Japan in 77 Photos

what to do in japan
Asakusa

Published: December 29, 2014

In mid-October, fresh off the repositioning cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo, I spent several weeks in Japan. It was my first time in the country, and I was excited to experience a culture that so many of my friends had grown to love. I was worried about travelling as a celiac due to soy sauce having wheat flour, and much of Japanese food using soy sauce as an ingredient. It turns out those worries were not unfounded; even their mayonnaise often has wheat as a thickener, let alone the soups and noodles.

I got sick many times, and after the trip I decided to hire a translator to help me with a gluten-free card that is actually tailored to the names of the foods in the country.

That’s not what this post is about.

However! If anyone reading is gluten free and heading to Japan, please see my guide and translation card – it’s helped many a reader stay healthy on a trip to Japan since.

My life generally revolves around food, and mealtime with friends usually touches upon what we will eat during our next dining extravaganza. I’m the kind of person who goes to sleep thinking of what I want to eat first the next day; I’ll be chewing my lunch and dreaming of soup for dinner. Japan was an interesting ride, since much of the beautiful, meticulously prepared food was off limits.

japan photos, 77 of them in all!
My feeling about food in Japan: on the outside, looking in.

I gazed longingly at the ramen shops and the gyoza.

I pined for the curries and the miso soups.

So instead of eating everything all day long, I focused on the elegance of presentation, the obsession with order and thoughtfulness, and the truly picturesque train rides through the country. I was there in the fall, just before the trees began to change. Perfect for walking, watching, and taking photos.

What to Do in Japan, Explained In Photos

As is the norm here at Legal Nomads, we go big or we go home.

So instead of a series of short photoessays reviewing my time in Japan, or a “what to see in Japan” guide, may I present you with 77 photos from my weeks in the country that represent my views of what is best to experience when you visit this beautiful country.

Tokyo

What to do in Japan: visit Asakusa, Tokyo
Asakusa, Tokyo, famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. Crowded market streets abound. My friend Amit, in the middle, standing out from the crowd.

 

matcha green tea is not to be missed
Matcha green tea powder, one of the more rewarding DIY tea offerings. Ground up earthy tea, then you add it to hot water, stir, drink. Enjoy. This from one of the many standing sushi dinners I ate while in Tokyo.

 

black sesame snack
One of my favourite Jodi-friendly snacks: black sesame and ground peanuts coating a sweet rice flour ball.

 

What to Do In Japan: visit Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
Octopus at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

 

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
View from the floor: fish heads, wet pavement, many boxes of seafood. Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

 

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
As I wandered, this man saw me taking photos and motioned me over to display the fish he was wrapping, a bright orange one with a huge eye. I so enjoyed the loving way that he displayed it for me to capture with my camera.

 

Slicing tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
Slicing tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

 

Food at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
Fresh tuna and salmon sashimi over rice, right at the source.

 

Takayama

What to do in Japan: visit Takayama
To arrive in Takayama you have to take an incredibly beautiful train trip through the Japanese alps. The arrival scenery isn’t bad either.

 

sarubobo takayama
This is Takayama’s mascot, Sarubobo, which translates to “monkey baby” and rolls off the tongue quite well. I may or may not have repeated the word many times during the visit. It’s not just Takayama’s mascot, but Hida Region as a whole, and was a traditional gift from mothers to daughters after marriage.

 

Tanuki
Tanuki, the goofy looking racoon dog with giant balls that we spotted throughout Japan. More about racoon dogs here.

 

What to do in Japan: visit Hida Folk Village, Takayama
‘Praying Hand’ houses at the Hida no Sato, a traditional folk village outside of Takayama. The village contains 30 different traditional structures around a tiny lake, built elsewhere in the region  during the Edo Period (1603 – 1867) and subsequently relocated when the museum was founded in 1971.

 

eating soba and ramen soup in Takayama
Very confused restauranteurs at a tiny ramen and soba shop near Takayama’s train station. I showed them my celiac card and asked if I could have soup with no soy sauce and just soba noodles. They made a broth of the water used the boil the soba noodles, plus scallions and ginger. They were fairly appalled that I was eating something so bland, but it was one of the few noodle meals that didn’t get me sick. They made their own soba noodles from 100% buckwheat flour, which was a treat.

 

Takayama
Beautiful art gallery in Takayama

 

Takayama
This lady served miso-brushed rice flour skewers on the side of one of Takayama’s bridges. I loved her posture and elegance. I couldn’t eat the miso due to the wheat, but others with me said they were delicious.

 

Takayama
Some of the beautiful Edo period houses in Takayama’s old town. Perfect for a slow wander.

 

Takayama
Contrast of colours and lines, Takayama

 

takayama
Old and new as the sun set over Takayama. We only had a short amount of time in this city, but it was a great way to come down off the chaos of Tokyo. We also stayed in a traditional ryokan inn with its own Japanese baths (onsen) on premises, and beds made of tatami mats, futons, and duvets.

 

Kanazawa

I recently wrote a longer post about Kanazawa for the G Adventures blog, one that talks about the city’s history and some of the great museums in town. I truly wanted to linger, with Kanazawa remaining one of my favourite places from the short Japan experience. Here are some of the photos that did not make it to the stand-alone piece. Unsurprisingly they focus on food.

What to do in Japan: visit Omicho market in Kanazawa
Oysters and fresh seafood to eat on the spot at Omicho market in Kanazawa

 

Omicho market Kanazawa
I loved the piles of eaten carcasses from hungry marketgoers. I wasn’t the only one drooling over that seafood! This is all from just one morning.

 

Omicho market Kanazawa
A man stands and watches other vendors at Omicho market.

 

Omicho market Kanazawa
Fresh herbs at the market. Hard not to buy a cluster and gnaw on them as I wandered.

 

sake
I always enjoyed trying new sake options but the availability in New York or Montreal pales grossly in comparison to what’s available here, with completely different sakes depending on the region of the country. Beautiful bottles too.

 

sushi kanazawa
As with Tsukiji, Kanazawa’s market also had wonderful sushi restaurants attached to its building, with reasonable prices.

 

gold leaf kanazawa
Gold leaf Hello Kitty from one of the many gold leaf shops around town.

 

Kanazawa higashi chaya
Dusk falling over one of the city’s entertainment districts, the well-preserved Higashi Chayagai, toward the end of my visit

 

Hiroshima

bento box japan
One of the many meticulously prepared bento boxes the others were eating on the long train rides around Japan. Sadly too much wheat for me to partake, but what a beautiful presentation for a meal on the go.

 

What to do in Japan: Visit Hiroshima's Peace Memorial
Visiting the A-bomb (Genbaku) dome in its current state, part of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial.

 

Genbaku Dome
The Genbaku dome, built in April 1915 and destroyed by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

 

Graves next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Graves next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Japan’s commemorative rubber stamp from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. These stamps are collectable at many different spots in the country, often at train stations and important sights (like here and Mount Fuji). I have a notebook full of them.

 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The Hiroshima Peace Park, as seen from the museum.

 

Eating Hiroshima Style okonomiyaki in Japan
Hiroshima style okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake), being made on a flat griddle.

 

Eating Hiroshima Style okonomiyaki in Japan
The almost-finished product. Sadly batter-filled, and not safe for me to eat. Looked delicious.

 

cranes hiroshima
Making cranes in Hiroshima. For context see here.

 

Miyajima

Miyajima
Just in case there were any questions: you take a ferry to visit Miyajima, a tiny island off of Hiroshima with its very photographed tori gate, Itsukushima Shrine.

 

Miyajima deer
Also prevalent on Miyajima: deer. Lots and lots of deer. And they like to eat paper. You’ve been warned — keep those Japan rail passes tucked away or else risk losing them.

 

miyajima
Itsukushima Shrine as seen through a statue along the way.

 

eating grilled oysters in miyajima
Also famous on Miyajima: grilled oysters. This one with eel on top, adding to the terribly delicious decadence.

 

miyajima
Roasted chestnuts to continue the food crawl.

 

miyajima oysters
One of many grills filled with fresh oysters on Miyajima. I ate well.

 

miyajima
A family walks toward the floating tori gate (not so floating since the tide was out, however!)

 

What to do in Japan: visit the shrine in Miyajima
The floating shrine itself, but at low tide. It was actually really interesting to be able to walk right up to it, seeing the coins people threw for good luck embedded in the barnacles at the base of the shrine.

 

miyajima
Many schoolkids were drawing portraits of the famous shrine from all sides. Far better talent than me — I can’t draw at all.

 

Miyajima
Peering over the many students drawing on the island.

 

wedding miyajima
We also happened on a wedding ceremony at the temple. The bride is the woman in the Wataboshi (conical white hat).

 

sake barrels
Sake barrels are often displayed near a Shinto shrine. They are called kazaridaru (“decoration barrels”) — so they’re not full of sake. But they are lovely to look at.

 

Kyoto

kyoto
Beautiful full moon rising over Kyoto

 

Kyoto Fushimi Inari
Wooden plaques at Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto’s famous ‘orange gates’.

 

What to do in Japan: visit Fushimi Inari in Kyoto
Fushimi Inari shrine, known — and rightly so — for its thousands of bright orange tori gates, which stand astride a series of trails on Mount Inari.

 

Fushimi Inari
Candles on the walk up the trails of Fushimi Inari shrine.

 

Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari in black and white.

 

Fushimi Inari
The hike up the mountain took several hours, with my favourite section where the tori gates split into two parts. Easy to take many more hours to get lost along the way, with tiny restaurants splintering off from the main trail and great views of the city below.

 

fox kyoto
Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and in Shinto belief, foxes are Inari’s messengers. There are many fox statues dotting the trail up the mountain.

 

kyoto
On the way down, a stop at a temple where we were rewarded with a spectacular rainbow to cap off the day.

 

What to do in Japan: visit Kinkakuji, in Kyoto
Kinkakuji, Kyoto’s famous golden pavillion, shining against the water.

 

Kinkakuji
Kinkakuji’s top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf, and though it was built as the retirement home for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it has burned down many times. This version was rebuilt in 1955.

 

Kinkakuji
GOT IT.

 

What to do in Japan: eat kaiten-zushi!
Kyoto station was home to a very packed conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaiten-zushi), which was reasonable in price and very convenient. Drooling.

 

ramen kyoto
Kyoto also home to some very colourful ramen, which I could not eat.

 

Kiyomizudera
On the walk up to Kiyomizudera (“Pure Water Temple”), which sits above Kyoto and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. It was PACKED with people, but quite a fun trek up to the top, jostling between the student groups and many selfie sticks.

 

Kiyomizudera
View of Kiyomizudera from the opposite side of the woods.

 

Meet Jerry.

 

dessert kyoto
I never found these again but they were memorable: pine needle rice flour sweet dumplings, topped with a red bean paste. Found at a tiny shack next to the bamboo groves. Tastes that you would never put together but worked very well.

 

Visiting Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves in Kyoto
Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves, just outside of Kyoto.

 

Arashiyama
Bamboo as close as I can go.

 

kyoto
The golden hour in Kyoto.

Fuji

Fuji was my birthday mountain for 2014. I have been climbing mountains on my birthday for many years running, documenting a few of them here (the mishap of Mount Rinjani for my 30th, for example). I was unable to climb on my actual birthday this year because I was presenting at a conference, so Fuji was my “delayed birthday mountain.”

Sitting at 3776 meters, it is Japan’s highest (and arguably most famous) mountain. Since we were there after the summer hiking season, the top of the mountain was off limits. Instead, we climbed from the bottom to Hill Station 5, which took about 5 hours. From the top, a beautiful view of white thick clouds and distant peaks, the foliage already in full swing for the impending autumn season.

What to do in Japan: climb mount fuji
Fuji peaking through the clouds, as taken from my room in Kawaguchiko.

 

mount fuji
These trees made me miss home.

 

mount fuji
ARE WE THERE YET?

 

mount fuji
Many steps to the top.

 

mount fuji
Easily my favourite leaf of all, a stunning coral colour, silhouetted against the grey rock.

 

mount fuji station 5
View from Station 5, clouds rolling in.

 

mount fuji
Another from the station itself, with tops of the cars visible at the bottom. We took a bus down, the last one of the day at 3:15pm.

 

mount fuji sake
After a hike of the mountain, some sake to enjoy the satisfying end to the day.

 * * *

If you’re still alive, thus concludes what should be considered an epically long photoessay even by Legal Nomads standards. The closest I came was 41 photos from the Mekong markets, and even then people were like “ARE YOU SERIOUS YOUR EYES MUST BE BLURRY.”

Yup, serious.

This is the last post I’ll put up from Vietnam, as I am about to head to New Zealand on 1 January for the next few months.

Wishing everyone a happy new year and may your 2015 be great. Thank you for reading, commenting, and participating in Legal Nomads. I’m grateful for each and every one of you.

-Jodi

p.s. several people have asked about the photos. Yes. they are taken with a camera, no iPhone. No, I don’t edit in Lightroom or Photoshop, but I do crop  and straighten using the free Picasa tool. Camera is an Olympus E-P3 camera, with an excellent 20mm “pancake” Panasonic f/1.7 lens.

A reminder that the time I spent in Japan after my trans-Pacific cruise was as a Wanderer in Residence for G Adventures, and part and parcel of my long-term brand ambassadorship with the company. Costs and expenses were covered by them on this Discover Japan trip.

98 thoughts on “Japan in 77 Photos”

  1. I have been living in Japan for the past five and a half months and I only have another two weeks left. I enjoyed reading your post and looking at your pictures. Reminded me of when I went to see these places! It is a good selection as it truely represents what it is like in Japan.

  2. Loved Japan in the 7.5 weeks I was there. These pictures make me desperate to go back, especially for the conveyer belt sushi. I spent a great deal of time in those places.

  3. Hi Jodi,

    Beautiful photos! I really enjoyed this post, more so for the fact that I accidentally came across your blog, and found out that I’ll be visiting many of the places you visited (Tokyo, Takayama, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima). I’m off to Japan for three weeks in May, so I’m looking forward to reading your experiences of Japan as a coeliac, as I’m currently mentally preparing myself for a 21-day feast of plain rice, and more plain rice, and huge amounts of food envy!

    I’d love to climb Mt. Fuji, but we’re visiting in the closed season as well, so were wondering where you started your hike to get to Station 5?

    Sarah

  4. Wow, what beautiful photos! Japan is a destination I’ve always wanted to visit. It must be so hard looking at all that food and not being able to try it, I can’t imagine!
    I love the setup of your blog as well and was wondering what theme you use because it’s gorgeous!
    Great post, you really seem to have captured Japanese culture in this photo essay.

  5. Very possibly my favorite post by far. You are a wonderful writer and I have immensely enjoyed reading your material over the years. I hope to visit Japan, as a celebration of my 35th birthday. Every time I see pictures of Japan, I ache with envy. Your writing is amazing. Your pictures are beautiful. Thank you for telling your stories.

    1. Thank you Jennifer! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading, and that this mega-post wasn’t too long to put you off :-) Safe travels to you and I hope your eventual Japan visit is all that you hope it will be.

  6. I had skipped over Japan back in 2009 when a friend of mine suggested The Philippines instead (it was December…). I’m glad I went the The PI but I’m thinking, after viewing your amazing pictures, its about time to finially check Japan off the list.

    Happy Travels!

  7. When you mentioned you couldn’t eat the miso brushed dango because of the wheat, I did a double-take. I asked my Japanese wife “Does miso contain wheat?” Her confused response led me to Wikipedia where I learned that indeed it does, or can. It looks like there are some types of miso that contain other grains (sobamugi miso has buckwheat) that you might be able to digest. You could ask the shop owners what kind of miso they use, though you could be met with the same confused looks I got.

    Great photoessay!

    1. Yup, there are several types of miso, but it appears rare — from those I asked in Japan at least — to have ones solely with buckwheat these days. It’s cheaper to use wheat, so most of the misos are derived from wheat instead of other grains. Thanks for the research! Definitely not a simple place to eat for a celiac.

  8. Awesome shot Jodi. Thanks for sharing this beautiful place. That view in Kiyomizudera is amazing!
    Definitely going to include this place on my next trip to Japan.

  9. I am wanting to start a travel blog too! I was wondering if you could help lead me in the right direction? I just finished a backpacking trip across Japan for 3 months as well! Cool too revisit the places through your photos! What camera did you use?

  10. Hi Jodi, Thank you so much for sharing your travel stories! My husband is a Celiac and Type 1 Diabetic. We were going to go to Japan but now we’re panning a trip to Saigon, based on your delicious stories! It’ll be so nice to go to a place where he can eat most things. I’m sorry that you’ve gotten so sick, but definitely thankful for your intrepid spirit and your willingness to be a “test belly” for all of us. We’ve ordered a copy of your book and we’re really looking forward to your gluten free food maps and guides for celiacs.
    -Christina

    1. Hi Christina, thank you for the note and I hope you two enjoy Saigon! Happy that my posts have helped shape your travels — hopefully for the better! — and please let me know if you have any questions about your time in Vietnam.

  11. Lovely photo essay and brings back many great memories from our 3 week trip to Japan! So different to everyone else we’ve ever been but would definitely love to return. We particularly loved Kyoto, Miyajima and Osaka is a great city!

  12. This is a beautiful account of your trip to Japan and you capture the atmosphere very well. You are a very talented photographer. Keep up the great work!

  13. Jodi, I totally understand your wistful comments about the beautiful, tantalizing, and unavailable Japanese food. I’m also someone with Celiac disease who loves to eat food from around the world. It’s difficult to have to be a food voyeur so much of the time. I’m hoping you have discovered that it is possible to make Okonomiyaki gluten free. I make my own using rice and tapioca flours for the batter. I make the Osaka style, where most of the ingredients are mixed rather than layered as in the Hiroshima style. Okonomiyaki has become one of my comfort foods.

    1. Wow that sounds incredibly good! It was very tough to watch the great foods being consumed and not be able to enjoy them, especially the okonomiyaki. I hope you have many delicious gluten-free meals in your future!

  14. Amazing photos. The clarity, depth and focus is amazing. Did you use any post-processing on them? Like using Adobe Lightroom?

  15. I loved this. It makes me miss Japan so much. I lived between Takayama and Kyoto, close to Nagoya, last year. I’m so glad you got to go there and experience the culture and the people. If you get a chance in the future you should try the Pilgrimage in Shikoku. About 60 days of walking between 88 temples. An amazing experience(even though I didn’t finish). Thanks Jodi.

  16. Wow – your photos are superb! It’s so nice to see them and be reminded of the wonderful month I spent in Japan earlier this year – hoping I can make it back there in 2016.

  17. “No scribbling here” – love it! Brings me back to my time spent in Japan during 2003. I remember trying to find the weirdest English language signs I possibly could. I never had to look very far ;-)

  18. Such a great visual essay, Jodi! I loved the moody sky pic in Takayama. Sorry to hear you had some troubles with getting food for your dietary requirements. I’ve been based in Tokyo for the better part of a decade, and although things are getting easier for those with allergies and dietary conditions, it can still be extremely hard. I’m always reminded when friends visit Japan and there are things they are unable to eat. The idea of vegetarianism and veganism is still a very new concept for many, let alone knowledge of the range of other dietary requirements visitors, and Japanese themselves, may have. Many restaurants still believe that a “vegetarian curry” means scooping out the meat from a meat-based curry and serving with vegetables. But there is a growing trend towards gluten, wheat and dairy free meals, and cafes that only offer vegetarian or vegan food, as Tokyo progresses towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Hopefully by the next time you visit, you’ll have many more options!

  19. Those photographs of Mount Fuji are breathtaking. I had quite the pleasant experience of climbing Mount Fuji myself in July of 2019 and had the misfortune of not being able to summit due to a typhoon earlier in the year pushing a boulder in the path that made it safe to complete the climb. Really enjoyed the rest of the photos as well, you’ve truly captured Japan in its purest form. The lady serving the miso-brushed rice flour skewers, the man showing you the fish, and the workers at the ramen and soba shop near Takayama train station made my heart warm and captured the Japanese spirit. I need to make a trip back. Thanks for the photos and creative writing!

    Ishmail

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