With Covid restrictions slowly being eased this year, we started to look for somewhere to go for a trip, having been in Australia since the end of our Vietnam trip at the beginning of 2020. The relaxing of restrictions in Japan led us to choose this as our first destination, especially as entry procedures are quite easy, with no pre departure covid tests needed for vaccinated travelers. As of March 2023 Fully vaccinated travelers from most countries can enter visa free and register their trip and details with the visit japan website, which then gives QR codes to show on arrival for health, immigration and customs checks on arrival https://vjw-lp.digital.go.jp/en/ Download the app, and instructions are quite clear.
We’re Back – In Japan 2023
Unfortunately airfares are almost double what they were previously, and cost of living has increased everywhere, making this trip an expensive one by our standards. We managed to find reasonable airfares on Malaysia Airlines flying direct from Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur & then to Narita in Tokyo, and although Japan is quite expensive, the yen to $ rate is quite good at the moment and one can eat reasonably cheaply there. Accommodation was a big expense this time.
We used the Suica IC card for travelling as we were mainly staying in Tokyo, so the Japan Rail Pass would not have been of benefit to us. The Suica card is a prepaid rechargeable chip card that allows use of most forms of public transport (metro, trains, buses, monorail and taxis) in Japan. It can also be used to pay for goods in many vending machines and many stores like 7/11, Lawson’s, Family Mart etc. A special version of Suica, called Welcome Suica, is available to foreign tourists. The special cards are valid for only four weeks, come without a deposit fee, but do not allow for refunds. Many YouTube videos are available on the use of these.
We also purchased a data only Japanese sim card. This is a lot cheaper than using your own provider’s international data packs. They are freely available at international arrival airports in Japan or you can get them mailed to you at home.
Google Maps is a great app to download as it works brilliantly in Japan, and will even give you transport details down to the detail of train or bus timetable and which platform to use. It even shows which car on the train to use for quick exit.
Google Translate is also really useful for helping ask questions etc., and using the camera setting helps read signs, labels etc. really good for shopping, eating and such where English can be rare. Many restaurants do however have English menus either on display or offered when you enter.
From Narita airport we travelled on the Keisei Skyliner, which is the quickest and cheapest option Y2570 each one way – runs every 15-20 mins for a 45 minute trip. It only goes to Ueno, so those wanting to head into central Tokyo or beyond need to change at Nippori. There are several options for travel into Tokyo, depending on where you are staying. We were going to Asakusa, so caught the Skyliner to its terminus in Ueno, then a short taxi ride to our hotel. If heading for Tokyo or changing to the JR lines, you are best to get off and change at Nippori as the Keisei and JR platforms are close. The other main option is the Narita Express (NEX) run by JR. It is more expensive and slower and less frequent than the Skyliner, but free if you have a JR Pass, and connects seamlessly with other JR trains at Tokyo station. A third option is the Keisei Access Line which is a regular commuter train, so is slower and not bookable and can be crowded. It is however only Y1344. It also goes all the way to Haneda airport. There are many videos about these services, and we would be happy to answer questions.
Check out our hotel in Asakusa
For our first week in Tokyo we had chosen the Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International as being in a good central point for the things we wanted to see in this part of Tokyo. We try to walk as much as possible when on holidays, and like it if we can stay handy to where we want to go. Our main interests in this area were the Sensō-ji temple and Nakamise-dōri., Tokyo Skytree, Sumida River and Ueno park and surrounds, all walkable distances for us. The area has a nice old style feel, and is very popular, with some parts, especially near the temple, being very crowded on weekends.
The hotel proved to be exceptionally nice, clean and comfortable, with nice staff who could mostly speak some English. Facilities were really good in the rooms, firm but really comfortable beds (the best we actually had in Japan), large flat screen TV, and good size rooms. Alternate floors also had either a microwave and vending machine room or a coin laundry room, which was really handy.
The hotel lobby is on level 5 of the building, above UniQlo and Asakusa Yokocho. Just be aware that interestingly enough there is a Richmond Hotel on the same intersection, so make sure you go into the correct one.
A Walk Around Asakusa, Tokyo
Take a stroll with us around the Asakusa area. Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s Shitamachi, (Shitamachi is the traditional name for the physically low parts of Tokyo along and east of the Sumida River) and still retains the vibe of an older Tokyo.
Nakimase Dori – one of the oldest shopping streets in Tokyo (actually inside the grounds of Sensoji Temple) stretching from Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) to Hozomon (Treasure House Gate). Apart from many souvenir shops, there are heaps of street food stalls selling such things as – Ningyoyaki—little sponge cakes filled with red bean paste and cooked in various shapes, fried meat croquettes, melon pan bread, matcha ice cream and many other sweets like mochi, daifuku and manju etc.
The Asakusa Tourist Information Centre which is an interesting contemporary design of wood and glass, and has a free viewing platform on level 8 that looks straight up Nakamise Dori to the Sensoji Temple.
Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest structure in Japan (634m) and supposedly the tallest tower in the world. It has two observation decks at 350m and 450m, but is quite expensive at ¥2700 or ¥3100 depending on when you book
The Sumida River, which runs through the centre of Tokyo, & Sumida Park a popular place for a stroll or a boat cruise and also lined with cherry blossom trees in season.
Enjoying Historic Japan – Kappabashi Dori , lunch and the Shitamachi Museum
We take a walk from Asakusa to Ueno down Kappabashi Street, where there are a huge number of shops selling everything for cooking from knives and bowls to plastic food. You can spend less than ¥100 on a cheap pair of chopsticks or up to ¥10,000 for a Japanese kitchen knife that you can personalise and which will last you a lifetime.
Lunch near Ueno Station – Kakiage Soba Noodles (Hot Soba with Mixed Vegetable Tempura)
Then to the The Shitamachi Museum which is a museum in Ueno. Located on the shores of Shinobazu Pond within Ueno Park, it is dedicated to the traditional culture of Tokyo’s downtown district, which is called Shitamachi in Japanese. A relatively small museum with an entry fee of only ¥300, but it is packed with such accurate and detailed recreations of historical streetscapes and living spaces that you may feel like you have travelled back in time. Something like google translate is handy, as most signs are only in Japanese. They do have a brochure in English. They advertise an English language tour but this was not operating when we went (many things had still not returned to full operation since Covid, but more are opening all the time). At lunchtime on September first 1923, Tokyo was devastated by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake followed by huge fires that reduced nearly half of Japan’s capital to a blackened, rubble-filled, corpse-strewn wasteland of desolation. About 120,000 were killed and 2 million left homeless. Many died through the fires that started because people were cooking at the time.
See the animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo
It is Japan’s oldest zoo, opened on March 20, 1882. Stations close are Ueno Station, Keisei Ueno Station and Nezu Station. The Ueno Zoo Monorail, the first monorail in the country, connects the eastern and western parts of the grounds. It covers 14.4 hectares and has around 3000 animals.
The zoo is in Ueno Park and is closed on Mondays (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). Adult entrance costs ¥600.
Bus to Kawaguchiko
We had booked 6 nights in Kawaguchiko to spend some time in the Fuji Five lakes area, and booked the bus from Tokyo station at ¥2000 each, each way. We started with coffee at Tullys in the Tekko building before boarding the bus.
This is a condensed view of our trip from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko.
Check out our hotel in Kawaguchiko
We had booked 6 nights in Kawaguchiko at Haostay, which turned out to be a great choice and good value for money.
Room was large, clean and really comfortable and the tatami area was great. Having a great view of Mt Fuji out of our window everyday was fantastic, watching its different moods. Having a full day of deep snow was fun too, although not anything to do with the hotel. We had the Japanese breakfast every day which was wonderful (we do not travel to Asia to eat western food), and all the staff were really helpful. The rooftop area is great and the provision of a microwave, laundry area and vending machines on the lobby floor were really useful.
There is a choice of Japanese breakfast or a more western style breakfast. Limited choice but really nice.
Japanese Breakfast consisted of – tamagoyaki (omelette), apple, pickled radish, pickled lotus root, kuromame (sweet red beans), bacon, miso soup, rice, Oden (Japanese stew) with? konnyaku (yam speckled), chikuwa (fish cake),
There is also offered a western style breakfast
Ice Caves and Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba (Healing Village)
Today we head for Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba (Healing Village) and the Ice & Wind caves. We caught the green Line bus from near our hotel.
(There are three bus routes in Kawaguchiko. You can use your Suica or other IC card or buy a day pass if you prefer. All routes start and finish at Kawaguchiko station)
First we headed to Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba, (entrance fee ¥500) which was a traditional village destroyed by a mud slide and rebuilt as a tourist attraction on the edge of Lake Saiko, with different craft shops, museums etc. housed in the buildings. Not quite the traditional village we were expecting, but interesting enough with good views of Mt. Fuji. We had a very pleasant Mushroom & Soba Noodle lunch in one of the houses.
Next we again caught the green line bus to the Wind Cave stop where we bought combined tickets for the Wind and Ice Caves (¥600). There is a nice forest walk between the caves. They are located in the Aokigahara Forest, a dense forest growing on a bed of lava from the last eruption, on the Northwest side of Mt. Fuji. Parts of Aokigahara are very dense, and the porous lava rock absorbs sound. It has also become known as suicide forest due to the large number of suicides there.
The caves are deep lava caves that are cold year round, and used to be used to store silkworm seeds and cocoons. After touring the Wind cave we did the pleasant walk through the forest to the Ice Cave, then caught the bus back to Kawaguchiko,
Fuji Ropeway, HotPot & Lake Walk
In this video we go up Mt Tenjo on the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway, walk round parts of Lake Kawaguchi and eat Houtou-men (a local Yamanashi hotpot dish of soup, noodles and vegetables cooked at the table) at Restaurant Lakeside in Kawaguchiko ¥1500 each.
The Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway ascends 400 meters from the eastern shore of Lake Kawaguchiko to an observation deck near the peak of Mount Tenjo. From the observation deck, which sits more than 1000 meters above sea level, there are panoramic views of the lake below and of Mount Fuji. The cost is ¥500 each way or ¥900 retuen. We went up only and walked down as there is a hiking trail from the observation deck down the forested mountain slope which takes about 30 minutes to descend. A different trail leads from the observation point 300 meters uphill to a small shrine at the summit of Mount Tenjo, from there the trail continues on to Mount Mitsutoge, a popular day hike with good views of Mount Fuji.
Snow, snow & more snow
Our last day in Kawaguchiko we woke up to heavy snow, which continued throughout the day. By the end of the day we had apparently had 30cms of snow, and the roads from Tokyo, including the Chuo Expressway had been closed. We hoped that they would be cleared by morning as we were booked to return to Tokyo by bus from Kawaguchiko station the next morning.
Next morning whilst we were having breakfast reception checked for us and found out that our bus was running.
Haostay kindly put on a minivan shuttle to get us to the station through the snow.
Check out the Dai ichi hotel, Tokyo, Shimbashi.
For this 2 weeks part of the trip we had booked the Dai ichi Hotel, Tokyo in Shimbashi. The location was perfect being right on the JR lines station at Shimbashi for travel around Tokyo, as well as handy for the Yurikamome line to Odaiba.
The hotel was more expensive than we usually spend, but was in a perfect location for us and had large rooms. We ate out all the time or brought food back to our room, as it is not a cheap place to eat, but is a fabulous hotel with great facilities and large comfortable beds.
WOW! You have to see this place – Art Aquarium Museum
Today we visit the really unique and fabulous Art Aquarium Museum in Ginza, have a Korean lunch, and a quick look around (our first of several visits) the fabulous food area in the basements of Mitsukoshi Store in Ginza.
The entrance to the art museum is located on the 9th level of the Mitsukoshi Department Store (cnr Chuo Dori Ave and Harumi Dori Ave., in Ginza).
Almost all the artworks are comprised of different shaped tanks of fish and moving coloured lighting. In the words of their website “Goldfish X art Woven by Light, Sound and Incense”. Entry is ¥2400 each, and we thoroughly enjoyed and recommend it.
Today we take a day visit to Disney Sea. We took the JR line from Shimbashi to Tokyo Station, Keiyō Line from Tokyo to Maihama Station, then the Disney Resort monorail from Maihama to Disney Sea – total cost on IC card ¥490 each – takes around an hour. Entrance cost to Disney varies on the day and MUST BE PREBOOKED, they DO NOT SELL TICKETS AT THE PARK. Tickets can be purchased online and in Japan at some travel agencies, convenience stores and Disney stores. We bought ours from a JTB office in Ginza (Japan Travel Bureau). Tickets cost from ¥8400 to ¥9400 depending on the day, we paid ¥8400. The Tokyo Disney Resort website lists prices for each day for each park.
View from Tokyo Government Tower plus Yoyogi Park & Meiji Shrine
Today we took the Yamanote line to Shinjuku station and walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower, which is free to go up to the observation deck. It has two towers North and South. Unfortunately the North Tower was closed when we went, but we still had some fantastic views of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji.
After we walked to and through Yoyogi park and the Meiji Shrine. Meiji Shrine, is a Shinto shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo, that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The shrine does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto.
From there we walked briefly down Takeshita-dori, a 400m long pedestrian shopping street in Harajuku, lined with fashion boutiques, cafes and restaurants particularly popular with teenagers and tourists.
We then returned home from Harajuku station.
Sunshine City Aquarium
Today we took the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro station and walked to Sunshine City, which is a large complex containing shopping malls, eateries etc. as well as the Sunshine Aquarium (¥2400 each) and the Konica Minolta planetarium (¥1700 each) which are on the top floor of the World Import Mart building in Sunshine City.
The Aquarium was very good, although the tanks for larger species were a bit small, but otherwise there was a good selection of fish etc.
As far as the planetarium went, the venue and seating is great, but the graphics were very elementary and low resolution and blurry, and we were quite disappointed to be honest. Also at the time we went (Feb 2023) due to continuing covid restrictions, they don’t provide equipment for the English translation, which made the story rather meaningless. So overall we would rate it as not worth going to.
We had a very nice lunch at Izukogen Kenny’s House Café in the mall
Ultra Modern Tokyo – Odaiba – (Driverless trains, Unicorn Gandam, International Space Station and the Statue of Liberty)
Today we catch the Yurikamome line train from Shimbashi Station to the Tokyo International Cruise Terminal Station to go to Miraikan (future museum) – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. A museum created by Japan’s Science and Technology Agency. The museum gives a chance to enjoy hands-on contact with science and technology. Entrance is ¥630 each.
The Yurikamome line is Tokyo’s first fully automated transit system, controlled entirely by computers with no drivers on board.
After having a quick curry and rice lunch at the museum we walked to Odaiba Seaside Park where we saw the giant Unicorn Gandam Statue, and the Statue of Liberty.
The French Statue of Liberty made in France in 1889 was placed in Odaiba from April 1998 to January 1999 as a symbol of the Japan-France friendship. It was her first exhibition abroad. The statue was so popular that people wanted to have their own as her return date approached. The present statue is a replica created in 1999 with official permission from the city of Paris and was unveiled on December 22, 2000. It is 1/7th size of the one in New York. There are also others in Shimoda and Osaka.
Also to view from here are the Rainbow Bridge, (a suspension bridge crossing Tokyo Bay which is colourfully illuminated at night using solar power) and the huge and unique Fuji TV Broadcasting Centre with its 3 sky corridors and huge spherical observation dome.
visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace plus Emperors Birthday and bonus interesting toilet
Today we walked from Shimbashi via Hibiya Park to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in the Chiyoda district of the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo and contains several buildings including the Fukiage Palace where the Emperor has his living quarters, the main palace where various ceremonies and receptions take place, some residences of the Imperial Family, and the Imperial Household Agency building. Except for the Imperial Household Agency and the East Gardens, the main grounds of the palace are generally closed to the public.
On the night of 25 May 1945, most structures of the Imperial Palace were destroyed in the allied firebombing raid on Tokyo. Due to the large-scale destruction of the Meiji-era palace, a new main palace hall and residences were constructed on the western portion of the site in 1964–1968.
It is built on the site of the old Edo Castle. A few days later was the emperor’s birthday, so we just watched some of the celebrations in Hib
Also an add-on of an interesting feature of many Japanese public toilets, a child seat on the wall!
Team Lab Planets, Tokyo – a truly unique and immersive experience
Today we went to Team Lab Planets, Tokyo. A unique facility that was meant to close at the end of 2022, but fortunately had extended into 2023. The price was ¥3200 each, but is going up to ¥3500 each from 1.4.23. It is located next to the Shin-Toyosu Station on the Yurikamome line in Odaiba
“teamLab Planets is a museum where you walk through water, and a garden where you become one with the flowers. It comprises 4 large-scale artwork spaces and 2 gardens created by art collective teamLab. People go barefoot and immerse their entire bodies in the vast artworks together with others. The artworks change under the presence of people, blurring the perception of boundaries between the self and the works. Other people also create change in the artworks, blurring the boundaries between themselves and the works, and creating a continuity between the self, the art, and others.”
Shinagawa Aquarium is on the grounds of the Shinagawa Ward Residents’ Park in Shinagawa, Tokyo. It is about an 8-minute walk from Omorikaigan Station, on the Keikyu Main Line. It is a pleasant smallish aquarium. It is designed such that the basement is the seabed, and the first floor is the sea level.
As soon as you enter the aquarium, you’ll find yourself in a zone that recreates the water flowing from the mountains, to the rivers, to Tokyo Bay. There is also a glass water tunnel to go through as well as dolphin & sea lion shows.
Entrance was ¥1200 each.
Tokyo Tower and Tsukiji Outer Market
In this video we head first for a brief visit to the Tokyo Tower (the second tallest structure in Japan (after the Tokyo Skytree) at 332.9 metres. Located next to Shiba Park. We walked there, but it is about 5 min walk from Kamiyacho Station on the Hibiya Line, and both Onarimon and Shibakoen Stations on the Toei Mita Line as well as Akabanebashi Station on the Toei Oedo Line. The tower is an Eiffel Tower inspired lattice tower that is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations.
Next a quick trip we made to Tsukiji Outer Market. Nearest stations are Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo Line or Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Line. There used to be an inner and outer market, with the inner market being the biggest wholesale fish market in the world and home to the world famous Tuna auction until it moved in 2018 to the much larger purpose built Toyosu Fish Market on reclaimed land in the bay.
The outer market remains and is a very busy place full of fish merchants, restaurants and shops. An interesting sight.
Narita Tobu Hotel Airport
For our last night in Japan we decided to stay near the airport to avoid an unreasonably early start to catch our 10am flight. We chose the Narita Tobu Hotel Airport. Hotel was great, good location next to Narita airport (which was why we booked it), and very handy with a frequent regular free shuttle bus service to the airport. Great value for money with a fabulous buffet breakfast which we had time to enjoy only being 5 minutes by shuttle from our terminal. Room was surprisingly large and very clean and comfortable.
What We Ate In Japan
In this video we show a summary of some of the foods we have eaten whilst in Japan, with links to most of the locations.
1. Yoshinoya – a Japanese multinational fast food chain, and the second-largest chain of gyūdon (beef bowl) restaurants.
Cheap, filling and tasty.
Yoshinoya Asakusa Chuo Branch https://goo.gl/maps/iK963o7pKNcLVt5C9?coh=178572&entry=tt
2. Hidakaya Asakusa Station Restaurant https://goo.gl/maps/gFYNtovoTzNuCgUK6
Stir fry vegetable meal and fried chicken meal, both served with miso soup & pickled vegetables
3. Kakiage Soba Noodles – near Ueno station (warm soba noodles with kakiage tempura vegetables)
4. Mizuguchi Asakusa. Since the opening in 1950, has been offering home-style dishes and set-meals with a great reputation. A good, traditional, casual, Japanese dining experience, with friendly family service.
Mizuguchi – https://goo.gl/maps/X45YomHYUREkT7u1A?coh=178572&entry=tt
5. Saboten Tonkatsu Shop Asakusa – https://goo.gl/maps/JJ7Mg2Kmejs5ztHX8?coh=178572&entry=tt
Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish that consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. We bought a bento box.
6. Osaka Ohsho Okachimachi Ekimae branch – just off the end of Ameyayokocho, Ueno
We had stir fry meat & vegetables, which we assumed was pork. Very tasty.
7. Kawaguchiko Station Café https://goo.gl/maps/QfuzGNR1dnxwGrLLA?coh=178572&entry=tt
Kawaguchiko Station is the starting point for sightseeing in Fuji Five Lakes and Fujikawaguchiko. Fujikyuko Line Train, highway buses and local buses all stop here.
8. Haostay – traditional Japanese breakfast in Kawaguchico
9. Houtou-men at Tenjōsan Lake Kawaguchi (Restaurant Lakeside). Houtou is a hearty hot pot local dish of Yamanashi Prefecture.
10. Soba Noodles – became something of a staple, often from Lawsons, Family Mart or 7/11 stores to heat up back in our hotel at night.
11. Ramen Street Under Tokyo Station
12. Korean – there are many Korean restaurants in Tokyo
13. Grilled squid snack at Tsukiji Outer Market
14. Izukogen Kenny’s House Café in Sunshine City
15. Ringer Hut Shimbashi https://goo.gl/maps/Jw652emMgbEqXNJK7?coh=178572&entry=tt
Ringer Hut is a Japanese chain of fast-food restaurants, specializing in Nagasaki dishes Champon and Sara udon.
16. New Star Brewery Izakaya in Asakusa Yokocho – Sara Shumai & Sanzoku Grilled Chicken https://goo.gl/maps/vvgtSgqXaPscCeSa6?coh=178572&entry=tt
17. Snacks/ street food
Dorayaki is a Japanese dessert consisting of sweet adzuki bean paste sandwiched between soft honey pancakes.
Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped cake, commonly sold as street food. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened adzuki beans.
Daigaku Imo is a dish of candied sweet potatoes, made of deep-fried Japanese purple-skinned sweet potatoes, that are cut into wedges and glazed with caramelized sugar syrup.
Matcha – is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves, used as tea and in many other things like ice cream ,desserts etc.
Mochi and a multitude other rice based sweets.
Fruit Sandwiches – A Japanese fruit sandwich, more commonly known as fruit sando, is a dessert that is made up of two soft slices of milk bread filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit in the center.
18. Depachika – The underground levels of Japanese department stores often contain food markets known as depachika, a name that comes from depāto(department store) and chika(basement). These have an amazing selection of stalls selling everything from Japanese tea, sweets, fresh meat and fish, high-end fruit, cheese, wine, bentō meals, ready-made salads and vegetable dishes, bakery-fresh bread and cakes, and general food and deli items. Not necessarily cheap but fantastic.
We often shopped at both
- Mitsukoshi Ginza https://goo.gl/maps/je7VCFTdN95t2t2u6?coh=178572&entry=tt and
- Daimaru in Tokyo Station complex https://goo.gl/maps/4dw1RH5UDNpkEVMm8?coh=178572&entry=tt