Friday, April 7, 2023

Japan Trip :: Tokyo

My family and I just came back from an incredible trip to Japan. We've been planning this trip for years. It was a bucket list destination for sure. I wanted share our travel journey just in case you're thinking about visiting Japan in the near future. We arrived to Haneda airport at 5:00 p.m. after 21 hours of travel from Ohio (traveled with Delta). 

What to do prior to the trip: 
Create an account and register your information at Visit Japan Web prior to the trip. You will be asked to submit your passports and vaccination cards. It may take a few hours before it's verified. You'll have the option to fill out paper customs and immigration forms on the plane but I highly suggest you do this prior to your arrival. Make sure you take a screenshot of the QR code for each (custom, immigration and vaccination). The process will be a lot faster, easier and smoother. Also, your passport must be valid for another six months before you depart for international travel. Customs and immigration was very fast and easy with the pre-register QR code system. Lines were moving fast. Highly recommend you fill out immigration information prior to landing and get a QR code. After immigration, we went to a self-service station to scan our declaration QR codes and passports. Once that's done, we walked to electronic customs gate. They scanned our faces and then we completely entered Japan. The entire process took about 30 minutes and was painless. 

What to get at the airport: 
  • You can get a Japan wireless pocket Wi-Fi for $4 per day and can be shared between multiple devices. I decided to get the $10 international pass offered through AT&T to connect to local data, text and calls. It worked fantastic. I was able to talk to my parents every day and the sound was super clear. No issues whatsoever. Plus, free and reliable Wi-Fi is everywhere in Japan so you don't need to have a pocket Wi-Fi if you don't want to. Make sure you download the Google Translate app prior to the trip. It's super helpful. We used it to translate everything from menus to various controls at our hotels and communicate with the locals. 
  • You can also pick up a Suica/Pasmo card at the airport. They are prepaid e-money card for moving around and shopping. Essential, Suica and Pasmo are the same. The main difference between them is that they are managed by different companies. We used it for everything from subways to snacks to souvenirs. The card can be purchased before heading to Japan. We rarely had to use cash except paying for food vendors here and there. If you purchase a Suica card at the airport, you can save on the activation fee (500 JPY - $4). Each person must have his/her own card. The card is reloadable at any train station. 
Signage in English is clear for taxi and train stations. We took a cab from Haneda airport to our apartment hotel in Ueno (Tokyo's East side). The fare was $90 vs. train ($3/pp) vs. bus ($10/pp). Alternatively, we could take a train from Haneda to Ueno station which is way cheaper but after traveling for 21 hours, I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of figuring out public transportations. Tip: The back doors of a taxi are automatic. No need to touch the handles =) Everyone was super tired. Check in was a breeze. 

Where we stayed: When travel outside of the US, I prefer not to stay in well-known hotel chains. We stayed at Mimaru Tokyo Ueno East for 2 nights. Mimaru apartment hotels are suitable for family who prefer larger room with service apartment amenities. Room set up was perfect for a family of 4 (one king size bed and 2 bunk beds). Conveniently located 5 minutes away from Ueno station. It's super clean and quiet. My personal preference is a softer mattress. Paid $383 for 2 nights. Mimaru has locations in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. We got to the hotel around 8:00 p.m. 

While my family was sleeping, I ventured out to get something to eat. Successfully got my first meal without speaking a word. I ordered my meal using a touch screen kiosk. Individual seating is separated by dividers so you don't have to interact with the person next to you if you don't want to. It's the ultimate experience for introverts like me. I paid $5 for my first meal and it was excellent. Stopped by a 7-Eleven convenience store to grab some snacks and water bottles. Then it was time to call it a night.

After 24 hours of being jet lagged, we were slowly getting back to normal. The first stop was the Ghibli Museum. Tickets were purchased in advance. They have to be purchased in advance. No reservation or ticket purchase can be made at the museum. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. (JST) on the 10th of each month for the following month. The cost is JPY 1,000 ($7.50) for an adult ticket. Ech ticket has a timed entry. There is lots to see since everything has so much details. Photographs are not allowed inside the museum. We spent 2 hours there. All in all, it was a fun experience. If you're not into animations, I'd say skip it. The museum is right next to Inokashira Park. Great spot for cherry blossom viewing! 

Next stop:  Shibuya Crossing. We took the train to Harajuku District - Shibuya, Tokyo to experience Shibuya Crossing. It was amazing to see the sheer number of people crossing the street at once. The iconic Shibuya Crossing is a must-visit destination in Tokyo. I have to say it's much smaller than I imagined. 

Next stop: Takeshita Street in Harajuku (Teens fashion district). The street is lined with fun/wacky/unique shops. It was super crowded. The little one has been dreaming about this giant cotton candy for months. We got her one ($10). Since eating while walking is a big no-no for most Japanese, we had to finish this ginormous cotton candy before leaving the shop. Let's just say, I could do without cotton candy for the rest of my life =) 

Next stop: Tsukiji Fish Market. Unfortunately, it was raining non-stop for the first 3 days of our trip. We had to modify our plan due to the heavy rain. Visited the Tsukiji Market but stalls and shops were closed early due to heavy rain. Tsukiji wholesale fish market has moved to Toyosu. You won't be able experience the tuna auction. Only the outer ring of small eateries and shopping. You can still try incredible food here. 

Next stop: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - Free attraction. Since the weather was less than ideal, this was the best thing we could experience. Observation decks provide good panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. On a clear day, famous landmarks such as Mt. Fuji, the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Dome can be seen from the observatories. As you can tell in these photos, I saw NOTHING. It was a very dreary day. 

Next stop: Enoshima Island. The island sports a series of interesting shrines that are nestled in the serene beauty of the wooded island. It's full of interesting places, good food and beautiful temples! It took about an hour and a half to get there from Tokyo by train and then a long walk across a land bridge to get to the island but it’s so beautiful. Once you make it to the island there’s a main Street with all kinds of food stalls. I got to try the famous squid paper!

Tokyo is super crowded especially during the Sakura season. Getting around will take more time than you think. We were moving from one train station to next, subways and buses. Get a hotel that is nearest to a station is highly recommended. Prioritize the things you want to do each day and be ok with not getting to everything. These attractions were on the list but we couldn't get to due to the heavy rain.
• Senso-ji Temple: It is the oldest temple in Tokyo 
• Sumida River 
• Imperial Palace 

Next destination: Hakone


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing! We are heading to Japan in the summer as well and this is very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Hi, do you need to register for The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building or just drop in any time without reservation and just enter?

Sydney's Fashion Diary said...

@ Anonymous: No need to make a reservation ahead time. You can just walk in. There a really nice cafe at the very top floor that you can just sit and enjoy the views 😊