Tokyo is one of the places in the world that most people want to and should try to experience at least once in their lifetime. We stayed in Tokyo for 5 nights during our travels around Asia and it still wasn’t enough. Here is how we spent 5 days in Tokyo. Whilst in Japan, we recommend you do at least a 2 day Osaka Itinerary and then head over to Kyoto for 3 days.
So we had flown from Shanghai to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, arriving in Japan at around 4pm. We headed through the arrivals and found the taxi rank that was incredibly quiet. After just over an hour in the taxi and £80 later (!!!!) we were dropped off down a little alleyway that appeared to lead to nowhere. Our taxi driver assured us our hotel was there and in fairness it was tucked behind a line of vending machines.
Creative Tip: Don’t use taxi’s whilst in Tokyo!
We checked into our room at Hotel Empire in Shinjuku, freshened up and headed back out to explore the area. Our hotel was just off a fairly busy road that was full of little shops, a delicious looking bakery (mental note to return here in the morning), lots of sushi bars and restaurants, a few bars up and down narrow stairs and a handful of Pachinko Parlours (a Japanese game that includes flying balls and slightly resembles a pinball machine). Of course the Pachinko Parlours caught our eye.
Gambling is illegal in Tokyo but the Japanese head to parlours like this and can win these metal ball things when playing. They can then exchange these balls for food and drink or leave the parlour and exchange these balls at a stall around the corner for cash. We had a try and a nice guy working there moved Calum’s hand so he could win more balls. I don’t entirely understand how you play it but I think we lost. No balls came out so I guess we lost?! Who knows! New Bucket list item: learn how to play Pachinko for our next Japan trip.
We explored the streets further and and I even found a Tesco Express (a supermarket chain in the UK that I had the greatest fortune to work in during my college years). We tried out a bit of Sushi in one of the sushi bars and checked out the various displays of plastic food used in restaurant shop windows. This was also the evening I made a great discovery – the vending machines in Japan serve cans of hot chocolate that are ACTUALLY HOT!
Little things in life do amuse me. We headed to 7/11 for a few late night snacks before heading back to the hotel and watching a bit of TV in bed.
Robot day! OK that sounds strange but we are in Tokyo!
I will be honest and admit that a lot of our plans of things to do were inspired by Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad – perhaps not the most unique or authentic Tokyo experience but oh well. (If you haven’t heard of this dude but love to travel then watch his Idiot Abroad TV series. Hilarious but I won’t even pretend that it’s massively informative.)
Anyways, we headed to that yummy bakery I had my eye on from the night before and picking up a pastry for breakfast whilst walking towards the train station nearby. Shin-Okubo was our nearest station and was only a few minutes walk from the hotel.
Creative Tip: When visiting Japan, look into the Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel across country.
Today we were heading to The National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology where you can find Asimo – a multi-functional humanoid (i.e. a robot). We arrived at Tokyo Teleport station and I do believe you can catch the Rinkai Line nowadays but we decided to walk instead. There’s a shopping centre near the station so we decided to walk through it on the way and enjoy the over-the-top window displays and the different types of stores they had to offer.
We arrived at the museum just in time to catch an Asimo show. They bring how the humanoid a few times a day to demonstrate what the robot does and how it responds to instructions etc. Here’s a little clip of ASIMO in action.
OK I am a bit of a geek and have a soft spot for museums but I will say this one is pretty awesome. There is a massive globe hanging from the ceiling in one of the exhibitions and lots of interactive sections that are great fun. Calum enjoyed a hand scanner that showed you the different DNA cells in your hand (I can not promise that is the correct terminology) and I liked the room full of robotic machines that had various functions and uses.
Of course a trip to the gift store was needed before leaving – you can buy space curry… You could also buy an electronic hand which instantly reminded me of that episode of Big Bang Theory with Howard, his electronic hand and trip to A & E.
After our museum trip we headed back through the shopping mall and stopped for a quick bite to eat. In true tourist style, Calum had a Bento Box meal and I had an Auntie Anne’s pretzel.
We headed back to our hotel to freshen up and change clothes (it had rained quite a bit on our walk back to the station so we were now quite damp). We then headed to Shinjuku for the evening, a popular area for nightlife activities. For me, one of the best things to do when your in a new country (especially in Tokyo) is to simply wander around the streets. The streets of Shinjuku were fascinating; like a hybrid of NYC Times Square and Chinatown. It has all the lights and moving signs and bustling people of Times Square but the Japanese culture could be seen in every shop window or bar entrance. We spent some time popping in and out of a few shops and bars; trying Sake and enjoying very expensive beer.
We also ate a Crepe. Yes weird, but in Tokyo they have a never ending selection of the types of Crepes you can eat: Tuna, curry and cheese. Pepperoni, ham and cream. Olives, chicken and lettuce. Strawberry, ice cream and honey. Literally amazing! Calum went for a Tuna, spinach and cheese crepe whilst I opted for a chicken, tomato and cream cheese crepe. So yummy!
When we noticed it was now 11pm we decided to head back to our hotel. Calum wanted to shoutout bars that could possibly show the Chelsea game the following night so we wanted to explore the street near our hotel a bit more. Yeah… we got lost. It turns out Shinjuku station is MASSIVE and has loads of exits dotted everywhere and some of the steps you walk down thinking your going into a station is actually just a walk way to another exit. So lost. I actually don’t know how we managed it but we somehow managed to end up in the middle of a massive building complex that was deserted and we definitely shouldn’t have been there. A security guard found us and managed to point us in the right direction to get out. Turns out we were in the building complex of gaming company Square Enex: the company known for creating the Final Fantasy series. Whoops!
Once we finally did make it back, we went in the search for bars. Above a Thai restaurant we found the smallest bar ever. It is honestly smaller than the living room I am currently writing this in. The bar was fairly dark with a short bar from one side to another, with a large screen behind it of which they were playing the Chelsea game on the following night. Happy Calum.
OK so it was now rather late so we head straight to bed.
After a bit of a lay in today we decided to head straight to Harajuku Street. This is the shopping haven of Tokyo and if you head there on a Sunday, you’ll see lots of interestingly and/or stylishly dressed youngsters strolling around.
During our time in this fashion district, we did stop for a quick McDonalds. Food is Japan is fairly priced and you can get cheap food in some areas. This area was not one of them so a trip to the golden arches was a must.
After spending some hours exploring the shops, we headed to Meiji Jingu (a Japanese temple near the Harajuku train station). The walk towards the temple is beautiful by itself and whilst your in the area, this place is definitely worth a visit.
After visiting the temple we decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a bit. The colder weather had given us a bit of a cold so we headed back, picked up some lunch from the 7/11 and relaxed in the room for a bit. One part of travelling for longer periods of time that I hadn’t thought about, was finding the time to keep in touch with our family back home. We always try to use down time to relax, contact family and most importantly, update our Facebook statuses.
Admittedly we did have a nap, meaning we were energised and ready for a lovely dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Calum had spicy octopus and I asked if a dish was like a pizza. They said it definitely was exactly like a pizza… It was a bed of rice and potatoes with vegetables, a salsa type sauce and mozzarella.
11pm rolled around so we headed back up to that little bar we found yesterday. We were the only customers there and Calum was given control of the Sky remote. We settled to watch the Chelsea game and enjoyed a few (very expensive) drinks. During the second half, a Japanese guy came in and asked the bartender for the Playstation remote. He sat beside us at the bar (to be fair that was the only place you could really sit) and faced the opposite wall from the TV. That is when we noticed another TV, of which this guy started playing as Chelsea in Fifa. This was 2am and this guy looked like he had just finished work.
The Tokyo Government Building is one of the highest buildings in Tokyo and includes a free observation deck. We headed here to begin with and enjoyed the amazing views that Tokyo had to offer. There were Olympic 2020 posters around the whole building as at the time, Tokyo were bidding to host the Olympics. After performing in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics (gotta sneak it in there), the Olympics mean quite a bit to me now and I hope we can head back to Tokyo when they host it in 2020.
From the government building towers, you can see Tokyo for miles. Just breathtaking.
Once we had finishing at the Government Building, we headed across the road to enjoy and photograph the Shinjuku Park and its beautiful blossom. April is said to be the perfect time to see blossom in Japan. This is the very end of March and it already started to look stunning.
We ate a quick lunch of Teriyaki skewers near Shinjuku station then headed towards Akihabara – the area of Tokyo crammed full with arcades and gadget shops. Calum was in heaven. There were so many crane games and Anime shops full of little statues. I found a Mickey Mouse satellite dish and Calum enjoyed investigating the different types of toilet seats.
We decided to head to Shibuya crossing this evening to take some photographs of the busiest crossing in Tokyo. The lights change and hundreds of people cross the road from all angles. Crazy but looks pretty awesome. For dinner we headed back to Shinjuku as I had to have another crepe. This time I went for something a bit sweeter – strawberry, cream and chocolate flakes! YAY! Happy Katie.
It was our last day in Tokyo and we had about a week left of our 3 month tour around Asia. The weather was awful with heavy rain and winds. We were able to borrow some umbrellas from the hotel and discovered that most stores and restaurants have a clever device that you swipe your wet umbrella in and it bags it up for you, to avoid wet slippery floors. Calum decided to mess around and this lovely lady honestly thought he didn’t know how to use it.
We decided to spend the morning trying some ramen in a cute little cafe down an alleyway near our hotel that I had wanted to try all week.
Following good ole’ Karl Pilingkton, we decided to head to Tokyu Hands; a department store with lots of weird and wonderful gadgets. Not only could we hide from the torrential rain but we could play with odd Japanese stuff!
Calum found a paper weight that looked like lava and I find lots of unusual gadgets that promised accurate make up application! I thoroughly enjoyed the vast selection of Hello Kitty stuff! You can also buy toothbrushes with a brush on both sides so it cleans your teeth and the inside of your mouth at the same time. I also found a light up duck that I was tempted to purchase for a friend back home but I wasn’t sure it would quite make the journey home (next time)! Do you remember those cameras that were popular in the 90s that printed a photo just after you took the pic? Well they had some here and they looked pretty funky.
We finished off in the store and picked up some Krispy Kreme doughnuts for a late snack and headed back to the hotel to freshen up. The rain had eased off a bit so we decided to head to the Tokyo Tower; an eiffel tower lookalike in the middle of Tokyo.
It even had macaroons in the bar at the top. Tasty! It was a misty evening and getting quite dark but I still loved seeing the lights of this expansive city. Just perfect.
Once we were back at our hotel, we went to a burger bar nearby and enjoyed a towering burger.
One last trip to the bakery spot for some breakfast on the go, lugging our suitcases as we go.
We had learnt our lesson on arrival and opted for the airport express train from Shinjuku to get back to the airport. The trains in Tokyo are always on time and are perfectly clean and orderly. The journey on the JR Narita Express takes roughly an hour and costs 3000 yen (£23).
We checked in for our flight and of course heading to a Sushi bar in the airport for our last meal in this awesome city.
We love Tokyo and Japan. We have actually decided to head back to Japan later this year and spend some time in Osaka. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo and by no means did we see everything we wanted to see. There are also some more great temples and of course Mt Fuji. Next time I will also be finding some time to visit Disneyland and DisneySea.
Is there anything else we need to include on our next trip? Did you find this blog helpful? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.