I’ve dreamed about a trip to Japan since year 1999/2000 while studying Japanese in high school, while hosting a Japanese exchange student, and whenever I look at the beautiful spring kimono she gifted me I would dream about a trip to Japan.
I did a quick Japanese refresher via DuoLingo and Google Translate (work offline!) a few weeks before the trip. Equiped with “toire wa doko desu ka” and “sore wa ikura desu ka”, I thought I was ready.
In reflection, the things that I’m already missing about Japan are:
- Clean toilet, warmed toilet seats, warm-water bidet
- Politeness and consideration; no talking on the phone in public transports, streets, and public spaces in general, moving efficiently in/out of public transports
- Delicious food wherever you go. I didn’t need TripAdvisor to tell me where to go. Just walk in to any restaurant for a consistently good food
- Less make-up on already beautiful faces
I must say that I won’t miss the indoor smoking – choking hazards.
When in Tokyo, do NOT believe what the map is showing you, it is bigger and further away than it looks. When a friend told me to stay in Shinjuku, I did not ask which part. Our hotel was 10 mins walk from Shinjuku station’s south exit, and therefore 30 mins walk to Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley) where all the actions are. That is 10mins walk to the entrance of the station then it is a good underground walk to the train platform.
Tokyo feels like Sydney on steroids times 99. I did feel a little overwhelmed but the trip was an exciting experience that makes my heart beat a little faster whenever I reminisced about it.
- Accomodation: stay somewhere near Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, it’s near Piss Alley (tiny restaurants), Golden Gai (tiny bars), karaoke spots (kind of red-light district), and robots and lights.
- Accomodation: stay in Shibuya, walking distance to a lot of things including Harajuku, easy public transport to everything else, and of course the famous Shibuya Crossing (I thought the crossing at Shinjuku was more entertaining).
- Imperial Palace – check if it’s open before you go
- Harajuku – Sunday afternoon is the busiest where the girls dressed up and are out and about
- Sumo Tournament – check the official website for dates and if possible align your travel date; the atmosphere was incredible!
- Drive around Tokyo – MariCAR Akihabara – get your International Driving Permit (IDP) and do it! I was hesitant but my travelling buddy being a boy insisted that we do it. Luckily I managed to get an express delivery of my IDP (3-5 working days). The locals were friendly and fascinated by tourists dressing up as Mario’s characters, in a go-kart, driving through Tokyo. Although, we were told that taxi drivers are not huge fans.
- Climb Mount Fuji – check the trail’s open dates, we climbed during off-season, trails were closed, so we paid a lot of money to climb (only one company offers a service). During climbing season, people can climb without a tour group, pay a small price to stay in huts, and go at your own pace.
- Theme cafes – we quickly realised that we don’t drink/eat with the animals, it was more of sit and drink/eat, then go play with the animals. The list is long so we picked two cafes, the owl cafe and hedgehog cafe – both were in Harajuku.
I was told that the maid cafe was expensive and not that interesting, so we skipped that.
- Owl cafe – they are cute with possibly zero care for how much we gently stroke them. I was conflicted about whether this was animal-cruelty? They are well-fed, housed in a temperature-controlled room, they get visitors only during designated times.
- Hedgehog cafe – in Japan, they can be legally kept as pets. They are adorable and their poops are the size of their legs – go imagine if it was human-sized!
Other than matcha, red bean, and sweet potato, here are other dishes you may want to try while in Tokyo.
- Ramen – Ichiran (TripAdvisor) – When we stumbled to a ramen restaurant between Harajuku and Shibuya (near Condomania – fascinating!) by following our noses, we didn’t know it was a part of a popular chain that are everywhere. The tables are inside a tiny box/booth for two people.
- Tonkatsu (Japanese amazing Schnitzel) – Tonkatsu Maisen (TripAdvisor) – We met up with few Sydney friends who loved this place, it’s part of a restaurant chain and we tried the one in Shibuya. Japan’s deep fried food are without the dirty oil taste.
- Sushi – sushi train where you order and the plates are delivered on the ‘train’, the one we went to had 3 levels/platforms/lines.
- Takoyaki (octopus balls) – Tsukiji Gindako (TripAdvisor) – there was a snake-trail queue we thought was for this place but then we found out that behind the corner store is the house of a famous actor. The takoyaki balls were freshly made in front of us, the person cooking was extremely happy, like high-drugged-smiley-face-happy, and we thought it was a must-try.
- Grilled seafood – Isomaru Suisan (TripAdvisor) – didn’t know it was a chain but it felt quite rustic and most importantly fresh and delicious
- Fishing – Zauo (TripAdvisor) – the restaurant was in our hotel’s building but we didn’t manage to squeeze it into our schedule. It does look quite fun, you fish your own dinner!