Tokyo in a day.
Japan is another top favorite of mine, so stay tuned for when I report back on cities outside of Tokyo. But even from the capital city alone, I’ve fallen in love. Personally, I think most things in Japan are just a little “better,” and I’m not alone. That being said, it’s certainly worth noting a few cultural details here that you’ll want to apply to be a respectable tourist:
For instance: tipping is NOT a thing in Japan. Really, it could be considered offensive even, because it is considered part of their honor to serve you. So save your yen- you’ll need them.
Also, when in Tokyo on an escalator, you MUST stand on the left side and allow people to pass on the left (in Kobe, apparently, it’s the opposite… but more on that in the Kobe article). Dare to stand on the right side at your own risk, and by that I mean someone may physically try to move you over to get by on the moving stairs.
It is also considered rude to show the bottom of your shoes, and you’ll notice the wide use of slippers everywhere. Japan is incredibly clean and orderly: even the small population of homeless rest quietly under a bridge with each cardboard box in an orderly line, every blanket folded into a neat pile, and all umbrellas gathered together in a single box. A place for everything. You can see how my flight-attendant-galley-pro OCD could fall in love here.
Cleanliness aside, the food is delicious and fresh (don’t worry non-sushi eaters, there are chicken options everywhere, and some vegetarian, too), the people are hospitable, and accommodation options are vast. Though I’m not sure I’d consider Japan to be a “budget-traveler” destination, it’s well-worth the coin and even the cheaper options are high quality… though you will sacrifice some square footage for the lower-end rooms.
Also keep in mind when buying your flights that the Haneda Airport (HND) is IN Tokyo and the Narita Airport (NRT) is about an hour outside, though there are several comfortable transportation options. Book your flights and grab your chopsticks!
If you’re able to have your pick of the year of when to come to Japan, you’re in for a special treat if you make it during cherry blossom season in the spring. Though I’ve not been able to get out into the forests of blossoms, I have had the chance to see Tokyo in springtime and even the trees dotted throughout the city seem to give off an almost angelic, feather-light glow through the season. Check back for when we’re able to see more outside the city!
The “downtown” area of Shinjuku is one amazing spot to spend your day. Right in the middle of a hustling, bustling city, you’ll find plenty of places to stay, eat, shop, and enjoy. It’s even dotted with a few small parks some blocks away from the busier streets for quiet, quick getaways for businessmen and tourists alike.
Though some consider it a bit “touristy,” you’ll still find plenty of locals stopping in for a quick bite at the sushi train restaurants scattered in Tokyo. I personally love this and it can be super fun stacking your plates. The Sushi Train is just that: a conveyer belt going in a circle around the chefs who are slicing and plating your fresh dinner while simultaneously greeting you (simultaneously) as you walk through the door. Hand towelettes and hot water dispensers sit at each seat with ceramic mugs and green match tea powder for you to enjoy as you browse your dinner options going by in a parade with small signs introducing each line up. You really only need to bother the host if you’d like a beer or soda. Once you’ve had your fill, you’re charged by the amount of plates you’ve collected at your seat, and at some places there is a color/price variance as well. But all in all, I’ve always walked out extremely satiated and for way less than what I thought I’d spend.
I’ll definitely have to keep this description concise since I could go on for paragraphs about all the great things to buy in Japan - but more on that in our up-coming Modern-Day Sky-Mall page. This is more about all the different variations of shopping you can find in Tokyo. For instance, you can probably find a vending machine for just about anything just about anywhere. Electronics, beauty products, and beverages… the convenience is real. Every other street corner and in even in front of shops, they’re there. Each gatehouse in the airport terminal and every platform in the train station can offer you about 25 different types of water, tea, or coffee (really, that number is not an exaggeration). Not a bad reason to save more coins.
The Don Quixote building stands tall on the corner of a busy intersection, offering its patrons about 5 levels of anything and everything: from gifts and souvenirs to housewares to pantyhose to face-masks (see Tokyo Shopping List) to even more, ahem, intimate items. Everything. Also, as for the face masks, I’d like to thank my friend and Local Ref Lisa for sharing her brilliant face mask idea: she leaves her box of 30 face masks in the fridge to put on nightly in summertime. Thank you, Lisa, and You’re welcome, rest of the world.
This is what the Japanese call their “local style” of eating in a food court of types, semi a-la Spanish “tapa” style, sharing small plates. There’s a little bit of everything for anyone, and I was super honored to check out the local feel with Lisa, even as I became distinctly aware my blonde hair stuck out here just a little bit more. I realized I was the only non-Japanese person in the building as we walked through the tight spaces through various stalls and delicious smells. We finally settled at a place we could find two vacant stools and claimed our corner as Lisa made friends with the chef. Within a matter of minutes he served us a few yummy plates upon Lisa’s recommendation and my determination to brave new foods. It also happened to be this night she introduced me to Shoju, Sake’s cousin made from wheat instead of rice. Served on the rocks or with soda water, it almost has a light whiskey flavor that this non-whiskey drinker actually likes (you can now find a few small bottles in my fridge at home… see Tokyo Shopping List!).
Local Ref: Lisa Hirata