Trip to Japan


The bright lights and the crowds of Shinjuku at night

After spending time in Osaka and Kyoto, we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (東京), Japan’s current capital and also the most populous city in the world. The city is a giant concrete jungle, with the busiest areas built up around the major train stations. Tokyo has two subway systems, several JR lines and many other rail and rapid transport lines, which make getting around somewhat confusing, but also means there’s probably a station not too far from where you want to go.

In the middle of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s biggest red light district and located in Shinjuku, with a special appearance by Godzilla himself.
The Shibuya Scramble Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. Very busy, but the intersection is a little smaller than I thought it would be.
View of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi
Night time views of Shinjuku’s skyscraper district from the free observatory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. A bit rainy that day so can’t see too far.

We spent most of our times walking to the busiest areas of the city like Shinjuku and Shibuya. We stayed in Shinjuku, but in a quieter residential area, but not too far from the bright lights near Shinjuku Station. There are lots of shops, eateries on the streets and inside giant shopping malls and department stores. Also went to an animal cafe and cat cafe to pet and feed some cute animals.

Went to an animal cafe to pet some hedgehogs and chinchillas. They also had otters people could feed.
Also went to a cat cafe. Cats will be cats. They’re only interested in you if you have treats.
Entrance to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Can only visit the gardens since the inner palace is occupied by the Japanese Imperial Family
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are a nice green space in the midst of the busy Tokyo city
Heading towards the Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest tower
The Skytree looks very tall from the base
The main observation deck of the Tokyo Skytree, at around 350m off the ground.

We went to to some tourist spots as well, such as the east garden of the Imperial Palace, and Tsukiji Outer Market. I also went up to both observation decks of the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in the world at 634m to the tip. There is also the free observatory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building that’s worth going up to. Japan is also the land of manga and anime, and of course we had to go to Akihabara to check out all of anime/manga merchandise along with all the large electronics stores. We also went to the artificial island of Odaiba to see the Unicorn Gundam statue.

The view from the Tokyo Skytree towards the busy areas of the city (the clumps of taller buildings). Tokyo is such a concrete sprawl without many trees or green space.
Paid the extra money to go to the upper observation deck at the Skytree at 450m above ground. Honestly the view isn’t better since the windows are smaller.
Tsukiji Outer Market was busy and full of visitors. The fish auctions have moved to a different part of the city though, so it’s mostly restaurants and shops.
Akihabara. Pretty easy to recognize thanks to all the anime billboards.
The artificial island of Odaiba is futuristic looking and wide open, unlike the cramped concrete jungle of the rest of Tokyo.
The 1:1 scale Unicorn Gundam at Odaiba transforming into Destroy Mode. The transformation is not as cool as in the anime, but still pretty cool.
Tokyo has its own Statue of Liberty at Odaiba. It’s a lot smaller than the NYC Statue of Liberty.

In total we spent a week in Tokyo, but it’s such a gigantic metropolis that I felt I only saw a portion of it. We did a lot of walking around and eating, but we didn’t go see any performances and sports. Maybe next time.


View of Mount Fuji from the garden of our hotel.

The last night we spent in Japan was at an onsen (hot springs) hotel near Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is probably the most recognizable geographical feature of Japan, and it’s not that far from Tokyo, so we thought it’d be good to go take a look and also enjoy the traditional Japanese onsen experience. Our hotel was in a small city within the Yamanashi prefecture, located northeast of Fuji. It’s a two hour or so bus ride from Shinjuku.

Another view of the beautiful Japanese Garden, with some nice fall foliage.

The onsen hotel we went to was pretty nice. It has a nice Japanese garden with really good fall foliage, which is something we didn’t see that much of in the rest of Japan due to warmer than usual weather. There was of course the onsen pools. The hotel has two, and the one of the roof top had an absolutely dead-on view of Mt Fuji in all its glory. Soaking in the soothing hot spring water with a view of Mount Fuji… that’s the good life. The weather was good so we could see the big snowy volcano. There was also the main onsen on the lower floors. Too bad I couldn’t take any photos at the pools, since traditionally people go into the onsen naked. The main bath is separated by gender, while the rooftop pool has different hours for men and women.

Traditional Japanese ryokan room with sliding doors and tatami mats. Why did they make the door frames so low though.

The interior of the hotel was also pretty nice and has a bunch of water feature in the lower level for the zen-ness. We stayed in a traditional Japanese ryokan room, which means sitting and sleeping on the floor on futons. Was an interesting experience. My only complaint was the door frames are too low. More about that later in the post.

The hotel stay also included a teahouse experience, a very bountiful Japanese breakfast buffet, and a multi-course Japanese kaiseki dinner. The dinner was very impressive as we had a wide variety of seafood including a live abalone cooked in a hotpot, and also some wagyu beef.

The onsen hotel was the most expensive stay we had during the trip, but was definitely worth the experience, and not that expensive considering the included food. At the conclusion of our stay, we took the bus back to Tokyo and then took the trains to the airport, and back to North America we flew.

That was my first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Overall it was a really good trip. I walked around enough to get blisters on my feet, and ate a whole lot of food. My impressions of Japan, or at least the places I visited, was that it was very modern and has really good public transportation. The people are orderly, the service folks are polite, the environment is pretty clean and safe. We were also pretty lucky that the weather was decent most of the time. Only had 1 day with steady rain. Here are some other miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The public restrooms in Japan are generally clean, which is more than I can say for public restrooms in US & Canada.
  • The Japanese also love their electronic bidets and have them on most toilets. I use the bidet whenever I encountered one.
  • There aren’t a lot of public garbage cans in Japan, so it’s good to have a bag to carry empty containers. I had my backpack all the time and usually just carried stuff back to the hotel to throw away.
  • As mentioned earlier in this post, the older building in Japan tend to have low ceilings and door frames. If you are over 6ft tall like me, you’ll need to watch your head. I bumped my head a few times during the trip. A couple times at the onsen hotel, and once in Kyoto where we rented kimonos. The time in Kyoto I hit my head hard enough to get an abrasion. So, if you are tall, gotta watch your head in traditional/historic buildings.
  • In terms of the language, metro and railways tend to have English signage and announcements. I can also sort of make sense of kanji (Chinese characters), but have to use Google Lens translate on any other written signs or menus. Most Japanese folks don’t know English, so it’s good to know some basic phrases. I mostly relied on my friends who’ve been to Japan before and know a few more phrases than I did.
  • Japan is still a cash-reliant society. A couple of small restaurants we went to only accept cash, and I also used a lot of cash on train tickets. Major credit cards are generally accepted in larger or chain establishments, and some small businesses take them too. It’s good to have cash and a coin pouch
  • We had a lot of different food during the trip, ranging from inexpensive ramen all the way to omakase that cost $250 USD. My favorite were the curry places we went, and also the katsu (fried meat cutlets). Also we went to an all you can eat sukiyaki and stuffed ourselves with Japanese beef and pork, which was great. We did go to to an expensive Kobe beef steakhouse too, and that was good too. The point being, there is a lot more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and raw seafood. Raw fish and meat is probably my least favorite part of Japanese cuisine, but of course we had some during the trip.
  • Another point on food… there is a lot of tasty and cheap food in Japan, especially given the current exchange rate of 150 yen to 1 USD. The favorite meals I had were less than $10. And also no tipping is necessary. Also the ever present convenience stores in Japan have a lot of cheap food and drinks options too.
56 out of the 57 items of our omakase course. Missing one piece of eel nigiri because my butterfingers dropped it.
The Kobe beef steakhouse experience. A5 Kobe beef is really delicious, but regardless of how well the fat is distributed, it is pretty fatty, so can’t eat too much of it in one sitting.
Some of the best curry I’ve ever had

That’s all I have to write about this trip. I had a good time, but after 2.5 weeks on the road, it was time return to my routine in my corner of the PNW. It’s not that I particularly look forward to work or the rainy weather, but it’s the life I’m used to. Not sure when I’ll return to Japan, since there are plenty of other places on my list that I haven’t been to. For the next couples months I just stick around to enjoy the winter holidays. Thanks for reading.

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