Japan Travel Diary/Guide: Tokyo




After meticulously planning for about a year, I finally made it to Japan! The trip was an amazing experience, definitely a life-changing one. And to be honest with you, I think Japan pretty much have everything, and I'll tell you why.

I'm breaking down my Japan trip into 3 parts: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka/Nara Prefectures. Starting with the most popular city and busy capital of Japan, Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the most iconic cities in the world. It's not a place you can fully experience in a few days. We spent 6 days here, with the exception of the travel days. I really think we were able to do, see and absorb a lot (more than I expected) during our stay. I saw so many incredible things, from strolling under the neon lights of Shibuya, walking miles of pedestrian walkways, chow down a sushi breakfast in Tsukiji, straddle down the boundary between past and future in Ueno, bask under the hot sun getting our picnic on in Shinjuku, eat street food in every alley we passed by, became a video game character in life, and heck of a lot more. These excursions are trips through time in culture, and the very bounds of reality. With so much things to explore here, it will take all of your energy entirely. We took buses and trains, and walk miles and miles away from one shrine to the other. I am still overwhelmed by the trip and will likely take a few days to process everything I experienced still, not to mention to get rid of my jet lag with the time difference.


LODGING

I've spent a good amount of time trying to figure out where to stay, and how convenient will it be for us. I've always loved staying on an Airbnb, the traveler in me can't help it, because the experiences it gives you throughout your stay. It always inspire and interest me to learn how others live and explore their cultures. It gives me a whole 'nother kind of contentment to be able to experience culture authentically.
I booked a unique galaxy-themed studio apartment that is off a market street called Kira Kira Tachibana Street in Sumida, Tokyo. It's a walking distance to a metro station, a bus station and Japan's tallest tower, Tokyo Skytree, which is a good deciding factor for me to book it. We can literally see the tower from our apartment, and it's such a nice thing to watch during our walks back to the apartment at night. The neighborhood is not just another tourist nesting place. It's quiet and our neighbors were all so very helpful. We got lost on our first day and an older gentleman walked us and helped us find our place for over 40 minutes (if you're reading this Nakano, I'm forever grateful of your kindness!). And as far as safety? We would walk from the bus and train stations by ourselves in the middle of the night and felt 100% safe. (Link here for our Airbnb)
Our Airbnb

PLACES WE VISITED

Before we arrived, I made a list of the places that I wanted to see and organized it per district and prefectures. I also added some side trips, in case we were able to check off everything on our itinerary early, and we checked off 1 of 2! Things started pretty well when we arrived, despite lack of sleep. Rain didn't make an appearance at all, the first couple days were a little chilly and then it got sunny and humid as days went by. We've checked out our top sights so early that we had an extra day to sleep in, go souvenir shopping and revisit a place we enjoyed.

I hope you enjoy this post and find it helpful on where to go, especially on a set budget. I will warn you now, it's a pretty lengthy post.


Raponggi Hills - Minato
  • Shinagawa-jinja Shrine
  • Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Tokyo City View
  • Mori Tower and Garden
  • Tokyo (One Piece) Tower
  • Nogi Shrine
  • Sengaku-ji Temple
  • Zojo-ji Temple
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Shiba Park
  • MariCar (Mario Kart driving)
  • Odaiba Beach
View from Tokyo One Piece Tower
View of the Rainbow Bridge from the Odaiba Beach
Care Guardian Deities of Children - memorial service for still birth and miscarried children, Zojo-ji Temple
Real life Mario Kart: 3 hours long of driving in the streets of Tokyo, wearing Mario Kart costumes

Shinjuku - Shibuya - Harajuku
  • Shinjuku Gyoen
  • Meiji Shrine
  • Shibuya Station & Crossing
  • Tokyu Food Show
  • Tokyu Plaza
  • Yoyogi Park
  • Hachiko Square
  • Harajuku District
  • Takeshita-dori (pedestrian shopping street)
  • Omoide Yokocho AKA Memory Lane or Piss Alley
Barrels of sake wrapped in straw, Meiji Shrine
View of Shibuya crossing from the Shibuya station
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku designed by Hiroshi Nakamura - a kaleidoscope mirror entrance to the mall

Akihabara
  • Yodobashi Akiba (electronics market)
  • Don Quijote
  • SEGA
  • Animate Manga Shop
  • Gundam Cafe, Maid Cafe
Akihabara Electric Town
One of the many cute, anime cafes in Akihabara

Asakusa - Ueno
  • Ueno Ameyoko Shopping Street
  • Asakusa Underground Shopping Street
  • Ueno Park
  • Kaneiji Temple
  • Ueno Toshogu Shrine (Shrine of Gold)
  • Senso-ji Temple
  • Sumida River
  • Tokyo Skytree
Five-story pagoda from Kaneiji Temple
One of my favorite visited shrines, Senso-ji Shrine
Ueno Toshogu Shrine, also known as, The Shrine of Gold, in which the grand entrance is covered in gold

Side Trip
  • Gotokuji Shrine AKA Shrine of the Beckoning Cats in Setagaya, Tokyo
Located on the outskirts of Tokyo, Shrine of the Beckoning Cats/ Lucky Cats, Gotokuji Shrine


FOOD

  • Soft serve ice cream. I lived on soft serve ice cream for 6 straight days, and I wish I had more. I tried matcha (green tea), black sesame, sakura (cherry blossom), milk, and my favorite out of all of them, tofu ice cream. It immediately dawned on me that we're a match made in heaven. I loved it so much I was so disappointed I couldn't find it in Osaka (of all places) after searching for it the whole day.
  • Sushi/Sashimi. For the freshest sushi you will ever eat in your existence, go to Tsukiji Market. We went the following day we arrived Japan to take advantage of our jet lag. You can go as early as 4 in the morning to witness the world's famous tuna auction. We didn't make it, but most sushi restaurants are open that early and street food vendors starts to line up. Our timing was perfect, we were able to eat sushi breakfast at 5am, and try several street food up until 9am.
  • Ramen. It's so popular in Japan, you could see it on every block. There's a restaurant for everyone available, either standing up stalls if you're on a hurry or single-seating if you're by yourself (the most popular). Tip: most of the ramen places you have to pay through a vending machine. Just like regular vending machine, you tender your money, select what kind of ramen you want, and it will issue you a ticket to give to the person at the counter.
  • Curry Rice. One of the cheapest food you could ever fathom to eat with less than $5.
  • Yakitori. These are skewered meat seasoned with either salt, soy sauce or both. You can usually get them on Japanese pubs called Izakaya. We went to Omoide Yokocho or known as the "Piss Alley", which is an alley-long full of pubs. To get the full experience, we ordered every yakitori on the menu, from intestines to gizzards to tongue. It was a little on the pricier side, but definitely did not disappoint.
  • Gyudon. I suggest you to try a fast-food counter and try a beef bowl. Cheap, fresh and filling.
  • Onigiri. Every amazing thing you've heard about Japanese convenience stores is true. One of which is their onigiri. It's a packaged rice ball wrapped in seaweed, with a savory filling. It's on every convenience store, open 24/7 and will cost you for about a dollar, or maybe a few cents more. This is something we don't regret eating every single day that it became a staple for us during our stay.
  • Okonomiyaki. Dish with vegetables, meat, seafood and other ingredients you wish to have on it added to a pancake-like mixture. It's topped with special sauce and mayonnaise to make it even better. In most areas, restaurants will cook it for you, and for some, you can make it yourself.
  • Tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) and Katsudon (tonkatsu with beaten egg)
  • Tempura and Udon. 
  • Soba. Served either hot or called. It's on every side dishes and fast food menu in Japan.
  • Street food: mochi, taiyaki, traditional sweet bread, cream puffs, takoyaki, oden, crepes, dango, rice crackers, anything green tea and a lot more.


TRANSPORTATION

Getting around in Tokyo was one of my frustrations when we first arrived. It's inevitable. But I was able to learn it pretty quickly and became a pro on the first day (yay me). Your best bet for getting around probably would be through the subway systems. Taxi isn't even an option because of how expensive they get.
There are several fare systems available to use in Japan, depending on your budget, how long or how much you plan on traveling. I've heard a lot of great things about the JR Pass especially if you're a tourist. But I'm all about saving and finding the most economical way to travel. I had to eliminate JR Pass and get one of those Suica/Pasmo cards. Suica and Pasmo cards are rechargeable prepaid cards that can be used virtually on all modes of transportations in Japan, which unlike JR Pass, there are a lot of restrictions. I purchased Pasmo for only half the price of JR Pass and was able to use it for a week and a half. What I like about these cards, is that it can also be used for purchases at vending machines, airport gift shops, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and many more. And once you don't need it anymore, you can return the card and get the rest of your money back.




TRAVEL TIPS/ ETIQUETTES

  • Pocket wi-fi will be your best friend, especially for navigation.
  • Speaking of wi-fi, it is practically available everywhere: malls, convenience stores, trains, buses, restaurants, museums.
  • You can ask for an English menu at some restaurants. Just ask.
  • Japan is a cash-based society. Keep SOME lose change (and a coin purse). I ended up having way too many change and I tried to turn them in to several Japanese banks and exchange counters. No luck. (I heard post office will do it for you, if you have extra time to find one)
  • Japanese toilets are quite varied. A lot of public restrooms either have nice heated toilet seats with button-operated amenities, while some have squat toilets (gross).
  • Most of these public toilets don't have hand-drying facilities (even soap), so carry tissues with you.
  • Always stay on the left side. On the escalator, stand on the left side and leave the right side open.
  • Save your money exchanging currency in the states. Do it when you arrive in Japan. Withdrawing cash from an ATM would be an easier and cheaper choice, and I highly recommend.
  • It's a common rule here to always wait in a single-file line. It could be on a subway, bus, ATM machines, restrooms, or pretty much anywhere no matter how busy it is.
  • Always face the person seated in front of you when you're standing inside a bus/train.
  • If you're a smoker, find a designated smoking park/area. A lot of the places here prohibits smoking.
  • Trash bins aren't a thing here. Take a bag with you to keep hold of your trash and throw them away later on once you return back to your hotel. 
  • No tipping.
Pocket wifi I rented from the airport for $10/day. I ended up finding a good deal later on for $6/day.

I hope I gave you a good representation of how my trip went. It was nothing short of amazing. I can't describe it beyond that. Every moment was filled with new discoveries, surprises and cultural delights. My only regret was not staying much longer, but like I always say, there is always a next time. And for that next time, I plan on trekking Mount Fuji and eat some more food!

Let me know if you have any thoughts, questions or if you need any more travel tips. I could go on and on with this post, but I have to pinch and stop myself.

Stay tuned for the second part of this post...KYOTO!




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1 comments

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