Recently (New Years 2016) I went to visit my family in Japan for the holidays. Though most of it was spent with my family, I made sure to take some time out to show my fiancee around my home country. Though most of it was spent with my family and near my grandmother’s house in Chiba Prefecture, we did book a hotel in Shibuya, a thriving district in West Tokyo, for 3 days!
First things first, if you go to Japan in the winter (December-February) IT! IS! COLD! Typical temperatures are around 3-10 C and because Tokyo is in the bay and near water the wind factor is serious! Second thing to note, everything in Japan is smaller. If you want space, you actually will be paying for it. Meaning, a typical hotel in Tokyo is very small compared to hotels in the U.S. and most other parts of the world. If you want to have larger accommodations they are available, but they cost a lot more.
Some owls hanging out at the Owl Cafe in Harajuku.
Japan can be described in a variety of words, one of them being unique! With that said, Japan has some interesting cafe’s/restaurants that I wanted to check out. Robot Restaurant, Maid Cafe, Owl Cafe, Pet Cafe, virtual reality game center, and many more that I did not get to check out. I tried to get reservations to the Robot Restaurant but they were all packed when I went!! Grrrr. So all I can say is, book them early so you don’t miss out like I did!
The entrance to the Robot Restaurant located in Shinjuku- book them in advance during peak season!
Japan is full of maid cafes, so if you want to check out a maid cafe just research one in advance so you don’t end up at the wrong kind of cafe (especially if you have a girlfriend/wife/kids). At these maid cafe’s the girls are all dressed up super cute like little french maids and have super high pitched voices. On top of that, all the food and drinks are made extra kawaii!
Me and one of the super kawaii (cute) maids at the Maid Dreamin’ Maid Cafe
There’s an entrance fee of about $10 per person and they have different drink pricing options that are pretty fair and super cute. If you choose, for an extra fee, you can get a maid show! During the maid show, the girls put on a dance and song routine for about 3 songs. We were fortunate that someone requested one while we were there! It was pretty cute. Imagine J-Pop meets French Maids.
I ordered a dessert while I was there and of course they make it super kawaii like everything else there
When in Japan one must go and shop in Harajuku! Well, while you are there go and check out an owl cafe. Harajuku has several located right next to the train station. We happen to walk past one while going shopping in Takeshita-Dori (shopping heaven). The entrance fee was about $7 and it’s wasn’t much of a cafe to be honest, because you don’t sit and eat there but the concept was pretty cool. They had about a dozen owls types, some I was not keen on petting, while others were very adorable!
The Owl Cafe in Harajuku was like a mini (super mini) forest lined with multiple species of owls.
At the mall near my grandmother’s house I saw a sign that they had opened a new pet cafe in December. I decided I had to check it out of course! They had a mix of pets from birds, owls, a HUGE iguana, ferret, guinea pig, porcupine, chicks, and rabbits. In addition, you could pay an extra one to two dollars to feed some of the animals. Though this ‘cafe’ had a drink bar option for $2, it’s not somewhere I would recommend you go to enjoy a drink…definitely more for the animals.
There were a variety of animals at this animal cafe from bunnies, porcupines, ferret, the works!
Being that Japan is huge on technology and video games, I was not surprised to find a virtual reality game center. I actually was hoping to try it out while here because I had heard really good things from some podcasts I listen to. Personally, I loved the entire experience and felt more reality less virtual. Meaning, it all felt real to me! I was getting really into it fighting off the monsters with my sword and even crouching down to protect myself at times, from said monsters.
Every time I travel I try to learn about the history of the country and region that I’m in. Japan is rich in history, though most of it is outside of Tokyo, there are still a few cool places near Tokyo that give you the feeling like you’re walking through Edo (original name of Tokyo during the Edo Period).
There is a river that flows next to Kawagoe with several Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples located along the river as well as in Kawagoe Historic District.
Located about an hour north of Central Tokyo is Kawagoe, a small city that still maintains a lot of its original architecture and style. There are several blocks of the city that are located as their Historic Preservation District and all of the buildings within the district must maintain certain architectural aspects that represent the historical area.
All of the buildings maintained their original merchant store structures.
It takes about 40-60 minutes on the train from Tokyo Station depending if you can get an express or rapid train. From the train station you can catch either the bus for $2.00, taxi, or take a scenic 1 mile walk. We decided to walk because it goes right through the shopping district and thought it would make the time go really fast. However, I would go against this because you already have to do a lot of walking once you get into the historic district.
The Bell Tower- this is one of the more popular structures located in Kawagoe.
Since we went during the New Year holiday the streets will lined with a lot of people and vendors selling traditional Japanese goods such as candy, odango, mochi, fresh baked osembei (Japanese rice crackers), taiyaki, and much more.
There is a small alleyway that sells only traditional Japanese candy. YUM!
In Kawagoe there are two small museums in the nearby area but both were closed due to the holiday. We did go to the castle that’s located there and read online that you can do a self-guided tour. However when we went the entire castle was closed off to visitors.
The Kawagoe Castle- online it says that you can do a self-guided tour inside
Similar to Kawagoe, all of the stores located alongside the river in the historic district maintain their original architectural styles.
This is another cute area in Chiba Prefecture and is located in Katori City, and is easily accessible from Tokyo for a quick day trip. This area also has a small river flowing through the now historic district. Similar to Kawagoe it tries to maintain its original character from the Edo period with many ‘kura zukuri’ warehouse style merchant houses and several western style brick houses. An interesting attraction there is the house of Ino Takadata, who was the first person to complete a full map of Japan in the 19th century. There is a small map museum documenting his life as well as history of maps in the modern world. Side note: I am a MAJOR map nerd so I find these things particularly interesting.
You can go inside and give yourself a self-guided tour of Ino Tadataka’s house and get a look inside of what traditional residences looked like in the earlier 19th century.
Nearby the museum and located within the preservation district is the house that Ino Takadata lived in. There is not a lot of furniture (for obvious reasons) but you can go inside and check out how Japanese houses were built and structured in the early 19th century. Just outside of the historic district is lined with a ton of restaurants and choices. Go grab yourself a bite to eat after your extravaganza.
Obviously being in the huge metropolitan center that makes up Tokyo there are an infinite number of tours and guides to direct you on where you should check out. I definitely recommend doing your research before going anywhere, especially an area that has so much to do, you want to have a plan (which will be very different based on island and season).
I’m only including this section to give people an idea/overview of my experience in the two below locations. They are in no way my ‘Must See Places in Tokyo’ nor are any of these places.
Walt Disney and the entire Disney Team are serious when it comes to their decorations, and DisneySea is no exception.
Tokyo has both DisneyLand and a second theme park, DisneySea. DisneyLand mimics the DisneyLand in LA while DisneySea is a unique park of its own. It is located near the bay and incorporates a lot of water-type lands in their parks including, American Waterfront, Port Discovery, Mediterranean Harbor, Lost River Delta, Arabian Coast, and Mermaid’s Lagoon (fav!).
The opening of DiseySea after you come in through the entrance. Multiple times a day they have performances here.
Mermaid’s Lagoon is the cutest land in my opinion and they did not mind spending big bucks to have all the intricate details. Located in Mermaid’s Lagoon is Triton’s Kingdom, which is designed to make you think you are underwater (as that’s where Ariel’s house is).
The outside of Mermaid’s Lagoon! Literally my favorite place at DisneySea (visually).
Also if you enjoy the Indiana Jones ride, it’s actually located at Lost River Delta at DisneySea theme park and it’s one of the most popular rides there, so get your fastpass quick. Another good ride there located at American Waterfront is the Tower of Terror Ride. Both Indiana Jones and Tower of Terror have different storylines than the American theme park, but the ride itself is similar if not nearly identical. Oh yea, SMILE, there’s a photo!
Mysterious Island and Arabian Nights- all lit up at night.
We happen to be there in between Christmas and New Years so they had a good amount of holiday decorations as well as parades and fireworks (not sure if it is a daily there or if it was because of the holidays). We also scored because it was their 15 year anniversary! Talking 15’s everywhere! Before you leave, don’t forget to check out one of the most popular rides at Mediterranean Harbor, the Gondola.
View during the Gondola Ride
The view from Tokyo Skytree. My tip would be to pay extra for the ticket to go to the very top. It’s definitely way less crowded and this far into your trip, what’s an extra $10.
If you want a great view of Tokyo (day or night) from high above then look no further than Tokyo Skytree. It’s the tallest building in Japan and the tallest radio tower in the world. Although it opened to the public in 2010 it’s still pretty crowded. We went during the week (granted it was right before the New Year holiday) and the line to buy the tickets, go upstairs, and complete the tour took about 30 minutes longer than it should have purely based on people traffic. My tip* go early or go late, do NOT go during the afternoon.
The view of Tokyo Skytree from the ground.
It’s hard to see in this photo, but this is the entrance to the alleyways at Golden Gai aka piss alley
If you’re looking for a fun night out in Tokyo your options are more or less endless. There are typical bars that mimic those you will find in the states and Europe, as well as big clubs that have multiple stories and multiple dance floors. In addition, you can find plenty of bars that are catered for businessmen and their after-work desires. Then there are small little yokocho or alleyways in many of the districts. I had been to several bars and clubs in Tokyo before so I decided to check out the unique alleyways this time. I read that Golden Gai located in Shinjuku was one of the better known and bigger yokochos. They are very small and most only can hold a maximum capacity of 10 people.
Me sitting inside one of the bars at Golden Gai. This one had enough seats for 10 people, along with coat racks for guests.
There are supposedly 270 small bars cramped in between these alleys. Most of them do have a cover fee (since there is no space for sitting) and the drink costs are kinda high ($12-18), so plan on spending some bucks if you choose to go here. The crowd was a mix of 50/50 tourists and locals. There are a lot of businessmen who go there after work as well as many visitors going out to check out Tokyo nightlife. Few of the bars had “members only” signs, obviously for the locals, but most were open to all long as there was seating space. We even scored at a few bars that had no cover charge for tourists!
There are about three alley entrances that make up the bars in Golden Gai. Bonus: Even though they can only fit 10 people all of the bars had bathrooms!