Taking a break from North America, we wanted to do something 100% opposite, so we dove head first into the culture shock of Tokyo. We stayed in a few different neighborhoods to get a better feel for this area of Japan. Victor had been to Tokyo before, but this was my first time going. Neither of us knew too much of the language, so we spent much of the trip pointing at menus and repeating arigato while bowing our heads. We did an Airbnb in Shibuya, traveled to a historical hotel in Hakone and finished the trip in a high rise hotel in Shinjuku.
Visiting in January of 2017, we weren't expecting to see the famous cherry blossoms, so we were surprised to witness an early bloom! We also felt lucky to see a few friends on this trip. Victor's friend Marissa was in town starting out her first leg of a 3 month journey around Asia. The following night, we met up with my friend Tomi who has lived in Tokyo for years, so she showed us all the great local underground bars and treated us to many rounds of soju.
HOW WE GOT THERE / GETTING AROUND
Scott's Cheap Flights shared a deal Los Angeles direct to Tokyo. Sign up for his mailing list for amazing mistake fairs if you haven't already! After a 12hr flight in the exit row, we took the JR Narita Express to the Shibuya Station (80 minute ride) and walked a couple blocks to our Airbnb. Their train system is flawless and is extremely punctual. They even issue public apologies when trains are seconds behind.
After checking out of the Airbnb, we took a train to Hakone on the Freepass "Romance Car" which just means it's express. From the station, we walked to our hotel. The Freepass ticket also gets you around the town of Hakone on the provided shuttles, just be sure to pick up a map/schedule. We got back to Tokyo the same way and continued using their flawless metro system.
FUJIYA HOTEL is a magical place set perfectly in the mountain town of Hakone. Built in 1878, it still holds onto that old charm that makes you slow down and appreciate everything around. Each room is equipped with natural hot springs and it's known for hosting people such as Charles Chaplin, Helen Keller, John Lennon and Prince Albert. The backyard garden and the museum downstairs are both definitely worth exploring.
CENTURY SOUTHERN TOWER HOTEL is in the center of Shinjuku. The lobby is on the 20th floor allowing beautiful city views for your stay. This modern hotel in the sky was a great way to end our trip.
BILLS is located on the 7th floor at Tokyu Plaza in Omotesando Harajuku. They are known for their Australian breakfast and now we know why. There was a decent wait when we went, but totally worth it. Beautiful atmosphere as well.
UOBEI is not the greatest quality sushi we had in Tokyo, but it was super cheap and more about the experience. You sit down without a server and order your food from a computer screen, and within minutes your food is delivered on a conveyer belt.
SUSHIMIYAFUJI in Hakone is one of the best sushi restaurants we went to in Japan. The chef will challenge you to fold the smallest piece of paper into origami. We got two orders of omakase (chef's special) and tried the fish over a bowl of rice.
UMEGAOKA SUSHINOMIDORI We ate here with our friend Marissa for sushi. The wait is usually an hour long.
ICHIRAN in Shibuya is all about experiencing the taste of ramen. You make your order through a machine, take the ticket and sit down in a single stall with a small window where the chef will deliver your ramen.
MASARU in Asakusa is the best place for shrimp tempura. The line wrapped around the block, but for a good reason.
HAKONE Follow the directions in 'how we got there' above to get to Hakone, a mountain town known for its natural hot springs. We took the gondola ride for better views of Mount Fuji and went to the Open Air Museum where we took an onsen (dipped our feet into hot springs) as it started snowing. Hakone is known for onsens which are extremely therapeutic and great for general health because the volcanic water is packed with minerals great for circulation. If you plan on visiting and have tattoos, be sure to check out their rules.
FISH MARKET We actually went when it was closed for a holiday, but still got to experience the markets surrounding the area. Tip: go early.
GOLDEN GAI are a few alleys connected together filled amazing tiny bars. Absolute must when visiting Tokyo.
PISS ALLEY just outside the Shinjuku Station is an alley of the tiniest bars and food stalls. Gets busy.
ANDAZ TOKYO TORANOMON HILLS for great cocktails overlooking the endless city. They have heated blankets during winter.
SENSO-JI TEMPLE is Tokyo's oldest temple located in Asakusa. The Road to Senso-Ji is filled with cute tourist shops where I picked up a silk kimono.
MEJI SHRINE starts out as a beautiful, serene stroll through a park that leads to the Meji Shrine in Shibuya. We visited while two weddings were in ceremony which was a highlight to witness.