Lei Ann Shiramizu is one of my most stylish, funny and witty friends. She is the co-proprietor of Momo, a store that’s elegant and vibrant at the same time, which is hard to do! She also loves to travel to Japan, so I wanted to ask her:

Tell me your favorite things about Japan and why:

Being Japanese-American and born and raised in Hawaii, Japan is familiar and foreign at the same time. Different cities have different characteristics, different personalities. True anywhere. But there are commonalities: clean, polite, accessible and orderly. I feel safe and can enjoy the experience without worrying about my well-being.

Tell me three things about Japan that you think a visitor shouldn’t miss, and why:

1. Rent a bike in Kyoto

Photo: Peter Birkinshaw/

Kyoto by Bike | Photo: Peter Birkinshaw

Kyoto is flat, it’s a very very bike-friendly city, it’s also a casual practical biker scene. In the USA, people tend to ride bikes for exercise, not for simple transportation. Cycling is also a great way to get from temple to temple. Finally, you can ride along the river and see it at the right pace.

2. Drink and eat at a Fukuoka City Yatai

Fukuoka City Yatai/Photo: Melanie_Ko/Flickr (

Fukuoka City Yatai | Photo: Melanie_Ko/Flickr (

Yatai (loosely similar to a food stall or truck, but more like an open-air restaurant) are awesome. They are cheap too. But the top reason is you get to share the camaraderie of the people next to you. On my last trip, with my 80-year-old parents, we drank sake with a Japanese man who loved Hawaiian culture. So my mom sang Tiny Bubbles along with Japanese strangers!

3. Visit Mount Kōya


A temple on Mount Koya | Photo: Akuppa John Wigham (

Mount Kōya (高野山) is a sacred mountain top. It’s considered the birthplace of Shinto Buddhism. It’s a sacred place! Getting there from Kyoto, be prepared for trains, planes, and automobiles! When we got there, we were served the most amazing vegetarian meal you will ever enjoy, even if you’re not vegetarian. Be sure to partake of goma-tofu, the only place you will find this delicious black sesame tofu. There is also a graveyard at the temple. We walked through it at sunset. We heard the temple gong. It is something I will never forget. We stayed at a Shinto monastery. You have to wake up early and take part in morning prayers with the monks (and other guests.) Mandatory!

Bonus: Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Lanterns / Photo: Riley Roxx (

Hiroshima Peace Lanterns | Photo: Riley Roxx (

Hiroshima is beautiful and hopeful. The way I feel about Hiroshima is the way I feel about a person who had cancer, but then got healthy again. It’s a phoenix rising from the ashes. You shouldn’t feel guilty about Hiroshima, just go.

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