This is my 10 days in Tokyo blog series! Click here to see all posts and start at the beginning.
Back in April I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Toyko for 10 days, and now, in September, I'm finally ready to share my trip!
Not only do I wanna tell everybody all about what I did, but it will also help cement my own memories.
So first let me tell you why I got to go! Every year a special beer festival happens, it's called Fuji to Hood, meaning Mount Fuji in Japan, and Mount Hood in the USA (in Oregon). But it's also called Hood to Fuji every other year. What happens is breweries in Japan pair up and collab with breweries in Oregon, and then a festival is held in either Tokyo or Portland, serving the beer that was created with the partnership. Every year the location switches between Tokyo and Portland, and this year the festival was in Tokyo.
My husband, Ted, was one of the Oregon brewers who participated, so his airfare and hotel was covered by the brewery, and we only had to pay for my flight. We definitely couldn't have afforded to go ourselves, so I can't even explain how lucky we were. We added a few extra days to the trip before the work part of the trip, so we did have to pay for a separate hotel for a few days, but there a lot of very affordable hotels, thankfully.
I've wanted to go to Japan since I was a kid, so this trip was a dream come true. I don't know when we'll be able to afford to go back, but I hope we can again, in the not too distant future!
Now because it was a work trip, and he was required to work the festival for a couple of days, as well as socialize with the Oregonian and Japanese brewers, we stayed in Tokyo the entire time. A lot of people will tell you "omg don't only visit Tokyo, you've gotta visit other cities! Osaka! Kyoto! See nature! Travel all the way up to Hokkaido, it's beautiful!" but let me tell you, you can easily spend 10 days in Tokyo and have an incredible time. Don't let people guilt you lol, the price of the JR pass is no joke, and personally, why would I want to spend so much money on a train pass, only to stay for a couple of days? I would rather devote an entire trip to Kyoto/Osaka/Nara. But I'm not a person who wants to gogogo all over the place on vacations anyway. If that's your thing, go for it, but if it's not, don't!
Just don't let anyone tell you how to enjoy your vacation. :)
One final note: I took a personal pledge not to take photographs or videos of people, because they're not zoo animals for my entertainment. I even resisted an urge to take a photo of a high school boy with bleached hair, with a solid inch of new growth. An anime/drama character trope staple!!! But rest assured, I saw him, and I loved it, and it was so hard not to take a photo of him. I also saw groups of kindergarteners, with their yellow hats! Lolita girls dressed to the nines! Elementary school kids with their Randoseru backpacks, yelling and running to the playground! Drunk salary men. A group of high school girls getting conbini snacks after school. Old ladies throwing buckets of water out on the street in front of their shops. A highschool girl praying for good grades or maybe love at a shrine. I SAW IT ALL. ALL OF IT.
Pretending not to be an embarrassing fan girl is hard LOL
If you learn one thing from this post, it's going to be why I titled this "the longest day ever."
We woke up around 2:00AM on April 8th, and left the house sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, to drive about an hour to the airport, arriving around 5:00AM, to fly out at about 6:00 AM to San Francisco from Eugene, arriving at 8:00 AM.
Already this is sounding like a long day, right?
Next we had about a 3.5 hour layover, and then our flight to Narita airport took off at 11:30 AM. Eleven hours later, yes, eleven hours. ELEVEN HOURS.
Ahem, 11 hours later we landed in Japan, at 2:45 PM on April 9th. At this point, it was 10:45 PM on April 8th, our time. So we're at about 21 hours of wake time. But of course, you've gotta do your best to stay up until a proper bed time, and it's not like you want to waste a single second of your expensive trip, so there was no time to be sleepy!
Our First Train Ride
So it's 11pm in our heads, and we have to buy our Suica cards (you can google all about that if you want), and get skyline train tickets to get to Tokyo (Narita airport is in Chiba). Thankfully there are SO many signs in english that it's quite easy to get around, and most employees understand and speak enough english to help you.
The skyliner gets you to Ueno station, and from there you have to take a train to Shinjuku station. Obviously this is gonna depend on where you're staying in Tokyo. I would super recommend taking the skyliner if you fly into Narita (I don't know what's available in Haneda), because it's SO easy. You get a ticket and an assigned seat, and there are only a couple of stops, so you won't accidently get off at the wrong station. Getting to the skyliner booth is wild after a crazy long flight, and going through customs, and being surrounded by tons of people...but having a very easy transport out of the airport was such a relief. We both were able to decompress. The ride was around 40 minutes long, so there was a lot of time to just breathe. Plus there were times when the train was riding rails outside, rather than underground, so there was scenery and architecture to check out.
We got to Ueno station at about 4:30 PM.
Google maps is very good in Tokyo, they'll tell you exactly what train to take and where to catch it, so you don't have to worry about that. It was super easy to find the train to get us to Shinjuku, where our hotel was.
Once we got off the train and out of the train station (having to walk up LOTS of stairs with our suitcases 😭 - many station exits have escalators, but some don't!), I got my first vending machine drink.
Unfortunately it was basically a Sprite with less sugar, so it was pretty disappointing! Haha. Oh well, they can't all be winners, right?
We made it to the hotel, checked in, threw our stuff in the room, and headed out into the city!
What hotel, you ask? The Shinjuku Washington Hotel (google maps link). This was the hotel we had to choose and pay for ourselves.
We chose it because it had okay ratings and was affordable, plus had a great location. Would I recommend it? Well, here's my google review:
It was hot and stuffy at night, there was no air conditioning, no windows you could open, the bed and pillows were awful, there was mold growing all over the bathroom...ick. I got no sleep while we were here. But the unlimited excitement of being in Japan fueled me lol, so it was fine. And honestly, the location was top notch.
Btw that 6 lane highway at the end of the video? It literally never had any cars on it! Maybe they built it for the Olympics and it's completely unnecessary outside of that? It's the only thing I can think of.
The hotel had some shops (a Family Mart combini) and restaurants on the lower levels, including a room with capsule toy machines aka gashapon. Like it was litterally just a small room with 20 machines. Why? Why not, I guess! Gashapon kinda sprout up randomly everywhere, all over Tokyo, and it's really fun to see what each machine has.
Also, gashapon accept 100 yen coins exclusively, so I hoarded those like a dragon with gold during the entire trip. They were precious gems to ONLY be used in gashapon!!
There was a water feature by the hotel called Niagara Falls, but let me assure you, it wasn't THAT Niagara Falls hahaha.
We spent a couple of hours just walking around, taking everything in. Here are a few random video clips I took:
Don't worry, if you want to see most host club ads, there's plenty more coming in the following days 😂
We also popped into an arcade and saw so many adorable plushies in UFO catchers aka crane machines.
I'll have way more photos on day 2, when we spent probably 30 minutes inside one of them, oohing and ahhing at them all. And there were many UFO catcher arcades in the area, with almost no other kinds of games in them. Just toys to win. Seems like a lucrative business venture.
One thing I learned quickly is that there are shrines EVERYWHERE. You'll be in the most modern, concrete looking area ever and boom, a shrine will pop up out of nowhere.
Finally we started looking around for a place to eat dinner, likely around 7:00 PM, though I'm not entirely sure. Keep in mind that was 3:00 AM our time, so we'd already been awake for over 24 hours, and had been excitedly wandering all over the place for several hours in a foreign country, so we were beyond exhausted.
I wanted to literally stop anywhere, but my husband was being oddly picky, even though we were starving and nearly dead. We ended up in some random izakaya (bar).
Oh, and before you ask, no, this wasn't the kind of place you take off your shoes and sit kneeling in front of a table. There were tables and chairs around, but we sat at the bar. Like, just a normal bar top.
Most countries don't have service like the USA, and Japan is no different. You have to flag down the server when you want service. We really struggled with that, with both of us being a bit socially awkward, and since we were so tired, our Japanese comprehension and speaking was kind of a disaster lol. Our brains were mush. But we managed to get some food.
Most places we went later on gave us an English menu, but this place didn't, so we had to use google translate on our phones to pick stuff. We kept it real simple though, we got karaage (fried chicken) and some meatball skewers.
Ted actually makes us karaage at home all the time, because it's one of my favorites, so this was a no brainer. And because it's delicious, easy to ask for, and available at a lot of places, it won't be the last time I eat karaage on this trip!
The meatball skewers came with a raw egg yolk dipping sauce and Ted was OBSESSED with it haha. I've never been a fan of runny yolks, but he loves them, so I let him go nuts.
And now, here's a bit of a tangent on Japanese skewers:
Since our trip, Ted has become slightly obsessed with yakitori (yaki means cooked, often grilled, and tori means bird, usually chicken), and even bought an electric japanese yakitori grill. He used to be a chef btw, so he's obsessed with food anyway.
He's done a bunch of research and learned a ton about how they break down chicken in Japan, eating far more of the bird than we do in the US, and how skewers are put together in Japanese restaurants. Because of this, I can tell you that a "meatball skewer" in Japan generally means the leftover bits from other skewers.
Skewers in Japan are flat, and they rest on spindles on either side of the skewer (though grates are also used, it depends on the skewer and the chef), so they have to be balanced, in order to cook evenly on both sides, while being flipped every couple of minutes. So when you put chunks of meat on the skewer, you slice off the edges, so they're all the same width. You save all of those cut bits, then mush them together to make the meatball skewer. Often they have a shiso leaf wrapped around them, because of all the different meat types, there might not be enough fat to keep them held together, so the leaf holds it. And tastes great! Shiso is kind of like if mint and basil had a baby, it's delicious.
And now you probably know more about Japanese skewers than you did before.
Here's random photo of a promo poster for a special challenge a restaurant we passed by was running:
This kind of thing is featured in a lot of anime and video games, so I had to take a photo! This kind of fan girling is allowed 😂
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and passed out. I can't remember exactly how long anything took, but I specifically remember noting that we'd been up for 28 solid hours before going to bed, which means we went to bed about 10:00 PM in Tokyo.
And now you know why I called this day the longest day ever.
Stay tuned for day 2!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Have you been to Japan? Are you dying to go? Do you also love karaage?Tags: 10 days in tokyo series, Personal Blog, Travel