One blissful month in Japan. Per Vince's wishes. He's never been to Japan, and being the Anime/Manga fan that he is, as well as all things Japanese, he made it clear that we have to - have to - extensively travel through Japan.
Fine by me! I felt that my last visit to Japan was way too brief. I've only spent 5 short days in Tokyo back in 2009 and even then, that was still not enough to do anything and everything in such a massive city! So I was eager to revisit Tokyo and get to know her better. As well as explore other parts of lovely Japan that I've been dreaming of seeing with my own eyes.
But yah, a whole month in Japan! Yet still not enough time to get around! Next time I'm staying here for a year, lol!
// TOKYO //
When people ask me if a few days is enough in Tokyo ... NO! Aim for at least 5 if it's your first time in the city. A week would be better. Tokyo is a HUGE city with TONS of things to do and eat. We stayed 2 weeks and took our sweet time. But all that time was only devoted to a small fraction of Tokyo. Mainly Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ebisu, Roppongi and Ginza. By all means, do all the touristy stuff! Get it out of your system. And fill the in between times with unusual Japanese experiences, like themed cafes and restaurants. Or take day trips to nearby cities: Miyagi, Kamakura, Odawara, Takasaki, etc. Although the only day trip we had time for was Miyagi to see Fox Village. We also had the pleasure of hanging out with some friends while in Tokyo, both locals and expats, which added an appreciative depth to our trip. Always eye-opening to get the insider's scoop of Japanese culture! All in all, Tokyo is not just another big city. It's a metropolis filled with hidden gems.
>> SHINJUKU : Walk around KABUKICHO. (Pseudo Red light district with a bumpin' night life). While there, see a show at ROBOT RESTAURANT (Pricey show. Weird stuff! Ditch the mediocre food and stick with your free drink ticket!) and grab some craft cocktails at world reknown BEN FIDDICH. Check out the free panoramic views of Tokyo at night from the TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING. (The actual buildings closes early, but the towers should still be open til ~11:30pm. Find stairs off to the side of the buildings to access the observatory elevators. The stairs heads down below the street level. Do either tower. Or do both!)
>> SHIBUYA : HACHIKO! And while your visiting the dog statue, walk the famous SHIBUYA STREET CROSSING at least a few times. Head over to Starbucks' 2nd floor to get an 'aerial' view of the street crossing. Explore the streets of Shibuya - especially down DOGENZAKA! There is no shortage of good eats and urban eye candy here! On a side note: we stumbled upon one of the ALICE IN WONDERLAND themed restaurants here. (If you visit, ditch the over-priced food and just get a drink or two!)
>> HARAJUKU : Explore TAKESHITA DORI for all things kawaii. Grab a 3D cafe latte art at REISSUE. (It's a little hidden. Not located on the main street and you have to go up a set of stairs to the 2nd floor.)
>> ASAKUSA : Walk down NAKAMISE DORI for souvenirs and street food. It leads to the SENSOJI TEMPLE. While in the area - explore the many nearby streets! The nooks and crannies are full of little shops and quaint eateries!
>> AKIHABARA : Get your inner gaming geek on and head straight to SUPER POTATO! It has 3 floors of all nostalgic video games from the 80s and 90s. Super Potato is conveniently located in the main part of ELECTRIC CITY, so you can easily explore the area before/after Super Potato. The OWL CAFE is a 10-15 minutes walk from this area.
>> ROPPONGI : Stunning panoramic city views from TOKYO CITY VIEW SKY DECK in ROPPONGI HILLS. Admission is 1800 yen.
>> GINZA : This is a nice part of Tokyo! Full of high-end stores and stunning artsy architectural buildings so keep LOOKING UP. You might miss something photo-worthy! Grab a night cap at world reknown cocktail bars BAR HIGH FIVE and STAR BAR. But really, the main reason why we stayed in Ginza is because of the TSUKIJI FISH MARKET. (But it will change locations in the near future and no longer be in Ginza!) Come super early (3-4am) and prepare to stand for hours if you want to grab uber fresh sushi at DAIWA SUSHI or SUSHI DAI. The line can be utterly long and they do cut off the line after a certain time.
// MIYAGI //
Loves me some cute chubby foxes! And there are hundreds of them at the Miyagi Fox Village! This was a quick day trip from Tokyo. Used our JR Pass, rode the bullet train straight to Miyagi (~1 hour), and grabbed a taxi directly to Fox Village (~40 minutes and ~$40 ride EACH way). Literally spent the entire day stalking the little guys until the closing time of 4pm. Damn, they're so photogenic! As nocturnal creatures, they are quite sleepy by day and thus look very dopey. Except if you have food, then all hell breaks loose! The chaos that ensues looks a bit comical. Even when they're fighting and screaming at each other, they still look utterly cute. On a side note, foxes do bite and are quite skittish so only feed and pet them at designated spots. Other than that caveat, we walked freely amongst the foxes. Def one of my favorite experiences in Japan!
>> FROM TOKYO TO MIYAGI : Bullet train via JR Pass. ~1 hour trip.
>> RECOMMEND : MIYAGI ZAO FOX VILLAGE. Admission fee of 1,000 yen.
// HAKONE //
Some people come here for day trips from Tokyo. Not us! We stayed a few days mainly for convenience sake. We wanted to do it all! On Day 1 we toured the Hakone countryside by Hakone Ropeway Tour. It was an exhausting all day tour only because of the insane weekend crowds that we had to fight through. Other than that minor detail, we saw spectacular country views covered in snow. (It had snowed on Thanksgiving Day.) Highlight views include Mt. Fuji, pockets of rising volcano smoke, and the famous floating Hakone torii gate. Try the famous Hakone Black Egg, steamed to perfection by the volcano heat. Day 2 had us acting all kinds of silly at the Yunessun Onsen Spa. We've spent the whole day hopping from the wine onsen to the coffee onsen to the sake onsen to the green tea onsen. Yes! Actual beverages! Insanely fun stuff! I'd do it again if I ever come back to Hakone! On Day 3 we relaxed in a traditional, slightly romantic, private onsen. Traditional as in go all out naked. A little pricey, but something to experience at least once in Hakone. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.
>> FROM TOKYO TO HAKONE : Take 'Romancecar' using the JR Pass. 2 hour trip.
>> STAY : K's House Hakone.
>> RECOMMEND : Hakone Ropeway Tour, Hakone Shrine, Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, Hakone Yuryo.
// HIROSHIMA //
2 words: Miyajima and Bunnies. Hiroshima is a good base for those 2 reasons. Although there's not much to do in the city itself, all the touristy sites (Hiroshima Castle, A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Museum, etc.) in Hiroshima can be accessed by the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus within an entire day. Maybe a day and a half. Probably a good thing to do as a 'break' when traveling to and fro Miyajima Island or Rabbit Island. Speaking of Miyajima Island, set aside an entire day for this trip! There's so much to see here! From the inquisitive deer to THE famous floating torii gate in all of Japan to the massive Daisho-in temple complex. If you're lucky enough to catch low tide, you can even walk out to the torii gate! It's utterly touristy here, but worth checking out the hype. In contrast, it's a totally sleepy vibe on Rabbit Island, but your entire day will whiz by in a jiffy because you'll be spending hours upon hours feeding the bunnies. (And you'll be wishing you had more food, so buy an extra bag of rabbit food at the ticket counter! They're super cheap anyways!)
>> FROM TOKYO TO HIROSHIMA : Bullet train via JR Pass. ~4 hour trip.
>> STAY : AirBnb
>> RECOMMEND : Miyajima Island, Rabbit Island in Okunoshima, Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus, Hiroshima Castle, The A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
// KYOTO //
By the time we made it to Kyoto, towards the end of our trip, we were utterly templed out. And just plain tired. Yet we reserved a ridiculous amount of energy solely for the impressionable Fushimi Inari torii gates. Like, waking up early two mornings in a row to beat the crowds and get that epic torii gate shot. And scaling this massive place is no easy task, either! When you think you're at the top ... you're not. You're only half way. But you do get a good morning workout out of it all. We also set aside some energy for day trips to Naga (for the deer!) and to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, as well as explore nearby notable temples. Other than that, we didn't really do much in actual Kyoto. Just took nightly strolls down Shijo Dori in search of local Kyoto cuisine, taste all of the Matcha Green Tea delicacies, and watch the many random street performances.
>> FROM HIROSHIMA TO KYOTO : JR Pass. 1 hour.
>> STAY : AirBnb and K's House Kyoto Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Fushimi Inari Taisha, Gion (for geisha sighting), Shijo Dori, Nishiki Market, Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcade, Higashiyama District, Pontocho, Naga, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kinkaku-ji Temple.
When: Mid November to Mid December 2016
Places: Tokyo, Miyagi, Hakone, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Okunoshima, Kyoto, Naga, Arashiyama.
Stay: Mostly AirBnbs. But recommend hostels if you can find one that is not full. K's House hostels are all over Japan. Try a capsule hotel if you really want to splurge!
Transportation: Metro and walking is the best method to get around a city. Highly recommend a JR PASS to travel throughout Japan. Buy it BEFORE you get to Japan, as you won't be able to get it once you're in the country. It's pricey, but uber convenient.
Things to keep in mind when in Japan:
- No tipping!
- Accept/Give money or things with both hands.
- Learn some very basic Japanese words.
- Most places only accept cash!
- Japan is not a cheap country. If you're on a budget, try 7-11 or other convenient stores for cheap, decent quality food.
- Trash bins are scarce. Be mindful of what you bring along!
- Speak quietly on public transportations. It's rude to be loud or even talk on cellphones in trains/buses.
- A bulk of the Japanese cuisine does not include veggies.