little nook to enjoy.
On each counter is another order sheet for you to fill in to customise how you want your noodle texture, the richness of the broth, type of meat and any extra toppings.
Next you simply put your first tickets and the order form down, push the “Order” button and a human suddenly appears (you only really see their hands) in the void in front of you. They grab your order, disappear for a while, then return with your goodies. They drop the bamboo blind and you get stuck into it.
The result – a pretty damn delicious bowl of ramen that’ll set you back at least ¥980, minus the extras.
Ichiran Ramen – Arc Building M2F 2-3-22 Kamiyacho Naka-ku
In the short time it took to get to the next food pit stop, we ducked in and out of the numerous, garishly-lit pharmacies along Hondori Shopping Arcade to seek out any flavours of Kit-Kat we were missing in our growing stash. It was getting big, believe me.
Hiroshima is known for its signature savoury “pancake” called okonomiyaki, which is so loaded with ingredients that, as you watch it being constructed, you wonder how the hell you’re going to eat it all.
The prefecture is reported to have over 2000 okonomiyaki restaurants, but there is the Okonomi-mura Village where about 25 vendors are dispersed over three levels in the Shintenchi district in the centre of town.
Taking your pick is a bit of a luck-of-the-draw experience, but I’m sure they’re all decent enough – with their own toppings and seasonings.
We were only wanting to share one okonomiyaki, and quickly learned many of the vendors only serve one per customer. The first guys that said “yes” were the friendly crew at Kazuchan.
The base of okonomiyaki is shredded cabbage, pork, noodles and eggs, but each vendor makes it their own. Our Kazuchan-yaki (¥1458) started off with pancake batter, cabbage, bean sprouts, spring onion, seasoning, egg, noodles, sauce, shrimp and squid and more spring onions. The initial mountain of cabbage wilts and reduces in size, so it’s less daunting in scale. Still, one was more than enough for two of us to get through.
The moment you arrive, you’re struck by the charms of this small riverside onsen, which feels far removed from the modern Japan. Kinosaki is one of the country’s more popular spa towns where, if you choose to stay the night, you gain free access to all seven soto-yu (hot springs).
What does this mean? Well, after you’ve checked into your ryokan you’ll be given a Yumepa pass, a yukata (cotton kimono), a pair of camel-toe socks and geta clogs. If it’s winter you’ll also get a toasty padded kimono jacket to cocoon yourself in.
The town almost feels like an open-air ryokan itself, where the accommodation acts as its rooms and the seven onsens are its bath houses. Everyone casually shuffles about in their wooden clogs and kimonos, stops to take selfies on the numerous stone bridges that cross the river, and carries on from onsen to onsen.
Gaining access to an onsen is pretty straightforward. You head to the small lockers to deposit your footwear, grab a small towel, get yourself scanned in and head to either the male or female side of the onsen entry.
Once inside, you get naked and lock up your things in a communal changeroom, wash yourself on a tiny plastic stool in the next room, then retreat to the hot pool enshrouded in steam. Leave any shame or dignity in the changeroom and just enjoy the experience; nobody cares what you look like.
Day-trippers can pick up a Yumepa pass at any onsen for ¥1200, which is valid at all seven onsens, and if you’ve got any tats, cover them up before stripping off.
Where did we stay?
Right in the centre of town in a traditional room at Koyado Enn. It’s comfortable, has good wifi, a restaurant, cafe and two small onsens just for its guests. Great thing is that once you’ve scored the onsen, it’s exclusively yours to enjoy – not share with strangers. Let it all hang out!
Breakfast and coffee was included, too.
Koyado Enn – 219 Yushima
Kinosaki is famed for its local Matsuba crabs, and you can’t walk far without seeing them live, boiled, grilled or enlarged and stuck onto buildings. These prized little fellas aren’t cheap, so expect one to set you back ¥15,000 – 18,000 (around AUD$230).
It isn’t only snow crabs you can sink your teeth into, if you have a penchant for seafood. Loads of familiar and unrecognisable fish, fresh and dried squid, sardines, enormous sea snails, urchin and so much more dotted along the main street.
Plenty of other delights also await. Vendors tempt passers-by with steamers of skewered fish cakes, you can snack on warm parcels of rice and prawns or fill your luggage with bags of flavoured rice crackers, known locally as senbei.
At the top of town is Chaya cafe that’s known for its gelato and onsen tomago (hot spring eggs). You basically buy your eggs from them, they’re put into a net and suspended in a small hot spring. Then, 10 minutes later, you have a steaming hot goog.
Chaya – 857 Kinosakicho Yushima
Snacking your way through town is a very easy task – not that it even feels like a task. Sink your teeth into soft mochi in any flavour you want, or peel back and nibble on layers of buttery and sweet baukuchen – a German cake that’s really popular in Japan.
Get munching at Maruyama Confectionery on the main drag with one of their fluffy little cheese tarts (¥300) dusted with a cocoa crab. Only a small batch of these slightly sweet tarts are made each day, so get in early.
These guys also make yura yura yuagari pudding (¥350), which happens to be the best custard I’ve ever devoured. It’s unique to Kinosaki and is made with eggs that are gently-simmered in hot spring water. Lurking at the bottom of the glass pot is a divine runny caramel flecked with vanilla seeds.
If you can squeeze any more in, waddle up the street and plough into some black sesame soft serve.
We based ourselves at the Kaname Inn in the vibrant Tatemachi district, which centres around a 430 metre-long retail strip that’s full of restaurants and shops and isn’t too far from any of the city’s major sights.
A short walk away is the Hirosaka district – which holds many of the city’s cultural venues. Indulge in Japan’s most ancient performance art at the Kanazawa Noh Museum or marvel at the works of Japanese and International artists at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. The open spaces in Hirosaka are beautiful to wander through, and come spring, it’s filled with cherry blossom.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – 1 Chome-2-1 Hirosaka
Kanazawa’s botanic jewel is none other than Kenroku-en Garden, which was originally built by the powerful Maeda Clan as an outer garden for Kanazawa Castle.
Getting in before 9am allows you to enjoy the 10 hectares of utter beauty before the tour busses dump their human cargo. Winding paths, seasonal plantings, waterfalls, ponds and pavilions – there’s much to enjoy.
One of the garden’s notable features – and one you’ll see around town – are the yukitsuri. These ropes are suspended from a central bamboo pole and support the weight on branches when snowfall is heavy.
Entry to the garden is ¥350 per adult.
Kenroku-en Garden – 1 Kenrokumachi
Nearby Kanazawa Castle served as the seat of the Maeda samurai clan from 1583 to the end of the Edo Period. Over the centuries most of the castle burned down, leaving just two storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate. Everything else you see today has been meticulously rebuilt using traditional materials and techniques.
The park in which the castle stands is big and it can be accessed from many sides, although Ishikawa-mon Gate (above) on the east side is the most popular. Shuttles and the Kanazawa Loop Bus stop here, as well.
Entry is free, but the Gojukken Nagaya Storehouse and Turrets will set you back ¥310.
Kanazawa Castle – 1-1 Marunouchi
Chuo Park – Hirosaka
The historic Nagamachi (Samurai) District was once the residential area for the samurai of the powerful Maeda clan. Winding flagstone laneways, canals and earthen walls add a real charm to this small district, which is now mostly residential.
A couple of the restored bukeyashiki are open to the public, showcasing artefacts and a glimpse into the lifestyle of the samurai and their families that once lived there during the Edo Period.
An interesting note: during winter the earthen walls are cleverly protected with komogake (rice straw) to prevent erosion.
Nagamachi, or Samurai District
The Nishi Chaya District – one of three teahouse districts in Kanazawa – is a compact strip of preserved wooden houses just over the Sai River. It’s much quieter than Higashi Chayagai, and has just one building open to the public – the Nishi Chaya Shiryokan – a museum and traditional tearoom set-up.
Nishi Chaya District
Higashi Chayagai – Geisha District
The largest and most popular chaya (teahouse) district is none other than Higashi Chayagai by the Asano River. Most of the traditional wooden buildings are now restaurants, cafes and shops selling souvenirs, jewellery and food – although two teahouses are open to the public.
Plenty of gold leaf, too. It’s pretty much everywhere – especially draped or dusted over food.
We didn’t indulge too much in the edibles, but one that made the cut was delicious sorbet and ice cream from Tea House – served up in a cone, cup or sandwiched between two crispy Monaka wafers containing bamboo charcoal. I’d recommend trying one of the piping hot chayu curry bread sticks. Divine!
The other was a gold leaf affair at Ville de Croquette. This tiny shopfront pumps out a variety of croquettes, but the most popular is the one that’s had the kawaii treatment – shrimp and gorojima sweet potatoes (¥520) topped with cream and gold leaf.
Tea House – 1-chome-7-8 Higashiyama
Ville de Croquette – 1-Chome-7 Higashiyama
You can take a breather from the heavily touristed laneways of Higashi Chayagai at Oriental Brewing, the city’s very first brew pub. Eight regularly-changing local beers – brewed in-house – are available on tap, plus a bunch of bottled imports.
Food-wise, cheese, olives and charcuterie are there to nibble on with your brew, plus Neapolitan-style pizza. So anyone that wishes to give local food a momentary rest – like us – something like the Genovese pork or teriyaki chicken pizza (both ¥1350) are ok choices.
Nestled within the beautiful Hida Mountains, the historic city of Takayama is an easy one to explore, taste and fall in love with.
Two nights was all we allocated for this Gifu Prefecture gem – which was just enough to get a good feel of the town – but a third night would have allowed us to explore a bit more outside the centre.
Modern Takayama is nothing much to look at, I must be honest, but it’s what’s at street level and in its historic precinct that grabbed our attention.
This town is known for many things – like traditional carpentry, pottery, lacquerware and some pretty smashing sake breweries, to name a few.
Hida Kokubun-ji Temple and pagoda – 1-83 Souwamachi
Numerous temples and shrines can be found throughout the town, such as Hida Kokubun-ji Temple – built in 746 by Emperor Shomu. Aside from the main temple – Japan’s oldest Jodo Shinshu sect temple – there’s a three-storey pagoda, Bell Tower Gates and an impressive gingko tree over 1200 years old.
In the city’s east is a string of temples and shrines, where you can leisurely stroll along the signposted Higashiyama Walking Course to see them all. The area was modelled on Kyoto’s Higashiyama temple district, thanks to the local clan chief Nagachika Kanamori. The path also leads through beautiful forest and some cemeteries.
Daioji Temple – 67 Atagomachi
Harada Sake Brewery – 10 San-no machi
Takayama’s historic town is found east of the Miyagawa River, along the beautiful streets of San-no machi, Nino-machi and Ichi-no machi. The streets are lined with old latticed wooden buildings containing shops, restaurants, homes and sake breweries and are a delight to explore, despite the swarming tourists.
Getting there very early in the morning is advisable, should you wish to get photos without the hoards.
Thanks to Takayama being known for its many edibles, there are more than enough shops offering food souvenirs to take home. Pickled vegetables – in particular radishes – are big business here, and many of the stores let you sample just about any of them.
Soft creams may not be unique to Takayama, but they sure are part and parcel to visiting Japan. The green tea is divine!
The good old FamilyMart convenience store chain is a great one to drop into purely for their inexpensive food and bottles of wine. Even sake! The sushi, sashimi and onigiri is cheap and delicious and perfect to take on train journeys. There are even desserts like the trifle parfait topped with set custard.
Hida beef, or Hida-gyu, is virtually unavoidable in Takayama. This black-haired Japanese cattle breed is considered one of the best and rivals Kobe beef and other varieties of wagyu.
The beef is prepared in many ways – from nigiri, grilled over coals, shaved and added to soups, made into croquettes, burgers, steamed buns and more.
There’s a tiny kiosk tacked onto Sukeharu restaurant on Ichi-no machi where you can sample some tasty little Hida beef menchi-katsu (¥230). These piping hot croquettes are filled with beef and sweet onions and can be very addictive.
There’s also Hida gyuumen, which are steamed buns filled with sweetened beef. You see them all over town, so they’re never too far away.
In the centre of town is Honmachi Dori, a commercial street filled with food stores, restaurants, clothes shops and a few cafes. It’s here where we stocked up on some rather delicious rice crackers at a shop selling all sorts of foodie things.
The friendly lady offering samples of the crackers won us over. What an angel. Her miso wafers and shards of black sesame crackers are incredible! Check the map for location, as I have no name for the store.
Nearby is Surugaya Supermarket, a fascinating place for local food goods, fresh meat, seafood and fresh produce. How could you resist those freshly roasted sweet potatoes at the entrance!
Soeur Café can also be found on Honmachi – a really nice spot that backs onto the river. The coffee is decent enough, they do Houji milk tea, waffles, scones and sandwiches. The pumpkin cheesecake seems to be a popular choice, and that gorgeous apple crumble pie tempts you as you pass the counter. Just ask for a slice that isn’t microwaved until soggy. I would have preferred it at room temp.
For an excellent espresso, I’d look no further than Traveller Coffee House on the main drag of Hanakawacho. Their specialty coffees and teas are the drawcards to this small, modern cafe, the service is friendly, they have a few snacks, local gifts and info on the area.
Traveller Coffee House – 58 Hanakawacho
Right by the bridge where Honmachi intersects Route 158 is a tiny kiosk that sells two things – both of which are rice-based snacks on skewers.
It’s dynamic, it’s diverse and it has something for almost everyone. This is a country that has been on the travel radar for quite some time, but somehow we just never made it. The question is, how has it taken this long to get there?
Better late than never!
Home for us was Nishi-Shinjuku, on the edge of the business and administrative centre west of bustling Shinjuku Train Station. Shinjuku covers a much larger area than I imagined, and is subdivided into very different neighbourhoods.
The Knot, where we stayed, overlooks Shinjuku Central Park on the western edge of Nishi-Shinjuku. It’s a convenient spot just 10 minutes on foot to Shinjuku Station, or about 5 to one of the metro stations.
Morethan Bakery, The Knot Hotel – 4 Chome-31-１ Nishishinjuku
Shinjuku Central Park
Aside from meandering paths, pretty gardens open areas, Central Park has the beautiful Kumano Shrine that’s worth seeing. The small Shinto complex is said to be founded between the 14th and 16th centuries, and is the spiritual protector of the area.
Wandering the gardens or shrine is a perfect start to any day. Free entry.
Kumano Shrine – 2 Chome-11-２ Nishishinjuku
Not too far from the shrine and The Knot – say 5 minutes walk away – is a tiny 3-level building that houses Counterpart Coffee Gallery. There’s espresso, pour over and a few specialty drinks unique to Counterpart – like Brown Fizz – a zesty and slightly sweet espresso tonic.
Take the narrow stairs up to two floors scattered with seating with views over the street.
Any fans of Californian chain Blue Bottle Coffee would be pleased to find twelve outlets in Japan – ten of which are in Tokyo.
On the south side of Shinjuku Station is the starkly designed café tucked in the NEWoMan retail complex. There’s the full menu of espresso and drip coffee, and a few pastries to nibble on.
Just metres away is Le Pain de Joël Robuchon – a mecca for seriously good sweet and savoury pastries and dreamy breads. Pile up your tray with goodies to take away, or enjoy them in the adjacent café. The gold-dusted, slightly boozy brioche au marron et chocolate (¥410) is all kinds of wonderful, as is the pain de gorgonzola (¥356). Its easy to get carried away, as it didn’t take long for our bakery breakfast to amount to more than ¥3,100 ($40).
Le Pain de Joël Robuchon – 1F, 4-1-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
For somewhere less French and much cheaper, I’d say seek out Kobeya Bakery in the underground Nishishinjuku Metro Station. We stumbled upon this joint as we navigated our way out of the station, which was perfect timing as we needed some afternoon snacks.
The bakery itself is nothing to look at, but the selection it has trumps many similar train station bakeries we encountered. That melted chocolate danish (¥300) and chocolate baton (¥250) were quite something, as was the raisin bun (¥210).
Kobeya Bakery at Nishishinjuku Metro Station – 6 Chome−7−５１
Metropolitan Government Office Observatory Deck – Nishishinjuku, 2 Chome−8−１
Nomura Building Observatory – 1 Chome-26-2 Nishishinjuku
There are many places to head for lofty views over the city, but many of them set you back considerable yen. For the frugal amongst us – and anyone that happens to be in Shinjuku – there are two free observation decks.
The Metropolitan Government Office building in Nishi-Shinjuku has a deck on both towers 45th floors. Only one is open each day, so you’ll find out which one when you arrive.
Several blocks away is the Nomura Building with its relatively unheard of observation deck on its 50th floor. On a clear day you can even see Mt. Fuji.
The corporate vibe of Nishi-Shinjuku west of the station is a stark contrast to the more upbeat, action-filled Shinjuku-Nichome. This is where you’ll find Japan’s largest gay district that’s filled with bars, clubs and specialty stores. Many of the venues are hidden inside small buildings tucked in backstreets and passages, so it pays to dig deep if you want to discover something new.
Several blocks away are two eateries definitely worth seeking out. The first is a ramen restaurant called Hakata Tenjin – an in-and-out joint that dishes up some deeply rich and creamy tonkotsu over its ramen.
There’s an English menu for those of us that don’t do the lingo, but there are pictures to help. Within a minute of sidling up to the laminate counter and choosing one of 11 ramen combinations, it’s made and delivered.
The most expensive – roast pork & spring onion ramen – only sets you back ¥900. That soup sure is a winner. There are many other outlets around Tokyo.
Hakata Tenjin – 2 Chome-6-２ Shinjuku
Further down the street is somewhere which sees a queue of punters on any night of the week. Don’t just join the line at Gyōza no Fukuhō – which I think translates to “Gyoza Gift Box” – but write your name on the list.
The gyoza (20 pieces ¥870) may be the hero in this coveted spot, but I’d urge anyone to get stuck into the side dishes, as well. They’re so cheap!
Fried squid with original spice (¥250), impossibly light and airy tofu with spicy sesame (¥250), marinated bonito (¥290) and rice with soft egg & minced pork (¥250) are all delicious, especially that pork.
Well, those of you that know your çılbır, then you’re already aware that the yoghurt has been replaced with the aforementioned hummus.
Perhaps you’re even tutting or rolling your eyes.
To be quite honest, I’m not a great fan of combining yoghurt and poached eggs. Way too much sour for my liking, hence my use of hummus.
A little bit of sour, but a whole lot more complex in the flavour department. Especially when there’s a rubble of spicy, sautéed sucuk on there, as well.
The tasty stuff doesn’t end there. Not only do you have the beautiful flavours in the hummus and sucuk, but there’s a good spooning of my chilli oil on top – a substitute for the Aleppo pepper-infused butter many folk use.
I’ve shown a few ways you could serve this up. The first is to simply put the hummus into a bowl, top it with a poached egg and finish it off with chilli oil and sautéed sucuk. Some pita bread and that’s pretty much it.
The second is to put the pita onto a plate and assemble it all on top; perfect to simply hack into with a knife and fork. Or just pick it all up, fold it in half and bite right into it like a taco.
Another thing you could do is press the pita into a shallow, oven-proof dish, quickly bake it in the oven until just crisp, then layer it with the other toppings. Basically the pita crisps up and forms a shell; harbouring the fillings and becomes an absolute delight to crunch into.
So, how would you eat yours?
Turkish poached eggs with hummus & sucuk
This version of çılbır uses hummus in place of the traditional yoghurt, plus it's topped with sautéed cubes of sucuk. Give it a go!
Use as much or as little hummus as you prefer. A ⅓ of a cup per serving is about enough if you're dishing the çılbır in a bowl. If you're smearing the hummus onto the pita, you may not need as much; but there are no rules here.
Just make sure the hummus is either warm or at room temperature, as cold hummus and hot poached eggs wouldn't be the best sensation in the mouth.
For the sucuk, remove and discard the skin. Cut the sucuk into small dice and sauté it in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat for about 1 minute.
To assemble, put the hummus into a bowl, top with a poached egg, drizzle generously with chilli oil and scoop ever some of the sautéed sucuk. Garnish with Aleppo pepper, toasted cumin seeds and fresh mint.