First Stop TOKYO!!
Filled with excitement, curiosity and nerves I was so excited to step foot all the way across the globe! My first destination was Tokyo where I would spend a week before traveling to other parts of Japan.
Me and my friend Mara, a fellow classmate from Tenri cultural institute NY (currently Japanese language students) arrived in Japan earlier this summer excited and ready for adventure!
After such a long flight, getting to our hotel was another journey in itself. We arrived late night at Haneda airport. In Japan train lines end early so we had to figure out quickly how to get to our hotel. The train system is insane!! Very different and at first extremely overwhelming but we were ready to fully immerse ourselves.
City district NE of Tokyo Station
We stayed at a business hotel (reminiscent of Flatiron, NY). It was very quiet, a much older and professional crowd, business like yet traditional. People barely spoke any English, which was great for practice!
Took us a few minutes to figure out that our room key powered the electricity in the room!(lights/tv/air conditioner) you place the key card in a slot near the door.
It was also very interesting trying to figure out the bathroom settings. The toilets in Japan are actually intriguing with rather peculiar settings like heated seats, noise makers (fake flushing sounds), self cleaners, and sprayers. Our shower was also on a timer which conserves water.
*I absolutely love how keen Japan is on conserving power, water, and cleanliness.
No graffiti or garbage in sight, which is surprising considering there are barely any trash cans around. People do not litter, and recycling is very important. People also do not eat, drink or smoke while walking. (designated smoking areas/large glass smoking boxes). Japan has some interesting customs that we quickly adjusted to.
In areas of Tokyo people walk on the left side of the street.
The trains were fairly quiet, and super clean. There is no loud speaking, Cell-phone use (speaking), or eating on the trains. People stand left on the escalator and walk up the right side.
There are also cool vending machines everywhere! Beer, coffee, water super convenient!
The food in Japan was phenomenal. I loved every meal, and actually found the meals fairly cheap.
There are a lot of markets everywhere (konbini-convenience store).
One of our favorites was actually 7-Eleven (wouldn’t step foot in America) but in Japan they are so clean, fresh, and have the best baked goods and are literally everywhere ! Ate milk rolls every day!
Cafes are also very popular. Coffee was pretty easy to find and also great for treats.
There are also a lot of Starbucks, with different items on the menu. My favorite was the vanilla jelly frap =) and Matcha loaf.
OISHII DESU!! (DELICIOUS)
My Favorite ice cream was from Baskin Robbins. Japan had amazing flavors and the ice cream tasted so fresh and real. I always got the Popping Shower.
Nihonbashi Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Coredo Center reminded me a lot of Columbus Circle (NYC). Ate lunch at an Obanzai style restaurant. Obanzai (おばんざい) is a traditional style of Japanese cuisine native to Kyoto, that is made up of multiple small dishes (Tapas). Here we tried a lot of new dishes which were all tasty!
Akihabara is the place to be for gaming, fun merchandise, manga, anime, books, collectibles, figures and toys. There were a lot of shops and arcades with classic retro-gaming like Nintendo and Sega. The top places you must visit are the GAMERS store (the first anime shop) and the Animate store (the ideal shop for manga, anime goods, and magazines.) We also stopped for a snack at Gundam Cafe which had a really cool atmosphere.
JR Yamanote line to Shibuya station, Hachiko exit
The famous busy intersection Shibuya Crossing felt a lot like Times SQ 42nd NYC.
Shibuya is great for a young crowd: shopping and nightlife. There are so many stores, bars and clubs. The best place for girls to shop is Shibuya 109; a huge shopping mall with 9 floors of nonstop shopping!! You may need a second suitcase 😉
Be prepared, the trains end early. You either leave early or stay out until the trains return about 4:30am! Young people stay out late till the party’s over and then go eat or people literally sleep outside (this was was super interesting to see)! We figured we’re out we might as well experience it and enjoy it, so went for Udon with some new friends until the trains opened up.
Surprisingly everywhere was All American music. House and hip hop were pretty popular among the young party goers. In Japan you can find touristy bars, but we avoided touristy places so that we could immerse ourselves as much as possible. Some of the clubs we went to were T2 Shibuya (good vibe, good mix of music, and fun crowd); Womb (kind of touristy/ could’ve been the night); and Atom my favorite.
Also in Shibuya you can find the famous Hachiko “the faithful dog” statue. This statue was erected in the memory of Tokyo’s most famous dog, Hachiko whose story became legend.
Having malls galore, this very traditional district was also great for shopping and appeared to be the local hangout for young teens. We spent some time in Sunshine City Mall where the biggest Pokemon center is located!
We had reservations at Kura Conveyor, this my first time having (kaiten-zushi) conveyor belt sushi! It was amazingly cheap and such a cool experience. The sushi tasted so good and fresh. You literally pay by the amount of plates you pick. Just grab plates off the belt or make specific orders off the computer menu; eat up and stack up! (make reservations in advance as there is a very long wait time.)
One of my favorite districts!
We ate at Bill’s Breakfast a trendy Western style brunch spot. (In Japan they don’t really eat what we consider a traditional western breakfast) So this was maybe our first non-traditional japanese meal. I ordered the ricotta banana pancake which was absolutely delicious. This was maybe one of our pricer meals. We actually really loved this spot, it had such a relaxed atmosphere.
Harajuku is great for shopping! (that second suitcase will come in handy)
Harajuku is definitely a young hip and fashionable crowd. You can find so many trendy shops that can appeal to many different styles. A bit more touristy, and crowded. There are popular Japanese brands and American brands. Be aware some boutiques are a lot more expensive such as Adidas and Supreme in Japan, know your market. Fast fashion is still very cheap, you can find H&M and Zara in Japan.
Tokyo Sky Tree
A must see is Tokyo’s Sky Tree. This Huge tower with an observation deck overlooks Tokyo! Also make sure to check out the Sky Tree Shop and the shopping mall Tokyo Solamachi, which are both great for souvenirs. There is also an aquarium here, which we didn’t get a chance to visit.
Located in the Shiba-Koen district of Minato, Tokyo
Reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower is another city landmark with amazing sights. Tokyo Tower offers a 360-degree Panoramic view of Tokyo. We went to the highest Observatory overlooking the city. You must go all the way up to get the full experience. It was beautiful! There are also some glass look-down panels on the floor.
Standing next to Tokyo Tower is the Buddhist, Zojoji Temple.
It was beautiful, and I believe the first temple I have ever stepped foot in.
Pictures weren’t allowed inside (be aware of when pictures are not appropriate). We learned how to ask in Japanese as this is very important.
I had this sensation when we entered the temple, just a welcoming feeling of inner peace and release. The temple was absolutely breathtaking, have never seen a structure like this before.
Took the Hibiya Line (Nakameguro way) to Ebisu
We ate dinner with a friend at an Okonomiyaki restaurant (Japanese style pancakes).
Darumasan ga Yaichatta, is a very traditional restaurant; you take off your shoes before you sit down at your table. After you order the waiter brings the food to be cooked at your table, and it cooks in front of you!
We ate Monjayaki; a type of Japanese pan-fried batter, popular in the Kantō region, similar to okonomiyaki, but that uses different liquid ingredients making it runnier than okonomiyaki. The consistency of cooked Monjayaki is comparable to melted cheese.
It was delicious! I loved trying so many different meals.
Tsukiji Outer Fish Market
Near Ginza, Chou
If you travel to Japan Number one on your list should be the Tsukiji Fish Market for out of this world sushi.
We ate at Sushidai the best Sushi restaurant!!!
Tsukiji is a very famous fish market. I Suggest going very very early in the morning as the lines and wait time gets extremely long. We got there at 4:30am and had a 3+ hrs wait. The restaurant opens up at 5AM. It was so worth it, the leg cramps and pain were worth it for the best sushi you will encounter.
You have to Get the Omakase Chef’s Course, trust me paying the little extra is worth it. For ¥4,000 CASH ONLY SET MENU (approx. $40US) the chef will select the best choices of the day. You can additionally choose one extra nigiri item! 9+1 pieces of nigiri sushi (fatty tuna, sea eel, sea urchin, shellfish, seasoned fish) sushi rolls, rolled egg, miso-soup.
I would do it all over again. Side note The largest fish market in the world will be moving in a few months to Tokyo Bay.
Another district we visited was Roppongi Hills which had a very NYC feel. I felt like I was back home for a moment. There were a lot more international foods such as Turkish, Indian and Chinese restaurants. Roppongi has a more mature feel and is also good for nightlife with many options for clubbing, lounges and restaurants.There are also a lot of wine bars.
After spending a week in Tokyo we had to pack to travel to our next stop, Nara for school!!
We had a lot more to pack now after all the shopping! We were sad to leave Tokyo but super excited for school and to explore more parts of Japan. We took the shinkansen (bullet express train) to Kyoto, where we caught a train to continue on to Nara. Check out My trip to Japan Pt. 2: Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka!!!
Here are some Tips For Trips to Japan:
- Get familiar with the complex Subway system consisting of multiple train lines; also different fares. (Plan ahead/ check schedules -Service ends early
- Escalator walk up on right side/ wait on left side (Applies to TOKYO)
- No speaking on phone/ no loud talking or eating/ be mindful
- Cabs are expensive, be prepared to walk or take transit.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes!
- Be familiar with the current exchange rate!!
- Japanese YEN *** Japan uses Predominantly cash!!!
- Japan is very safe, also very safe to carry cash around. (However you should always be cautious and smart when you travel)
- You do not tip in Japan !
- Don’t forget the time difference (NY time Japan is about 13 hours ahead!)
- The Menus are predominantly in Japanese. (If you don’t know how to order you can point to pictures or outside models of the dishes.)
- Pocket WiFi will be your best friend ****highly recommend it – Great for navigating
- Plan and map destinations ahead of time -can get a lot done
- Pack portable chargers **very important
- LINE App great for communicating really big in Japan -similar to What’s App
- MOST importantly: I recommend to get familiar with the customs and to respect the culture.