People, I am back from Japan! It is time to share some photos of Tokyo and travel experience. While things are still fresh in my head, I shall write down a few things to take note (also as reference for my next trip). Feel free to use this as sort of a travel itinerary and guide.
1) BEFORE TRAVEL LOGISTICS
Prepare your trip months in advance. Seriously. Lodging and air tickets can be a pain if you are going to Tokyo during the “popular periods”. In particular, March / April for the Sakura season, and the August summer vacation period.
- Duration : Plan your trip to be at least 1 week long (8 days across 2 weekends), which I still find too rush. I can never get enough of Japan.
- Air Tickets : If you see an air ticket offer, hit it. I usually book the budget flights, with an extra baggage allowance on the return trip.
- Lodging : No hotels for me, since I rather spend more on things other than room service. I like hostels, which offer a better rate, and you get a more “local experience”. I am not affiliated by any means, but my usual haunt for finding lodging – Hostel World or AirBnB. Do be careful with AirBnB though, I have heard a few horror stories with some of the host families.
- Local transport : If you are travelling a lot, just buy the unlimited JR pass. For me, I have a PASMO card (or you can buy a SUICA card). You can get these IC cards from specific ticket vending machines at the airport. If you are not sure, just hop into the JR or KEISEI office and ask the staff.
- WIFI : The prepaid local SIM cards are overpriced. Renting a mobile WIFI online is the cheaper alternative. Having WIFI and GPS is a big must if you are non-Japanese speaking.
2) PACKING TIPS
- Pack your clothes into ziplock bags. Vacuum seal them and they will take up half the space.
- Tripods are not allowed through hand carry, so prepare some space in your luggage.
- Travel light. I only bring my 24-70mm lens for travelling.
- Always bring an additional hand-carry bag for the souvenirs.
- Always bring additional ziplock bags for what you might buy, pack and squeeze out all the air. Transport more goods, not air.
3) FROM AIRPORT TO TOKYO
For the first timers to Tokyo, there are 2 airports. Narita airport and Haneda airport. In either way, there are various ways to travel from the airport to Tokyo.
- By train
- By bus
- By taxi
Just avoid using taxis, or you are in to burn a huge hole in your wallet. Buses are ok, but they are subjected to traffic conditions. A bad traffic jam can easily add hours to the trip. So my favorite, by train. My usual mode of transport from Narita to Tokyo is the Keisei Access Express… which offers a pretty decent price and speed (1 hr 40 mins). Until recently, it dawned on me to just pay a little more for the Narita Express Round trip. Which just costs a little more, but much faster AND comfortable.
4) LOCAL TRANSPORT
Tokyo is well connected via buses and trains, and is extremely complicated. Do take time to understand the train network before going. Tokyo is slowly adopting English, but there are parts of the train system which are still “Japanese only”. While most of their staff will try their best to help you, it is best to do your own research before going and avoid getting lost.
P.S. I have been to Tokyo many times, and I still cannot fully understand their train network.
5) THE CHEAP AND GOOD EATS IN TOKYO
There are lots of good food in Tokyo, but they are by no means cheap. But, you can enjoy Japanese food at their “regular budget food restaurants”, where all the meals can be well below 1000 yen.
- Matsuya 松屋 : Beef bowl heaven. Goes well with a raw egg and beer.
- Hidakaya 日高屋 : Ramen, fried rice, dumplings and beer at reasonable price.
- Fuji Soba 富士そば : Reasonably priced soba.
- Yoshinoya 吉野家 : Reasonably priced rice bowls.
Most of these restaurants have English menu, so you don’t have to worry. If the western fast food craving kicks in, there’s Burger King, McDonald’s or KFC. If all else fails, go into any convenience store and grab a sandwich. There are cheap bento and sushi at supermarkets too.
6) WHERE TO GO : SHOPPING
I shall not replicate Trip Adviser here, but share a more personalized experience here. Do bring your Passport around to enjoy tax-free. As at time of writing, any purchase above 5000 yen is applicable for tax-free. Just flash your passport before buying at a tax-free shop.
Akihabara : Figurines, Gunpla, Electrronics, Games, Anime and Manga. You name it, this place is heaven. Do be careful with a few stores that are overpriced and meant to “kill tourists”. I have seen some tour buses stop at these shops, and figured they have an under-table agreement with the tour guides.
Camera Equipment : I don’t usually buy camera gear in Japan. No one seem to beat the prices in Hong Kong. But Tokyo still offers a good range of accessories and good quality filters. There are 2 big players in Japan for camera goods : BIC Camera and Yodabashi Camera. Which, my favorite haunt is at Shinjuku Yodabashi HQ. There are other smaller shops around, but mostly in Japanese… and they offer expensive rare finds.
Clothing and fashion : Harajuku and Shibuya… If you are not particular about fashion, just walk into any Uniqlo. If you are looking for traditional Japanese clothing, walk around the Asakusa area.
Souvenirs : Take a walk down Asakusa Kaminarimon. The Meiji shrine also has a pretty nice souvenir shop. I find the shops at Akihabara to be overpriced.
Sake and alcohol : Take note that you need to be 20 years old and above to buy alcohol in Japan. Supermarkets offer pretty good selections, but a particular BIC Camera store in Ikebukuro has a dedicated tax-free section for alcoholic drinks.
7) WHERE TO GO : PHOTOGRAPHY
There are so many places to shoot in Tokyo, which I regret not doing so during my trip. Where I have gone to during this trip :
- Meiji Shrine
- Tokyo Skytree
- Tokyo Big Sight
- Diver City (1:1 Gundam)
Where I wanted to go :
- Shinjuku park, Imperial Palace, Ueno Park
- Shibuya crossing
- Samurai Museum
- Tokyo Tower
8) WHERE TO GO : SIDE TRIPS
There are a few good side trips to go on while in Tokyo. For a 8 days trip, I only managed a one day trip to Kamakura. A small note on how to get to Kamakura, and getting around town :
- Take the Ginza line to Shimbashi Station (or any lines that reach this station).
- From the Shimbashi Station, switch to the Yokosuka Line.
- Stop at the Kamakura Station.
- From Kamakura, there are a lot of places and shrines to visit. In particular, visit the Big Buddha. You can take a bus, or the local Enoden line (stop and walk from the Hase station).
- In the area of the Hase station, there is an interesting Music Box Museum if you are interested.
- If time permits, try to catch sunset at Enoshima (Enoshima station). There’s plenty to see on the island too.
The rest of the places where I wanted to go, but couldn’t find time :
- Fuji 5 lakes
Well, that’s it for this post. Maybe someday, I shall visit Tokyo again and write more in-depth guides. Until then, cheers!