For Semana Santa this year I decided to plan a trip to Japan with my parents. My mom wanted to see the sakuras (cherry blossoms) bloom and since Japan can be quite expensive to go during that time, I decided to join them. Japan is incredibly beautiful and each city we visited was incredible by itself with so many different things to do and see so I’m starting out by blogging about the first and last leg of our journey – Tokyo!
Tokyo Part 1
Heading there was quite an adventure. My parents were flying from LA and I was flying from Madrid but 2 days before my scheduled departure, Air France decided to go on strike and cancelled my flight (do not fly Air France!)! After a lot of persistence, I was able to secure another flight that departed on Friday and would arrive on Sunday (as opposed to Saturday). The only catch was that I would have to fly from Madrid to Mexico City to Tokyo. It was a longgggggg trip and by the time I arrived in Tokyo, I was quite sick but I powered through. Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is made up of 23 different wards. We stayed at the Ana Intercontinental in Minato which was quite convenient for getting around the city due to the proximity of the metro.
My friend Sally happened to be in Tokyo for work also and she was gracious enough to entertain my parents Sunday morning before I arrived. I missed out on Japanese pancakes but we met up for lunch at Ippudo in Shibuya for yummy ramen. Great way to start the trip! After that we went off to visit the Ghibli Museum! Tickets for the museum are extremely hard to get. You have to book in advance and the day that they are released the site crashes constantly. Luckily Sally was able to get 4 tickets for us. The museum doesn’t allow any photos, but if you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, it’s fun to visit and see the beautiful artwork. The museum is located in Inokashira Park which is a prime viewing spot for sakuras so we were able to walk around and enjoy the sakuras before heading off to Shinjuku for dinner. For dinner, we went to Irōmaru Shinjuku Honten for wagyu beef. The restaurant is a small, standing-room only bar. Outside they have posted the cuts of beef and prices available for the day, but they also have an omakase (chef’s choice) option which is what we did. The meat was yummy and it wasn’t too pricey for the 4 of us. Ended the day looking for Pablo’s to get cheesecake (it was just ok for me).
The next day we took a day trip to Kamakura (blog post coming). We didn’t stay in Kamakura too late as I was still quite sick and tired. Before we left for Kamakura we walked around the hotel as there are quite a few sakura trees in the Ark Hills area. We did meet up with Sally for dinner one last time at Tonkatsu Maisen . We were pretty tired so it was just a quick dinner then back to the hotel to rest.
Our trip to Tokyo was actually broken down into 2 different legs which is a good idea because after we went to all the other places, we were so exhausted that coming back to Tokyo meant we could relax a little bit more. Our last day for the first leg was packed with a lot of walking. We started off visiting Shinjuku Gyeon National Garden, a beautiful garden located right in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers! There is a small entrance fee to visit the garden but well worth it. The garden is quite large and it took us about 2.5 hours to walk around the garden taking photos. After that we headed over to the Chiyoda area to see the Edo Castle Ruins and the Imperial Palace. We spent a bit of time walking around there also before heading over to Chidorigafuchi. Chidorigafuchi has many sakura trees surrounding the moat of the Imperial Palace and there is an area with boat rentals. This is a very, very popular sakura viewing spot and at night, they do yozakura, which is night time cherry blossom viewing. The trees are lit up and you can walk along the pathway enjoying the beautiful views. It truly is a magical experience. We arrived a bit earlier in order to grab a spot on some benches to do hanami, flower viewing that is usually accompanied by picnicking under the trees. After that we headed over to Tokyo Midtown to do more yozakura before heading back to the hotel to rest up!
Tokyo Part 2
By the time we got back to Tokyo at the end of our trip, we had about 2 more days to relax and see some things we missed. It was nice to not have to feel so rushed since the sakuras were no longer in bloom (yay for my allergies!). After checking back into the ANA Intercontinental, we headed to Afuri to try their yuzu ramens. Hands down my favorite ramen of the trip!!!!! It was so good I bought an instant noodle to take home! After that we walked over to Tokyo Tower since it wasn’t too far. We had a great view of the tower from our hotel room as well!
On my last full day in Tokyo, we didn’t have so much to do so we spent some time wandering around different areas we hadn’t been to. First stop was Katsudonya Zuicho. Katsudon is one of my favorites so I was happy that my friends recommended this place. There is only seating for 8 and we had happened to arrive there slightly before opening so we were seated in the first round. After this, we headed off to the Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t go to see the tuna auction, but it was nice walking around the marketplace (warning: super crowded). After this, we headed over to Senso-Ji Shrine. We had seen a picture of the shrine at the hotel the first time around and it looked so beautiful so we headed over there to see it twice (once in the daytime and another at night). We topped off the evening with a trip to the restaurant that first invented red bean ice cream (I love red bean anything).
By the last day of my trip, we were super tired. The last thing that I wanted to take my parents to see was Harajuku since it’s supposed to be the place to go on a Sunday. We didn’t see so many people dressed up in costume, but it was a fun place to be. We had a cheap lunch of gyozas from Harajuku Gyouzarou. After that we walked over to the Meiji Shrine and were lucky enough to see a Shinto wedding procession. Went back to the hotel to finish up packing then had one last dinner with my parents before heading off to the airport!
Some tips for your visit:
- bring cash! a lot of places are cash only (especially the ones you need to order from a machine) and you need cash for the machines for the metro.
- depending on where you plan to go, you can get a one day ticket for the subway or a PASMO/SUICA card. The cards can be topped up and used in many places like buses or vending machines, but don’t lose it because it’s just like carrying cash! There’s also a small deposit to get a card.
- there are very few trash cans around the city so be sure to carry a small trash bag in your purse or be prepared to hold your trash til you see a trash can.
- there are also rarely paper towels in the bathrooms, so bring some paper or a small hand towel to dry your hands.
- it’s helpful if you can read some Chinese as there are many Kanji characters that are similar. It’s not a deal breaker as many people and many signs are in English.
- also helpful if you’re good at reading maps since the city is huge!
- if you’re going during sakura season, make sure to bring allergy medication…
- in Tokyo, keep left when walking (unless signs indicate otherwise)