Updated: Aug 28, 2018
Long time no words! Wow, apologies gang, it has been an incredibly hectic year thus far. Between work transitions, school overcoming my daily life, & everything in between I have barely had time to condition my hair, let alone write. However, I was able to get away for part of February on a winter excursion to visit my best friend in the beautiful Japan.
Continuing my Asia kick, Japan was a country that was unexpectedly thrust into my radar after my best friend decided to move to the island of Okinawa last fall. I truly did not know what to expect, although I anticipated a lot of ramen & sensory overload (spoiler alert: I got it). But what I really came back with was this sense of how a country should be. With virtually no crime, the nicest human beings on the planet, & beautiful, pristine order to their cities and landmarks, Japan is truly an incredible place to visit.
I know you're thinking "Wow Kathryn, that was a really classy paragraph." Come on guys..it wouldn't be my blog unless there was drinking, debauchery & monkeys. I'll be breaking down my 3 day itinerary, perfect for you and a girlfriend!
Start off your trip with this big city! Arguably with several hundreds of things to do, Tokyo is never going to disappoint with lavish sushi buffets (not all heros wear capes), robots, & cherry blossoms.
When you land, take the JR line to major parts of Tokyo. We stayed in Shibuya area, which was about an hour and 15 minute train ride into the center of the city at about 400 yen (woof) although this is one of the cheaper routes to go. Note to all: Japan is not cheap! I wish I could tell you otherwise. But when it costs $15 for a 3 pack of strawberries, you're kind of obligated to say something to the community. Buses will also get you there for a little more, at about 900-1200 yen in about 40 minutes. Once you are in the city, the underground train is your best friend!
Where to Stay
For those of you who know me well, Airbnb & I have a pretty tight relationship and this is typically what I use for lodging. I recommend going this route as most hotels are going to be the same size as the Airbnbs unless you are spending a hefty amount of cash. For how expensive Japan is, this is a great way to save cash to do the things you would really like! Either way, you're going to feel large, bend your knees to get under a shower head & find one mirror in the entire room. Japan is certainly not for the faint of heart. Shibuya was a great location for us, and fairly central to most of the other attractions, which is important in a city of this size. Shinjuku & Ginza would be two other great options and close to metro stations to access other parts of the city. Have some money to spend? Try the Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Keio Plaza Hotel.
Start your morning off with a cup of coffee (breakfast is not a thing) and a walk across the busiest intersection in the world. Shibuya crossing is a quick metro stop to jump and walk across this section of road. however, it is a work crossing so do mind the vehicles crossing. Yes, we almost got hit for some of these photos.
A quick jaunt from Shibuya, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is a great place to see some cherry blossoms (season starts April-early June), however we were able to catch some early blooms in February as well! You gals are going to need some culture after an upcoming night of karaoke & bar hopping.
Next, head over to the Tsukuji Fish Market and explore the vast rows of goodies. Goodies meaning dead fish & sushi erasers. This market is a great place to explore and pick up some authentic food or goodies for friends & family. If you're going to eat sushi or a sashimi bowl, THIS IS THE PLACE TO DO IT. This was my most expensive meal in Japan, but something I will talk about forever. Pick literally any nice establishment (I recommend the indoor ones) and watch as sushi is prepared fresh in front of your face. Is there anything better? Also, note to the Miranda of the group: Japanese do not "dip" their sushi in soy sauce like we do. Do not smother the fresh fish. Also, thank your sushi hero by saying "Arigato Zai Mas" (I even put it spelled incorrectly so you can pronounce it right). You will hear this everywhere!
Next, you'll kill two birds with one stone and hit the Mori Art Museum to see the Tokyo Tower & explore the gallery. Outside of the museum, the smoking area has a great vantage point to snap photos. We also took amazing shots from one of the top floors of this immensely large museum while obnoxiously taking up this one bench to get them. No regrets. The Museum itself is also worth a visit, with several unique art exhibits and even some interactive ones (we laid on a building that looked like we were "falling" off of it. doesn't even make sense when typed). This is a great way to not waste time getting to the tower itself and getting a perfect birds eye view!
As it draws closer to the evening, head to Harajuku for luxury shopping, an afternoon pick me up, & adorable restaurants galore. One of my favorite parts of Japan was the quaint coffee shops that were scattered around the city, as I found in this elephant themed coffee shop right next to blue bottle coffeein the district. For a sweet treat in the afternoon, I would try Dominique Ansel Bakery for your most instagram worthy baked goods. We enjoyed these for breakfast one morning as well! And I'm sorry, I have always wanted to eat the face of a robot and I didn't have that dream until that day.
So now it's time for alcohol. Or dinner. Or both. There are so many great places to grab food in Tokyo, but a pastime that is known to most is the art of conveyer belt sushi. There are places all over the city, I pulled up Yelp (or TripAdvisor) and searched directly for it.
After you have eaten your fill of questionable sushi, head over to the Golden Gai district to get your drink on. The fact that these are the only three pictures I truly have from Golden Gai should tell you a lot about the experience itself. Golden Gai is an area of about 200+ bars that are all incredibly small (7 people total) and incredibly fun for a night out. This is the place to do some karaoke with locals, drink fun cocktails & visit as many places as you can!
Champion is a great start and a hot spot for karaoke. Kenzo's, Totobar, & Bar Araku are a few great jumping off points as well, but anything you venture into is bound to be a fun experience all around!
Good morning hungover beauties! Get your day started with an industrial sized coffee from Starbucks if you're basic like me (only place that has soy milk, sue me) and head over to Don Quixote to see how the Japanese purchase their groceries and spend $20 on macadamia nuts. Marvel at the 8 stories of Japanese goods and pick up a gift for friends and family, nothing says "i had a great time in Japan" quite like anchovies. Don't fret about finding the store as well, they are littered across the city, and the country for that matter.
Once you have had your fill of weird foods, enjoy some insanely delicious ones at the Museum of Ramen. This is an incredibly interesting and delicious experience as you can learn (and try!) different types of ramen throughout history. The musuem is about 30 minutes from Shibuya, so plan accordingly!
Next, travel back up into the city center and visit your nearest Sega for all your arcade needs. There is one located in Chiyoda, but you can literally find these all over the city's major neighborhoods. I literally did not want to leave the Sega and had to physically be pulled away as it is so much fun. With row after row of arcade games, there is an abundance of fun within these mega plexes, including photo booth where you can beautifully edit your face to look...better than it was before? Debatable, but you'll keep these in a memory box forever.
As evening approaches, take the train to the Shinjuku area to visit the luxury that is the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Featured in the film Lost in Translation, venture up to the 52nd floor to the New York Bar. Forewarning, it's an expensive place, but the views alone are worth the cover charge. This is a classy establishment, however we did get away with wearing jeans!
To begin your night of drinking (remember college?), stay in Shibuya and grab some dinner at one of the many dining options, such as Yakiniku Omonitei (BBQ!), Oedo Ayatori, or Hormone Hanaken (not a fan of the name but the ramen looks baller) and shortly after make your way to the Robot Restaurant for the wildest experience of your life.
The Robot Restaurant is truly a pastime for American tourists to enjoy some of Japan's crazy culture. Essentially, it is a several hour show featuring Robots, hard to follow plot lines, & mostly getting drunk and trying to make sense of it all. Japan knows us so well. It is important to note you can't just show up, book your tickets in advance for the night you would like to go. You should be able to book directly from the website. It costs about $75, but is completely worth every penny of the experience. Ensure that you do not purchase food with your show. I made that mistake and didn't end up eating any of the bento box! Enjoy the show with lightbulb vodka drinks and a sweet treat of caramel popcorn. Make friends, see octopuses try to fall in love and suddenly get killed by their lover who is then eaten by a giant panda (still not sure entirely what happened).
After trying to find out if robots actually fall in love, head across the street to the bars! There are several famous bars here, including Bar Albatross located shortly up the tiny street. This was visited by Anthony Bourdain and is a tight squeeze! It was quickly established that I am too large for Japan and the same rings true in this bar. This is a great place to grab some authentic sake and pretend like it tastes good (spoiler: it tastes like asshole), but at least you can say you tried it #cultured.
I recommend spending the rest of your night exploring the tiny streets of these Shinjuku bars and pouring yourself into bed around dawn. Other bars to visit: Kirin City, Shisha, En Shinjuku Ten(authentic feels!), & Ben Fiddich.
Your last day can be a mixed bag of restaurants or places you have yet to see on your wish list. For me, I would have definitely taken a train ride outside of the city to Chureito Pagoda. If you are visiting in the winter months, this is a stellar place to view Mt Fuji as well as the clearest time of year to see it. I would leave first thing in the morning for this excursion to get back to Tokyo in the evening or late afternoon. Allot additional time for the train conversions as well as the bus travel.
Upon your return, I would suggest touring the city via mario cart. No, I'm not shitting you. The great thing about Maricar is it's a fun, exuberant slightly dangerous way to tour a major city. The best part? You get to do so in costume and relive your Pokemon card trading days. So naturally I said sign me up.
Before you leave the USA, make sure to obtain a International Driving Permit so you can drive the go cart when you arrive on foreign soil. This is actually a fairly straight forward process, simply go to any local AAA and tell one of the lovely employees you are looking to obtain the permit. They will know what to do! If you have two small headshots of yourself at a specific size (call your local AAA and ask the specifications) this will be your "two original photos" for your driving permit. You can fill out the application on site and the fee is $20. Very easy!
Tours are typically two hours and are an absolute highlight. Nothing is more fun than running around in a Pokemon onsie and have random stranger gawk at you.
Finally, venture to Shibuya crossing at night to experience the magic of this huge intersection at night. This girls trip truly intersected into a large photo opportunity in this spot. Too cheesy? Make it stop? Okay.
There are so many reasons to love Japan, and sharing it with you best friend is something the two of you will always remember. Comment below if you have additional questions! Arigato Gozimasu!