Sensō-ji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of its most significant. The Nakamise-dōri is a street on the approach to the temple and is filled with street vendors selling street food, talismans and souvenirs celebrating the New Year.
The Daruma doll is a hollow, round, Japanese traditional doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. Though considered an omocha (toy), Daruma are regarded more as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragements and were available to purchase in and around the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo when we visited on New Year’s Day.
The variety and quality of food we enjoyed in Japan was incredible. Below are just a few snapshots of some of the amazing meals we ate.
There are a lot of different tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo, some fancier than others.
Gonpachi serves modern Izakaya ‘pub food’ cuisine and is also known as the “Kill Bill Restaurant”.
Amazing sushi at Sushino Midori in Shibuya. Come early or be prepared to wait!
In Niseko we enjoyed a beautiful degustation menu at Kamimura, a former protege of the globally renown Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda.
Abu Cha 2 is Niseko Hirafu’s premier Japanese and Izakaya & Bar. The house specialty are the scallops cooked in butter over a small open flame.
We had some of the best sushi and sashimi at Hanayoshi, in nearby Niseko Cho (about 20 minutes away from Niseko Hirafu). Depending on how large your party, they have a mini bus (minimum party of 10) that can come and pick up and drop back to your hotel in Niseko. The menu was only in Japanese, however some of the staff spoke a little English and were able to help us order some incredible dishes. Reservation is a must.
Just a few examples of the beautifully packaged food available from the many Japanese Department Store Food Halls, which are definitely worth a visit!
The many vending machines found in Tokyo, where you can select hot or cold drinks, chocolates and snacks!
We stayed in a 4 bedroom serviced apartment called Subioku, located in the heart of Hirafu village. A 10 minute walk from the ski slopes, ski hire was easily organised through Rhythm Sport, conveniently located opposite. In the evenings, we had the option to cook dinner or try one of the many fantastic restaurants in Hirafu. We especially enjoyed a casual dinner at Abu-Cha-2 which can be found on the ground floor of the same building as Subioku. Other dining options included Ezo Seafoods, Hanayoshi and the Hilton Niseko Village Hotel (the free shuttle from Hirafu to Niseko takes only 20 minutes).
The entrance and dining room of our apartment
The longe room adjacent to the dining room with floor to ceiling windows of Hirafu village.
One of the four bedrooms in our apartment.
Out and about in Hirafu village.
One of the local casual dining options in Hirafu, a few minutes walk away from the apartment.
Skiing in Niseko and Grand Hirafu was an incredible experience. Having skiied in Australia, France, Canada and the US we found skiing with young children in Niseko Grand Hirafu a fantastic family experience. Compared to other ski regions, it’s the abundance of fresh, fluffy, dry powder snow plus the large and varied terrain that sets Niseko Grand Hirafu apart. The kids also enjoyed night skiing!
The Niseko ski resort has four major zones that are interconnected (for intermediates and above) via lifts and the slopes towards the top of the mountains. The An’nupuri area has great groomed runs for beginners and intermediates and access to sidecountry skiing. The Niseko Village ski area is largely a beginner and intermediate area, with a couple of black piste runs. Hirafu has something on offer for everyone, whilst Hanazono is good for tree skiing, sidecountry access, and terrain park fun.
Some of the incredible powder snow we enjoyed on our trip.
Off piste skiing, in fresh powder in Strawberry Fields (right of Hanazono no. 1 lift).
View of snow covered trees, from the Hilton Niseko Village Hotel.
Views of the summit. Niseko’s most famous gate, “Hirafu Peak Gate” (at an altitude of 1180m) located above the top of the highest lift point in Niseko, the single seated King Lift #4. Both the lift and gate can be extremely crowded on a powder morning and a line from top to bottom can often form as people make the 20 min climb to the peak. No special equipment is required, but I’d recommend a backpack fitted to carry skis as the climb can be quite a work out, when you have to climb through waist deep fresh powder snow.
Some of the food options in Hanazano. Our favourite was the crab ramen, prepared fresh by the friendly staff at the Hanazano ski station.
No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest and busiest fish market in the world. With young children, we decided not to attend the tuna auctions at 5 a.m. but decided to go for a sushi breakfast at 7.30 a.m. We stayed at the Cerulean Tower in Shibuya and it took about 20 minutes by train. You can either take the Oedo line to Tsukiji-Shijo station, exit A1 or alternatively take the Hibiya line of the Tokyo Metro to Tsukiji station, then follow the crowd and the ‘smell’ to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market.
If you don’t mind huge crowds, then the Tsukiji Fish Market can be a lot of fun! Just the variety, range and quality of seafood on offer was fascinating to see.
There was a huge selection of seafood on display, both raw and cooked. We enjoyed some fresh tuna sashimi along with some rice bowls with cooked eel and egg, washed down with miso soup.
We came across this store in the middle of the Tsukiji market, displaying a variety of knives. The range and quality of the knives was impressive and we ended up buying 2 to use at home.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo close to Tokyo Station and contains several buildings including the main palace, the private residences of the imperial family and a museum. The palace is generally closed to the public except for the Imperial Household Agency and the East Gardens however the public is permitted to enter each New Year (January 2) and on the Emperor’s Birthday.
Views of Tokyo, from the Cerulean Tower in Shibuya. On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji in the distance.
Tokyo and Mt Fuji at night.
The famous Shibuya crossing during the day and night.
Shibuya 109 is a ‘must-see’ for those interested in the latest Japanese fashion trends. This is an image of Shibuya 109-2 which is a separate building dedicated to men’s fashion.
The electronics district, Akihabara.