July 20, 2024
japan

Oprah Daily

trips that transform

Of all the countries Oprah, Ava DuVernay, Kirby, and I have traveled, Japan has been unchecked on our bucket list—until now. We traveled to four cities in eight days and saw shrines and sacred temples, ate delicious food, and of course, we had to go on at least one hike.

We wanted to take this trip because Japan is the type of destination that is packed with cultural pride and heritage: You can hardly visit a place deemed sacred and not learn something about the history and values of its people. Plus, we planned our trip around cherry blossom season (more on that below).

Yet, the best part of traveling to this country, and any other, for me is the company. I’m lucky to see the world with my closest friend and daughter by my side. Read on below for my take on yet another successful girls’ trip.

Our first night in Tokyo, we went to a hibachi-style restaurant where the chef serves your food hot off the grill and hands it to you on a paddle board. I was just amazed that the chef didn’t need to write your order down, and he cooked while kneeling on the table. Part of the experience was helping: Oprah and I got to help make the mochi for dessert, where we pounded the dough with a long mallet. Let’s just say we worked up an appetite!

Tokyo state of mind

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Oprah Daily

Shibuya in Tokyo is the center of Japanese fashion, and the streets are lined with shops and crowded with people. Sound familiar? It’s called the Times Square of Japan. (And here I thought I was getting away from the hustle and bustle.) Ava, Kirby, and I walked the streets and did a bit of shopping. Ava, the director that she is, held her camera at a high angle to get a better view as we were walking through the crowds.

Cherry blossom-less

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Oprah Daily

Our group traveled more than 4,000 miles during cherry blossom season. We worked with travel guides and experts, and we were told that the last week of March is the best time for peak growth. And yet, due to some change in the climate, this was the first time in a long time when the cherry blossoms were late to bloom. Just our luck. We had a good sense of humor about it: It became a running joke to take photos of the cherry blossoms we saw in vases. Better than nothing!

Tea steeped in culture

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Oprah Daily

I didn’t quite know what to expect out of a tea ceremony, but I know it wasn’t this. During the private ceremony at tea house in Gokokuji Temple, our host told us of the cultural history while demonstrating the ceremonial preparation of tea making. A full ceremony can take up to four hours (though ours was a shortened version).

Temples and structures and shrines, oh my!

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Oprah Daily

After Tokyo, the city we spent the most time in was Kyoto (we also visited Nagoya and Shima). Kyoto alone has hundreds of shrines and temples, and it made me think of how well Japanese culture preserves its history in its architecture. We couldn’t help but take a photo each time we were near a building with elongated roofs.

Livin’ la vida local

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Oprah Daily

It would be a rare occurrence to see the four of us together at a diner in the States, but when our guide Simon, who is a member of Oprah’s staff, suggested we get a taste of real authentic Japanese food, the type of food he used to eat as a child, we said we’d go. It was so authentic that there were no forks served in the restaurant, and so Simon, who is always thinking, had brought some from the hotel for Ava and I to eat with (we’re not that good at using chopsticks)—but boy oh boy, was it worth it to stop for food.

A hike and a (water)fall…

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Oprah Daily

We would be remiss to travel to any place interesting while on vacation without taking advantage of an opportunity to hike (especially when traveling with Oprah). We made it to the top and were met with a beautiful waterfall.

Sacred trees

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Oprah Daily

We all know that Oprah loves trees, so continuing our hike in Kyoto, we had to visit a sacred tree and take in all of its splendor. The trees that are marked sacred are wrapped in a straw-rope blend called shimenawa.

Spectacular food

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This was one of the highlights of our trip. The owners of Yasaka at Park Hyatt Kyoto opened up just for us at lunch. The food was so good that I still remember the meal now: flounder, miso cod, truffle—yummm.

Moss garden

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We visited Saihoji Temple, a famous moss garden in Kyoto. Just to think we almost didn’t go because we had already seen so many beautiful places and thought it couldn’t live up to the hype, but of course, it did! I thought it was gorgeous (time to update my screensaver!). We took a tranquil stroll around the park.

Many, many gates

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Oprah Daily

We visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine, commonly referred to as the Temple of 10,000 Gates. We climbed and walked through the large, orange torii gates and finally arrived at the huge structure.

Sharp end

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During the tail end of our trip, we passed through Osaka. Kirby and Oprah did some shopping for some Japanese knives. I passed on the purchase because I really don’t do much cooking.

Cherry blossoms, part two

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Oprah Daily

At long last, we did end up seeing just a bit of cherry blossoms in bloom—on the very last day! There was a small cluster of them by the water, and we had to stop and take photos. This effectively ended our running joke of spotting flowers in vases, but we couldn’t be happier to see the cherry blossoms for ourselves.

Headshot of Gayle King

Gayle King is the Editor at Large at Oprah Daily and co-host of CBS Mornings. When she’s not on air, Gayle is diving into all things news, trending topics, and pop culture. Yet, her favorite job is being the mom to her favorite daughter, Kirby, favorite son, Will, and grandmother, or as she prefers it, Gaia to her favorite grandson Luca. Follow her on Instagram.


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