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    48 Hours in Japan

    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.

    Love,

    gp

    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.

     

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    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.

    goop’s 24 hours in Tokyo

    Start the day at...

    Tsukiji Fish Market

    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:

    Entrance to the market.

    It’s a big place.

    The scene.

    Outside the market, people wait in line for shoyu ramen at Chuka Soba Inoue.

    left: Tuna heads being carted off; right: Tuna steaks, ready to sell.

    left: Not quite sure... right: Octopus

    Auction stand where all the big bidding happens.

    A very big fish.

    Vendors clean their knives after a day's work.

    Sushi Making

    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.

    4. To remove the skin, lift up the filet by the skin, and push back on it with your thumb to loosen away from the flesh. Then, lay it skin side down back on the cutting board and slide the dull part of the knife in between the skin and the flesh to remove, pulling the skin off with your hands when you near the tail.

    5. Slice the fish into small pieces for the nigiri.
     

    6. Wet your hands slightly with a mixture containing one part water and one part rice vinegar. Grab a small amount of rice. Place a slice of fish onto the fingers of your other hand (this won’t work if you place the fish on your palm). Dip your finger in a small amount of wasabi and smear onto the fish. Then, place the rice onto the piece of fish, pushing down with your index and middle fingers to secure the union. Flip the sushi into your other hand so it’s now right side up. Using your index and middle fingers, pat down on the nigiri while making a box with the hand the sushi is in by curling your fingers toward your palm. Do this gently until the nigiri is formed.

    7. Since mackerel goes quite well with ginger, we grated a little and placed in on top of the fish with some finely sliced scallion. Otherwise, serve with soy sauce.

    Grab a mid-morning coffee and browse books and shops in Daikanyama.

    Tsutaya Books + Anjin at Daikanyama T-site

    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.

    Daikanyama Shopping District

    left: Nice entrance to A.P.C.; right: Indigo shop Okura

    After coffee, walk just behind the T-site for a quick stroll through the hip Daikayama shopping streets, which includes bigger names, like A.P.C. (with a very cool entryway) and small boutiques like the beautiful Okura, which specializes in clothing dyed in pure indigo. It’s pretty stunning, and very Japanese.

    Lunch at Ramen Street

    1-9-1 Marunouchi
    Tokyo Station, B1, Chiyoda

    Inside the maze that is Tokyo Station is this little alley with a few special shops, invited to be part of this much-frequented (by locals and tourists alike) ramen destination. You'll find the longest line at Rokurinsha where people wait up to an hour for their signature thick noodles. If you don't have the time to wait, you'll do well at any of the others, as the quality has to be high to stay in this alley. You order at the vending machine in the front of each shop and present your ticket to the attendant who brings you your noodles once you've sat down. They bring you a cup of water and most places don't really offer much else in terms of drink, as it's all about the noodles. Remember to slurp - biting your noodles as you go is often seen as breaking the relationship...

    Next, see some art at...

    Scai The Bathhouse

    6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito-Ku
    03 3821 1144

    This gallery, featuring some of the best contemporary art in Tokyo, is housed in this former bathhouse. The venue is almost as impressive as the work.

    Heading back towards the hotel, stop along the way for some specialty shopping.

    Akomeya

    2-2-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku

    The café

    The rice bar

    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, the shop celebrates the elegant simplicity of the food that is so characteristic of Japan. The rice bar in front of the store allows you to choose the grade of brown rice you want before choosing how much you'd like it polished, which they do on the spot - the highest level removes the entire hull, leaving you with white rice (which most Japanese customers prefer) while a lighter polish will leave a bit more fiber. This shop is a must for the food lover while in Tokyo.

    Check In

    Peninsula Hotel

    1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
    03 6270 2888

    The Palace Hotel

    1-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
    03 3211 5211

    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.

    Pre-dinner drinks at...

    Gen Yamamoto

    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.

    Dinner at...

    Kasumicho Suetomi

    Yawata Bldg., 3rd fl., 4-2-13 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku
    03 5466 1270

    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. The clean, white decor is minimal almost to a point - the simplicity emphasizes the importance of the food. You have a choice between two set menus, which you choose when you make the reservation. Each one includes multiple courses of amazingly fresh, seasonal and delicious food with an emphasis on fish and vegetables prepared simply but meticulously, and often inventive - be prepared to taste something you've never tried before. There's a grill behind the bar where some of the fish is prepared and immediately brought to your table. There's little to no English spoken here and not one other foreigner was present while we were there, but the chef/owner is super friendly and will be happy to host anyone interested in a serious dining experience, whether you speak Japanese or not. Nice touch - guests are given a bag of onigiri on their way out. It’s pricey, but you’re paying for the ingredients and the culinary journey.

    or

    Shingo Takahashi

    1st floor, Win Aoyama Building
    2-2-15 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku

    We are sure that this recently opened sushi-ya (that you can’t even find on the internet, until now) is about to seriously contend with some of the city’s most venerable names. The friendly master Shingo Takahashi was the apprentice for Chef Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho before opening his own place behind this discreet sliding bamboo door on a small street near Aoyama Park. It’s omakase only here, and does not disappoint – from fresh as possible cuts of more familiar fish - creamy baby shrimp, sweet uni, the intense flavor of in season horse mackerel and sea eel - to things you rarely see – like caviar seaweed to start (the seaweed has little bubbles on the outside that pop when you crunch down), whole baby octopus heads, raw eggplant (ever-so-slightly pickled though you can’t really tell) and so much more. Shingo kindly requests no snaps inside the small, pale, minimal space so that you may focus and enjoy your meal. This place is a serious discovery.

    If you’re still feeling lively, go for drinks and dancing at...

    Le Baron

    Aoyama Center Bldg B1F, 3-8-40 Minami-Aoyama
    03 3408 3665

    First in Paris and now in NYC as well, Le Baron in Tokyo has its own unique scene and a nice change up from the foreigner-heavy nightlife in Roppongi. A great place to dance.

    Snaps from Around Town

    Ginza by night.

    left: The super-cool Omotesando Koffee in the Omotesando hills; right: New friends at Tsukiji market

    left: Tempura Kondo; right: View of the Asahi building in Akasaka

    left: Cool store front in Omotesando; right: Funny park sign in Aoyama.

    left: Street lockers at Shibuya station; right: Slicing tuna at Sushi Kyubey.

    left: Street scene in Daikayama; right: Café at Maison Kitsune

    Stuffed animals are everywhere.

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    goop’s 24 hours in Kyoto

    In the morning, take the bullet train to Kyoto. It’s best to get your sightseeing done first to avoid crowds and heat.

    Temples

    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.

    Moss Temple

    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.

    Silver Pavilion

    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.

    Nijȭ Castle

    541 Nijojo-cho, Horikawa-nishiiru
    075 841 0096

    This castle, erected in 1626, was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. It’s massive and contains many beautiful paintings and the signature “nightingale” floorboards, which creak as you walk through so no one could sneak in. There are also some beautiful gardens to stroll through here.

    Golden Pavilion

    1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward
    075 461 0013

    Golden Pavilion, aka Kinkaku-ji, Zen Buddhist temple built in 1397.

    Ryõan-ji

    13 Ryoanji Goryonoshita-chõ, Ukyõ-ku

    Ryõan-ji, Zen rock garden and temple. This is a stunning and unique site to see.

    Lunch at...

    Aijiro

    28-3 Teranomaemachi, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku
    075 462 4673

    Close to the Golden Pavilion and the Rock Garden is this restaurant where many monks from the temple across the street and others nearby come for the shojin ryori (vegan temple food). Little English is spoken here but you choose your menu through your travel agent or hotel when you book. The bento boxes are generously-portioned and well-priced for the amount and quality of the food – but for the full experience, go for the kaiseki, which includes the signature tofu skin, which many of the young monks eat when they are craving meat.

    Traditional Tea Ceremony

    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.

    Once you’ve crawled into the room (by dragging your lower body through the doorway with your upper arms), the tea ceremony begins with a couple of sweets. The woman in this photo removes the empty plate.

    The Japanese tea ceremony, which stems from Zen Buddhism, is primarily concerned with the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha. Some more formal tea ceremonies are also accompanied by a kaiseki-style meal, which can last for a number of hours. This ceremony was just about matcha, which is served in artisan-made pottery. Once it’s placed in front of you, turn the bowl three times clockwise – if there’s a center pattern on the cup, that should end up facing out. Then, the tea should be drunk in approximately three sips, and on the last one, a slurping noise to finish is respectful.

    Here’s an example of another tea ceremony, which took place upon arrival at the Hoshinoya Resort in West Kyoto.

    Kimono Shopping

    Omo

    Muromachi Dori, Oshikoji-agaru, Nakagyo-ku
    075 212 8676

    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.

    Continue shopping at...

    Sfera Shop

    SferaBuilding 2F, 17 Benzaiten-cho, Higashiyama-ku
    075 532 1139

    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.

    Check In

    Hoshinoya Ryokan

    11-2 Genrokuzancho, Nishikyo-ku
    050 3786 0066

    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.

    Hyatt Regency

    644-2 Sanjusangendo-mawari, Higashiyama-ku
    075 541 1234

    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.

    Pre-dinner drinks at...

    Bar at Kanga-an

    278 Kuramaguchi-Higahiiru, Karasumadori, Kita-ku
    075 256 2480

    Have a drink at this discreet bar in the back of the Kanga-an temple. Rad.

    Dinner at...

    Ankyu

    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: Japanese cucumbers at Nishiki Market; right: Cafe Independants.

    left: View from the Hoshinoya resort boat; right: Yuka and matcha at Aijiro.

    left: A fun-looking bus on the river; right: Canal in West Kyoto.

    And a Poem...

    Clearing

    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.

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