He planned the trip a couple of weeks in advance, and I was feeling bummed because I’m needy and hate when he travels.
Three days before he left, I was drowning my sorrows in a bowl of microwave popcorn when Tyler looked at me and said, “Wait, should you come with??”
I threw my vat of MTB (Movie Theater Butter) across the room and whipped out my computer to look up flights. As it turned out, we had enough United points to cover my ticket, so I met him in Tokyo a few hours after he flew in!
We spent the first two days in Tokyo, went to Osaka for one day, and then had three days in Kyoto. We both worked during the days but explored every night, and then we had the weekend to explore Kyoto (our favorite!).
Tyler and I had both always wanted to go to Japan, but it blew our expectations out of the water. The food, the culture, everything was absolutely amazing. We’d go back in a heartbeat.
With only thirty seconds to plan the trip, I scrambled for any information I could find about Japan. Luckily, my good friend Missy has lived there for the last two years. She came in clutch with 411 on what to do while we were there.
This article was helpful, too.
A few things to note before we get into our favorite spots in Tokyo.
First, we love getting credit card points as much as the next millennial, but you’re going to need to pull out cash when you get there because a lot of places don’t accept credit cards.
Brace yourself (and your bank account) for a spending spree while in Japan. Again, we didn’t have that much time to prepare, and we were shocked by how expensive everything was. We learned later that Tokyo and Osaka are the fourth and fifth most expensive cities to live in, according to this article.
Another thing to prepare yourself for is the fact that the Tokyo Narita airport is a TREK from the actual city of Tokyo. Between customs and the hour long train into the city, it took almost three hours for me to get to the hotel from the time I stepped off the plane.
Take the Narita Express train from the airport to the Shinjuku Station. It will cost you 3,020 yen (about $27 USD). Then hop on another subway to get to your hotel or hail a cab. We noticed that cabs were cheaper than Uber in Japan, and they are really easy to get.
We loved staying in Roppongi. It’s a pretty central area and has fun shopping and restaurants. However, Tokyo is HUGE, and it still took a lot of time to get around.
We think that 1-2 days in Tokyo is enough, especially if you aren’t into big cities. If you do swing through, star our favorite places on your Google maps:
Shunjuku Gyoen Park and Chill
After a few days (or hours) walking around Tokyo’s busy streets, you may find yourself on the verge of a freakout. It’s ridiculously crowded, and if you’re there during the summer you’ve probably lost half your water weight in sweat.
Grab a water bottle, and head to Shunjuku Gyoen Park. The sprawling gardens in this park are beautiful, and we’d love to go back in the spring to see the blooming Cherry Blossom. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets.
Be Bill Murray at The New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo
If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation (I haven’t, just live for a glamorous bar), you may be familiar with the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt. The view from this bar is insane, and we loved the live jazz music. If you arrive or stay past 8pm, you’ll have to pay a cover of about $24 USD. For a less expensive (but still expensive, sigh) option, head to the Peak Bar on the 41st floor of the same hotel. The music at the Peak Bar doesn’t beat the live jazz on the 52nd floor, but the drinks are still tasty and a bit cheaper.
Experience an authentic Izakaya at Jomon Roppongi
An Izakaya is basically a Japanese gastropub. This place can be busy and be filled with some tourists (e.g. us), but it still feels like a genuine Japanese experience.
From taking off your shoes upon entering to trying to distinguish the smoke from the grill and the smoke from cigarettes, you’re in for an authentic night out. In addition to the amazing skewers (try some unusual ones!), Jomon Roppongi has a good drink selection.
Ramen every day, if possible
Someone told us that if you ask any gourmet chef where they’d live if they could only eat one cuisine for the rest of their life, the answer would always be Japan. The options are endless, and the Japanese put an insane amount of care and precision into each dish.
Our favorite part about being in Japan was getting to try all of the different types of food: sushi, wagyu beef, katsu, yakitori, and, of course, ramen! To be clear, this is NOT your college day’s Top Ramen, people.
One great spot we found in Tokyo was Ippudo Roppongi. There is really nothing better than slurping some authentic ramen and washing it down with a cold Sapporo. More on our favorite ramen that you order on a vending machine in our post on Osaka.
Explore the Meiji Jingu Shrine (go early!)
Full disclosure — if you’re into shrines and temples, go to Kyoto (more on that soon). That being said, we spent an afternoon walking around and gawking at the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Shibuya. Our tip: Go early to avoid the packs of tourist groups (good advice in general for popular tourist spots).