When we originally planned our big trip we took Japan out of the plans due to the higher costs involved with accommodation, transport and food. Japan has always been at the top of my list of places to visit but with a year of travel, it did not seem like a great idea financially. However, things changed and after working with Arrivedo and creating guides in exchange for free stays in nice hotels. We decided to put Japan back on the list and it worked perfectly with our plans after leaving Jeju Island. I spent a good few weeks emailing hotels around Japan mainly Tokyo and Osaka, we were even considering another English volunteering opportunity. In the end, I signed up three hotels in the centre of Tokyo where we would be able to stay for free! Success!!
Welcome to Tokyo, Japan
We arrived on time but were held up in the huge queues for the passport control, one of the longest we have had to endure on our trip. We finally left and were hit by the huge transport costs to get to the city from Narita Airport. We opted for the Narita Express as it was the quickest and for the current time only option available as the there were no buses running. Well, there is always the taxi option but a quick check on the Uber app and finding super high prices of £100+ we decided £40 for the both of us for a train ride seemed like a better idea. Trains are efficient as I imagined and quick, so the journey was pretty easy and after changing to the subway we finally arrived at the Gate Hotel Kaminarimon Asakusa.
I managed to negotiate a free two-night stay in this 4-star hotel in the historic centre of Tokyo, Asakusa. This was actually the easiest hotel I booked in as they replied to my first email and were very interested and offered me the free nights without any issues. The room sounded like it was going to be small but ended up being quite big although it had two single beds which we could not push together. However, it had a bathtub and an awesome view of the Tokyo SkyTree. The hotel included a delicious part buffet breakfast with an amazing view of the city. The great rooftop lounge is a perfect place to enjoy the nighttime views.
This area is known as the historic and cultural part of the city due to the location of the oldest temple in the city Senso-Ji Temple. This temple was pretty awesome to wander around and only a short walk from the Gate Hotel Kaminarimon. There are two large gates on the approach to the temple along with a traditional market street selling all kinds of intriguing items from food to renting out kimonos (Japanese traditional garments). There is also a beautiful five-tier pagoda next to the temple. We took some time to wander around the parks which had some delightful turtles swimming around along with the classic koi fish. Took in the sights of the Tokyo SkyTree although we never went up we were able to enjoy the large structure which is the tallest tower in the world and second tallest building in the world.
The electronics and anime centre of Tokyo, this eccentric place is filled with shops selling every possible gadget imaginable along with many anime shops stocked with toys and collectables. The slightly weirder side to this area comes in the form the maid cafes which are dotted all over the Akihabara area. We were intrigued and wandered into a maid cafe but were stopped at the entrance with the menu of prices and some instructions. For anyone that has never heard of a maid cafe it basically plays on the idea of girls who are the waitresses dressed up in maid outfits.
What we did not realise is that they sing and dance and from looking through the door we soon realised that this would not be for us… Major awkward vibes with many awkward looking people with their hands up in the air listening to some girly pop music. We soon left plus it had a fairly high entrance fee which we also did not realise.
We visited Akihabara a few times mainly because Sassi wanted to buy a new tablet for teaching English online, we ended up buying one and if you remember your passport and pay with a credit card many discounts are available. The shops here amazing if you love gadgets, we spent hours wandering around the shops trying all kinds of weird things. Plus the camera section was photography gadget heaven. I wanted everything…
Our next stay in Tokyo took us to the Akasaka area which was more upbuilt with skyscrapers and closer to the business districts. The hotel was also close to the restaurant district an area filled with many tasty places to grab some fine dining. This hotel was slightly different and took a lot of emails to negotiate to stay here but we finally agreed on two nights and they would trial this guide before accepting it in the other hotels they own. This was an apartment hotel which was really nice to have in Tokyo. It included a small kitchen, traditional dining area, we had to sit on the floor, bathtub, one of the most comfortable beds and lots of space. It was a new hotel so everything was sparkling clean. I even got a private tour of the other rooms along with the rooftop.
This man built island hosts many awesome things and is easily accessible by train from the city centre. They even have a replica Statue of Liberty to enjoy with the skyline of Tokyo behind. The Rainbow Bridge can be seen from here and it is the main point of entry to the island. We spent some time wandering around the island looking at the wonderful views of the Sumida River and the city. There are many shopping centres and one even had a huge robot statue outside. Another shopping centre was styled like a Europen city with many architectural styles and statues inside to whisk people away from the Japanese city.
Trip Outside of the City- Ito
We decided to have a few days break from Tokyo as I was unable to find a hotel for free for the dates and headed by train to Ito. We opted for the slow train option because the bullet train was too expensive for us. This meant we had a long journey and about 3 changes to get there but it was worth it to save the money. Japan is expensive so we needed to save wherever possible. We booked a newish Airbnb in the mountains around Ito. We were picked up from the train station by a Chinese guy who took us to the Airbnb, he was the owner of the guesthouse. It turned out that we would be the only guests for the four nights that we booked. One of the main reasons for booking this place was the easy access to hot spring water in the guesthouse.
Our own private onsen which is a Japanese hot bath all to ourselves it was pretty awesome to have this experience and not have to worry about other naked people.
Rules for onsens you must be naked!
The areas around the guesthouse were pretty quiet and we walked around the mountainside up to the top to get some views along with hunting for waterfalls. The downside was the distance to the beach and town area, 45-minute walk or taxi no other option. Well, except we found one other option hitchhiking and it worked with the first car which we did not expect. The guy took us all the way to the train station and spoke a little English. We took a trip to the main beach along with the town centre and spotted many people fishing. The area was more focused on locals and it was nice being away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Hello Mount Fuji
We hitchhiked again to get to the train station luckily it worked out. We took a train to Atami and then jumped on a bus to Jukkoku Noboriguchi Station. The route took us into the mountains up a winding road to a cable car station. From here we went up to Jukkoku Pass which would provide a glorious view of Mt Fuji, however, there was a huge cloud hiding it from us…
We went for a wander around the area and enjoyed the awesome views of the surrounding landscape, after an hour or so we finally caught a glimpse of the amazing Mount Fuji in all its glory. We were happy about that! The cloud finally came back and covered Mount Fuji so we left to head back to Ito. On the way back to the Aribnb we tried hard to hitchhike but it seemed a lot harder to go up the hill. I caught eye contact with one lady who smiled and drove off I thought “Hey bit cheeky” but as we passed her again at her house she ran out with oranges and told us to get in the car, well she pointed at her car and waved us in. She drove us up the long road to the top near our Airbnb. Such a lovely lady! Arigato! (Thank you).
Back In Tokyo
After a four day break from the big city we were back in Tokyo for two nights and with a stay in the Roppongi district best known as the entertainment and nightlife centre of the city. Roppongi is full of bars, shops, and restaurants and is very popular with expats and visitors to the city.
We had another Arrivedo Guide exchange for a hotel in Tokyo. Candeo Hotels agreed to have us and we got to experience a brand new 4-star hotel with its very own rooftop onsen. The room was fairly big again larger than what we were expecting and we had an amazing view of the city and could just about see Tokyo Tower. We spent some time in the rooftop onsen which had lovely views but as the rules state full nude and gender separation. We just had to go with the flow and sneak in when no one was around so we chose random times to enjoy the hot bath. The water was hot and the open roof was pretty refreshing.
Imperial Palace Gardens
We wandered around the beautiful Palace Gardens one afternoon and experienced what it might have been like to be an emperor of Japan. Well, not really but it was a nice contrast between the greenery and skyscrapers in the heart of the city. With some Edo ruins dotted around the gardens.
Yoyogi Park and Takeshita Street
On a nice rainy day, we were in the Harajuku area to wander around Takeshita Street and witness all the interesting things the street has to offer from quirky cafes to interesting characters roaming around. Due to the rain, we didn’t stick around for too long. Yoyogi Park is right next to this area so we walked around the park to see one of the largest Shinto shrines in the city. The park is beautiful with huge trees and dedications to the Late Emperor Meiji who brought modernisation to Japan.
Tsukiji Fish Market
This is one of the biggest and most famous fish markets in Japan that doubles up as a tourist attraction because of the Tuna auction. We came on a day when it was closed so it meant no spectating this vibrant fish market. Although around the market are many street market stalls selling seafood and intriguing foods to try which is a great place to roam around. However for anyone that finds the smell of fish nauseating then this is not the place for you.
Free Observation View
Before our flight, we decided to spend some time around the city as we had a late flight. We heard about the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with a free observation deck for visitors which gave us a great view of the city at no cost. Prior to entering, we met up with an old friend that Sassi knew from a church in Woking, he has been living in Tokyo for a few years with his family as a missionary. He gave us an insight into what it is like living in Tokyo as a foreigner along with the challenge of being a Christian missionary in the city. We had a nice long chat over lunch but due to the huge queues at the nice traditional food eateries, we had to quickly settle for some fast food yummy Japanese style fast food burger.
We love food, and one of our favourite things to eat is KATSU CURRY and being in Tokyo we had a lot of katsu curry which was awesome and there are so many different options other than chicken and some restaurants only focused on katsu curry. Oh, what a dream! Neither of us like sushi so you won’t be hearing about any sushi stories. Something I love about Japan is the convenience stores filled with lots of snacks and ready meals that are way better than normal UK ready meals. In a matter of minutes, I could have cooked noodles, a burger, spaghetti, sushi…(maybe not), spicy chicken and so many other tasty treats. Plus vending machines everywhere we even spotted one on the side of a road in Ito up the hill surrounded by trees. Vending machines are awesome drinks, snacks even ice cream. Surprisingly food was not as expensive as we were expecting cheaper than the UK in most cases or at least similar.
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