Stylist Kate Brien’s Tokyo + Kyoto Photo Diary
Ancient Buddhist temples. Sleek, neon-lit skyscrapers. Unrivaled sushi. Trend-setting streetwear. Tokyo and Kyoto have it all. From can't-miss private art collections to stylish soba noodle shops, California-based stylist Kate Brien takes us on a tour of what to see in the buzzy Japanese cities now.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Where did you stay?
In Tokyo we stayed at the Park Hyatt which has 360-degree views of the city and Mount Fuji, and in Kyoto, we stayed at Ryokan Ugenta, which is along the Kibune river, and Kanra Kyoto, where guestrooms are done up in traditional Machiya (wooden Japanese townhouses) style.
What was the best dish you ate/the best restaurant you ate at?
We are pretty into food and every meal we had in Japan was amazing. I love eating macrobiotic, so Brown Rice Cafe in Harajuku was one of my favorites. As for sushi, hands down the best we’ve ever had came from Sushi Shin.
While in Tokyo, we also stopped by the oldest Katsu restaurant in the city: Tonkatsu Tonki. Apparently, it hasn’t changed since it opened in 1939. There are only two things on the menu, and no music or talking allowed — just a pile of newspapers that they hand out to guests. It’s the absolute best!
In Kyoto, our favorite meal was at Monk, a beautiful farm-to-table restaurant on Philosopher’s Path — a stone trail that crosses through the northern Higashiyama district. There are only a few seats, so sitting and watching Chef Yoshihiro cook dishes in his wood-fired oven is a magical experience.
Are there any must-see sights you’d recommend for those heading to Tokyo and Kyoto?
There are so many different ways to do Tokyo, there’s really something for everyone there. We loved wandering around the Nakameguro and Daikanyama neighborhoods (Vogue calls the latter the “Brooklyn of Tokyo”), and the Japan Folk Crafts Museum — a collection of handicrafts from non-artists — was definitely a highlight. Of course, the Tsukiji Fish Market is also not to be missed; nearly 500 stalls sell upwards of $14 million in seafood every single day.
In Kyoto, we loved the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Daitoku-ii Temple complex — which is far less crowded than some of the more famous temples — and Japanese ceramicist Kawai Kanjiro’s Memorial Museum.
Did you find any good shopping?
Our favorite shops in Tokyo were all of the vintage stores in Harajuku and Okura; the T-Site bookstore in Diakanyama; and the century-old Itoya stationary shop in Ginza.
In Kyoto, we loved Aritsugu — the most amazing knife shop in Nishiki Market; a beautiful vintage ceramic shop called Daikichi; and Ippodo Teas. There was also this amazing shop called Takenomise where everything was made of bamboo. Honestly, I could go on and on…
What are the travel essentials you always travel with?
I try to travel with only a carry-on whenever possible, but on this trip we ended up buying an extra suitcase at Muji to bring things home! I always bring sheet masks — they’re great to wear on the airplane and to give you that extra bit of moisture when you’re feeling dry and jet-lagged. I also always bring comfortable shoes! In Japan we walked over 10 miles a day, so I switched off between AllBirds and Nikes and they absolutely saved my feet.
You can follow Kate Brien on Intagram at @_katebrien_ This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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