I'M IN THE FAST LANE, FROM LA TO TOKYO!
Japan has always been on my visit list. Sushi, bullet trains, technology, shrines, castles, funky cafes, and geishas... Who wouldn't want to experience that!? And I heard once you visit Japan emojis suddenly make sense... well I can now confirm the rumors to be true. You're welcome.
So, my trip to Tokyo was far from well planned out, but lets be honest- most of them are. My cousin and I went on a last minute whim which is always the funnest way to travel in my opinion. We booked our tickets a week in advance which I find is when you get amazing deals for international flights and before we knew it we were off! With no itinerary but just a list of ideas and sights to see we braved the long flight from LA to Tokyo briefly stopping in Vancouver for a quick power nap on the airport floor. (tip: get over any fears of germs in order to sleep. I had to do this and don't regret it. Besides, it is all about building up that immune system, right!?)
Now that you've booked your ticket, there are a few must do things to prepare for your adventure, here is your "to-do check list". Ready?
TO DO BEFORE:
Obtain a valid passport: Great news! You do not need a visa to travel around Japan, however a valid passport is required.
Buy a Japan Rail Pass: This is something that only tourists can obtain, and will be the cheapest way of getting around Japan if you are wanting to travel to different cities. Keep in mind that you will still have to pay for your metro rides through out the city, however they are only a few bucks.
Reserve Pocket Wifi: If only we had these in America!! Your own personal and password protected wifi. Good for several devices and fairly cheap for your trip. I highly recommend this, because free wifi in Japan, although available, is hard to connect to.
Download a currency convertor app on your phone: This will come in handy when you are buying souvenirs, food, and taking money out of the ATM. (quick math ¥100= $1)
Download google translate on your phone: Not many people in Japan speak English, however if you need help with directions or trains (they can be very confusing) this app will save your life! Talk English into the phone, select Japanese and WA-LA! You can communicate efficiently.
Download google maps on your phone: This will prevent you from getting too lost. Also it will show you all the times the trains will come and where to find them and what stop to get off. It's a cheat sheet for getting around without causing more attention to yourself.
Set up an Air BnB account: This will be the most effective way to stay all over Japan while getting a good variety of Japanese living.
Great! You're all ready! Now for the fun part!! Planning what to do while in Tokyo! First let me tell you this; Japan is a HUGE country and Tokyo is a HUGE city. You will be running around crazy sight seeing and experiencing all that Tokyo has to offer. On your way home you will feel as if you didn't get to see enough! That's okay! That just means you'll have to go back and visit again!! Anyway, here are a few of my favorite things we did in Tokyo that I highly recommend!
Comfy Walking Shoes
Portable Phone Charger (or two)
TO DO DURING:
I hope you're ready for this amazing place!! Harajuku is just as crazy as you might imagine. Upon getting off the train, you will come out to Takishidori Street. Don't get overwhelmed. Yes it is sardine packed with people, but you can make it through, I promise! There is such a fun vibe here with a lot to see, do, buy, and eat! Who doesn't love eating!? This is a great place to do your shopping for fairly cheap and get awesome stuff! Don't worry my friends, they have a luggage shop so you can shop till you drop!!
Upon total fluke we came across our favorite ramen house while in Harajuku and even made a special trip back before we left. The concept of ordering ramen from a vending machine and then getting served in the restaurant was amazing to me! You better believe I snap chatted the entire thing! If you're ever there, go eat at Ichiban Ramen House and eat a bowl for me!
Once you get through Tashidori Street you will be able to breathe again and can wander off and explore the fun sub-city. Keep your eyes peeled for cosplayers and babydoll harajuku girls. Also, this is a pretty trendy spot so most of the people speak English which is nice and chances are you won't be the only foreign one walking around.
Want that "holy cow I'm in Tokyo!" feeling?? Well then, go here. Shibuya Crossing is the most iconic intersection on the earth. It is the Times Square of Tokyo. With everything from ¥100 yen shops (basically a dollar store) to Karaoke bars, arcades, restaurants, strip clubs, shopping, crazy people watching. It is one of the craziest and memorizing things I have ever seen. The only reasonable description would be Organized Chaos! When that illuminesant white walk man appears the amount of people that are crossing the streets in every direction is a thousand times more than enough to kill any claustrophobic person. After sitting and watching the beauty of it up top at the nearby Starbucks; of course I had to walk it! This is a definite must while visiting Japan!
Basically you pay a bunch of yen to eat sub par pastries or order a drink (which is required), BUT you get to play with animals so who cares how much it costs! We opted for the owl cafe due to the fact that you can't really play with owls here in the states. They had all types of different owls in colors, shapes, and sizes. The cafe we went to unfortunately didn't have baby ones but they had a HUGE one that was pretty neat. I suggest doing this for the experience and cute Instagram pictures 'cause lets be honest, that's our generation now a days!
I'm all for one in diving into culture and seeing what cool pop up museums are in the area while you're visiting and luckily we were able to come across the Crystal Universe in downtown Ginza, Tokyo. It was the most beautifully peaceful museum I've been to with a thousand plus string lights that you could walk through while controlling the background music and color display from your smart phone. (Duh, Tokyo is the technology capital of the world!) Now, BRING THIS TO LA!!!! (insert praying hands emoji)
If you want to really immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture, may I suggest going to see a show at the kabuki theater. Unless you speak Japanese, I guarantee you will not understand a thing that is going on if you opt out of the translating headphones. However that's the fun in it right? It gives you an appreciation for Japanese culture and Theater and gets you cultured.
Onsen (bath house)
For those who are shy while in their birthday suit, I might suggest skipping this activity OR finding a bath house with an outdoor co-ed area where swimsuits are required. Basically think of going to a nice hot spring with different types of baths to renew and revitalize your body, mind, and spirit. We did this our last night in Japan to cap off our trip. We opted to go to the local bath house which was cheaper at 14 yen per person, however next time around I will opt for the more expensive and exclusive ones. Nonetheless the baths were amazing. My favorite baths were the tea bath and the milk bath which left me feeling revitalized and silky smooth!
(quick side note, tattoos are not permitted in any onsen house that I know of, and since you are completely naked you can't hide them.)
Other than eating an excessive amount of Ramen, every morning we would walk to the local pastry shop and load up on delicious carbs for breakfast and any afternoon snacks. I will always recommend going to a pastry shop no matter where you are to try the different pastries. I was beyond pleasantly surprised at how delicious the pastries in Japan were!
Sushi restaurants are about as common as hot dog or taco carts are in New York City. Meaning they are everywhere! You of course have to have sushi while in Japan, however when you come back to the states be prepared to be disappointed with every sushi you have hear on out. Theres just nothing like the authentic cuisine of a country.
Lastly, If you are around the Tokyo, Urayashu area, then you MUST have shabu shabu! We made a reservation at a family's house turned restaurant for our last Japanese supper and I've never eaten so much or been so full in my life. The sweetest family ever cooks and serves you all you can eat shabu shabu (think fondu Japanese style) complete with drinks and a ride back home all for 25 yen a person! If youre interested in eating there contact me and I will give you their info since they are just a cute family and not full functioning restaurant.
And don't forget dessert! make sure to try all the flavors of mochi balls!! Cookie Dough was a personal favorite of mine and can be found at any convince store.
Overall, the wacky and wonderful city of Tokyo should be on everyone's travel list. It will leave you exhausted and wanting more. We didn't even touch the surface of things to do with a few days we were there, but hey! thats just an excuse to go back right?!
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK!! WANDERING TO KYOTO, JAPAN