Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).
As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. This time around, unlike my Peru – Machu Picchu trek, my walzflex 120mm film camera made an appearance once again.
For 14 days of travel through Japan, I decided against a rolling hard case luggage. I have since replaced my Kata Camera bag with a new bag from PRVKE as my personal camera bag and my trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel as my main luggage, My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Japan Packing List
Wearing onto Plane
1 pair of tights (Underarmour are my choice of preference)
Woke up early to goto Arashio-beya Sumo Stable 荒汐部屋(Japan, 〒103-0007 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Nihonbashihamachō, 2 Chome−４７−２) to watch sumo wrestling practice as the big sumo wrestling tournament takes place next month. This particular beya has windows that you can watch from and you aren’t allowed to enter the building. There are other beya’s where you can enter and sit down to watch them practice however for those ones you cannot leave until the practice is over or it is considered disrespectful. You also cannot sit with the bottom of your feet facing the ring as that is also disrespectful. You also should bring a gift of some sort (snacks or something) to offer to the sumo wrestlers as a sign of appreciation for their hard work. We walked back to the hotel and just relaxed a bit and repacked.
We were running out of yen but luckily good timing as it was our last day. We were trying to figure out what was our best option to not spend the remainder of our money until needed but also get through the next few hours with out luggage. We decided to just head to Tokyo station and figure it out then. We arrived at Tokyo Station using our JR pass from JR Akihabara. The line to reserve tickets for the trains was long and I needed to charge up my pasmo card however didn’t have enough time to and I didn’t have access to one inside the station. We walked around, found food and sat in the food emporium and ate before our NEX express train to Narita Airport. The express train takes an hour. I then picked up the final requests I had from my cousin to pick up certain items and last meal of Japan trip – 15 McNuggets. Our flight offered 2 free checked in bags and I gave in and checked in my bag (hoping the kit kats survive). Good thing I did check it in as I needed my hands to grab the last purchases in Japan. 11-11.5hr to ORD. Smooth ride and fixed my jet leg I think. Unfortunately, our flight home from ORD got delayed 3.5 hours due to bad weather in Toronto.
All in all, a wonderful trip and I was very ambitious with my itinerary and wasn’t able to accomplish some of the items on there but its a lesson learned and all about going with the flow. I was able to reunite with 2 friends in Tokyo & Osaka and also meet up with my volleyball friend as she was travelling visiting family and spent 2 days with my crew and I. Only 1 bag of kit kats got squashed – still tastes just as good.
Overall, all the places I’ve visited, Osaka is still my favourite. The vibe is just perfect – not too busy like Tokyo but also has its little boroughes with stylish people and of course the copious amounts of delicious food anywhere you look. The weather is perfect as well with city and nature somewhat meeting. Japan is somewhere I could visit again and again and never feel like I have fully explored what the country has to offer. I do love the culture and especially the architecture however I can go without the slow walkers, the slow escalators, the not covering their mouth while coughing or sneezing and the not moving out of the way when walking and bashing into the next person.
Who knows, maybe the next time round will be Taiwan & Okinawa.
We woke up early and packed. We had about an hour and half before we needed to check out so we walked around America-mura and grabbed morning takoyaki at Kogaryu – 大阪アメリカ村 甲賀流 本店 (Japan, 〒542-0086 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Nishishinsaibashi, 2 Chome−2−18−4) which is on the Michelin Star list and for good reason – the octopus was just so much more flavourful than many I have eaten in the past. Mike dropped one – that was a sad moment. Before we checked out of the Airbnb, we wanted to be hip and sit on the wooden patio outside of AKTR/Sporty Coffee shop スボティコーヒー. I purchased Sporty blend coffee beans – sourced from Wakayama for my pops (1380y). We grabbed all our stuff and took the train to Shin-Osaka where we dropped off our luggage – the main JR station was already packed with bags but I cut and saved a large locker for Mike & Manwai. 300y for a small locker. We took the train to Umeda station and went to find Kayo at her work. For some reason, I didn’t check where she worked and I assumed it was Umeda station because she mentioned it earlier however her workplace is located at the Whity Umeda so it would’ve been Higashi Umeda station we should’ve gotten off at.
We surprised Kayo at work but she actually surprised us because she had gotten the photos she took on her camera the previous day printed and gave them to us with personalize notes inside. She went on lunch break and we went to Okonomi Yukari which was also in this underground mall. Back to the mall for a second, this mall has over 200 shops and averages 600,000 visitors a day – so confusing to walk through – think Toronto’s underground Path but 5x bigger. Now back to food. Okonomi Yukari serves for majority of its menu – okonomiyaki – a savoury japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage with meat and topped with a variety of condiments like bonito flakes, mayonnaise, sweet brown sauce etc.
I found the sailor moon makeup my friends were looking for at Its Demo. We made our way back to Shin-Osaka station and off we went. 3 hours to get back to Tokyo – We forgot to ask for mountain side view seats as we pass Mt Fuji heading to Tokyo. Luckily, I woke up hearing a phone taking burst photos and I got up and got a shot of Mt Fuji for the 1-2 minutes it appeared as the shinkansen speeds past at 300KM/HR.
Our original plan was to leave Osaka early in the morning to Nagoya and purchase tickets to watch a baseball game at 6PM (Dragons vs Tigers) and leave Nagoya by 8PM latest to make it back to Tokyo but it was a little too ambitious I suppose. Cassie also followed us back to Tokyo but went to Shinagawa first. We continued onwards to check in to our Capsule hotel – Grids Akihabara(Japan, 〒101-0031 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Higashikanda, 2 Chome−８−１６) – we booked a private quad capsule room with shared showered but sink and toilet in our room. Tokyo was really windy that day.
Once we settled in, we made our way to Shinjuku to Comme Ca to pick up Mike’s jacket. We met up with Cassie at Tokyu Hands (Kit Kat Chocolatory was on the lower level but closed about 15-20 minutes before we got there). We had passed this cool looking pop-up shop looking food truck and restaurant so we decided to check it out instead of joining Chi & Karen in Harajuku for gyozas because it was cold and this was also closer. The restaurant is called Sanagi Shinjuku サナギ 新宿 (Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, 新宿区Shinjuku, 3 Chome−３５−６). It is a asian tapas restaurant that serves thai, chinese, japanese and other asian cuisine. The place is very eclectic. There are multiple rooms all designed differently. One area looked very cafe like, another had benches with paper lanterns adorning the ceiling, we sat in the area where you sit on the floor and had neon lights. The washrooms also featured different aesthetic – the unisex washroom had pennants covering the ceiling, the women had stuffed dolls and the mens something else.
We ordered a whole bunch of things and drinks. I got their local Dove and Peach sake and then a shochu wine drink – all in all, a very fun way to end out time in Japan for sure. I have been very dehydrated this trip (little known fact – I am a very dehydrate person in general) so drinking this much (I went for the hard stuff I know) made me even more dehydrated and I guess low blood sugar. As we were getting off the train, my vision went a little white and fuzzy but all was good with a little sports drink in me and I was fine.
The original plans as to visit Chidori-fa-guchi Park during the day but it was raining so we opted out of it. We met up with Kanako again at Tokyo station by the popular gin no suzu bell (which was actually confusing to find). We had to go reserve tickets for the afternoon but then Mike wanted to drop off their other bag to the lockers which was even more confusing to get to and ate up some time. Got the bag near our main luggage locker and finally off we went to Shimokitazawa.
We aimed to start our day early but we got there really early that nothing was opened and it was pouring rain. Everything in Shimokitazawa seems to open around 11AM. The only good thing about thing being closed is that the gates to some of the stores are nicely decorated or graffitied. We walked out of the station and wandered all the way to the bottom of Shimokitazawa area and then turned back around and stopped by the arcade which was one of the only things somewhat opened.
We did purikura photos to kill time. We then wandered again searching for food – mainly Italian but we couldn’t find a place or it wasn’t opened but Kanako pointed out a conveyor belt sushi place that was opened and also rather cheap 108-110y a plate. We went to Kaisen Misaki ko – 海鮮三崎港.
There was a mini bullet train delivering orders from the iPad but also the normal conveyor belt that goes around where you can pull plates off. Kanako and me ate like beasts. The price of plates is designated by the colour of plate and once you finish eating one, you stack them. When you are done, the person comes around and counts the amount of dishes and their colours. Individually, both of us (Kanako & I) ate more than Mike and ManWai combined but it was good quality and cheap that in the end, it only totalled roughly $15CAD especially since we added them on Line App and you get 1 plate automatically off.
Back into the rain but this time we decided to walk the other side of the station and I was so sad that it was raining so hard and I didn’t bring my umbrella so I couldn’t shoot all the characters in this neighbourhood as its known for its hipsters. We stumbled upon a couple of stores – vintage – second hand etc. Finally stopping at a corner, we spotted a store on the second floor selling only raw Japanese cotton denim goods called Beauty of Life or something like that. Very cute little shop and I picked up 3 denim woven bracelets.
Right beside the store we saw some these neon lights and something about avocados. Since we needed a break from the rain we went in to a drink break. Madosh Cafe where everything on the menu has avocado. Just finishing a large conveyor belt sushi meal, all we could stomach was a drink. Kanako and I ordered the avocado and coconut smoothie 1000y while Mike and Manwai the Avocadoacino (unlimited refills) and a tiramisu. They had a sign in their window reading that if you tag them on social media using their hashtags, they will give you a free avocado. I did it but completely forgot to ask or show the post to receive it.
Our plan of attack was to continue back towards Tokyo station with a stopover at Meguro River which is a well known spot for cherry blossoms that hang over the river and when blossomed, it is truly a sight to be seen. We looked outside and the rain didn’t seem to be letting up so we had to forego those plans and decided check out Recipe Mall nearby that had 2 floors of Uniqlo, Daiso, a fabric store and a grocery store. Once we got warm and a little drier, we took he train back to Tokyo Station where we parted ways with Kanako and grabbed ekibens (meals made especially to be eaten on long train rides at the station) before departing for Kanazawa.
Our arrival into Kanazawa was later in the evening and once we go to the station, we had to go find the local bus that would bring us to our Airbnb. Our Airbnb was located in the basement of an apartment building however it was raised up so we were actually overlooking the riverside and you can see the bridge. We called it an early night and tried to do laundry with their 2-in-1 machine however the drying portion wasn’t quite working that well. The apartment is actually quite large to Japanese standards. It was a 1 bedroom apartment with 1 bed but could easily fit the 3-4 futons they had in the closets. We watched a few episodes of Terrace House before I falling asleep. Going into this trip, a bunch of us got hooked on Terrace House and because we were in Japan, We were able to watch Japan Netflix which has the most recent releases of the show which aren’t offered in North America for a few months.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
I woke up extremely early and decided to finally go for a morning walk – it was quiet but cold however I wanted to chase that morning light. Once everyone was awake and fully packed, we split up once again with Mike, Manwai & myself dropping off our bags at Tokyo station – East Maouranchi Line. We wanted to go back to Chidori-ga-fuchi however, it was a late start (we left around 830-9AM) we wouldn’t have enough time to go back and also make it out to Mitaka for our Ghibli Museum reservation for noon.
We had to take 2 JR rails to get out to Mitaka, which took around an hour. We decided to walk from the station and it was such a nice walk over. We lined up once we got there and were let in earlier than our 12 reservation. Purchasing the ticket a month prior was one of the most stressful things to do as every 10th at 10am (Japan time) the tickets for the following month are released and they sell out like hotcakes for 1000y (if you use tour agencies – it costs a lot more but guarantees tickets). Our actual ticket was a 3 piece film strip of different clips from different movies under the Studio Ghibli banner – mine was from Howl’s moving Castle. You are however, NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE THE MUSEUM. They have a permanent collection which is filled in a room showing the different techniques they had done with the drawing and filming or movies as well as claymation. It was absolutely my favourite room of the museum especially the spinning cylinder with the robot and the birds.
The only place in the building you are allowed to take photos is when you are going to the rooftop where the giant robot statue is after you walk up the spiral staircase. The museum also features a gift shop which is always packed but filled with tempting items exclusive to the museum visit. I ended up purchasing a postcard with one of my favourite scenes from my favourite movie – Whisper of the Heart, a wooden keychain with a bell inside the bunny, a postcard that pops up to become a 3D card of the actual museum in a mario bros gameboy type of style and a mini toy of the entrance of the museum. There is also a cafe below but the line up was long so we opted to cross the street to Lawson and pick up a few items to bring back to the park behind the museum and have a little picnic – be warned – there are no garbage cans. The weather was rather nice but a little on the chillier side.
We took the Studio Ghibli bus back to the Mitaka station however it feels like its taking the long route.
We proceeded to make our way to Shinagawa and got there a little early and decided to find a little cafe called Zakkat Cafe nearby to warm up before Maricar. I ordered the peach and apricot tea (450y).
Perfect little place to warm up before heading over to the Shinagawa location for Maricar. Our guide was Ike and once we got there, we paid upfront (course A at Shinagawa – 5PM (to get sunlight to sunset to night time driving) 6000y with a trip advisor or Facebook review, showed our international drivers license and then proceeded to choose our costume for the ride. There are Mario bros characters and non-Mario cart characters or you can opt to bring your own. I dressed as Usavich ウサビッチ Usabitchi, from Usagi. Make sure to carry your international and normal drivers license with you as your drive around. There is a little pouch on the cart that can fit these licenses and as well as your cellphone and extra batteries. *NOTE* I suggest you bring extra go pro batteries if you can and also don’t start it up right away. Get use to driving the first 10 minutes and save your precious battery for the better sights along the way like the landmarks – Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, Roppongi etc considering it is about 2-3 hours of driving around.
Cameras are allowed (strap around your neck) but not allowed to shoot when driving as instructed by the guide. You can have a max of 12 per session with a guide in the back and one in the front as you will be driving with normal Tokyo traffic. Be warned now that you will be inhaling exhaust from all the carts for 2-3 hours so be prepared. They give you a quick lesson on how to operate the go kart and off you go. Turn key on, take step on brake (left foot), release handbrake, put car into Forward, press the yellow ignition lever, apply pressure to gas (right foot) and ready to go. The brake needs a little more pressure to stop more accurately. There are hazard lights for when you pull over and signal lights that you need to press the middle to cancel the signal. There is no throwing bananas allowed nor bumper cars.
The lead guide will signal to you when you will be driving in single file and when we will be driving double side-by-side. Anytime you are stopping at a red light, you will go double lines and there will be a few turns where its double turning in the same lane. The carts are rather safe for not having seatbelt or helmets and can average speeds of 60-70KM/HR. If you are doing night driving remember to dress warm. The experience is completely worth the price.
Once we finished our 2 hour adventure around town, we ordered a Uber and went to our next destination which also doubled as our accommodations for the night – Ooedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba. Once you arrive, you take off your shoes and place them in a shoe locker before going to the front desk and checking in. You receive a wristlet with your locker number and key and it acts as your credit card during your duration at the onsen. Next step, you go over to the yukata rentals and choose what design you want and your colour sash – you need to know how tall you are in CM to get a proper fitting yukata. Once you have your yukata you proceed to the change rooms and change out of your street clothes but leave on your underwear (for women, bras are optional but keep your panties on underneath). The yukata goes on with left folding under right which is shown in the signs around the locker room. Once you have gotten the yukata on, you wrap once the sash around and make a nice bow in the front then turn it around so the bow is facing the back.
Once that is completed, you can then proceed to the main area where it is somewhat themed to look like the olden days with all the dark wood paneling and lanterns everywhere. There are game stalls, arcades and food options everywhere that you pay for with your wristlet. I ordered a cold soba noodle dish.
The onsen has 2 main areas for those who plan on staying overnight to sleep – the relaxation room not he second floor with reclining couches with televisions – similar to first class seats on airplanes – this is a first come, first serve basis. There is a mixed relaxation room but also a women only one. The other sleeping area is located downstairs where they repurpose a room where they would eat into a laying down sleeping area.
Now onto the onsen itself. Once we digested our food after playing a few games, you get separated by gender and go into the spa. Once in the room, you choose a locker, grab a small and big towel and strip down. You take everything off and place it into the locker and take only the small towel with you. You enter the onsen and rinse off. If you prefer, you can do a full rinse off at the shower stalls before entering. Hair if possible should not be in the water. There are multiple baths all different temperatures. In the far left corner once you enter, there is an area with 4 laying down jets, 3-4 soaking tubs then 3 giant soaking areas. There is a mist and a dry sauna and of course a cold bath. There are also 2 big soaking areas outside and 4 are individual tubs.
My favourite part was actually the slightly colder pools as I saw myself falling asleep in them but also the whole going from hot sauna to cold bath was the best. Once we finished, we went into the shower stalls (2 westernized standing showers near the main door or the sitting stalls with mirrors) shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided for you. Once you are clean, head back into the main onsen change room and dry off and get dressed. There are also face lotions, hairbands, shower caps, toothbrushes with toothpaste already on them.
Woke up at 6AM. The original plan was to wake up and do a day trip to Endoshima, Yokohama & Kawasaki area to visit the Endoshima sea candle, beach, Ramen museum, Japan’s largest Chinatown, the Cup Noodle Museum and Kawasaki Warehouse (giant arcade that is designed to look like the Forbidden City of Kowloon) however the prior day exceeded the groups energy threshold (we walked 29KM). Instead we decided to turn the day into a shopping – stay in Tokyo kind of day.
It was indeed a rainy day but luckily majority of the day was light rain. Now with John and Glenn with us, we all woke up rather early all starving. We walked over to Sushi Zanmai (Japan, 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 4 Chome−4−11−9) and ate our breakfast around 8AM (meal was more like lunch or dinner options) very early. I got the deluxe chirashi-don (1480y) and it was amazing and fresh. An assortment of 13 freshly selected types of seafood that covered a bed of rice.
After breakfast, our group split up with different intentions of what to do for the day. Stores don’t open until roughly 11AM so we wandered around. We passed by one temple where people were setting up their own booths for what looked like a flea market. I ended up browsing through one tent where this elderly couple had trays of old Japanese wooden toys where the heads bobbled. I restrained myself and only bought 3 for 1500y. We continued walking and made our way to Don Quijote where we spent a large amount of time purchasing items. Don Quijote is what you would say the Wal-mart of Japan would be because it has anything and everything you need whether its electronics, makeup, candy, food to laundry detergent. If you spend over a certain amount, you can present your passport (2nd floor cashier) and receive tax-free savings HOWEVER, if your purchase contained consumables (food) they will seal your purchase and you are not allowed to consume any of it or open the packaging until you have left Japan or potentially face a consumption fee at the customs.
We continued on after our rather large purchase (ok large for me). Stopped by a 100y store, BICQLO (5-7 floors of Uniqlo and Bic Camera), Comme Ca, Muji and a smaller more local Daiso. Cassie met up with us in Shinjuku for lunch and we went to a restaurant in a basement – Sutameshi DonDon – Tama Merchant building B1, B2, 3-34-14 Shinjuku Ku, Shinjuku – opened 24HR – Shinjuku where you order by a machine (luckily there was english and photos). I ordered the Sutameshi with cheese (780y) and you get an egg on the side to mix in. I had a runaway egg as I cracked it directly onto the my bowl where a bed of melted cheese acted as a ramp to throw it out of the bowl. Apparently, I did it all wrong. They give you a separate little bowl to crack the egg in and then stir it before you try to combine it with your meal. After lunch, we continued walking in the spritz rain to Awake which serves dango – delicious mochi desserts.
With the amount of shopping we did, our baggage was getting heavy so we returned back to you share loft and unpacked and repacked it into our luggages while we waited for our remaining 2 friends to join us. At this point of day, John and Glenn were enroute to Nara/Osaka and Cassie was exploring on her own and meeting up with Atene in Roppongi. We ended up waiting back at the share loft for Karen and Chi’s arrival. Their flight got delayed by an hour and we ended up napping a little too long waiting their arrival.
First thing on the list for the night – Chidori-ga-fuchi park – The park was illuminated to showcase the cherry blossoms but of course that brought out the crowds. It was a big walk around the park where it led to a dead end which you would then need to walk back from. It was a lovely view but I still wish I was able to see it during a nice sunny day.
Since Karen and Chi just landed, they really wanted to see Piss Alley and Golden Gai. We kept getting turned around at Shinjuku Station and went in a circle a few times before re-orienting ourselves in the correct direction to where we were the first day in Tokyo. We ended up eating at Tori-en Izakaya (Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, 新宿区Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−２−４) in Piss Alley where we sat on the second floor and ate a bit of everything.
We got back to the share loft and all of us started to repack our bags as we needed to create a overnight bag and go store our luggages at train stations since we were planning on staying overnight at the onsen.
That jet lag never seems to amaze me. Woke up at 5AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Eventually everyone woke up and stated they were hungry after discussing pancakes that were too far away at a restaurant that wouldn’t be opened for another 2-3 hours. We opted for the best alternative – 7-Eleven. We grabbed some hot food as well as onigiri (my old friend who saved me the last time around in Osaka).
We hopped on the train to meet my friend Yuko at Asakusa Station – Tsubasa Station however somehow we opted to walk part of the way there that made me a little late to meeting her. I met Yuko back in 2011 when I went on a Contiki tour of Europe – 7 countries in 10 days where we sat on a coach bus together whether we liked it or not but luckily our group was the better of groups as opposed to the examples we saw interacting with other groups. She was in school when I met her and she was studying music I believe. She is now a marketing researcher.
I had chatted with Yuko for a bit prior to the trip about a festival called the Asakusa Kannon-ura Ichiyo Sakura Matsuri – 4 Chrome, Taito – She had never been to it and we wanted to attend. This courtesan parade is held on the second Saturday of April each year. It consisted of a closed off street north of the Senso-ji Temple where there would be cute Japanese children in procession as well as Geisha/ Oiran Dochu procession to follow and ending off with a drumming performance.
The Oiran Dochu Procession (おいらん道中) in the Edo period was the procession of the Oiran courtesan accompanied by young females to a client’s residence after formal invitation. The Tayu (the top ranking woman) would wear tall footwear in which they would take strides dragging their feet in figure 8 patterns while holding the shoulder of a man (their body guard) to steady her. The steps would be slow but highly exaggerated to gain attention. The Tayu were witty, self-confident and skilled in calligraphy as well as ikebana (flower arranging). The young females that accompanied the Tayu were meant to become prostitutes. The Oiran courtesans were at the highest of standards of being companions and being entertained by them was expensive that it could put a castle into debt. Although they would be paid handsomely, the Tayu could decline an invitation.
This procession is put on by volunteers to commemorate the history of the Oirans of North Asakusa, which was the red light district of the past.
We got there rather early for opening remarks and then the first round of children came at 1045AM waving fake cherry blossom branches and also a little brass band. The next rounds of kids were suppose to come but we decided we were hungry and went on our way to venture for food. The area of Taito is actually quite charming and I really liked the feel of the streets. We walked over to Senso-ji Temple where tons of cherry blossoms and their huge row of markets lined the front of the temple that both started and end with giant red lanterns. We of course did our fortune (100y) – if you get a bad fortune you must tie it up so that they can burn the bad fortune you received away. I absolutely hate being in crowds – what is worst is touristy crowds. We had such a large group that we ended up losing partial group halfway through the walk through the market but we gathered back together. We left Yuko in charge of finding us a good place to eat for lunch. We found ourselves on the second floor at a restaurant called Owariya (1-7-1 Asakusa) that specializes in shrimp tempura and soba noodles. I ordered the Kashiwa A-Seiro with stirred chicken sauce (1,100y)
Back to the festival for the actual Geisha procession – It was actually quite slow and not as eventful as I’d hope but none the less an experience. I ended up getting pulled to the front by an older Japanese lady because she saw me with cameras and so I sat down so everyone could see over me. The procession was very intricate because a few of the geishas were wearing shoes that were 10 inch platforms and slowly they kept dragging their feet in a figure 8 pattern. There were people dressed up with fox masks on who were dancing with ornate colours and fans – that was my favourite part.
We decided to leave and skipped the drumming to grab ice cream. Not regular old ice cream but 7 levels of matcha green tea ice cream at Suzuki-en. Cassie’s high school friend who she hadn’t seen since high school – Atene joined us. Atene now lives in Yokohama and works for the government but studied architecture. We went to line up at Suzuki-en to be told we need to head to another building – their waiting room which literally was a waiting room for the extended line about a block away from the main store. Once our number was called, we were handed tickets and back we went to the main building where awaited the employees to serve you your level of choice for matcha or 4-5 other varieties of ice cream. Since we had such a large group, we all opted to get a double scoop and get each level of matcha possible. I grabbed a level 6 cone for Kanako and myself a level 3 & a level 7. My volleyball friend Kanako was in Hiroshima/Shizuoka visiting her grandparents but had a few days off to roam around so she took the train and joined us for half the day. You can definitely taste the difference in each level of matcha and in the end, I truly preferred the level 7 although it did taste a little powdery.
As a group, we decided to continue on together to Omotesando area. Slowly but surely made our way through Senso-ji temple to get to the trains and off we went. Omotesando is the high end shopping area with a lovely and large street that reminds me of Queen St West meets Yorkville in Toronto or Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. We ended up walking through Omotesando Hills, a shopping mall and residential space designed by 1995 Pritzker recipient Tadao Ando. The design has this staircase in the middle that spans 3 floors. The staircase is used for runway shows from time to time. We visited a few galleries and artist’s stores and ended up at Tokyu Plaza (designed by Hiroshi Nakamura). The entrance has a giant mirrored escalator entrance and a beautiful rooftop (which we never made it to). We took some photos before Kanako said her goodbyes and went on to meet with her other friends.
We walked over to Yoyogi park where it was jam-packed with people (it was a weekend to begin) with white cherry blossoms adorning the park especially concentrated into one area. The hanami (cherry blossom) viewing brought people out in droves picnicking with tarps under all the trees and tons of locals and tourists basking in the white glow of the cherry blossoms. At this point, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Tokyo.
Atene’s original plan was to get us to Roppongi but with the sheer amount of people in our group and how much walking we accomplished that day (29KM), we finished off our night in the Shibuya area. We walked through Shibuya Crossing and had dinner at Tsukada No Osusume that specializes in the Miyazaki region – mangoes, chicken and miso. They had this miso jam/dip that was so flavourful and you are able to purchase as well. For the amount of drinks and food we ate, the bill came out to about 16,000y.
Of course when in Japan, you just need to try out the purikura(プリクラ) – japanese photo booths. Let me tell you, we looked all kinds of wrong and different but funny. After all the excitement of purikura, we walked over to the subway station that has a bridge up where there is a famous mural by a Japanese artist as well as clear views (as clear as a window with the crisscross wire in them can be) where you can watch the whole Shibuya Crossing play out. We called it a night after we watched people cross a few times as Yuko and Atene still had a bit to go to get home and we were all in food coma mode.
Glenn’s journey to Japan has been a trek to say the least. He arrived at 1AM after 38 hours at Chicago airport. Turns out that someone made a fake bomb and brought it on the plane (not working) but nonetheless that that person was able to make it pass security and onto the plane.
Flew out of Toronto with Mike, Manwai & Cassie while Glenn was on another flight (Cassie was with ANA and the rest of us with United). This trip had started off badly for Glenn as his flight leaving for Chicago never left Toronto as there was an unmarked luggage that got aboard the plane from San Paulo.
We arrived in Chicago and Cassie caught her flight about 30-45 minutes before us. The main flight was about 12 hours and we got upgraded to economy plus. We originally booked with ANA but they are partnered with United so not as great as I wish it would be. No outlets but at least a screen to watch limited shows and movies.
We finally arrived at Narita Airport (half hour early) to 20C degree weather. Humid. We went up to the 4th floor towards the restaurants to meet Cassie who arrived earlier. We proceeded to the lower level to the JR pass lineup to activate our pass. It was an hour wait but still very hot. We ended up making new friends from New Jersey – Jennifer & Francis.
Once we activated our pass, we reserved our seats for the train to head to our Airbnb nearby Kawadacho Station in Shinjuku. 110 minutes into town from Narita. We arrived to find John, drop off our things and head to Shinjuku-Nishikichi to make our reservation time for Robot Restaurant. We opted for the show no meal but each ticket comes with 1 free drink ticket. We stopped by BIC Camera and got Cassie a Sim card – 21 days 5GB – $32CAD-ish. Walked over to Robot Restaurant with our reservation and then got another voucher and grabbed food at a nearby little restaurant before finally getting our actual ticket and heading inside. There is a holding area – lounge with a few performances and where we can redeem our drink tickets – oolong tea and alcohol mix – who would’ve known. I saw photos of the washrooms before we went which are ridiculously decorated but single stalls and the line was way too long to use/view them. The show takes place in the basement and I mean basement (it must be massive behind those curtains though to house all those robots). We went down 3 more levels and then got seated in our reserved seats. Sensory overload and I’m still not even sure if it was amazing or not. I mean, It was definitely bright, loud and shiny with high energy for sure with tons of dancing and “fighting”.
We left and grabbed some good old KFC then walked Golden Gai and Piss Alley. Golden Gai is a series of 3-5 streets that are riddled with small establishments that serve drinks and some bar food. The bars can hold 4-8 people at most. We didn’t participate but got to see the nightlife on a Friday night. We walked over to Piss Alley which was more open but we got there a little late in the night that the izakayas were closing. We started to head back to realize that the trains stop around 1230-1AM and had to find an alternate route back to our Airbnb. We ended up taking 2 taxis as they wouldn’t take 5 in one. I didn’t sleep until 230AM but I did get my SIM card to finally work.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
This was my second time travelling to Japan. My previous visit was short but sweet staying in Osaka with a day trip to Nara & Kyoto for less than a week. Japan is definitely one of those countries that can and need to be explore multiple times. I travelled to Japan with Mike, Manwai, Cassie, Glenn, John, Karen & Chi with guest appearances along the way. The flight deals were too good to miss out on especially during Hanami (cherry blossom festival). We found our deal on www.nextdeparture.ca for $730CAD roundtrip to Tokyo (1 stopover in Chicago each way). Originally, it was just myself plus Mike & Manwai that booked together. As the next few weeks past and a few meals Mike & Manwai had with friends, our group became 8. During the trip, I mainly travelled with Mike & Manwai. Total of 14 days.
We booked many of our accommodations with Airbnb. If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Included in this Itinerary, I have included some helpful information to know in advance before you go.
–www.hyperdia.com – This is awesome for figuring out your bus and JR routes but you need to know what stations you are leaving from and arriving to.
-Google Maps works well too. If Google Maps does not load/poor connection, enter the directions into the internet browser.
-100y = $1USD roughly.
-The Japanese use cash over credit for majority of their day to day living and it isn’t unusual to break a 10,000y bill on something small.
-The 2000y bill is actually quite rare in Japan as its been phased out and was started in Okinawa for unknown reasons. When exchanging money outside of Japan, you may receive 2000y bills which a few Japanese collect HOWEVER, not all the machines take 2000y bills.
-For many Japanese, they may or may not accept it at their work establishments but some will keep as a keepsake similar to Canada’s old $2 bill that is now replaced with the toonie.
-You can pay for some meals in coins alone as the largest valued coin is 500y which is roughly $5USD.
-For 14 days, I took out just over $100CAD a day. $1502.45CAD – 123000Yen
Book in Advanced
–Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can only be purchased 1 month in advanced and sells out quickly. The 10th at 10AM Japan time of every month. Much cheaper to purchase from site than through a tour group (service charges are killer). The actual ticket is only 1000y
-JR Pass must be purchased outside out Japan. Maximum 90 days before your trip. JTB Canada is where I purchased mine. For 14 days of travel, my JR Pass was $539CAD
–Sumo Wrestling Tournaments are held 6 times a year. If you have the chance to go see it, tickets will go on sale a month in advanced so be aware they are highly sought after and sell out fast. Another option if you are going during non tournament months is to go visit a Sumo Wrestling Beya (practice) at multiple locations and watch their early morning practice.
-I highly recommend bringing a portable battery pack to keep your phone charge especially if you are using your phone for directions.
-JR Pass holders need to go through the manned gate to get through at each station.
-You need to make reservations on certain trains but if you don’t, there are a few carts where it is first come first serve or you can sit but if the person with the reserved seats shows up, you give them the seats. The reserved seats also swivel to have 2 facing one another if preferred.
-With the JR Pass, if you miss you train, you can easily get the next one without any penalty fees.
-If you plan on reserving seats for trains for peak times, go earlier to reserve them.
-If taking the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto etc – request mountainside view to see Mt Fuji!
-Make sure to purchase ekibens before your ride (bullet train specific meals that differ per region and have have seasonal regional speciality foods – all cold)
-Eating is not permitted on trains besides Shinkansen
-JR Pass does not cover all train lines – only JR lines (minus Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)) and a Suica or a Pasmo card (similar to Octopus card of Hong Kong or Toronto’s Presto) are indeed very useful and refillable
–Pasmo & Suica cards can also be used to pay for other things such as drink machines and whatnot.
-Pasmo can be used in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto (from my experience)
-There are women’s only carts depending on time of day
-Trains end around midnight-1AM. There are taxi queues.
-The Japanese are large in numbers but when walking, they don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency and the pace to my standard is slow
-The Japanese do stay in shape by the amount of stairs they need to climb each day while commuting. The train stations are floors upon floors with limited elevators and some floors have escalators while many are just stairs upon stairs.
-You stand on the left side and pass on the right on the escalators. (Although in Osaka, they did opposite)
-Walking is the same – Walk on the left side
Weather (From what I experience this April trip)
-It is normal for Japanese people to stay covered up even it is hot outside as they care about their skin getting dark (similar to Hong Kong) They are more conservative in terms of covering cleavage but will wear short shorts. I wore a tank top because it was hot but got looks.
-April – light jacket/trench coats (Japanese fashion trend) and umbrellas are key.
-Tokyo is humid. April – average temp – high of 20, low of 6 – chances of showers high but muggy.
-Kanazawa – chilly and windy but otherwise warm during the day, can see breathe in the evening
-Takayama – Hot during the day – really hot as in we got slightly burnt but once the sun goes down, cold and chilly.
-Kyoto – Hot! (average 21-26C during the day) but cools down at night.
-Osaka – Just right! Not too hot, not too cold; bearable to walk around in a t-shirt majority of the day.
-Carry your passport around for many places you go shopping you can get tax free!
-Outlets are the Western 2 prong style instead of the american 3 prong
-There are a lot of people but they tend to move slower than the average if compared to Toronto foot traffic.
-You don’t tip in Japan – the only time you tip are in fancy high end restaurants or when you see fit.
-There are designated areas for people to smoke but the smoke still billows the streets and still litters the streets
-Smoking is not allowed while you are walking
-Smoking is allowed in certain food establishments
-There are rarely any garbage cans on the streets of Japan – 1 reason – you mainly goto establishments to eat or eat at home. 2 – in the past, terrorist attacks with packages left in garbage bins now detour garbage bins
-non combustibles and combustible garbage separation
-some wear masks but others don’t and when they sneeze or cough, they just let it out so be aware of that. Coming for Canada, where its customary to sneer into your elbow or cover your mouth, this might put you off a bit like it did me.
-Sailor moon make up by Beaute Creer – You can pick this up at Its Demo stores.
-In some cities like Takayama at night, they have flashing red lights outside of an establishment to signal that they are still open as other stores or restaurants close early.
Now onto my actual Itinerary. My itinerary got very extensive and ambitious with things and places I wanted to see and goto. Everyone else built their own itineraries but we made sure at certain aspects, we would all meet up in a different city for certain events such as the Takayama festival in Takayama and Temple running in Kyoto. In the span of 2 weeks, my goal was to make it through all these cities (Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, Kawasaki, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya) but of course not all goes to according to plans and we cut out some areas to explore other areas more. This was the itinerary that actually happened. There will always be another time to visit Japan once again to get more accomplished and more land covered.
Some places and things I originally had on my itinerary for the surrounding area but wasn’t able to accomplish were the following:
-Baseball – much different than Western Baseball – Hanshin Tigers VS anybody – the atmosphere is completely something to take in
-Enoshima – fujisawa – cute city – view of Mt Fuji in painting
-Ramen museum (yokohama)
-Cup Noodle Museum (yokohama)
-Kawasaki Warehouse – arcade games
-Tokyu Plaza – escalator & rooftop
-Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan – Tōkyō, Chiyoda, Sotokanda 3-15-5 Gee Store Akiba – 11AM-7PM
-Nagoya Dome – Purchase tickets – ticket booth near gate 1 – 10AM-5th inning