Expat Travels: Hai, Tokyo!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I spent the past week in magnificent Tokyo, and it was a great time:

At the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

It's Chuseok here in Korea, and for us foreigners it's either prime time to explore the country [literally everyone leaves to be with their families] or it's a holiday. You already know which one I chose :)

Visiting Japan was long overdue. I was completely overwhelmed with planning for Tokyo. I had a hard time narrowing down a neighborhood to lodge in. Hotels in Tokyo are dumb expensive, super tiny, and not as efficient as one would expect for such high price points. I decided on an Airbnb near Shibuya Station and I was very pleased.

Small but efficient lodging.
Photo via Airbnb

Small but efficient in Shibuya
Photo via Airbnb

And lucky me, a short 10 minute walk from my Airbnb was the world famous scramble crossing.
It's the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, I caught them at a good time.

I would recommend that anyone planning a trip to Tokyo choose one neighborhood and explore all that it has to offer. I wore myself out trying to see and do things that were spread out from one another, over the course of a week's time. The neighborhoods are massive, and it would take more than a week or two to discover all that they have to offer.

One thing that made the journey easier was good ole Google, and the Tokyo metro subway app. You will want to download this particular app before you get there. The app gives you offline directions for stations within the Tokyo central area. Now, make sure you download the right one; there are about 30 different apps for Tokyo's subway system. I kid you not.

Enter your destination, and the app gives you the trip time and price.

One thing to note about this app is that it does not include the JR line routes. I used Google search for that. I literally typed in my destination, and the train directions with departure time and price in yen popped up right up. No worries.

To get around, you will want to get a Suica card from the information booth at the train station. You get to choose how much you want to load on it, less a 500 yen fee for the card. I only used Suica; I did not find the JR pass necessary as I spent most of my time within the Tokyo prefecture or nearby. You can reload it in increments of 1000 yen [$10], and if you have money left at the end of your trip they will refund it back if you want.

 Things to know before you go:

  • I did not have much of an issue with language barrier, but I will count myself lucky. I had previously heard that English was not widespread in Tokyo. Most of the expats that I met spoke fluent Japanese, so knowledge of basic terms will make your life easier.

  • Another thing to know before you go is that many of Tokyo's ATMs do not take foreign bank cards. In fact, the only place that you can get cash is at the 7-11 stores and the post offices. Even in the airport, they had signs advising foreigners to get cash from 7-11. Straight like that. I went to my bank here in Korea and bought some yen before leaving. 

  • Surprisingly, Tokyo was not as expensive as I thought it'd be outside of lodging. Each train ride cost about 2 or $3, my train ride from Shibuya back to Haneda airport was $7, and most eateries were surprisingly cheap [by East Asia standards] as well. I ended up leaving with some money.

  • One rainy morning while in a glorious sleepy stupor, my bed started to sway. Apparently earthquakes and small tremors are common here. I know Japan has had a number of earthquakes and tsunamis through the years, but I still wasn't ready.

  • Tokyo is MASSIVE. I stress making the most of your trip by narrowing your activities down to what's available in your neighborhood. Shibuya is minutes away from Harajuku, Shinjuku and Roppongi. If you insist on wearing yourself out like I did, venture to those places that are nearby. When I visited the Skytree out in Asakusa, it took 40 minutes by train to get there. Doesn't seem like a lot, but there was plenty to do where I already was. 
Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa; view from the Asahi Beer Headquarters.
It was cheaper to have a drink here with a view, than pay to take the ride up the skytree.

Tea and cake with a view.
The skytree is popular but it's 40 mins away from central Tokyo

Quirky Harajuku was only 2 minutes from Shibuya by train.
Not sure what's going on here [LOL]


Harajuku fashion is one of a kind
Stunts with 'zilla in Shinjuku

Godzilla is the official ambassador of Tokyo, go say hey to him and check out Shinjuku.
Shinjuku was everything!

  • Tokyo has Yelp! If you're overwhelmed with food choices, and there are MANY, use Yelp to help you narrow your search. Tokyo has everything from their traditional dishes to soul food, to Caribbean food and the basic western restaurants. I did not anticipate this being a foodie trip but I sure wasn't complaining, either!

    Straight from the airport to Soul Food House @148 in Roppongi!

    So when ever I want my fix, I can just go over to Tokyo, yassss!

    Another fatty blessing, Good Wood Terrace in Shibuya.
    The jerk was legit, the chef was a Jamaican man.

    I even found one of my favs in Ikebukuro, thanks to Yelp!
    Cinnamon sugar beignets and Green Tea Au Lait; missing it so!

    And of course the pretty delicacies and desserts

    Green tea with tapioca pearls. I reaaaally love green tea flavor.

    Japanese curry with chicken and rice.
    That veggie juice was heaven, too.

    Healthier offerings

    I ate real good in Tokyo. I didn't get to have my tempura but another trip will be had just to eat. Trust!

    Tokyo is known for its theme cafes. You can dine with cats, owls, Sanrio characters and more. You can also have dinner in a jail cell with zombies at the Lock Up cafe. I was fortunate enough to get to the mother of all theme cafes, the Robot Restaurant. The experience was truly unique. I hear if you have some sake before the show, it enhances the fun.

    Without giving too much of the concept away, just know that you're in for a lot of fun. It was the highlight of my trip and I would consider it a must-do for any visitor.

    There is plenty of fun to be had in Tokyo, and there is also plenty of culture. I ventured out of the Tokyo prefecture for a day and went down to Kamakura to explore the beaches and the Daibutsu, also known as the Big Buddha. I have an appreciation for the Buddha. It took about an hour and change to get there by train, but I didn't get lost and it was a comfy ride.

    Adult entry fee to see Daibutsu is 200 yen

    Eat here on your way back, trust me on this!

    Souvenir anyone? LOL

    The beaches near Kamakura aren't anything to write home about, plus it was rainy.

    You will also want to get to the Hokoku-ji temple while in Kamakura. You can do matcha there [have green tea] and visit the gorgeous bamboo garden.

    In Tokyo, I visited the Meiji Shrine. The grounds were a lot larger than I expected but they were serene and popular.

    The washing of the hands before entering the shrine, do not skip this.

    It is also considered respectful to bow before entering and after exiting a shrine.

    Shrine within a shrine within a shrine

    I judged Tokyo all wrong. I totally expected this uber futuristic, super cluttered and super fast paced metropolis that I would be eager to see and be out. Tokyo is indeed one of the largest and most massive cities in the world, and also the most populated. But it felt residential and calm enough to immensely enjoy. The people are very friendly and helpful. It was not OD sensory overload even though it is high tech. Despite its size and population, nothing felt cluttered or busy, not anymore so than Seoul at least. I am glad that I was wrong, and I was a little sad to leave. 

    Tokyo was like meeting a person that you have a strong connection with, and then having to leave without an adequate goodbye. As soon as the opportunity presents itself again, I will absolutely be back. I would love to explore more of Japan, but Tokyo is still calling out to me. If you have the opportunity to visit, take your time with Tokyo. It will require many visits to get the full array of the city. In a word, it's dope; and I didn't even nip the surface of Shibuya alone.

    Oh, also:

    Wasabi flavored kit kat bars. YES LAWD.
    And don't you dare knock it, 'til ya try it.

    These, and the green tea kit kats that I got from Tokyo Station, won't survive the weekend.

    Yeah. I'll be back. ;-)

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    1. Interesting! What your thoughts were about Tokyo before going is what I imagine which is why it has never been high in my list compared to other countries in Asia. Although I am from NYtC and love big cities it's never appealed to me for some reason. I can only imagine the excitement the Olympics will bring! You packed a lot in! That robot cafe looked interesting lol. So funny to see Cafe Du Monde and soul food restaurants. I love all the variety!

      1. I did not know you were from NYC! Having been to both now, though, they definitely don't compare at all to me. Tokyo is bustling but much more calm. NYC never sleeps, truly nothing like it :)

    2. Looks like you had an amazing time in Tokyo! Good for you. It certainly is massive and all you can do is scratch the surface. I really loved going to the various Shrines and eating the food. That Kit-Kat though? I could not deal :-). I didn't like any of the flavors. Did you see the Kit-Kat store? massive store with every flavor you can think of.

      1. I went to a Korean store in Tokyo Station for these. And since I've returned to Korea I've found the green tea bars [squeal!!!] I knew I wouldn't be touching the others with a pole. Purple Sweet Potato? No ma'am.

    3. NYC is exactly what I thought about as well. The subway map alone has me in sensory overload!������ Looks like a fun trip, but one I'd have to take with no kiddos.

    4. I can tell by the way you wrote this and the things that you enjoyed that you're going to love Osaka. It's even friendlier and more laid back. Congrats on what looks like an epic trip!

      1. Yes! Osaka and Kyoto are definitely on the list. Culture junkie!

    5. Wow, it's so huge! I can imagine being overwhelmed with all of the options and places to see. Looks like you had a great time!

    6. I've always wanted to travel to Japan. Thank you for the bird's eye view and your honest opinions!

    7. Jamaican jerk chicken in China! Wonders never cease. Some day, when the money is there, I'd really love to travel too. First stops - Botswana and Ghana! Then Europe.

    8. Tokoyo is ok my bucket list! Thanks for sharing your awesome experience.

    9. Looks like you had an amazing time in Tokyo! I definitely have to get this on my travel list.

    10. Looks like a great trip. I'd love to go to Tokyo. I really like the green tea flavored kit kats.

    11. Great post! I loved your commentary and the descriptive photos. You got me wanting to visit Tokyo! Thanks for sharing your experience. I've added Japan to my travel list.

    12. Your lodging looks so freaking cute. It looks like the way I imagined for Tokyo. The transit map makes my head spin. The themed cafe look really cool to experience.

    13. Amazing! I went to Japan earlier this week and I loved it. It was for work so I didn't get to see everything that you did but I will definitely be visiting again.

    14. Amazing! I went to Japan earlier this week and I loved it. It was for work so I didn't get to see everything that you did but I will definitely be visiting again.

    15. Very nice! Thanks for giving us a tour of a new place through your eyes. I loved the pictures you shared.

    16. Thanks for sharing your trip with us!


    17. You had me at food. All. The. Food! I wanted to visit Tokyo years ago, but never made it there. I see that I'm gonna have to make this thang happen :-)

    18. Great write up. I have a long layover in Tokyo next week and plan to check out some of the places you listed.