To be fair, this is not even enough time to explore one of the districts in Tokyo, like Shinjuku or Roppongi, let alone the whole city. But as our trip dictated a short stay, we wanted to make the most of our time there.
Cue many months of researching and trying to fit as much as possible into our 48 hours (I have a spreadsheet that is separated by day, then each day is separated by, AM, Lunch, PM, Dinner and Evening.
You can see a quick screenshot of my work in progress below
FINDING A PLACE TO STAY
I started by thinking about the best place to stay in Tokyo that would be closest to what we wanted to visit.
Shinjuku and Shibuya were the two places shortlisted, I ended up deciding on Shinjuku because there really is so much going around there, plus it is easy for transfers to and from airport, and the area itself has so much to explore! Also, it is on the JR line which is the most important line for touring around Tokyo (I was recommended that any station on a JR line would be ideal)
Shinjuku it was then. I looked for a few hotels in the area, but the average price for a 3* was over £100 per night. We almost booked the APA hotel for its reasonable price and close proximity to the station, but then Bae suggested Airbnb.
We had a quick look and though the sizes of the rooms were a bit smaller, the prices were very cheap and almost all the places offered free pocket Wi-Fi – which is a must, and for no additional cost this is attractive. Also since we were living out of our backpacks, we wanted a washing machine to wash our clothes without either incurring large bills through a hotel or attempting to find and use a local dry cleaner as the language barrier was a real issue.
After much searching, we found a cute little studio apartment in Shin Okubo – one stop north of Shinjuku on the JR Yamanote line and at less than £80 per night it was a really good place to head back to after a long day. Despite being just a 5 minute walk from the station it was so quiet!
I found out later that Shin Okubo is considered Koreatown – bonus! (I am half Korean) prices are slightly cheaper for goods, plus you can get some amazing and cheap skincare from the local shops. I was not disappointed and I have never seen so many KFC (Korean fried chicken) or Korean BBQ restaurant in one street!
Tips for booking Airbnb in Tokyo
- Remember that almost every Airbnb listing is strict cancellation so only 50% refund if cancelled at any time.
- I have also noticed some guests mentioning Anti Airbnb posters in the apartment blocks they stayed. If you do book one of these places try not to act like a loud tourist!
- I prefer Airbnb over a hotel as you will pay over £100 a night for a halfway decent (3*) hotel if you want to stay in busy and popular areas like Shinjuku
- Get a place with a washing machine! especially if you are staying longer than a few days, this proved to be a lifesaver for us! (No expensive hotel laundry or hard to understand launderette services)
- Make sure the place has pocket Wifi – Tokyo has some great wifi spots but on the whole it helps to have your own wifi when travelling around the city to prevent high data usage and charges.
PLANNING THINGS TO DO
I have a bucket list the length of my entire body and there were more than a few places I want to tick off the list. In no particular order…
- Tsukuji Fish Market
- Kobe Beef Steak somewhere
- Visit a Japanese Onsen
- Get some kawaii pictures taken in a photobooth
- Get some real Ramen noodles
- Order food from a vending machine
- Kawaii Monster Café
- Maybe an animal café
- See Harajuku Fashion
- Imperial Palace
- Meiji Shrine
- Have some great Sake
- Visit an Isetan (Japanese department Store)
- Visit Golden Gai
- Visit Piss Alley
- Cross the Shibuya crossing
- Matcha Green Tea Ceremony
- Shinjuku Gyoen Garden
These are most of the Tokyo bucket list items. We didn’t get to go through all of them (but will finish the list when we are head back there summer 2018!)
I will be publishing some awesome bucketlists (not just Japan) in the coming several months – they will be live lists – so regular updates will be added as new info is found.
The bucketlist items we actually managed to complete this trip are below, along with a short summary of how it was
Tsukuji Fish Market
We got a bit scared as we were told it was going to move location (according to a local source they have real problems with asbestos in the old market)and then found out that move had been postponed due to issue at the new location…many of the people speculate that it will lose its charm when in the new site.
If you love tuna and waking up early and standing in freezing cold then go for the tuna auction. It wasn’t a big deal for us as I have seen it enough times on TV to know I would not be mad if I didn’t see it. The food was more important, but didn’t figure on the great shopping in the Outer Market and the sheer variety of seafood at all the stalls.
Careful as photography is not allowed and I saw a couple of tourists getting told off for trying to take photos in the Inner Market. I took a few surreptitiously but they didn’t come out well.
If you want cool photos of the Inner Market I recommend you take a tour.
Also, be prepared to wait over 1 hour, sometime more than 2 for the most popular sushi restaurants.
Some people in the line above had been waiting 90 minutes already!
We had sushi at a restaurant that was empty and next to one with a two hour line (see above)
The sushi was sublime, any place around it would be so don’t bother waiting and look for a place with spaces and a friendly owner.
Kobe Beef Steak somewhere
This was the top of my list. Ever since I tried a wagyu steak at STK in Atlanta I knew that I wanted to try the real thing (and not a cut like skirt steak, even though it was still the most flavoursome steak I had ever had)
I mean, check out that marbling!
The perfect bite!
There are a number of places to get this experience, some offer the wagyu as shabu shabu, or steak, or both ways. We wanted to go for a good one, but knew we didn’t want to pay £500 pp (or even for both of us really!) Some of the famous places like Satsuma Ushi no Kura, Kagurazaka-shinsen, SATO Burian, and Nihonbashi Iseju are the best but over £200 pp. We found a place called Hakushu in Shibuya, booked it thorough Voyagin (though in hindsight, we would call the restaurant direct next time to book to avoid the Voyagin £36 pp fee. Booking at Hakushu is essential – we did it about 3 months in advance – it is only a 20 seat restaurant so space is extremely limited. )
I think the difference here is that it is still family owned and run with the grandmother still at the helm cooking the steaks (although she gets help from her son (or grandson?)
Visit a Japanese Onsen
If your aim is to explore Japanese culture then you need to check out an onsen during your trip. The word derives from the word in Japanese for hot springs. These bathhouses bring together the people of Japan to bathe, relax and eat.
Two things to bear in mind when visiting an onsen is that tattoos are not permitted and you will be asked to cover them if you have one or two and not permitted to bathe if you are unable to do so. Furthermore, upon entering the Onsen you realise that everyone is in their birthday suits and it is considered strange to wear clothes/ swimwear in such a place.
Get a kawaii photo at a photobooth
There are thousands of these all over Tokyo, in shops, onsens and on the street too!
The ridiculous photo below shows you why you should do this – you get to customize your photo and make it as kawaii and totally Japanese as possible!
Get some real Ramen noodles
Oh we certainly did, but one shop is barely scratching the surface – still , if you only have 48 hours, make one of your meals a ramen (I like Tsukumen myself – see below)
Order food from a vending machine
Speaking of which, we killed two birds with one stone at the ramen restaurant as you had to order your food and beverages at a vending machine before they seat you. There was no English on our one so i took a stab and ended up with a delicious Green Tea Sake beer drink
Kawaii Monster Café
Your Instagram will thank you later…
Visit an animal café
We found a twofer – cats and owls! Did the whole thing in less than an hour
I don’t recommend the cat cafe we went to though, the one below was in Harajuku, but only had bengal cats that were thoroughly bored of humans. We will try Calico Cafe in Shinjuku next time
Real life models
This is actually half on our list still, the park is so vast and there is so much to see, we ended up completely missing the main shrine! We did come across an Edo Period well though – catch you next time Meiji
Visit Japanese Isetan
For those of you who are not familiar with the term Isetan, it mean department stores. Asia are top of their game when it comes to dept stores and Tokyo really excels in it’s offerings. Where most would frequent a department store for the clothes and designer goods, the only thing we had on our minds was food food FOOD!
Do yourself a favour and head straight to the basement for a vast array of deliciousness at every turn!
Visit Japanese 100JPY Store
This THE place to get souvenirs – forget souvenir shops, especially around tourist spots like Tokyo Tower etc. You can get cute chopstick sets, tea sets, stationary and many things you have probably never seen before.
Visit Golden Gai
A network of narrow streets in Shinuku with lots of bars, some only with 6 or 8 seats.
Each place has it’s own character and charm
TIP: go for a place that doesn’t charge cover or your barhopping could get expensive really fast.
Cross the Shibuya crossing
An iconic crosswalk which has about seven walkways, all crossing eachother to forma a huge grid of pedestrian crossing that is descended upon bu a huge mass of people every 5 minutes or so. It is truly amazing to see how quickly people can amass between green lights
And the ones that didn’t make it….
Imperial Palace – didn’t get to this part of Tokyo, but TBHwe were not about to pay for an inside tour, and although the outside is very nice, it wasn’t worth going all the way to that area for this trip
Have some great Sake – I had heard of a sake tasting bar that I was keen to try, but as we didn’t get to Roppongi for this trip, it will have to wait until our next visit!
Visit Piss Alley – this place I actually tried to find, only then to confuse myself as for a little while I thought Golden Gia and Piss Alley were the same place. Not so, while Golden Gai is in Shinjuku and is a network of narrow alleys that have loads of bars, Piss alley, though also a narrow alley, is just the one alley and is under a set of rail
Matcha Green Tea Ceremony / Shinjuku Gyoen Garden I’ve combined these two as I found out you can do a tea ceremony in the Gyoen Garden! It costs 700 JPY per person (not including the 200 JPY entrance fee to the garden and the tea house closes at 16:30
Keep following our blog as we plan to visit the ones we missed on our trip back to Tokyo next year, plus we will add a few more!
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section!