Travel Tips: Japan (Tokyo)

Transport:  Ironically the central station of Tokyo (Tokyo) is not actually the biggest thoroughfare, although it is a close second. The number one spot, actually belongs to Shinjuku. Shinjuku station is CRAZY. It’s a massive rabbit warren and also has shops and all sorts of stuff- take note of the number of your exit because there are like 40 different ones (for reals). Also note any shops/landmarks near said exit, it will help you find it again. It also takes time to get to different bits, so don’t leave yourself 2 min to get a train you really have to catch, coz you might not make it.

Speaking of, I would recommend getting the Narita express train from the airport, it’s cheap, it’s easy and it goes straight to Shinjuku station- you just have to make sure you are on the right one, obvs, as some terminate in Tokyo. If you get the Narita express back- I really cannot stress this enough- check the timetable, preferably AT THE STATION.

The one and only flight I have ever missed in my life (out of several hundred flights) was in Tokyo, because the timetable online was different and it was raining (they freak out in the rain, it’s weird). They actually don’t run that frequently either, or at least not from Shinjuku. You can always get a regular train to Tokyo (it’s only a few stops) and then get the Narita express from there.

If you are staying in Ueno it is a different train (the skyliner), so make sure you get the right one from the airport. You can get return tickets for both, but the skyliner includes a day’s worth of transport in Tokyo when you arrive.

JR Yamanote line (it’s the green ‘circle’ line) will be your friend, just be aware of the time it takes. You can get a ticket anywhere on it for 200 yen (cheap!) but it can take around an hour to get to the other side of the circle/city.

The metro in Tokyo is pretty easy, just a bit more pricey and you often have to switch lines a couple of times. Signs and announcements are in English as well as Japanese though, so I still deem it manageable. Certain places e.g Ginza, Tsukiji fish market, Roppongi can only be reached via metro. Keep in mind that there is the regular metro (blue bow sign) and then the ‘toei’ metro (green fan sign) which are private lines, those are more expensive and one ticket won’t work for the other.

Food:  There are lots of fun things to do- you can get soups and ramen from shops that are basically vending machines. There are also some chains that are pretty reasonably priced- like Zanmai for sushi and Tenya for tempura (this has a sign with blue writing and a blue and yellow stripe on each side, see here http://www.sunnypages.jp/travel_guide/tokyo_restaurants/tempura/Tenya+Ueno/873/photos). I practically lived at the latter, cheap and delicious!

Stuff to do: So much! My recommendations are as follows:

Gardens- the Shinjuku Gyoen national gardens are bloody lovely and MASSIVE, you can spend all day there.

Happoen gardens- these are actually part of a resort in the middle of Tokyo and they have lots of weddings. They are free and STUNNING! So so beautiful- lots of bonsais. You can also do a tea ceremony there which I would recommend as it’s not cheesy and expendy like the ones in the main hotels. You need to book ahead, this is the website: http://www.happo-en.com/english/garden/ (I just did the bottom option, not the edo romance thing).

Rikugien gardens are also lovely and you can see more of the ‘design’ aspect of Japanese gardens here, but I wouldn’t worry if you don’t make it, I would do the other two as a preference.

Temples-  So while Kyoto is basically wall to wall temples, there are still some worth visiting in Tokyo. One is Nezu shrine- tricky to get to, but really cool. http://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-temples-shrines/nezu-shrine-tokyo (take a screen shot of the directions, you will need them).
I would also trek out to Sensoji in Asakusa- not so much for the temple as the shopping strip leading up to it and the experience. This one is not only free, it’s also open 24hrs (although the shops aren’t). It’s always busy and very popular with locals and tourists

There’s also one (Meiji Jingu) near/in Yoyogi park, which is okay, but always packed with people. You can sometimes see a traditional Shinto wedding there which is cool.

Cool areas

Harajuku- you have to go Yoyogi park to see the Harajuku girls, but they are a dying breed and are only really there lunch time on Sundays. Just go for a wander on Takeshita street though- it’s awesome and like Unikitty land in the Lego movie- you sometimes see them wandering around there.

Even if you can’t go on a Sunday, the right side of Yoyogi park is an experience in itself! I won’t ruin it, but it’s worth doing. Left side of the fountain is normal, right side is where all the weird shit happens. Do it, the people watching is second to none. Oh and if you DO see Harajuku girls, just ask to take their picture, rather than stalking them. In my experience they love it and will actually pose in cool ways for you.

Shibuya is also cool, lots of bars and it’s kinda hip. Shinjuku is also a fun party place. (These first three are right near each other)

Odaiba- it’s totally cheesy, but I loved it. There’s lots of shopping malls here, including one where the whole top floor is like part arcade part souvenir shop. There’s also some cool buildings. And best of all- you get to go there by monorail *insert simpsons song*. There’s a giant robot (Gundam) in front of one of the malls and this is where the ‘onsen theme park’ (http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/en/top/) is.

 Onsen are awesome, but keep in mind they are sex segregated. The Ooedo one is the only one I know of that at least allows you to mix for a while together in the outside area. The main hot springs are still gender specific- although you will see little kids of either gender with their parents, so be prepared for that. Otherwise if you want to go with a partner of the opposite sex,  you will have to book a ryokan and they are not cheap!!

I liked Roppongi- they have some cool buildings there and the one ‘viewing platform’ I would actually bother paying for is there. This is in the Mori art tower and your ticket will get you access to the viewing platform. Pay extra to do the ‘sky deck’ as it’s pretty much the only one in Tokyo not behind glass-and you can get a student discount if you bring your card with you. You ticket also gets you access to the gallery which is worth seeing.

You can also see English movies at the cinema there. Going to the movies in Japan is an experience- the previews alone are gold (so cheesy) and you get caramel popcorn as part of your ticket= winning.

Otherwise with viewing platforms- just go to the Tokyo metropolitan government building towers in Shinjuku- it’s free, it’s open until like 10.30 at night and it’s just as good as somewhere like Sky tree but not $35 and there are no lines! They also have an amazing gift shop with cool merch- I went there twice for some stuff I didn’t see anywhere else.

Shopping- Odaiba as I said, although this can be more pricey. Otherwise Shibuya and Shinjuku are the places to be. Shinjuku has cheap electronics stores, particularly for camera stuff. Yodobashi is awesome, as is Bic camera. Keep in mind the tax stuff as mentioned in the General tips section. I also loved Uniqlo and H&M there. Awesome clothes and usually about third less than they are in Australia.

Go to the Tsujiki fish markets (Near Ginza)- it’s a crazy experience and you can often eat there (for lunch) super cheap. Think central markets in Adelaide, but more yelling and more smells. The sashimi you get here is literally fresh off the boat.

Some cool stores that they only have there are ‘Loft’ which is like a quirky department store (amazing lunch boxes and stationery) and Tokyo Hands- which is like part department store, part Lombards and part Bunnings. You can get anything there, it’s weird, but one of my favourite places to shop in Japan. It’s equal parts creepy and ridiculous.

You can also do some great day trips from Tokyo, but that is a post for another time..

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