In what feels like ages ago even though it was only a little over a month, Kaitlyn and I spent 28 days in Japan. After spending time in Taiwan and Korea, we were expecting to spend more in Japan. As with the other spending summary posts, hopefully this can help you get an estimate of how much you might spend in Japan on your own travels. Let’s see how things worked out.
Over the course of 28 days (and 27 nights), we spent a total of $5,712.93, which works out to be $204/day. As with the other spending summary posts, all dollar amounts are in Canadian Dollars. This was more than we spent in Korea, and around double the cost of our travels in Taiwan. Here’s the breakdown:
And here’s how things compared with Taiwan and Korea.
We stayed at a variety of places in Japan, but they were all pretty “conventional” when you take into consideration some of the quirkier places you could spend a night in Japan. Of the 27 nights we spent in Japan, 7 of those nights were complimentary thanks to my great-aunt “hosting” us in Osaka. The remaining nights were spent in various hotels and an AirBnB in Tokyo. Looking only at the accommodations we paid for, our average cost per night in Japan was $76.79. This was actually less than I expected it to be, but a lot of that has to do with finding a very reasonably priced AirBnB in Tokyo, which is the most expensive city in Japan. Overall, I was quite happy with the final cost as we still kept things below what our rent would be in Vancouver (~$60/night).
Food prices vary widely in Japan, but nothing ever feels unreasonably priced. You get what you pay for in Japan, and that price range can be big. However, especially when you take into consideration the prices, it’s hard to have a bad meal in Japan. Even the cheapest eats are likely to leave you satisfied and pleased with its quality.
The cost of food was quite close to Korea, with Kait and I spending $61.77/day. The higher spending in Japan can be attributed to more “splurge meals” than we had in Korea. The food in Japan was more in line with our tastes, so we found more opportunities to go for an more expensive meals (i.e. $20+/person lunches or $50+/person dinners). I would say anywhere from $20-40 / person / day is a very reasonable budget estimate for food in Japan.
Transportation was where the biggest increase in spending was compared to Taiwan and Korea. Moving from city to city in Japan can be expensive, and while not unreasonable, transportation within cities can also quickly add up.
The bulk of our transportation costs came from just 2 things: domestic flights and trains. Both of these modes of transportation can be expensive, but there are many options to reduce your costs if you do your research. For trains, Kait and I purchased 14 day JR Rail Passes which cost $558 each. Rail passes can be good value, but you need to compare the cost of a rail pass with your planned itinerary to make sure you’re saving money with the rail pass. Also, don’t feel limited to JR Rail Passes. There are other (less expensive) options out there, especially if you’re only planning to travel around a certain area, and not all over Japan. For flights, we booked 2 domestic flights where each flight segment cost $130. Both JAL and ANA have promotional flight pricing at around 10,000JPY / segment for foreign travellers with international tickets in and out of Japan. This makes air travel very competitive with train travel as long as the places you’re travelling to are covered by direct flights from either airline.
Other than those two major transportation expenditures, all the remaining spending mostly came from travel within cities on subways, and the occasional bus our train rides. Budgeting $10-$20/day/person for transportation within cities in Japan would be a good place to start, moving up and down the range depending on how much you want to walk, and how often you opt for taxis instead of taking transit.
Activity spending is really dependent on the traveller with regards to how much you need to budget. Kait and I spent an average of $16.80/day on activities, but in reality, we didn’t even spend money on “activities” for most of the days (17 out of 28 days to be exact). Most days Kait and I are happy to just walk around a city, which is free. Here are some spending highlights:
Most Expensive: $183.66 for the Tokyo DisneySea
Most fun bang for your buck: $24 baseball tickets
Best Japanese Experience: $27.12 Onsen admission
Most recommended: $7.20 Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum
So, that’s it for the Japanese Spending Summary. Next up on our travel itinerary is Australia and New Zealand. I’m expecting these two countries to be the most expensive, but we’ll see how they stack up compared to Japan.
It was our last full day in Sapporo and in Japan. We decided to take the train out of Sapporo and go to a city called Otaru. Otaru is located on the water on the north shore of Hokkaido. It’s a small quaint town with a lot of neat shops and museums. The streets downtown used to be the “Wall Street of the North”.
The train ride from Sapporo Station is about 30 minutes and costs 640 JPY each way. Too bad we didn’t have our JR passes any more. The train to Otaru is the last stop on the same line that takes you to the Chitose Airport (Sapporo Station is in the middle of the two). The train ride to Otaru was very scenic. About half way to Otaru from Sapporo, the train runs right along the coast and you can see views of the snow capped mountains on the other side of the train. The sun was shining and the ocean was a deep blue. It was beautiful.
We arrived at Otaru Station and headed straight for the fish market. Sankaku Fish Market is located directly to the left of the station (Tim: when exiting). Hokkaido is known for their seafood, particularly their scallops, crab (king, snow, hairy), salmon roe, and uni (sea urchin). The market is a small strip of a few vendors as well as restaurants (some a lot busier than others). The restaurants mostly served seafood rice bowls of all sorts, sashimi, and grilled seafood. We put our name down at one that looked most appealing to us and waited about 10 minutes before getting called in.
The restaurant was called Takeda, and after looking at their promotional brochures, it looked like the Takeda group has multiple seafood shops within the fish market. We ordered a plate of fatty salmon sashimi (600 JPY for 8 pieces) to share and I ordered a salmon and scallop don (it was a special order because I’m not a huge fan of uni or ikura/fish roe) and Tim ordered salmon with fish roe (both for 1,200 JPY = $14.30 CAD). Each don was served with a bowl of miso soup. The fish was laid out so nicely and everything was fresh and tasty. The scallops were my favourite as they were plump and sweet. Hokkaido uni is very popular and many people were ordering plates of it. The guy beside us ordered the chef special chirashi (deluxe assorted, for 3,000 JPY = $35 CAD). It looked really pretty. I was tempted (but I resisted) to ask him if I could take a picture of it before he ate.
After lunch, we walked into town and went to the Otaru Canal, which is one of their major attractions. The sightseeing part of Otaru is all within walking distance from the train station, which makes it really easy to come for a day trip from Sapporo. While walking around Otaru and seeing their old buildings, the architecture and style of the buildings were all very western.
There were a couple of museums that we wanted to check out: the Finance Museum at the former Bank of Japan building, and the Music Box Museum. All the museums in town (Tim: that we went to) are free to go in, which is great.
The Bank of Japan building, which is located on the former “Wall Street of the north”, is now Otaru’s Finance Museum. They show the history of Japan’s currency and how it has evolved to what it is today. I thought the best part of this museum was going into the vault and being able to pick up a stack of 100 million Yen (I’ve never held so much money in my life and probably never will). All of the signage is in Japanese with no other translation, but when you get into the museum they give you an English pamphlet with information of what you’ll see when you go in. On our way out we watched a (Tim: English dubbed) video about how the Bank of Japan works and the role that the central bank plays. While watching it, I felt like I was in school learning about basic economics and inflation.
We walked down one of the main streets in Otaru that was filled with shops that sold mostly Otaru sweet and snacks. The most popular store in Otaru is LeTAO bakery. They have multiple locations in Otaru (you’ll also see their merchandise at stores in Sapporo and probably around Japan) and are famous for their dairy based merchandise – cheesecake, cheese crackers, cheese and chocolate cookies, chocolate, and ice cream. Walking down this street and going into the multiple LeTAO locations, Tim and I tried everything they sold. They give samples of everything (and big ones at that). They have a sale associate standing outside their stores with either a tray of chocolates or a whole cheesecake to scoop samples for you. Their merchandise was very good. I really enjoyed their cheesecakes and chocolate. If they have LeTAO merchandise at Haneda, I’ll probably buy some to bring back home in the summer.
After our little food tour, we ended up at the famous steam clock in Otaru. It reminded us of Gastown and as we got closer to it, we saw plaques all around the steam clock’s base that said “Gastown, Vancouver, BC, Canada”. Being away from home for 2 months, I was really excited to see something from home in any shape or form. It turns out that the steam clock maker from Vancouver also made this one in Otaru, the cast of the Gastown clock was used in this one. The steam clock is located right in front of a music box store and museum. When you go in, the whole ground floor is full of tiny music boxes and as you go up to different levels the music boxes get more expensive and fancy.
We walked through town some more and eventually made our way back to the train station. Otaru is a very small, charming, and beautiful city with a lot of character. I’m glad we spent our last day here as it was different from other cities in Japan that we had visited. We had planned to have dinner in Otaru but we didn’t see anything that caught our eye. Most of the restaurants served seafood dons, similar to what we had for lunch so we decided to head back to Sapporo for our last dinner in Japan.
When we got back to Sapporo, we were actually both still full from the LeTAO samples and the ice cream we had. We decided to do a bit of last last minute shopping at the ESTA mall beside Sapporo Station. A lot of stores were having sales because of Golden Week. Muji had signs all over showing discounts, but since I couldn’t read the signs and only saw the percentage off, I didn’t know what the conditions of the sales were. What I thought was discounted was still regular price despite all the signs saying 20% and I wasn’t able to communicate with the sales associate showing her the sign. Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be. Sorry Nate, no bear T-shirt for you.
For our last dinner in Sapporo, we ended up having CoCo Curry (Tim’s pick). It was between that or yakitori (my pick). But since we had yakitori the night before and the smoking was a bit annoying, we went to CoCo. This is truly Tim’s comfort food restaurant. I like Japanese curry too but not as much as Tim does. But since he’s always so happy when he eats it, I compromised.
We stopped by Lawsons (convenience store) on the way back to the hotel. This seemed like a very regular occurrence for us before going back to any hotel/apartment we were staying in while in Japan. We would usually get a beverage of some sort (water or cool Japanese drinks we haven’t seen before), a snack for later (usually ice cream or a Japanese pudding) or breakfast for the next morning (either yogurt or an egg salad sandwich). I’ll definitely miss Lawsons, Family Mart, Sunkus, etc.
Packing up each time we move around is always a tasks in itself. Given the small quarters of our room, it was a little difficult. I had everything from my bag sprawled out on the bed. I can’t wait to go back to Taipei and unload some things. My bag has gained 10kg since leaving Vancouver (yikes!).
It’s crazy how fast April has flown by. I’ve really enjoyed Japan, which doesn’t really surprise me. I love Japanese food, snacks and products so I knew I would like it here. I’ll really miss how pleasant and nice everyone is, how clean the washrooms are (they all have heated seats!), and how good (reasonably priced) the food is. I know we’ll be back in the future to explore more, or even to just go back to Tokyo. We spent 26 days in Japan, but we could have easily spent our full 4.5 months here and not been bored. Everyone says how expensive Japan is to visit, but in actuality Japan can be as expensive as you want it to be (Tim: or as cheap as you want it to be… which could probably be said of most places). If you want to eat “the best” of everything, then obviously Japan is super pricey, but if you eat modestly like how probably 80% of the population eats, it’s very reasonable and cheaper than back home for something similar.
We’ll be heading back to Taipei for a few days before going to Australia. I’m most looking forward to seeing family and friends while there. I am not really looking forward to how we’ll be eating. Australia is notoriously expensive, so I think Tim and I won’t be eating as bountifully as we have been in Asia. Maybe we’ll start to actually lose weight.
We woke up this morning, looked out the window, and it was snowing! Not the magical white fluffy snow, but more of the wet icy type of snow. Tim checked the forecast yesterday and saw it was going to snow a bit today, and he was excited. I think he thinks it’s really magical (and romantic) when it snows.
We bundled up even more today and headed out. For lunch, we planned on going to a yakitori (grilled skewers) place we saw on our first night that looked good. We didn’t eat there that night because the wait was too long so we passed. When we got to the restaurant, they had a lunch menu displayed and it was all tonkatsu lunch sets. We then realized that yakitori isn’t lunch food, and thought to come back for dinner (third time’s a charm, right?).
Since it was cold out we decided to check out “ramen alley” in Susukino. We had watched Anthony Bourdain’s Hokkaido episode on our first night here and wanted to check it out. Instead of walking outside today, we headed straight for the underground (like the rest of Sapporo). When we got to Susukino and found “ramen alley”, half of the restaurants were closed. It’s Golden Week in Japan right now, so a lot of people are on vacation. The restaurants that were opened were not very busy, some were even empty (it was 12:30pm). We did pass by the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain went to, it was also pretty empty. We didn’t see anything that seemed too interesting and since we had ramen yesterday we decided to find something else (Tim: I should note here that while some of Kaitlyn’s posts might give the impression that I love ramen, I actually don’t like it all that much. There’s a very small subset of ramen I really enjoy (Tonkatsu broth, thin noodles, no bamboo shoots), otherwise most bowls of ramen fall way down on the noodle-soup rankings for me).
We walked around the block from ramen alley and found a tonkatsu restaurant that looked interesting. It is part of the Matsunoya chain, which serves mostly donburis, but this restaurant just specialized in tonkatsu. The prices advertised were extremely reasonable so we decided to give it a try.
Everything at Matsunoya was very good. It’s quite easy to find good quality cheap food in Japan. That’s something that we’re going to really miss when we leave Asia for Australia. After that filling lunch, we headed back to the underground and did a bit of browsing and last minute shopping at Muji, Uniqlo and Don Quijote, as our time in Japan is winding down.
While walking through Pole Town, we noticed a line up outside a bakery that made cheese tarts (similar to the ones we had at Pablo) and they also served Hokkaido ice cream. Before coming to Sapporo, everyone told us we had to have Hokkaido ice cream, as Hokkaido produces high quality dairy products. We got in line at Kinotoya Bake and ordered one cheese tart and an ice cream cone to share.
The ice cream cone was huge! The soft serve is different than what we’re used to. It’s a lot creamier and not as sweet (if you’re comparing it to Dairy Queen). The cheese tart was like a warm cheesecake except a bit more gooey. It was good, but we both thought the cheese tart from Pablo was better.
We came up from the underground and saw it was sunny and there were blue skies. It was the first time we’ve seen blue skies in Sapporo. I guess being underground for most of the day, you don’t get to see what’s going on outside. We went to the Former Hokkaido Government Office and walked around inside. It’s free to visit and there are rooms filled with Sapporo memorabilia – like letters from world leaders who attended the G8 Summit in Sapporo in 2008. The building is a beautiful red brick building and looked very western inside.
We went back underground and went to Sapporo Station to browse around at the stores. The Uniqlo at Sapporo Station is one of the better ones I’ve been to this trip. Since it’s Golden Week, there are a lot of sales going on. After trying on a lot of items, I restricted myself after thinking about my bulging backpack.
From our shopping today, here are some snacks that were interesting but we didn’t/couldn’t buy. Too bad all the specialty Glico Pockys are always in such big boxes. I knew that Hokkaido was known for its dairy products but I didn’t know they also specialized in cantaloupe/melon flavoured treats.
It was time for dinner so we walked back towards the yakitori restaurant, Kushidori. There were two other groups ahead of us and had to wait about 15 minutes. We got seated at the counter and ordered 15 skewers, edamame, and two drinks (ginger ale and a beer) for 28,000 JPY = $33 CAD. Everything was really good, I think yakitori is one of my favourite types of Japanese food. Grilled meat is so simple but it tastes so good. My favourites from tonight were the bacon wrapped mochi and the classic chicken and leek skewer. Most of the skewers we ordered were 130-140 JPY = $1.50 – $$1.65 CAD.
The restaurant is a block away from our hotel, so it was a short walk back. My favourite meals in Japan have been izakayas or yakitori restaurants. I guess I like bars in Japan even though I don’t drink. The only downside to eating at these places is that smoking is allowed, which is not something we’re used to.
It’s our last day in Japan tomorrow. I’m a bit sad to be leaving. There’s so much more to see and eat!
We’ve been away from home for 2 months now. Time sure does fly! It was our first full day in Sapporo and we were ready to head out and explore the city. The forecast for today was rainy, cold, and windy. It made for a perfect ramen day.
Tim did a bit of ramen research before we left the hotel and there was a ramen restaurant called, Aji No Tokedai, that was fairly close to us and in the direction we planned on spending part of the day. It’s a Hokkaido ramen chain that has locations all around Sapporo. We ordered gyozas, miso ramen with corn, and a Hokkaido special ramen (with butter, corn and scallops). The ramen with butter started off pretty tasty but soon became a bit too rich for me. I wasn’t able to finish my bowl (which was a lot larger than I thought it would be).
Feeling pretty bloated and lethargic after lunch, we continued our walk around Sapporo. It was raining quite hard outside and we didn’t see too many people walking around. We initially thought it was just because it was rainy out and that Sapporo is a smaller city, so naturally there’s less people out. But then, we went down to Sapporo’s underground walkway and discovered that’s where all the people were.
We exited the underground to find Sapporo TV Tower, and walked briefly down Odori Park. Odori Park is a long park that extends 1.5km down the middle of the city running east to west. We came across a block that appeared to be a fish market. There were a couple of streets of vendors that sold Hokkaido crab (a lot of king crab and hairy crabs) and other various seafood. We later learned that this fish market is mainly for tourists, while the actual Sapporo Fish Market is not as central.
We made our way towards the shopping area of Odori and went to a department store called, PARCO. While in Tokyo, I was looking at Issey Miyake’s line of bags and purses called, BaoBao (I think the name sounds cute). Issey Miyake items are around 30-40% cheaper in Japan than they are in the States (you also save 8% on tax-free shopping). I couldn’t really decide on one in Tokyo and I saw that Sapporo had a location so I waited until we got here to possibly buy something. Since I hadn’t bought much of anything on this trip, I wanted a souvenir from Japan that wouldn’t be consumed within a few months (like the snacks and sunscreen). After staring at the different options for a while and messaging my sister asking her for her advice, I ended up getting a black clutch (converts into a cross body bag). I didn’t know much about Issey Miyake and then I read about him on Wikipedia and found out that apparently he was friends with Steve Jobs and produced his favourite black turtlenecks.
After shopping, we walked about 15 minutes towards the Sapporo Beer Museum. The museum is in a nice red-brick building and had free admission. The museum wasn’t that extensive but it’s set up very nicely inside. At the end of the museum, you can pay for samples of different types of Sapporo Beer. Tim had a 3 glass sampler (600 JPY = $7 CAD) and I had Sapporo’s Ribbon brand’s grapefruit juice (100 JPY = $1.13 CAD). The grounds of the Sapporo Beer Museum are quite nice. They have a restaurant, store, and beer garden as well.
We quickly walked back to the hotel because my parent’s friends, Auntie Mary and Uncle Reg, were picking us up for dinner. They had moved to Sapporo temporarily to work as missionaries while running a guest house. We got in touch with them when we got to Japan and had planned to meet while we were here. For dinner we ate closer to their neighbourhood, about 6km from the city centre. They took us for sushi at a restaurant (I think it was called Torimon) that had about a 20 minute wait at 5:30pm. It was clearly a popular restaurant with the locals. It was nice to get out of the city core and see where the locals lived and ate.
We had a great meal with good conversation about our travel stories. They have been to so many places in Asia and were telling us their favourite and least favourite places they’ve visited. After dinner, they brought us to the house that they are living in and showed us the B&B rooms. It was all really nice and spacious and all the pictures and knick-knacks felt like a real home. We sat and chatted a bit longer while eating some freshly cut fruit (we missed having fresh fruit while being in Japan, so this was the perfect end to the night). They drove us back to our hotel and we said our goodbyes. I think I’ve stressed before how nice it is to meet with family and friends while traveling and tonight just reaffirmed my feelings.
Today was our long awaited aquarium day. We booked a tour to go to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is on the opposite end of the island from Naha. We left the hotel at around 7:45am to walk to the closest hotel pick up point and waited for the tour bus to arrive.
Tim found this tour online and it was 4,800 JPY per person. It included admission to the aquarium, lunch, admission to a butterfly garden, admission to a pineapple plantation and a stop at a Ryukyu glass shop. It was a good price from where we’re staying since a bus that would take us to the aquarium would be over 4,000 JPY round trip, plus we would have to pay 1,850 JPY admission.
We were at the second hotel pick up point, but as we continued north the bus eventually filled. The tour guide was a middle aged Japanese lady and we later realized that a lot of tour guides here are older ladies. The tour is in Japanese, but on the ride up there would be English commentary on the speakers as we passed by points of interest, which was helpful. The bus ride felt like it took forever. There was a lot of traffic and stopping at multiple hotels made it longer. On the bright side, as we continued on route 58 (the same road as yesterday to Chatan), the scenery was beautiful. The East China Sea was to the left and the lush green forests were to our right. Since we stopped at a bunch of hotels, we saw some really nice resorts. I thought the ANA Intercontinental at Manza Beach looked really nice. Maybe on a future trip to Okinawa.
We eventually arrived at our first destination, Ryugujo Butterfly Gardens at 11:20am (was a 3 hour bus ride from Naha). They served us lunch in the restaurant upstairs, which looked like it was mostly for tours. For lunch they served us Okinawan style soba noodles, which was in a pork broth and had a piece of pork and a fish cake. Lunch was tasty and simple. The noodles reminded me of noodles they use in Taiwanese beef noodle.
Ryugujo Butterfly Gardens is located just down the street from the aquarium in Motobu. The gardens are right on the coastline so the views were quite nice. It was a sunny and hot day today, so being outside was a bit draining. It was probably a good idea that we were going to the aquarium today, where it would be air conditioned.
After lunch and the butterfly garden, it was time for the main event. We had 3 hours at the aquarium, which was just enough time. I think an extra half an hour would have been nice. The aquarium grounds are nice as it backs on to the East China Sea. The aquarium is also part of Ocean Expo Park which has dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees.
The main reason why we wanted to come to the aquarium in Okinawa was because they have three whale sharks. They are the largest known fish species. On our honeymoon, Tim and I took a whale shark excursion hoping to snorkel with them in the Maldives. But unfortunately, there was only one sighting and by the time we all dove into the water the whale shark had dove too deep. After seeing these amazing creatures in captivity, it would’ve been really awesome if we had seen one in the wild. Awesome but kind of scary because they are huge!
We spent about an hour in the Kuroshio tank area just admiring the whale sharks as well as everything else in the tank. It’s the largest aquarium tank I’ve ever seen. We both took so many pictures and videos, it’ll take some time to sort through the good ones.
We had about an hour left before we had to go back to the tour bus. We quickly went to see the turtles outside and got a seat for the dolphin show.
We headed back to the bus on time and made our way to our next stop, the Nago Pineapple Plant. This was like Okinawa’s Dole Plantation in Oahu. We were guided through a short path of Okinawan pineapples and then lead into a store with all sort of pineapple products: wine, juice, vinegar, cosmetics, and cookies. Each product had samples so we got to try everything. Originally, Nago Pineapple Plant is supposed to give people on the tour actual pineapple samples but they had a sign saying that there is a shortage of pineapples this season so help yourself to pineapple juice instead. This was a bit disappointing, but the pineapple juice was really delicious. Tim and I both had 3 (small) cups of it.
Most people on our tour bought a lot of products from the store. They came back with bags except for us. We just had our soft serve. Our last stop on the tour was over was an Okinawan glass shop. This wasn’t that interesting since it was just a store. We did see them make a jar, which was pretty cool. I don’t think anyone bought anything from this stop – everything was quite expensive. Only some glass products were still made in Okinawa, the majority of them are made in a factory in Vietnam.
On the way back into town, the tour guide said a bunch of stuff in Japanese, I’m guessing it was her closing remarks and she started to sing for us (which was nice). It was nice that after the pineapple plantation and the glass store, she gave us all gifts from each. She gave us all cups of pineapple sorbet and a small glass chopstick holder. Most people ended up sleeping on the way back. I passed out and when I woke up half the bus had been dropped off already and it was raining outside. We still had about an hour to go before getting back into Naha.
Tim and I decided to get off the bus at a hotel stop closer to Kokusai Street (International Street) to look for a restaurant for dinner. Kokusai Street is strip that has a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants in one area. It’s nicknamed, International Street, and it sort of reminded me of the International Market area in Waikiki. The streets were mainly filled with Hong Kong tourists as I mainly heard Cantonese.
After walking along Kokusai Street for about 15 minutes, we finally decided on a place to eat. It was called “Jango Jango” and all the menu items were 500 JPY = $5.68 CAD. We were his last customers of the night and got seated at the counter. Tim ordered Okinawan soba (just to compare it with what we had at lunch) and I had taco rice. Both dishes were good. The soba was similar to the soba from lunch except the pork was more of a stewed pork than a single slice. There was also more garnishes. The taco rice was more simple than the one we had yesterday. It was also more similar in taste to what I would make at home. Overall, we were really satisfied with dinner and it only costed 1,000 JPY = $11.36 CAD.
After a fairly long day, we headed back to the hotel. We’re taking it easier tomorrow and just staying around the Naha area. We want to see the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman and the Shuri Castle. It’s our last day in Okinawa tomorrow before heading to Sapporo on Thursday. Our time in Japan is almost over. I’ll definitely miss the food and overall pleasant nature of the country. I know we’ll be back again!
After a relatively late night of packing and getting things sorted, we woke up and were on our way out of the apartment by 11am (which was also our check out time). We were happy with our Airbnb experience in Tokyo and would be happy to stay in that apartment again.
We made our way to Shinjuku Station to take the train to Haneda Airport. It’s nice that we’re flying out of Haneda since it’s a lot closer to the city centre than Narita is. Our flight to Naha, Okinawa was at 2:45pm. We arrived at the domestic terminal at 12pm and took our time getting to the gate. While on the train, we were happy that our flight was on a Sunday, since maneuvering around the station and being on the train with our backpacks would be horrific during a weekday.
There are a quite a few stores in the public areas of the airport but once you cross security there isn’t much in the domestic terminal. We had lunch at Tenya (the same tempura don place we ate at in Osaka). Tim and I both agreed that we can eat cheaply in Japan and would be happy with it as we don’t seem to appreciate (Tim: the value proposition of) super expensive tempura. The jumbo prawn tempura I had in Roppongi Hills was the most expensive tempura I’ve eaten – at $12 for one piece (Tim: more than our entire meals combined at Tenya)!
Haneda is a nice airport, though the domestic terminal is kind of lacking in stores, I’m sure the international terminal is much better. Since we are flying ANA back home in July, we will be connecting through Haneda again for two hours before our final flight back to Vancouver. I was trying to scout out what stores are available on the international side (past security) so I know what I don’t need to buy until July.
While planning out Japan, one of the first two flights we booked was our flights to Okinawa and Sapporo. We knew we wanted to go to these two places but since they’re either not on the mainland or pretty far north, it wasn’t as easily accessible with the JR train pass. Luckily, I remembered my former manager talking about cheap domestic flights within Japan that are only available for foreigners. We did some research online and booked our two flights as soon as the flights for the spring and summer were available.
All domestic flights within Japan (regardless of how far) can be booked for 10,800 JPY = $120 CAD. This is a really good price and you also get the full amount of miles (Aeroplan points) for the discounted fare (Tim: I can’t remember the last time I got full miles on an Air Canada flight… you have to purchase Flex Fares which are close to double the price of their typically advertised Tango Fares.). All you have to do is provide your passport info as well as your booking number for your arrival and departure flights to Japan. You can book these discounted fares through the ANA’s Experience Japan Fare or through JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass (JAL seems to also have something called the Yokoso/Visit Japan Fare and Welcome to Japan Fare which seem to be similar promotions). We picked ANA mainly because it’s part of Star Alliance, so if you collect Aeroplan points, it’s best to fly ANA as JAL is part of One World (Cathay, British Airways, etc). When we looked to book the exact same flights as we wanted without the foreigner’s promotion, the price of the tickets were over $800 per person. A lot of people know about the JR pass but if you need to go between cities quickly or ones that aren’t as accessible, taking advantage of these cheap tickets is the way to go.
Our plane took about 20 minutes on the tarmac before taking off. They had to double check something on the plane. The flight to Okinawa was about 2.5 hours, and there was quite a bit of turbulence as we were getting closer to landing. The plane was a lot bigger than I thought it would be for a domestic flight (Tim: 777), but I guess Okinawa is a popular destination for a lot of Japanese people.
It was my first time flying ANA and I was actually surprised they only served us drinks for this flight, but I guess it was only a domestic flight. Drinks choices were green tea, apple juice, coffee and chicken consommé (?!).
As soon as we landed, you could tell it was super humid as the windows on the plane on the outside fogged up immediately. We were now closer to Taiwan than were to mainland Japan. When we got out of the plane, you could feel the warm tropical air and it was 27 degrees Celsius. Walking through the terminal, it felt like Hawaii in a sense. Everyone waiting for their flight out of Okinawa were in shorts and t-shirts and were slightly tanned or burned. And it seemed like the staff uniform for a lot of stores were floral printed shirts – very tropical looking.
We caught the monorail (which was only 2 cars long) to Asahibashi Station and walked about 8 minutes to our guest house. This was our first test walking with our backpacks in tropical weather and we both were sweating quite a bit. Are we going to die in Vietnam in June? (Tim: I’m pretty sure we won’t die since humans are pretty good at heat acclimatization).
When we we finally got to Villa Coast Nishimachi Guest House, we followed the instructions for the self-check in (the reception is only open until 6pm) which is pretty easy since they also sent me an email after we booked with instructions on how to get there and check in. We booked a double bed studio off Expedia after reading really good reviews about this place. When we got into the room, I was both very pleasantly surprised with the space and cleanliness for $62.44 CAD a night.
I realize that when posting these pictures for people back home, this doesn’t look very impressive but anything that’s extremely clean (Tim: not too hard to find in Japan), we’re happy with. And if it has a washer, even better! I see why this place has high ratings on TripAdvisor, there’s a guide for the room and even a list of suggested restaurants around the area that are favourites of the guest house managers. Although reception isn’t around 24 hours and it feels like we’re staying in an apartment rather than a hotel, you feel very supported.
We decided to pick a place from the suggested restaurants for dinner tonight and plan out our next three days in Okinawa. We went to an Izakaya restaurant called, Himitsu-Kichi, about a 3 minute walk away. The building looked a bit tiki-hut-ish and we were seated upstairs in our own private little booth. All the food was really good, and the drinks were very cheap (alcoholic cocktails were only like $3 CAD, too bad I don’t really drink). We ordered a salad, chicken skewers, grilled squid, an omurice with gravy, chicken karaage, an Orion Beer (an Okinawan Beer), and coke for 3,988 JPY = $45 CAD.
After a delicious first meal in Okinawa, we headed back to the guest house and bought some water along the way at Family Mart. It was now pouring rain (but still very warm) on our walk back. It’s rainy season right now, so hopefully it won’t be crazy rain all the time.
I first heard about Okinawa while working at my Aunt’s store in Stanley Park (Tim: and I first hear about Okinawa while watching The Karate Kid Part II… looking forward to witnessing some ice breaking, since that’s a thing right?). I used to work there each summer when I was younger and got to meet a lot of people from around the world. One of my coworkers was from Okinawa and I heard it was like the “Hawaii of Japan”. The way she described home sounded awesome. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so when I think of Okinawans, I think of her. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit.
The city of Naha is a very slow and quiet town from what we’ve seen so far. A totally different scene from Tokyo. It feels nice to take it down a notch after being in two large cities back to back.
Looking forward to exploring more of the island and seeing a very different part of Japan.
Today was our last full day in Tokyo. I can see how you can easily spend more than week in Tokyo really exploring the city. Even after a week I feel like we only scraped the surface, barely.
We planned on going to Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, and Shibuya today. The weather was a lot better than yesterday night so we decided to walk instead of taking the train. When we have the time (and I’m not carrying my 32 pound backpack), I prefer to walk to destinations rather than taking the subway (especially if we have to walk longer than 5 minutes to go to a station). In Tokyo, the train stations are very busy and there are usually multiple lines, so more often than not you have to travel deep underground to get to your train.
We left the apartment around noon and decided to go to a Japanese Italian restaurant chain called, Saizeriya. I know, this isn’t what most people eat when they come to Tokyo (Tim: their loss) but we had seen it in each city in Japan we’ve visited and they were always full of diners. There is a location down the street from our apartment so we decided to give it a shot. During weekdays, they have a good lunch special for 500 JPY, which includes salad, soup, an entrée and a drink (refillable fountain drinks (Tim: A rarity in Japan!)). Since this was a Saturday, we weren’t able to get that lunch special but after looking at the menu, everything was very cheap so we understood why it’s always busy.
I think eating at Saizeriya is equivalent to eating at the Olive Garden but cheaper. We ordered a side salad, a spaghetti carbonara and a baked dish called a “Doria”. The baked Doria dish had a “No.1” sign beside it so we decided to try it. When in Rome right? Except, I didn’t notice any Dorias while in Rome.
The salad was good (I really appreciate fresh vegetables and fruits while traveling), carbonara was good (though you could tell it is suited for Japanese tastes), but the star for us was the Doria. We ordered it with focaccia bread because we thought it was just a baked dish of tomato sauce and cheese, but when I dug my spoon into it, I found out there was rice. It reminded of Hong Kong style café baked rice dishes with tomato sauce. It was piping hot and very tasty. The focaccia bread was also very hot and you can tell they bake them fresh throughout the day.
I was pretty impressed by Saizeriya and I’m glad we gave it a shot. We were definitely the only tourists in the place. I know people don’t like eating in chain restaurants while they’re traveling (Tim: again, their loss), but more often than not, chain restaurants are where a lot of locals eat on a daily basis so if you want to experience a city like a local, sometimes it’s good to eat at chains.
Yoyogi Park was only about a 15-20 minute walk from our apartment and since Tokyo is very dense, there were things to see along the way. We waited to go to Yoyogi Park on a weekend because we wanted to see more locals out and about at the park. There are usually a lot of people dressed up in unique outfits and an abundance of street performers on Sundays. Unfortunately, Saturday wasn’t the same as Sunday with regards to the eccentric outfits, but there were still numerous street performers. We would have gone on a Sunday, but since we didn’t have a full Sunday in Tokyo, this was our only option.
Yoyogi Park is like Tokyo’s “Central Park” in that it’s a huge park in the middle of a large and dense city. We entered the park at the Meiji Shrine gates. That opened up to a beautiful tree lined path that lead to the Meiji Shrine. It was starting to get pretty warm out so being shaded by the trees was perfect.
When we got to the Meiji Temple area, there were multiple weddings going on. I always feel awkward for the couple and their family when hundreds of strangers are taking pictures of them and watching them during such a personal event. But at the same time, they are fully aware this will happen as the temple is a public place and isn’t booked out for private events. There was a family taking group wedding portraits in the forested area of the Meiji grounds and everyone was taking pictures of them. I tried to as well but by the time I was able to get a spot to take a picture they were starting to get up and leave.
After walking through Meiji-Jingu, we headed towards the main park area of Yoyogi where Tim was hoping for me to see people decked out in their unique outfits. But to our slight disappointment, there was no one dressed up. Instead, the park was filled with families having picnics. I suppose Saturday is family day and Sunday is cosplay/entertainment day at Yoyogi. Throughout Japan we’ve noticed that any opportunity Japanese people get, they picnic. I guess a lot of it may have to do with the fact that many of them live in apartments and even if they do have a house, there aren’t many backyards to play in. We saw different groups of people dancing, playing badminton, playing soccer, and doing yoga (yogis in Yoyogi!)
We exited the park towards Harajuku. Harajuku is an area that’s popular among young people making it a more fashion forward/trendy area of Tokyo. You may also be familiar with it as Gwen Stefani had a song and album dedicated to “Harajuku Girls” in the early 2000s (Tim: which probably wouldn’t really feel very politically correct if done today). Because of Gwen Stefani, I first learned about Harajuku. But unlike her Harajuku Girls music video, we did not see anyone dressed up like a typical Harajuku Girl. The only ones that we saw dressed up were clearly tourists, which was a bit disappointing.
I think I had Harajuku hyped up in my head but instead, it was the most crowded area of tourists we went to in the city. The upside of Harajuku was seeing some pretty good live performances near the train station, before you enter Takeshita Street. The shopping in Harajuku reminded me a bit of Myeongdong-esque shopping with a lot of cute accessory stores, socks and they even had an Etude House (Korean cosmetic shop). The main different though was that these trendy/cheap accessories and clothes were a lot more expensive than the prices in Seoul. For example, I saw a pair of earrings I had bought in Seoul for 3 times the price, and it wasn’t like the quality was any different.
The Harajuku area was also very busy because there was a large group of people (many women) gathered outside Yoyogi National Stadium (which was built for the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964) for a concert. At first we weren’t sure what the large crowds were for, we just saw a huge billboard that said “Sexy Zone”. Later we put together that this was a boy (Tim: emphasis on “boy”) band from seeing thousands of girls (Tim: and women) with band memorabilia and tote bags with tour dates.
Once we got through the crowds, we were on our way towards Shibuya. But before we got there, we stumbled upon Tokyo’s Earth Day celebrations. We stopped in and listened to a live band play and browse around at all the organic food and observe all the Japanese hippies. It was interesting that we stopped by an Earth Day fair where their initiative is sustainability and zero waste on the way to one of the main consumerism centres of Tokyo.
Shibuya was crowded as always. We took our time and perused Muji, Disney, Shibuya 109, and some department stores. Shibuya 109 is a multi-level mall that has independent boutique stores on each floor (each floor has about 6-8 different shops). These stores are very popular among young women in Tokyo for being on the leading edge of most recent trends (Tim: or you might say they’re trendsetters). I walked around each floor of Shibuya 109 and saw some nice clothes, but a lot of it was not my style. Perhaps I’m not very trendy and maybe in a few years these trends will blow up in North America, but for now the styles are very Japanese.
I found that stores were either very cutesy – lots of floral and pastels with lots of ruffles, very street – think stereotypical Brooklyn (not the hipster part), very California – wannabe Hollister look, or very dark – lots of black and grey. I was looking for some nice/cute summer dresses but wasn’t able to find anything I liked. There were some items that I thought were long maxi dresses that I liked but then when I looked closer they were wide legged jump suits. I’ve also noticed that Japanese girls like to wear very very wide legged pants – like gaucho pants that were in 15 years ago in North America except in every form possible (eg: like the jump suits).
Another thing I noticed while browsing around Shibuya 109 was that the girls working in the stores were all very tall, leggy, and had dyed hair (usually blonde or a caramel colour) and had brown/orange tanned skin. Having tanned skin in Asian countries is usually not something you see, but according to Tim (and Google Image), I’ve basically described a “Shibuya Girl”.
After shopping, we went to the train station and stood inside on an overpass to take pictures and videos of the busy crossing just outside Shibuya station. It’s so crazy how many people are in Shibuya at one time as each time the light changes it’s like a new set of hundreds of people cross the street.
As it was our last meal in Tokyo, we weren’t sure what type of Japanese food we wanted. I was leaning towards sushi again and Tim wanted curry (he always wants curry). We decided to meet up with William for dinner back in Shinjuku and decided on going to CoCo Ichibanya (Tim’s favourite). But since I wanted a bit of sushi, Tim and I had a little snack in Shibuya at Sushizanmai first and ordered a few pieces of our favourites before heading to Shinjuku. I could probably eat sushi every day here. We were pretty much in and out of Sushizanmai within 15 minutes of sitting down.
We met William at the CoCo Curry near Shinjuku Station. This location is smaller than others and has a lot of foot traffic so we had to wait a bit before being seated. We sat at the counter and watched them prepare the dishes. I was actually pretty impressed that they cook each order’s curry in an individual pot. The curry was good and it hit the spot for Tim.
I can’t believe how fast a week went by in Tokyo. There’s so much to see in Tokyo as each neighbourhood is almost like visiting a different city. Luckily for Vancouverites, flying to Tokyo is not THAT far away and there’s multiple direct flights on several airlines making it very accessible to us. I would like to come back and see more as a week was definitely not long enough.
We finally got our act together and woke up a bit earlier to go to Tsukiji Market. We didn’t attempt to try to go for the tuna auction, which only allows up to 120 people and you have to get there as early as 3am to try to snag a spot. Maybe if we’re in Tokyo again and we’re jetlagged (too bad we were in Taipei for the 4am wake ups), I would try to go. Another reason why we wanted to go to Tsukiji Market was because they’re moving to another location further away and more inconvenient in November. Tsukiji Market has been there since 1935 and the majority of vendors are against the move.
As soon as we got off the train at Tsukiji-Shijo Station we could smell the fish in the station. We met up with William and made our way to the wholesale market which only opens up to the public after 9am. We arrived a little later than we wanted to (around 9:30am) so a lot of the vendors were already in the middle of packing things up. But we did get to see large pieces of tuna and a man filleting a live sea eel (unagi), which was very cool. It was really neat to see all the wholesalers at work and seeing them cleaning up/chilling out after a long day’s work.
When you’re in the wholesale market you have to be vigilant at all times of the motorized mini trucks since they go really fast and don’t really care about the tourists around. Basically, tourists being there are more of a burden than a benefit since no one buys anything and are just in the way taking pictures. I get why there are no tourists allowed before 9am, since that’s when the real business happens. Along with tourist there were locals who were buying some items for their meals for the day (a pretty good place to buy it)
After going up and down the rows we decided to find some sushi for an early lunch. William left to go do his own thing and we said we could meet up again later. There are two main restaurants that have by far the longest line ups – Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. For both these restaurants, people line up at 3am and wait 4 hours to get a seat. There was no way Tim and I were going to wait for 4 hours in the middle of the night to eat sushi at 7am (I don’t care how super fresh it is). Tim doesn’t even like to wait 30 minutes in line for food so this was not going to be an option.
When we passed by Sushi Dai at 10:30am, we thought the line up looked reasonable, about 15 people outside the front door so we lined up. The lady from the restaurant came out with her huge notepad and told us that the line up starts behind the building. We looked and said forget it, there were about 50 more people waiting there.
We ended up going to a place called Sushizanmai, which has multiple locations in Tokyo but its original is at Tsukiji. The owner, Kiyoshi Kimura, is known for going to the tuna auction and winning the bids on the most expensive tuna and selling it to his customers at a fraction of the price as his competitors. We only waited about 10 minutes to get a seat at the sushi bar. The prices here are very reasonable and the Bluefin fatty tuna was 398 JPY per piece vs. 520 JPY at Numakuzo (conveyor belt sushi place we went to in Shinjuku). We decided to order a la carte to get exactly what we wanted, although the combos and chirashi dons looked really good too. For our 15 pieces of nigiri and a cone, our bill was 3,503 JPY = $39.70 CAD, pretty good.
Each sushi chef behind the counter was in charge of a group of people. We sat down at a really good spot on the counter because we had the happiest guy in the restaurant. If we looked around at the other sushi chefs, they were all very serious and had no expressions. Our sushi chef was enthusiastic and super friendly so it made our experience at Sushizanmai a really good one. All the sushi was awesome and I would definitely go back there again. If you don’t want to wait (or value your time and sleep more) hours for Sushi Dai, I would recommend going here. I don’t think you can really go wrong with freshness at many of the restaurants that surround the market. Or maybe we’re missing out by not lining up at Sushi Dai. I’m okay not knowing what I’m missing out on.
After lunch, we decided to take a leisurely stroll towards Ginza and check out Roppongi Hills. William suggested that we go to the Tokyo City Views observation deck as it has the best views of Tokyo (and is the nicest observation deck) in his opinion and most importantly, it has a Sailor Moon exhibit going on for the next couple weeks.
Tsukiji is a relatively short walk to Ginza. It was a nicer day yesterday than the time we went there previously. It made for a much more pleasant experience. We didn’t go into Uniqlo this time but went to the large Mitsukoshi department store (in Taiwan they’re called Shin Kong Mitsukoshi) and went through each floor. Japanese department stores are all really nice and large. They have a great selection of brands (a lot of luxury brands if you’re into that sort of thing) and the interior is well put together. I like how there’s nicer restaurants on the top floors and the basements are always full of great take out food and desserts. If only Vancouver had a department store like this, it would put Nordstrom and Holts to shame, but we don’t have the population to support multiple stores like these.
I enjoyed my time at Mitsukoshi looking at all the pretty things while Tim found a chair to sit on and played on his phone. Being decked out in Lululemon clothes, runners and a backpack, I definitely did not fit in (I don’t fit in dressed like this in Japan, period). We have a few weddings to go to in the summer so I was browsing around to see if there were any dresses that caught my eye. I went to the formal dress section of the store and it was basically all black; black dresses, pants, blazers, purses, hats. I guess black is the only formal colour in Japanese culture. It looked more like a funeral wear to me.
Before coming to Japan, I knew that there was a popular dessert that was a cake made up of layers of crepe with whip cream in between each layer. The cake is called a crepe mille-feuille. I was on the hunt for these since I know New York has a store called Lady M that specializes in these yummy looking cakes. There is a café chain in Tokyo called, Doutor, that had it on their menu so we planned on going to one eventually when we felt like we wanted to sit down and try it. Being in Ginza wandering around, we spotted a Café Doutor (a fancier looking version of Doutor) and decided to sit down and get one there. We spent a good hour in the café resting and watching the crowds in Ginza. It was 500 JPY ($5.65 CAD) well spent and the cake was delicious too. Later on we found out that a regular Doutor’s millefeuille is only 360 JPY = $4 CAD. So we paid a premium to sit in the Ginza location, oh well.
We also visited the large Sony showroom in Ginza, which has 6 floors of products that you can try (Tim had fun in this store). The store is also a good escape from the crowds as their first floor lounge is labeled as a rest and free wifi area. It has cushioned benches and couches for people to sit on.
We walked from Ginza towards the Minato area, which is closer to Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills. We stopped by Tokyo Tower to take some photos of it and found a beautiful park beside it which felt like we were in the middle of a forest, not in the middle of Tokyo. We continued along towards Roppongi Hills as we were meeting William at around sunset to go up to the top of the viewing deck.
Roppongi is a very nice area in Tokyo. It’s an area that has large hotel chains and restaurants by celebrity chefs (like Jean Georges and Joel Robuchon). The area looks very modern and is filled with restaurants that you would find in trendy areas of New York. You also notice a lot more ex-pats in this area and Caucasian children in day cares. We saw a day care wheeling around 10 toddlers like a crate of puppies. It was quite cute.
We arrived in the area well before we had to meet William so we decided to check out a book store called Tatsuya, which had a fancy Starbucks downstairs. The place was packed with people drinking coffee and on their Macbooks. Tatsuya had a good selection of books and magazines, a lot of which were English publications. The top floor of Tatsuya is full of DVDs and after looking closely, we discovered they’re rentals. Since Blockbuster is no longer around, I haven’t seen a store this size full of rentals for a while. They had all the popular American TV series like “House of Cards”, “Suits”, “Game of Thrones” – anything you can think of.
While in Japan, I noticed that Starbucks was promoting a new cantaloupe frappuccino (not sure if it’s a limited time item). It looked interesting and I only saw it in Japan so I wanted to try. I thought it would be a perfect time to try it since Tim was happy reading and I could get the drink and find a seat and surf the net. The frappuccino only comes in one size, a tall. It was actually quite expensive, at 680 JPY = $7.80 CAD because it contains real cantaloupe and not just syrup. The drink was really good, it had mushed up chunks of cantaloupe and some sort of jelly in it. I would order it again if it were half the price or less (Tim: so I guess you won’t be ordering it again).
We met up with William at Mori Tower, and decided to have dinner before going up since the weather changed and there was no longer visible sun to have a sunset. Finding food around this area was a bit tough since a lot of the restaurants are pretty swanky and there are fewer cheaper options.
After doing a bit of research on our phones, we decided on a soba noodle place close by, called Sarashina Horii, that had very good reviews. They make their soba in house and have four different types. When we arrived at the restaurant it was almost full. They had a lot of tables with reserved signs on them. We all ordered soba and a side of tempura. The tempura was actually more expensive than the actual soba. I thought everything was good but I wouldn’t go back again unless the price was half of what we paid. Looking around this was a very popular spot for locals and we appeared to be the only tourists there.
After dinner we made our way back to Mori Tower and went up to the top of the observatory. It costs 1,800 JPY to go up but William told us we could buy discounted tickets at Lawson’s for 1,500 JPY. We stopped by a Lawson’s during our walk from Ginza and the cashier helped us with the kiosk, which was all in Japanese so we were lucky he did everything for us. Normally I’m not too keen on paying for observatory decks but since they did have a Sailor Moon exhibit as well, I was intrigued.
When we got to the top, the Sailor Moon exhibit was pretty prominent and they even had a themed café, which had a line up of women outside. The views of the city at night were nice. Tokyo Tower was only lit half-way up in purple, which we’re guessing was in honour of Prince. The exhibit was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. They had original comic books, sketches, costumes and a lot of memorabilia and toys displayed. The gift shop was full of overpriced items but Japanese women and men were going crazy and dropping things into their baskets like they were $1.
After a long day of a lot of walking and wandering, we made our way back to our apartment. While taking the train back, it was actually very crowded, and I was pushed from all angles. It was Friday night and everyone was in good spirits since the work week was over. We saw some very drunk businessmen passed out on sidewalks sleeping on top of their briefcases with their cell phones very exposed (they aren’t worried about theft here). We even saw one on the ground throwing up at Shinjuku Station. We also noticed that on Friday nights, people cross the smaller streets even when the lights are red (generally no one crosses in Japan). It’s like since it’s the weekend, rules are broken.
After a long day at DisneySea the day before, we struggled to wake up early to meet William at Tsukiji Market. As we were snoozing our alarms, William messaged and said he was going to be late because he slept in. I took this opportunity to reschedule to Friday since Tim didn’t look like he was going to be waking up any time soon.
Since we no longer had set plans for today, we decided to try a ramen place that is down the street from our apartment that constantly has a line up out the door and on the sidewalk. After using Google Maps, we found out the name of the restaurant is Tatsunoya.
Tatsunoya opens each day at 11am, so we made sure we got there right when it opened. When we arrived, there was a group of four businessmen (or just men in suits) ahead of us as they opened the doors (Tim: flashier suits (by Japanese standards), vests, and flamboyant pocket squares made me think they weren’t your regular salary men…). We tried to watch the four men order on the ticket machine to see what they were getting. There is no English on the menu but they have small pictures. We couldn’t really tell what the difference between the black and red bowl were from the small pictures so we ordered one of each (Tim ordered a bowl with more meat).
On the table they had jars of seasoned bean sprouts, pickled greens and pickled ginger for you to snack on or add to your ramen. The waitress came by and presented me with a box of individually packaged hair ties and asked if I wanted one (my hair was down). I said sure and tied up my hair. I thought that was a nice touch and it was the first time I’ve had that offered to me at a noodle soup restaurant. It’s also nice because hair ties in Japan are very pricey. Even at Daiso, you only get two hair ties for 100 JPY and Muji you get one for 300 JPY.
The ramen arrived and it looked really good. The broth is a tonkotsu broth similar to Ippudo and Ichiran. What Tatsunoya is known for is their very tender pork. The pork was very fatty (which usually bothers me more) but when I ate it, it basically melted in my mouth and tasted really delicious. I can see why there is a line up for this place. I later found out that Tatsunoya has a couple of restaurants around LA.
We left feeling satisfied and happy that we got there when we did as the line up was starting to build up. After lunch, we headed to Asakusa to visit the Senso-ji Temple.
We took the train to Ueno Station (which is the closest JR line train to the temple). We walked about 20 minutes to the temple and found massive crowds and a shopping street of souvenirs that lead to the shrine. Although there were a lot of people, it was fairly calm (Tim: I didn’t think it was that calm, but I guess it was okay considering how crowded it was).
We took our time around the temple area and slowly made our way back to Ueno Station. The Asakusa area (away from the temple) is very quiet and seems more residential than other parts of Tokyo. When we were walking back we saw a lot of girls that looked like they’re 5 or 6 walking home from school alone. I’ve noticed that Asian kids are very independent here. They walk and take the subway home by themselves. We saw this a lot in Taiwan and now Japan.
Since our JR passes expired today, we figured we’d do a full loop of the Yamanote line and go to Shinagawa. By the time we got to Shinagawa, it was pouring rain (and it poured for the rest of the day). Our plan in this area was to visit the Sengaku-Ji Temple and to just explore the tiny alleys around the taller office buildings in the area. You see even more black suits in Shinagawa than you do in Shinjuku since it’s more of a business district.
Sengaku-Ji Temple is where the famous 47 Ronin (samurais without a leader) are buried, who had avenged the death of their master and committed honorary suicide as a result. This story is popular with Japanese people as the ronins showed considerable loyalty. This is a pretty interesting story, but involves a lot of suicide. The graves of the samurais are found at Sengaku-Ji. When we got there around 5pm, the buildings which likely have more English information and a running video were closed. Unfortunately none of the signage is translated into English so we had to wait until later to read the full story. The Wikipedia article that’s linked has a really detailed story.
After the temple, we walked back towards the train station and walked towards the office towers. It was about 6pm and a lot of people were getting off work. Tim wanted me to see all the taller office buildings and see how narrow the alleys are around them (alleys full of restaurants). We only stayed a short while as the rain was picking up. We decided to head back to Shinjuku for dinner and go back to the apartment earlier tonight.
I guess we timed it a bit badly since we ended up going back to Shinjuku during rush hour.
Tim was craving Japanese hamburger steak so we wandered around Shinjuku trying to find one. The one we had looked up on the train ended up being permanently closed. We found a place around the corner that looked promising so we decided to try it. It’s basically like a Pepper Lunch type of place where they serve the food on a sizzling teppan with paper around it so the oil doesn’t splatter.
The hamburger steaks came with rice and soup that we could help ourselves to. Overall it was okay good because it was extremely oily. If you want a good hamburger steak in Vancouver, try Cafe de L’Orangerie near the Arthur Laing Bridge. They make a really good hamburger steak as well as delicious Japanese pastas and home made desserts (one of our favourite restaurants).
It was still raining hard so we decided to check out the shopping close by – Takashimaya and another mall. I got excited because I saw a “Flying Tiger” store in one of the malls. This store is from Copenhagen and the first time I went to one was in Cambridge, UK. I thought it was a really neat store (feels Ikea-esque because it’s Scandinavian and cheap) that carried pretty random things – everything from arts and crafts to dishes. It’s where I got my carrot sharpener/peeler.
We headed back to the apartment fairly early and did some much needed laundry. Staying in Airbnbs have allowed us to do laundry while we stay here but in Asia you need to hang dry everything, so basically we can’t wash everything because then we’ll have no dry clothes for the next day.
Today we woke up pretty excited. We were going to Tokyo Disney! When Tim and I first met, we discovered during our first date that we both had a very soft spot for anything Disney, and in particular, Disneyland.
My love for Disney started at an early age, it was a popular summer vacation spot for my family (Tim: How magical!) and by the time I was 12, I had been to Disneyland six times. I loved everything about those trips. But as my sister and I got older, the Disneyland trips ended and we went on family trips to more “mature places” – like Europe and China.
Tim has been to more Disney theme parks as an adult more than anyone I know (besides people who live in a city with a Disneyland or have an annual pass). As I got to know Tim, I was so excited to have found someone who shared the same enthusiasm for Disneyland that I had. One of our first trips together in April 2013 was going to Disneyland Park in California. We only spent one day at the Disneyland and California Adventures but it brought back so many good memories of my childhood. Having someone who was just as giddy about being there as me was awesome.
Now back to this morning, we woke up early eager to get going. We did a bit of research online about Tokyo Disney and found out they had two parks – Disneyland and DisneySea. Disneyland is said to be very similar to Disneyland Park in California (except a bit smaller) and DisneySea is unique to Tokyo. We read countless rave reviews about DisneySea and since it was only in Tokyo, we decided to spend our day there.
We left our apartment around 7:45am and made our way towards Shinjuku Station. It was my first time experiencing Tokyo rush hour. Let’s just say I’ve never been that squished from all directions in my life.
Once we got to Tokyo Station, we had to transfer to the Keiyo Line to get to Disneyland. The Keiyo Line at Tokyo Station seems like it is the farthest line away from the Chuo line. We walked about 8 minutes and walked down and up multiple sets of stairs to reach the platform. After 15 minutes on the train, we finally made it to Tokyo Disney Resort!
When we arrived, we still had to walk about 10 minutes to DisneySea’s entrance gates. There is a Disney train but the ride costed 240 JPY = $2.75 CAD per person, so we just walked.
When we arrived at the gate, we bought our tickets for the day. Recommendations online tell you to try to get tickets beforehand (either online or from a Disney Store) in order to skip the long queues and avoid tickets selling out for the day (I didn’t know that happened). Luckily, we didn’t have any issues and waited less than 5 minutes to buy our tickets. The day pass for DisneySea (same for Disneyland) is 7,400 JPY = $86 CAD per person. This is cheaper than Disneyland in California as their one day pass is $93 USD = $118 CAD. Unfortunately there’s no “one day hopper” like in California, so we had to choose one park only (Tim: which was fine, having never been to DisneySea before, I wanted to spend the whole day there). There is, however, cheap entrance after 6pm at both parks for 4,200 JPY = $48 CAD. I guess that’s good if you lived close by.
There are seven different themed areas within DisneySea:
Mediterranean Harbor This area looks like you’re in Italy (sort of). There’s a gondola ride through the canals which was really nice. We didn’t get a chance to go on the gondola since they stop the rides when there are water shows in the main pond.
American Waterfront Disney wouldn’t feel right without something American. This area has New York City streets, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Cape Cod and a huge steam boat called the “SS Columbia”. This area is also one of the largest parts of the park, so naturally we spent a lot of time here.
We watched “Big Band Beat” at the Broadway theatre. It was reviewed as the best show in all of DisneySea, and it lives up to its claim. It’s a live jazz show with a full band and live singing and dancing (like a Broadway show). All the songs for this are in English and the show lasts for about 30 minutes. To get tickets you have to scan your ticket for a lottery or else you have to wait in the stand by line. We got the show we wanted (there are 5 shows a day), but I think in the summer or high season tickets are harder to get in the lottery.
Port Discovery This is more of the “futuristic” part of the park. We didn’t spend too much time in this area since it was one of the smallest parts of the park. One of the last rides we went on was the StormRider, which unexpectedly gets you wet! A guy we saw in a suit (this was not an uncommon sight) took out a towel and put it on his lap before the ride started. I guess he’s a regular.
Arabian Coast It is what it sounds like – think of Aladdin. This area was pretty with smells of Indian curry coming from the restaurants. We went on Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage which was sort of the park’s equivalent to “It’s a Small World”. (Tim: in the sense that you’re on a boat going through rooms with scenes set up using a bunch of moving robots… so sort of like Pirates of the Carribean as well)
5. Lost River Delta This area is supposed to be in the remote areas of Central American jungles and ruins of an ancient civilization. We seemed to have spent a lot of time here since there were a couple of good rides here: Indiana Jones and a roller coaster called, Raging Spirits.
6. Mysterious Island
This area is fairly small and we only spent a short period of time here. The area looked pretty cool with the volcano (Journey to the Centre of the Earth ride).
7. Mermaid’s Lagoon We spent the least amount of time in this area since it was filled with little kid rides and theatre shows.
The park is pretty big and I can see why they don’t do a one day hopper here. Tim was really good at organizing our day and scheduling out all our FastPasses with the most popular rides. There’s a live app that tells you the wait times for each ride and the FastPass times available. We went on every ride we wanted to and even got to go on Indiana Jones twice (had two FPs during the day). For April, the park was fairly busy and even stayed busy until closing. In California during down season, at night you can go on rides over and over again (especially during the fireworks) since there’s no line up – but not in Tokyo.
What did we eat?
For the most part, there wasn’t much Japanese food in the park. There was a fancy Japanese restaurant, but all the food was still mostly American-“esque” theme park food. We tried to find items that seemed unique and then found some Disney favourites. Here’s some pictures of what we had (we shared everything so we could try more). The only thing that we missed getting were green mochi balls that were supposed to look like the aliens from Toy Story. By the time we got back to the area the stand had already closed. Oh well, next time!
What we found most interesting about the popcorn wasn’t the popcorn flavours themselves, it was the different popcorn buckets that each stand had. Each stand had a different popcorn bucket and apparently they change them all the time (so people actually collect them all). I would estimate that 70% of people we saw had popcorn buckets around their necks of were carrying them cross-body like a purse (Tim: I would estimate 15%).
Overall, everything felt the same (in terms of that magical Disney feel) as Disney in North America. It makes me really happy to see how much Japanese people love Disney. There were more people decked out in Disney gear than I’d ever seen in the American parks. People would even carry stuffed animals they brought from home to the park, I guess so their stuffed animal could experience a fun day at Disney (Tim: apparently it’s a thing to bring your stuffed toys to take pictures with around the park in Tokyo). Dressing up and wearing Disney accessories doesn’t stop at little kids and women, guys do it too, and they do it proudly.
The crowd at Tokyo DisneySea seemed like it was 90% Japanese and 10% Foreigners. Of the 90%, I’m sure a lot of them are from outside the Tokyo area (Tim: I’m sure some of them are, not sure about 90% though). In the evening, we saw a lot of men with black suits on. It seems like some people go to Disney after work is over to just spend the evening.
We stayed at the park until closing (which was at 10pm) and made our way back to Tokyo. Considering it was close to 11pm when we were heading home there was a lot of businessmen on the train. They were all going home either from work or from dinner/drinks with coworkers. The amount of people on the train was like 6pm on the Canada Line for us.
It was a long day, we spent around 13 hours inside the park and about 2 hours of round trip travel time door to door. Although it was a long day, it was an awesome one. It was nice to experience something new and unique. I can see how it’s been reviewed as one of the best Disney Parks in the world as the detailing and themes are all very well done. Next time we come to Tokyo, I want to visit the Tokyo Disneyland. Although it’s nice to see new things, Disney is Disneyland to me because of the nostalgia and warm fuzzy feeling you get when you hear “When you Wish Upon a Star”.
Steps today: 36,000! (No wonder our legs are tired)
(Tim: And with the 36,000 steps today, we reached 1,000,000 steps on our trip so far! Couldn’t have been a better day for us to reach that milestone.)