Travel & Food: From Food to Fashion: My First (Delectable!) Trip to Japan, by Travel Writers

By Kalea Whitley

What a great surprise I had on my 12th birthday last year. My Aunt Sharon said she was treating my parents and me to a 12-day trip to Japan.

The minute I landed at Narita International Airport, I knew I would enjoy my stay in Tokyo. After a 12-hour flight of nonstop music in my headphones and not a wink of sleep, you bet I was tired, but the rush of the airport was enough to keep me awake — for almost an hour. I took a quick nap on the ride to our hotel and awoke in the pleasant atmosphere of Ginza, Chuo, where we would stay for a week.

The next day I had a traditional vegetarian Japanese breakfast. It consisted of pickled ume (Japanese plum), black kelp, strong miso soup, tamagoyaki (a type of Japanese omelet), a sweet marinated grape, orange slices, steamed veggies and rice. My parents and I loved it, and every bit of it had incredible health benefits, which made it even better. Once our morning meal was done, we did a quick tour of Ginza and its wonderful designer stores and restaurants.

On our first day of sightseeing with our guide, Karen, I did skincare and makeup and put on my best clothes because I was going to be walking down the most bustling tourist area of Tokyo — Akihabara. Akihabara is known for bright lights, billboards and youth culture, in particular anime, one of the best-known animation types around the world. I got back to the hotel quite frazzled but with many shopping bags (souvenirs for friends) and gorgeous pictures on my iPhone.

My favorite places were Harajuku, Fuchu, Shibuya Crossing and the Hama-rikyu Gardens and Tea House. In Harajuku, we spent our time in the buzzing, colorful area of Takeshita Street. I was mesmerized by all the stores and clothing worn. In Harajuku, young people express themselves through their clothing, from Decora and gyaru to Lolita and so much more. Clothing stores in Takeshita had everything from bows and frills to capes and combat boots. They also had the fabled Sanrio store, which I was delighted to see. At the end of the day, my arms were sore from all the bags I carried, but was it worth it? Absolutely. I would have stayed longer if I could.

Fuchu, a Tokyo suburb, was the most quaint and gorgeous town ever. The neighborhood we wandered was calm and serene, and the amount of nature and little houses made it the perfect balance between metropolis and countryside. Overall, Fuchu was one of the most beneficial parts of the trip. My favorite part about Fuchu was when we went to our tour guide Karen and her husband Kenzo’s house for a late lunch. The food was amazing, and Kenzo is a great cook. He made two wonderful types of tofu, sesame and walnut, and it was some of the best cuisine I’ve ever had. This experience was a crucial part of the trip.

Before we had ventured to Harajuku, we stopped near Shibuya Crossing to see the statue of Hachiko, the famous dog who patiently and eagerly waited for his beloved owner at the train station daily for nearly 10 years after he had passed away. The story was very sad, but the statue and Hachiko’s legacy was beautiful, and we had the bustling Shibuya Crossing and many electronic billboards to distract us from our sorrow.

At the Hama-rikyu Gardens and Tea House, I had a lot of fun. The meal was delectable. Since it was a tea service, we had big bowls of bitter matcha brew with a choice of two overly sweet treats — a dorayaki (red bean paste pancake) or a small seasonal confection. It was hard to pick between the two as they both sounded so yummy, but I ended up going with the dorayaki. Before we sipped the matcha, we rotated the bowl facing us to the opposite side in three turns, drank our tea, then when we were finished, turned the bowl back in two half-rotations to its original position in front of us. It was an exciting experience, and although bitter matcha tea might not be for everybody, I enjoyed it very much. I rate it 10 out of 10!

During our last two days, we stayed at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel and took a day trip to Tokyo Disney next door. It was like every other Disneyland except they had more parades, and everything was in Japanese, of course.

What made the whole trip for me, though, were the konbinis, or convenience stores. I was living off Family Mart and 7-Eleven every day, and it was all healthy. When I came back to the United States, I was disappointed because I couldn’t munch on a tamago sando (egg sandwich) or an onigiri (rice ball) with ume in it, which were my two favorite konbini foods.

But since I’ve been home, I have vowed to go back and experience all of this all over again. Big thanks to my Aunt Sharon, Uncle Carl and our tour guide (and Aunt Sharon’s childhood friend) Karen Smith Takizawa and her husband Kenzo. This was an amazing trip that I’ll never forget. Arigato!


Go Tokyo:

Author Kalea Whitley poses with her aunt, writer Sharon Whitley Larsen, at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura. Photo courtesy of Carl H. Larsen.

 Akihabara is a popular Tokyo shopping district for youth pop culture with fun, colorful window figures. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

Akihabara is a popular Tokyo shopping district for youth pop culture with fun, colorful window figures. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

 A fan of the touching story of Hachiko, the Akita dog, takes a photo of the popular statue in Tokyo's Hachiko Square. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

A fan of the touching story of Hachiko, the Akita dog, takes a photo of the popular statue in Tokyo’s Hachiko Square. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

Kalea Whitley is the niece of writer Sharon Whitley Larsen. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: at Unsplash

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