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November 15, 2005
So you're going to Japan?
Filed in: Current Affairs, Japan

Reader Tomas Rees (who also publishes The Plutonium) is going on a class trip to Japan in January and asked about what are 'must sees' in Tokyo and Kyoto (as well as Hiroshima - which I can't really comment on since I haven't been there). Your trip coordinators might have many or all of these things on their list already, but here's what I'd suggest...

For a January time frame - this is what I'd recommend in Tokyo:

1. Tsukiji: The Tokyo fish market. Go to the early tour if you can (starts about 5 am - but what the heck, you'll be waking up at 3:30 anyway for the first few days) and see the tuna auction. Winter is an excellent time for fishing. Make sure to have breakfast (you college kids can do fresh sushi for breakfast if I can!) at one of the sushi shacks next to the market. They won't show you this on the tour but you should be able to find them easily. I can guarantee that it will be the freshest sushi you have ever tasted in your life and even people that don't like sushi will like it. Let the proprieter of the place that you go to decide what to feed you - that way you get what he just bought in the early morning.

2. Hama Rikyu garden: It's right near the fish market so you should visit it as well. In the winter there won't be any blooms - but the trees and the waterside areas should be beautiful. If they are operating the water taxis from the park that would be fun to do as well - might be a bit cold - but the scenery will be great. A couple of hours to half a day.

3. Koishikawa Botanical Garden: Not a really well known tourist place, but well worth the visit IMO. Should have interesting flora even in winter. Associated with Tokyo University and a fascinating blend of botanical interest and garden design from the Meiji period. Half-day to full day activity depending how interesting gardens are to your group.

4. Tokyo-Edo Museum: Excellent cultural museum - great to go to on a rainy day and easy to get to by train. They also will have a visiting exhibit that will be fun to see - I saw St. Petersburg Russia treasures and paintings on my visit there. Easily an all day excursion.

5 Go to the various markets around train stations. I recommend Akihabara, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and the town I stay in most of the time: Kichijoji. Sushi shops, Ramen shops, and various gift shops abound. Best tourist trap is the shopping district around Asakusa temple.

There are many, many other places to go and you really can't go wrong visiting anywhere in Tokyo. Get an English train map and subway map and you can go anywhere in about half an hour. Might consider the museums at Ueno Park - it won't have much in the way of flora in winter.


1. By far, the most fabulous place to visit in Kyoto (IMO) is Saihoji Temple (Kokedera). I have a ten part photo series that starts here. This place is hard to get into - you have to do written invitations via snail mail back and forth to get there so you'd want to start this now. Your hotel (in Kyoto) or your tour guide, or travel coodinator might know best how to do this. I was fortunate to have my business associates in Japan take care of this for me. Just get the paperwork done. It is one of the most astonishing places I have ever been to in my life - and being there changed how I look at the world in many ways. Just do it.

2. Kiyomizu-dera: Another must see. My photo series starts here. This place is so embedded in the Japanese psyche that it must be seen just to provide a cultural reference. This place is also a kind of physical gateway to a number of other temples and shopping areas nearby. You can easily spend all day here.

3. Kinkaku (Golden Temple): This place is pretty commercialized and it's a long bus or taxi ride to get there - but it's well worth going. You can do the visit in an hour or two (not counting transportation time - it was about a forty minute cab ride from the Kyoto Station area if I recall correctly - should be about the same for the bus). My Kinkaku post is here.

There are dozens if not hundreds of historical sites in Kyoto. I'm partial to temples and gardens as you can see. I've been to about a dozen and these are certainly the top of the list for me. I'm also interested in hearing anyone's suggestions for Kyoto as well since I plan to get back there as soon as I can.

UPDATE: I saw pictures of President Bush visiting Kinkaku with Prime Minister Koizumi while I was in Tokyo this week. They actually sat within the temple itself - something that we ordinary mortal tourists can't do...

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People Pulling

Thanks for the detailed recommendations. I appreciate all the links to posts; I will sit down and read all of them soon. For now, I'm off to class!

You are most welcome Tomas. I'll expect the same from you after your trip!

Posted by: Tomas Rees at Nov 15, 2005 3:26:22 PM

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