Konnichiwa! Hope everyone is well! Happy Lunar New Year to all who is celebrating. I am super excited for all the delish Chinese food my family is cooking up this weekend and spending time with my fam bam…… aaaaaand of course collecting the red envelopes (hong baos). Holidays has been a lil rough on my wallet, ya feel me?
Anyways, my friend Thanmayi is heading off to Japan next month and that reminded me I needed to dig up my Japan travel guide, as I promised in my Honolulu, Hawaii post. See? I come through…. eventually.
It was my second time in Japan in 2014 (although my first time was a blur as I was younger) and thankfully I made some kind of guide and remembered mostly where I went. I love love love the Japanese culture. Have always been obsessed with the food. Intrigued in their entertainment and technology – tons of gaming (yo I used to be a DDR master… for a 10 year old), anime (naruto in Japanese obviously… ok with english subtitles), cartoons (sailor moon FTW), makeup, and J-Pop. I even aced my New York State Global History Regents by writing my essay on the Japanese Industrial Revolution. So needless to say, when I found out I was going to Japan the first time.. and even the second time, I was LIT.
Actually going to Japan and experiencing first hand their culture, their people, the FOOD (!!!) was amazing.. and kawaii. Because literally everything in Japan is kawaii (cute). 24/7. I spent some time in Tokyo but also some limited time with some cities outside(hence my title being Tokyo-ish) but if I could sum up the country in a few words from my experiences, it would be: cleanliness, efficiency, respect, technologically advanced while staying true to their roots. Tokyo is one of my absolute favorite cities to vacation; I would love to go back and explore other cities. Fortunately, we had a family friend who lived in Japan and spoke English, Chinese, and Japanese — I’ll be honest, because we had her around, we didn’t really need to communicate that much but I know others who have gone to Japan without knowing the language and have been able to get around fine. In general, Japanese people are very generous and will help you to the best of their ability. Their customer service in the service industry is top notch in my opinion.
If you can recall, this was a joint trip with Hawaii in 2014 and I went with my family of 12. We try to get everyone’s input as to what they want to do, thus, it was a packed trip with activities. We only had a little more than 4 full days there and we wanted to do A LOT. More details after the jump.
Tuesday, Day 1
- Arrived at 2:15PM at Narita International Airport
- Took a bus shuttle to our hotel, Keio Plaza Hotel (in Shinjuku) and checked in
- Dinner at Tempura Restaurant near hotel (don’t remember name)
- Walked around Shinjuku area near our hotel
Wednesday, Day 2
- Train to Tsukiji Fish Market (absolutely my favorite part of the trip. best meal of my life here)
- Ate a sushi breakfast, walked the shops
- Train to Ginza, shopping at Ginza
- Bought toys at Hakuhinkan Toy Park
- Geisha Show at Ginza
- Train to Asakusa Shrine
- Sukiyaki Dinner at Yonekyu
Thursday, Day 3
- Train/bus/tram to Hakone Mountain (for a view of Mt. Fuji)
- Eat a black egg!
- Tram/bus to Hakone Kowakien Yunessun (Water Park with Hot Springs)
- Curry lunch
- Hot Springs
- Got our feet nibbed on by fish
- Train back to Shinjuku
- Dinner at Ramen Restaurant near Hotel
Friday, Day 4
- Train/bus to Diver City Tokyo Plaza
- Gundam Front Tokyo
- Train to Sanrio Puroland (aka Hello Kitty World)
- Kawaii the f out
- Hello Kitty lunch buffet
Saturday, Day 5
- Train to Nissin Cupnoodle Museum (my 2nd favorite part of the trip)
- Train to Shinyokohama Ramen Museum (food court of the best ramen)
- Train back to Shinjuku
- Shopping in Shinjuku
- Dinner at Sushi Go Around Restaurant in Shinjuku (don’t remember the name)
We stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel Toyko in Shinjuku (2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku 160-8330, Tokyo Prefecture) both times we were in Tokyo. My mom chose the hotel based on her friends’ recommendations; I thought it had a great location to shopping, restaurants, and public transportation. Rooms were very clean, modern, and comfy. We stayed in Twin Superior rooms in the Main Plaza which I think was recently renovated at that time (I just checked, it’s like ~$266/night). I hear that the renovated rooms are larger than standard hotel rooms in Tokyo. The twin beds in the Superior room could fit 2 people per bed. I’m not sure if I would stay here again if I was traveling by myself with my frugal ways, but it was definitely a pleasure to stay there.
Oh, and also they have HELLO KITTY ROOMS now. ooomg. what.
This hotel is also one of the first Shinjuku bus stops on one of the routes, which was super convenient. You can buy a bus ticket at the airport upon arrival.
Things to Do/What To Eat
1. Tsukiji Fish Market (Chuo, Japan)
- Every morning they have a tuna auction starting at 5:00AM
- Eat sushi at one of the restaurants there (best meal of my life)
The tuna auction is something I wish I went to. It is super popular for tourists, so even though the auction starts at 5:00AM, many visitors usually start lining up hours before 5AM. First come first serve basis. You have to apply for admission at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate. For more information, visit http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/tsukiji/index.html#VisitorsRules. Note that they are super strict on shoes! You can’t wear high-heeled shoes or sandals.
Even if you don’t make the auction, check out the surrounding shops and restaurants. We got there around 10AM and ate probably around 11AM (sushi is great anytime of the day). The restaurants serve sashimi (raw fish) and nigiri (raw fish on top of rice). If you do not like fish, they also have some restaurants serving cooked foods like ramen, udon, katsu. They are all small restaurants that seats about 10 people, so expect to line up. We saw long lines even before the shops opened that day. We walked around to see where they had a little bit of a line and chose that place. Obviously, the longer the line, the better the place! Even if my place didn’t have the longest line, it was seriously the best sushi I ever had in my life. Super fresh. Let me tell you. Jiro’s not the only one dreaming about sushi.
2. Shopping at Ginza (Ginza, Japan)
- Ginza is an upscale shopping district with high end department stores
- We found an awesome toy store (Hakuhinkan Toy Park – 8-8-11, ginza, chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-8132, Japan) that had cool stuff. The kids (okay.. realistically we were all early to late 20s) spent most of our time here.
We walked around the stores but things were generally more expensive than the US so we didn’t buy anything. The toy store was awesome though. It had so much cute knicknacks. I’m pretty sure every one left here with something. I bought Squirtle and Eevee pokemon legos and a Hermione Granger Wand Chopstick Set.
3. Geisha Show at Kabukiza Theater
- If you’re interested in traditional Japanese opera.
My aunt chose this activity for the group. But none of us had any expectations for it. Honestly, I thought it would be a flashy show where geishas ran down the catwalk or something. Yeah……. it was nothing like that. I wish I did more research. I highly do not recommend this show if you do not understand Japanese. We had no idea what was going on. But it was a very popular show, as the whole theater was filled.
4. Asakusa Shrine (Taito, Japan)
- One shrine… to rule them all. JK. I didn’t know what to put here. It’s a rad shrine, what can I say. Oh, there are shops along the pathway to the shrine to check out.
We got there at night so all the little shops were closed unfortunately. But cool shrine, bro.
5. Sukiyaki Dinner at Yonekyu (Taito, Japan)
- 2-17-10 Asakusa Taito Tokyo | 12:00-21:00 (last order 20:00), Closed on Wednesdays
- Few minutes walk from the shrine
- Kind of expensive
Our family friend brought us here. Sukiyaki is kind of like a shallow version of hot pot. A yummy mixture (soy sauce, sugar, and mirin) is poured into a shallow pot in the middle of the table and then meat and veggies are cooked inside it. It was very good, from what I remember, but had small portion sizes.
6. Hakone Mountain – Ropeway for the Views (Hakone-machi, Japan)
- Scenic mountain with views of Mt. Fuji
- There’s apparently a bunch of stuff you could do at Hakone Mountain (hiking, gardens, spas, hot springs, shopping, temples, shrines)
- We opted to take a ropeway up the mountain. I think there are hiking trails you can do up the mountain.
The ropeway had great views but smelled like rotten eggs the entire time (sulfur). Unfortunately, it was cloudy that day and we could barely see Mt. Fuji. Once we got off the ropeway, there was a gift shop/restrooms, and an area you can look out/walk around. You can also buy and try eating a black egg! It tastes pretty much like a normal egg (sorry) but it’s pretty cool. The eggs are hard-boiled in the hot springs and blackened by the sulfur. They say that they will prolong your life by 7 years. I ate 3. #foreveryoung
7. Hakone Kowakien Yunessun (Hakone-machi, Japan)
- It’s a hot spring amusement park
- Also on Hakone Mountain. We took a tram/bus to get here.
- There are different “parks” – check out its website for more details. We went to the Yunessun part, which required clothes.
Last time I was in Japan, I went to a natural hot spring where everyone had to be nude in the hot springs (genders are separated). Yes, it was super awkward at first but after a few minutes, I didn’t really care anymore. That was a interesting and relaxing experience. I remember I had to shower, including washing my hair, before entering the hot springs. Then shower again after exiting the hot springs.
This time, we went to a more “amusement park” type hot spring (so definitely not really relaxing or quiet) where everyone wore their bathing suits… but also there were a bunch more kids running around and screaming. And a lot more crowded. They have several different hot spring pools? (if that’s what you call them) with different themes. They have one that is supposedly coffee, red wine, and sake. They also have water slides and regular water play areas for kids. There is also an attraction (requires fee) where you put your feet into a pool of water and there are fishies that come and eat the dead skin off your feet. We tried that and most of us could not stop giggling (it seriously tickles). Sorry, we’re not true champs.
There are other hot spring spas in the same establishment that were nude hot springs. I think I would rather opt for that for a more relaxing experience next time.
There are a couple of restaurants/food stands inside the park, including a buffet. We opted for a restaurant that served curry udon for lunch. That was actually pretty decent!
8. Diver City Tokyo Plaza (Koto, Japan) & Gundam Front
- 1-1-10 Aomi, Koto135-0064, Tokyo Prefecture
- This is a shopping mall that has a huge life sized Gundam in the front.
- Has a lot of shops and restaurants, an arcade, and the Gundam Front exhibit. My brother is a huge Gundam fan so we came here and checked out the exhibit.
- If you’re not a Gundam fan, obviously skip the exhibit.
9. Sanrio Puroland (Tama, Japan)
- 1-31 Ochiai, Tama 206-8588 , Tokyo Prefecture
- It’s an indoor park, with a few rides, attractions, character appearances, and shows.
- Sanrio fans’ dream.
While it is definitely geared towards children, it is very, very cute. My mom is actually is a huge hello kitty fan and she loved it (hence, why we came. Momma gets what momma wants). I wouldn’t necessarily come here as an adult (unless you are a Sanrio or hello kitty lover), but if you have kids that like hello kitty, they’ll enjoy it (and maybe you through nostalgia). They have a boat ride, similar to Disney’s “It’s a Small World”, but I find this one even cuter. We enjoyed a hello kitty lunch buffet, which was mediocre. Cute. But mediocre. They had Hello Kitty frozen beer! (which wasn’t that good).
10. Cupnoodle Museum (Yokohama, Japan)
- 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001
- It’s a museum about… cupnoodles! Check out its website. Admission is 500 yen.
- Super cool exhibits. They have a class where you make your own chicken ramen (I think it’s in Japanese though). They also have a Cupnoodles Factory where you can create your own Cupnoodles package! We did this and it was super fun.
This was my pick for the trip. It was one of my favorite attractions. Interesting history for foodies, like me. Loved learning about the history of instant noodles. You have to sign up for the “My CUPNOODLES Factory” and “Chicken Ramen Factory” attractions. They have different time slots and they are very popular. We got there before the museum even opened (there was already a bit of a line). All the chicken ramen factory classes were full by the time we got to the window to buy tickets, but was able to get into the My CUPNOODLES Factory attraction. For 300 yen per cupnoodle package, you get to design the cup with markers, select the soup and toppings for your cupnoodle. Then they seal your cup and package it with a vacuum seal. It’s pretty neat.
They also have a Noodles Bazaar which we didn’t go to since we were going to the Ramen Museum for lunch after.
11. Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (Yokohama, Japan)
- 2-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama-City, 222-0033, Japan
- In short, it’s not really a museum. Doesn’t have any exhibits. It’s pretty much a food court for different kinds of ramen under one roof. Two basement floors. Shops have “half” portions so that you could try multiple ramens.
- Unfortunately, there is an admission fee to get in (I think it is 310 yen for adult). Then you have to pay for each bowl of ramen. You’ll get a map that shows you where all the shops are, and what they kind of ramen they are famous for. More information at its website.
You walk in off the street and it looks kind of boring. The ground floor has a little information about ramen. I think there is a shop there as well. But the two basement floors is the real treat. Once you enter the basement, it’s like your transformed into another world. According to Japan-Guide, the basement is modeled after “Shitamachi, the old town of Tokyo, of around the year 1958, when the popularity of ramen was rapidly increasing”. There are 9 shops total – each holds its own fame / respect in the ramen game, serving ramen from different regions of Japan. There are basically two lines per shop. The first line, is a line to buy a ticket for your order from a vending machine outside the shop. Then, you join the second line, which is a line to get inside the shop and get seated. Once you enter the shop, hand the waitress your ticket, then she’ll show you to your seat(s).
We went on a Saturday, so it was super busy. I think I waited an hour for the Miso ramen shop (my favorite ramen) so I didn’t get to try other shops. My cousins who went on a separate trip, went on a weekday and didn’t have to line up for any shops; therefore, they were able to try multiple ramens. It was pretty good, but worth 1 hour wait? Eh. I still think the Miso ramen at Santouka inside Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ is the best.
There are so many cool things you get can in Japan. Whether that is technology gadgets, makeup, toys, snacks, candy, clothes, home essentials – literally anything. I feel like Japanese products are where function meets style.
There are tons of places to do explore, plenty of shopping to do, and tons of GOOD food to eat in Japan. I cannot wait to go back. Seriously. That fish at the Tsukiji is calling my name. UGH. Omakase at Takesushi will have to do for now.