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  • Janis Nunez

Japan: Tokyo and Kawagoe

If it's your first trip to Tokyo, be sure to read post from our first trip to Tokyo and Kyoto: Japan: Tokyo and Kyoto. It has all of the important first timer information. This post will detail where we went and what we did on our second trip that was toward the beginning of cherry blossom season. We had planned another day trip to Hakone, but the night before I realized some of the metro lines (ropeways) were not working, so we decided to skip it and hope to do it on another trip to Japan.

My adult boys LOVE Japan, and if we only traveled to one place for the rest of our lives, they would happily choose Japan. I really can't blame them. I love it too. There is something about the way things are done there that makes visiting so magical. If you have been, you know the feeling. Let's get started with where we stayed.

HOTEL: We decided to stay at the same hotel for all of the nights except the last night. The Comfort Hotel Tokyo Higashi Kanda is outside of the busy downtown areas and within walking distance to the metro and Akihabara (my sons' favorite neighborhood). Last trip we chose this hotel based on using points to stay for free. Having stayed here previously, we knew we'd enjoy it again. It is a very affordable hotel with breakfast included. If you are a family of 4 adults like us, you will need two rooms. It's difficult to find hotels that accommodate 4 people in one room. The rooms are much smaller than the hotels in the US.

The last night we stayed at Hotel Gracery (the Godzilla Hotel). Last time we went up to the outside patio to see the Godzilla head and take photos but did not stay at the hotel. Unfortunately, it was not open for customers to go onto the patio this visit. From what I've read online, they open and close it without notice, so if this is a primary reason you want to stay there, it's a toss-up. The rooms are much larger than the Comfort Hotel. We only stayed one night so I don't know if there is anything "must stay" about this hotel, but it was a nice night. With this hotel you do have the luxury of having the city right at your feet as you walk out the door. This is good for those wanting to party and love the night life, but I prefer other locations to this. Especially if you have children. Shinjuku is a party neighborhood.

TRANSPORTATION: We have found that we'd rather take an Uber from the airport to our hotels when we travel abroad. We tried it both ways in Tokyo on two different trips. This trip we flew into Haneda and took the monorail until it ended and then Ubered from there, and it was about the same cost as if we just Ubered from the airport. I find it more convenient to just Uber from the airport with bags in tow (unless your hotel has a shuttle). You can use your Uber app to call taxis in Japan. We find it more convenient since you can see the price on your phone before deciding and then pay with your credit card. You don't have to try to communicate where you want to go since it's all on the app and your driver may or may not speak your language. (Other modes of transportation are on my previous Tokyo post.)

For all of the information about adapters, cell phone service, currency and ATMS, credit cards, transportation options and convenience stores be sure to read my first Japan post: Japan: Tokyo and Kyoto.

Day 1: Akihabara (arrival day). The boys love to start by grabbing an onigiri from 7/11 and heading to Akihabara in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. Here you will find anime, video games, electronics, retro game systems and games to purchase, gochapon machines, claw machines, maid cafes, all the fun stuff you are looking for. My oldest heads straight for the Gigo building to play his favorite arcade game that can only be played in Japan. The other heads to Book Off or Retro Game Camp to start on his search for video games for the older game consoles like SNES, Gameboy, etc. Right now, you can get a lot with the US dollar, so shopping is especially fun. If you are looking for a particular game, anime figurine, or character hard to find, I'd suggest going to Surugaya. They seem to have it all.

Here's a list of the places in Akihabara my boys stopped at this trip: Book Off, Surugaya, Akihabara Gamers, Cospatio Gee! Store, Gigo 5, Super Potato, Mandarake, Taito City, Animate, Retro Game Camp, Akihabara Gochapon Hall, Oneden, and of course Don Quijote. Everyone in the family can find something they "need" at Don Quijote. They have several floors and sell just about everything. There is one in most of the big neighborhoods you will visit, and they are all a little different. Did I mention it's open 24/7?

We did go to a maid cafe this time, but it was underwhelming. There is one in the Oneden building. They wear long maid dresses there, not the short, cute ones. We were thirsty and decided to try it, but it was pricy for what you got. And the tea was mediocre.

The Kanda Myojin Shrine is a good way to get away from the crowds and enjoy the shrine. I love the anime on the ema (wooden plaques found at Japanese shrines for writing prayers or wishes). They get hung up at the shrine.

We stopped at Kyushu Jangara Ramen for a bite to eat. There was a line out front, but it went quickly, and the ramen was delicious. If you want more noodles for your broth, you simply say "kaedama." It's only an additional ¥150! It's a great budget friendly option.

Day 2 Uneo: We started the day at Ueno Park. The cherry blossom trees looked beautiful.

There are a number of temples and shrines throughout the park. With so much to see, be sure and allow yourself plenty of time to explore.

Across the street from the park in the middle of the pond is the Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple. You can catch a glimpse of it from the "Pine of the Moon" at the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple inside Ueno Park (photo above). We were lucky to be there when a man was singing and playing music.

At Shinobazu pond you can rent a boat, take a walk or relax on the benches.

Not far from here is the Yushima Shrine. Each shrine has something unique to see. Getting a glimpse of these beautiful blossoms was a bonus!

From here we headed to Ameyoko Shopping Street. You can find just about anything along these streets. From food stalls to luggage, they have it all. We stopped at the famous rice cracker place we had seen on YouTube. To be honest, you can skip it. It took forever and it tasted bland. It's a great photo opportunity, but that's about it.

We were getting hungry, and my boys' favorite ramen shop was nearby, so we headed to Ichiran Ramen. It's a chain, but it's a fun experience and the ramen is really good. The concept is based off the food stalls they had back in the day. You order at the kiosk out front and then are seated in your private stall. The curtain opens (you don't see anyone's face ever) and the waiter takes your ticket for your order you placed at the machine. You have water at your seat to fill yourself and can communicate via the wooden tokens hung on the side. If you need more noodles for your broth, you can order it here, but need to pay with cash. It's a fun place to go and they will seat your party next to each other.

Next stop Mominoki House located in the Ameyoko Shopping area. We stopped while walking the area and were given a time slot to come back, so we had lunch at Ichiran and then returned. This is the place for tired, achy feet. You enjoy a hot footbath while sipping tea. You can even pay extra to get a massage. We did and it was amazing! So relaxing.

Back on Ameya Yokocho, my son found Takoyaki. They cook to order at this stall and then you add your bonito flakes and sauce to it. Takoyaki is a Japanese snack of octopus balls.

Day 3: Shibuya. We took the metro to Shibuya station. If you have not been to it, you should stop at the famous Hachiko statue before leaving the area. We took the Shibuya Crossing and started exploring some of the shops. We stopped at Loft, the Parco Building, Mandarake Beam, Daiso, Animate, Village Vanguard and Mega Don Quijote. If you get a rainy day, don't be discouraged. There is so much to do inside!

After all of that shopping, we needed to stop for udon. Marugame Seimen is a great fast option. We have been to Marugame Udon in Hawaii and in London and we love it. You can pick the tempura you want to have on the side as well. Great bowl of udon!

I go over the metro system in detail on my previous Japan post, but I wanted to let you know that it's not as scary as it looks. Once you arrive things fall into place, and you are able to navigate with google maps. Don't be in a hurry. If you need a minute to figure out which way to exit, stand aside and figure it out.

Each person needs their own way to pay for the train. You tap into the station and out of the station you are getting off. We used Suica on our iphones. It's the easiest way to do it, I think. With the iPhone option, you simply add the transit card to your apple wallet and attach a credit card. Be sure to use a card with no foreign transaction fees. You can always get tickets at the station via the machines or use a physical IC card like Suica or Pasmo. Ask for help if you are confused, there are station attendants, and you can use google translate.

Thes photos below show: my husband tapping out with his phone. You can turn "express transit" on for the apple wallet Suica card so that you don't even have to turn on the screen to use it to tap in and out. It makes it so easy. My son being goofy in the second photo shows a pillar by the train with a list of all of the stops the train will make. I usually screen shot the stops from google maps on my phone so that I can follow along on board with the stops. There is a screen on the train with stops in Japanese and English. They will announce each stop as you are approaching. The last photo shows what the train area looks like. People will line up to get onto the train. If you are using google maps and have a connection to make, it will show you the train car to get into that will be your fastest option to the next train. Take your time. You will get it!

Day 4: Day Trip to Kawagoe. We took a 45-minute train ride to reach Kawagoe, known as Little Edo. We purchased tickets the day of our trip. Don't feel like you have to purchase everything in advance. Japan has a very sophisticated metro system. If you miss a train, there is another in about 15-20 minutes.

Kawagoe is a great walkable town with beautiful Edo period architecture. Lots of shops and restaurants to explore too.

The restaurant we stumbled upon here was amazing. I highly recommend Sobadokoro Aikawa. We had not tried this type of soba before, so it was also a learning experience. We enjoyed it very much. The place is hidden on a side street.

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. When visiting temples and shrines always bow before entering the tori gate and wash your hands at the fountain (and mouth). We found this shrine a fun experience with beautiful walking paths around the grounds. Here you can "fish" for your fortune and keep the adorable fish as a keepsake. Purchasing fortunes at temples is very common and costs very little. Most have English on one side, but if it doesn't just use your google translate app on your phone and snap a photo. I will show mine below. If you have a good fortune, you keep it. If you have a bad fortune, you tie it on the string or branch and leave it behind you. You can also purchase ema at shrines to write your own wishes. We walked through a path with so many ema hung there. It was beautiful.

We couldn't go inside the temple, but we got some good glimpses as we walked around the temple path. There is also a beautiful wooden walkway lined with lanterns that we walked along. The large red tori gate at the other side had a couple taking wedding photos.

I mentioned shops in Kawagoe. We loved exploring the small-town shops. We purchased several incense and burners for gifts as well as enjoyed the matcha and miffy shops. I'm not a big Starbucks fan, but the architecture of this building was beautiful. They had a Zen Garden out back too. I got a cherry blossom Japan mug there. It's my favorite mug to date. Back at the train station, my son cannot pass a Beard Papa without purchasing a cream puff. They are amazing, I will agree.

For dinner we found a conveyor belt sushi restaurant and then the boys headed back to Akihabara to search for retro games and play the arcades.

Day 5: Tsukiji Honganji Temple is located right outside of the train station. Take a quick look before you head over to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Tsukiji Fish Market is definitely a busy market. If you have a place you want to visit you will probably have to wait in line for it. My sons wanted onigiri, but the booth was too complicated. You had to take a number and come back. We did try the omelet made famous on YouTube and were not impressed. It's sweet and nothing to make a special trip for. If you are in the area, it is a cool market to look through, but I wouldn't make a special trip here. It's super crowded and not a "must do" in my opinion.

Hamarikyu Gardens are nearby and a beautiful garden to visit. There is an entry fee, but it's worth it. Take time and walk the gardens. The views are stunning. We stopped at a Traditional Japanese tea house and enjoyed a matcha and sweet treat.