Unfortunately, this post won’t be super helpful to those of you hoping to travel to Japan. We stayed with a friend of mine who was living there at the time, teaching English, so I have almost no advice re: places to stay.

Plus Tokyo is HUGE and filled with people, so I was super intimidated. I liked the Marunouchi area a lot – it was easy to navigate and had handy-dandy notebooks area guides inside some of the buildings. But more popular, famous areas like Shinjuku were too big and too crowded and we couldn’t find things and I got a little scared.

(I’m a wuss, sorry.)

But we had a great time, to the point where I was kind of depressed for about a week after we got back. (And don’t even ask about the first week back at work.) Plus my family’s getting some totally boss Christmas presents this year.

Some miscellaneous tips, before we dive in.

Invest in a sim card. If your phone doesn’t get service in Japan, don’t do what we did. We thought we’d be fine because we were staying with a friend, were only there for a week, etc. Turns out we were hecking wrong. My friend kept wanting to meet us at train stations, we’d inevitably end up in the wrong place in the train station, and then I’d panic as I attempted to connect to the WiFi so I could message her on Facebook and figure out how to get unlost. Even in Tokyo, Japan’s free WiFi is little and spotty. You’re going to want that 4G. Just trust me on this.

Bring hand sanitizer. I read this somewhere online, and I’m glad I took it seriously. Turns out a lot of the public restrooms – while far superior to ours in most respects – lack hand soap. Purchase some travel-size hand sanitizer to bring along, unless you’re okay going almost all day without washing your hands, except for using hand wipes before meals.

Brush up on cultural etiquette. This should be a goes-without-saying tip for international travel, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’re traveling to a different country, especially somewhere where the culture is significantly different from your own, you should at least have a basic idea of things that are polite, offensive, what’s done, what’s not done. There are a bunch of fantastic travel cheat sheets floating around Pinterest, so be sure to check one out for at least a basic idea of etiquette before you go.

How We Got There

Plane, obviously. Pretty much your only option from the States. We used one of those sites like Expedia to compare ticket prices and ended up taking Air Canada. However we flew, Japan was going to be pretty expensive, considering it’s about as far away as we could go without starting to come back.

Mount Fuji was the first thing I saw of Japan from the plane, which was completely awesome.

It was my first time on a plane, and I cried a little bit. Shockingly, not because I was scared. (It wasn’t scary so much as uncomfortable in a rollercoaster-making-your-stomach-flip kind of way.) It was just because, guys, we can fly. How fucking awesome is that?

We flew into Haneda International Airport. From there, you can catch a train or bus to the vicinity of wherever you’re staying. Whichever you use, I definitely recommend getting a Suica Pass. It’s cheap, you can refill it as needed at any train station, and it makes traveling around Japan so easy. If you’re used to riding the metro in D.C., Boston, or any other American city with intracity rail travel, it’s pretty easy to figure out Tokyo’s rail system.

(At least once you find a map that actually shows how all the lines connect, rather than those signs that just tell you what stops are on an individual line.)

Tokyo Station.

Where We Stayed

As previously stated, we had a friend to stay with, so we ended up in an apartment twenty minutes from Toda Station.

But I include this section anyway because of our overnight trip to Mt. Fuji. If you head to the Yamanashi area and stay in the town of Kawaguchiko, you can kip at K’s House Mt. Fuji. It’s a hostel, which the bf wasn’t at all sure about, but it’s cheap and probably a lot nicer than whatever idea of a hostel you’ve got in your head. It’s clean and bright, you can rent private tatami rooms if you’re not comfortable sharing with strangers, and while the bathrooms and showers are common areas, they’re also single-seaters, so you still get privacy.

(We never used the showers anyway because of our visit to the Royal Hotel, but more on that later.)

There’s also a sister hostel closer to the mountain, K’s House Fuji View. Since it’s got better views, it’s more expensive. But from the pictures it also looks even nicer.

What We Ate

Toda. Our first meal was at a Saizeriya just outside Toda Station. There we got our first glimpse of some of the small things that make Japan different: hand wipes provided so you can clean your hands before and after meals, bells on the table to summon the waitress, no tipping. I had hayashi, a Western-style stew that was flavorful and delicious, and the bf – exactly as I would expect of him – dove right in by ordering squid-ink pasta. I should’ve gotten a picture of him with his lips all black.

Image from Spring Tomorrow.

Otherwise, most of the food we had in Toda was purchased from one of the many local convenience stores. It’s kind of fun to wander through the aisles and look at all the foods we don’t have back home. Like the many, many, many different flavors of Kit Kat bars.

Japan loooooooooooooves Kit Kats. Image from hungrycuriouscat.wordpress.com.

Tokyo. We spent a lot of time in the Marunouchi District, so a lot of our eats in Tokyo were in the office buildings there, which have shops and restaurants on the lower floors. There were several French patisseries in the area, so naturally I tried some of those.

Cheesecake from 14 Juillet Tokyo.

We passed 14 Juillet Tokyo several times while Christmas shopping, and it was so good I ended up with delicious desserts on two separate occasions. The first time, I tried a rich chocolate gâteau, and the second time I tried a cheesecake which has basically ruined other cheesecake for me forever.

(Not that I’m actually going to stop eating cheesecake.)

Tokyo loves its French patisseries. They were everywhere – there was a whole area filled with nothing but stands selling French patisseries inside Ikebukuro Station, although I didn’t end up ordering anything there because they were about to close at the time.

I did end up trying Échiré Maison du Beurre, near the Marunouchi Park Building.


We kept seeing people walk by with big blue bags from this particular patisserie, so once we found it I decided to get in the out-the-door line and try it. The chausson aux pommes was awesome.

However, we also ate at some restaurants in the pedestrian zones in Shinjuku. We headed to Kizuna for sushi – mine came with mayo, which seemed weird, but my friend informs me that’s authentically Japanese, even though the rest of us would never think to put mayo on our sushi.

But I guess that’s why the new sushi place near us does it.

My friend also took us to a shabu-shabu place, which was a cool experience. In case you don’t know, shabu-shabu is a dish where you take thin slices of meat (the beef was so good) and vegetables and cook them in a boiling bowl of water or broth on the table. It was fun and delicious but holy mother of I am a bad at chopsticks, Batman!

Kawaguchiko. Our first meal in Kawaguchiko was at a traditional-style restaurant called Kosaku Hoto Kosaku, where we sat on tatami mats at low tables.


Photo from Trip Advisor.

We tried a local Yamanashi dish called hoto, which is kind of a soup with really, really thick noodles. Like, such thick noodles that I couldn’t successfully slurp them because a) I am bad at chopsticks and b) a single noodle was too big to fit in my mouth all at once. It sure was delicious, though. The bf had a spicy pork version, and I had one with adzuki beans, which was sweet but not in an unpleasant way.

We breakfasted at another Japanese chain, Cafe Gusto. It always really threw me to eat breakfast out in Japan – your eggs were always served with toast, meat, and, for some odd reason, salad. Not that mine came with salad – I tried a cheesy rice dish called doria.

Image from a CookPad recipe.

And true to our usual style, we dined at Alladin Indo Restaurant, because you know I will try Indian food anywhere. It was actually sort of unusual to see an Indian restaurant in Japan, even though they’re so much closer together than America and India. The Japanese people in the restaurant kept taking pictures, because this was one place in Japan that was evidently more out of the ordinary for them than for me.

Our last meal before heading back to Tokyo was at the Happy Days Cafe, associated with the Lake Kawaguchiko Kitahara Museum. I just wanted to try the curry, which is my favorite thing to get at Japanese restaurants back home.

Not that we ate there, but there was also a Big Boy in Kawaguchiko! If we could’ve found it after getting to the hostel, I think we would’ve gone there just to see what it was like compared to Big Boys back home – my friend says almost all American cuisine is done better in Japan, and Big Boy is kind of a mediocre chain. For some reason, there are far more of them in Japan than in the United States. Of all the chains that could’ve gone international… If you ever end up there, be sure to tell me how it was!

Haneda International Airport. While you’re waiting for your plane, why not indulge in a bit more Japanese cuisine? The bf tried a melon bun, which he’d been wanting to do. I didn’t try any, but wow, it really did smell like a melon.


Our Adventuring

Like our time in Boston, we tried to keep things cheap once we reached Japan. We’d already spent most of the cost of my car on plane tickets and still had to purchase food and rail passes. So as with that list: everything is free unless stated otherwise. Unless, of course, you decide to get your Christmas shopping done.

Toda. Toda is not a touristy area, but we walked forty minutes to Akatsuka Park and the Itabashi Art Museum, where you can see the old site of Akatsuka Castle.

Image from Narimasu-Chintai News.

The Itabashi Art Museum was the first city museum opened in Tokyo. It was fascinating because of all the contemporary Japanese art – you see a lot of works dealing with the aftermath of WWII and what it meant to be Japanese or Japanese-American at the time. There were also some traditional works, but I found the contemporary art most interesting, if only because it’s not the kind of Japanese art I’ve ever been exposed to.

Image from Itabashi Art Museum.

Unfortunately, it has a “no photos in the museum” policy, which is a shame because there was a particular piece that the receptionist – who I thought was the curator because she was so knowledgeable about the art – told us about in detail. It was called something like “He is the king” and it was a charcoal of a rooster by a Japanese artist who was living in America when Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed. As you’d imagine, he was terribly conflicted because he loved his homeland but also loved America, and it was difficulty to reconcile those feelings with what was happening.

It’s 45 minutes to an hour by public transit, if you’re coming from somewhere more popular, like Shibuya. I highly recommend checking it out if you don’t mind going further out.

Marunouchi District. We spent a lot of time here, largely because it was easy to navigate and had great shopping.

Marunouchi, Shin-Marunouchi, and Marunouchi Park Buildings. These are all office buildings, but there are shops and restaurants on the lower floors. The Park Building has a neat little outdoor area in the midst of it, which is where I saw everyone with the Échiré Maison du Beurre bags.

But we spent most of our time in the Shin-Marunouchi Building, which had the most interesting shops and restaurants.


This is where we found Marunouchi Area Guides, and also where I did most of my Christmas shopping. We also picked up a few souvenirs for ourselves: namely, tenegui, which are decorative Japanese cloths with a long history and a thousand possible uses. The website for Kamawanu, the shop where we purchased them, is like, “Do anything with them! Clean! Wear them! Hang them on the wall!”


We’re obviously going to frame ours and hang them up. They’re just too beautiful to use.

Wadakura Fountain Park. This is a neat spot! Apparently it’s all lit up at night – google it, it looks awesome – but it’s a pretty place in the daytime as well, plus refreshing after walking around in the heat and humidity. We took a picture for some tourists from the Indian area of the world, who wanted a photo in front of the main fountain.

Statue of Kusunoki Masashige. Between the office buildings and the fountain park, you’ll find a nice urban green space whose main attraction is a statue of Kusunoki Masashige. Kusunoki was a 14th-century samarai famed for his to-the-death devotion to the Emperor Go-Daigo.


Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, you can’t go into the palace, but walking along the perimeter gives you a decent view of the buildings.

However, if you go around the correct side (we did not), you’ll find the East Garden, which is open to the public despite being on palace grounds.

Image from Japan Guide.

Apparently there’s also a shrine we could’ve visited on the far side of the palace, but the Marunouchi Area Guide doesn’t go that far, so we didn’t find out about it until later. Oh, well.

Shibuya. Shibuya has several tourist attractions and is also one of the busiest train stations in the world – although if you’re looking for the busiest, you’ll want to head to Shinjuku. All of my pictures of Shinjuku are “oh my God, look at all these people, I might die because there are so many people.”

Shibuya wasn’t quite that crowded, although I still felt that way. It’s still home to the famous scramble crossing, which looked a lot like my idea of Times Square (which I can now safely say I will probably not visit, should we ever go to NYC).

Hachiko Memorial & Mosaic. You probably know the story of the dog who waited, one way or another. Hachi was an Akita who lived in the 1920s and 30s. Every day, he’d wait at Shibuya Station for his master, a professor at the University of Tokyo, to return from work – until one day, his master didn’t come home. He’d died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Hachi, of course, had no way of knowing this and lived out the rest of his days at Shibuya Station, forever waiting for a master who would never return.

All of Japan was inspired by his loyalty, resulting in a statue that was built in 1934, a year before Hachi’s death. The original statue was melted down during WWII, just like all the other decorative metal basically everywhere else in the world at the time, but was rebuilt by the original artist’s son in 1948. That’s the statue you’ll see there today.

These children are not mine. Apologies to their parents, but I literally could not get a picture of the full statue without anyone in the way. Every time one group stepped away, another immediately took their place. So these children are immortalized forever on my blog.

There’s also a mosaic mural, which exactly no one was looking at. I didn’t even know this mosaic was there until we got there and saw it. I have no idea who the artist is or when it was created, either. There’s astonishingly little information about it on the Internet – everything focuses on the statue.


The Myth of Tomorrow. Okay, we didn’t see this one. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but Shibuya is a huge station and we had no idea where in the station this was. Anyway, it’s a mural by Okamoto Taro. Good luck in your mural hunting, friends.

Image from the Kyoto Journal Online.

Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji. My favorite part of the whole trip – which I admit was partly because Kawaguchiko, despite being full of tourists, was far less crowded than Tokyo and reminded me in some ways of my hometown. What can I say? I’m a small-town girl. Cities freak me the heck out, even though in theory I love visiting them.

(To be clear: I did love visiting Boston. But if you told Tokyo Boston was a big city, Tokyo would laugh you right across the Pacific Ocean.)

I enjoyed the bus ride, as well, even though we spent a lot of time stuck in traffic on the freeway. We saw fields of rice patties out the window, as well as Japanese cemeteries.

And as you probably know by now, I have a morbid fascination with cemeteries.


Statues galore. There were many statues of mythological beings scattered around Kawaguchiko, which was kind of awesome. Sneaky art that also gave you some insight into the mythology of the area.

My favorite was the statue of the two sisters, the goddesses of Lake Kawaguchiko. It was a beautiful statue, full of life, and had an informational plaque about the goddesses.

Yamanashi Gem Museum. ¥600 (around $6) for adults and ¥300 (around $3) for children. It’s the only comprehensive gem museum in the country. There’s a gallery of raw gemstones, cut gemstones, and jewelry, with information about the gemstones and Japanese mining, cutting, and jewelry-making techniques.

Lake Kawaguchiko. There are lovely walkways all around the lake, and you can see people fishing and boating on the water. There are some shops and restaurants – including the gem museum and Happy Days Cafe – right on the lake and plenty of photo ops – including Mount Fuji in the background.


Onsen. ¥1000 (around $10), plus ¥1 if you need to rent a towel. This is the traditional Japanese bath, with mineral water that comes straight from natural hot springs. It was probably the single best experience of the whole trip. There are two onsen in Kawaguchiko. We spent our time at the Royal Hotel, which is open to the public.

(The other hotel’s baths are only open to guests of the hotel.)


There were separate baths for men and women, and luckily I had the women’s bath to myself…since the first rule of the onsen is, Thou Shalt Be Naked. There are showers, which was quite relaxing enough, and then there’s an indoor onsen, an outdoor onsen that’s more like a pool, and then a stone onsen farthest out from the building.

Image from the Royal Hotel’s website.

It was so ridiculously relaxing. If you get to somewhere in Japan with onsen, I absolutely 100% recommend it. If only I could do that regularly. Alas, there are no onsen to be found in the Midwest. Guess I’ll have to get out west some time.

Mount Fuji. Obviously. This is what we came for, right? There are views of the mountain from all over town, although you’d better get your pictures in when you can – one day we had clear views, with Fuji looking very Tolkienesque in a Lonely Mountain kind of way, but the next we couldn’t see it at all for fog and cloud cover.


It’s hard not to have some regrets, after a trip like this. Mostly longings for things we didn’t see. Before we went, everyone said: “A week??? That’s not very long at all!”

And poor, simple, naive moi went, “Well, we’ll be in one city the whole time, so…”

*hysterical laughter*

I mean, we both work. And I only have 5 vacation days a year, which, let’s face it, is still more than many people have in this country. A week was about the longest we could reasonably go. I hope you have more time, if you end up in Japan – or on any international trip, really – but if you don’t: plan. What would you most like to see? Find out as much as you can about it beforehand, figure out how you’re going to find it and when. See as much of what you really, desperately want to see as you can, because international travel is expensive, my friends, and who knows when you’ll get to do it again?

I’m glad we went. Long-distance travel seems more possible to me now that I’ve actually done it. But with all we didn’t see, I can only hope we end up in Japan again someday.

One thought on “Japan Adventuring

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