Japan – what an absolutely stunning country. I had the pleasure of travelling there with one of my friends from high school a few weeks ago, and boy do I wish I was already back there. It is modern, yet celebrates and showcases its rich history. It is clean, beautifully organised and unlike Australia, has a wonderfully efficient public transport system. The people are so welcoming, polite and generous of heart and spirit. My first piece of advice when travelling to Japan (or any country, for that matter) is to learn some basic words and phrases in the native language. You will be amazed how far it will get you, and how well people respond when you at least give the language a go.
In this post I’m going to talk you through some of the best places to go in the cities I visited, but most importantly, we’ll cover the food. On holidays I don’t always stick strictly to the low FODMAP diet, but do avoid those food groups that I know elicit the worst reactions (i.e. garlic and onion). Overall, I found Japan was a fantastic place to find delicious and convenient food that suited my dietary requirements. However, I did indulge a little and will be including some of that food here too – but don’t worry, I’ll let you know when to be wary.
Before we even get into specific locations, I want to say that the food options and quality at convenience stores in Japan are out of this world. 7/11 and Family Mart are the main two convenience stores in Japan, and sell ready-made meals that are ridiculously cheap, fresh and nutritionally well-balanced. There’s also one on almost every corner, so you never have to worry about going hungry.
Let’s start with Tokyo
We spent most of our time in Tokyo – a bustling, lively metropolis with so much to see and do – far more than we could cover in a little over a week. My top destinations for sight-seeing and food were:
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea
I went to Japan with a Disney enthusiast (that might even be a bit of an understatement), so two of our days were spent at the parks. I’ve never been to any theme park before, so Tokyo Disney was an assault to the senses, and definitely gave me some incredible memories. In regards to the food, I’ll be honest, there’s not much in the way of low FODMAP food in the park if you’re not good with gluten or lactose. I played it safe and bought my food before I got there (you are allowed to take food and drink in, no issues) and I found this was a good option. However, if you’re going to treat yourself to anything, make sure it’s the Little Green Men Mochi – you can find them in either park. These mochi are pockets of glutinous rice paste filled with strawberry, chocolate or vanilla custard, and they are to die for.
The Meiji Shrine
My first experience of a shrine in Japan, the Meiji shrine is a peaceful oasis amongst the craziness of Tokyo. Take some time out to wander the tree lined walkways and appreciate the craftsmanship on display. There’s also a wall of sake barrels I couldn’t stop looking at, or taking photos of.
Genki Sushi in Shibuya and Harajuku
Shibuya and Harajuku are two bustling areas in Tokyo full of life, culture and more shops than you can ever imagine being in one place. There is so much to explore and discover during the day as well as at night, when all the neon lights are lit and it’s even more overwhelming. We ate at Genki Sushi in Shibuya (where there is often a line out the door) and were very impressed with the price and the quality.
Kura Sushi in Ikebukuro
If anywhere is going to trump Genki Sushi, it’s Kura Sushi. This place is well-known for its food, as well as the game you get to play after every 5 plates you eat to see if you win a prize. You order your food on an iPad in your booth and it’s delivered to you on an ‘express lane’ that sits above the regular sushi train below. It’s an experience in itself, but the sushi was out of this world delicious.
Mori Art Museum, Roppongi
If you want to get a breathtaking view of the Tokyo skyline and catch a few exhibits while you’re at it, the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi is the place to go. Over 50 storeys in the air, we saw a Pixar exhibit, as well as a modern art exhibit while we were simultaneously gawking at the view out of the enormous glass windows.
Vintage shops and cream puffs in Shimo-kitzawa
Make sure you’re one of the first in line at Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory, or you won’t be able to get your hands on a Totoro cream puff (warning: contains gluten and dairy) and you’ll regret it. These gorgeous creations might look to good to eat, but once you bite into one you won’t look back. We tried the strawberry and chocolate flavour. Worth the FODMAP discomfort, no questions about it. There are also a huge area of amazing new and vintage shops in the surrounding area, which could occupy you for a whole day.
The incomparable Mt Fuji
Although it can be a long day trip out to Mount Fuji and you may or may not see the mountain depending on the weather, if you do see it, you will never forget it.
Other low FODMAP meal options
I enjoyed the Cobb Salad from Village Vanguard, and the Taco Rice Bowl from Wired Kitchen. Both great low FODMAP options.
Moving on to Osaka
I was only in Osaka for a day, but we made the most of it. The Osaka Castle is absolutely stunning, with Dotonbori and America Mura providing a stark contrast to the history and culture with their noise, light and craziness. Japan does the two well. When we were in Osaka, we had lunch at the famous Ichiran Ramen, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they had a no-garlic, no-onion Ramen on the menu (warning: the noodles still contain gluten) which was absolutely delicious.
Nara: of deer and Buddha
We took another day trip from Kyoto to Nara, famous for its park full of deer that bow obediently for food that you can buy at the entrances. But the deer are not the only drawcard for the park – it has a swathe of double cherry blossoms that I could have spent hours sitting beneath. Further to this, we stumbled across a wisteria garden within the park that boasted over twenty flowering varieties of the plant, which looked and smelled beyond words. The Todai-ji Temple is also located within the park, which is a beautiful historical structure well worth visiting.
Kyoto is deeply steeped in history and culture, and is a truly gorgeous city. My recommendations are:
The road up to this temple is lined with dozens of shops seeling gorgeous kimonos, fans, ceramics as well as tacky souvenirs and matcha soft serve. The temple itself has gorgeous sloping tiles rooves and stunning painted details.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine was my favourite site in Kyoto, and was probably in my top 5 for all of Japan. We left the hotel early to beat the crowds, as it is one of the most famous shrines in Japan. It was absolutely breathtaking walking through these bright red tunnels surrounded by trees and the sounds of insects and birds. Beyond the gates there are shrines for individual families decorated with tokens for good luck and lanterns. An absolute must-see.
If you’re looking for an amazing array of traditional Japanese food and street food, you need to head to Nishiki market. It stretches for what seems like miles, with hundreds of people jostling back and forth, marvelling at the delicious wares on display. Most of the time you may not be able to identify exactly what’s in anything you buy, so I threw caution to the wind and came out unscathed.
My last food recommendation for Kyoto is definitely not low FODMAP, but absolutely worth it. Koe Donuts produces a variety of flavours of fried donuts, all of which look incredible. We chose a strawberry glazed and a crème brulee donut. They were so light and fluffy and completely delicious.