HEY EVERYONE! I’ve never been more excited to write about a city in my life, but before I get into Tokyo, I have big news! I have finally received confirmation that I’M DONE SCHOOL! There was a complication with my transfer credit from a different university and at least a 50% probability of it not working out in my favour BUT it did! Goodbye nightmares of being held back yet another four months.
Now about Tokyo: it’s so wonderful. I started on my blog about Tokyo two days ago (today was my last day) because I was/am so excited to tell you all about it.
I’m mostly excited to tell you about how lucky I was. A friend who’s been living here for 3 months showed me around, and I’m so grateful. I also met up with a local from Couchsurfing.com. She took me to sushi lunch at Harajuku (we both don’t know the name of it, sorry), dessert at Harbs, and to her workplace WITH THE BEST VIEW. We clicked really well. We talked about so many things – dating life, travel, culture, food, and how we both think that the best time to travel is while you’re young and free (which is what almost every adult has told me out of regret). We both think that the best thing to spend money on is travel. Overall, it was a really great experience and I’d highly suggest it to anyone traveling anywhere (as long as the person has references and you’re being safe/responsible).
I’ll start with all the things I love about Tokyo, then jump into my regular format (where I stayed, what I did, what I ate, tips)… so jump to the parts you’re looking for! MAKE SURE TO READ MY TIPS!
WHY I LOVE TOKYO
I mean, other than the fact that their trains ARE ALWAYS on time… Tokyo is one of the few places I’ve visited in which I fell in love with the culture. I love Canada because there are so many lovely things about its culture; e.g. its diversity and people’s tendency to say sorry before even realizing what they did wrong. Healthcare and government are obviously large advantages, too. I loved the culture in San Francisco because everybody’s so open-minded. They just do stuff without giving it a second thought. Still, people were opinionated and freely expressed their respective opinions. Of course, I’m biased because I live in Canada and San Francisco was the first place that opened my eyes to travel. Yet, I wouldn’t say San Francisco is a liveable place. The disparity between the rich and poor is far too large and the cost of living is way too high. It’s dirty. The sheer number of homeless people is heartbreaking. And in general, San Francisco feels like a bubble. I love the bubble, but I don’t want to live in it.
I’d say Tokyo is liveable. Everyone is so kind! I lost my hostel key and somebody found it and called the hostel! The cost of living is still high, but I don’t think it’s as high as San Francisco (and I don’t feel like researching it right now because I’m not ready for my heart to be broken)… and to be honest, I’d say the high cost of living is worth it. I love that respect is so drilled into their culture. People here are so disciplined. They line up to get into the subway. They hold onto their garbage because there’s a lack of garbage cans on the streets.
Japan has also come up with solutions to problems that I didn’t even know were problems – e.g. heated toilet seats, smell-removing “showers” in Pachinko/cigarette areas, baskets under your seats in restaurants for bags/coats, lead pencils designed so that the lead cannot break, vending machines for beers/other things, spoons that don’t fall into the giant bowl of soup, umbrella rack (with locks) outside buildings, lockers throughout the city, chopsticks that don’t touch the table, convenience stores that are actually convenient (you can even pay your bills there), etc.
Ironically, their solution to Aum gas attacks was not so creative… since they just got rid of the garbage cans :P.
In general, I love Tokyo. Their language is so pleasant to the ear (in my opinion) and their voices are so pleasant too. Their commercials are adorable and hilarious. Japanese children are the cutest things I’ve ever seen. I can’t even explain how cute they are. I never thought babies were that cute until Japan. Holy moly. I react just like when I see a DOG. If you know me at all, this tells you something.
WHERE I STAYED
I stayed at Itabashi-juku guest house hostel. It’s by Naka-itabashi station. It’s not in central Tokyo but it’s a great location that’s really close to the train station and very safe. It has grocery stores 30 seconds walk away, as well as many convenience stores.
- Sleep: beds are super private and everyone there was very respectful of others. Very quiet, easy to sleep. There are curtains so you have privacy. Every bed has outlets and a lamp! And it won’t bother the other guests since the wall/curtain prevents that.
- Lockers: Everybody just left their stuff because the lockers here aren’t big enough for any bags. They have small lockers for your valuables, but it wouldn’t fit a laptop for example. But I don’t think stealing is a problem here. Just don’t leave it in plain view, just in case. I have a lock for my suitcase so I just left things in there.
- Showers: SUPER clean bathroom and showers with shampoo/conditioner and body wash all provided. Towels for rent!
- Cost: Only $20 a night! But don’t lose your key because that’s $20 to replace… luckily, somebody found it and I got refunded my $20! 😀 Japanese people are so nice. It’s in their nature.
WHAT I DID
As usual, the photos’ captions have short descriptions and more details are provided below in bullet points. THESE ARE NOT EDITED except 2-3 which were brightened/straightened.
Some of these places I’m about to talk about are subway stations. Basically, Tokyo is different from Toronto in that Toronto really only has one downtown (maybe two if you count North York separately) with the tall buildings and whatnot.. but Tokyo has several of these areas and they’re all gianormous.
- Shinjuku is the biggest station in Japan. There are metropolitan buildings you can get a good view… but not as good as one I found in Shibuya which I’ll get to later. There are some alleyways with traditional old restaurants and bars: Omoide Yokocho & Golden Gai.
- Harajuku/Takeshita sreet: here, you can see harajuku style and eat crepes. If you’ve been to Seoul, it’s kind of like MyeongDong with little stores and lots of people. I came across this while walking from Shinjuku to Shibuya (which you shouldn’t do because there’s nothing in between. Just take the subway).
- Omotesando: good for shopping and there’s some good food too. There’s also a famous Tokyo bookstore called Tsutaya around here! GO!
- Shibuya: young people go here for shopping, bars, izakaya, clubs, etc. I’d compare it to Richmond/Adelaide in downtown Toronto. If you want a good photo/video if Shibuya crossing, you can go inside the station to the second floor (maybe 3rd floor? Not sure sorry!) where the window gives you a good view. Or go toward Mark City and follow the steps on this hack way to get to the top. We went twice and almost got caught the second time so just be careful or pretend you want to check out the restaurant on the 25th floor :P. The sign clearly says people like us are prohibited.
- Ginza: like a NYC fifth avenue with tons of upscale shops and normal shops. The UNIQLO global flagship store is here. It’s 12 floors! We went inside. I don’t really know why there are 12 floors but whatever.
- Tsukiji fish market: walking distance from Ginza. Go early (6AM) for good fresh sushi! Go even earlier (2-3AM) to see the catch – both of which I didn’t do. Best to do this wile you’re still jetlagged :P. I went at 10AM. It was still super cool! It’s basically like a market where everyone sells fish and unique snacks. I’d say it’s a must-see if you’re interested in learning about food. There are fish hanging from ceilings and I accidentally licked one while pretending to lick one for a photo LOL.
- Ueno: has a big and nice park (with a pond, zoo, temples, museums, fountains, etc.) and shops and restaurants and bars. Has great illuminations if you’re around in the winter time!
- Asakusa: DEFINITELY a must see! It’s January and it’s still beautiful because of their decorations. There are street vendors selling little food items and traditional things as you can see in the photos.We went here and saw these 3 girls posing in a cute/funny way, and we asked them to take a photo of us and posed the same way LOL. It was hilarious for everyone.
- Sensoji temple: it’s in Asakusa! Do both when you’re there. The whole thing (both of them together) takes like an hour. When you go to the temple, there’s this fortune thing where you donate and draw a number/fortune. I didn’t do it but my friend did and he got a horrible fortune. Make sure you see the photo above! We died laughing, especially at the “your lost article will not be found”.
- Onsen: These are natural hot springs. I went to Sayanokudokoro onsen. English site here. It was nice, quiet, and a decent size. I walked from my hostel. Bring your own towel or you can rent. The onsen’s affordable (under $10 if you go on a weekday) and they give you free lockers. There’s a shoe locker with a 100 yen deposit so put your shoes in there and head straight to the baths. You pay after. They also have a cafeteria (which I heard was nice). And just in case you didn’t know, you have to be ready to be FULLY naked. The female and male areas are separated, obviously. I think there are ones with common areas, but then they will give you clothes to put on. BE VERY CLEAN. Respect their rules. Shower before you go into the baths because you don’t want to contaminate the water. If you have a tattoo, COVER IT with a bandaid or you WILL be kicked out! Tattoos in Japan culture are associated with gangs. Also some baths prohibit you from going in if you’re on your period.
- Arcade: we played one of those games where you use a scoopy thing to pick a prize. It took 8 tries but we won two chocolate bars, which was perfect! I think one was already in there LOL but it’s okay. It worked out for both of us. The cool thing about these arcades is that it’s all ages… you see kids playing in them as well as elderly people just sitting there with some coins and cigarettes. It’s just a way to kill time or do something on your way home from work.
- Pachinko: these slot machines may look like an arcade from the outside but they’re not. It’s just a fun way to gamble. I didn’t do it because I’m so broke LOL but it looks fun. Tsunade from Naruto plays it a lot if you watch Naruto 😛 .
- Shinokubo: Koreatown! Not as cool as the ones in Toronto, but if you’re craving Korean food, this is the place to go!
- Akihabara electric town: not really a must-see, but it’s pretty cool for photos since the whole street is blocked off for pedestrians. It’s also guaranteed to have arcades and pachinko if you somehow haven’t come across any by your last day.
- Random stores: Don Quijote (a cramped, Asian version of Walmart.. I call it the everything store), UNIQLO, Muji store, Tower of records store, MOMA design store… just walk into everything. It’s the best way to learn about the culture.
WHAT WE ATE
I’m sorry only 50% of these have the names of the restaurants… I can only tell you general location for half of them because there was no English name… I assure you you can find good food anywhere!
One thing to note is that people can smoke inside restaurants. It doesn’t make sense how they have designated smoking areas on the street but you can smoke beside a person who’s trying to eat. Anyways!
Most of the above are self-explanatory so I’ll just write random notes.
- Starbucks: first place I went.. not trying to be basic but it has WIFI and I was lost!
- Muji store: tried matcha cake bar and dongding tea, and strawberry tea pop
- Ichiran ramen in Shimbashi: I had tonkotsu ramen! Cool process with vending machines to place the order and a sheet at your booth to customize your order. People just take the sheet and place your ready food in front of you and lower a curtain. You never see the face of your server, nor the people sitting beside you because there are booth-like walls! Impersonal and very private. People eating alone is a lot more common in Japan than anywhere else I’ve been.
- Robson Fries: poutine in Shimokitazawa (which is an awesome place to get good views at the top of the UNIQLO building by the last escalator – we timelapsed the sunset here). The worker here went on a poutine tour through Montreal!
- Mango tree at Ueno subway: I know, pretty random place to eat LOL. Food was good though and the waitress was SUPER nice!
- CHIKA Izakaya at Shibuya: the third floor of one of the big buildings… $15 all you can drink! Don’t try the tea+alcohol mixes… Try the CALPIS drink! Decent food too! We had cow tongue and chicken neck. The servers were so nice. We told ours that we think he’s cool :P. When we were leaving, they were all so cute and nice saying bye. One said THANK YOU SO MUCHHH but it sounded more like TSANK YOU SO MACHUU and one server got embarrassed and started kicking him LOL.
- Seven Eleven (7/11): rice balls aren’t bad! The warm buns by the cashier are good to try. Mochi ice cream is my favourite, esp. the red bean one. I love the shrimp chips in the photo. CALPIS is an amazing drink. Cheesecake was okay…
- Okonomiyaki: pancake thing that’s really good
- Omoide Yokocho & Golden Gai: good streets for food! Go into many and just have something small if you want, but beware of seating fees in certain places!
- Harbs: famous dessert place, huge line… worth the wait for the Mille Crepes cake.
- Fried chicken at Shinokubo: good Korean fried chicken
- Natto: fermented soybeans. Don’t eat the Natto!!!!!! It was SO BAD. I don’t have a picture, sorry.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Get ready for a long flight. This was by far the hardest part of my trip. The movies were so crappy, I barely slept, the food tasted like nothing, and my legs were so sore and swollen.
- Buy an IC/PASMA/SUICA card. This is a transit card that you can load/reload with $$$ and get around. Like a GO pass in Toronto. Get it from the start so you don’t waste time/money on tickets. Just tap on, tap off, and everything’s calculated for you. I spent about 15000 yen (around $15) every day (on average) for a total of 6 days. And I walked A LOT. Their subways are just expensive because different companies run all the lines. I bought a ticket from the airport to my hostel but I bought the wrong one. Luckily there is a person at the exit area who can easily use your ticket to calculate how much you owe for the part of the trip you didn’t pay for if this happens to you.
- Map things out before you head out. You can use your time (and subway money) a lot more efficiently if you do things that are closer together in the same day. Some distances are walkable. Others are not. TOKYO IS HUGE, so just be smart about it.
- Use google maps. Their subway system is pretty intimidating/overwhelming at first but I promise you’ll get the hang of it. Note that google uses the same colours as the signs in the actual subway stations to represent specific train lines. The TOBU line has wifi at every station. Some trains have wifi on the train.
- Walk on the left. This also means cars drive on the left. Like London. So if you see someone coming, don’t go to the right. Go to your left!
- Come prepared with cash. Exchanging cash at your local bank in your own country is way cheaper than anything you’ll find here. All the exchange offices charge you an exchange rate that’s WAY worse than market value, especially for CAD. If anything, use ATMs and suffer the $5 fee (or whatever your bank charges). Better yet, get an account with your bank where you avoid international withdrawal fees.
- Watch your step. The gaps between the platform and the subway trains are HUGE. Like, my foot can just go into that hole NO PROBLEM. Also, the Tokyo subways have a campaign that says don’t walk and text because a lot of accidents have occurred this way. So just be respectful of their rules and you should be golden!
- Look around. If you don’t know what to do or what NOT to do, look around. For example, most trains are quiet (and super packed… ZERO personal space whatsoever) so be quiet. Also, people don’t normally eat and drink while they walk. I did it anyway because I’m so hungry all the time. ALSO I think it’s prohibited to bike and use your earphones! This MAY apply to walking but I’m not sure. I just never saw anybody using earphones. Ever.
- If you think the train is full and you can’t get on, you’re wrong. Just go because somebody else will. You gotta make room for yourself!
- Take breaks. The first day, I walked 40000 steps. I’m still in pain and it’s been 5 days.
If you have any questions, I’ll answer as best as I can! 🙂 Happy travelling ❤