December 11, 2009 | 9:29am
Since I first visited Japan 18 years ago, I'd only ever seen the faint outline of Mount Fuji through the clouds. Last week, though, I got a clear view of the iconic Fuji-san on three different occasions -- too exciting! This was the first one, taken from the window of the Shinkansen (bullet train) as I sped towards Kyoto.
While in Kyoto, I took a workshop on making omogashi (traditional Japanese tea ceremony sweets) at the legendary Oimatsu. These were the treats I made, minus one I had with a bowl of matcha after the class was over.
Despite its reputation, Oimatsu's storefront is very humble, on a quiet street near the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
Here's a shot of one the shrine buildings. The place is a huge tourist attraction. At shrines, there are a lot of opportunities to make wishes, and I wished for good health, since I was sick for the majority of my trip (crappy, I know!).
One of the perks of staying at a traditional ryokan (inn) is the amazing service and the food -- which they serve in your room. A kimono-clad staffer at Koyanagi, located on the outskirts of Matsumoto in the midst of the Japan Alps, set up this multi-course feast on a low table, which required sitting on tatami to eat. To drink, I'd picked up a bottle of unfiltered plum wine that was unlike anything I've had in the States.
Here's the famous castle, built over 400 years ago. To work up an appetite, I climbed staircase after staircase all the way to the top floor.
Yes, they serve breakfast in the room, too --- all kinds of savory foods that fill you up but in an energizing way, with an emphasis on their local veggies. My favorite part was the "onsen tamago," an egg poached in boiling water from a natural hot spring. I cracked the egg into a dish of cool, salty dashi and slurped it up.
I still haven't eaten fugu yet, if you can believe it, but I spotted a tank of live ones outside of a restaurant in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.
Late November and early December in Tokyo is still fall weather -- chilly but with beautiful leaves everywhere. The Japanese are so enthusiastic about the changing of the seasons, which naturally extends to the food.
One of my splurges was a kaiseki meal at Shofukuro, located on the 36th floor of the Marunouchi Building, at the heart of Tokyo. I had my own little private dining room to myself, with the most amazing view to stare at while ultra-polite ladies in kimono swooshed in with course after course of lovely food. Here is a basket of luscious maguro and avocado, served with a cup of the absolute best salmon roe I've ever eaten -- sweet, hardly salty, not at all bitter. There were also artful bites of beef, grilled fish, and shrimp.
This was just the tiniest, tiniest taste of what Japan has to offer -- Tokyo alone has thousands of restaurants, with more Michelin-three-starred places than even Paris.
Yes, I'm already saving up for the next trip.