Japanese Food: From Tempura to Takoyaki

Japanese food, where the dining experience is not only about the actual food consumed, but also the presentation, the design, the sheer beauty of what you're eating. From the traditional to the modern, from the quick to the drawn-out, and from the haute to the street — with a few unusual (and necessary) ideas for limited budgets to help your yen go a bit further — this is our take on Japanese food.

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Fantasy Meet Reality: An Afternoon at a Japanese Maid Cafe

I’m about to try to explain why, together with the woman who does the English language voice of Hello Kitty, Audrey and I stalked a couple of girls in rabbit suits, only to end up in a big pink room eating scrambled eggs and ketchup served up by teenage Japanese girls in French maid outfits singing high-pitched children’s rhymes.

A G-rated reality wrapped in the potential for a XXX-rated fantasy.

As Bill Murray said in Lost in Translation, “This is hard.”

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Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Where Sushi Gets its Start

Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan

A visit to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market is a rite of passage for sushi enthusiasts. For those of us who bow at the altar of raw fish, it's truly a must-see.

After you've visited Tsukiji, you may never look at that piece of tako (octopus) or toro (tuna) in quite the same way ever again. Outside of the seas themselves, it doesn't get any fresher than this.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Vermillion Gates — Kyoto, Japan

Torii at Kyoto fushimi inari shrine

Walk through the tunnel of ten thousand vermillion torii (gates) snaking their way up the mountain at Fushimi Inari Shrine outside of Kyoto and you’ll soon realize that no two are exactly the same. Look one way and you’ll see bare, unadorned orange posts. Turn the other and you’ll see the names of all the businesses or individuals who donated each gate as a sign of gratitude for their prosperity. Among the thankful, a range — from men of small business to giants of Japanese industry hailing from companies like Hitachi or Panasonic.

No business is too big to be thankful to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, sake and prosperity.

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From Remote Control Toilets to Konbinis: Japan First Impressions

Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto

Travelers and tourists are often taught to look to historical sites for cultural insight, but Japan evinces plenty of culture in the seemingly everyday. It’s clear that the country has a long and deep history — complex, with nooks and crannies, cultural twists and turns, and sweeping evolutions. However, while I’m tempted to share my first impressions of Japan’s Buddhist and Shinto shrines, I’ll instead first share fifteen impressions of the cultural bits in the current, the white spaces of travel.

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Daisho-in Buddhist Temple on Miyajima Island, Japan

Heniyokutu Cave at Daisho-in Buddhist Temple - Miyajima, Japan.

When you enter Heniyokutu Cave at Daisho-in Buddhist temple, pause for a moment. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, details begin to appear — prayer offerings and written wishes tied to the base of Buddhist statues, Japanese characters tracing the bottom of the lights, faint smiles on many of the icons. In the dim light, there’s a feeling of peacefulness amidst it all.

Take a look at the fisheye photo below to see for yourself.

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Saying Goodbye to China: Top 10 Authentic Travel Experiences

43 posts and 16 photo sets later, we’ve reached the end of a long road of reflection on China, an on-the-fly addition to our around-the-world journey.

Classic Pingyao
A classic Pingyao street scene.

The impetus to change our itinerary occurred while we were in Central Asia. Several seasoned travelers and experts, having just come from China, convinced us to seize the moment and visit before the Olympics. We're glad we did.

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Slideshow: The Many Faces of China

The arc of our travel experience is shaped by the people we meet. Even the most beautiful food and landscape need a human context. With that in mind, we offer a selection of faces – each with a story – that we will recall whenever we reflect on our travels in China.

The following slideshow is our take on China's ethnic diversity. While these images represent only a fraction of China's 56 official ethnic groups (there are scores more unofficial ones), we hope they give you a better feel for the various people who call China their home.

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A Chinese Food Grab Bag

To close our Chinese food series, we share a few miscellaneous bits, bites and highlights that we just couldn’t shoehorn into the previous segments. We remember fondly the Chinese dining experience: refrigerator cases full of greens, skyscraper piles of tofu, the flash fry technique, earthy-brown soy and sesame oil chili pepper sauces, and copious condiments.

The Chinese consider the number eight lucky. We can all use a little luck, so we limit our list accordingly.

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