Japan: Tokyo

Blurb

The big one! The famous Tokyo city with its bright lights and hustling walking streets. People get excited when they hear that you’re going to Tokyo. What is it that makes it so special? I think it is the allure, the fact you are going to one of the most modern cities in the world and you get to be one of the people walking in the Tokyo streetlights. If I had to describe it, it would be like London on steroids.

Room

  1. AirBnb
  2. Ryokan
  3. Capsule hotel
  4. Hotel
  5. Hostel
  6. Speciality Hotels

Again, very similar to the Osaka blog so I won’t repeat it. However there is a lot more choice, if you want my opinion, go for something mid- range – we stayed in the Shinjuku district and although a cheap price, the apartment wasn’t spectacular. I have chatted to some friends and some went all out and stayed in the Hilton, one Irish acquaintance of mine said it was worth the price to get great views of the city and to stay in a hotel featured in a movie! (Lost in Translation). If you are planning on heading to Tokyo, I would advise splashing out abit – me and Bev will likely return and stay somewhere nicer.

Getting around

The transport links are very good and the subway has to be the number one mode of transport. We didn’t even attempt the buses because I was traumatised by our bus experience in Kyoto. However be warned, if you want to read up on any of the subway maps then I would recommend just glazing over Tokyo. Why? It is extremely vast and you can easily get lost, our only saving grace was the internet searches to destinations and the trusty pocket wifi! There are a lot of JR trains and you can use your rail pass but there are other trains which are NOT JR, so definitely make sure before you take any.

Taking a bicycle is a good alternative but it is very busy and you might need a good knowledge of the roads otherwise you might get lost!

Sites

  1. Tokyo Tower / Metropolitan Government Buildings
  2. Tokyo Skytree
  3. Morita Art Museum
  4. Nezu Museum
  5. Samurai Museum
  6. Imperial Palace
  7. Ueno Park
  8. Rainbow Bridge
  9. Meiji shrine
  10. Harajuku District
  11. Roppongi Hills
  12. Shinjuku District
  13. Sensoji Temple
  14. Nikko Day trip
  15. Hakone Day trip
  16. Studio Ghibli

Tokyo Tower – Metropolitan Building – Tokyo Skytree – Rainbow Bridge

When you look at it, you may think you are in Paris as Tokyo tower bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower. It was one of the best highrise places to go and view Tokyo in all its glory. However there are other alternatives and Tokyo Skytree is higher than Tokyo Tower, so the view is just a little bit higher.

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I was really pondering whether to go to Tokyo Tower/Skytree as both offered something different but also similar views. It was kind of like deciding whether to go to London’s Gherkin or Shard for the same reasons. Which should you go to? The easy answer would be both and I did consider that but heres a few reasons for each;

Tokyo Tower is located in the Minato district, the highest you can go in the tower is 249m. It has a glass flooring portion where you can look down and see the ground below, not recommended if you suffer from vertigo! There are some attractions around the tower such as FootTown which has a restaurant, convenience store and souvenir area. There are also floors which have a Trick gallery and also a One Piece themed floor.

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Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytrees highest viewing point if 450m but the actual tower is 634m and is reported to be the 2nd tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. The tower is part of the Solamachi shopping centre where you can shop at some big brand stores or grab a bite to eat, however it is quite pricey here, so you better pack a big wallet. The tower itself has a normal viewing deck and a tembo deck where you can reach the highest point of the tower, it is extra but it is a lot quieter and relaxed on this deck. When we went, they had an Attack on Titan exhibit on.

Tokyo Metropolitan building is the least glamourous but it is free to enter and you can get a good view of Tokyo skyline from here too. The observatory is 200m high, not the highest point but bear in mind you do not have to pay!

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Metropolitan Building

If you have to choose one to go to then it is a tough choice, I would probably advise choosing between one of the Towers and if you have time you can visit the Metropolitan building too (switch between a night and day viewing).

Morita Art Museum

So I do like a couple of art exhibits, sometimes I find them a bit monotonous or sometimes they might be very interesting. The Morita Art museum has different exhibits at different seasons and we happened upon this particular exhibit which showcased work by N.S. Harsha. The exhibit featured 2D art mainly and it was very interesting indeed. There was a hallway showcasing a tapestry of the universe which was breath-taking and one of the best pieces I have seen. The museum ticket included entry into a Marvel comics exhibition, where original set costumes and movie art concepts were shown as well as a few iron man armours. I had died and went to nerd heaven! There is also an observation deck too, so this is an alternative to the options above too.

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NS Harshas – Again Birth Again Death

I have included Rainbow bridge here as we didn’t go to the bridge but we could see it from the towers, it is quite a distance to get to and in my opinion isn’t as impressive as some of the other bridges like the Chain Bridge in Budapest or Golden gate bridge. However, if you have time, you could get a few snaps of the Rainbow bridge up close.

 

 

Samurai Museum – Nezu Museum – Snoopy Museum

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Iron man style samurai set up

Unfortunately we didn’t visit the Nezu museum which showcases Japanese culture and life but it was highly recommended. The samurai museum was located in a busy street and we really enjoyed it, you also get a free guided tour with the entrance fee. The whole tour lasts an hour and details the origin of samurai, viewing of samurai armour, history of shogun and the different clans which existed in Japan. The price of 1500 yen was abit steep especially since it was a small museum.

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Charlie! Also Bev in the background

The Snoopy museum is located out of the way, nearest main destination was Roppongi hills then you have to walk to reach it. The price was expensive but worth the visit, if you are a fan of snoopy then you have to visit this quirky museum, it showcases the history of Snoopy and the biography of Charles M Schultz, his creator. The museum itself is very colourful and creative, I would probably suggest it as a family outing, as kids will likely enjoy the visit.

Roppongi Hills – Harajuku- Shinjuku

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Nuff Said

I bunched the locations together as they weren’t really sites but districts which you can visit. They are famous for different reasons much like how Soho or Covent garden is famous in London. We frequented Roppongi hills a lot as it had sites that I wanted to visit. Roppongi hills is known for its nightlife and bars, also there is a famous shopping district and also one of Jiro Ono’s famous sushi restaurants is located in this area. There is a lot to see in this area and lots of flashy cars roll by, so I guess it kind of had a bit of a Knightsbridge vibe to it. If you are going with friends to Roppongi hills then it will have a lot of cool bars to hang out in.

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Walking down a street near Shinjuku central

We did not spend long in Harajuku, it was quite busy but as we walked further and further down the roads, it seemed to get less busy. It had a lot of clothing shops and some very strange clothes too. There are plenty of walking streets and I believe Shibuya Cat street was nearby. It was nothing spectacular but it was quite interesting to see.

Shinjuku was fairly close to the centre of Tokyo, it was the district we stayed in. We walked from Shinjuku to get to the Samurai museum. So we ventured through the busy Shinjuku station, it was mega busy! I think we passed through the famous Golden Gai as the street was filled with store upon store of yakitori vendors. All the streets literally merged into one and people funnelled into one street. In other words, it was very busy. Personally, I liked the hustle and bustle here and the number of shops and stores present made it quite exciting, as you turn round every corner and something different was there.

Imperial Palace – Ueno Park

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The imperial palace is located on the remnants of Edo castle and it is typical of Japanese architecture. It is a beautiful site and you are allowed to roam the outer grounds but generally you are not allowed to enter the inner grounds. It would be nice if you visit the grounds in the morning then you can plan for another activity later during the day. Perhaps you could rent a bike and ride to Ueno park afterwards, we only touched upon the park, think of it like a Japanese version of Vondelpark, massive and beautiful! If you do go, there are many museums which you can visit near the park grounds.

Studio Ghibli

I researched into booking studio Ghibli museum about 2 months prior to our Japan tour. Unfortunately it sells out fast! If you are reading this and ever are planning to go to Japan, consider booking this as I have heard and read reviews about how fantastical this place is! If you are a fan of Japanese anime or film then you have to go. Spirited away is definitely in my top 10 film list.

Nikko: Day Trip

We decided to use one of the days in Tokyo to travel up to Nikko, it was recommended by a few friends and also a Dutch couple we spoke to in Kobe. So we decided to head up and make a daytrip out of it. Luckily our JR passes were activated and we could take a bullet train up.

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One of the beautiful pieces of Toshogu Shrine

What was so different about Nikko? So when we did some research, Nikko is famous for its many shrines and Toshugo shrine is the most famous. The shrines found are beautifully ornate and traditionally styled.

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Crying Dragon – Folklore says that if you clap at one end the room that it resonates at a point where it sounds like a dragon crying

When we arrived in Nikko, it was difficult to locate the correct bus stop but there are only few buses which run in Nikko, just ask the driver whether it goes to your destination. Also, you may have to get a ticket when you get on, this will tell the driver when you got on and then he can give you a fee when you get off the bus. From the bus stop, we passed Shinkyo Bridge and up a hill, the journey was about 10 minutes long and we promptly arrived at the bottom of this road. After walking up, we arrived at several entrances, bought a ticket for Toshogo shrine and then roamed around. The shrine itself is the burial ground for the last shogun, Tokugawa Iesayu. There are famous carvings dotted around the shrine such as the sleeping cat, three monkeys and the crying dragon.

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Shinkyo Bridge

Some of the Nikko cuisine is different also, unfortunately we did not get to sample Yuba which is a bean curd skin, which can only be sampled in North Tokyo. So if you get the chance, give it a go!

Hakone: Day Trip

Another day was spent to go to Hakone, this was a last minute trip as I had planned for us to travel to Mt Fuji base camp and see Fuji-san in person! However, as we were not climbing Fuji, we decided it would be better to go somewhere to experience its sight elsewhere. The contenders were Fuji Q highland theme park, Hakone, Lake Kawaguchi, Enoshima. I was pretty stumped as I wanted to go to Lake Kawaguchi but the distance and logistics of reaching there was too far. Fuji Q themepark was a fun alternative but time would be a stretch and the day would feel rushed.

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In the end we decided Hakone would be a good place to see Fuji, and I wish we spent more days in Hakone as I felt it was one of Japans more underappreciated cities. Be warned the journey to get to the ropeway where you can see Mt Fuji was long winded and I read a lot of reviews where people really disliked this and how they wished they saved the money as the weather was too foggy to see Mt Fuji. I think we paid 4000 Yen for a two day pass which included unlimited travel and entry to the ropeway, lucky for us it was a clear day and Fuji was visible in all its glory. However I would highly recommend spending maybe 2-3 days in Hakone and seeing some of the other sites and on a clear day to go up the ropeway. Another recommended site is the Hakone Tori (Lake Ashi) and the nearby shrine, it almost looks like a Tori gate which extends onto the water (like an infinity pool) – similar to the famous Great Torii off Hiroshima.

 

Eating!

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We decided to try the famous Omurice. I loved my beef Omurice with gravy but Bev wasn’t a huge fan of her classic Omurice with chicken and ketchup. If you like rice and eggs, then this is it. Gooey and savoury mess!

 

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We travelled quite a distance to get to Roppongi to try a different type of ramen. This was a shoyu chicken ramen, as you can see the ramen broth is clear. I was begging Bev for just normal tonkotsu as it was approaching 10pm Tokyo time, in the end we found this restaurant and my hunger and mood lifted. The flavour was very clean and distinct but not rich and creamy like tonkotsu. I would definitely try again
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We went to an Ippudo branch in Roppongi on one of our first nights. Oh my god, you cant get ramen like this in England, yes we have ramen houses. Maybe one day, I can make something like this. The soup broth!!

Top tips

  1. Decide whether you want to stay in Tokyo for a long period – personally I would have liked to spend at least a week in Tokyo to explore all the different areas and take it leisurely as it is such a large city
  2. Stay in Tokyo and travel to Nikko and Hakone as day trips without worrying about luggage
  3. Save your money for Tokyo as it is one of the more expensive areas, which is not surprising. However you can choose cheaper restaurants as there are so many places to eat but do your research
  4. Consider staying in a hotel in Tokyo, which has nearby transport links. Yes the cost is higher but it will make the overall stay here much more enjoyable. The main reason I am saying this is because it is such a large city, you may as well rest well in a comfy room which has room service after a hard day of exploring!

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