We got back one week ago from our trip to Japan! It was such a cool experience and completely exceeded my expectations. Mark had been picked to participate in a conference at his company’s headquarters in Tokyo and I of course immediately jumped on board to go with!
Mark went for 10 days and I joined him for the second half. After travel time, I ended up having 4 nights and about 3.5 days in Japan, and while that sounds super quick, it actually felt like a long vacation because we squeezed SO much in. We even did a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto!
I only know a few people who have been to Japan, but everything I’d heard is that it’s like going to a different planet… and I have to agree. We had such an amazing time, the people are so nice, public transit is insane and the food is incredible- but it’s really unlike any other big city I’ve ever been to. So today I’m sharing some of the things we did and our favorite moments from our whirlwind trip to Japan.
The view from our hotel room.
We stayed at the Prince Hotel in Shinagawa, which was picked by Mark’s work, but wound up being the perfect location. We were directly across the street from a train station that had Metro lines, Japan Rail (JR) lines and the Shinkansen (bullet trains) which made getting everywhere we wanted to go super easy.
I got in around 6PM on Thursday after leaving LA on Wednesday morning. It’s about an 11-hour flight and Tokyo is 17 (!!) hours ahead of LA, so that’s a time-travel woozy for ya. I had to look at the world clock on my phone to have any clue of what time it was back in the states all throughout our trip.
The Narita Airport is a 90 minute drive from Tokyo and I took a bus that cost about $30 and went straight to our hotel– this was just a glimpse at the beauty of Tokyo’s public transit that was to come.
WHAT WE DID – DAY 1
I explored Tokyo solo on Friday as Mark was finishing the final day of his conference. I headed to the train station and took the JR’s Yamanote line. This train makes a big circle around Tokyo and it’s super convenient/ easy to figure out. I took one of the metro trains later in the day and that is way more confusing so I got a bit lost at one point. But, I asked a woman which train to take for where I was going and she literally walked me to the right platform! SO nice.
- Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing was my first stop. It’s a major business/shopping district and is kind of like Tokyo’s version of Times Square (except less gross). The famous intersection right outside the train station is dubbed the busiest intersection in the world and it was definitely a site to see. The area near our hotel was fairly chill and typical big city stuff, so this was my first like, woah, welcome to Tokyo moment and I loved it. I just walked around staring at things for a solid half hour.
- Meiji Jingu Shrine
I hopped back on the Yamanote line to head to my first shrine of the trip. This one was about a 20 minute walk into the forest once you got off the train. It was kinda crazy walking from the bustling streets into this wooded area leading up to the Shinto shrine. This was cool to see, but not my favorite shrine of the trip or even in Tokyo. I’d rate this a do if you have time- but not a necessity.
- Shinjuku National Garden
Next I checked out this national garden that used to be a residence for a samurai family. It’s really a tourist destination during peak cherry blossom season which is late March to early April, but it was still pretty to walk around and see the ponds, bridges and tea houses even in the dead of winter;)
This was one of my favorite stops in Tokyo! Harajuku is a buzzing little neighborhood and the best street to walk down is Takeshita Street. When I came up on the entrance to the street I literally gasped out loud and couldn’t stop smiling as I walked through the entrance. There was fun music playing and there is just so. much. to. see. Harajuku is known as the capital of Tokyo’s kawaii culture and kawaii basically refers to things that are cute or charming. Think Hello Kitty, manga and Pokemon- but it’s also cutesy drawings of flowers, rainbows etc that you’ll see everywhere in Tokyo, but especially in Harajuku.
WHAT WE DID – DAY 2
We started our Saturday by taking the train to Zōjō-ji, a Buddhist temple. The Eiffel Tower looking thing in the below pics is the Tokyo Tower which we just saw from afar, but you can go up inside. There was an area next to the temple with dozens of tiny statues- these were “care guardian deities of children” and they are dedicated to the safe growth of children and also serve as memorials for babies that were miscarried.
- Hamarikyu Gardens
We walked to this public garden next. It’s on the waterfront, and was similar to the gardens I visited Friday in that they were cool to see, but only a must-do during peak bloom season.
- Imperial Palace Gardens
Next we took the train to the Imperial Palace Gardens and got there about 45 minutes before they closed- woops! We made our way through as much of the gardens as we could, but did not make it in time to see the actual palace. Also we checked this night and saw we walked a whopping 10 MILES all over the city on Saturday.
WHAT WE DID – DAY 3
Sunday was the day we did a day-trip to Kyoto! We took the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Tokyo and it took a little over 2 hours. The train goes up to 200 mph and was so cool! It costs about $250 for a roundtrip ticket, so it’s not cheap– but it’s definitely the quickest way to get between cities in Japan and it’s basically like buying a flight from Tampa to Tallahassee in Florida. If we ever go back, we would definitely buy the Japan Rail Pass which costs about $380 for a week and allows you to take pretty much any bullet train along with the JR Lines– an incredible deal if you’re visiting more than 2 cities! Our day trip to Kyoto was a highlight of Japan for both of us so I’d definitely recommend going here!
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple
We took our first cab of the trip from the train station in Kyoto to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. In Japan you wait for cab drivers to pop the door open for you– they do it automatically somehow- pretty cool! This Buddhist temple dates back to 780 and it’s one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. There were a TON of people here, definitely the most crowded spot we visited and I couldn’t stop taking pictures– I loved the colors so much and can just imagine what these temples would look like with the leaves changing in the fall or with cherry blossoms in the spring!
- Gion District
Next we went to the Gion District, which is a famous geisha district in Japan. We were only here for a few minutes and didn’t see any geisha, but apparently it’s more common to see them out and about in the evening. Also- I had to look this up- but geisha are actually professional entertainers hired to perform and interact with guests during dinners and other occasions. There were a ton of women walking around in Kyoto dressed up as geisha- I compared it to girls dressing up as princesses at Disney. But real geisha won’t stop to talk or pose for photos and their face makeup would look very professional.
- Sagano Bamboo Forest
Our last stop in Kyoto was the bamboo forest which was SO COOL. It’s located right on the edge of a river and is open 24/7 with no entry fee. We got a little lost on our way there and wound up on a path with literally no other person. After a few minutes I was like this can’t be right. I’d read that the Bamboo Forest is superrr popular and always packed with people. So we re-routed and made it there just before sunset. This place regularly makes lists like “top places to see before you die” and “most beautiful forests in the world” and I can’t recommend it enough!
WHAT WE DID – DAY 4
On our last day in Tokyo we got up and took the train to Asakusa and I’m so glad we did as it turned out to be one of our favorite stops of the trip. Sensō-ji was our favorite temple in Tokyo and it was surrounded by a really fun little shopping area. Plus it snowed this day and it was so fun to walk the streets and see the sights in the snow!
- Cat Cafe
If you thought Mark was going to travel halfway around the world and NOT go to a cat cafe, you crazy. We went back to Harajuku for the cat cafe experience and he was in heaven. I on the other hand, found it odd. We had to take our shoes off and put these weird little slippers on and there were just sooo many cats!
We took the bus to the airport in the early afternoon, boarded our flight, sat there for 2 hours while we waited for the plane to be de-iced anddddd our flight got cancelled. Woof. There are only a handful of flights out of Tokyo to LAX so the next one wasn’t until the same time the next day– so we had to wait 24 hours to leave! And to add insult to injury, the snow had literally shut the city down and few trains/buses were even running. Also in a very odd twist, literally no hotels had openings. We called at least 40 places and all were booked. Sooo we set up camp in the Narita Airport and while I wasn’t in the best of spirits about it at first, I shockingly managed to sleep for 10 hours lol. Proof I can sleep anywhere.
If you read this far- thank you ha! I know it was a long one, but I love the thought of being able to look back and remember little details of our trips down the road, plus maybe this will help someone planning a Tokyo trip one day! As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
Stay tuned for my post next week all about what we ate in Tokyo and Kyoto! Because the food scene in Japan deserves it’s own entry;)