Thursday, June 29, 2017

My Tokyo itinerary, May 2017

Friends have been asking for my Tokyo itinerary so it's time to get my lazy arse going and attempt writing again.
It's been a while since I properly wrote and Tokyo feels like a lifetime ago.
(i.e. this itinerary isn't going to the most detailed and because I can no longer remember what I did day-to-day, I'll list places visited by area.)

I hope this itinerary is still useful for some.
😂

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Because we couldn't justify going to Seoul again after having gone every year for the past 3 years, the boy and I decided we had to go somewhere else this year.
It was between Melbourne and Tokyo, and well, 
Asia won.
(Can't help it; Asian food rocks.)

The first dilemma we had about the trip to Tokyo was whether or not to squeeze in a visit to Kyoto.
A quick Google will almost always give you the same results: you MUST go to Kyoto.
If you had more than a week in the city, every single suggested itinerary online seemed to suggest a quick trip to Kyoto for 3 days.
So for a while we planned our 10-day trip to Tokyo with Kyoto in mind.

And then I got tired of trying to squeeze everything I wanted to see in Kyoto and Tokyo into 4 days and 6 days respectively.

Would you run out of things to do in Tokyo if you spent more than a week there?
Would the bustling city tire you out and make you want an escape elsewhere?
MUST you visit Kyoto if you have more than a week in Tokyo?

4 days wasn't enough to do Kyoto justice, 
and 6 days in Tokyo sounded too short given the places we wanted to go.
We decided to leave Kyoto and its surrounding regions for another trip.

Here's our 10-day itinerary in Tokyo, with plenty to see and do 
and still have the freedom of straying off the planned path for the day should we chance upon something interesting we'd like to explore.

If, like us, you're researching for your trip to Tokyo and deciding between splurging on a JR Pass or not, our itinerary may be of some help.

Off to Tokyo!

(We flew Scoot and had a quick transfer at Taipei;
Not complaining. Scoot's one-for-one promo was well worth the short 1-2 hour transfers.
SGD700 for 2 return tickets, yay.)

8 hours later...

Hello Tokyo!
Where the trains run like clockwork.

Tip: Get a train card at the self-serve counters at the airport station and load it with money.
You can even customise your train card and print words on it.

Train cards can be refunded at the end of your trip with your balance returned in cash.
(Online sites mentioned an administrative charge if your card balance falls below a certain amount. That didn't seem to be the case because I got my full balance back even though my balance was less than the amount stated online.)


IKEBUKURO

Great area with plenty to see and do, minus the hordes of tourists.


Ichiran Ramen
Friends and online blogs rave about this ramen place so we thought we'd give it a try.
Just our luck that there was one less than a 10-minute walk away from our hostel.
And we didn't have to queue!
(I don't have the exact address but given how cheap/easy it is to get your hands on a WiFi egg in Japan - ours cost us SGD5/day on loan from Changi Airport - I recommend using Google.)

Sunshine City
A must-visit for Otakus, especially female ones I suspect.
Pokemon Centre and other novelty stores located in this building.
Didn't spend too long there because we weren't that into those things.
Still, a quick visit if you're in the Ikebukuro area wouldn't hurt, just to experience the place.



Book and Bed Tokyo
Where we stayed for our first 3 nights in Tokyo.
A themed capsule "hostel" where you sleep in bookshelves.
(I have to admit, I planned our trip to Tokyo around this.)


Waking up in a "library" and having the option to spend a quiet morning lounging in the hostel's common area definitely makes a visit to this hostel worthwhile.

Tip: I wouldn't recommend staying for too many nights.
The hostel gets pretty noisy at night when travellers return and mingle in the common area just outside the beds. Shared bathrooms and a common area so near the beds meant the noise continued well past midnight.
Light sleepers be warned.

Explored Ikebukuro mainly on foot (the best way to travel).
The area is packed with plenty of the usual Japanese big brands and names you'd find in Shibuya/Shinjuku and Akihabara, with way less tourists.
Good area to consider if you're looking for accommodation in this expensive city.


GINZA

Japan's upmarket district; lots of shopping, dining and entertainment options.


Ikinari Steak
Found this place only because a friend living and working in Tokyo met us for dinner and brought us here. This awesome restaurant serves various types/cuts of steak by the gram.
Yummy steak that didn't put a huge dent in our wallets,
and you eat standing up at the bar counter amongst locals.
Authentic enough for us!


Yurakucho's Hidden Izakaya Street
After dinner drinks at the Izakaya street near Yurakucho station.
We had to order a dish for every drink ordered.
My first Izakaya experience.
Not bad at all.

G. Itoya
Famous 100 Year Old Stationery Store.
Beautiful interior, well-stocked, 
the go-to place for Japanese stationery.


SHIMOKITAZAWA

Known as Tokyo's bohemian neighbourhood.
Vintage. Hipster.


Darwin Room
A quirky store with a cafe offering a simple drinks and dessert menu.
Beautiful interior but photography not allowed in the store.
Coffee was also quite over-priced.
Couldn't justify spending money on overpriced coffee since the place was more famous for its interior than its coffee.
Browsed around and left.


Shimokita Garage Department
A collection of stores, 
all selling vintage.

Other fashion/vintage stores in the area include:
Stick Out
Ragla Magla
Mode Off

Warning: Vintage shopping in Tokyo isn't cheap.


And just like all respectable hipster neighbourhoods, 
expect to find plenty of hipster cafes with good coffee in Shimokitazawa.

Tip: Spend half a day (or more if you'd like) wandering around the area and chances are you'll find something interesting.


Like this old school store selling traditional Japanese rice crackers in so many flavours.


SHIBUYA/HARAJUKU

All tourists come here.


Shibuya Crossing
Because tourist.

Good luck getting one of those hipster shots.
With the amount of people crossing the section at any one time, 
it's impossible.

Try anyway.


niko and ...
A famous Japanese brand specialising in ladies fashion and home decor, its stores are famous for their warm and wooden interiors.

I first fell in love with the store decor in Kyushu.
A visit to their flagship in Harajuku was a must.

Other stores worth visiting in the Shibuya/Harajuku area include:

Kinji 
Thrift store with great vintage finds.

Don Don Down on Wednesday 
Prices change as time passes and price tags are grouped by fruit. Yes, fruit.
Be patient, dig around, and find bargains.

Loft
Another famous stationery/lifestyle store.
Outlets available in most places but the one in Shibuya has 7 floors of goodness.
Warning: Control yourself or go broke.


Afuri
Everyone talks about this ramen.
Yuzu Ramen, with chashu grilled fresh upon ordering.

We had ours in Shibuya, but outlets are also available in Roppongi and Nakameguro.


Genki Sushi
100-yen conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain (some dishes priced higher), only one outlet in Shibuya.
Located a short walk away from Shibuya station, the first time we came by here there was a long snaking queue outside the store.
We came back on another day for late breakfast; no queue.
Sushi was fresh and selection was good.

Plus it never hurts to have your food served on a train.
😌


Wander around the Shibuya/Harajuku area and you're sure to find plenty of interesting stores.
Like a store run by a young designer who refashions vintage kimonos into everyday jackets.

Kimono Kabukis
Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
4-28-26 Kimura Building 1F left

Chanced upon this store by pure luck and scored myself a refashioned vintage kimono jacket for less than 3,000yen.


The perks of exploring a new place on foot.


SHINJUKU

Busiest railway station in the world.


Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings
Best place to go for a bird's eye view of the city.
Best part? It won't cost you a single cent.

There are two towers with an observatory each (North and South), with different closing hours.
The North Observatory closes later than the South.


Yamamoto Coffee
This coffee specialist story is filled with countless coffee-related things, from coffee grinders to espresso machines and roasters. There's also stuff for tea-lovers in its basement.


Ganso Zushi
One of the many 100-yen conveyor belt sushi restaurant chains in Tokyo.
We had ours in Shinjuku but outlets are available everywhere.

One of the cheapest food options you'll have in an expensive city like Tokyo.
Cheap, and still fresh and good.

Cheapos that we are, we ate at many 100-yen conveyor belt sushi restaurants.
Either that, or convenience stores, which were equally awesome.


(Japan's Konbinis are everything.)


NAKAMEGURO/DAIKANYAMA

Quiet residential district popular for its unique boutique cafes and stores.
Hipster.


Traveler's Factory
The Traveler's Notebook has its own cult following.
Customisable, well-designed and just really really pretty, 
this line under the Midori stationery brand is famous worldwide.
I planned my trip to Tokyo around this one too.

The flagship store is located in a small alley in Nakameguro and houses everyday goods inspired by the theme of travel.

Smaller outlets can be found in Narita Airport and Tokyo Station; 
the brand is also available in all major stationery stores in Japan.

Fans of Tokyobike, its flagship is located in Nakameguro as well, 
a 10-min walk away from Traveler's Factory.


Happy Pudding Mahakala
Yummy pudding in various flavours, sold in cute little glass jars.


Sekiguchi Bakery
A tiny bakery housed in a building with a full plant wall.
Everything in this bakery (from cream bread to cookie) was delicious.

The Japanese really know their confectionery.


Onibus Coffee
Really good coffee in a very pretty outdoor setting.
Indoor seats available upstairs.

Daikanyama T-Site
One of Tokyo's fancy architectural wonders, this upscale retail complex houses Japan's famous Tsutaya bookstore and is a heaven for all book lovers.


Log Road Daikanyama
A collection of free-standing shops and cafes, built on former rail tracks.
A short stroll away from Daikanyama T-Site.
Very, hipster.

We came here for beer.

Spring Valley Brewery Tokyo
Owned by Kirin, with brews that are far better than the usual Kirin.
Beer flights available.


Like most other places, Nakameguro/Daikanyama is best explored on foot.

Take the train from stop to stop and you miss everything in between.

Tip: Walk.
(Eat/drink, burn calories, repeat.)


TSUKIJI

Fish Market.




Tsukiji Fish Market
Despite our countless visits to Seoul, we've never made it to Noryangjin.
Noryangjin Fish Market felt touristy somehow.
But you can't go to Tokyo and not visit Tsukiji.

Not necessarily cheap (though way cheaper than paying for good sashimi in restaurants),
but ridiculously fresh seafood.



Aiyo Coffee
The boy brought us here.
Very traditional Japanese coffeeshop.
Very worth the visit.


Tsukiji,
Japanese food Mecca.


ASAKUSA

Most famous for Senso-ji.
And Tokyo Skytree.


We were in the area during the city's Sanja Matsuri and got a glimpse of the festival.




Senso-ji
The only shrine we visited during our time in Tokyo.

We aren't that into shrines, but Senso-ji was worth the visit because of the surrounding festivities.


KIYOSUMI SHIRAKAWA

Coffee heaven.


Known as Tokyo's coffee epicentre, this quiet lazy neighbourhood is the best place to go for a quick escape from the bustling city.


Fukadaso Cafe
I first saw this cafe featured in the Japanese movie Wolf Girl and Black Prince and fell in love with its interior. Searched all over the Internet to find the name of the cafe but failed.

Pleasant surprise chancing upon this cafe when in the Kiyosumi Shirakawa area.

This charming cafe is housed in a renovated warehouse and has pretty decent coffee.
But really, you're here for the charming interior.


Blue Bottle Coffee
World famous American coffee brand, now available in Tokyo.
The coffee may be good but the atmosphere, not so much.

Got our coffee to go because the crowd was pretty off-putting.


Allpress Espresso
World famous New Zealand coffee brand, now available in Tokyo.
We didn't get any coffees here.

Other cafes in the area include:
The Cream of the Crop Coffee
sunday zoo
ARiSE Coffee Roasters
ARiSE Coffee Entangle
iki Espresso Tokyo
Portmans Cafe
mamma cafe 151A
Hikidashi Cafe
L.S. Cafe
(starting to see why they call this place Tokyo's coffee epicentre?)


And when you get sick of caffeine,

Cheese no Koe
For the cheese connoisseurs, this shop offers a large selection of cheeses produced in dairies from all over Hokkaido.
Also famous for its soft-serve ice cream, made with milk left over from the day's cheese production.


JIYUGAOKA

Tokyo's Little Europe.


Posh neighbourhood with an abundance of fashion boutiques and homeware stores.


Alpha Beta Coffee Club
Originally a coffee subscription service, this brand has ventured into the physical coffeeshop business.
Good coffee, great atmosphere.


We explored Jiyugaoka on foot and walked into random alleys.
The architecture and atmosphere helped this area live up to its reputation of "stylish and sophisticated".

If you love the idea of having Japanese tea in a traditional Japanese teahouse, be sure to visit Kosoan. We popped by but didn't fancy the long queue (man do the Japanese enjoy queuing for their food) and decided to give the place a miss, though the teahouse did have a very charming ambience.






Todoroki Valley
Easily one of the best parts of our trip to Tokyo.

Not actually in Jiyugaoka, but we walked here after spending the morning there.
A 30-min walk from Jiyugaoka, this hidden oasis is considered part of the Setagaya district.
This one-kilometre walking trail leads you through a narrow, wooded valley, with a small river running alongside.

Bamboo trees, secret shrines and mini waterfalls,
this place provides a natural bubble in bustling Tokyo.


DAY TRIP: HAKONE

Famous for its hot springs and views of Mount Fuji.



Sengoku-hara Plateau
The only place in mountainous Hakone where you can walk in a spacious field.
Famous for its vast plain of golden-coloured Japanese pampas grass in autumn, the plateau is a short bus ride away from Hakone-Yumoto Station.

We were there in spring so no tall golden pampas grass.
The place was still incredibly breath-taking though.


The bus to Sengoku-hara Plateau passed by a hotel that had its garden in bloom.
We got off the bus to join the hordes of Japanese admiring the flowers.

Spring, Japan, flowers.
😍



Take the cablecar up to the volcanic mountain, 
have the (gimmicky) volcano egg.


At the foot of our hiking trail, we met the owner of a small grocery store.
Two adorable Shiba Inus sitting outside the store.

He warmly welcomed us to sit and play with his dogs, and I got a comforting cup of hot coffee before starting on our hour(ish)-long hike on the preserved Old Tokaido walking trail.

Doesn't get more Japanese than this, I think.




(I am clearly in love with my kimono jacket.)

Ending the very fulfilling hike at Amazake Chaya.
Just around the bend, at the end of our hiking trail, this traditional teahouse serves a very refreshing amazake, a Japanese drink made from fermented rice. Its mochi, both sweet and savoury, went incredibly well with the drink.

Best way to end a hike.

Tip: We visited Hakone using the Hakone Free Pass, which includes a round trip from Shinjuku station and unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways in the Hakone area.
Passes can be purchased on the day of travel at Odakyu self-service machines just before entering the train station for the Hakone-bound Odakyu train.


DAY TRIP: KAMAKURA/ENOSHIMA

Seaside Japanese city famous for its numerous temples, shrines and the very rustic Enoden train.






The Enoden train is an attraction in itself.

Tip: Get off at any of the stops between Kamakura and Fujisawa station and explore the area on foot,
then return to the train station and hop back on the Enoden to the next stop.


Hokokuji Temple
No Kyoto bamboo forest? Never mind.

Visit this temple for its equally enchanting bamboo garden, minus the hordes of tourists.

Grab a cup of matcha in the temple's teahouse if you wish and soak in the serenity.
(Admission for bamboo garden: 200yen, 700yen for garden+tea)



Mushinan
Japanese traditional sweets shop located next to Wadazuka station on the Enoden line.
Sit by the window, have one of their signature Japanese sweets sets, and watch the Enoden train.

The best way to spend an afternoon.


Get off at Enoshima station on the Enoden line and walk across the connecting bridge to Enoshima island.



This tiny island can be covered on foot.

Tip: Get some seafood.
And Enoshima beer.



Enoshima Iwaya Cave
A very scenic and relaxing stroll along the rocky beach of Enoshima brought us to these caves.

Considerably short caverns but worth the visit anyway just for the experience of holding the cute torches made to help visitors navigate the dark cave.
(Admission fee: adult 500yen, child 200yen)



Kamakura/Enoshima was quite easily the best part of our trip to Tokyo.

Tip: We visited Kamakura/Enoshima using the Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass, which includes a round trip from Shinjuku station and unlimited use of the Enoden and Odakyu Railways in the Kamakura/Enoshima free area.
Passes can be purchased on the day of travel at Odakyu self-service machines just before entering the train station for the Fujisawa-bound Odakyu train.


Till the next trip,


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Got questions regarding our itinerary?
Ask away and I'll dig further into my limited memory for answers!

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