Lesson Two: 3 Days in Tokyo

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Peeking into a drinking den at Golden Gai

Everything is thoughtfully designed in the metropolitan city of Tokyo. The trains are always on time, the sweets you purchase are nicely packaged, and everyone you meet is courteous even though we’re all squished into a concrete jungle.

Three Day Plan:

I have heard that one can easily spend a week in Tokyo because there’s so much to do. I concur, our schedule just touches on the places that most interest us. However, we leave Tokyo feeling satiated and with an understanding of the city and its culture.

The first day in Tokyo was a chance for me to familiarize myself to the city as I wait for my partner to arrive later in the afternoon. It was a slow paced day for strolling around. Day two and three were concentrated in a few neighbourhoods.

Date Morning Afternoon Night Accommodation
Apr 10 Arrive at 5am

Tsukiji Market

Imperial Palace,
Ueno Park
Shinjuku (Piss Alley, Golden Gai, & Kabukicho) Airbnb
Apr 11 Tsukiji Market Asakusa (Senso-ji) Airbnb
Apr 12 Harajuku (Meiji-jingu, Takeshita-dori fashion street) Ghibli Museum & Harmonica Yokocho Shinjuku & Shibuya Airbnb
Apr 13 10:30 train to Hakone Arrive in Yugawara
Fish Market3
The action-packed Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market: this place tops my list in favourite things to do in Tokyo. I did not attend the auction. The idea of lining up at 4am for the possibility of seeing 30 minutes of action did not seem like a good use of time for us. However, we did walk through the outer market and inner market (known as the Seafood Intermediate Wholesalers’ Area).  I would allocate around 3 hours for this neighbourhood, which includes a quick lunch break.

  • The outer market provides bountiful food vendors ranging from grilled scallops, crab legs, fresh sashimi, tomago…the list goes on. We lined up for some chirashi don (sashimi on rice) and tuna nigiri at one of the vendors. We ventured towards the edge of the inner market, and saw crowd of people lining up for Daiwa Sushi. The wait was around 3 hours, so we opted to eat at their neighbour’s instead. It was the best tuna nigiri have ever had.
  • The inner market is open to tourists after 10am (but the market starts to dwindle down before 11am). You get to observe the buying & selling of seafood, and forklifts weaving through stacks of styrofoam boxes. Though it’s not always allowed, the inner market provides amazing photographic opportunities.

Imperial Palace: this palace covers a large landmass in the middle of the city, and is surrounded by luxury hotels and office towers. It’s a relaxing space to stroll around after walking along busy city streets, but the imperial grounds are closed off. So you only have access to the park and a view to the two bridges: Niju-bashi and Megan-bashi. I would suggest skipping the imperial palace if you’re short on time.

Ueno Park: a great place for seeing the cherry blossoms if you’re in Tokyo around March and April. I strolled around Shinobazu-ike Lake, and made my way over to the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Buddhist Temple. Make your way up the stairs to the temple. There is a great view of Ueno Park from the top of the hill.

Shinjuku: it’s mesmerizing seeing such large crowds and neon lights come together. Shinjuku attracts tourists and locals alike. Shinjuku station itself spans three blocks, and is the main transportation hub. These are the places we explored in the area:

  • Kubikocho, also known as the red light district, it is less explicit of a street then one would imagine.
  • Golden Gai is a maze of cramped drinking dens. Most places will charge a cover ranging from 600-1000 yen.

Asakusa: you will see low hanging electrical wires and old buildings in this neighbourhood. It is also the home to Sensoji, one of the largest Buddhist Temples in Tokyo. Admission to the temple is free, and you can take your time to explore the neighbouring small streets to find some local treats.  

Harajuku: the Harajuku street style gained international popularity around the 2000’s. As I have heard, you can still see cosplayers on Sundays. However, my favourite spot in this neighbourhood is the Meiji-jingu. It is a stark contrast compared to the crowded Takeshita-dori fashion street, and provides a serene stroll up to the gates of the shinto shrine. Admission for the Meiji-jingu is free, but allocate at least an hour for a leisurely stroll around the shrine and the surrounding park area.   

Ghibli Museum: a museum which showcases the Japanese animation studio. It is about a 40 minute commute from Harajuku station. This museum is very popular for both tourists and locals, and the most difficult part is getting your hands on the tickets. Your primary option is to purchase tickets from your hometown’s JCB office. Tickets are made available three months in advance. Your secondary option is to purchase tickets from a Lawson’s convenience store, and tickets are made available around one month in advance here. We had a friend from Tokyo purchase tickets for us from Lawson’s, which came to 1000 yen per person.

Shibuya: when I imagine Tokyo, I think of the Shibuya Crossing. This is where you see a crowds of people crossing, like a school of fish. It is definitely an experience to be had, but make sure you don’t lose your friends in the crowd! In this neighbourhood, we also visited Nonbei Yokocho for a quick meal.

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Rainy day at Sensoji (Asakusa)

Restaurant & Food Highlights

Forewarning, to keep within our budget, we had a few breakfasts and lunches where we purchased bento boxes from supermarkets. The food was still fantastic, and we were able to stuff our tummies for under 1000 yen per person. The snack culture here in Japan is also top notch, so we indulged a few times while we were perusing aisles of local convenience stores. With that said, here are a select group of vendors we particularly enjoyed:

Tsukiij Market: the market deserves to be mentioned twice in this blog. The outer market is full of vendors ready to serve you some hot treats on the spot. Bring change, and come early to enjoy some fresh sashimi as your breakfast. I had the best Tuna sashimi here.

Piss Alley (aka Omiode Yokocho): located around Shinjuku, Piss Alley is a block of small food and drink vendors. Though this yokocho spans only one block, we found the establishments to have a more expansive food menu than others. We chose a place with that served yakitori (grilled skewers), a bowl of frozen beef and egg on rice, and a chilled pint of Asahi. Delicious!

Chinchin Izakaya (Iidabashi Station): we were brought here by a local friend, and without her, we probably would have never found it! The entrance is through a very narrow passageway. The sashimi are known to be from wild fish, and there is also a great selection of small dishes – a perfect way of trying a bit of everything.

Afuri Ramen (Ebisu Station): Once you walk in, you are greeted by a vending machine from which you choose from a wide selection of ramen and other dishes. We chose the yuzu shio ramen and the yuzu shoyu ramen (because we have never seen yuzu ramen before!), and both had a nice hint of citrus flavour in the soup base. This ramen shop came at a friends recommendation, and my friend definitely did not recommend wrong!

Chinchin Sashimi
Wild sashimi at Chinchin Izakaya
Afuri
Afuri Ramen in Ebisu

Transportation

Traveling into the city from the two local airports are well marked, and the JR lines and local lines make traveling around Tokyo very convenient. It may be overwhelming in the beginning, but once you understand how the transit system works, you will be jumping from platform to platform in no time.

Arriving from Haneda Airport: there are a few options available on how to travel from Haneda Airport to the city. I choose the cheaper option, which was the airport kyuko (limited-express train). As soon as you exit the luggage stations, you will see signs pointing you towards the Keikyu. I took this and had one transfer over to Akihabara, and the whole trip came to 580 Yen.

Arriving from Narita Airport: Narita is a further airport from the city, so options for traveling into town is a bit pricier. Again, a few options are available, and my partner took the Keisei Skyliner for around 2500 Yen.

We used Tokyo as a hub for traveling to the nearby onsen town, Hakone. From there, we traveled to the next leg of our trip which is based in Osaka. Here are some details:

Train to Hakone: We purchased the Hakone 2 Day Free Pass from the Odakyu Sightseeing Services Center located in Shinjuku Station. It came to about 5140 yen per person, and it includes your round-trip transportation between Shinjuku Station and Hakone, as well as transportation while you are in Hakone (including the sightseeing cruise, cable car, and tozan buses). I will write more on our trip to Hakone, so check back in a bit! 

Bus to Osaka: We purchased overnight bus tickets online from Tokyo Shinjuku station to Osaka Umeda before arriving in Japan. There are a few routes available with Willer Express, and we purchased the New Premium seats for 9,715 yen per person. Our bus departed from the Shinjuku Station around 9:55pm, and we arrived in Osaka around 6:30am. Our seats were very comfortable and were able to recline around 145 degrees for a good night sleep. Have your toothpaste and toothbrush handy for brushing your teeth at the bus stations washroom.

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At Nonbei Yokocho

Money Matters

The following is averaged out to cost per person (so split by two people):

In-town Travel: 3,855 yen

Tours & Entrance Fees: 1,000 yen

Accommodations: 8,280 yen

Food: 10,910 yen

Miscellaneous: 2,110 yen

TOTAL: 26,155 yen

Note:

  • Since we will be visiting multiple countries for this trip, we decided not to include the cost of our international flight here.
  • We did a mix of walking and taking local trains in Tokyo. The price of a train ride is based on the number of stations you travel through. Since we were traveling far on our third day in Tokyo (we were going to the Ghibli Museum), we purchased the Tokunai Train Pass for 750 yen per person, which allows for unlimited travel within a designated boundary for the day. We needed to top up our fare since traveling to Ghibli Museum was outside of the designated area. The trains ticket expires at 5am the next day.
  • Our friend treated us to dinner for one night, so please keep that in mind when using my numbers as a benchmark
  • I arrived around 5am on the first day, and check in wasn’t until 3pm. The self-serve luggage lockers are handy for this situation, and are available in most major train stations. Get there early, cause they do fill up quickly. The cost to rent a locker ranges from 300-600 yen depending on size of locker.
  • We purchased a 1GB data-only SIM Card from BIC Camera for 2,656 yen. This is included in miscellaneous.

Reflections

There definitely are pockets of Tokyo which I missed, but all in all, it was a great itinerary and it gave us a taste of what Tokyo has to offer. There is much more to see in Japan, so off we go to Hakone! Check back later for the next blog.  

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Finding some dinner in Piss Alley

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