day 1 | SFO > HND

The trip started with a delay, but nothing could diminish our excitement! We met Fabi, Mat, and my soon to be Gensler co-worker Merla at SFO! The flight was long, we left at 12:35AM on Friday and arrived in Haneda at 1:40PM on Saturday. Our flight took us through the Philippines where we said good-bye to Merla and where Dan and I nearly missed our connecting flight.

Lucky for us, we were traveling with the kindest and most resourceful friends anyone could ask for. Mat and Fabi held up the plane as much as possible by chatting up the flight crew before they sent someone to come find us. We ran up to the gate seconds before they closed the door. It was the stuff movies are made of. When we finally made it Haneda, we purchased/picked-up tickets for all rails and subway systems. Now we were ready to go!

Our itinerary had a full slot of events upon of arrival, ambitious and not even close to what actually happened. It was 6PM by the time we arrived to our hotel and our little “rest” turned into full on sleeping through the rest of the day. We all tried to fight through the exhaustion, occasionally texting each other between 9-11PM before finally admitting defeat.

day 2 | Tokyo

As expected, Dan and I ended up waking up at 4AM, which was the perfect time to pick up the an egg sandwich from Lawson’s as recommended by Anthony Bourdain. We found a nearby park to our enjoy our sandwiches and coffee. I think Mat and Fabi did something far more responsible like went for a jog or something.

Meiji Shrine - This shrine can apparently get very crowded and since we were all up early, we arrived around 7ish. This was great for experiencing the area and shrines in peace. The downside was that many of the vendors were closed.

Harajuku  - We made our way to Harajuku, discovered the fascinating world of photo booths while looking for crepes, and became supermodels.

Shibuya - We all purchased some new apparel in Shibuya, visited the Hachiko Statue, and Shibuya Crossing. Notably, we enjoyed an expensive cup of coffee and melon cake at Satei Hato.

Omotesando - This area is pretty upscale and hip - I’d compare it to Rodeo Drive, but with more charm. It’s treelined and there are hidden alleys with tucked away shops such as Café Kitsuné, where we stopped in for some coffee and ice cream. We also discovered Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, which Fabi and I dragged the boys into! None of our photos do this place justice.

Shinjuku | 新宿 - The night ended with a mad dash to catch the department store food deals (see Vogue, Saveur, and Eater for the importance of eating at department stores) which we ate off an ironing board in our tiny hotel room, before heading over to the tourist trap that is the Robot Restaurant. What started off as an over-the-top grandiose display of “robots” and “music” gave way to inexplicably terrible choreographed fight scenes and shilling of crap.

Day 3 | Suntory Hakushu Distillery + Koenji, Tokyo

Suntory Hakushu Distillery - Our next adventure required us to travel 2 hours outside of Tokyo. From Shinjuku Station we took the Chuo Line-Limited Express Super Azusa to Kobuchizawa Station where we grabbed a taxi to the distillery. The journey really was as wonderful as the destination.

Koenji - Before roughly following the Roads & Kingdoms Koenji Afternoon Walking Tour, the entire crew joined me at a Japanese fabric store. Coffee Amp for a much needed pick me up. We meandered through the neighborhood, popping into shops, and snacking along the way. Since we hadn’t created firm plans for dinner we ducked into a tiny ramen shop for our first noodles of the trip. Not ready to call it a night we found a hip cocktail bar filled with books.

Day 4 | Hakone

Amazake-chaya Tea House - Another day outside of Tokyo. We experienced our first bullet train from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto Station. It was enough time (2 hours) to enjoy another awesome train meal! After purchasing the Hakone “Free” Pass, we hopped on the free bus from the train station to this cozy tea house. The fire pit, tea, and mochi, plus making a made a new friend who was traveling solo made this nice stop before embarking on the hike 30-40 minute hike to the Hakone Shrine.

Hakone Shrine - This was one of the more touristy areas we encountered and snapping a picture at the gate took a little bit of time, but it was worth it.

Lake Ashinoko, Hakone Ropeway, and Hakone Tozan Railway - Included with the Hakone Free Pass was the sightseeing boat, cable car, and railway, which was a fun way to experience the area.

Hakone Open Air Museum - While boat, cable car, and rail were great - it took longer which left us on short on time for the museum. We pushed through and speed walked through the museum and we were grateful for every minute of it. The museum is quirky and experiencing the art in the Japanese landscape was special.

Hakone Yuryo - Much needed rest and relaxation in the private open air baths.

Higashi Shinjuku Shokudo - Japanese cafeteria style food across the street from our hotel with $3 soba.

Day 5 | akakusa, Tokyo

Akakusa Half Day - We closely followed this itinerary from Kaminarimon > Nakamise Dori > Sensoji Temple. The temple was packed and we quickly exited to the surrounding neighborhood for food.

Gen Yamamoto - Reservations required and pricey, but this 4 or 6 drink cocktail tasting menu was worth every penny and one of the most spectacular experiences we had in Japan.

Savoy Azabu-juban - Neapolitan pizza in Japan! Yes indeed. The space is pretty small and we had to wait, but the rockabilly vibes and pizza oven were worth the wait. Nakaoka Bldg., 3-10-1 Moto-Azabu, 2nd Fl., Minato-ku Tokyo+81 3-5770-7899 | Website

Roppongi - In this area we visited a brewery Ant ‘n Bee (六本木5-1-5 (加藤ビル B1F), Minato, Tokyo, 106-0032, Japan). With its cute logo and familiar feeling space - it was hard to believe we were in Japan. It was the perfect break before our second dinner at Afuri (1F UF Bld. 4,4-9-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku)! I insisted we drag our full bellies to the ramen shop nearby touting David Chang’s praise and we experienced our first ramen ordering via vending machine. Oh, and the ramen was AMAZING!

Golden Gai, Shinjuku - Small alley ways full of yakitori restaurants and themed bars with cover charges. We walked and marveled at everything, but didn’t visit any of the bars.

Day 6 | Tsukiji Fish Market, AKihabara, and Narisawa

Tsukiji Fish Market - While we missed the 5am tuna auction, we started our visit to the famous fish market with Yazawa Coffee Roasters (〒104-0045 東京都中央区築地4-10-12 肉の矢澤裏 平日5:30〜11:00 休市日6:30〜11:00 | Website), a coffee stall hidden away one of the alleys. This place was awesome and one of the best cups we had in Japan. Next we collected goods from the market and enjoyed them in the outer market. We also visited Tsukiji Sushidai Bekkan, where we each ordered the omakase (chef’s choice) for $35.

Akihabara - Manga and anime heaven. Played a Luigi’s Mansion arcade game, a bunch of rhythm games, and visited the Gundam Cafe (if you visit, check out the bathroom). Picked up a Hario capsule toy!

Narisawa - Featured on Chef’s Table and No. 22 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Make reservations early! It was the perfect way to end our time in Tokyo.

Day 7 | Tokyo > Kyoto

Kyoto - Heavy rain led to our 3 hour trip taking twice as long, but the forced relaxation and rest was welcome. Visited Bukkoji Temple. Ate at Ippudo Ramen and a random izakaya restaurant. Green tea shaved ice and cantaloupe cake for dessert at Kanno Coffee.

Fushimi Inari Taisha - We visited at nighttime to avoid the crowds - it was a bit eery with the rain and darkness, but an incredible way to experience the shrine.

Day 8 | Osaka

Osaka - Street stall takoyaki. Ate okonomiyaki at Fukutaro. Walked Tenma. Airbnb Experience - Matcha tea, kimono, and Japanese snacks.

Pontocho Yakuzen - We tried to go to Kichi Kichi, but didn’t have any luck. Fortunately we found the delicious curry shop before we went back to our Airbnb and used some face masks to unwind.

Day 9 | kyoto

Walden Woods - This coffee shop was a couple blocks away from our Airbnb, tucked across from a small park and in a residential area. We feel in love with this place.

Okutan Nanzenji - Boiled and chilled tofu sets.

Blue Bottle Kyoto - We walked around this area where the Kyoto Zoo is located, visited some shrines, and cooled off at a familiar place.

Tonkatsu Wako - Our last meal as a traveling crew was crunchy tonkatsu.

Day 10 | Bye bye Japan

But not before one last bowl of ramen!