I was nervous about Tokyo. We were going from our 200,000 population town to a city with 28 MILLION PEOPLE! My mind just couldn’t get around that. I was eventually able to manage it mostly without getting lost too often in the crazy massive metro stations (I’m sure there were 200,000 people in our nearest metro station at one time). I did find that I enjoyed the quieter sides of the city more than what seemed like a shopping crazy obsessed city. So if you are not too concerned with spending all your money and you are also interested in the quieter side of Tokyo here are my suggestions.
Admittedly this neighbourhood was mentioned in our Rough Guide guidebook and from the internet it seems like on a weekend it can get crazy busy. This neighbourhood is about the only part in Tokyo that was saved from an earthquake in the 30s and WWII damage and so is ‘old style’ Japan. I probably would have visited at another time as when we went on a Wednesday morning most of the shops and restaurants were closed and it was more just a pleasant wander through a nice neighbourhood. Also it was about as hot as the surface of the sun and not much shade so I now totally get why the Japanese ladies all carry an umbrella with them all the time.
One place that was open was a little bakery/cafe which made delicious ice-tea and delicious ‘fusion’ type bake goods with a Frenchy feel but definitely with Japanese flavours.
This one street in Shibuya: Kamiyamacho
Shibuya is the ‘shop yourself crazy’ area of Tokyo with several malls which are just H.U.G.E. Like seven stories of mall! However, if you start walking towards Yoyogi Park you find Kamiyamacho street. Along the road you will find some beautiful little shops,an independent publishing bookshop and a Monocle shop which I was hoping would have coffee but didn’t.
However, we did find the one decent coffee that we had in Japan at a Norwegian coffee shop that makes Italian coffee called Fuglen.
Just a nice quiet place to walk around and gather your thoughts while watching the Japanese be Japanese. Playing basketball, reading the newspaper, cycling by.
I really enjoyed seeing contemporary art curated in a Japanese gallery. The Japanese aesthetic really came through in particular in this exhibition on Form and Shape which I really enjoyed. If you like art I would suggest heading to this gallery as you can also get a view of Japan from the 52nd floor.
Sky High Juice bar did some great smoothies. It is a little bit out of the way but we really needed a vegetable and fruit hit.
I would fully recommend our airbnb.
Itoya stationery store in Ginza is amazing. Seven floors!
Just a late night post because I am editing pictures of Japan and this was our first sunset that we spotted – through the buildings (because Tokyo is pretty flat and there are a lot of high rises).
Also love their cabs, although we obviously didn’t get one.
Japan. A mythical land far away that came to life for us over the two weeks we were there.
Before I go into any detail posts I thought I would just share some summary thoughts and layout our itinerary that we followed.
We spent 14 nights in Japan which went a little like this:
- We arrived in Tokyo at 6 am on a Monday morning. We spent four nights in the big city in the Ikebukuro neighbourhood. Ikebukuro is the second busiest station in Tokyo but we stayed about 15 minutes walk from the station in what seemed like a quiet suburban area.
- We then took the train to Takayama which is much calmer and has an old town which is has been preserved and was really beautiful. We spent two nights in a traditional hotel for our anniversary. As a bonus, the train ride to Takayama is absolutely beautiful through the mountains.
- Next up was Hiroshima for 1 night. This was a very interesting place to visit and I quite liked the town. In retrospect I would have spent 2 nights to do a daytrip to another nearby town which we missed. Also I would have gone to Kyoto first as the travel times would have made more sense.
- Then we were in Kyoto for 5 nights. I LOVED Kyoto. It is a much more ‘human sized’ city than Tokyo and we stayed in a convenient neighbourhood for sight-seeing and exploring and just living.
- Finally we spent two nights in Osaka (as we were flying out of Osaka). In my opinion Osaka felt more like a town that you live in than you go to on holiday.
The Japanese Rail Pass is really worth it and easy to use. We got a 7 days pass that we used from leaving Tokyo. We then only had to buy a single ticket from Kyoto to Osaka at the end of our trip. You have to order the Pass in advance but it was couriered to us and when we were ready to start using it we just went to the station and it took about 25 minutes to exchange.
Some other short thoughts:
- Japanese people are really the most polite, helpful and friendly people.
- June/July (also known as the rainy season) is probably not the best time to visit. It is HUMID!
- As you can see from the pictures above the landscape is pretty varied from urban jungles to mountains and a lot of rice paddies in between.
- Getting up a little early means you miss the crowds. We rarely felt like we were shuffling along with the tourist crowds which was quite refreshing.
- I could have spent a fortune. Be warned! Japan is full of beautiful, well made and lovely things.
- Matcha might be a trendy item at the moment but you can keep your matcha lattes and matcha cakes for yourself.
- Maybe it was because we hadn’t done enough research but it was quite hard eating out (or even shopping) as a vegetarian. It was just difficult to tell what was totally vegetarian and we did have a couple incidents of meat in our salad or fish sauce in our noodles. We eventually just stuck to eating the same things from a very prolific supermarket. Happy Cow is useful but if you are staying in Tokyo for instance which is massive (I mean MAAASive) the restaurants are really spread out and without them all being mapped it is hard to tell where convenient places are. Food, particularly fruit, is also surprisingly expensive.
I’ll be back soon with more photos and details of places we visited.