Great Food, fascinating culture, shrines and Hello Kitty overload…These are some of the things that Tokyo has to offer, along with so much more!! Although the flight can be long, it’s not that hard to get there. Tokyo has 2 major international airports with non-stop flights from many U.S. cities. Thinking about planning a trip to Tokyo? It’s probably the safest and cleanest destination I have ever traveled to and has an extensive public transit system. An added bonus…the tap water throughout Japan is safe to drink! A few words in Japanese will get you a long way if you visit. I only knew a handful of phrases, but learned a few more along the way, as well as the Japanese characters for “cablecar” , but more on that later.
Where to Stay
There are so many different sections in Tokyo, it’s hard to decide where to stay. We stayed in two different parts during our travels in Japan. We started our trip in Tokyo Station at the Courtyard Marriott. It is more of a business area, but I loved it! At the end of our trip, we returned to Tokyo and stayed in Shibuya. This was my son’s favorite due to its action and energy. We stayed at The Cerulean, which was a high end hotel ( not my usual price-range) but really nice for one night. I would describe Shibuya as Times Square on cocaine!
What to Do
Go up in the Sky Tree for beautiful views of the city. There are some parts of the floor where you can see straight down to the ground level. You can act really daring by actually standing on them. And you guessed it, a Hello Kitty exhibit on the top floor!
Pick a shrine or temple to visit, any shrine. going once, going twice…oh so many to choose from! My favorite in Tokyo was Senso-ji. We spent about an hour exploring and learning the difference between Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples in Japan.
Visit the Godzilla head on the 8th floor of the Hotel Gracery. You do not to be a hotel guest to go up and see it. Touristy? Maybe….but still totally cool! As an added bonus, there is a button behind the Godzilla head, press it and he ROARS!! I pressed it way too many times….I think security wanted me to leave.
Cross the busiest intersection in the world at Shibuya Crossing. Tip; there’s a Starbucks with upstairs seating on one of the corners overlooking the intersection..You can grab a coffee (or nothing) and try to snag a seat for some people watching.
Go to a Kibuku Show. The Kibuki-za Theatre in Ginza sells different options, such as one-act performances if you are not up for investing 4-5 hrs on a show in a foreign language that you don’t understand. We opted for the 1st act option. Tickets must be bought at the theatre for single acts. Lines form early, so we got there an hour before. We did get tickets (standing room only) for around $10.00 USD. The performance lasted about an hour and for an extra few dollars you can rent a translator box. This was actually really entertaining and a great way to spend an hour on a rainy day in Tokyo!
Visit the Fish Market
This was on my to do list, and was worth the visit. It was crowded, smelled like fish (who knew?) and had booths selling items other than just fish!
Take a stroll through the Imperial Gardens
A peaceful way to spend an hour or two exploring the Japanese gardens, paths and bridges. Bring bug spray!
Day Trips from Tokyo
Take a trip to Mount Fuji!!! The train from Tokyo (2 trains, actually) took around 2.5 hrs. We stayed overnight in Kawajuchiko. Kawajuchiko is a popular stop over for many people heading to Mt Fuji and the train station offers great views of the volcano on a clear day. From here, you can take a bus to station 5 of Mt Fuji and attempt the climb, as so many do….or you can do what we did and opt for another climb on a neighboring mountain, with hopes of getting a great view of Fuji. (once again, on a CLEAR DAY). Foreshadowing? Perhaps.
Our Climb up Mt. Mitsutoge was suppose to be “easier” than scaling Mt. Fuji… Mt. Mitsotoge boasted lower altitude, less crowds and amazing views . A bus will drop you off in the middle of nowhere mid mountain, promise to NOT come back and the driver will say, “3 hours up….longer come down. bye bye. ” No problem! How hard could it be? Well…..Truth be told, we did reach the summit in about 3 hrs…the climb was challenging but not impossible. The view? On a “clear day” I bet it is magnificent! Our view.. was……nothing. The clouds and fog covered Mt. Fuji like good black out curtains block the sun. As we turned to descend Mt. Mitsutoge we came to the realization that all of the signs were in JAPANESE! In retrospect it would have been wise to notice this small detail before reaching the summit. There were 4 trails going down to choose from… a 25% chance of a chosen trail being the right one (who says I’m bad at math?). That meant a 75% chance of choosing the wrong trail and wondering aimlessly from mountain to mountain forever. Did I mention the wild boar tracks? Long story short, we met an awesome hiker who took the time to examine his trail map and use his limited English to point us in the right direction. He showed us the characters for cablecar and told us to follow that sign for appx. 3 to 4 hrs. (That symbol became more important than any word I learned in Japanese) . We thanked him with a bite size Kit Kat. So…to climb Mt. Mitsutoge or not? That’s for you to decide. I’ve heard the views are breathtaking…on a CLEAR DAY!!!
our view from the summit…….
Where to Stay in Kawajuchiko
Great place to stay if you are o.k. with rustic accomodations. Japanese style rooms provide tatami mats to sleep on floor (pretty comfy) . Shared bathrooms and nice onsen (Japanese hot tub) on top floor with….you guessed it; views of Mt. Fuji. In my opinion, clean, affordable, great location and authentic experience.
Places To Eat
Eggs n Things (western style breakfast) on the pricey side…but most things in Tokyo are.
Living Room Cafe in Shibuya
Any place along the bay in Odaiba (20 mins by transit from Tokyo Station)
Pizzeria Onda. Would have eaten here over and over…and I’m a New York Pizza conesour
Shaw’s Sushi Bar. Can’t recommend the Bento Box enough! Traditional meal comes with green tea, great service and phenomenal food!
If you travel to Tokyo in the summer, bring an umbrella. It’s the rainy season…but do not let this deter you! We had a great time.
The trains and buses are extensive and complex, yet clean, efficient and a great way to get around. Use an app on your phone, or travel with someone like my son, who is a human compass.
No tipping in Japan ! It is considered an insult!
If you go mountain climbing, take pics of the trail signs going up…or look for Chao at the summit to help you get down…he works for kit kats .
Many hotels throughout Japan have the fantastically hot onsens I mentioned .Two things to be aware of …Men and women have separate onsens because everyone baths NAKED! I find this funny because I am immature. Also, they state that people with tattoos are not permitted. I have a small one on my ankle, but no one stopped me.
Visiting Tokyo and the surrounding areas was an amazing experience! We absolutely loved the people (who show an immense amount of respect for other people, nature, and their surroundings in general). We loved the places and the culture. And although we did not get to see Mt. Fuji in all her glory during our day on Mt. Mitsutoge, we did catch a glimpse of her while waiting for the bullet train to take us to Kyoto the next day….Read more about where the bullet train took us, and our adventures and recommendations in our Kyoto, Osaka and Nara entry.