Why Visiting Japan is So Awesome

Wander With Wonder – Discovering Wow Moments Around the World or Across the Street

Discover the incredible allure of visiting Japan, from ancient temples to vibrant city life. Embark on a journey like no other! 

Japan tourism has been hot for several years now. In 1998, I noticed a significant uptick in marketing to draw visitors to Japan. The advertising had a significant effect, and tourists still flock to the Land of the Rising Sun.

My wife and I have been traveling to Japan since 1997. After that first trip, I was hooked and eagerly anticipated each new visit. Our trip in November 2023 would be my 12th trip, and after a three-year hiatus, we were both very much looking forward to this post-COVID adventure. Come along as we share our favorite moments when visiting Japan.

On most trips, we join the crowd at the Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo by Kurt Jacobson


We started with a bang when United Airlines significantly dropped the upgrade price from Denver to Tokyo. My wife paid for hers, but I was surprisingly upgraded for free due to my premier status. Traveling in the fully flat Polaris Class seats, I arrived in good condition for dinner in Tokyo.

If you can afford it, business class is the best way to fly to Japan. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

We took the Narita Express train to Shinagawa Station for the first time and found it as good as, if not better than, the airport buses. A note to those who buy the JR Lines Rail pass: Don’t buy a roundtrip Narita Express ticket; you will be able to book a free return to the airport with the rail pass.

A Favorite Eatery

Our restaurant of choice was Tsubame Grill that first night in Tokyo, a humble eatery serving German-style fare since 1930. Tsubame is one of my favorite restaurants in Japan. They serve affordable, delicious, and sizeable fare.

Tsubame Grill is one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

I usually get the hamburger steak, which is more like a Salisbury steak. This hunk of beefy goodness comes with a few green beans, a potato, a chunk of pot roast beef, and gravy as good as Mom used to make. This tasty dish costs around 1,400 JPY ($9). The fall special burger with gobs of mushrooms on top was a great choice, especially for 1,355 JPY ($8.70). We ordered a Caesar salad to share and went away happy.

Tsubame Grill’s fall special burger with mushrooms was delicious. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

A Room With a View

Our room at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel on the 30th floor offered a wide view of downtown Tokyo. The city looked spooky, with ominous grey clouds lit by city lights. When visiting in November, we usually get dry weather, but the rain came that night and the next day. The Luxe Dining Hapuna breakfast buffet provided ample Japanese and American-style options without leaving the hotel. I had a typical Japanese meal of salmon, cabbage/green salad with sesame dressing, and several baked treats. I mostly eat local cuisine in Japan unless there’s a good French or Italian restaurant nearby.

Our view from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

After activating our rail passes at Shinagawa Station, we set off to Ginza for lunch with my father-in-law’s cousin at a Chinese restaurant. The Ginza district is full of eye candy, and we stopped to marvel at a towering display of live orchids some 30 feet high. After lunch, we browsed the Ginza stores before returning to Shinagawa.

I can only imagine how much this live orchid display cost! Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Something Fishy, Something Sweet

Our next adventure was the Tsukiji Fish Market. Now that the actual fish auction has moved outside of town, the old Tsukiji market is a collection of grab-and-go food stalls, seafood shops, and other goods. I got a super sharp Japanese kitchen knife at the knife shop on the corner of the market. If you like quality kitchen knives, this shop or other knife dealers are a great place to get a useful souvenir.

Lunch at Tsukiji was at our favorite unagi (eel) restaurant, where we met with family friends and my wife’s cousin Yumi. We all had broiled unagi and enjoyed the event that brought us together. After lunch, Yumi helped us navigate the trains to visit Mont Blanc, a fantastic bakery in Jiyugaoka.

Mont Blanc is one of the world’s best cake and pastry shops! Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Take a Hike

The next stop was the Todoroki Valley trail near the neighborhood where my wife’s aunt used to live. We hadn’t visited the area since Aunty died ten years ago. Due to dangerously leaning trees over the river, we could only walk part of the trail.

We love walking the Todoroki Valley Trail. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The temple near the trail was open, and we explored the temple grounds and part of the river trail below. During our stay, it was the time of year when they celebrated girls’ coming of age. At the Todoroki temple, we saw a young girl dressed in a traditional costume.

A girl in traditional Girls’ Day attire leaves the Todoroki Temple. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Back at the hotel, my wife and I had dinner that night and loved the meal at Obica: Mozzarella Bar. We had a salad and the truffle pizza, the best truffle pie I ever had. The bottle of Fiano was spectacular, and thanks to the favorable exchange rate, the entire meal cost only $120, a bargain in Tokyo.


Kyoto used to be my favorite Japanese destination, but Kanazawa threatens to take that prized spot. During World War II, bombing flattened many cities, and scores of temples were lost. Kanazawa escaped the bombing and has many well-preserved historic sites worth visiting.

Arriving by train in Kanazawa, one is soon impressed by the glass and steel roof covering the station entrance. This architecture is more like a sculpture than a train station roof. Blended into the roof is a traditional wooded gate like those seen at temple and shrine entrances throughout Japan. The designer has created a blend of old and new that captures the soul of Kanazawa.

The large roof at Kanazawa Station looks good and keeps passengers dry when it rains and snows. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

As part of the new Kanazawa, we stayed at the Onyado Nono Hotel near the historic Omichi Fish Market. This location was perfect for walking to the train station, Kenrokuen Gardens, and Kanazawa Castle. Our room was furnished in both a modern and traditional style. For modern touches, we had a bidet toilet seat, common in Japan, a shower with a wand, and a TV. The tatami flooring and wooden window screens with paper window panes gave the room a traditional feel.

Sushi Time

Our first night in Kanazawa was made special by being treated to sushi. We ate at Sushi Kikuya, where the chef/owner served a 14-course meal to remember. This was our first male cod roe, and it was creamy and delicious.

Chef Kikuya provided us with a classic Japanese sushi meal in Kanazawa. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

 I usually don’t like salmon eggs, but this chef’s version tasted like the sea with a hint of salmon oil. My favorite dishes were the fresh crab two ways and the uni (sea urchin), which tasted like butter from the ocean.

On our only full day in Kanazawa, I started the morning with a solo walk to see what was near the hotel. I turned left out the front door of the Nono, then took the next left for about three blocks, where I came upon the west gate to Kanazawa Castle. A historical marker told the story of Christian missionaries living here around the sixteenth century until Christianity was banned in 1614. As an American, I knew little about the history of Christianity in Japan, most of which was from the popular TV series Shogun in the 1980s. Fast forward to 2023, and Christianity is alive and well in Japan.

West gate of Kanazawa Castle. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The rain came off and on throughout the day, necessitating the purchase of a cheap umbrella. We took a taxi to Fukuwauchi, my favorite noodle restaurant in Japan. Once again, our friend Koji joined us for lunch at Fukuwauchi. He told me, “I’ve been eating here ever since I was a child, and I love coming back.”

It’s great fun cooking your own noodles at Fukuwauchi. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Fish By Numbers

That night, Koji took us to a restaurant named 8 7 in Kanazawa that specializes in seafood. Koji knows the owner and said the guy owns commercial fishing boats and selects the best catch to serve at his restaurant. With no sign out front, this would be a restaurant that’s hard to find. We devoured an eight-course dinner of mostly seafood, the only non-fish dish a slice of beef cooked with some greens. About the time dinner was over, Koji told us there was a special seasonal light show at Kanazawa Castle, and if we hurried, we could catch it. The restaurant summoned a taxi, and we made it there in the nick of time.

One of the prettiest dishes was this white fish with roe. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Amazing Lights

The first light feature showed a line of hopping white rabbits moving in time along one of the old stone walls of the castle. The next feature was a bright red light in the distance. One of the staff instructed us to stare at the red light, which gave off interesting starburst patterns as we looked at it.

We trudged on until we came to a field of different-sized egg-shaped blowup fixtures scattered about. As we looked at the six-foot-tall eggs, their colors changed independently of each other. When one of the staff walked up to a large egg and tipped it, the egg instantly changed from green to blue—pretty cool.

The last feature was a projection of tigers, strange flying creatures, walking ostrich-like birds, and a rabbit or two for good measure parading to techno music. We watched this part of the show for several minutes before catching a taxi near the entrance.

To the Gardens

On our last day in Kanazawa, we went to Kenrokuen Gardens, which are said to be one of the greatest in Japan. We had been there in 2004 but didn’t realize what a treasure Kenrokuen is. We walked about 15 minutes from our hotel and paid the 320 JYP ($2) fee at the Mayumizaka entrance. It was helpful that they had a brochure in English with a map to explain the history of the gardens and key features.

Finally, the rain let up, and under partly sunny skies, we walked to the Hisagoike Pond, noting the treasured trees, some with extravagant support systems. Well-trimmed bushes lined the pond side of the trail as we walked to the Komobashi Bridge. Impressive slabs of stone make up the bridge, which seems to defy the ability of stone to be carved for such heavy foot traffic.

Kanazawa has many trees supported by teepee-like rope systems that protect them from heavy snow breaking the branches. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The gurgling stream under the bridge made for a Zen-like moment, and all city sounds vanished while we fixed our gaze on the water. The next water feature was a 15-foot-tall fountain powered by natural pressure using water from another pond. Shortly after the fountain, we approached the Kasumigaike Pond, with its mesmerizing tea houses suspended over the water. The colorful maple trees splashing gold and red on the green landscape added to the visual spectacle.

A Break in the Rain

The sun cleared the clouds during our walk, giving us much-appreciated blue skies. At another scenic bridge over a stream, a young couple in traditional dress came; she was wearing a gold and red kimono, and he wore a dark long jacket and skirt-like attire. The couple undoubtedly added much color and style to my photo of the bridge.

A young couple posed for photos on this bridge during our visit. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

As our park exploration was coming to a close, the sun lit up the gardens as we approached the Kasumigaike Pond. The maples and the tea houses were in their full glory, and I shot some of my best trip photos. After an hour and a half, we felt we had covered the garden well and were ready for our last meal in Kanazawa.

Tea houses by the water are an excellent photo subject. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Koji took us to Coil, a new roll-your-own sushi restaurant in the center of downtown Kanazawa, just five minutes from our hotel. We chose our ingredients from a list of 50 seafood, vegetable, and condiments. We all received four base units of rice on nori to build our custom sushi rolls. All of us enjoyed the experience and left Kanazawa full and happy. The last bit of fun in town was shopping for gifts at the station to bring back to the States.


Our trip to Kusatsu was different as we took the bullet train from Kanazawa to Kaurizawa, then took a taxi at night to Kusatsu. The hour-long trip was uneventful, and we welcomed the sight of Kanemidori, our hotel for two nights. Kanemidori is a Ryokan-style hotel and offers breakfast and dinner as part of the package.  Twelve courses were served at dinner; the first was a tray with three plates of small servings. Japanese pickles, cooked fish, oysters, pumpkin, and other tasty treats you’d never see in most American restaurants made it clear we were dining in Japanese luxury.

Many ryokans in Japan serve food that is this good. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

The servers brought beef and mushrooms in a clay bowl atop a pedestal with chafing dish gel for tabletop cooking. A sushi course with salmon and tuna was delicious, as was the white fish wrapped in a large leaf in which the chef had cooked it.

A bowl of crab rice and a Japanese savory pudding rounded out the dinner. Dessert was ice cream, a gelatin-type dessert, and pudding bars. It helps to have an open mind and try everything when dining in Japan. So many of these dishes are unknown to Americans and foreigners, but that’s part of the fun.

Back to Tokyo

The four of us took a bus from Kusatsu to Shibuya, a four-hour ride that cost only around $25 each. Unlike the train, bus travel gave us an up-close, slower look at the countryside. Our bus passed many small farms that still had persimmons hanging from the trees. Soon after leaving Kusatsu, we saw small farms, thickly forested hills, and picturesque mountains. As the mountains and rivers eventually changed to highways and suburbs, we stopped at a large rest area for a break before heading into central Tokyo.

I enjoyed the view from the bus on the way to Tokyo. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

In Tokyo, my wife left her backpack on the bus and didn’t realize it until the bus had left Shibuya station. She had her dad call the bus company, and they said to be back at the bus stop in two hours. That gave us time to walk around Times Square. We had stayed at a hotel in this area twice and loved shopping at the Takashimaya department store. To burn some time, we found a good bakery called Sawamura, where we had a bread basket and cheese tray paired with wine.

A visit to Tokyo isn’t complete without going to a large department store. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

We went back to the bus stop, and straight away, the same driver who had driven us to Tokyo handed my wife her backpack. That’s great customer service.

Last Dinner

We finished our trip in style by dining at Crony, a Michelin one-star restaurant. We had never tried a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo and loved the 13-course dinner. With wine pairing, the meal cost about $150 each.

I took this photo of the kitchen crew while taking the stairs to the dining room at Crony. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

The crew made a big fuss over the bread service, and soon after I tasted it, I could see why. The round loaf was the best loaf of crunchy, chewy goodness I’ve ever had. We even brought the leftovers home to Baltimore and reheated them the day after we returned, and they were still delicious.

The bread service at Crony was one of the best ever. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

The best course was the Wagyu beef paired with a 2010 Château Sociando Mallet red wine. It was a meal to remember. All of the wines were superb, and we were glad we chose the wine pairing.

Crony’s Wagyu beef was amazing. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

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So Many Reasons to Visit Japan

After years of visiting Japan, I find new rural treasures, fantastic cuisine, big-city fun, a safe traveling environment, and excellent service whenever I return. I believe you will have a great trip and discover your own reasons to return to the Land of the Rising Sun. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more of the best things we recommend when visiting Japan.