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JAPAN

Japan is an incredible country.  There's something for everyone: culture, beautiful scenery, history, and countless unique and vibrant cities.  The highlight for me, without a doubt, was the food.  Whether it's sushi, traditional Japanese cuisine, or even a bento box on the train, the food is delicious, fresh, and artfully prepared.  Here are some of the incredible experiences that I would highly recommend.
TOKYO
KYUBEY GINZA
Kyubey Ginza was the highlight sushi meal of our trip.  Exchange your shoes at the door for slippers, and walk sit down at the cozy, yet sleek sushi bars.  Ask for the omakase (chef's choice), sit back, and enjoy the ride.  The sushi master prepares each piece one at a time, so you can savor every bite.  We also learned here the proper way to eat nigiri: you must turn it on its side so that one chopstick is on the fish and the other on the rice.  Then, put it in your mouth so that the fish hits your tongue, not the rice.  Lifechanging meal!
  
ISHIJIMA
Located in Ginza, Ishijima was a standout meal (pictured above).  While an omakase dinner at Ishijima runs you $250+ USD per person, the lunch menu features the same fresh fish and experience at a fraction of the cost.  We opted for the nigiri course, which was only ~$30 with a drink and miso soup.  The fish was top notch, perfectly combined with brown rice.  The restaurant opens at 11:30, but get there at 11:15 to avoid a wait.
SUSHI GINZA KO HONTEN
Another fantastic sushi institution in Ginza.  We learned about this restaurant since it was featured on Anthony Bourdain, and is known for training some of the top sushi chefs in the world.  Despite this, it was a less touristy spot and you could tell it was a favorite among elite locals.  While the meal was outstanding and you will get a traditional sushi experience, it will cost you a pretty penny.  If you're looking to splurge at a renowned restaurant, this is the spot.
GINZA SUSHI MARUI
Yes, another sushi spot in Ginza.  Ginza is home to some of the world's best sushi since it is very close to the Tsukiji Market, which supplies fish for many parts of the of the world.  Ginza Sushi Marui is a local spot that is far less expensive than many fine restaurants, yet has delicious sushi.
                    Kyubey Ginza                                              Sushi Ginza Ko Honten                                       Ginza Sushi Maru
KYOTO
NISHIKI
Enter the traditional bamboo paneled restaurant, and you'll be lead to a private dining room by a kimono-dressed woman.  You'll be served many courses of traditional, artfully prepared Japanese food-- each course better than the next.  Don't expect an English menu or a translation of any food you don't recognize, but that's part of the adventure!  Located in Arashiama, Nishiki is the perfect spot for a late lunch after a morning of touring some of Kyoto's most majestic temples.
IZUJU
I didn't know what Kyoto-style sushi was (or even existed) until I went to Izuju-- and I'm glad I found out.  Izuju serves some of the best kyozushi in Japan.  Since Kyoto is landlocked and further from the ocean than other Japanese cities, the fish is prepared differently.  For example, there is sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves to preserve the freshness and flavor.  Some rolls have cured mackerel, and others are in pressed into a box-shape wrapped with eel.  Certain ingredients are prepared in a wooden hearth or pressed between wooden frames, bringing a whole new level of flavor.  For a different-- and delicious-- take on sushi, Izuju is a must.  
KARYO
Located in the charming Gion area, Karyo serves traditional Japanese kaiseki (multi-course meal).  There is a L-shaped bar surrounding the kitchen, so you get to watch each dish as it is prepared.  Each course was very different, with many interesting and complex flavors.  The presentation was beautiful.  Karyo is a bit pricey, so definitely save for an occasion.  
                        Nishiki                                                                    Izuju                                                                 Karyo
OSAKA
KOYOSHI
While Koyoshi may not have had any frills, it was unforgettable.  Koyoshi was quite possibly the smallest restaurant I've ever been in.  Behind the 6 seat sushi bar, the adorable husband and wife owners prepare the omakase.  With such small overhead, they don't skimp on the quality of fish.  The toro was a highlight-- it melted in your mouth!
HONTOZUSHI KAIBA
Hontozushi is another casual, quality sushi restaurant in Osaka where the fish doesn't disappoint, and the prices are reasonable.  
STREET FOOD
Osaka is famous for its street food, and there are countless food stalls and local corner eateries serving Osakan specialties.  Try takoyaki, deep fried octopus balls dipped in batter with green onions and ginger.  Or kushikatsu, deep fried meat and vegetable skewers.  You can't miss the famous okonomiyaki, a pancake-like dish where squid, octopus, shrimp, or meat are deep fried with batter.
                       Koyoshi​                                                               Koyoshi                                              Hontozushi Kaisha
Kyubey Ginza
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