The Land of the Rising Sun. It’s been six months since I returned from an incredible edible journey through Japan. Reflecting back on the experience, I am still in awe of its people, the diverse landscape, the quirky culture, and the incredible tastemakers throughout the eclectic country. A beautiful blend of tradition and modernity, I continue my travels amidst monasteries, karaoke bars, and a few furry friends.
Hiroshima & Miyajima Island – Oysters and Oyanamki, Oh My!
Imagine an island of deer roaming free, craft beer, and fresh oysters. An easy ferry ride from Hiroshima, Miyajima Island is a must stop, where Bambi will greet you the minute you step onto this magical island, “where people and gods live together.” Miyajima Brewery’s Pale Ale is the perfect pairing for their infamous grilled oysters and their breathtaking sunsets. Watch from the infamous tori gate, towering high above the seascape or at the Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage site, and vow never to leave…until you miss your ferry.
Next up….Hiroshima’s most popular dish – Okonomiyaki! Located near the JR line, Okonomimura Building is another gourmet alley of awesome, located at the top floor. Specializing in this tasty grilled dish, it is soul food at its finest. Think Japanese pancake, where crepe meets omelet. Cooked in a variety of styles throughout Japan, ingredients vary by region.
Keeping with the Hiroshima tradition, I ordered up one with fresh local oysters. Cooked with yakisoba noodles and a fried egg, with heaps of fresh green onions, beansprouts, and cabbage. Instead of mixing ingredients into the batter, they are layered. As it cooks down, more cabbage is added, then finally topped with a sweet sauce and served. It’s a true art form and one of the most delicious meals of my trip.
Kyosan – Esoteric Eats
From Bambi Island to Buddhism, we headed into the mountains of the Wakayama Prefecture to Kyosan. Taking a cable car into the incredibly beautiful and mystic mountains, Kyosan is one of the world’s most sacred sites. As the birthplace of Esoteric (or Shingon Buddhism), this mountain village is an incredibly spiritual and moving place. As a follower of Esoteric Buddhism, this experience was life changing and solidified a deeper respect for Japanese culture.
Walking into the Buddhist monastery, we were greeted with a beautiful spread of vegetarian delights, known as shojin ryori (vegan Buddhist cuisine). The traditional ryokan stay included morning meditation, a powerful collection of mantras, chanting, and offerings. With a population of about 3,000 people, ancient cedar forests share space with historic pagodas, a graceful town that will leave a deep imprint on all who visit. Make sure to visit Banryutei, Japan’s largest rock garden for your morning zen.
Osaka – The Kitchen Sink + All You Can Drink
For a complete change of scenery, hop on the JR to nearby Osaka. Japan’s hippest (and most random) food city. Osaka offers up any and all cuisines, with some specialty offerings that simply cannot be missed. Known as the “stomach” of Osaka, food ranges from all you can eat Japanese BBQ to the famous takoyaki balls (octopus) and kushikatsu (deep fried skewers). I successfully snacked my way through Osaka’s best food district, off Dōtonbori Street.
Yakiniku is the Japanese style of grilling beef, typically grilled on a tabletop charcoal grill in the middle of your table. The two hour power hour I experienced included all-you-can-eat-beef and alcohol (not as easy as its sounds). Sake. Sapporo. Repeat. And it was off to the karaoke bars…dance clubs…and the infamous Don Quijote discount store for last minute souvenirs. Buzzed shopping at its finest.
Walking along the Dōtonbori Canal on my last night, I was not ready to leave. I took a moment to reflect on all that this country represents, from its quirky subcultures and neon wonders to its spiritual offerings and graceful landscapes. And if there is no love more sincerer than the love of food…then I have found it. Japan, you are incredible. Nihon daiskee. Until next time…
Taste. Trek. Travel.