Ugh, I’m going to be honest here: I was disappointed with Japan.
There I said it.
It was just so hyped up, and everyone and their mother was saying how incredible it was and then we got there and we were just like …… ?
True, it is one of the popular spots to travel to right now. Kind of like how Thailand was a few years back. It’s a hot spot right now; definitely. But I just don’t understand why.
For starters, IT. IS. SO. EXPENSIVE. Like damn, it was probably one of the most expensive places that we went…if not THEE most expensive.
We went to both Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo reminded me of Las Vegas Strip *ANIME EDITION*. It was like a big loud billboard for Anime. Cartoons everywhere it was insane. I just found it all to be really tacky. If you don’t like anime and cartoons like that then I bet you will feel the same as we did about Japan.
I was expecting traditional Japanese culture etc. but that’s just not the way it is.
Granted there were some aspects of the country that I loved, but the overarching conclusion that I made was that Japan is not all it’s chalked up to be. But if you are going to go, then this is what you need to do…
How to Get Around:
We took taxis/ubers and let me tell you that was NOT CHEAP. Expensive as hell, omg.
Transport from the Airport
FIRST OF ALL, when you get to the airport take the train to downtown! Because an Uber is going to be around $200-$250 depending on which of the two airports in Tokyo you fly into. Trust me, I know because I did it…
Take the train it’s about $29 one way and takes around an hour.
Getting around the City/Country
I would recommend using the train system because it’s efficient and REALLY clean. Make sure you pay attention though because everything is in Japanese and I missed a few stops and ended up in the wrong place more than once because of it.
I WILL say that it can be confusing because of the payment. The lines are not government owned. They are owned by different companies, meaning that you cannot switch lines with one ticket. You need to buy a new ticket.
Because of this I recommend getting a prepaid SUICA card at the station if you plan to stay ONLY in Tokyo. This card costs a refundable deposit of around $4.75 (500 yen) and then you can charge up your card with $9.50 increments (1000 yen). It lets you just swipe your card and not have the deal with the confusing ticketing machines. If you plan to visit another city like Kyoto or Hiroshima etc. then you may want to look into a JR rail pass, which works the same as a euro rail pass but can be pricey. You can book for a certain amount of days (7 days, 14 days, 21 days, etc.) I would only look into the JR rail pass if you are looking to hit multiple cities in Japan.
Transport in Japan AIN’T cheap. lol.
Where to Stay/What to Do:
And on that note Tokyo is literally MASSIVE. Unlike European cities, you can’t just walk everywhere which is why it’s IMPERATIVE you stay somewhere convenient. There are so many areas of Tokyo that you can stay in. I stayed in Shinjuku which was a a great area area but I would have much preferred to stay in Shibuya because I feel the hotels are situated more so in the center of everything whereas in Shinjuku you have to walk a little.
This is where are the fun happens in my opinion: the shopping, the fun alley ways, the main crossing area, a TON of cool restaurants. It’s like the Times Square of NYC which I LOVE. I think it’s easier to walk to a lot of different places if you stay here. Huge transport hub, so it’s easy to get around from here which is ESSENTIAL in Tokyo.
Hachiko Plaza is the main *Times Square* area of the neighborhood. This is where the busiest crosswalk in the world (Shibuya Crossing) is. You’ve probably seen pictures of it it’s renown.
In any which way you go from this plaza you will find mass amounts of shopping, stores, walking areas, restaurants, bars. etc. That’s really what I love about it. SO much walking area.
Harajuku is also in Shibuya which was one of my favorite areas of the city and perhaps why I rate Shibuya over Shinjuku. Harajuku is known for Takeshita-dori street; a bit overrated in my opinion but whatever. It’s where all the weird costumes, Hello Kitty stuff is. Interesting street to walk down. Kinda weird, you won’t find anything like it anywhere else. There’s a Hedgehog cafe where you can hold Hedgehogs and stuff. Also, owl cafes (Cafe HOOTHOOT). Really odd, but interesting to see.
At the end of this street is Omote-sando St. which is a GREAT street to walk up and down for shopping!!! There is a main road but you can also go off the road down little alleys and find cool one-off boutiques and cute trendy shops. Cool place to just walk around and EXPLORE!
What I really loved about the Harajuku area is Cat Street!!! It is a really trendy, hipster area of the city with a lot of cute boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops to explore.
Meiji-jingu Shrine is also in Shibuya area that you can explore. It’s the main shrine of Tokyo. It’s underwhelming if I’m honest, but I’m not a big “shrine girl”. It’s the walk through the park to get there that makes it worth it! Beautiful walk through practically a forest in the middle of the city.
The only issue with Shibuya is there’s not many hotel options that are decently priced to by honest. That is why Shinjuku is usually rated higher because there’s SO many options.
Shibuya Granbell Hotel is a good option! It’s central and really nice and modern. It runs about $150-$250/night depending on which room you choose.
The Millennials Shibuya is another really good option for “budget” as far as Tokyo and the Shibuya area goes. It’s a really nice hostel, clean, with big pods for yourself. More like a small hotel, with hostel perks like Free Beer hour etc. This place is great location and runs about $90/night.
This would be my number one neighborhood to stay in when heading to Tokyo, personally.
This is the area that I stayed in and has a LOT of good hotels in it. I liked it! I just would have rather stayed IN the action in Shibuya where I can walk outside and be in the center of it all. The main street here is Shinjuku-dori Street with all of the shopping.
Shinjuku is still in the center of it but you need to walk a little from the hotels depending where you stay. It’s the stereotypical Tokyo you see in the movies with all the neon lights, gaming centers, and big skyscrapers. Golden Gai neighborhood is also here which is a little alleyway with TINY bars. Super cool to check out! If you are going out then I recommend going here. Tons of shopping and a LOT of restaurants nearby this area.
The infamous ROBOT RESTAURANT is in Shinjuku too lol. It’s expensive around 75 dollars per person but apparently worth it. Make sure you get your reservations early by clicking here. Don’t eat the dinner, it’s not good. Just go for the show.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a gorgeous garden. I would compare it to like the Central Park of Tokyo. So nice to just walk around or go on a run. It’s genuinely beautiful.
Here you can also visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and head to the observation deck on the 45th floor at sunset to get a sick view of the entire city. Best of all, it’s free.
Every other blog out there will tell you that Shinjuku is the best neighborhood to stay in in Tokyo. While it is really great, I would still recommend Shibuya as #1, but that was just my experience.
Shinjuku is great because it’s a HUGE hub for transport so it’s easy to take the transport around from here.
There are a LOT of hotels in this area and to be honest they’re not exactly “cheap”. If you’re looking for luxury then I would stay at the Keio Plaza Hotel where we stayed, which was really nice if you get the Club Access. You get free breakfast which is an EXPANSIVE buffet, food, snacks, alcohol, and sodas in there and it’s a fabulous of view of the entire city. If you aren’t going to get the club access then I’d recommend staying elsewhere because it’s not as conveniently located in the area as other places and it’s pricier. You need to walk ~15 minutes to get to the action.
Park Hyatt Tokyo is RAVED about, but WAY TOO OVERPRICED. Around $1,000/night just for a standard room…no thank you.
Odakyu Hotel Century Southern Tower is a “mid-range” priced hotel that’s got GREAT reviews and in the center of the action. “Mid-range” I would still categorize as expensive, but it’s Tokyo… around $250-300/night here.
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku is another great option for a “mid range” hotel in the central area. Around $250/night for this with breakfast included.
Tokyo Stay Shinjuku is a good budget option for accommodation. Only $79/night (amazing for Tokyo) and walking distance to EVERYTHING.
UNPLAN Shinjuku is a GREAT option if you are looking to save money. It’s $24/night for a dorm and $100/night for a Double Private Room. Really trendy and clean hostel. It just opened in 2019.
My final budget option for Shinjuku is Imano Tokyo Hostel. Close to the action and CHEAP for Tokyo. Great reviews, really clean and trendy too. Only 24/night for a dorm or $75/night for a Double Private room.
This is my #2 area to stay in Tokyo for sure.
This is a really high-end part of the city where all the really nice designer shopping is. The Rodeo Dr. of Tokyo if you will. There are SO many restaurants and the main train station of the city is here as well. The Imperial Palace is also nearby and other parks you can walk around if you want; however, if you want a tour of the actual Imperial Palace grounds you will need to book ahead.
It reminds me of Oxford St. in London or Fifth Ave in NYC. LOTS of designers shopping here. It’s a little more relaxed and less energy than Shibuya and Shinjuku. Chuo Dori is the main shopping street which is great to walk along and explore especially on the weekends because they close it off to cars and it’s walk-zone only.
Tsukiji Fish Market is right near here and you MUST GO ONE MORNING. It’s truly an experience. We didn’t do the auction because you need to be up at like 3am for it and I just would never do such a thing. It’s against my morals. HOWEVER, we did go to the fish market around 730 am. VERY cool experience to walk around and try all the different foods. GET SUSHI HERE. It’s expensive but SO fresh…they literally caught it a few hours before lol. Be aware that the entire fish market CLOSES AT AROUND 11AM. So you need to go early.
Good place to stay if you are looking to do a lot of shopping and more luxurious I’d say.
Good “‘mid-range” option would be Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo; around $250/night. Nice hotel with clean rooms. The location is really what makes this hotel great. Walking distance to everything in the area.
A good budget option is Tokyu Stay Tsukiji. It’s right near the fish market which is so convenient since you have to get up super early anyways and then walking distance to all the shops in Ginza. Around $120/night. Really clean rooms that even have a washing machine in them.
Other Shit to do:
I think that the absolute best thing we did in Japan was Soshi’s Bike Tour. Click here to check it out. You can choose from different routes to do and they’re SO FUN. He’s so nice and it’s a great way to see the city in a fun way. He’s super informative as well and gives you background info on all of the sights. He speaks perfect English, so it’s all easy to understand. You HAVE to do this if you’re in Japan.
Mario Kart…FOR REAL
You have probably seen it all over the Internet, but YES you can race Mario Kart FOR REAL around the city of Tokyo. Here is the link to the site. Although, I will say that you need to prep weeks in advance for this. You need to go into AAA or DMV in your home country to get an International Driver’s License or else you can’t do it. There’s multiple different ones that you can do as far as routes go, but I have heard that the K-M tour is the best one. It’s expensive about $100/person, but worth it. Just MAKE SURE you get your INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS LICENSE before you leave for your trip.
This is a cool area of Tokyo to walk around. The Sensoji Temple is here and it’s huge and worth seeing. The iconic Kaminarimon gate is also here that you can take pictures of. All around it is a whole area of little stalls that you can walk around and shop. The street is called Nakamise Street. Although I will say that the products are like really weird gimmicky shit. Like weird ass stuff being sold. Very random products, but interesting to walk around.
When you get to the shrine (or any shrine in Japan for that matter) you will see people taking pieces of paper from these wooden boxes. I literally had no idea what they were doing until like the 5th day.
So you go up and pull a stick with a saying on it at random, and then you will find the drawer with that same saying on it (in Japanese, of course), then you open the draw and take the paper and that is your fortune.
THERE YA GO. Confusion, settled.
YES! I loved the food tour that we did. We found it off of Airbnb experiences. There’s literally so many that you can do. Don’t eat for hours prior because you eat A LOT of food. They show you Japanese food that you didn’t even know existed, which I loved.
RAMEN AND SUSHI ARE NOT THE ONLY JAPANESE FOODS.
Just make sure that you read the reviews because we did 2 and one of them sucked. This is a really good one for bars AND food tour here. So much fun and a great way to meet people.
This is such a good way to see the different parts of the city. The name of the good one was on Airbnb Experiences and it was called “Must do” Walking Tour in Shibuya with Fumino & Shunta & Mayuka. She was so nice and informative and showed us so much in just a short 1.5 hours. Plus it was cheap: $28 dollars for two people. Bargain. Tokyo is so massive and crowded that it makes sense to have someone show you around and give you recommendations.
As I said these are worth going to because you will not find anything like it anywhere else. It’s so odd. Just bizarre LIVE exotic animals out in the open in these cafes. You can touch them and hold them too. I think it’s worth it just to experience because it’s THAT weird. Puppies, cats, owls, hedgehogs, capybaras, lemurs, etc. So many exotic animals to choose from.
teamLab Borderless Museum
It’s cool, it’s just out of the way. Make sure you book your tickets online in advance because they only let a certain amount of people in per day. There’s a bunch of different rooms you can go in and it’s pretty interesting to experience. I can’t stay in there too long because I get motion sick. Once I saw 2-3 rooms I was kind of over it to be honest. Don’t @ me.
Where to Eat:
There are literally SO many restaurants in Tokyo you can’t go wrong. I will say that you MUST eat at the fish market. The Waygu meat sold there and the sushi is out of this world.
There is also a food market in Shibuya. It’s kind of hidden but it’s essentially a bunch of little restaurants in the same area with meat. Lots of tables to sit and hang. Good place to go and drink sake and try a bunch of different things! It’s called Shibuya Niku Yokocho.
Han no Daidokoroer is another GREAT place for meat in Shibuya as well. You cook it yourself kind of like Korean BBQ but it’s amazing. Bruno Mars went here, so you should too.
Happy Pancake is a must!!! I went to the one in Harajuku and it’s such a trendy area. Go wander around and shop and then get some pancakes! Make sure you get there before opening so you can put your name on the list outside or else it’s gonna be awhile sweetie. This place is popular for a reason.
If you are on a budget and finding the sushi to be expensive in Tokyo then go to Genki Sushi. It’s really good sushi and it’s a cool experience. You sit in a little stall, order what you want from a iPad thing, and then it is slid out to you on a conveyor belt train thing. Really interesting, cheap, and great sushi.
Looking for cheap ramen? I GOT CHU HUNNI. Go to Ichiran Ramen. Great reviews and good prices. You sit in a stall once again (which I find to be weird but whatever) and order from a vending machine type of thing. It’s CASH ONLY though so bring your money.
Like I said, I wasn’t going crazy over Tokyo or Japan general like everyone else. I think everyone raving about it made me set my expectations really high. Yes, they have AMAZING food so if you’re a foodie you will probably love it, but you also need to be okay with the tacky anime culture as well. Personally it just wasn’t for me. If I was going to Asia I’d do Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali, etc.) before I did Japan.
WHERE TO STAY:
- Imano Tokyo Hostel
- UNPLAN Shinjuku
- Tokyo Stay Shinjuku
- Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
- Odakyu Hotel Century Southern Tower
- Keio Plaza Hotel
- 4-5 days in Tokyo.
WHAT WOULD I CHANGE:
- I wish I would have gone to the Robot Restaurant because of all the hype, but I watched their promo video and skipped it because it looked so tacky!
- Golden Gai area is the place to go.
- Shibuya Niku Yokocho
- Tsukiji Fish Market
- Han no Daidokoroer
- Happy Pancake
- Genki Sushi
- Ichiran Ramen
- teamLab Borderless Museum
- Hachiko Plaza: Shibuya Crossing
- Shinjuku-dori Street
- Shinjuku Gyoen
- Robot Restaurant
- Weird Cafes: Cafe HootHoot etc. They’re all around the city!
- Harajuku: Takeshita-dori street and Omote-sando St. and Cat Street
- Walking Tour: find on Airbnb experiences. Do one in Shibuya at night.
- Meiji-jingu Shrine
- FOOD TOUR
- Asakusa: Sensoji Temple, Kaminarimon gate, Nakamise Street
- Mario Kart: Link Here to book
- Soshi’s Bike Tour: click here to book
- Tsukiji Fish Market
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