We found a great deal on airfare to Tokyo back in April and in a split-second decision (before the price went away) we booked our tickets! Half the fun of a trip is the anticipation, so for half the year, we’ve been looking forward to our trip to Japan. Here’s a little of what we saw, some recommendations, and where we stayed.
Getting Around – We used the train for getting almost everywhere. We thought about getting a Suica card (a reloadable debit card that you can add credit to for swiping past the turnstyles), but we ended up just purchasing our tickets at the kiosks at each station before we went anywhere, and entering our destination into the machine which determined the fare. One thing to note is that you need to hold onto your ticket from the start of your journey to finish because once you arrive, you put your ticket back into the turnstyle to verify you paid the correct amount. If not, there are fare adjustment machines, and also very helpful transit staff to pay the correct amount. We also rode in a few black taxis which are incredibly clean and a delightful experience. They are the more expensive way to get around, but sometimes at the end of a many-miles-walked day, you just can’t anymore. The doors open and close by a button the cab driver controls, so do not try to open and close them yourself (it was a reflex for me)! It was very noticeable how much people in Japan take pride and care in their professions.
Stationery Shopping at Itoya – If you love stationery, desk and art supplies, pens, and more pens, you have come to the right city. There are many places to explore, but the best recommendation I received was to go to Itoya, not one but TWO department stores dedicated to the world of art and desk supplies. I am pretty sure my mouth was hanging open and eyes bugged out for most of the hours I spent climbing floor after floor, each with its own theme: pens, stickers, fine paper, craft supplies, paints, etc. I may have gone a little overboard here.
Imperial Gardens – We were only a 5-minute walk in Ginza from the Imperial Gardens which is where Japan’s Imperial Family resides. While there is no access to the private residence and gardens, the Imperial Gardens East is open to the public. It is absolutely free to visit and definitely worth a stroll (although you can book a paid tour with a little more access). We were a little too early for the changing of the leaves, but it was nevertheless spectacular. This is the former site of the Edo Castle and while only the foundation of the castle tower remains, the moats, some guardhouses and gates still exist.
Kawaii Culture – This is a word I heard constantly on the street and is simply part of everyday life in Japan – kawaii, meaning cute or adorable. There is no shortness of cuteness in terms of food packaging, store displays, the way younger people dress, and advertisements across the city. Also, almost everything from vending machines to city buses were decked out in kawaii Halloween décor, which was my favorite.
Harajuku – This neighborhood is a must-see in Japan. There were tons of people walking around here and the energy was frenetic. We saw a lot of creative outfit choices while munching on rainbow cotton candy, and shopping for trinkets and cat tights.
Park Hyatt New York Bar – For our last night in Tokyo, we splurged and went to the famed New York Bar at the top of the Park Hyatt Tokyo for a bottle of Champagne, bar snacks, and enjoyed the jazz trio and singer with spectacular views of the city. They charge a cover after 8:00 pm when the music starts, and it was well worth it!
Our Airbnb – For our first four nights in Japan, we booked a fabulous Airbnb in the Ginza district and it turned out to be the best location we could have hoped for! We were a less than 5-minute walk to the subway station, which was only one stop way from Tokyo station, a major hub that brings you into Tokyo from the airport. It’s also where you can hop on the Shinkansen (bullet train) like we did for our last two nights in Japan that we spent in Kyoto.
It was such a little haven to come back to each evening and had a great view of the train tracks where commuter and bullet trains whizzed by all the time, but it was not at all an annoyance and did not affect our sleep. We even got to see the packed subway cars at rush hour! My favorite part about our room was being able to soak in the hinoki cypress shower and bathtub room, an absolute necessity after a full 24 hours of travel to get to Tokyo.
I’ll be posting about a few more things soon, including our visit to Kyoto, a food diary, and my favorite souvenirs I brought back from Japan!