Japan in 77 Photos

what to do in japan

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.


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.



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, 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.


Beautiful art gallery in 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.


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


Contrast of colours and lines, 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.



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.


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



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.



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.


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.


Roasted chestnuts to continue the food crawl.


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


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.


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


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.



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.


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’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.




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.


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.


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.


Bamboo as close as I can go.


The golden hour in Kyoto.


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


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.


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.

97 thoughts on “Japan in 77 Photos”

  1. I enjoyed each one of them. Beatiful as usual, better than usual. A couple of technical questions:
    1) Which camera do you use?
    2) Do you edit them or publish as you take?

    1. Hi Cloudio, the camera is an Olympus EP-3, and I use an f/1.7 aspherical lens. You can see these on my resources page as I link to them both — https://www.legalnomads.com/wds.

      I do crop and straighten photos in Picasa, but do not edit otherwise (I don’t use photoshop or the like, though I suppose I ought to but time-wise I stuck to the minimal, which was Picasa’s option :) )

    2. Hi Cloudio,

      Just to let you know, she DOES process these photographs. It’s quite easy to tell when you’re a photographer. It quite clear that she has ran many of her photos through HDR software to increase the dynamic range of the photograph (basically, it downs the highlights, and ups the shadows). There’s obvious signs of this from from halos created in the skies (in many of the landscape shots), noise introduced into the image where there shouldn’t be (a clear sign of pulling detail out of dark areas on jpg images), and darkened details near contrasted light areas. The most common software people use to do this is photomatix. Though that particular software is not free, there is plenty of other free HDR software out there on the web.

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with processing photographs – I’m not sure why she said she hasn’t!? Anyhow, there’s your answer :-)

      And Jodi – great post! I been to Japan yet myself, but would love to one day. Keep up the great work!


      1. Unfortunately you’re not correct – as I responded on the post elsewhere, I don’t process photos. I do crop and straighten in Picasa but that is it. No Lightroom, no Photoshop. As I have also said, the camera has a built in “dramatic tone” setting, which automatically converts the pictures into this HDR-like scene. Real HDR would be have been far more nuanced, that’s for sure!

        So no, I don’t use the software you suggested, nor any other, to process these photos into HDR.

        I have no idea why you’d accuse me of lying, since I have nothing to gain by it. You might be a photographer, but please next time do some research on the camera before you accuse someone of making stuff up!


  2. You were right!(buckle-up). Outstanding. And I can say you got Japan as a Japan most people want to see. Nothing “Lost in Translation” here ;-)

  3. Jodi, I loved all the pictures and appreciate the time you took to show several different areas in Japan, it has given me lots more places to add to my list to visit next year.

  4. I so want a pet deer. Love the soba noodle staff photo as well as the octopus from the markets. Wherever I go, I am just drawn to octopus for some reason.

  5. Love how you captured Japan in these gorgeous photos, from people to nature to shrines to food (and drinks!) to daily life. What a beautiful time to be there! I also love the irreverent warning signs (a favorite from my trip to Japan was “Do not touch the trees”) and totally feel for you with all of the off-limits food. Glad you were able to appreciate it vicariously. Looking forward to your celiac-focused Japan post!

  6. Fantastic photos! I miss Japan even more, I was there some time after you were. I particularly want to visit Fuji, which I skipped on my week-long trip since I did not want to pack too much into the only nine days. I particularly liked the slightly aggravated look of the obasan in the ramen shop–I can just imagine, “soup with no soy sauce? bah!”

  7. Hey! Great to see so many wonderful pictures from my “homeland” (that I have yet to visit). Can’t wait to go myself! Hope all is well.

  8. …and now I really want to go back to Japan.

    Such a shame that you had the troubles you did with the wheat problem. I’d been looking forward to reading how your dietary requirements were managed whilst you were there, and had held out hope that everything would work out. Such a shame that it didn’t, but I’m sure that there’s plenty of food that you did enjoy that you’ve still go to share with us.

    Next time, I’m coming with you.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dale. I was not holding up hopes for Japan because I had read quite a bit about how difficult it was these days, now that wheat was so prevalent. I did of course enjoy the sashimi and the incredible presentations, and at some of the hotels I was able to request celiac meals where it was a traditional multi-course dinner, but of course the issue remains education as it does in the West. For example, I asked a New Zealand restaurant about whether their fries were fried in same oil as their breaded fish products and they said yes, but they were “still gluten-free”. Well, of course they weren’t and it would get me quite sick. On the one hand it’s great that GF knowledge is increasing but on the other fad dieters who aren’t really THAT strict make it harder for me not to get sick. So in Japan there was some knowledge about avoiding wheat but not realizing that miso had wheat (in most cases). I learned to avoid the ingredients that I needed to avoid, and eat a lot of raw fish whilst I was there :)

  9. Nicolas Grandmangin

    Waow Jodi!
    What a feast and treat to the eyes. You switch very naturally from street or landscape photos to food and small details, and the contrasts are just exquisites. Japan is on my list of places to visit one day, and this post is really a keeper to remind me why I should go there.
    Thanks and happy New Year to you.

  10. Jodi – when I travel, I am constantly searching for scenes or people to photograph that will best convey the local culture. I sometimes struggle to get the shots that accomplish that. You seem to find those shots instinctively. Well done!

  11. I loved this! So many beautiful details in these photos. I also respect the fact that you don’t edit photos besides cropping/straightening in Picasa. The photos of the people are especially interesting.

  12. Wow, what a beautiful collection of photos. I always love seeing your photos, but having been born in Japan, it really filled my heart with emotion. I love how respectful you are, not just in your commentary but in your images as well. Wonderful! … I had NO idea there was so much wheat in Japanese food!! I figured things were mostly safe because the primary starch is rice… guess not. I’m sorry there were so many things you couldn’t eat; I know how you always loved noshing on everything, everywhere you traveled. One small note: The Shinto shrine gates are “TORII” with two i’s, not one; “TORI” with one i refers to birds. It would be great if you could fix that; every time I read about a torii gate, I kept thinking about birds. Hehe. Anyway, GREAT post; thank you. And AKEMASHITE OMEDETOH!!!

    1. Hi Lani, thank you for the lovely comment. I didn’t realize you were born in Japan; all the more happy, then, that you found the photo essay to be a good one! Wheat did not figure prominently until WWII, from what I’ve read, and there was a lot of protest when it was originally introduced. Sadly (for my stomach) tis everywhere now.

      I’ll edit the post to fix the Tori(i) error — thanks for the note. Happy new year!

  13. Hi Jodi – Loved your vibrant photos and the commentary. Happy New Year and wish you a lovely trip to NZ. Cheers, Wendy

  14. Hi Jodi, what beautiful photos! Thank you for posting, I’m currently planning a trip to Japan with my husband in June. Takayama wasn’t on our radar at all and now I’m anticipating visiting there the most! Just one question, which ryokan did you stay at there? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Orchid, glad the post got you excited for your trip! Takayama was truly beautiful and though a bit crowded with tourists (tis a small town so you feel it more), it was lovely to wander and visit. The ryokan was called Minshuku Iwatakan. I believe it’s on a few of the booking sites for lodging in Asia.

  15. Beautiful photos, Jodi!! Whether they are 41 photos or 77 photos long, I’ve always loved reading through your photo essays, so bring them on! Cheers to a 2015 filled with many more beautiful adventures.

    And yes, my eyes are blurry now.

    1. Thank you Pauline! I tend to focus on the writing but for those places with contrasting scenes and lots of great architecture, photoessays are quite fun. Wishing you a great year!

  16. Wonderful photos! Great reminders of places we’ve visited in the past and exciting suggestions for future visits with our granddaughters.

    Thanks so much!

  17. Discovered your site by accident, thanks to an article on Flipboard. I love Japan, have been there over a dozen times over the years, and have seen many photos of all things Japanese. Your photo essay is one of the loveliest I have ever come across. As others have said above, makes me want to be back there…

  18. Truly stunning, Jodi. You astutely captured the beauty of the country’s landscape… as well as its food. I think Japanese cuisine is the most beautiful in the world. The care that goes into each dish is simply unmatched. I’m sorry you didn’t make it to Nara, which is a special place, but you always need to leave something for next time! I adore Japan and haven’t been in many years. Thanks for the virtual trip and a nudge to get my arse back there :-)

  19. Nicole Fairweather

    Dear Jodi
    I am off to Japan (Hakuba, for a ski holiday) in a month and am starting to do my research on what I will be able to eat (being a coeliac with a very low tolerance for any exposure). Your blog is great – and I won’t just be using it for Japan! However, I can’t seem to find your ‘Japan for Celiacs’ post (just the awesome 77 photos) – would you be able to provide a link please? Also, did you find the GF Card APP helpful, or did you make your own card to give to waiters? I am resigned to a lot of rice, raw fish, the occasional egg, and my own breakfast cereal!

    1. Hi Nicole, I haven’t yet written the piece so that’s why you couldn’t find it :) I did not find the card very helpful as it’s not specific to the actual food, just specific to wheat generally. It doesn’t talk about soy sauce, or mayonnaise, both of which contain meat. For onigiri the only safe one I found was salmon. Please see my “Japan Pre Trip Reading” post for GF links for Japan. Safe travels!

  20. The photos and your use of composition and color are great!! They captured my imaginatiion and made me think that I would enjoy Japan..will have to plan a trip someday. Thanks!

  21. Amazing photo essay, Jodi. I’m headed to Japan myself for the first time in late March and this definitely made me excited for my trip :-) I plan on eating ALL OF THE SUSHI.

  22. Jodi, Your Japan photos are stunning. I love the close-ups…I’ve lived in Japan, but still haven’t seen everything…I’ll definitely have to go back!

  23. Lovely photos! I too plan my trip around food and am always thinking a meal ahead. I’m sorry you couldn’t enjoy all the food in Japan but it looks like you still saw the beauty!

  24. Love the pictures. Love that they are able to capture how life is lived in the area rather than pictures of their key places like other blogs have. Travel should be like this. It is about capturing moments as it is.

  25. Quick comment: I’m at work, so I can’t spend so many hours reading your posts, but I just wanted to say this is like the type of book you just want to devoure, I felt so much motivation reading a few posts :)

  26. I just astonished & surprised! You’re a good photographer the way you captured images become graceful really. Especially I liked Jodi friendly snacks, Praying hand, Art gallery, The Hiroshima Peace park, Drawings & Jerry. I must say who are intending to have a travel in Asia then Japan is the most preferred destination.

    Best regards,

  27. Wonderful photos! I am a vegan and have a lot of hesitation about visiting Japan because of the prevalence of fish, fish oil, fish powder, etc.

  28. I am simply terrified with photos from this Japan trip, Jodi! The photos feel natural, like you just open some window and get to Japan!)
    Happy travels 2015! Daria

  29. I was browsing your blog for some inspiration for my own and came across these beautiful photos. Japan was my last trip and they really brought it all back, particularly the ramen and sashimi, I could almost taste them mmm! Thanks for letting me re-live it all. :)

  30. Excellent pictures. Japan has been on the top of my list of countries to visit for as long as I can remember, these pictures really brought the cities to life. Can’t wait to experience them myself!

  31. Louise Cronkrite

    What fantastic photos. They really sum up the experience you must have had. I discovered this photo essay doing research for my upcoming trip, and its very inspiring. I’m all the more excited to go now. As a recently diaognosed Coeliac I’m also pleases to hear you survived and I hope that your article on that will be published before I leave!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top