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Having lived in Kyoto and Tokyo, I recommend visiting Japan in the spring to view the cherry blossoms (hanami) and the fall for the foliage (momiji). Fall in Kyoto is particularly beautiful and atmospheric, with the changing color of the leaves against all the temples in this ancient capital. Here are some recommendations that include hotels, restaurants, museums and a bar in Tokyo, what to eat at Narita Airport, a luxury Japanese inn for your hot spring side trip to Hakone and a food tip in Kyoto.

Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo A. The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo

I visit Tokyo about once a year, and I always enjoy the excellent service at Tokyo hotels, even when the rooms aren’t that big. On this last visit, Cyn and I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, and it was our best experience yet. Located in Roppongi, on the top nine floors of Midtown, the tallest building in Tokyo (which houses myriad offices as well a... full article

Hotel B. Grand Hyatt Tokyo

One of the highlights of my Tokyo visit this year was staying at the Grand Hyatt. Service in Japan on the whole is professional and a treat as compared to the United States, but the staff at the Grand Hyatt are extraordinary — from the bell men to the concierge and housekeeping staff, everyone was so pleasant and eager to help, and the service made... full article

Oyster of the Forest C. Les Creations de Narisawa

Yoshihiro Narisawa is the visionary Tokyo chef who has taken his ardent interests in conservation, sustainability and the elemental tastes of land and sea, applied them to modernist culinary techniques and created a cutting-edge, highly refined form of dining as theater. First, guests admire a cylindrical glass bowl full of... full article

Nancy Matsumoto D. Sushi Nakamura 鮨 なかむら

Masanori Nakamura’s Michelin-starred sushi bar is a honey-hued cocoon designed, like many other sushi restaurants of its kind, to soothe the senses and focus the taste buds. After one bite of the chef’s exquisite sushi you’ll know you’re in the hands of a master. One standout was his aji (horse mackerel) sushi. Part of the pleasure is... full article

Uniikura / Nancy Matsumoto E. Sasano

The word uniikura usually conjures the image of a luxury donburi, a bowl of steaming rice draped with a gorgeous shawl crocheted by the ocean: half of it a rich, translucent orange salmon roe, the other half sea urchin lobes the color of brown mustard. The ikura pearls pop in your mouth, releasing a bracing concentration of... full article

Charcoal-Grilled Duck Breast / Nancy Matsumoto F. Akaboshi to Kumagai

When I first encountered sake sommelier Keita Akaboshi several years ago, he was working for a sake importer by day, consulting on the side, and devoting his nights to pouring his favorite brewed beverage at midtown’s Sushi Tsushima.

One memorable Halloween night, I watched him attend to the bar’s patrons with his... full article

Mokumoku Tezukuri Farm Lunch Set / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng G. Mokumoku Tezukuri Farm

Mokumoku is a farm and agricultural theme park located in Iga, Japan. An agricultural movement that promotes food education, Mokumoku’s philosophy is simple: “produce by ourselves, process by ourselves, and provide by ourselves.” Tezukuri, part of the farm’s name, means handmade. In Tokyo Midtown, there is a Mokumoku deli, a popular lunch... full article

Agedofu / Nancy Matsumoto H. Musshu Mizuki

Whether you have a seat at the beautiful burled wood bar or settle into one of the cozy alcoves of this underground Ginza hideaway, the friendly staff will make you feel relaxed and welcome. At Musshu Mizuki, you’ll find standard pub fare served alongside more unusual provisions: a “grilled salad” of organic vegetables sourced from the... full article

Sushi I. Sushi Kai

As I write this review of Sushi Kai, I wonder how many “gaijin” will ever make it there. This exceptional local sushi restaurant is located in Todoroki, which I’m sure does not ring a bell to most foreigners the way Shibuya, Shinjuku or Roppongi does. Indeed, by train, you’ll have to make some transfers to get to this residential... full article

Grilled Sea Bream and Sea Bass J. Shichi Jyu Ni Kou 七十二候

Translated as “Seventy-two Seasons,” this restaurant’s name refers to the five-day “seasons” that make up the ancient Asian lunisolar calendar. Chef Akio Saito follows the subtle shifts of those seasons, making use of organic produce from across Japan.

Among the many surprises of his nine-course menu, it’s the grilled... full article

Lobster and Sea Urchin Spaghetti K. code kurkku

Located a bit south of mobbed Shinjuku Station, Yoyogi Village is an oasis of beautiful and sustainable design, landscaping and food. At code kurkku, the gorgeous restaurant that anchors the development, Chef Yasuhiro Sasajima showcases his brand of Japanese-Italian food, with an emphasis on the “Japanese” part of... full article

Black Bean Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Syrup L. Nihonbashi Yukari 日本橋ゆかり

Chef Kimio Nonaga is a third-generation master at this venerable Tokyo restaurant, as well as a former Iron Chef Japan. A traditionalist, he innovates within the bounds of his country’s own ingredients. Yet he has been known to occasionally borrow from the culinary vocabulary of the West; the fact that he... full article

Hamburger Rice M. Roji Azabu

Has this ever happened to you? You follow a spontaneous craving to a hole in the wall that you don’t think is going to amount to much, but the meal ends up being so good that you remember the experience in vivid detail for months afterwards? On our most recent trip to Tokyo, my sister and I decided to take a walk from Roppongi Hills to... full article

Japanese Pickled Vegetables N. Kintame 近為

My time in Tokyo was brief, but one of the restaurants/shops I did want to check out was Kintame — Tokyo’s branch of Kyoto’s famous Japanese pickle house. One of my most memorable food experiences from the time I lived in Japan was visiting the original Kintame restaurant in Kyoto. Until then I had never thought much of... full article

Cocktails O. Bar Gen Yamamoto

Although botanicals may be grabbing the spotlight in American cocktail culture, in Tokyo, mixologist Gen Yamamoto is creating ravishing cocktails where plants, herbs and spices play supporting, not starring, roles. Front and center are the varied and lovingly cultivated fruits and vegetables of Japan. Using ingredients such as edamame, fava... full article

Design P. 21_21 Design Sight

In 2003, post-bubble Japan was in the doldrums, both financially and creatively. In an open letter to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, fashion designer Issey Miyake suggested a way out. Design, he wrote, was an area in which Japan had historically excelled. The country needed a space that would recall past trailblazers, showcase the country’s latest... full article

Art Q. Mori Art Museum 森美術館

The Mori Art Museum is spectacularly located on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. The observation deck on the 52nd floor offers panoramic views of Tokyo; while there are no windows on the museum floor, the exhibitions on view offer more than enough to take in. During my visit, the exhibit (ongoing through September 1, 2013) was “All... full article

Sushi R. Sushi Kyotatsu すし京辰

This is not the most amazing sushi, but for an airport it’s tremendous, and it’s a treat when you have a four-hour layover.

Having tried much of the fish on the menu, even though I’m usually more adventurous, the best value and quality is the chutoro (semi-fatty tuna) at ¥420 a piece (the otoro (fatty tuna) is ¥630 a piece, but the quality... full article

Japanese Inn with Hot Spring Baths S. Hakone Ginyu Ryokan 箱根吟遊

Hakone has long been the weekend and vacation playground of big city dwellers in Japan, renowned for its therapeutic hot spring baths, beautiful mountains, Lake Ashi, and prime views of Mt. Fuji. It is also chock-a-block with ryokan, or inns, from the most modest hostel-like accommodations to indulgent spa resorts with... full article

Soba T. Teuchisoba Gen 手打ち蕎麦 彦(げん)

Teuchisoba Gen serves two different types of buckwheat noodles: the regular seiro noodles that you’ll find on the menus of all soba restaurant’s and the specialty, gen noodles, which are made with less finely ground soba grains so you can see and taste the graininess. The added texture of the gen noodles makes them absolutely delicious, especially if... full article

Baked Sesame Tofu with Honey  焼胡麻豆腐 U. Jiki Miyazawa じき 宮ざわ

Chef Masato Miyazawa’s house specialty is this knockout dish of haute Japanese comfort food, which he packages and sells in beautiful take home boxes. Guests at his tiny Michelin-starred restaurant — imbued with the simplicity and singleness of purpose that I love in Kyoto kaiseki restaurants — sit at the counter and... full article