The last time I was in Japan was in 2013 – early April to be exact, and on a serious mission to inhale, absorb and marinate in cherry blossoms 🌸. And I did. I recommend it to anyone, it is an amazing time to be in the country, only thing is that it was too expensive at that time… my most expensive holiday to date – but I will still say it was worth it.
Cue 2018 and after a year of almost no holidays for me, I wanted to go back to Japan to see the autumn leaves. I flew with Asiana Airlines – via Seoul. I was pleasantly surprised with everything – the service, the seat, the food (I went for Vegetarian Asian Oriental). Would definitely fly with them again. I had less than two weeks in Japan, so I had to choose wisely re: places I wanted to visit. I can’t leave out Tokyo or Kyoto, they are massive cities and every time I’ve been I see different sights. So Tokyo was the first stop. I had booked Green Tomato, an airport shuttle service to get me to my hotel. Two reasons for this. Firstly, the trains that run from the airport to the city centre stop running towards the evening, and I was landing at 9pm. I didn’t know how long it would take to get through immigration (it took VERY VERY VERY long – come on, what happened to Japanese efficiency!) and if I did make it with time to spare, once I got to a mainline station, I would still have to lug my bags on the subway/trains to get to my hotel. Secondly, Green Tomato drop you directly to your hotel (check out their website for the full list). How could I say no. Super convenient, but not the fastest, I got to my hotel just before midnight.
Where am I staying?
The lovely Odakyu Century Southern Tower Hotel. I stayed in this hotel the last time I was in Tokyo. Key reason – location location location! Slap bang outside Shinjuku station, so very convenient – once you have figured out how to navigate through a station the size of a small town. Added bonus – rooms are massive for Japanese standards. And it was the same this time. Another added bonus, and an extremely pleasant surprise was a ‘handy’ phone in the room – essentially a mobile phone with free internet access that I could carry around with me for the four days that I would be in Tokyo. It worked like a charm! People seem to think that there is free wifi everywhere in Japan as there is in other Asian countries, but no. I paid about £50 for a pocket wifi that I picked up at the hotel. Didn’t need it in Tokyo but it really came in handy for the rest of the trip.
Other things I really liked about this hotel were the views from the room – they put me on the 31st floor. There were toiletries galore and they had normal sized shampoo, conditioner and body wash (Shiseido). More eco friendly! Free mineral water gets replenished every day (plastic bottles, less eco friendly) and quirky touches like your own Febreze – air freshener to you and me – in the room (MPV – hehehe). But the icing on the cake was one of those Japanese toilets with all the mods and cons. Now most Asian countries have a water jet or bidet feature, but in Japan they take it one step further. A warm toilet seat! These were a feature across the country – be it a toilet in a train station, on a train, accommodation, department store – EVERYWHERE. One of life’s great luxuries is to sit on a heated toilet seat. Seriously. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
- Grubbiness factor: non existent – we are in Japan!
- Bed = 9/10, only problem that stopped me sleeping well was my jet lag
- Shower = 9/10, hot water on demand, high pressured and oh so lovely
I so so recommend this hotel and would stay there again!
What Did I do?
So this was my third time to Tokyo, and all I wanted to do was walk around and visit my favourite spots. I did a lot of walking to be honest – Tokyo is that sort of place. First stop – something I hadn’t done on my last two visits – a free walking tour. I booked it (you still need to book them) with a company called Tokyo Localised. They offer a number of tours, including a night tour – I chose the 2.5 hrs tour around Tokyo. We started off in Akihabara, better known as electronics town, taking in sights and sounds of pachiko parlours and maid cafes. We visited the Kanda Shrine – beautiful, very picturesque and we even managed to see a traditional Japanese wedding taking place! Other places on the tour were Arts Chiyoda (a massive art centre), the Confucius Shrine at Yushima Seido (exceptionally zen). The highlight? Walking via Ameyokocho (a manic market street) to Ueno Park to end up at the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple inside the Park. So much to do! So much to see! There was a lot jam packed in this tour, and I thoroughly recommend it. I met some great people and we spent the rest of the day exploring and eating in Tokyo.
What else did I do? Went to Kitchen Street – or Kappabashi Dori to buy knives and as much crockery as I could carry. And then – Temple hopping! Now Tokyo, and actually the whole of Japan is dotted with shrines and temples. For me, my must visit shrines – and I’ve seen them every time I’ve been in Tokyo, are Sensoji in Asakusa and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku. Why? Aside from being the biggest and most popular, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum for me. Sensoji is always buzzing – in particular Nakamise Street leading up to the temple. Jam packed with stalls selling touristy.. erm… tack (top tip – don’t buy anything from here. Wander around the streets parallel to Nakamise – more quiet and more quirky stuff – and much cheaper) . It took me about an hour to walk down the street – eating mochi and people watching (loads of tourists were in kimono). Sensoji is an impressive temple, and I have my ritual of lighting incense, praying and best of all – getting my fortune :). Virtually all temples have a ‘fortune telling facility’ – Omikuji – but not many have it in English. At Sensoji, you shake a cylinder full of sticks until one pops out of a tiny hole on the top. Each stick has a number that relates to a container holding the fortune. Find the correct container, and get a piece of paper that tells you how life will be for the foreseeable future. What I love even more is that if you don’t get a good fortune, what people do is leave their fortune behind in the temple by tying it to designated strings dotted around the place. Perfect! It is a busy temple, with lots of people all wanting to get the money shot, but I still love it.
Meiji Jingu on the other hand is a haven of peace and calm. The closest station is Harajuku, and it is literally a 5 minute walk from there. The torii gate at the entrance is impressive and marks the start of a peaceful walk on a path lined with greenery and sake barrels. Proper shrine etiquette suggests that you bow at the torii gate, after all, you are entering the realms of the Gods. Once through, always walk on either side of the path, as the middle is reserved for the Gods to walk. I always do this as I feel I need to respect the culture and customs of the country I’m visiting. The main shrine, although busy, is more peaceful due to it’s sheer size. I loved walking around and just taking it all in. More people watching, more weddings, more sneaky pics… And although Meiji Jingu offers fortunes, these Omikuji are based on poems written by Emperor Meiji himself. They are more cryptic and for me, I take away what I think it means to me.
Another highlight was the massage I got in Asakusa. I was walking around the streets and came across a shopfront advertising shiatsu massage – proper, authentic massage! It was run by locals, there were only locals in there, and with a combination of hand gestures, broken Japanese and English, I settled on an hour long traditional Japanese shiatsu massage. It was excellent and so worth each and every minute. The service was impeccable and they even gave me a loyalty card to use the next time I go in for a massage! Unfortunately I didn’t get the name in English, but did get pics if they help 🙂
Walking around at night is always a buzz in Tokyo – I was there over a weekend and had a great time taking in the sights and sounds – but what impressed me were the Christmas lights! Bearing in mind I was there mid November, the whole city – the streets and shops were definitely in Christmas mode! I’m not going to post shots of Shinjuku or Harajuku at night – everyone has seen thousands of those. BUT if you want an alternative night time view of Tokyo – for free – I recommend going to the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Building. Easy to find, centrally located and there were no queues on the day I went. You get 360 degree views and it was an impressive sight. Much better than queuing and paying at Sky Tree!
And the icing on the cake – a trip to the Ghibli Museum. I’m a super Ghibli fan, have been since I saw Spirited Away and since then have watched virtually all the movies in the collection – and am currently in the process of getting my 6 year old niece as obsessed as I am. It’s working :). So getting the tickets are notoriously difficult – they are sold on a monthly basis via Lawson which actually get sold out in seconds. Thankfully there are lots of alternatives – I went via Viator, and I splurged a bit and booked myself on a day tour that included a visit to Hotel Gajeon, the museum and a temple afterwards. We met at Keio Plaza Hotel – an extremely popular hotel and boarded a bus for 45 minute drive to the hotel. Our guide, Miki was informative but very serious! The Hotel was one of the inspirations for the movie Spirited Away – it was a beautiful, luxurious space with lots of art work and the most amazing toilets I have ever used! We had time to walk around, take as many pictures (and I saw yet another bride, with a stunning kimono) as we wanted before lunch. It was enough to enjoy the public areas of the hotel – I would love to stay here if I have the chance… maybe next time!
After being suitably stuffed, we hopped back on the bus for another hour long ride to the museum. Now if you are a Ghibli fan, you will love this place. The building itself is a source of pure, unadulterated glee and happiness, and it continues to increase once inside (you can’t take pictures, and I can so understand why). We got to see a short 15 minute movie (about Howl as a young child), and then had time to walk around the museum and take it all in, visiting each room – including a play room with a life size catbus!!!!. We stopped by the cafe where I got a beer and then the final stop was the shop – where I may or may not have spent a fortune. This is the second time I’ve been and I loved it even more than the first time. And yes. The next time I’m in Tokyo, I’m going again!
Final stop and most magical temple in Tokyo – Jindaiji Temple. We got there around 4.30pm when the light was just starting to fade. The atmosphere, the feel of the place, the lighting was all so ethereal, I loved this place. Utterly picturesque too…. This temple had daruma dolls everywhere, and with a small donation, you could dip your hand into a box full of wrapped daruma and pull one out. They were different colours, each one symbolising something – money, health, travel. I got gold 🙂
All in all, an excellent day out and an excellent time in Tokyo. Thank you N for your hospitality and thank you Tokyo for being so much fun. I’ll be back.