Lost in Japan
Tokyo is one busy city. In the mornings, every train is packed full of people trying to get to work. Our first attempt at catching a train proved to show just how new we were at taking in this heavily populated area; each person getting on the train was literally packing in like sardines. There were actually security officers attempting to shove people's limbs in the doors to keep people from getting injured, and trying to get each train to take off as quickly as possible.
We wanted to get an early start our first morning and tried to catch a train around 8, but as we watched train after train of people packed, faces to the glass, we ultimately didn't want to brave the crowd until closer to 10. I think some of the people definitely got a kick out of the disbelief in our faces.
Most train rides were standing room by the time we got on, but on longer rides, seats would often open up to sit down. Even if they didn't, most of our rides were very short.
Despite the chaos, it was certainly the most efficient train system we have ever experienced!
Every area of Tokyo has it's own flair: Ginza with it's glamorous shops and trendy technology, to Shinjuku's colorful and quirky shops; everyone can find their niche. You could very well stay in Tokyo for an entire week long or more trip because there is just so much to see! For some though, the crowds at every tourist must-see destination could prove to be a little overwhelming for an extended stay. There are plenty of travel destinations that are accessible from Tokyo if you choose to stay there during your entire trip.
We stayed in Japan for a total of 10 days, which included Tokyo, Atami, Kyoto, Arashiyama, Osaka, and Nara. We initially flew out through Air China so that we could finish our trip with a 24-hour layover in Beijing to see the Great Wall of China!
When to Travel
We started our trip in the midst of rainy season, which is usually the majority of June, and part of July. Although this was discouraging in terms of not being able to see Mt. Fuji, it wasn't at all a problem walking around Tokyo. If you want to travel during June, make sure you buy an umbrella at the local 7-11. It usually costs around $5. Most rain is a light drizzle, and doesn't normally carry on for more than a couple of hours a day. Out of our 10 days, it only rained the firs t2-3, and then it was pretty sunny for the rest of our trip.
I know we would love to go back during either Spring time (February-April) for the cherry blossoms, or maybe an early summer in May would prove warm weather, but with less rain. Wisteria trees (purple) are often still blooming in early May, which prove to be just as beautiful as the cherry blossoms. These of course are busy times to travel, as they fall on both the Sakura (cherry blossom) festival, and Golden Week.
Districts of Tokyo
There is so much to do in each district, but we picked out our favorites from each district to share with you!
Number One Pick:
Shopping! Or...at least window shopping that is. Ginza is a pretty pricey area, and it is considered very Western in its shops. There are many high-dollar stores and expensive technology, but it's so fun to window shop through!
A lot of of prototype technology can be viewed at the giant Sony building. The bottom floor begins with car designs of the future, including some sport car designs, and then each floor serves technology of all kinds including: photography, video games, robotics, and more! We especially liked the pet dog robot, Marron, who will bark on command, and even shake your hand with certain key phrases!
Number One Pick:
Visit Tsukiji Fish Market for breakfast/lunch
This is definitely the place for foodies to visit. Every stall is full of fresh food; some of which is made right in front of you! There are also handmade crafts that would make great souvenirs.
Crab skewers- to get fresh fish cooked in front of you is one specialty, but to have it slathered in butter and soy sauce is another level. One thing is for sure- this thing is one of the most delicious street snacks you could ask for!
Sweet egg cooked. It's kind of like a cubed omelette? Trust me, it's delicious.
Tuna steak- At this point, I was already full from all of the other stalls, but everyone else in our group was raving about how delicious it was!
Ice cream: There were several unique flavors to try out, including Matcha, Soda, and Charcoal.
There were also different varieties of both Mochi and Dango to try!
1. Play in the gaming buildings
Let me tell you- this place is full of them. Even if you wouldn't call yourself a "gamer", it's still fun for anyone at any age. Most of these gaming buildings have multiple floors that are arranged to have levels for different types of games: anything from "Prize" floors (claw machines), to arcade games, and even music game floors or complete floors of virtual reality games.
My only regret in going is spending too much money and time trying so hard to get an adorable Harry Potter figurine out of a claw machine (although I probably should have known better). You can also try out the the popular Pachinko slots, which are available in many spots around the area as well. It's not uncommon to see many people just getting out of school or work coming to play for a little while before going home.
2. Visit an Animal Cafe
We decided to visit the Owl Cafe, but there are also cat cafes, hedgehog cafes, and more! You can both enter the cafes and get a chance to actually touch/hold the animals; all while enjoying a coffee! There are many places in Japan that you can visit one of these cafes; they are extremely popular!
Number One Pick:
View the grounds of the palace for free
There are areas of the palace in which you could schedule in advance to see the palace more up-close, but it does cost a fee, and it would be something that would need to be scheduled ahead of time. We opted for the free viewing of the grounds instead, which included the gardens, beautiful architecture, and great viewing points of the city that brought both old and new Tokyo together in one scene.
There are beautiful Koi ponds and fruit tree gardens- some of which include fruit species that are no longer grown in Japan.
There were amazing photo ops here, but it does get really warm in the summer, so I suggest wearing light clothing for this walk in the heat!
1. Shop at Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing is considered the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. This was also the place where I decided that new shoes were in order since we had walked over 12 miles each day. Apparently, women don't go above a size 9 in Japan...so I bought men's shoes instead with a little difficulty in converting US to Japan sizes, as well as women to men.
Luckily, Shibuya is central to an incredibly large shopping center, including our first stop at a Don Quijote store, which is basically a giant discount store filled with just about anything you can think of. There are over 160 locations in Japan alone. The biggest attraction for tourists is to use it as one location to buy different varieties of Japanese snacks, such as their famous crazy flavors of Kit-Kats.
Any BTS lovers? You can go inside the Starbucks building where there isa bookstore similar to Barnes and Noble- with an entire floor dedicated to the music group.
You can even sign up for Mari-Kart here despite the crazy amount of traffic that goes through this area. Basically, it's like the actual game where you drive through the city in go-karts dressed in crazy outfits. However, you will need an International Driving Permit in order to drive in Japan; even if it is just go karts.
And, of course, you should go see the Hachiko statue just for fun. (As a reminder, this little guy was the faithful furry friend who kept coming to see his owner in the same place he used to always meet him, even after he had passed away). Gotta love a country that loves dogs as much as I do.
2. Visit the world's largest Starbucks
There are only a few Starbucks Reserve Roasteries in the world, and this one is the world's largest, and brand new! There are 4 floors in this roastery: the bottom floor is the actual coffee lounge, the second floor is the Teavana tea floor, the third floor is a bar, and the fourth floor is where they show you how the packaging is completed.
Starbucks prices for a drink or food go up quite a bit here, but they offer coffee blends and foods that you can't get in any other locations! We really liked the Tanzania and Paradeisi Blends!
3. Get adorable treats in Harajuku
Harajuku is a neighborhood of Shibuya, and is everything quirky and colorful! Our favorite treat was from the Totti Candy Factory; rainbow cotton candy in which every layer was a different flavor! I know what you're thinking: "You really ate it all??" Yes, yes we did.
Right at the beginning of the same street was also an ice cream shop that sold treats like this cute guy:
4. Take a night stroll to Shinjuku
Shinjuku is the place you would normally think of when you imagine Tokyo City: bright lights, tall buildings, busy crowds. Experiencing this area at night is worth the visit! Even if it is just to go inside Asia's largest Lush store...
1. Visit the Mori Art Museum
The views from the train and bay area alone are worth a visit; especially at night time! The picture above shows "Rainbow Bridge", which will display beautiful rainbow colors at night...which we found out only occurs in the winter. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight and more, it was home to the TeamLab Borderless Mori Digital Art Museum! At first I was a little skeptical (especially at the $30 ticket cost), but I was thoroughly impressed!
The digital art took on beautiful landscapes that mimicked different areas of Japan, and took the imagination on a wild interactive ride!
If this looks like something that interests you, I would definitely say that the $30 ticket price is worth it, as long as you give this exhibit the time it deserves!
There are three different halls, one of which is "athletic", meaning there is jumping, swinging, and other kinds of athletic interactions in order to get the full effect of the art! You can go through jungles with majestic animals, glittering rainbow palaces, landscapes of Japan like rice fields in the rain, and some more "otherworldly" scenes like this one: