Japan 2017 #acoupleofkuriharas - one year later

This time last year, we were knee deep in wedding vendor invoices, seating charts, and stacks of custom made pug-themed drink coasters.

At the time, saying "I do" seemed like an eternity away from happening. Fast forward one year later, and now it feels like it was just yesterday that our wedding party was dancing along to T.I.'s "Bring em' Out" and everybody joining in on a conga line led by yours truly. I think I was at the front....

What have I learned in one whole year of marriage? I've learned to be more patient. I've learned to work better as a team. "My" goals in life have evolved into "Our" goals in life. I've learned to step back and appreciate all that I have in life. I've also learned to never take three shots of Kirkland Vodka back to back to back. 😅

Haneda International Airport

"There's the score of the game...Then there's the game of life." -Jalen Rose

I've also learned to take advantage of everything life has to offer. It's always been one of our biggest dreams to visit the land of the rising sun...and fatty tuna. Have you ever heard anybody come back from Japan disappointed? Nope. Good food, easy to get around, nice people, rich culture and tradition, and did I mention good food? Well, one delayed flight, one layover in Kona, 9 hours of flying, and 6 hours of sleeping in Haneda International Airport, we woke up to the sight above. Japan literally living up to its name for sure!

Umeda Sky Building, Osaka

We had a total of 10 nights in Japan. With so much to see, do, and eat within that short timespan, this was our game plan:

  • Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo > Osaka
  • 4 Nights in Osaka
  • 2 daytrips to Kyoto
  • 1 day trip to Nara
  • Take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo
  • 6 nights in Tokyo
  • 1 day trip to Hakone
  • Fly back home
Tenjinbashi, Osaka

One thing that I noticed in Japan is that NO ONE is out of shape. Everybody takes the train to wherever they need to go. Once you get off the sardine packed train, everybody is rushing up the elevators (quick tip: stay to one side to let people by). Once you exit the train station, everything is within walking distance. Or if you're a local, you're probably on a bike like this couple above. Everybody seems to always to be in such a rush, but in the most calm and respectful manner possible. It's a wierd balance that I can't explain, but it just works.

Harukoma Sushi

First on the to-do list was to try the sushi. So we checked out Harukoma Sushi in the Tenjinbashi area of Osaka. All the hype was real. We tried the maguro, otoro, tamago, and tako. It was fresh, well prepared, and just simply oishii. Just a small brush of shoyu and an ice cold Asahi and we were set.

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Apparently, the Kinkaku-ji temple is a "MUST SEE" when you visit Kyoto. So we woke up early to catch the train from the Osaka station to Kyoto station. We quickly learned the difference between a "local" train, "express" train, and a "limited express" train. Yes, we hopped on a local train and wondered why we were stopping at EVERY stop, while other trains sped past us.

We eventually got on a limited express train to Kyoto, hopped on the local bus, and soon found ourselves at the famous, gold leaf covered temple. To be honest, it was a lot smaller than I expected. There were tons of other tourists around us, all fighting to get a snapshot of this temple. It was alright. We threw some yen at the rock statue for good luck. A little touristy, but we HAD to see it right?

We eventually made our way out of the sea of tourists, and just kind of wandered around Kyoto for the rest of day.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Ipuddo Ramen
Higashiuoyacho
Dotonbori

Our AirBnB was about a 10 minute walk away from the buzzing streets of Dotonbori. We tried all the famous must try streetfoods. Takoyaki, gyoza, conveyor type sushi, and kushikatsu (my personal favorite).

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

We decided to explore the southern part of Kyoto on our second day trip to Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari shrine was our first stop. We got there before all the crowds of other tourists showed up, and started our hike up the winding trails of Mount Inari.

Fushimi Inari is known for these orange archways/gates called "Senbon Torii". There were thousands of them. Each torii was inscribed and marked with the name of the person that donated the torii.

After what seemed like a thousand torii later paired with steep uphill climb, we decided to call it quits at the 7th rest stop. There was a beautiful lookout point that overlooked the city of Kyoto.
All that hiking got us feeling hungry. I wanted to experience some legit tempura, so we headed towards the narrow streets of Kiyomizu-dera, and found place that fit the bill. They also had some tasty tofu that was prepared in various ways. We also got a green tea ice cream hot dog and coco puff for dessert. Definetly refreshing.
Todai-ji Temple, Nara

We decided to take one last day trip from Osaka to Nara. Within 10 minutes of walking from the train station, we were greeted by hoards of deer (regarded as messengers of the gods) that were roaming the parks surrounding the temple grounds.

FYI, there are small vendors around the park that sell these crackers for about 300 yen for a dozen pieces or so.

We wandered through all the parks filled with deer, and eventually found ourselves near the Todai-ji temple entrance. As we got closer to the temple, we couldn't believe how huge this temple was. Up until 1998, it was the worlds largest wooden structure in the world. It also houses the world largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. This temple was probably our most favorite because of its sheer size and natural, rustic beauty.

That wraps up our Osaka/Kyoto leg of our trip. Now onto Tokyo!
The Shibuya Crossing
Hachiko!

We thought Osaka was a hustling bustling city, but Tokyo was on a whole other level. Shibuya was at the center of all the action. We enjoyed all the malls, department stores, restaurants, and people watching on every single block.

Uogashi Nihon'ichi Tachigui Sushi

Right up the road from Shibuya 109, tucked away in a small side street, layed this stand up sushi restaurant. This place was probably my most favorite restaurant during our whole trip. A 10 piece omakase cost only 1620 Yen! This was the first time I was truly blown away by the quality of every single piece of sushi that was put in front of me. The chef also insisted they make us FRESH miso soup with the leftover shimp heads from our sets. This place was so good, we made a return visit before we flew back to Hawaii. Highly reccomended!

Harajuku Station

Harajuku was only about a 15 minute walk from Shibuya. Takashita Street was as advertised...crowded! Like suffocatingly crowded.

Hakone

Our 7 day JR pass was about to run out, and the weather was looking promising, so we planned one last day trip to Hakone. Hakone is a very sleepy, rural town that lies at the base of the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Lake Ashinoko

Hakone was a nice change of pace from Tokyo. We hoped to catch a clear view of Mount Fuji, but unfortunately, it was a little too cloudy. However, we did get to experience the pleasant smell of volcanic gases, eat black eggs boiled in sulfuric water, and even take a nice cruise around Lake Ashinoko.

Tsukiji Fish Market

So a group of our friends insisted that we needed to eat at Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Fish Market. Apparently, they waited in the freezing cold for 4 hours WELL before the sun came up.

So we took the first train in the morning, somehow got lost, found the long line of people, and then was told that the wait was 6 hours. 6 HOURS!!! Apparently, they only take 13 people at a time, and don't fill any empty seats until the whole party of 13 is done eating. Then they take the next party of 13.

We contemplated whether or not to waste half of our day in line, or go next door to Daiwa Sushi (restaurant run by the son of Sushi Dai). We opted for the latter, and only waited for about hour in line.

We both enjoyed an OISHII omakase (only $40usd) from the old chef behind the counter. He just kept placing piece after piece in front of us. Every bite tasted so fresh. I think my piece of shrimp was still moving on top the bed of rice. My favorite piece was the chu-toro (medium fatty tuna). I had to double up by ordering another piece ala carte before we left.

Shinjuku Gyoen

One of our hopes and wishes was to experience the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in Japan. In our time Osaka and Kyoto, the Sakura was just starting to bud and about a week away from blooming. We were a little weary that we wouldn't be able to see any Sakura on our trip. We kept watching the Sakura report on the local news, and heard that there were some select places in Tokyo were starting to bloom. So we spent our last few days in Japan hunting down all the Sakura spots around Tokyo.

We took the Tokyo Water Bus from the touristy district of Odaiba (they have a mini replica of the statue of liberty) to Asakusa.
It was awesome seeing all the different variety of Sakura. Some trees were bright white, while others were vibrant pink. It was also nice to see the local families picnic under the beautiful trees. I compare it to us bbq'ing down at the beach here in Hawaii.
Sake Stand, Shibuya

Well, our time in Japan was sadly coming to an end. Our last couple days in Tokyo was filled with some consistent rain showers throughout the entire day. We enjoyed it somewhat because we got to make like the locals and use our clear umbrellas. Our flight back to Honolulu was at midnight, so before taking our last train to the airport, we decided to cap off our dream trip with few glasses of sake at a small little stand up bar overlooking the streets of Shibuya.

Japan was everything everyone said it would be. It sure lived up to the hype. We ate really good, but for some reason, with all the walking, I seemed to LOSE weight on this trip! Everybody that I talk to about Japan always say "You're gonna want to go back!", and yes, we'll definitely be back!

Created By
Dane Kurihara
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