We arrived late afternoon on March 15 at Narita airport. This was my second time in Japan, my husband’s first. For my first trip to Japan, my parents, brother, and I went with a tour group from Taiwan. This time, we decided to plan our own trip. I appreciate how easy and safe it is to travel in Japan.
We made reservations at Touganeya Hotel using Hostel World (around January 2013). Soon after making the reservations, we were contacted by the hotel and I was able to request non-smoking room and clarify some information. The staff was very friendly. (They also allowed us to store our big luggage – full of stuff for family in Taiwan – while we went to Kyoto and Hakone.)
The location of the hotel could not have been more perfect. It was close to Ueno Park and we took walks there almost everyday (of our stay in Tokyo). The JR station was even closer. There were overpasses around the train station which made it easy to cross to different areas without worrying about traffic. If you have a rolling luggage, not to worry, there are escalators!
We took the Keisei Skyliner from Narita to Ueno. (Price: 2400 Yen per person) The website provides clear information on where to buy tickets and how often the trains are.
We were in Japan for 8-9 days, so it made sense for us to get a JR pass (7-day pass). We bought the vouchers from JTB Toronto and it was quick and easy. We were able to exchange our vouchers for our passes without difficulties at the JR Ueno Station (we were also able to post-date when we want our pass to start). Every time we went in and out of a JR station, all we had to do was to find a JR personnel (often located in a booth near the exits) and show him or her our pass. To reserve tickets for longer trips (i.e. train from Tokyo to Kyoto), just find a JR office and they will be able to issue tickets for you.
Japan – Day 1
As a result of our jet lag, we were up fairly early. We then decided to visit Tsukiji Market and try our luck at the tuna auction. We arrived at 5 AM and unfortunately, we were too late. The personnel at the information centre told us to come at 4 AM if we wanted to see the auction (the registration closed at 5 AM that day).
Even without seeing the tuna auction, it was interesting to just wander around. We managed to not get ourselves killed walking through the market (my husband said it was like playing Frogger) – some person that worked in the market directed us down a path full of forklifts zooming back and forth. The highlight of it all was having sushi at Sushi Daiwa (大和). We were there just in time – two spots open! While we were having our sushi, people started to line up.
This was the best sushi I have ever had! I had no idea what good sushi was until that day.
Tip the restaurant was pretty tiny. If you can help it, don’t bring big bags. I think this was the only downside. Although the server was very good at navigating and getting the miso soup through the tiny space.
Price 3500 Yen per person (worth every penny, in our opinions)
The people were friendly and we didn’t feel rushed when eating.
After sushi, we wandered in the market for a bit. Most of the stalls were not open yet and we didn’t want to just stand around. So we decided to walk to the Imperial Palace.
It was a nice walk (especially so early in the morning – not too many people). We stumbled upon Hibiya Park (日比谷公園). Amidst busy Tokyo, there are many of these quiet areas for escape.
After finding out that we could not visit the insides of the Imperial Palace and realizing that it was only 9 AM in the morning, we decided to take the JR train from Tokyo station to Shinjuku.
We went up to the observatory deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Free admission, relatively short line, bag check, and 360 view of Tokyo. The tourist information centre is also on the first floor. They were very helpful in answering our questions (and providing maps for specific areas of the city).
Shinjuku park provided a nice area to sit while we rested our feet. It was around 11 AM before we started walking again. We stopped by Electric Street (in Shinjuku area) to pick up an Ethernet cable (we forgot ours – good to bring one with you in Japan!) and a HDMI cable (for home). After that, we meandered our way to Meiji Jingu.
Another escape from the city! We loved walking through the temple grounds. It was very peaceful with tons of foliage. Even though there were many people, we didn’t feel that it was too crowded (because the spacious property). We also paid 500 Yen each to stroll through the Meiji Jingu Gyoen.
We came out of Meiji Jingu near Harajuku station. However, by this time it was a little past 1 PM and people were everywhere! It was too crowded, so we decided to walk to Yoyogi Station to catch a train back to Ueno. On the way to Yoyogi, we grabbed a bit at Freshness Burger (They have good ginger ale! The burgers were not too impressive, especially the bread.).
I mapped our day when we returned to Canada and we made a really big circle around the centre of Tokyo. We love walking and as a result, our trip was full of walking.