One week in Japan just wasn’t enough. A few days in Tokyo and a Mt Fuji summit was a teaser and barely an introduction: Mt Fuji 1 and Mt Fuji 2. Six months later, I decided to return for a longer period of time to allow more time to explore.
I thought you could escape the crowds by visiting in February, but I guess it doesn’t matter when you go, there will always be floods of people everywhere. The winter weather in Tokyo and Kyoto is similar to New York with perhaps less snow, so you still have to layer up. Other packing advice I can give would be to have a lot of yen handy since credit cards aren’t always accepted. Also, samurai umbrellas must be checked in (not hand luggage), weird rule. Make sure to brush up on your kanji reading and conversational Japanese; you’ll need it from time to time. Finally, print some maps or download offline maps to reduce how often you lose your way.
My itinerary consisted of Tokyo (東京), Kyoto (京都), Osaka (大阪), and as much in between that I could think of. The best way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto is by using the Shinkansen (新幹線) or bullet train. If you’re planning to do that as well as other day trips using JR trains, then it makes sense to purchase the JR week pass. I saved about 50% on transportation by using the JR week pass.
This was mostly a travel day. A 13 hour direct flight from JFK to Narita airport (成田空港). Japan Airlines is pretty good. The view is mostly upper Canada, Alaska, and the sea. No northern lights during my flight unfortunately. So after surviving a looong flight, you have to travel a bit more after landing since Tokyo is more than an hour away from Narita airport. Either the Narita Express train or Airport Limousine are good choices. Shinjuku (新宿) or Shibuya (渋谷) are great locations to use as home base. I chose a spot really close to Shinjuku station; a major train station hub that is like 2 Grand Central stations. After being awake for almost 20 hours, there is just about enough energy left for a small stroll in Shinjuku and maybe a quick meal at Takashimaya mall, Yasukuni Dori, or Omoide Yokocho [Yakitori street/Memory Lane/Piss alley]. And finally, a good night’s rest.
Day 2: Tokyo Skytree, Harajuku, and Shibuya
What better way to start exploring a big city than looking down upon it from the highest point. The highest point would be the Tokyo Skytree. I thought it would be best to arrive at 9am when it opens to avoid long lines. Well, we did manage to walk right in without waiting on a line at all, but at the expense of getting on the train during morning rush hour. I’m a regular NYC subway rush hour commuter, but its child’s play compared to the sardine squeeze I felt in Shinjuku. Well, the skies were clear and the trip was worth it. And although I’ve been to the top of Mt Fuji, this would be the first time I get to see the mountain without it hiding in the clouds. The last photo shows the Skytree’s shadow over the city.
Next stop, Harajuku (原宿). Takeshita Dori has loads of good souvenir shops, eat spots, and stores. Also, this street is usually packed with people, even if it’s a weekday in February.
One of my favorite spots is the Laser Trap room right by the entrance of this street; a fun small obstacle course in a dark room with lasers at various difficulty levels.
After walking through Takeshita Dori, you make a right, and reach Ometesando Dori after a few blocks. Luke’s Lobster sells the best lobster rolls and there’s always a line because everybody knows it’s good.
Themed cafes everywhere. So we tried a bunch of these throughout the trip starting with a rabbit cafe called RAAGF (rabbit and get fat). You get a beverage and 30 minutes to interact with a bunch of rabbits. You choose 2 rabbits for feeding (we chose Roco and Chame).
The Kotori bird cafe was about 15-20 minutes away on foot. You can sit and order bird themed sweets and drinks and also get 5 minutes to interact with a some birds. The big bird is a cockatoo and has a thing for taking off hats.
Another 15-20 walk to get to the famous Shibuya station crossing. It’s always fun to cross this 5 way intersection for some reason. The Starbucks on the second floor gives you a good view of the scramble.
One of my favorite sushi spots is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant called Genki sushi. It’s about 3 blocks away from the scramble. It’s easy to make friends too.
Still a bit jet lagged, we headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night at around 7pm.