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one of the many guides to japan

Welcome to my magnum opus.

For the simplest experience, just add these lists to your google maps and thank me later! 👇️

🏗️ rest of this doc is currently under construction 🚧

Introduction & Background

I could wax poetic about Japan, but other white men have done enough of that, and in the end you’ll always just need to be there yourself. If you’ve spend extended time in Japan before, you already Get It™ and if not, well I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did and do.

After twenty-two years and seven consecutive days of walking the hell out of Tokyo, I now realize that I’d go to the mat for this city. I still can’t believe I made my way here so long ago, and found a way to stay. The city taught me care, introduced me to aesthetics and design and literature and people that would inform my entire career. It taught me loneliness and solitude, too, and in doing so forced me to confront both, to transmute them into more than hopelessness. The city showed me and continues to show me what’s possible. Continues to set the bar for what should be expected — no, demanded — of life and infrastructure and social goodness. The city says people can live with grace, can be honored, just like this, just like you. Look, it says — grace abounds. It’s yours to bear to witness to, if you choose. — Craig Mod
My “Recommend Things In Japan” Qualifications 👇️

I’ve spent about ~2 years in Japan since I became a conscious human being (~22 years old), visiting at least once a year until the pandemic. I’ve biked more than 1,500 kilometers across Honshu and Shikoku (including from Kyoto to Onomichi, twice) and have walked hundreds of kilometers within Tokyo alone. And don’t even get me started on the trains.

I got my 15 seconds of fame on Halloween 2017 when a 4am-drunk and adorably cringe matt showed off his halloween costume on the most popular morning variety show.

Yes, that intro text says “Weird Foreigner Spotted!” and no, the pun on my chest doesn’t actually make any damn sense, I just thought it was funny with language skills at the time.

I’m mimicking the train announcements and saying “the doors are closing please stand behind the yellow line” in perfect robotic japanese as I zip up the jump suit—good bit.

I was recognized on the street once, and here’s me as some rando’s profile picture on twitter lmao

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Let’s fucking goooooo (to Japan).

By the way, I’m writing this before I’ve actually been back post-pandemic, and/but will continue to update it in real-time going forward.

Guidelines for Travel (& Life)

  1. Don’t live your days by anyone’s prescription—not mine and definitely not a fucking app’s, so follow your heart and if a place looks inviting, you were meant to be there. Yeah, you should probably walk down that alley to see where it goes.
  2. You should probably say yes to the unexpected—this energy is 99% of experience.
  3. Speak to people, and go out of your way to do so—of people and places, people are everything.
  4. Travel by breadth or depth, and know that both are valid.

The Holy Trinity of Lists

I’ve compiled my favorite places into these lists, along with any personal notes for each.

I recommend putting it on your map and consulting when you’re looking for something new to do.

one of the many japan lists // Food

places to eat a meal. the best of my best, and i’ve eaten a lot of food

one of the many japan lists // Places & Spaces

places to stay, spaces to be in: ryokans, parks, museums, onsens, overlooks, and seats for sitting

one of the many japan lists // Bars & Cafes

dedicated to the art of vibing, alone or with others

Food

Honestly it’s hard to have a bad meal in Japan. Perhaps 1 meal every few months will be dissatisfying. It’s all just good. Tokyo along boasts more Michelin stars than any other city, nearly twice as many as Paris, and the minimum bar of quality is just astounding. Certain cuisines more than others, of course, but damn even the New York style pizza slaps.

Vegetarianism / Veganism

Ok, it’s really tough to be vegetarian or vegan in Japan, but it is possible, it just takes more effort than you might expect.

If you’re lax about animal products being used in the production of food (aka bone broth ok, but chashu ramen toppings not), it gets easier, but regardless you’ll have an interesting time.

I dedicate the rest of this section to Hundred Rabbits, who wrote the bible on plant based diets in japan. I also recommend literally everything else on their website, enjoy. 👇️

Activities

Snowboarding - Japow, hokkaido

biking - shimanami kaido, general biking information

hiking

walking - kumano kodo, iseiji, nakasendo, all the craig mod walks

third wave coffee culture, roasting

Culture

Meibutsu — 名物 — Everyone’s Got a Famous Thing

There exists a widely followed tradition in which each area of Japan (either an entire prefecture or as small as a specific neighborhood) has a specialty. These can be crafts—like “oh, so-and-so-town is well-known for making tiles”) or food—like “so-and-so-machi has literally the best uni in japan”—or anything, really. Importantly it’s kind of a made up list, but the fun is in of course you have to try the thing that this place is so well-known for! You simply must!

As an experiential traveler, it’s nice to have such an explicit, if made up, thing to try in each area, so please enjoy trying the “world’s best” bonito tataki or the “world’s best” red bean paste

Safety

Japan is safe af, enjoy.

The Social Contract (Trash, Noise, etc)

Language

Onsen / Sento & Tattoos

Tokyo

Tokyo is a near-perfect city. You quite simply have to see it, to believe that it is possible for humans to coordinate at such a scale, to realize one can live in elegance and excellence among millions of one’s peers, and to do so gracefully.

I hope you love the city as much as I do, and export its urban fabric and quality of life to your own places and spaces.

Preface

Tokyo is organized around the Yamanote line, the green circular one that serves as the backbone. By daily ridership, the Yamanote line alone moves twice as many people as the entire NYC subway network.

That’s lit, and it’s just one of the so many train options in the city. The trains are so good and accessible and close to where you want to go that I don’t actually encourage renting a bicycle by default for Tokyo — the trains are just that good.

Where to Stay

I recommend Ebisu for first time visits to Tokyo. Its transit options are excellent (Yamanote + Hibiya) and is walking distance to Shibuya and calmer areas like Hiroo, Daikanyama, and Nakameguro. The Hibiya will get you to the east side of Tokyo quickly, and the Yamanote will get you literally everywhere else. The fabric of Ebisu is also quite great, with a blend of walkable residential sections and dense station-centric businesses.

TODO: hotels?

Shibuya

Harajuku, Omotesando, & Cat Street

Ebisu, and Daikanyama

Shimokitazawa

Hiroo

Kichijoji

Shibuya, Ebisu, Nakameguro, Hiroo, Ikejiri-ohashi, Shimokitazawa, Kichijouji, Jiyugaoka

Yokohama

Enoshima

Enoshima is Tokyo’s most prominent—but def not only—surf town: the Rockaways of Tokyo’s NYC. Lots of coffee, some seafood, surf, and some vibes. Go there and see.

Kamakura

Some coffee, some temples, some food, and some nature. Go there and see.

Kyoto

I highly recommend a bicycle for navigating kyoto, its the perfect vehicle for its streets. The temples are worth the tourist hassle to go see, enjoy! Don’t forget to get your soft serve ice cream after each visit!

I highly recommend getting convenience store take out and chilling on the riverwalk near kiyamachidori with all the youngsters one night — it’s a scene to behold.

Kyoto Station

Honestly Kyoto station is gorgeous, check out the skyway for views of the city.

Kiyamachi-dori

A dense and walkable section of the city near the river with lots of food, bars, etc.

Hilltop Tea House Mo-an

a delightful little walk and a delightful little cafe

Kyoto Railway Museum

A train museum that, if you like the idea of a train museum, you will love. Train spotters hang out on the roof terrace which has views of some great number of lines in the region.

Tee-Reco

is a quaint t-shirt store that you browse like a record shop

Kichi-Kichi Omurice

HEYYYYY — The greatest omurice personality in the world runs kichi kichi.

K-On Stone Bridge

If you’ve seen k-on, you might recognize this stone bridge from one of the OPs

K-On School

And if you liked the stone bridge, you’ll love the town of Toyosato, the inspiration for the environments in K-On. The old elementary school is a K-On museum, and it’s absolutely striking to visit and see how identical it is to the show.

Nagashi somen

Nagashi somen is a summer-time eating experience where you catch noodles coasting by in a bamboo trough, and you can experience this in a beautiful setting at Hirobun.

Osaka

Osaka is great, though I haven’t spent a ton of time there yet. It is, however, home to the best katsu sando I’ve ever eaten.

The Best Katsu Sando — Grill Bon Dojima

I was in Osaka for a week, and I ate here for lunch nearly every day, and dinner sometimes too. It’s just that good.

Oretachi-no-Curry-ya

An extremely dank curry spot.

Onomichi

Onomichi is a port-side town near Hiroshima that serves as one end of the Shimanami Kaido, the island bicycling network I love so much. It was extremely lively decades ago, when the port was well-used, but was on the decline once trade moved elsewhere. Now it’s experiencing a beautiful revival thanks to its fantastically dense old town, access to the Shimanami Kaido, and easy-going vibes.

Shikoku

野中サイクル / Nonaka Cycle

An old man has lived by the roadside here for ages, photographing all of the cyclists that have come by (this road comes out of the valley, as part of a marked circuit of Shikoku). If you find yourself nearby, hope that he is home and give his store a visit.

Nakatosa

Nakatosa, served by the Tosa-Kure station, is an absolutely delightful seaside town in the central southern coast of Shikoku. It hosts a seafood market and some delightful cafes, all with the ease of a sea-side town far from the major cities. Nakatosa’s 名物 is bonito tataki, which I enjoyed at Hamachan.

We biked through and stayed at the fancy Ryokan on the hill overlooking the town, which has beautiful views from the onsen — highly recommended. We got a recommendation for a restaurant in town, Omoya where we were waited on by the mayor’s daughter (!). After some fun chit-chat, she offered to let us call her dad, so we chatted with the mayor. He recommended we play some park golf (it’s 9 half-sized holes of golf with just an iron and a putter) before we leave, and we did so gladly.

Kokuya Cafe

In Nakatosa is Kokuya Cafe, an absolutely impeccable cafe with lovely owners and a beautiful garden. I highly recommend a visit.

Hokkaido

Misc

Japan is an excellent place to be alone, I highly recommend a period of solo travel for any and everyone reading this. There’s a certain ennui granted by one’s set and setting and Japan’s setting is particularly *chefs kiss*.

Books

The Inland Sea

Craig Mod