Tag Archives: Travel Tips

Lost in Tokyo

 

Okay, maybe just a little bit.  Thanks to technology, we mostly figured out where we mostly wanted to be.

First – make sure you get portable wifi (pocket wifi).  We made sure that the place we rented came with one of these included.  It was great – Google maps might not have always taken us exactly where we wanted to be, but at least it got us close.  Next, make sure you have portable battery pack. The wifi drains batteries like no tomorrow especially if it’s an older one, and if you are relying on it like we were.

Second – get yourself a Suica or Pasmo card.  You can get this from machines at any major metro station (likely any station period, but I didn’t really pay attention.  The machines at Ikebukuro not only displayed in multi language, it also spoke in English.  As mentioned in a previous post…this card makes life so much easier.  No pocket change required for vending machines, convenience stores, transit.  Just beep.  If you have change from other things, just load it into your card.

Third – do some homework every night so you know what to do the next day.  Because we were transiting a la carte, we separated the circle line into 4 and concentrated on each area per day.  There are lots of places where you can walk from point a to b and skip transit altogether.  For example, we hopped off the metro at Meiji Jingu for the East Palace Gardens, then walked to Harajuku, through to Omotesando.  Weapon of choice for plotting all this out in advance was Google Maps.  I was able to map out all the places we wanted to see, do and eat…then just dissected the map accordingly.

So, of course we did the main touristy things that everyone else does on their first trip to Tokyo Meiji Jingu, the Palace Gardens, Shrines, Temples etcetc.  Here are my most memorable:

[o] Asakusa
I really enjoyed Asakusa.  Senso-Ji of course was a hit.  The little shopping area out in the courtyard was pretty neat.  We found a small shrine off to the side of the main temple and ended up having lots of fun there. Probably disturbed a lot of spirits when we clapped and rang the bell, and then apologized for probably not doing anything correctly but we were tourists and hoped that spirits could excuse us 🙂  Kaminamimon has the giant giant lantern which was great.  There were people dressed in Kimonos everywhere, and people pulling carriages like in the olden times for us tourists.  We spent quite a bit of time shopping, and I ended up buying a very nice sleep robe for my grandma as a souvenir.  Inside the temple, you can pay Y100 for a fortune.  It is honour system of course, but why tempt the fates.  If you like the fortune (English translation provided), then you can take it with you…if not, there are “trees” where you can tie the bad luck fortunes to leave behind. 😉

Notes: there is a tourist centre across the street from the temple and gate.  If you head to the top floor, there is a viewing deck where you can take really good pics of the entire area, and as well the skytree.  Much better than having a pic from street level where there are people everywhere!  Also, if you come here near closing, once the stalls closes, everyone leaves – however the grounds remain open.  The shrine is really pretty at night and you can take pics with the lantern to your heart’s content without having to battle the rest of the tourists!

[x] Shibuya Crosswalk
ok. This was again on a cold rainy night…so it is probably a lot less busy than it should be.  But I assure you that on any given day, the crosswalk in Causeway Bay in HK is just as busy.  I was not impressed, but we went up to Starbucks and took a picture anyway.  I read a few blogs where the suggested place was from a hotel nearby, but we were cold and tired so we didn’t bother.  However meeting Hachigo made me tear up, and it was well worth the trip down there.

[o] Omotaesando
This is the street that runs from Harajuku bridge all the way down.  Lots of flagship stores which we didn’t have time to go to.  But the vibes on this shopping street was great.  We came after Meiji Shrine closed so all the lights were on, there were people everywhere but it wasn’t jammed, and had a blast.  I really wanted to go to the ShuUemura flagship but alas…no time.  However we did go to Kiddie Land.  It was a treasure trove of all cute things, and a huge corner dedicated to Totoro.  We didn’t go to every level, but it took hours anyways.  Side note, while going through the Harry Potter display, I wandered into the Krunk display. Double take….wowowowow they had a Big Bang area! This VIP was veryvery happy about that lol.  Anyway, the items were not grossly overpriced, and it is a great place to shop for souvenirs for all the people in your life that likes all things cute.

[x] Harajuku
Unfortunately, it was because I was so hyped for this, it ended up being a huge disappointment.  The biggest Daiso is supposed to be here, but it was dark and dingy… the one in Richmond was much better.  The quality of the items inside were not comparable to Donki…despite maybe being a bit cheaper.  Didn’t end up being anything there.  The streets weren’t that busy when we went at night, maybe because it got really chilly and it was rainy in the day – just a few drunken uncles peeing in the alleys (no, we weren’t in piss alley).  Marion Crepes was supposed to be such a hit….man was I looking forward to it.  It was the WORST CREPE EVER…  The crepe didn’t have any taste other than sweet, the whipped cream left an unpleasant after taste.  Maybe I am spoiled with the quality crepes we can get here (and at home when I feel like whipping up a batch) – but I took one bite and threw the rest out.

[o] Meiji Shrine
loved it there.  it was a bit of a walk to get to the Shrine.  But it was peaceful despite the number of tourists there.  The main gate was beautiful and when we got there, some sort of ceremony was happening so there were singers, instrument players, etcetc going on.  It limited the talking and exploring, but it was an interesting experience anyway.  I bought a wooden sign to write and hang…however on hindsight, I should’ve taken it home as a souvenir instead lol.  When we came out it was closing time, and the sun was setting.  The shrine is in the middle of a foresty area, so the fog was also rolling in.  I can see where it would be extremely scary to be stuck in the shrine at night!  But when we were walking out, I told my friend I understand all those sunset shrine anime scenes now.  I half expected Inuyasha or Sailor Mars to jump out at us.

[x] Shinjuku
okay, can you see that I was not overly excited for all the big modern shopping areas?  lol. Being that I go to Hong Kong every year, I didn’t need to hit up all the giant department stores.  And to be honest, they were a repeat of the same dept stores at all the major stops.  There were lots of food options, the street was big and clean, the buildings were impressive…and that was about it for me.  Perhaps if we spent more time exploring the little streets – but the area was pretty big and I didn’t feel like getting lost there.  But, of course, we had to go to say we went…so….we went. and had a great lunch [see post on Gyukatsu]

[o] DISNEYLAND!!!
Okay… I really Really REALLY liked Disneyland.  It’s nothing in comparison to the North American Disneys but one just can’t help being happy here.  The rides were quite tame, but the staff were super friendly.  It was super busy but everyone was so orderly that it didn’t feel like I was walking in a sea of people.  Plus the giant Christmas tree was up by the time we went and it was magnificent.  The food was also pretty great for a pretty decent price.  It’s a good place for younger kids because that’s where the focus was…or older kids to just chill and eat.  We ate so much stuff there and everything was so reasonably priced (I still remember paying $5 for a banana in California…10 years ago….so it’s probably $10 for a banana now….lol)

Hint, buy your ticket online early…print it out and just go straight to the gate.  It doesn’t look as cool as the ones you can get at the door or at the machines in convenience stores, but once you get off that train, it’s pretty much a zoo.  And you want to get in asap so that you can get to the fast track machines.  For those who are familiar with all the Disney theme parks, you can also download the app which gives you real time updates on wait times!  There is also a parade mid-day.  If you don’t have kids, take advantage of this time and go ride the Winnie the Pooh attraction – we never got on simply because this attracts both the young and the old…and the wait time: 2hrs.  Even though we left the parade early, we didn’t make it there in time!

There’s also Tokyo Disney Sea of course, but my Japanese friends seem to enjoy the regular Disney theme park more 🙂 Next trip, I’ll have to check out Disney Sea

http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/tdl/

[o] Ghibli Museum

Ok this was my absolute must do in Tokyo.  Located just outside of the main area of Tokyo, still very accessible by the JR line, is the Studio Ghibli Museum.  If you are a Ghibli fan, this is a must.  There isn’t much to do, but the exhibits are phenomenal.  My friend isn’t really bit on Ghibli but I think she was quite awed by the display anyway.

If you go there, you MUST pre plan and buy your tickets in advance.  They have limited tickets released…tickets are released 4 months in advance, and they SELL OUT. Literally I went on THE DAY they were released for the day we wanted to go, and they were SOLD OUT.  So we had to change our schedule to work around it.  There are specific time slots, and you MUST be there at the time or your ticket is useless.  The museum is closed every tuesday, and a whole bunch of other dates.  YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!

If you do make it there, make sure you tuck your cameras away as there are no pictures inside.  However the courtyards and rooftop is game.  Do make sure you get your souvenir film strip ticket when you enter, and make sure to watch the special animation that they play. It’s only shown there, and despite not understanding any Japanese, the short film we got to see touched my heart anyways.

http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ticket-information/

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures, Tokyo

Tokyo Trip – Part 1

Once a year, I make a journey home to Hong Kong to visit my Grandma (and everyone else in HK =P).  I’ve done this for almost 10 years now, annually, and with all my vacation.  Until one year, I joined a group of friends in Mexico for a beautiful destination wedding.  Then it hit me – there is so much of the world to see.  Yet with 15 days of vacation per year, a girl can only do so much. Hong Kong is a non-negotiable…so making a pit-stop en route is my compromise.

The usual stop is Korea.  But we decided to shake it up a bit and head over to Tokyo instead in 2016.  So began my first ever trip to Japan (I don’t know why people are always so surprised when I tell them I had never seen Japan before this!)

[FLIES]

Air Canada (Because unfortunately, despite their shoddy service each year, they have the best flight time out of HK to go home).  Landed in Narita.  The other airport of choice is Hanaeda of course (which is much closer to the city!) – but my friend was flying in from Korea and the flights which matched mine from Vancouver were Narita flights.

[STAYS]

A nice little apartment in Ikebukuro.  It seems to be a taboo thing in Japan still, to book an apartment on this little website that we make full use of in NAmerica… however the selection in Tokyo was amazing!  My friend and I weren’t too picky about the place, as long as it was safe, and convenient…oh and it had to have a decent sized fridge.  The beer had to be cold when we got home.  This place was definitely convenient!  A quick 5-10 min walk from Ikebukuro Stn (it’s the 2nd largest station in Tokyo!) which connects to the NEX train from Narita.  The host was great at responding to all my mundane questions before the trip (Her name is Sanae, if you want to try and find her on the website).  Apartment was Tokyo sized, tatami style (aka we slept on the ground but it was just fine), and the washroom was so small that for once in my life I was glad I am short.  However, everything worked, and we were happy there.  Hotels in this area would have cost quite a bit more, and would’ve been a bit further of a walk…so we were glad to have found this little gem.

[GETTING AROUND]

From Narita, we took the NEX (Narita Express) into the city.  It was a good 1+ hour ride, so by the time we got to the city it was night.  However it is convenient – the ticket counter was right were the arrival gates exited, and the train was just underneath.  We also chose Ikebukuro Station because the NEX goes there directly.  That was important as I didn’t feel like being lost after a 10 hr flight in.

The ride from the city to the airport was brilliant.  Especially if you are a Studio Ghibli fan like me.  The train goes through small towns and farms, and the scenery is not unlike the scenes you would see in Totoro.  I wish I spoke some Japanese so I could survive in a small town or farm for a few days…but alas.  Anyway, it was great to sit and just reflect on the week of whirlwind activity.  I was by myself on the way out as my friend had to catch an earlier flight back to Korea, so it was definitely an unexpected hour of peace just for me.

We also took the local subways as much as possible as it seemed to be the fastest most fail proof way to get around.  Which of course meant we planned our trip according to where the stations were clustered.  Lots of places were close by enough that we could just walk from place to place (and end up a few stns away from where we began).  Advice, get the Suica/Pasmo card as soon as you get to a station.  The machines speak English (literally one I used could talk), so it was no problem.  You can use that card for paying at convenience stores, and as well the lockers inside most stations will accept the card as payment and re-entry.  Plus you can customize your card and print your name on it…a great souvenir.  There is deposit required for the card (Y500), and when you return it I think they charge Y200.  So might as well keep it for a souvenir!

 

[IKEBUKURO STATION]

We stayed here, so I’m a little biased.  I found this station to be super convenient and highly recommend it for first time travellers.  A few lines connect to this station: the NEX as mentioned above, the circle line which takes you all the way around and back in Tokyo, a line which cuts straight across to Ginza, lines that take you out of the city…etcetc.

Around the station are the major department stores which come in handy because their food and supermarket floors are out of this world.  We found ourselves buying food and going back to the apartment to eat on more than one occasion simply because we were too exhausted to battle dinner time crowds.  There were many 24hr convenient stores and marts along the main road, floors upon floors of restaurants and bars (advice, look up and into basements for great food choices!)…and our absolute most favourite store: Don Quijote.  It was a 24 hr store in Ikebukuro, 7 stories of extreme random, extreme cheap buys.  Think dollar store mixed convenient store mix pharmacy (I mean Japanese pharmacy…where they sell all sorts of non medical beauty products along side all the drugs).  We were there daily… and found that the same item would be much cheaper here if it is in stock.  They even sold charcoal baked sweet potatoes..yums!

Daytime is a bustle of activity, and nighttime is quieter, especially if you walk a block away from the station exit.  Plus didn’t feel like I would be dragged into an alley and mugged even when I am alone at night.

[LOCKERS]

There are lockers in almost every station we went to, especially at the bigger more touristy locations.  It was very convenient to just put all our shopping into a locker and just come back for it on the way out.  You can opt to pay with coins, and the machine will give you a little receipt which you will have to keep and scan for re-entry.  You can also choose to use a password for some of the lockers.  Otherwise, you can also use your Suica/Pasmo card as a form of payment, and when you need to get back into your locker you simply tap your card again and it will open up!  We aren’t talking grungy gym lockers here guys…these are high tech, very well kept (even when the locker seems to be in a sketch part of the station!) and super convenient.

[Part 2: Tokyo Eats]

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures, Journey, Tokyo