Memories from Japan: A Travel Guide for Those Spending a Week in Tokyo for the First Time

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Hi everyone! I’m finally back after such a long break from the blog! Can you believe that my last blog post was in August 2019?! I’m so sorry for being gone for so long, but the last few months of 2019 and the first half of 2020 have both been jam-packed and filled with so many challenges, milestones, and memories.

In 2019, I finally plucked up the courage and started a YouTube channel, applied for grad school, and moved forward in my career as well. Now that we’re more than halfway through 2020, I’m excited to be back on the blog because there are a lot of changes that will be coming soon, so I can’t wait to share more about all of it with you when the time comes!

I know this year has definitely been a strange one, no matter where you’re living, and COVID-19 has surely impacted your life. I’ve been working from home since March, and needless to say, I’ve been using this “quarantine time” to really slow down and appreciate life.

In the past, I think I was too focused on “achieving” certain things in my life, and as a result, I neglected not only the relationships that I had with my friends, family, and loved ones, but most importantly, I never really took the time to take care of myself and both my physical and mental health. I’ve been using this time at home to really re-center myself, and I’ve found new joys in the little things, like a fresh cup of homemade coffee while listening to the birds chirping in the backyard, Friday night takeout with my grandma and parents, lazy afternoons spent lounging around with my boyfriend and the cat…

And while I’m definitely disappointed that we don’t get to attend concerts, eat out at our favorite restaurants, and travel to foreign countries anymore, it’s also made me really appreciate all of the memories that I’ve been able to make so far.

One of my favorite memories from 2019 was definitely my trip to Japan. I originally wanted to create a YouTube video detailing my time in Tokyo, as well as write a blog post with my full itinerary, but when I returned from my trip, I was so caught up in the midst of my grad school applications and busy season at work that I never really got around to it.

I know it’s been almost a year since my trip, but with the new travel restrictions that are in place, it’s definitely going to be a long time before we can go anywhere again. And even when that day comes, traveling will be very different to what we’ve been accustomed to in the past. I also didn’t want to forget about the wonderful time that I had in Japan, so I decided to still move forward with this vlog and blog post, because memories are too important, and I didn’t want to forget.

And on that note, let’s begin the blog post!

Japan has always been a place that my boyfriend and I have wanted to visit since we were in high school, so we were, without a doubt, super excited for tour trip last year! Today, I wanted to share my experiences as a first-timer in Tokyo, and hopefully, my tips will be able to help some of you who are also hoping to travel to Japan soon!

Getting Around the City

First of all, the number one thing you should be aware of is how to get around the city. Japan has many different modes of public transport, so it’s pertinent that you research and make sure you purchase the appropriate tickets for your needs.

When we were planning our trip, the two biggest public transport contenders that we considered were the JR Rail and Tokyo Metro. The JR Group contains seven railway companies, including JR East, which is the biggest private railway in the Tokyo area. Tokyo Metro is the biggest subway/rapid transit system in the Tokyo area. Tokyo Metro trains run underground most of the time, while JR trains usually run above ground.

Since we were only going to stay in Japan for a week, our itinerary was based mostly in Tokyo, which meant that the Tokyo Metro made the most sense for us. We were also planning to go to Mt. Fuji for a day trip, in the middle of the week that we were there, so our best choice was the Tokyo Subway 72-Hour Ticket, which allowed us to have three days of unlimited metro / subway access. The pass was relatively cheap as well, at 1500 Yen (or $13.79 USD).

Where to Stay

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Prior to our trip, my boyfriend and I looked at various AirBnBs, and while the prices were fair, we ultimately decided to look for hotels instead because it was more convenient in terms of getting to the subway station. This is ultimately how we found the Pearl Hotel Shinjuku Akebonobashi.

One of the greatest perks about this hotel is that it’s only a 3 minute walk to the Toei Subway Shinjuku line, which made for super convenient travels everyday. The rooms were also really clean and definitely spacious enough for two people. Plus, the hotel is in a really quaint little neighborhood that has many restaurants and convenience stores, so we were never afraid of being hungry or running out of daily supplies / necessities.

The only disadvantage is that it takes a bit of a longer time to commute to and from the airport, since this required us to switch between various modes of public transport. Overall, though, we were very satisfied with the experience, since the benefit of staying in the heart of Shinjuku definitely outweighed the slight disadvantage, since we were able to easily access the subway everyday to get to different parts of the city.

Important Notes

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Pocket WiFi: One of my main concerns when traveling abroad is the lack of internet connection, since a large part of our navigation process is dependent on the internet. Prior to the trip, we researched a few pocket wifi options, but ultimately decided to use this one. The best part about this is that it’s super convenient to pick up and return, since it’s located right at the airport.

Google Maps: On a similar note, if you have pocket wifi, you’ll most likely be using Google Maps to help you navigate the city. I loved how Google Maps showed us exactly which subway we needed to take in order to get to our destination. The best part about Japan’s public transit system is that it’s extremely reliable, and the trains are almost always on time!

Electricity: This was something that I researched extensively prior to my trip to Japan, and quite honestly, I was a little shocked that not too many people talked about this on the internet! If you haven’t been to Asia or you don’t travel too much, it’s important to note that there are voltage differences from the country that you are visiting versus your home country.

To be safe, I brought an adapter, as well as a dual voltage flat iron. For electronics like phones, external batteries, and camera batteries, most chargers work without an issue. To be safe, though, you should definitely check your electronics and their chargers to make sure, especially for more expensive equipment.

Communication: Since we were staying in Tokyo, most places we went to spoke a bit of English, or had menus / directions in English, so it wasn’t too hard for us to get around. It also helped that we both knew Chinese, so we could kind of understand certain Japanese-only signs, since the Japanese language also uses Kanji, which are the adopted Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system.

Bring Cash: There were many places in Japan that accepted cash only, so be sure to bring enough money, especially if you plan on shopping or eating at more high-end places.

Later Starts: A handful of the shops, restaurants, and coffee shops that we wanted to visit actually didn’t open until around 10 – 10:30AM, so if you’re an early riser, you’ll most likely have to wait a bit before you can go out exploring. Despite the later starts, we still woke up early to explore the quaint little streets around the neighborhood that we stayed in, and we also took this chance to visit convenience stores for some early morning snacks.

Don’t Eat While You Walk: This is one of the first tips I ever received when I first told my cousins that I was going to Japan. It is a big part of Japanese culture, as it’s seen as rude or impolite to eat and walk at the same time, since you risk dirtying the streets with crumbs or spills.

Remember to Bring a Trash Bag: While it’s common to see a lot of trashcans on the streets in the US, there aren’t that many in Japan. This is why we always tried to have a bag with us in our backpack, so we could carry our trash with us until we came across a trashcan.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive + Settle In
We touched down on a Friday afternoon, and once we retrieved our luggage and wifi, we were on our way to our hotel, via the bullet train, then the JR rail, and then the subway. Halfway through our subway ride, though, we were hit with the rush hour traffic, and the carriage that were in was jam-packed with passengers. It got so bad that at some point, our luggage was pushed right up against us and even bruised us… At this point, we ultimately decided to just walk the remaining 20 minutes to our hotel, which ended up being a good decision, since we got to see the city.

After checking in to our hotel, we visited a small katsu restaurant down the street from our hotel. The staff members were all so kind and accommodating, and they even had an English menu for us! After eating, we decided to turn in early, since we were exhausted.

Day 2: Shibuya, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya Crossing

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On the first day of our visit, we visited Shibuya, which was on the top of our list. Here are some notable places that we visited / things that we did:

  • Took photos with Japan’s famous vending machines
  • Walked around Shibuya to appreciate all of the different buildings and sights
  • Walked through the Meiji Shrine
    • We got here a bit late, so we were only able to see a part of the shrine. If we get to come back to Tokyo in the future, we’ll definitely be spending more time at the shrine.
  • Shibuya Crossing
    • Walked the crossing, once in the morning and once at night, to experience the difference
    • Visited an observatory deck to take photos of the crossing
  • Ate Japan’s popular fluffy pancakes
  • Had sushi

Day 3: Senso-ji Temple + Kimono Rental

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Prior to our trip, one of the number one things that I wanted to do was rent a kimono. I’d seen so many beautiful photos on Instagram, and I knew it was an experience that I didn’t want to miss out on. I’m really thankful that my boyfriend was willing to play dress up with me too, and we were able to take some really great photos together!

I briefly talked about my experience with Yae Japan on my Instagram post, and I’ve also linked their website here, in case any of you wanted to look into kimono rentals as well.

Day 4: Harajuku + Omotesando + teamLab Borderless

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On the fourth day of our trip, we had plans to visit Harajuku and Omotesando before we had to head to teamLab Borderless. We’d already booked our teamLab tickets online prior to coming to Japan, since it was on our list of photoshoot locations. Here are some notable places that we visited / things that we did:

  • Took street photos in Harajuku (it really is the more fashionable and eccentric part of Tokyo)
  • Walked to Tokyu Plaza to take photos at the famous mirror / glass structure
  • Visited teamLab Borderless to experience the creative exhibitions and to take some dreamy photos
    • The museum is extremely crowded in the afternoon, so I would definitely suggest going in the early morning instead.A lot of families and children were very disrespectful of the art and were using the exhibitions as slides or playgrounds, even after staff members repeatedly reprimanded them.
  •  Had heavenly tonkatsu at Tonkatsu WakoTokyu Plaza

Day 5: Shibuya + Michelin Star Experience + Kabukicho (Red Light District)
It rained on the fifth day of our trip, so rather than going too far, we decided to stay in Shibuya. Here are some notable places that we visited / things that we did:

  • Went shopping at local drugstores
    • Japanese drugstores are amazing and they sell literally everything
  • Ate at Soba House 金色不如帰 (this restaurant has one Michelin star)
  • Visited Shibuya’s Kabukicho (Red Light District)

Day 6: Mt. Fuji Day Trip

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On the sixth day, the weather was finally clear enough to visit Mt. Fuji. Prior to our trip, we’d seen so many beautiful photos of this legendary mountain, and we were scared that the weather conditions wouldn’t allow us to see it. Though the clouds did come in later in the day, we were still able to see Mt. Fuji in the morning and even got a few decent photos. Here are some notable places that we visited / things that we did:

  • Visited Oshino Hakkai, a small village near Mt. Fuji
    • There were lots of tourists, but there is a small part of the village that requires extra entrance fees, and we used this opportunity to find a good location to set up our tripod and take more photos of Mt. Fuji
  • Hiked up the Arakura Sengen Shrine at the Fuji Five Lakes
    • Prior to our trip, we’d seen so many amazing photos of Mt. Fuji from Chureito Pagoda, so we decided to try our luck too. Unfortunately, it was really cloudy by the time that we got up there, but the views of the little village were still breathtaking. We’re definitely thinking of coming back one day soon!

Day 7: KEIO Mall + Exploring Airport + Leaving Japan
On the last day of our trip, we knew we had to leave for the airport early in order to avoid rush house traffic. Here is a short list of how we spent our last few hours in Japan:

  • Ate at KEIO Mall – there are a lot of really good restaurants here, and the mall is located right in the subway station, which is where we needed to be anyways in order to make our way to the airport
  • Had Ippudo for $8 USD (which is a deal because in NYC, it costs about $15 per bowl, so this is almost half price)
  • Shopped for souvenirs (there are so many cute snacks and trinkets)

Takeaways

I was super impressed with my trip to Japan! Everyone is so polite, the streets are super clean, and the food is absolutely delicious too! We are definitely planning to return to Japan in the near future, but will be hoping to visit Kyoto or Osaka next!

Have you ever been to Japan? What’re some of your favorite travel destinations? And how are all of you spending the holidays? Wishing you all a great holiday season and cheers to the new year! 🙂

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