When Jasmine Nobis-Olson traveled to Japan with Journy, her priority was food—specifically the type of culinary experiences she couldn't find in her small Midwest town. Continue reading to hear about her experience—from the meal that stood out the most to the advice she'd give future Japan travelers.
Why Japan? What made you want to travel there?
Japan was a long-time bucket list destination for me. My partner and I had long dreamed about indulging in the cuisine at the source and were keen to explore several areas, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and an onsen outside of Tazawako in the northern Akita Prefecture. While my partner did celebrate his 40th birthday during the trip, we hadn't planned with that in mind. The exact dates and duration of the trip were actually spurred by a super nonstop flight deal from Chicago to Narita.
What was it like working with your trip designer, Sarah, to build the itinerary?
It was a very easy and collaborative process. To start, Sarah presented a list of vetted hotel options since I hadn't booked any accommodations yet. She took all my input and feedback in stride and got right to work delivering superbly tailored itineraries for each city. When she sent the first draft, I was surprised at the level of detailed commentary and explanation; I was expecting a sterile schedule, but received a flexible and well-thought out vacation plan.
Did you have any specific requests or interests that were built into your itinerary?
The majority of my requests were centered around making sure we were ticking the boxes on all the major food groups: ramen, sushi, wagyu, beer...haha! Sarah worked well to adapt to our request to experience the spectrum of Japanese cuisine. We had a few high-end places mapped out, but instead of making reservations for every other night, we requested smaller local places that specialized in one type of food. A few of the recommended places didn't have any reviews at all on the standard review sites, but we went in with an adventurous spirit and found some true gems that we wouldn't have known about or stopped at without Journy.
Aside from the standard sights, cultural spots, restaurants and bars, I was also interested in niche fragrance shops. Japan is a country that doesn't wear a lot of personal scents, so I knew this was asking a lot. Sarah definitely delivered with several recommendations and I was able to purchase two new scents! My partner is an avid fisherman, so I requested fishing stores be added also—which was a fun experience that I might not have included if I built the itinerary myself.
What would you recommend for future travelers to Japan who are also interested in food? Any tips? Dos/dont’s? Things to look out for or know?
It's okay to be scared at the ramen shop vending machines! You might hyperventilate a little and get angry at your partner for not knowing how to read Japanese or not bringing smaller bills while people start to line up behind you. But then someone will inevitably help you, whether it's the chef handing you an English menu or a fellow diner offering to choose for you. You'll sit down and try to melt your embarrassment into your seat while you wait for your ramen. And when it arrives and you take that first bite, you'll know everything is going to be okay in the world.
Aside from the basic rules anyone can find online (chopstick etiquette, don't pour your own drinks, don't walk and eat), we did notice one other thing multiple times over the course of our trip. Inevitably, we would be sitting in a restaurant or bar and a couple would enter, sit down and begin to order when one person wasn't as adventurous or hungry and decided they didn't want anything. The establishment would always say something to the effect of "one person, one order." I think this is important to know, since most places have very limited seating, if you're sitting down somewhere, at least order a drink to pay for your seat.
Also, hot tip if you're visiting an onsen: bring konbini snacks with you. It may sound silly, but trust me, long train rides and mountain vegetables for days will make those tuna mayo-flavored potato chips look mighty good after awhile.
What surprised you about Japan?
Everything was exciting in Japan for us, this was our first trip outside of North America or Europe and it was truly eye-opening to be immersed in another culture where everything felt somewhat familiar to other large cities, but was just far enough removed to keep things interesting.
Crosswalks are everywhere, but in Japan the crosswalk light is obeyed no matter what. You like to think people will be courteous on public transportation everywhere, but there are signs and announcements on Japanese trains reminding everyone to not talk on their phone and not click clack on their computer in case it might disturb others.
Japan was a country of delicious food, polite society, punctual transportation, habitual etiquette, controlled chaos and let's not forget: an abundance of konbinis and vending machines on every block that you will dream about when you return home.
What was the highlight of your trip? Was there an experience that blew you away?
This might sound quite cliché, but we really loved our sushi omakase experience at Miyazono. It's not something we have regular access to in a small Midwest town, and so when it came time to look at options for an indulgent experience I was overwhelmed with choices. Miyazono was recommenced by Journy summarizing it as not the most exclusive or most expensive, but was somewhere where chefs visited after their own shifts. I was sold, that was the exact detail I didn't know I needed that fit our vibe exactly and it turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. To this day we still talk wistfully about the quality, artistry and service we experienced there.
Planning a trip to Japan?
Leave the heavy lifting to Journy. We work with a dedicated Japanese reservationist to snag those hard-to-get spots at the best restaurants, which is when we also double check to ensure that any and all dietary accommodations and/or allergies can be accommodated. Plus, with our insider intel and expert network, we have a pulse on the Japanese dining scene and will only recommend the spots that are, in fact, the best—both for the food and overall attitude towards foreigners.
To get a better sense for what it's like to travel to Japan with Journy, take a peek at this sample itinerary.