Everyone travels differently. They have different interests, different tastes, and different reasons for traveling. I personally like seeing the popular attractions a city has to offer and I’m always a fan of good food (although I readily admit I’m not “adventurous” enough with my food to be called a foodie). I like observing people and seeing how things are different from country to country, especially from my daily life in the US. With that being said, I’m not usually one to completely immerse myself in the country or culture.
So with that paragraph of “disclaimers,” I’ll talk about some highlights on my trip to Tokyo.
- Introduction: Tokyo and Two 787s
- The Club Lounge at SJC
- ANA 787 Business Class SJC-NRT
- Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Tokyo
- Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Activities in Tokyo
- United 787 Business Class NRT-DEN
First things first, my friend and I needed to learn how to use the Tokyo Metro. Taxis are very expensive in Tokyo and I’d heard the metro was extremely easy and well-built anyway. There was a station right underneath the Hyatt Regency Tokyo, so we headed straight down to try to figure it out after checking in to the hotel.
We clicked around on the automated screens for a while and couldn’t figure out how it worked. There weren’t many people around at the time either, so we couldn’t exactly see what others were doing. Eventually we ended up walking to Shinjuku station, which has thousands of people in it, and just watched how others were paying. The maps above the machines indicate how much it costs to get from where you are to that particular stop. You select the amount on the screen, not the destination, and you pay with cash/coins. Once we figured it out, navigating the metro was extremely simple and efficient. Just make sure you give yourself a little time to figure it out on your way to your first destination!
Tokyo Great Cycling Tour
I’ve recently become a big fan of bicycle tours. I did one in Paris and it was fantastic – it’s such a great way to see the city, plus you get to interact with other people, even if they’re also tourists. The tour leaders are usually natives and speak English very well, and obviously provide some great local knowledge. Additionally, Trip Advisor ratings has this tour rated as the #1 activity in Tokyo, with 191 customer reviews.
The tour costs ¥10,000 per person (roughly $100), so it’s not exactly cheap. It’s a good idea to sign up well in advance since space is limited. My friend and I signed up on their website a few weeks before arriving. Their website lists several different tours available, each one hitting a few different locations on the ride. I chose Route A but probably would have been happy with any of the routes. I really just wanted to make sure the Imperial Palace was one of the stops.
First of all, this tour was pretty physically demanding. It was 26.5 kms, or 16.5 miles, and it was not as easy as their website would have you believe. I don’t exercise too much, but I’m definitely not out of shape either. I ride my bike maybe once a week on a leisurely 6 mile ride, plus some other short-duration cardio workouts. Those were nothing compared to a 16.5 mile ride in 95F weather with 80% humidity. I’m probably being a bit dramatic – there were plenty of stops, the tour leaders provided us with plenty of water, and we had a nice, long lunch break. In good weather it wouldn’t have been so bad. But at the same time I don’t think it’s fair to call a 16.5 mile ride “easy” as they do on their website.
Beyond that, however, the tour was fantastic. We were cycling on sidewalks, streets, bridges, and got to see the city from a different perspective while still being able to see some of the major attractions. I’ll let my pictures (and captions) speak for themselves.
If this type of activity is within your budget and athletic ability, I would highly recommend it. You can pay with a credit card or cash after the tour, so I put it on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to ensure no transaction fees.
Buddha Bellies Cooking School Tokyo
I once again relied on Trip Advisor for advice on something to do. I’ve never taken a cooking class either at home or abroad, but the idea of learning how to make sushi in Japan was quite appealing. The stellar reviews on Trip Advisor also helped. The class was 2 hours long and costs ¥7,000 per person (roughly $70). Again not cheap, but still an experience I thought would be worth it since it’s #3 on Trip Advisor’s “top activities” list.
The course itself is in Jimbocho, and the room we were in was actually a kind of library. I was told the Jimbocho area is known to have the highest concentration of bookstores in all of Tokyo so I suppose it wasn’t surprising. Each course has a maximum of 6 people plus the instructor, and it started with a brief introduction from each person. Coincidentally, two people that were on our bike tour the day before were also in this class!
We learned a brief history of sushi and how well-respected sushi chefs are in Japan. We then went over the process of how the rice should be cooked (we each received a couple of papers with the history and course plan), but we were told the rice was already cooked since it would be a waste of time to do that as a group (and I agree).
Our first major task was to form the rice into oval-like shapes for the actual fish to sit atop. The hardest part was that our instructor insisted that the weight of each piece of rice was 20 grams, or at worst no more than 23 grams. We literally had an electronic scale to weigh them! As I mentioned before, it seems that Japanese people are very precise and it definitely extends to the kitchen.
We then learned how to make a sushi roll, and this was by far the hardest part of the course. Getting everything aligned properly, rolled tightly, then cut perfectly was definitely tough! After that, our instructor brought out the already-cut fish to top our rice with. This was the only bummer of the course for me – I thought we’d learn how to actually cut the fish, but apparently that’s too difficult and time consuming to teach in a course like this. Still, it was all fun.
The biggest difference between sushi from home and in this course for me was in the wasabi. We learned to put a small drop of wasabi between the rice and the fish, and that only the fish portion should touch the soy sauce when dipping. I’d always mixed my wasabi into my soy sauce and dipped the rice portion, but clearly I had it completely wrong. A word of warning – the wasabi in Japan is a lot stronger than the fake stuff we have in the US! It was so strong it almost ruined the taste of the sushi, but it was all still very good. The fish all just tasted so much more fresh than what I have at home.
We even got dessert afterward. I believe it’s called Dorayaki, which is basically a pancake filled with bean paste and cream. We also got some green tea and were taught about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and the importance of it in Japanese culture.
This course was a lot of fun. The instructor Ayuko was wonderful and knowledgable, and I felt like I was learning about both the Japanese culture and food during this short 2 hour course. It was fun to make the food and be able to eat it, and the fact that it was really good certainly helped. I totally recommend it if you’re into this kind of thing. If not, then maybe exploring another restaurant might be a better use of your time and meal.
Mount Fuji and Hakone Day Tour by JapaniCan
I wanted to make it out to Mount Fuji, if for nothing else than to take some nice pictures. I didn’t want to climb the mountain so I was perfectly fine with going about halfway up. A friend recommended this day tour that he took a while back. I was intrigued not only because of the recommendation, but also because I would get to take the Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo. It was pretty pricey at ¥16,000 ($160) per person but I decided to sign up anyway.
We were picked up directly from the Hyatt Regency hotel (they do pickups at dozens of hotels in Tokyo) and were driven about 20 minutes to the Fuji Visitors Center. After about 30 minutes there, we finally left for a roughly 2 hour drive from Tokyo to 5th station on Mount Fuji. While a 2 hour drive in a bus is rarely fun, I was pleasantly surprised while looking out the window because of all the greenery that I saw. Tokyo is totally a concrete jungle, but just a few miles out is an endless supply of lush trees and forest area that continued all the way to Mount Fuji.
Anyway, we eventually made it to 5th station and my friend and I quickly realized we made a boneheaded mistake. We were so used to the heat and humidity of Tokyo that we were still wearing shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. And of course when we got to 5th station it was extremely cold and it started raining, so we were not exactly enjoying ourselves when we got off the bus. In fact, the rain meant that there were far too many clouds for us to even get a decent view of Mount Fuji, so that was a pretty big letdown for us. We looked around the couple of stores there to see if there were any souvenirs worth buying, but otherwise we headed back to the bus before we were drenched in any more rain.
We then headed back down the mountain to a small hotel where we had lunch and then continued on to Hakone. There were some cable cars there that we were scheduled to ride, but the rain and wind was pretty intense so our tour bus leader wasn’t sure we’d be able to ride it. Thankfully the weather cleared up a bit and we were able to ride it, though it wasn’t anything special (I suppose cable cars rarely are).
We headed further down the mountain to the train station that would take us back to Tokyo. For me, the highlight of the day was the Shinkansen bullet train we got to ride. The train is blazing fast – it can race by at speeds up to 200 mph and even just standing at the station and watching the trains go by was a lot of fun. We got our tickets and boarded easily, and there was plenty of room to stretch out. We were back in Tokyo a short 45 minutes later, and we were told our tickets can get us to any stop on the metro.
I know I was dealing with bad weather and didn’t get to see and experience much, but I still wouldn’t recommend this particular tour. It was pricey (granted that it was a long tour with lunch and the train included), and I didn’t really get to experience much on the trip. I’d look for other options for a Mount Fuji trip if I was able to do it again.
I go to a McDonald’s in every country I visit. There’s always a regional favorite or quirks to the menu and I enjoy seeing exactly what the differences are. It’s also an easy way for me to see how expensive a certain city is compared to others, using the Bic Mac meal as a baseline.
There was a McDonald’s right next to the Shinjuku train station, just a short walk away from the Hyatt Regency Tokyo. It was very busy when we went in the evening. A big bummer was that the menus had no English on them, and even the cashier didn’t speak any English (I had to point at what I wanted). There were a couple of things on the menu that seemed different, but I couldn’t really tell for sure and I couldn’t exactly ask the cashier either because of the language barrier. This was surprising to me because every McDonald’s I’ve been to has had menus in English and employees that speak English.
Another interesting thing I noticed was how some of the seating was. While there were plenty of regular tables and a few booths, there were a lot of seats designed for people eating alone. They actually reminded me of study desks in my school’s library – fit for just one person and closed off for privacy. I don’t recall seeing something like this in any other country.
There was obviously plenty more that I did in Tokyo but I just wanted to hit some of the highlights and big items on my trip. Again, if I don’t have a local guide or recommendations from friends, I’m a big fan of using the activities listed on Trip Advisor. I was only in Tokyo for 4 days and I was told that there was so much more I should have done, but I’ll just have to save those items for another trip!