Best Day Trips from Tokyo, Japan

Most first time travelers to Japan never leave the capital of Tokyo. While the big city offers many cool attractions, great nightlife and shopping, the real charm of Japan is in the countryside. Here are some places that are within couple of hours reach and make for great weekend getaways and day trips.

NIKKO

Nikko had been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries. It is a charming small town near the hills designated a World Heritage Area. When you arrive, there are shops selling local ice creams and cheesecakes right by the train station. Walk about 20 minutes or take the local bus to the temples and shrines entrance.

Walk through oak and cedar forests to see the mythical Shinkyo Bridge. There are a few restaurants near the bridge that offer Japanese set menus.

See one of the largest wood tori gates in Japan and a complex of shrines at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and the Buddhist temple next door. Toshogu is Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Plan to walk for couple of hours if you want to see everything.

Nikko National Park also offers scenic landscapes, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails. It is a spectacular place to see fall colors.

KAMAKURA
Located only an hour drive from Tokyo, Kamakura is home to the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at Kotoku-in Temple.  The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall, destroyed and later rebuilt in open air. You can even go inside the statue for a small fee
There are also a dozen other temples in the area, but my favorite place was the Hokoku-ji Temple, a resting place for the samurai. Here, you can stroll through tall bamboo forests and have a cup of tea overlooking peaceful nature. Also, check out the dove shaped peace cookies popular in the area.
Kamakura is located by the sea and has resorts and apartments overlooking sand beaches, as well as boating, sailing, swimming and surfing sites.
HAKONE
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo, approximately 1.5 hours by train.
This is a great place to see Mount Fuji, the sacred volcanic mountain of Japan. Take a boat ride in Lake Ashinoko to catch the best views.
Watch volcanic activity in action on the Hakone Ropeway through Owakudani Boiling Valley. The sulphur has strong odor and can burn your eyes when it’s windy so bring protective covering. There are also a number of open air museums in Hakone. Many people prefer to stay overnight at a ryokan in the area to enjoy the natural hot springs. 

Thandai at the Taste of Atlanta

Taste of Atlanta got a special treat from India today. As part of the “Spice of Life” segment at the “Inside the Food Studio” stage, I talked about different spices and their benefits, and share with participants a very special recipe that many westerners are unfamiliar with. Continue reading “Thandai at the Taste of Atlanta”

Pumpkin cheesecake brûlée

Here’s a crowd favorite dessert that I end up making during the holidays every year. Even people who don’t typically like pumpkin, love this recipe. What makes it extra special is the caramelized burnt sugar (or brûlée) that tops off the creamy cheesecake. If you don’t have a  brûlée torch, it is well worth the small investment. For variations, you can do cheesecake squares or individual size cheesecakes. From Halloween until New Years, it will be a recipe you would want to make over and over again!

PUMPKIN-CHEESECAKE BRULEE RECIPE

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 (15 ounce) can 100% pumpkin
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1/2 cup granulated sugar (for topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and granulated sugar in medium bowl. Press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (do not allow to brown). Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Beat cream cheese, granulated sugar and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs, pumpkin, vanilla and evaporated milk. Add cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg; beat well. Pour into crust. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until edge is set but center still moves slightly. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Remove side of springform pan.

Use a strainer to spread the sugar evenly on top of the cheesecake. Use a brûlée torch to burn the sugar till golden brown. The sugar will harden as it cools. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.