An Instagram Star Goes on a Journey in Japan
Patrick Janelle always thought of Japan as a place of the future: flashing lights, massive intersections, in-your-face technology. Now, having been there, he sees it more as a destination of contrasts. “There’s a quietness there that I appreciated, and a deep respect for heritage,” says Janelle, who spent nine days in Japan, splitting his time among Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto on one of Travel + Leisure’s editor-curated trips, bookable with the high-end outfitter Black Tomato. Among his favorite experiences: a stay at the luxe Aman Tokyo, a sushi-making class near Tsukiji Market, and visits to Kyoto’s historic temples. “The temples are a total feast for the eyes. I went to Ryoan-ji just before closing, and wandered around the gardens by myself, which was incredible.”
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Tokyo’s chic business district, Ginza, is home to the luxurious Aman Tokyo hotel and Palace Hotel Tokyo—I stayed at both on my Travel + Leisure Journey. What struck me was how the businessmen and women move courteously and quietly down wide sidewalks and across broad intersections, always waiting patiently for the signal to turn green.
In Kyoto, I loved the two-story Bungalow bar, which serves beer on tap from the local Kyoto Brewing Company and features a short list of natural wines. The small menu is packed with flavorful, modern dishes that take a “farm-to-table” approach, spotlighting stellar Japanese produce that gives California ingreidents a run for their money.
As part of my itinerary with Black Tomato, the travel company that set up my itinerary, I spent a morning enjoying a sushi-making class at a restaurant adjacent to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. I learned the art of forming and flipping the rice correctly, to make the perfect foundation for the fresh tuna, salmon, and roe.
Fish for Breakfast
On a guided morning tour of Tsukiji Market, I saw every type of fish imaginable, to be consumed at restaurants all around the city later that day. At this stall, I watched a man skillfully cut and wrap fresh eel around skewers (kushi).
Tokyo’s Harajuku district is known as the area where young people display outrageous street style. The Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku complex, which was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura, stood out because of these dizzying mirrors leading into the shopping center.
Visitors to Meijii Shrine engage in the ritual of water purification before entering the temple grounds. Using a bamboo cup, the user pours water on both hands, thereby cleansing the body, and sips the water, cleansing the spirit, before spitting the water back into the moat surrounding the edifice.
Path was one of my best finds in Tokyo. Located in western Shibuya, the café is filled with cool young locals on their lunch breaks. The small menu includes salads and traditional Dutch pancakes, a nice break from my sushi-heavy diet.
My Black Tomato guide explained that sumo wrestlers carry out all of their daily activities together—eating, sleeping, practicing—in one of nearly 50 “stables” scattered around Tokyo. We visited Musashigawa stable, which isn’t typically open to the public, during a morning practice.
The entrances to many Shinto shrines, including Meiji, one of Tokyo’s most iconic sites, are lined with empty sake barrels. Brewers donate their sake to be used in various rituals and ceremonies, and the barrels are then displayed as a sign of respect.
The many Buddhist temples in and around Kyoto are absolutely beautiful. A majority, like the Eikando Temple, were built by nobility and powerful samurai as sprawling private grounds for both entertaining and personal spiritual retreats.
The district of Arashiyama (which translates to “Storm Mountain”), on the outskirts of Kyoto, is known for its bamboo forests. Walking along the Katsura River just as it started to rain, I caught the last moments of the evening light. The only other people on the trail were this couple.
Hotel in the Sky
The stunning lobby of the Aman Tokyo is a cavernous space on that feels both opulent and monastic. One night while under the grips of deep jet lag, I grabbed a glass of wine at the bar and spent some time with my laptop while taking in panoramic views of Tokyo deep in sleep.
At the Gates
Seeing the vermilion gates, or torii, of the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto was on my bucket list. Inari is the Shinto deity of business, among other things, and the thousands of torii that mark the shrine’s entrance were donated by worshippers as a gift of thanks.
Originally built for the private use of a Shogun, the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji, is set amid particularly stunning and well-manicured gardens, which are tended to by Buddhist monks.
Instagram sensation Patrick Janelle in Japan.
Kyoto is known more for its nature and manicured Buddhist temples than cafes and coffee shops, but with enough searching, I was able to find a few gems, like % Arabica, which is located close to the Gion District. Head barista Junichi Yamaguchi is making a name for himself as a master barista, and everything about his shop—from the coffee roasting and brewing coffee to the store design—is spot on.