Tokyo in one day?

Tokyo in one day?

Tokyo– a city with 38 million residents can be overwhelming when you first arrive. How do you even start to navigate such a huge city?  I recommend a walking tour, it will get your blood moving, and give you a good idea about the lay of a city that really is like 10 mega cities rolled into one. Our trip to the top of the Government Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku really gave us an idea how massive Tokyo is, thousands of skyscrapers, as far as the eye can see.

For our first day in Tokyo we decided on using the “Backstreet guides” for the “Absolute Tokyo Tour.” The tour started at 9:00 AM At Shimbashi station and ended at 4:00 at Yanika. It included Sushi Breakfast and Udon lunch.. Our guide Rie, whipped us around some of the highlights of Tokyo, we met some other fun travelers, had lots of laughs and got a great look at Tokyo from a local’s perspective. If you are travelling to Tokyo on business or like us are looking for a good introduction to Tokyo this is absolutely the way to go.

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Sushi Breakfast at the outer Tsukiji Fish Market.

Tsukiji Market.

Finally! I made it to the famous Tsukiji Market. As a sushi lover and lover of all things aquatic this was a highlight. One of the huge benefits of a walking tour with only nine other participants is the intimate knowledge you get from the guide. She 081explained to us that as the Tsukiji Market is a working market, and how we needed to be careful of busy traders trying to do their work among the hordes of irritating tourists. The market itself is beautiful, YES, beautiful, heaving with life and the smell of the sea,  sadly this market is slated to close and move to a more modern facility. Likely losing much of its charm, but making life for the fishermen far more easy. 082Is the fish market for you? If you are not a fan of fish, probably not a good stop, as the smell is strong and fish plentiful,  I could have spent hours looking at all of the stalls, a full day, but when part of a walking tour, one must keep up.

There are several Sushi Restaurants around the Fish Market, many with long line ups. I asked our guide if the wait was worth it. She told me that some of the people would be standing for three hours to get a table and that no Japanese person would ever wait that long. Looking back on my gastronomical adventures in Japan, I am glad I never wasted three hours waiting , when sushi that was beyond my wildest expectations could be found nearly on every corner, with no wait. After a brief stop for a sushi breakfast we were on our way to Asakusa.

Asakusa, home to the Nakamise shopping street and Sensoji Temple was a great stop.

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Rie and Tokyo Skytree

The shopping street was busy and filled with souvenirs and people. At the end of the street was the beautiful Sensoji temple. (You can see Sensoji with the grey roof and the Pagoda at the top of the picture below) It was here that our guide showed us how to properly prepare to enter a Shrine. Again, super helpful to have Rhea tell us what to do and how to purify ourselves. When we were alone later in the trip, we were like old pro’s as the other Western tourists were stumbling around, trying to figure it out. All this walking was making us hungry… next stop..Lunch!

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Nakamise

We made a quick trip to the base of the Tokyo Sky Tree, for our Udon Lunch, delicious!

In the picture below you will notice what appears to be Geisha. This is not the case, a very curious tourism phenomenon in Japan is where foreigners come to Japan and rent a Geisha outfit for the day and then wonder around town. Unwitting tourists pose for pictures with these “fake” Geisha who are also tourists, often from other Asian countries.  Its weird. Again, something I learned from the tour guide.

Akihabara.  Also known as electric town, Akihabara is the place to go if you are, into cosplay, ainime and manga.  It is home to the Tokyo Anime center and full of life.  While we were in Akihabara, our guide showed us the “Maid cafes” these are restaurants where the staff are dressed as highly stylized maids and serves the clients accordingly, calling men “Master” and women “Mistress.” So weird! Apparently it is not sexual in any way and supposed to be cute. As the Japanese guide was telling us about the cafes we were all pretty weirded out, but she wasn’t phased at all. I think if I go back I will try it out so I can fully report back… but for now, just know that Akihabara has these maid cafe’s all over the place.

Final stop on the tour was Yanaka. To see what old Tokyo was like you head here. It was the perfect place to end the day.

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We wandered though the cemetery and Tennoji Temple and learned about the burial customs in Japan. The cemetery is more like a park with beautiful trees and flowers. This final stop gave me a chance to breathe, realize that yes, we were in Japan and it was awesome!  The day was filled with laughs with our fellow travelers on the tour, a family from Chicago and three friends from Australia. When the tour ended we said our goodbyes to Rie, our wonderful guide from “Backstreet Guides” and decided to all go for coffee.

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The coffee shop, like much of Yanaka felt like old  Japan, all the signs were in Japanese, including the menu. The owner was, well, grumpy. He was not pleased with the arrival of nine boisterous tourists walking into his shop. The coffee was incredible, the beans were roasted in house and we sat and watched with wonder as he prepared each cup. No wonder he was cranky, he was an artist and we came roaring in like we were walking into a Starbucks! Lesson here, is you can’t rush art and when you enter an artist’s studio, pick up on the vibes rather than interrupting them.

We said our goodbyes to our new friends and stumbled home. We had been walking since 7:00AM (we started the day early as we were eager to get going) and it was now close to 6:00PM.  We had a great day and now had a good idea of how to use the subways and trains, we learned a lot about Japanese customs and now were ready to continue exploring Japan on our own over the next 8 Days. Next post…. Harajuku, Tokyo. Owl Café, Delicious food, Meiji Shrine, funky fashion and more.

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Yanaka Coffee Artist

 

Japan- What’s with the face masks?

Japan- What’s with the face masks?

So, as I am looking through my media for pictures to post for my next article on Tokyo, I am reminded how many people in Japan wore surgical face masks. The above picture is taken at Shinjuku station at 8:30AM. At first it can be quite unnerving. Is there a mass epidemic that I don’t know about? What is going on? This is weird!  After talking to some Japanese people this is what I have discovered.

1. People don’t always wear the masks because they are sick. Yep, they wear them for other reasons. Like, they need to go to the store to get something quickly and they haven’t washed their face or brushed their teeth.  Or that they have a pimple that they are not happpy with etc. Its a way of getting out of the house when you don’t look your best and not getting recognized. CRAZY, you may say but I know lots of people here in Canada who will not leave the house until they are fully groomed and this takes hours 😉 For them, this strategy may actually be quite efficient.

2. People wear them not only when they are sick but to prevent getting sick from others. I will never forget getting on the train at Shinjuku station at 6:00AM bound for the fish market and the train was standing room only. Not packed like at 8:00AM but as full as the subways get in Toronto during rush hour and it was 6:00 AM! In Tokyo, you get pretty close to strangers and I guess people feel they are protecting themselves from germs by wearing the mask.

3. People are sick and are polite and do not want to spread their germs.

4. Apparently, it helps protect against season allergies.

5. I was told that some people wear it as a way to shut themselves off from the world and not have to make pleasantries. This is kind of like how I wear headphones sometimes when I am working at my computer as a signal to others not to come and talk to me because I can’t hear them due to my music.

So there you have it, another weird and wacky but kind of sensible Japanese topic that you have to see to believe. If any of my Japanese readers have anything to rebut or add please let me know…. and now …back to writing 5 Days in Tokyo.

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Food handler in Kyoto, is she sick, trying to stay healthy, suffering from allergies or just shy? Hmmmmm…. I am going to go with shy. The Yuba with cheese was delicious!

 

How to Plan a Trip to Japan.

How to Plan a Trip to Japan.
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Day 9- Maruyama- koen. Kyoto.

I like to think I know what I am doing, but man, planning a trip to Japan was a humbling experience. Where to stay? How to get around the country? What is a Japan Rail Pass and is it worth it for a 10 day trip? What the heck is a “Hakone Free Pass”? Why is the Imperial Palace not on any of the “Top Ten Tokyo Sites” lists? These are some of the questions that I faced and I spent a lot of time researching and planning my epic adventure and will share my findings with you in my series of posts on Japan.  I hope the following series will help you plan your trip to Japan or if you are a tourism student, plan a FIT for a client. Regardless, I would love to hear any other bloggers opinions or advice on planning a trip to Japan, if you feel I have left something out.

My first post in the series looks at:

Steps for Planning a Trip to Japan.

1. Figure out how much time you have. If you only have a week on the ground, this limits your overnight options significantly. We had 11 travel days in total. 8 full days (9 nights) on the ground and this gave us enough time to have 3 different overnights. We spent 5 nights in Tokyo, 1 Night in Hakone, 3 nights in Kyoto.  I felt Tokyo (5) was just right, Hakone (1) was just right but Kyoto (3) was too short. I would say you need at least 4 nights  in Kyoto.

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Getting around Tokyo

2. Buy a good Travel Book on Japan. We had the Lonely Planet Guide. I actually bought three different companies books but the Lonely Planet “Discover Japan” was the best. Some of you may think you can find everything online, I found the book was my go to first source for information.

3.Decide on a Budget and stick to it.  When people think of travel to Japan, they think expensive, I say, not true. I used points for eight nights of my hotels but otherwise paid for flights and all other expenses. We ate locally, used public transit and came in with final per person costs of $1000 for flights on Air Canada. $330 for Japan Rail Pass. $40 for Hakone Free Pass. $30 for other transportation. $400 for our Traditional Ryokan. (This included Dinner and Breakfast and was by far the most expensive part of the trip.) Breakfast was around $8 Lunch around $8 and Dinner was anything from a $5 Tako Yaki to $20 for more sushi than you can dream of.  Most attractions are free of charge and other than a Walking Tour of Tokyo ($100) and a Cooking Lesson ($90) the rest was spent on shopping.

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Day 10 -Nara.

4. Look at the time of year you want to travel we were there right smack in the middle of cherry blossom season (end of March beginning of April) and I can’t imagine a better time to be there. A lot of the pleasure we found for free in Japan was likely due to the tremendous beauty at this time of year. We also found the outdoor eating atmosphere incredibly fun and inexpensive. I am quite sure it would have been different if we had gone in the middle of winter or summer  I do understand that the fall is a beautiful time of year to travel to Japan as well but as far as I am concerned after being in Japan during the Cherry Blossom season, this is THE time to go. Yes there were crowds, but never so many that it took away from the atmosphere.

5.Decide on what you hope to see and do. Fashion? History? Culture? Nature? Wildlife? Food Experiences? For us it was all of the above and but thinking about what we really wanted to do helped us plan an itinerary that was a good balance between all of our interests. Travel experiences do not just happen like an amusement park ride. Sometimes you have to put research into what you really want. I am often asked questions about Travel options that would require hours of research. We are such an instant gratification kind of society now, good travel experiences take a bit of time and effort, you can do it!

6.Pull it all together. You have figured out how much time you can spare, read a great travel book, figured out a budget, determined your season of travel and decided what your interests are. Now its time to pull it together. For us, as it was our first trip to Japan our itinerary looked like this:

Day One:     Depart Toronto (lose a day crossing the date line)

Day Two:      Arrive Tokyo at 3:40 ( Arrive at hotel at 6:00PM by bus)

Day Three:  Tokyo – Walking Tour of Tokyo (8 hours) Visit: The Tsukiji Fish market, Asakusa, Akihabara, Yanaka.

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Day 3 – Yanaka Cemetery

Day Four:    Tokyo– Cooking Lesson in the morning. Afternoon exploring. Shibuya – Shinjuku

Day Five:     Tokyo-Meji Shrine. Harajuku. Ueno Park for Hanami Viewing

Day Six:       Tokyo-Free Day to go back to places we loved.

Day Seven:   Leave Tokyo at 7:00 for Hakone. Arrive at Hakone at 10:00 AM. Try Onsen and Traditional Ryokan. See Mt Fuji.

Day Eight:    Hakone- Kyoto. Afternoon stroll along the Path of  Philosophy in Kyoto.

Day Nine:    Kyoto- Arashiyama. Bamboo Grove.  Arashiyama Monkey Park. Evening stroll through Gion. Dinner in Maruyama-koen under the Cherry Blossoms

Day Ten:    Kyoto – Early morning departure for Nara. Hall of Great Budda, Deer Park. Afternoon visit at Nijiki Market in Kyoto.

Day Eleven:    Kyoto- Tokyo – Toronto. Bullet Train to Tokyo, Local train to Haneida. Flight to Toronto. Arrive home. (ALL in one day due to time zones)

There are so many other options for Japan, but for a first time visit this seemed like the best for us. If you have less time. Leave out Hakone as it takes up two days. Quite a few travellers we ran into were only there for 7 nights. This is not nearly enough. Their itineraries basically were 4 nights Kyoto and 3 nights Tokyo. I would say that if you can swing it you need two weeks. That way you could also visit Hiroshima if you are interested in Military History and perhaps Matsumoto to see the castle. But what can you do, time is limited for most of us, I get that. Just DO NOT OVER SCHEDULE YOURSELF. Because trust me, along the way you will get distracted by beautiful surprises, gorgeous views and fantastic travel experiences that can’t be rushed.

Next Post; 5 Days in Tokyo. What to see, where to stay, getting around, what to expect.

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Night Time Tako Yaki

 

 

 

 

Japan…coming soon.

Japan…coming soon.

I am writing this post on my iPhone, while laying on a futon on the floor of my ryokan. Japan has surprising limited and slow wifi so let’s  just say it doesn’t make for easy writing… But fear not, I will be posting a series of articles when I return to my beloved Canada

Japan, it’s fast and slow. Old and new. Delicious and disgusting. A country of contrasts. Fascinating, exhausting and incredibly beautiful. I can’t wait to share my adventures with you.

Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku 2016