Getting to Tokyo
After taking an early morning flight that took about 7 hours, I arrived at Tokyo Narita airport. There are two international airports in Tokyo – Narita and Haneda. Narita is very far from the city and is the original airport; whereas, Haneda is newer and much closer. If you can, fly into Haneda. Immigration and customs went smoothly and then I needed to decide how to get to my hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo.
There are many options to get there such as taxi, bus, and train. I decided to take the train known as the Narita Express into the city. Even on the train, it took a solid 90 minutes from Narita to get to the Shinjuku train station. The train fare was about $25 USD. As big of an airport as Narita is, people do not congregate in arrivals so there weren’t many people. To take the Narita Express, you can purchase your ticket at the ticket counter just outside arrivals. Please note your ticket will assign you a specific seat in a specific train car.
I stayed at the Hilton Tokyo which was a short walk from the Shinjuku station. There is a shuttle bus you can also take directly to the Hilton from Shinjuku station. As you maneuver through the train stations, it can be a bit overwhelming as there are many people going in many directions. However, the subway system is very logical and easy to follow so long as you have a map with you and follow the signs to where you need to go. Everything is translated into English for the most part.
Today was a long day of travel and I looked forward to checking into the room and having room service followed by a good night’s rest. Below is my room’s view (one rainy night and one clear night). Their toilets have many options. I didn’t use the Japanese soaking tub but I’m sure many folks would.
Travel tip: I would highly recommend buying a re-loadable subway card called a pasmo card. I put 2,000 Yen on it which is about $20 USD to avoid having to buy a ticket every time I wanted to use the subway. It makes life so much easier when using the subway system.
Tsukiji neighborhood (fish market)
After having a delicious breakfast at the Hilton, I planned out my day to see the highlights of Tokyo. The weather was not looking good for Tokyo with rain expected mid day so I tried to plan around it with some indoor activities.
First stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is where all of the wholesale fish sales take place with the fish being shipped all over the world. I hadn’t realized though that the wholesale portion of the market had recently closed and moved to another area of Tokyo called Toyosu. The Outer Markets remained in Tsukiji. Mildly disappointed by this, I went ahead and explored the Outer Markets which was geared toward the consumer selling fish, octopus, squid, and shrimp. If you wanted some fresh sushi, this was the place to buy it.
Nearby was the Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple built in an Indian architectural style.
Ginza shopping district
From Tsukiji, I walked through the Ginza shopping district. This is where you’ll find all of your high-end brands. It’s also the home of the Kabuki-za theater. Kabuki has been around for centuries and is well-regarded in Japan. I happened to snag a ticket for a matinée performance for $10 USD. I would recommend getting an English translation headset as I had no idea what the performance was about. Just watching the acting and dancing was interesting enough. They have a very strict no photo/video policy so don’t even try to take a picture. It was a delightful experience for an hour. Below is a picture of the outside of the theater. Here is a link to a performance on YouTube.
The Japanese imperial family has been around for a very long time and the monarch is known as an emperor although the head of state is the prime minister. You can take a tour of a section of the palace with reservations ahead of time. You can also view the imperial gardens on certain days so be sure to know when those days are before you go to plan accordingly. Access to the palace is limited otherwise. Here are a few pictures of different gates going onto the palace grounds and portions of the palace.
Senso-Ji Shinto Shrine
One of the main religious Shinto shrines in Tokyo is the Senso-Ji Shinto shrine. It is packed with tourists and there are many shops for buying souvenirs. I bought my souvenirs on the backside of the main drag where it was less crowded and the shops seemed to have better quality souvenirs.
The Shibuya neighborhood is like Times Square in Manhattan. It’s full of people, bright lights, shopping and restaurants.
This is also where the famous Shibuya Crossing is which is the busiest cross walk in Tokyo and believed to be in the world. There are up to 1,000 people crossing each time.
After a very rainy day the day prior, it was nice to have a clear day to go out and see Mt. Fuji. The weather around Mt. Fuji can be a bit unpredictable with considerable cloudiness and rain. Luckily, it was very sunny… almost too sunny for taking pictures of Mt. Fuji. For this adventure, I took an organized tour which included transportation to Mt. Fuji, a short lake cruise on Lake Ashi, gondola ride up the mountain with a scenic overlook of Mt. Fuji, and a bullet train back to Tokyo. It’s a long day and much of it is spent on a bus which I’m not a big fan, but it’s the easiest way to see it in one day. There is a Shinto shrine at the Fifth Station visitor center.
Some pictures from the Lake Ashi cruise are below.
Afterwards we were taken to the train station to board the bullet train back to Tokyo. The bus took almost 2.5 hours to get to the Fuji area but the bullet train had us back in Tokyo in about 35 minutes. It’s amazing how fast those trains can go and they are very smooth. If you have the opportunity to take the bullet train, do it.
Just some pictures I liked on some of my walks throughout the city.
The End of My Trip to Asia
After spending two weeks in Asia, I flew home from Tokyo. To get to the airport, I took the Airport Limousine bus which was very cheap and convenient… only $12 to get to Haneda airport. I’d highly recommend it.
It was a great two weeks in Asia and the weather was great except for one rainy day which I still liked. I’ve been all over the world and Asian countries are definitely a place where you really feel like you’re in a foreign country. Everything is so different from Western civilization and it will push you out of your comfort zone. I last visited Asia almost 15 years ago when I visited Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul. Comparing Tokyo to 15 years ago, it was so much easier to get around this time as most signs and menus had English translation now. With the 2020 Olympics coming soon, I’m sure Tokyo is trying to make the city as easy as possible for the new visitors expected. In terms of language barrier throughout my visit, I had no problems except for Tokyo but was able to get through any issues. English is still not widely spoken in Japan. Be prepared to make an effort and learn some basic phrases in Japanese to make the experience more enjoyable.
Anytime I’m away, I’m always happy to go back home to the USA. It’s being away that makes me appreciate everything the USA provides to me from our culture, work opportunity, and cost of living, amongst many other facets. It’s good to be home!