My first time in Tokyo, Japan was almost 2 years ago. However, I was pregnant when I went and because of the risk associated with consuming raw fish when pregnant (and yes, I know that pregnant Japanese women still eat it) I had to forgo that type of sushi and sashimi.
I fell in love with the city anyways and swore that I would go again to experience the food and other things that I missed. So as soon as we got an opportunity to go again, we booked. It was a super last minute 2-day trip. I wish it was at least a day longer, but it was just as amazing as the first time.
Japanese currency is called Yen, and they don’t take anything else. When we first went to Tokyo, K assumed that most places take credit cards, but after hitting up a coffee shop or two, I quickly realized that this is not true. It’s hard to tell where cash may or may not be required and you can only use cash to buy public transit tickets (even from the airport), so make sure you have some on you at all times.
Getting around Tokyo:
Cabs in Tokyo are EXPENSIVE. While it might feel worth it on a chilly night out, definitely opt for public transportation because it’s so well done there.
- Getting to/from the airport:
- There are two airports in Tokyo. Haneda, which is relatively close to the city and Narita which is far. Both are, however, thankfully easy to get to and from via public transportation. See here for information on how to get to Tokyo from Haneda, and here for getting there from Narita.
- My preference? Take the train, always. The Japanese railway system is so well connected and of course traffic free. Even if your hotel is not near the station that the train from the airport takes you to, it’s most likely a short cab ride away. Taking a cab from or to the airport, unless it’s company paid, is just not worth the cost.
- Getting around the city: In order of preference – walk, train, and if it is too cold, too far, or late at night, then cab
- The walking and train combo: Tokyo is flat and Google Maps works decently (after recalibrating a few times), so a combination of walking and taking the train is my favorite way to get around. It’s cost effective, allows you to actually experience the city, and because the Japanese train system is so well maintained and connected, it’s not hard to jump on if you feel like cutting your walk short.
- Cabs, as I mentioned are pretty expensive, but they’re easy to get if you need and is not a terrible option as long as you aren’t going out of city limits
Where we stayed:
We usually stick to Marriotts because K gets a lot of points through travel, however, the only Marriott in Tokyo is in Shinagawa, and is a 15-20 min walk to the nearest train station. The hotel itself is great but the walk to and from the station felt too far, so this time, we chose to stay at the Asakusa View Hotel.
Hotels in Tokyo can be very expensive and book up quickly so we weren’t sure we’d find something last minute that was nice, affordable, and in a good location, but we were pleasantly surprised when we came upon the Asukasa View Hotel. It’s a pleasant, no-frills, super well maintained hotel with a good breakfast and in a great part of town. It was perfect for us because we had no intention to be there except when we were sleeping.
What we saw:
My favorite sightseeing this trip: sumo wrestling practice and Teamlab Borderless.
- Sumo wrestling practice:
- I am not into wrestling, so deciding to watch a sumo wrestling practice was quite random. That said, watching the discipline, strength, determination, and respect embodied by each sumo wrestler regardless of rank was really fascinating, and so worth it. It was surprisingly motivating and a great reminder of how practice makes perfect.
- Note: These visits are usually set up as small group tours because an easy way to get a quick introduction before going to the ring (or stable as they call it) as you can’t talk once you’re inside.
- Teamlab Borderless:
- One of the best museums I’ve ever been to. Yes, museum preferences are based on taste, but if you are into seeing things done with light and darkness that pictures and words could never fully explain, go check it out.
- Note: Book in advance because they don’t take same day bookings, and give yourself ample time to play. We easily spent 3 hours there.
- Other things:
Where to eat / go out at night:
Despite my desire to eat loads of sushi, there were a number of other amazing foods that we needed to have, so we only hit up one omakase spot – Nishiazabu Taku.
One of the most unique dining experiences we had was at Ebisu Yokocho, a tiny, crowded food court open late into the night. Not all of the stalls are welcoming to non-Japanese, but if you’re willing to wait and find space at the welcoming ones, you can try various Japanese delicacies that range from okonomiyaki to karaage to horse meat (it’s not my thing, but it might be yours!). Based on what we’ve eaten in Japan, I wouldn’t say the food is the best, but it was good, and the experience made it worth trying.
Spots to remember include:
- Asakusa Market Food Stalls – A great place to get menchi katsu, strawberry mochi, soft little pancakes, and red bean filled pancakes, all one after another
- Nishiazabu Taku – One Michelin star omakase and it was so worth it
- Asakusa Imahan – A 125 yr old sukiyaki restaurant
- Maple Diner by Maple Mania – The waffle and cookies are to die for if you like maple syrup. The cookies can be bought in Tokyo Station as well.
- Mugi to Olive – One of the best ramen I’ve had in awhile
- Ebisu Yokocho – Explained above
- Golden Gai – A unique grid filled with super kitschy, closet-sized bars Not Suspicious and Albatross G were the two we liked
- Great coffee:
- Bar Trench – A pretty little bar with tasty and unique cocktails
Where to shop:
We didn’t shop this trip because we were so short on time, but there’s no shortage of shopping in Tokyo. The boutiques in Daikanyama are perfect for finding Japan-only brands, but there are also loads of options in Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and Harajuku.
- When to go: My preference would be to avoid winter in Tokyo just because it can get really cold. However, we found December to be pleasant with a wool coat, hat, gloves and a scarf.
- What to pack: It of course depends on what you want to do and what season you travel in, but one thing to bring are shoes you can walk in. Like in any big city, you should expect to get a fair amount of walking in at least during the day, and then can switch into something more impractical for the evening.
- Language: I feel like people spoke more English this time, but it could just be that more of the younger generation is entering the workforce. That said, the majority still only speaks Japanese so make sure you have your hotel card, Google Maps, and Google Translate handy. Most public places, like trains, do, however, have English translations, making them easy to navigate.
My only regret leaving Tokyo this time was that we couldn’t be there for at least one more day. I thought a second trip would cover bases that I missed the first time, but I didn’t anticipate uncovering new spots that I wished we had checked out more. One of those being Ebisu.
The only area I repeated from the first time was Asakusa, but that was mainly because we were staying there. However, the Senso-ji Temple is so pretty and peaceful that despite the crowd, I was happy to see it again. Also, roaming around the Asakusa market this time in warmer weather gave me a chance to taste many more of the goodies that I missed last time.
The only downside of Tokyo for me is still that everyone smokes indoors. That said, it’s still one of my favorite cities and I’m so glad that I was able to make it back again. Here’s hoping that a third trip is in the cards!
Edited by: Betty Ho