My only regret from our time in Japan is that we should have stayed longer and explored even more of this gorgeous country. It was one of the highlights of our world tour. I loved everything about it, the food, the people, the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and how everything was so ordered and clean. Writing this blog post has made me a little sad simply because I felt a real connection to this country and I am dying to go back.. and not just for the ramen noodles & sushi.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan I hope you find this blog post useful and you take something from this! We only visited Tokyo & Kyoto but I cannot wait to go back and explore even more.
Rent a pocket WiFi – Save your data and skip a big phone bill when you get home. It was really useful for finding great places to eat / helping you get around / translation if need be. If you don’t fancy this not to worry, there are loads of WIFI hot spots in the cities in shopping centres / cafes / metro – they aren’t amazing but they are there if you need it.
7/11s , family -marts are amazing – We bought our breakfasts from here every day. They are cheap as chips and the selections are pretty great. If you have any rubbish you can pop it in the bins there too as there aren’t a large amount of rubbish bins around we noticed.
Bring a couple of canvas bags for shopping – In Japan you will get offered a plastic bag for the smallest of items.. I’m talking plastic bag for mints or a coffee. Bring a reusable bag with you so you don’t have to use a single use bag – Also great for airports to put snacks / drinks in too.
The Underground trains are great – in Tokyo we got 24hr passes and the same in Kyoto. They work for a whole 24 hours, So if you bought a ticket at 9AM on Wednesday it will work till 9AM on Thursday. The transport is so efficient and clean, They are super fast and never late. People queue up to get on the underground trains so follow suit and wait your turn. We noticed that people didn’t talk on the trains either, we researched this and found that it is poor manners to chat on trains and it’s a big no-no to take a phone call. So be zen and keep it hushed till you leave the train.
Bring a reusable water bottle – The drinking water around Japan, including Tokyo is fine to drink. So bring a reusable bottle with you so you can avoid using a plastic one.
You don’t have to stay bang in the city centre of Tokyo – Because the underground train system is so good you don’t have to be bang in the centre. It is way cheaper to stay in a more residential area and the food is so good too. In Tokyo we stayed at a hotel called ICI hotel in Akasaka and it was perfect.
Download city mapper app to get around Tokyo – This App is ace. It works in so many cities around the world. I swear by it.
The JR Rail Pass – If you’re going round Japan look into getting a JR rail pass, you can only buy these out of japan so you would need to get one before you go and then collect it there. We didn’t get one because we were just going to Tokyo and Kyoto so it was cheaper to buy tickets there. But if you were going to a few different cities it may be worth while.
Clothing – I know it sounds obvious but comfy shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking so comfy footwear is a must, if they are waterproof, bonus. A light rain jacket is a must, the weather can be unpredictable so pack a light rain jacket and a small umbrella. Also, research the weather! In my head i thought it was going to be really mild with a slight shower every now and again. Lol, no. It was 5′ , pissing down with rain and booming freezing when we arrived. We had to go on a shop to get some warm clothes, it wasn’t the end of the world because they have some amazing shops, but pack for everything and research the weather for the time of year you’re going.
Learn a couple of phrases – Another perhaps obvious one here but you would honestly be surprised the amount of people who don’t learn simple words like hello, thank you, please etc. Manners are important in Japan and people will appreciate your trying. Hello and thank you are the main ones here. “Arigatōgozaimashita” – pronounced ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zah-ee-mas – This means thank you, but in an extra polite way. We were encouraged to use this saying for ‘thank you’
Heated toilet seats – Need i say more? Take your time doing your business. Some even play music and wish you a nice day.
Drinks at Restaurants – When you arrive at pretty much any restaurant in Japan you will be served tea or water straight away. And you’ll get topped up throughout your meal. This makes dining way cheaper than you think it would be. We did have a couple of beers / cokes if we were in the mood but mainly to save money we stuck to the freebies.
Tokyo has taken the top spot now as my favourite city I have ever visited (sorry NYC) It’s so exciting, bustling and there are some incredibly stunning parks and shrines in this vivacious city…. The food too.. oh my word the FOOD. The hotel we stayed in was perfect, It was close to an underground station (metro) The bed was so cosy, there’s a 7/11 right outside, infused water, delicious coffee, and there was matcha on hand everywhere! So if you need a hotel in Tokyo but you don’t want to spend a fortune the ICI Hotel, Akasaka is perfect.
Ippudo Roppongi (Ramen) Akasaka
This is the first place we ate in Tokyo so it has a special place in my heart. We had just arrived to our hotel after a 13 hour flight, we were cold, wet and very hungry! We dumped our stuff and googled where we could get a bowl of ramen close to us. This was the top rated and about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Sorted. You get served tea straight away and there are baskets under your seat for your bag / coat. Sit at the counter and watch them make the noodles and ladle up delicious bowls of warming broth. I went for the spicy option – Karaka Ramen. Which is a spicy broth with minced pork, I added veggies on and added in every dip, cabbage, pickle they had on the counter – delicious!
Tate – Katsu, Shibuya
Honestly before I ate here I didn’t rate Katsu. I had only ever had a Katsu curry before in Kings Cross station and it was rank. Actual Katsu however isn’t served how they do it in Waggamamma though. No soggy chicken and mildly curried gravy here. Infact, no curry sauce at all. Rupert found this tiny hole in the wall place so all credit goes to him here. This place seats about 8 people and you sit at the bar and watch them make your food. They only made a couple of things and I was so stuck for what to get, the very helpful server advised me to get the Trio of Katsu so I could try a bit of everything they do. This guy was a hero for suggesting this because it was unbelievable. The biggest prawn I had ever seen, succulent pork and tender chicken all in the lightest, crispest panko breadcrumbs. They serve this with shredded cabbage, miso soup, a homemade plum – ish kind of sauce and a dipping sauce that weirdly reminded me tartar sauce. This place is great for dinner and is only a short walk for the giant Shibuya crossing. Go see that at night and go here for dinner. You’re welcome.
Tsukiji Fish Market
This place is must if you’re in Tokyo. You’ll get the freshest sushi you’ll ever eat, everything is SO good. I recommend getting there early-ish because it is busy and not just with tourists but with locals buying fish and eating. They don’t just sell fish there, there’s waggu beef, fruit and lots of gifts etc. When trying to find where to eat go for a place that has the biggest lines / the places that’s packed with locals. I waited 25 minuets for a flame grilled scallop and to this day I fantasize about just how good it was. Be open-minded and soak in the culture here. Try new things and dive right in. If there is a sushi place that is packed, get in the queue and if there is an option to get a selection of different sushi, get it, you will try so many different types that you would normally ignore! I tried Mochi for the first time and it was incredible. Mochi is a traditional Japanese treat, it’s like a dumpling made from sweet bean paste, it was weird but really tasty.
I’m pretty happy we left this until it was a sunny, dry day. It is beautiful to walk around and if you go earlier you’ll get less crowds. The Meiji Shrine is one of the top spots in Tokyo, and for good reason. This was one of my favourite things we did in Tokyo – It was so peaceful. The shrine and the gardens are beautiful, it’s a little moment of peace in such a bustling city. I strongly recommend you doing this!
The Gyoen National Park & Garden
Another beautiful area of nature in the middle of a city. We spent a good 3 hours wandering around this garden, we would just sit and take it in whilst sipping on a matcha latte. If you’re going during cherry blossom season, this is the place to go ;they have 1100 Cherry Trees of 65 different types. Even if you’re in Tokyo in Winter / Autumn / Summer is it still beautiful. Take a picnic with you and enjoy this stunning spot of nature in the middle of the city. It isn’t free but I think it equated to about £5 each.
The Shibuya Crossing is CRAZY. It is the biggest crossing in the world, there can be up to 3000 people crossing the road, all from different directions at the same time, perfectly dodging each other. I couldn’t get a great photo of it because it was just so intense (me being me, aka clumsy, had to concentrate) It is like the biting heart of Tokyo – you’ve got to go!
We visited the Tokyo Skytree, mainly because all the guides / blogs we had read said it was a ‘must see’ .. The view was impressive but the queue was ridicules and it was pretty spenny too. We did it but i wouldn’t say it was a ‘must see’.
We took the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Kyoto. It was the smoothest train ride every and made the Leeds to London train look pitiful. It set off 12pm on the dot, no 2 hour delays here. The wifi is excellent (good enough for Netflix streaming) and you get an AMAZING view of Fuji on a clear day. The train ticket itself was about £75 pp BUT it was worth it.
Kyoto itself was fantastic. A lot less hectic than Tokyo but none the less epic. It was easier to navigate and you can walk to and from places rather than getting the underground (we did a bit of both because the weather wasn’t great) There is so much to see and do… and eat. The temple and shrines are breathtaking and short train journeys from Kyoto you get you to the world-famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.
The Imperial Palace & Gardens
A great place for a run, picnic and sight-seeing. I also saw a lot of dogs playing here which made me VERY happy. There are beautiful cherry trees, gardens and shrines to take in here. We went for an early evening stroll around the gardens and it was really quiet and relaxing.
Katsukura – Sanjyohonten
Another great Katsu spot. Here you get given sesame seeds and a pestle & mortar : you crush the seeds and add in a sauce of your choice. It was a pretty cool way of having Katsu. This place was nestled away down a tiny gap between two buildings, we walked past it multiple times trying to find it.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
One of the main reasons we went to Kyoto – The Bamboo Grove. One word of advise, GO EARLY because it will get so busy. It was about a 15 minuet train ride from Kyoto main station. It was so beautiful i can’t really describe how it made me feel. I was just in awe of the wonderment of it all. Please go, you will love it.
Street food & Ceramics. Matcha and Sweet treats. Nishiki Market in Kyoto is a must in my books. We ate freshly made Takoyaki (octopus balls) and some unbelievably tasty udon noodle soup.. We had a ‘starter’ in one stall and a main in another.. best way to get a bit of it all. I also had to show some restraint not to buy about 50 ceramic bowls and cups. Go. Eat. Shop. Explore.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Saving the best bit till last here. This was by far the best experience in Japan.. perhaps the best experience of our whole travels (bar the Orangutans and Elephants) The shrine sits at the base of a mountain and it takes about 2-4 hours to reach the summit based on your levels of fitness. So give a whole morning / afternoon for this one. There are 10,000 gates and a whopping 12,000 steps to climb to reach the summit. It is a breathtaking, humbling experience that I will treasure and will 100% revisit in my life. When you get off the train there is a lovely little coffee shop to the left of the exit called Vermillion – we got some tasty cookies and matcha lattes to fuel us for the climb.
After our time in Kyoto we caught the train back to Tokyo and flew home (one of the longest journeys of my life) Japan is one of the most beautiful places i have had the pleasure of visiting. I am so blessed and grateful I had the chance to explore here with my best friend and parter, Rupert. It will always hold a special place in our hearts and we will 100% be back.
Have you been to Japan? Any tips for our next trip? Comment below!