Where to stay
At the start of our three week trip to Japan, I spent a lot of time deciding where to stay in Tokyo – the possibilities are overwhelming. As there was time at the start and the end of our three-week trip, I decided to spend the first night in the middle of it all in Shinjuku. Arriving in the evening and I figured we would be too tired to do much, I decided taking the limo bus would be more fun than the train. At least we could see some of the city and try and get our bearings. Also, the limo bus drops you right outside some hotels on their route – very handy when you’re tired, disoriented and have luggage! If you take the train you need to find your way from the station, and probably drag your cases up lots of stairs. Or navigate the famous Shibuya crossing!
I chose the Hotel Century Southern Tower in Shinjuku, and I applauded my own genius when the we got dropped off right at the entrance. It’s a 4 star hotel, and depending on your budget you can splurge on a room with a view. We had great fun trying on the robes, and of course testing out all of the buttons on the technological wonders that are Japanese toilets.
The hotel has a nice bar, with ok food, but it was just fine for us to relax and unwind before getting some much needed sleep. We were moving to Shimokitazawa for the next few nights anyway.
What to eat
OK – where do I start! It’s pretty hard to eat bad food in Tokyo, so try your best.
We were really keen to try all types of street food, and we found izakayas were super fun and had varied menus. Other places specialise in one type of food that’s refined to perfection. It means you don’t get food envy which is great! The menus are frequently not in English, but we had fun guessing and pointing to try and figure out what to order. Oh – and for some reason, Japanese restaurants love having plastic models of their food on display outside! Just try a load of places, you’ll be fine!
I researched a lot of places that I saved on a FourSquare list, so feel free to use it!
A couple of stand out places for us were:
Harajuku Gyoza Lou – I love dumplings so this was easy! Gyoza steamed, or fried. A few sides and that’s about. Best gyoza of the trip, hands down.
Shin Udon – I researched this place before we left London. On a very quiet street, we queued for a little while, but we ordered while we were waiting. There’s an English menu. OMG – the udon, writing this is making me want to go back!
Kozue – we splurged on lunch in the Japanese restaurant in the Park Hyatt Hotel (of Lost in Translation fame.) They do a good lunch deal, as do a lot of posh restaurants in Tokyo that have one or more Michelin stars. We were really unlucky as it was such a rainy day we couldn’t really enjoy the view, but it was still fun being in the hotel. Apparently you can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. It wasn’t the best food of our trip but the overall experience was worth it.
Isetan food hall is good fun too, such an array of food with friendly staff welcoming you and encouraging you to try it all. Watch out for the perfectly packaged solo fruit – it’s super expensive and a status symbol gift that you buy for somebody you are trying to impress, like your boss.
Oh yeah – and there are vending machines everywhere. So you shouldn’t get thirsty. You know, on every street corner, in basement car parks, outside apartment buildings, on top of mountains – you won’t be thirsty! And they have some interesting celebrity endorsements too…
What to see
I’m not going to be too descriptive here, but EVERYTHING! Just walking around is a trip. I fell in love with the arcades, especially the drumming game, it’s addictive. We did all the usual sights – Tsukiji market, Shibuya crossing, the Meiji shrine, Ueno Park, Golden Gai, Harajuku, Ginza. We didn’t go to too many museums as we were happy just to soak up the atmosphere. The metro is relatively easy to get around – and I didn’t find it much busier than London. But granted if you’re from a smaller place it might be a bit crazy.
When I researched this Japan trip, all the advice said to get a portable wifi. We actually survived ok without one – most places have wifi, and we also downloaded the Boingo app which allows you to pay a fee to access wireless hotspots. We paid round $12 for a month’s access and then cancelled when we left Japan with no penalty. Sometimes we didn’t have wifi in remote areas, but not having wifi can be a luxury in itself!!!
Cash is king
It’s also true what they say about a lot of places in Japan not taking cards, it’s still a cash society. So bring a stash of yen! Which is one of the contradictions I found most puzzling. Japan is so technologically advanced, but still so traditional in so many ways.