I am not sure why, but I had always been drawn to Japan. I originally went on a group tour around part of the country. Initially, I had the philosophy of only going somewhere once, unless I had already finished seeing all that I needed from the world. So far, this is the only place that I made that exception.
My first tour here ended in Tokyo, but I had only spent half a day here and had to leave first thing in the morning back home. Our hotel (Prince Park Tower Hotel or Tokyo Prince Hotel…I couldn’t remember the exact name) was near Tokyo Tower. We were not able to see as much as we wanted in that short period of time.
We booked this trip for a few reasons: It was my husband’s and my fifth anniversary together, and it was a collective birthday present for us (as we both have birthdays in April). Plus, my brother had always wanted to go during cherry blossom season.
Saturday, April 7, 2018 – Arrival
We arrived at Narita Airport on a VERY windy day (as in “first-time-getting-motion-sick-on-a-plane-type-of-windy.”) Clearing immigration and getting our bags didn’t take a lot of time. However, we were planning to get our Tokyo Rail passes at the visitors’ center, and by the time we finished with customs, the desk was closed (missed by 5 minutes, at 8:50pm). It was evening, we were tired, and I didn’t feel like figuring out the rail ticket machine. Besides, the last time I was here, the ride from the hotel to Narita wasn’t that much.
Boy was I wrong!
The charge for the taxi ride from Narita to Ginza, Tokyo, was upwards of $250!!!
Later, I was reminded that we had a shuttle from the hotel that we were at to Narita (oops).
Moral of the story here: Learn from my mistakes and do your research on transportation options before arrival.
Now that we have taken care of our PSA moment, on to the rest of the story!
We arrive at our hotel, Mitsui Garden Hotel Shiodome Italia-gai (2-14-24, Higashi-shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0021). It is minutes away from Ginza, Tokyo Tower, Zojo-ji Shrine and the Imperial Gardens. They also provided a free loaner smartphone that guests could use to make and receive calls, as well as for email, GPS and social media services. I mostly used it for GPS to navigate through the city.
We were also next door to a Lawson Station, one of the popular convenience stores – along with 7-Eleven – in the country. What was different about these convenience stores is that they carried more variety of foods, including hot food. It has been the locals’ favorite for fresh, convenient food. They are open 24 hours a day, which helps if a worker has an early 4am start or if they are just getting off of work at 10pm. Also, just like back here, there is one Lawsons’ or 7-Eleven on every other block (at least in Tokyo).
7-Eleven has their own set of ATMs, which I found to be the only ATM that worked for my Chase Card. The only downside is that the minimum amount available for withdrawal is 10,000 JPY (about 100 USD). This is important because not every place accepts credit cards. There are a good number of stores and restaurants that take cash only. This leads to PRO-tip #2: Bring cash.
Sunday, April 8, 2018: Tokyo Station, Sensoji Temple, Akihabara
So, our first stop was to acquire our rail passes (for clarity, the passes for me and my husband – my brother arrived earlier and received his already). Plus, it gave me an opportunity to test run the loaner phone from the hotel.
Once we had reached Tokyo Station, we were able to get our Rail Passes (yay!) The station has a number of restaurants in the lower level. Ramen Street is a stretch of restaurants in the basement level. Some will be traditional restaurants where they seat you and serve you. Others had a vending machine where you would put in the money, make a selection of what you want to eat and then it would print out the receipt for you to give your server or the cook. One such place was Rokurinsha on Ramen Street.
Once we were fed, we continued on our trek. We started at Sensoji Temple (2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan). It was pretty crowded for a Sunday. It was a beautiful day though.
We then hopped on the rail to Ueno and onto Ueno Onshi Park. We were on a mission to find cherry blossoms. I had heard that they had already bloomed, but there were some late bloomers around still. We were lucky to find some there!
We also wanted to look for a cat café. According to the GPS, there was one nearby: Neko Maru Café Ueno (7 Chome Ueno, Taitō, Tokyo 110-0005, Japan). There was a fee schedule, but the one we chose was 30 minutes for $6 USD. They had coffee and tea, as well as some snacks. They also had a few bookcases so you could sit and read while surrounded by the cats. If you want, they also had kitty toys to engage with the cats/kittens in house.
Next stop: Akihabara to check out the electronics district.
The streets were closed for the shoppers.
We noticed that some electronics were more expensive there than online. Only exception seemed to be those from Japan, and the prices seemed more fair.
After some shopping, we started back towards home for dinner and to sleep off some of the jetlag.
Monday, April 8, 2018: Mt Fuji
We went on a day tour through JAPANiCAN. Our first stop was the Mt Fuji 5th Station.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have as clear a view as we had hoped. It was also 1 degree below Centigrade when we were there, so just a little cold!
Next stop was at Oshino Hakkai. The snowmelt from Mt. Fuji formed several fresh water springs in the area. It’s also a cute little village where we were able to get another view of Mt. Fuji. The sun had come out and some of the clouds were starting to clear.
There were some shops along the street – some selling food, others selling souvenirs.
Our next stop was Shiraito Falls. The falls are fed by the snowmelt from Mt. Fuji also. There were also a number of shops in the area, including soft serve ice cream.
Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine. The head shrine for Sengen and Asama shrines throughout Japan.
On our way back, our tour guide informed us that Mt. Fuji can be clearly seen 60 to 65 days out of the year (so we were lucky!)
For dinner, we stopped by one of the restaurants nearby our hotel – Akami Yakiniku Horumondokoro Nikuman. (1-23-6 Hamamatsucho, Minato 105-0013, Tokyo Prefecture).
We were seated at the bar. Each table/seat had a mini grill and a vent right above it. We decided to share the Tonya place.
Since the meat is thinly sliced, it was cooked quickly.
With full stomachs after a full day, sleep came easy.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018: Tsukiji Fish Market, Namiyoke Inari Shrine, Hachiko Memorial Statue, Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Shrine, Ginza
Tsukiji Fish Market is a famous market located in Central Tokyo. It is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. As part of development for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo 2020, the fish market is slated to be moved Toyosu, Kotu in the Fall of 2018. If you can get there anywhere from 3am to 5am, you can observe the tuna auction (we opted not to do that). If you do decide to go, it is highly recommended to wear rubber boots.
There is two parts of the market – the Inner Market, where wholesale vendors are located, and the Outer Market where people like us can purchase items in more manageable numbers.
We wanted to find one, if not two places to eat. So our first place was here (apologies, I’m not sure what it translates in English).
I felt like we were lucky because it wasn’t so crowded here, nor was there a line for us to wait in. As far as the food goes, I had once heard that “Fish should taste like the sea, and if it doesn’t, then it is no longer good.” The fish that we had here tasted exactly like the sea and I was extremely happy.
After our sushi brunch, we continued walking through the market. Where a variety of items were up for sale as you can see here:
We came across another set of restaurants with long lines.
Apparently people lined up since opening to eat at these places.
After a few hours of walking and shopping, we decided to try another sushi place. This was located just outside the market, called Iwasa Sushi (6 Chome-27-3 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan). Incidentally it was highly rated on tripadvisor.com, so we wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. They have a set menu, and you basically choose between three or four different sets of sushi combinations. They only have seats at the sushi bar and they only accept cash.
When we were done, I made a quick stop at Namiyoke Inari Shrine. Its name literally means “protection from waves.”
After that, we dropped off our purchases at the hotel and headed towards Shibuya.
Our first stop outside the Shibuya Station was the Hachiko Memorial. Hachiko was an Akita dog that was owned by Professor Ueno Hidesaburo from Tokyo Imperial University. Hachiko would meet Professor Ueno at Shibuya Station at the end of the day, and it became their routine. One day, Professor Ueno had a cerebral hemorrhage at the University, and never came home. However, Hachiko would go to the station every day for almost ten years. This statue is a symbol of the loyalty and love that Hachiko had for Ueno. Fun fact: Hachiko was present when the statue was unveiled.
There was a LONG line for taking pictures with the statue, so I improvised. The important thing was that I was there.
Now, there is a famous intersection near this statue that maybe the busiest intersection in the world: Shibuya Crossing. The lights turn red/green at the same time to control the pedestrian traffic. Even though there are crosswalks, when the light turns green, the intersection gets swarmed by people.
We crossed and survived (phew!)
We were walking through Shibuya in order to get to Meiji Shrine. In our walk, we encountered these:
Meiji Shrine is a Shinto Shrine that is surrounded by a forest, and was built to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
After that, we went back to our hotel to freshen up a bit before dinner: Itamae Sushi, Ginza Corridor (J Bld.1F, 8-2-13, Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, 104-0061, Japan).
So far, the only critique that I had was that they used powdered wasabi (what can I say, I was spoiled from the fresh wasabi from earlier today). However, the taste made up for it. I would have to say that the first place we ate at today and Itamae Sushi were the better of the three places we ate today.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Zojo-ji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Departure
We had a half day left here in Tokyo. I decided to do a quick stop at Zojo-ji Shrine and Tokyo Tower before we left. There is also a mausoleum where the most loyal samurai are buried as well.
In case you were wondering what I was doing at all those shrines, it was because of this: my notebook filled with Goshuin, which are unique stamps/seals and calligraphy from the temples that I had visited. I had been introduced to this during my first visit here and acquired quite a collection!
Alas, our trip had come to an end, but our hearts are full with the memories that we had made. Thank you for reading, and I hope that this inspired you for your next adventure!
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Shiodome Italia-gai. 2-14-24, Higashi-shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0021 https://www.gardenhotels.co.jp/shiodome-italiagai/eng/
- Lawson Station (various locations). http://lawson.jp/en/
- 7-Eleven (various locations). http://www.sej.co.jp/in/en.html
- Tokyo Station http://www.tokyoinfo.com/en/
- Rokurinsha. https://www.yelp.com/biz/YD4NquiK0mPR_WMse5KPOA?utm_campaign=www_business_share_popup&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=(direct) http://www.rokurinsha.com/ (Japanese)
- Neko Maru Café Ueno. http://www.nekomarucafe.com/index.html
- 1-Day World Heritage Mt. Fuji Tour. https://www.japanican.com/en/tour/detail/BUS1J00711MKS/?typecd=TOU&destcd=V21&kw=golden&sbit=4&typegrpcd=TPA
- Akami Yakiniku Horumondokoro Nikuman. 1-23-6 Hamamatsucho, Minato 105-0013, Tokyo Prefecture. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1066451-d6047847-Reviews-Akami_Yakiniku_Horumondokoro_Nikuman-Minato_Tokyo_Tokyo_Prefecture_Kanto.html
- The Tsukiji Fish Market. 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan. http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm
- Hachiko Memorial Statue. 1 Chome-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan.
- Hachiko. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D
- Meiji Shrine. 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan. http://www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/your/1.html
- Itamae Sushi. J Bld.1F, 8-2-13, Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, 104-0061, Japan. http://itamae.co.jp/english/
- Zojo-ji. ４丁目-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan. https://www.zojoji.or.jp/en/
- Tokyo Tower. 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan. https://www.tokyotower.co.jp/en.html