Are you still waiting to find out who is behind door number two on our Japanese tips tour?
Wait no more! Please welcome my friend Bethany from Wanderlust for Less. She has some amazing tips–many of which never would have occurred to me before I left! Read on for some veteran travel tips.
Japan is a truly incredible place to visit. My husband, Travis, and I visited friends who lived there 2 years ago. We were struck by the history and majesty of this beautiful culture. One of the things that really struck me about Japan is the low crime rate and the honesty the people showed. Let me give you an example.
Travis and I were recently engaged when we traveled from LA to Tokyo. We had an 18 hour layover in Beijing and took advantage of seeing a tiny bit of the city (fun fact—you can visit China without a visa if you are there less than 72 hours).
As a part of our wedding, we were going to have an ‘International Chocolate Bar’—one of those cutesy countertops filled with an assortment of candies that your relatives will blow through like a tornado. Except, our wedding was travel themed, so we tried to put a little spin on it by gathering sweets from as many countries as we could muster.
Low Crime Rates
While we were in China, we found these adorable little panda bear chocolates with unique flavors and bought 3 boxes. We also got a little stuffed panda for our niece, and they put it in a big bag that had a panda decoration on the side.
It was perfect.
The plan was simple—we were going to carry that little Panda accented bag with us through the Beijing airport, on the plane ride to Tokyo, next to us on the Narita Express train from the airport to Shinjuku, then aboard the Chuo line toward Nakano to Mitaka station. What could possibly go wrong?
On the transfer from the Narita Express to the Chuo line, we left the bag. On the train.
As soon as we realized what happened, my heart sank.
But there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. My friend, Tori, who had lived in Tokyo for about a year, said there was a chance we could track it down. The crime rate in Japan is virtually nonexistent. Missing items on trains are routinely turned in and were able to be tracked down.
We just needed to find the right phone numbers, and people who spoke Japanese.
Fast forward several days, many phone calls both in Japanese and English, and jumping around the city, we were in a train station office signing papers and retrieving our lost items. An ancient Japanese man bowed as he scooted the bag across the counter, saying something in Japanese. We returned the bows as we scooted out of the room and went on our way. Tori paused a moment later, only just understanding what he had said in Japanese:
“It is lost no longer.”
Planning Your Trip to Japan
Before you travel to Japan, make sure you download this free wifi app. It can’t be downloaded once you are in Japan! It allows you to connect to several local WiFis for free once you are there.
When planning what you will see, here are a few great neighborhoods, grouped close to each other:
- Asakusa. Be sure to check out the Senso-ji temple while you’re there!
- Kappabashi. AKA the kitchen district. If you want a Japanese knife, buy it here! I bought a few good ones from a knife shop to give my brothers as birthday gifts.
- Ueno Park and the Yanaka neighborhoods are also fun to walk around because there are a lot of cool old buildings—this area was not destroyed in the war.
- Akihabara is a crazy electronics neighborhood – this is where all the Manga stuff is. If you are into owls – they even have an owl cafe. Weird, but also, awesome.
- Roppongi is a great place to go if you are looking for a lot of amazing restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. There are many foreigners here; English is spoken everywhere. Check out Roppongi Hills (there’s an amazing view from the observation floor) and Tokyo Midtown before you leave.
Shibuya is one of my favorite neighborhoods. Some must sees in the area include:
- Hachiko statue in the Shibuya station
- Shibuya crossing (AKA the busiest crosswalk in the world—go into the Starbucks on the second floor of the bookstore and sit at the counter for an awesome perspective of the crossing!)
- Yoyogi Park with the Meiji shrine
- Takeshita street (outside Harajuku station)
- Kiddyland, and the Oriental Bazaar—more on those later.
Free Walking Tour Guide
Speaking of Shibuya, if you are up for a walk, here is a walking tour of Shibuya/Omotesando/Harajuku/Aoyama.
Hop on the train to Harajuku.
Take the Yamanote line to Harajuku. Get out at the Takeshita exit and walk down Takeshita dori.
Turn right at the next main road. You’ll know you’re there by the stop light. This main road is Meiji Dori.
There are some good shops down Meiji Dori, past Omotesando Dori, like the UT t-shirt shop (lots of fun, cheap t-shirts.) It is just past the North Face store.
Then you’ll want to go down a few blocks, check out the shops, turn around and come back to Omotesando Dori. It’s the street with the Gap on the corner.
Omotesando Dori is a great street to walk down, there are fun alleyways if you turn in by the Ralph Lauren store. You should check out Omotesando hills on the north side of the street, it has a fancy shopping mall and cool architecture.
This is where you’ll find a great shop called Oriental Bazaar. It is a red building that looks kind of like a temple. Definitely stock up on your souvenirs here. Any purchases like theses that are over a certain threshhold — currently 5000 yen — are often eligible for tax-exempt status.
You will have to keep your receipt and declare at the airport. If that worries you, it’s really simple. After you arrive at the airport, you put the receipt in a little box and move along.
I bought my bridesmaids Japanese robes for a really great price here, as well as some gorgeous pottery. They were a huge hit!
Shopping in Shibuya
If you go down the side street (kind of an alleyway) right near KiddyLand, closer to the Harajuku side, (it’s called Kat Street – or Kyu-shibuyagawa promenade,) then you can walk all the way down to Shibuya and do some shopping. There are some interesting stores down that way, like the Freak Store.
Yoyogi Park & the Meiji Shrine
While you’re in the Harajuku area, check out Yoyogi Park. It’s on the west side of Harajuku station. From the station, walk out to the right and follow the sidewalk to the first right turn you can make. It’s a huge park and has lots of fun stuff going on, including a major tourist attraction: Meiji shrine.
You can finish this tour in a whole day or even a half day if you walk real fast. It can easily take longer, though.
I recommend you check out a map and break it down by area. If you only have a couple of hours a day, do one day at Harajuku station, another day at Omotesando station, and a third day at Shibuya station. Definitely try to check out Yoyogi Park on the weekend!
So, as we know, food is one of the best things to eat abroad! And yes, ramen and sushi are the most delicious things ever—especially in Japan!
My favorite Ramen place is Ichiran in Shibuya. You can order your ramen from your personal little cubby where the chef delivers your ramen through a curtain. Then, if you leave some broth in the bottom of the bowl, you can order some more noodles and meat to add to it. It is magical and delicious.
Though there are a lot of incredible sushi places around the city, Genki Sushi Co. is a conveyor belt sushi bar. You order your sushi on a little screen in front of you. It is then delivered to your seat on a mini train. That was one train we definitely didn’t want to miss!
If you like donuts, I highly recommend Mister Donut. They also have great coffee (with free refills!). Also, there are some vending machines with an assortment of delicious beverages—both hot AND cold—you can get in the train stations or on the street.
What to Do About Disposables
Another quick and important tip: there are no paper towels in the restrooms, so people walk around with little towels. They also don’t have trashcans, but the city is incredibly clean. People carry their garbage around with them until they can throw it away. There are usually bins on the platforms in the train stations.
Happy travels, friends and さよなら—Sayonara!