Week Long Travels: The Japanese Landscape
A couple years ago on my way to Thailand, my friend and I had a long layover in Tokyo. It was 19 hours long, so we made the most of it by going on a tour around the city. That was my only experience in Japan. It was too crowded, too rainy, and so busy — but I knew I had to go back.
As it turns out, my boyfriend really wanted to go to Japan too. So this time, we spent 10 days with some friends seeing all the sights and eating all the food in Japan. We spent the beginning of our trip in Tokyo, then moved down to Kyoto, and still had time to fit in a day trip to Hakone. Also…. WE WERE SO LUCKY YOU GUYS! Cherry blossom season happens once a year for about a week and its usually a week after our trip had ended but... It had just fully bloomed when we showed up (March 26th) and they were almost completely gone by the time we left (April 4th). Some things are just amazing like that, oh and the Japanese toilets are ~dreamy~ (will talk more about these later)
WHAT TO DO IN TOKYO
But really, what is there not to do in Tokyo? Ok, maybe a few things, but we tried to do and see a bunch! I love to start with a tour of the city so we can go back to the places we really like on our own time. We used Tokyo Walking Tours. I will admit, I thought I was signing up for a food tour and I was ready to eat all the things (oh don’t worry, we still did that) but then quickly realized it was just a tour. Either way, it was awesome. Stopping at Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa, Meiji Jingu, Harajuku/Omote-sando neighborhoods. Each with their own unique charm.
#1 WALK/Subway Everywhere:
After our tour of the city, we knew which areas we wanted to go back to (Asakusa) and which we could avoid (Harajuku). Averaging about 10 miles a day was pretty normal in this city. It made getting around feel like a workout, which was right up my alley. Also, getting a train card (Suica Card) for the whole trip was perfect. We were able to do it everywhere we went. Side note about the Suica card, you can use it in taxi’s and all around each train station. The system is pretty easy to use. I was lucky enough to have service everywhere I went (Sprint is good for one thing at least?) so we used Google Maps all over the place. This brings me to my next point.
#2 LIVE at the Train Stations.
Seriously, everything you could ever want is underground. Not only could you have every meal of the day, you can also shop until you drop. Some of my favorite meals on the trip were underground. Tokyo station and Kyoto station were a couple of my favorites. There is a whole STREET of ramen. And you wonder how I ate that many bowls of ramen? Now you know. And then on the other side of said “street”, there’s character street, with toys and figurines you never knew could ever exist.
#3 EAT all the things.
The sushi at Tsukiji fish market was the best I’ve ever had in my entire life. So that’s a must. You already know how I feel about ramen, go to the ones underground or the ones where you use a vending machine to order. Although Ichiran was poppin’ it wasn’t that great, so you can skip that spot. Convenience store sushi is better than any sushi I’ve had in Denver. The green tea always makes my heart happen. Eat all of the different kinds of Kit Kats. Try the crickets. And the squid things. And the tempura. The sweet bread ice cream sandwich at Kagetsudo. Eat a traditional Japanese breakfast. Just try it all, and then if you don’t like it, you’ll have to hold on to the trash because there aren’t any trash cans anywhere. It’s a clean city, like really clean. But there aren’t any trash cans anywhere?
#4 STAY near a station.
We stayed at a cute, quiet Airbnb right in Shinjuku on the Goen National Garden. Talk about a spot to see Cherry Blossoms . We were also close by the YoYogi park and the Jingu national stadium. That will actually be where some events in the 2020 olympics will be! We were so close, but it’s too far (whomp whomp). There was a train station a few minutes away from our spot, which was a great place to catch trains going to all the main stations.
#5 SEE all the things.
Keep your eyes open. The fashion and people are everywhere. Yes, we went at the busiest time of the year, I usually don’t do that you guys. But cherry blossoms. So there were millions of people everywhere, and all the good outfits. One of my other favorite things to do in a new city is go to the highest point to see the whole city. That’s where Tokyo Skytree comes in. I was a little iffy about spending $30 just to get to the top, but holy guacamole it was worth it. The city is MASSIVE and puts the world into perspective every time I get to a high place in a new city. It just makes me think about how much else out there is to see and do! Imperial Palace is a beautiful and massive spot during the day, and then there was Piss Alley and Golden Gai for tiny restaurants and bars that fit 8 people MAX. I didn’t love that street because every bar had a cover charge and people smoke in these tiny rooms. Not my fave.
We took a day trip to Hakone but felt like it took 10 hours to get there from Tokyo. I wish we had one more day to explore around there. You take a two hour train from Tokyo Station, then a 45 minute train up to the top of the mountain, then a 30 minute gondola to Lake Ashi. THEN you take a 45 minute pirate ship thing across the lake and then you take it all back. So while it was beautiful (too hazy to see Mt. Fuji unfortunately), it felt like all we were doing was traveling instead of taking in sights. I would suggest staying up there for a night, or leaving a little earlier in the day than we did.
Next stop —> KYOTO
What a cute little city… Just kidding, there’s still 1.5 million people here! But I did love it, that is for sure and I wish we were here another day or two. One of my favorite days in Japan was renting bikes and seeing so many awesome spots around the city! We took a bullet train to Kyoto, and loved it! It was quick, spacious, and clean. Took a quick taxi to our Airbnb and it was in another great spot in town, walkable to stations and little shops/restaurants.
#1 WALK/BIKE Everywhere.
On the first full day in Kyoto, we took the train to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We walked around for several hours as there was SO much to see and eat around there. It was so incredible to be able to walk through all the gates. At night, we went to a cool hidden bar in Pontocho Alley and found a restaurant nearby. The best way to get around the city? Electric bikes. 8 hours for 1500 Yen, sold. It was fun and we were able to see so much.
#2 EAT all the things.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I like to eat a bunch when I’m in a foreign country, especially when it’s food I can’t get at home. Tonkatsu, soba noodles, and Kyo-wagashi are specialties in Kyoto so we had to try all of them. I even gave matcha another try here, and just don’t love the flavor. Sorry to everyone else out there that loves it!
#3 SEE all the things.
Bike day was the best day. Especially since they were electric! We were able to see Kinkaku/Rukuon-Ji temple with a traditional tea ceremony, Nijo-Jo castle, and To-Ji temple. With some Ramen and sushi stops throughout. The weather was perfect all day for us. Matter of fact, it was such amazing weather the whole time we were there. LUCKY, so lucky for us.