I love Japan. Food = Super-duper #1, People = Friendly, City = Safe/Clean, Sites = Cool, Not that far away, What else?
Oh yeah...THE FOOD!
I love Japan. Food = Super-duper #1, People = Friendly, City = Safe/Clean, Sites = Cool, Not that far away, What else?
Oh yeah...THE FOOD!
My Husband and I spent 8 days on vacation in Tokyo, March 28 -April 5th 2010. We had a great time, we went all over the city, we found it clean and safe and the people very helpful. I read they appear to take great pride in their jobs and I would agree with that. Theres a lot of bowing and nodding, very polite people we found. The weather was generally very cold, I had to buy some gloves but we did have alot of sunny days and the cherry blossom was in perfect full bloom all over the city.
We flew direct from Houston, just over 13hrs flight time(11hrs return). We stayed at the excellent Prince Park Tower (see seperate review). Arrival at Narita did not go well as we were in line for over an hour waiting to get through immigration, no seats, no water and quite frankly very disorganised which was a surprise. Its hard waiting so long in line after 13hr flight + to and froms airport etc.
After we cleared immigration things did get better. We found the limo bus desk easily and there were no lines, the process to get tickets was very smooth and we paid by credit card $64 USD showed on the credit card for the 2 of us. It was 2hr drive time from the airport(longer due to rush hr traffic normal drive time 90mins from airport to hotel). Everything was very organised kerb side for bus pick ups, with attendants keeping order. Destinations clearly marked and in Western characters, little English spoken. No tipping in Japan, you'll save a lot!!
Auto messages on the bus,were minimal ,at the start and as we approached hotels but also to let us know we would try a different route due to traffic snarls. This kept us all informed, were announced in English & allowed us to catch some sleep along the way.
Hotel check in smooth, excellent room and wonderful bed which we needed as so tired. Jet lag difficult to get over during the frst few days.
We spent the first morning getting tours organised, hotel conceirge was very good. We had tried to book a day tour to Kyoto online before we left home with City Discovery-be warned this was a disaster, they were a dreadful company, no 24/7 contact, as stated on their website,in fact hardly any contact at all until we decided to pull out after waiting 5 days with no contact from them. We are still trying to get our money back!! I have never in all my life had such bad treatment form a tour company, I even received an email from them yesterday asking if I'd fill in a survey about the tour (which they know was cancelled) Their left hand obviously doesn't know what their right hand is doing.
However, determined City Discovery were not going to spoil our trip, my husband and I did book the very same itinerary to Kyoto through our hotel and we had a great day. The tour to Kyoto was with Sunrise, we were picked up at the hotel and taken to the main bus terminal, met again and directed to next bus for the station(this all didn't take long and well organised) where we got on the bullet train, we opted for First Class seats but everyone was assisted to their correct seats and the reps waited until the train left the station, even waving goodbye. We were given lots of information before we left, with special reference to the fact the train only stops a couple of minutes at Kyoto station and to be sure to be ready to get off. The train was a great experience. It was clean, quiet, staff wore smart uniforms and turned round and bowed as they left each carriage.(Imagine that in UK LOL). Snacks and drinks served frequently. We had many excellent views of Mount Fuji, sit on the right side if you can. When we arrived at Kyoto reps were waiting to meet the carriages and group us together. We walked across the road a little way to a hotel for a very good lunch.It was part buffet/part set meals, but we had been asked when we booked if we needed any special requirements, vegetarians etc. There was wine also available but we didn't try that. It was above average overall. The afternoon tour of Kyoto included Sanjusangen do temple with 1001 Buddhas, another temple and shrine + gardens.
We were taken back to the hotel where we had lunch earlier to now get taken back to the station. We had a little free time, as there are numerous very good gift shops and then the reps ensured we got on the correct train and into the right carriage again for our seats. Remember theres only a 90 second/2min window approx to board the train at Kyoto it really doesn't stop long. I think it was a bit stressful for the reps but they disguised it well and seemed very concerned everyone would be well looked after. Back in Tokyo all met again at the station and as there were only about 8 of us that were on the train back(some stayed over in Kyoto for longer tour) we had very smart taxis to take us back to our hotels. Excellent day out, not cheap but remember no tipping, drivers, tour reps, restaurant staff etc so we thought it was good value & stress free..
Not so however on the Greyline one day Tokyo tour we booked. This tour was not very well organised and the full day was far too long. The day started with hotel pick up for us at 8.10am, then waiting around in a street for our tour buses to meet up with us and then everyone change seats to get on the correct bus for the tour they'd booked. wait time too long as one tour bus was much later than the others. Tour reps buzzing about not looking very organised. When we did get started our tour rep Micki was very good, good english, easily heard etc We went to Tokyo tower which was quite good, excellent views but for us we had those views from our hotel. Its worthwhile doing this visit if you are staying elsewhere.Meiji shrine was in a nice forest area, but our time at Imperial Palac e gardens was only 10minutes and really not long enough. We didn't get lunch until after 1pm and were very hungrey by that time. The place we were taken to was not good, service was dreadful, the place was cramped and food not very good at all. I was glad I took a few M&M's in my bag (just in case). It was a shame because there are so many really good, cheap places to eat in Tokyo there really was no excuse for taking us to this awful place. Int he afternoon we went on a truely awful boat trip on the river. It was VERY crowded, no safety advice, we were herded like cattle and didn't really see very much from being stuck in the middle of everyone. If anything had gone wrong on that boat I am certain we would have gone down with the boat as difficult to escape from below deck with so many people on board. However, there was some joy to be had from this awful trip, from a lovely little Japanese boy who waved at me from inside the boat while I was waiting to board, in the end there was only a few seats left when we finally got inside and I ended up sitting with this little boy and his parents. He was probably about 18mths-2yrs and had a lovely smile. His parents offered us some of their snacks. Lovely people. Later we visited the Asakusa a & Senso Ji area, & Nakamise-dori famous for all its little gift stalls. This is where I found my gloves. Its a major tourist area, very busy but a must do in Tokyo I think. The tour also drove past many other major spots but the end of the day turned out to be the very worst of it. We had to endure another wait for other buses to meet up with us so people could be moved around again to different buses before the delivery of people back totheir hotels could commence. We seemed to wait hours for a bus to meet up with us. It was 7.10pm when we finally got back to our hotel. Totally unacceptable, It had taken us over 2hrs after the tour ended to get back. I would not recommend this trip, very long day...sorry Micki(our tour rep) she was good but I'd move companies if I was you.
Another thing I did was visit Cocomo, a lady's house who dresses you up in a Kimono, make up and la real hair wig etc. It takes about 2hrs total, but 30mins is spent drinking tea and enjoyng the clothes etc while she prints off your photos and CD if you want them. the house was easy to find just off Nakamise Dori. She has over 50 kimonos to choose from I would say. The lady had recently dressed & made up Jessica Simpson and had her picture on the wall inside. It was a fun thing to do, my husband was with me and she was happy to let him film everything. You can opt to walk around the streets dressed up but I didn't want to do that. We were happy to get lots of pictures, the movie and just experience what happens to get into all the Japanese Geisha kit.
It was expensive at 19800 Yen iI think with CD a little extra but I felt it was a once in a lifetime experience and it was done really well. This lady has a website too. http://www.cocomo1.net/maiko/ Men can dress up to in male dress too.
We asked our hotel conceirge if we could get a private tour with English speaking driver. Yoko arranged one for us and it was the best thing we did. After the previous poor Greyline day tour ($217 for the 2 of us) this experience was much better. We were met at hotel by Takumi Kanai the driver of a very nice comfortable limo. A sightseeing taxi -business card states Hitachi Taxi Daini. corporation. We booked him for 4hrs but after spending longer than planned at the Edo Museum, he was happy to extend to 5.5hrs for us. It cost $265, thats $48 an hour, or $24 an hour each, could be less if more in the taxi. It was excellent value for the comfort and what we got to see on route. We chose where we wanted to go before hand. We had asked to drive around the city and see the cherry blossom main spots, Edo Museum, park etc and he took us to the very best Tokyo had to offer. We saw several key areas and the amount of trees together in full bloom where stunning. Takumi gave us lots of stories and information including how the Japanese people get together to celebrate this short bloom time, japanese language lessons, opinions etc. He also drove us through routes that enabled him to point out other key buildings and attractions. He made an impromtu stop at a little Japanese garden belonging to famous author in old Tokyo area, he asked if we'd like to see inside a paper house(his words for traditional Japanese house) that sometimes allows visitors, but alas this house was unavailable today due to the family organising a celebration gathering for the cherry blossom. Takumi took us to the last Shogun gate (as most have burnt down) National Guest building etc and we also spent some time in the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen national garden built as a royal garden. It was the best garden we saw in Tokyo, a must see, a photographers dream with so many lovely spots, trees, pavillions, tea house, greenhouse, lakes etc. We did giveTakumi a tip because he gave us such a good time, was a nice guy and looked after us brilliantly. It was so much better value for money than the Greyline tour, I wish we'd done this at the start of our trip.
Our final 2 days were full ones. We navigated the subways, (see below) ,did some shopping at Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando-Dori (it opens at 10am, beware most shops don't open until 11am) This store is fantastic, Japanese gifts, antiques, Kimonos, ceramics etc on 4 floors. Less crowded, more relaxed etc opposite style of those stalls on Nakamise-dori. Prices pretty fair and they have a small shop at Narita airport.....BEFORE security. We also visited Mitsukoshi in Ginza, far too busy, expensive. Just a department store and I didn't go to Tokyo to clothes shop. We did go to the basement to see all the food though and it is truely amazing but theres nowhere to eat anything! I think they are renovating a terrace. We went to one of the upper floors and had a small meal there, little wait time as very small cafe but after viewing all that food downstairs we needed a pit stop! We also went tNorth from Ginza to where the musical instrument area is hoping to see Japanese classical instruments but alas all we found after quite a lot of walking were rock guitars and violins.
We went to Sengakuji, (South) easy on the subway from Daimon which was our nearest station. This is the temple that is famous for 47 samurais killing themselves(seppuku) after avenging their Lords death by killing Kira Kozukenosuke in 1703. Flowers are still laid on the graves there by nuns. Its a very interesting place to visit for Japanese history.
We visited the National Museum, good for relics from 1BC, some Samurai armour, Kimonos, art etc but we preferred the Edo museum. We did have lunch at the Museum restaurant for convienience and it was adequate, noodles, cakes etc but we just missed the rush time (around 12.30pm I think)and when we left wait times very long. We did the view cherry blossom at night thing, Believe me when I tell you the Japanese go absolutely mad over this cherry blossom week. They stake claims under some trees in advance of the blossom to hold their annual family picnics. Some areas allow alchol some do not, so you get the idea that some areas are better to visit than others at night, depending what you want to see/get involved in. However when the rain started whilst we were out viewing with the masses, the rush for the subway station became pretty dangerous and log jammed. People trying to get up onto the street were stuck too. We got away ok but I'm not sure everyone did safely.
Well thats almost it, we enjoyed it all, would like to see more of Kyoto. My husband managed to fulfill a dream when I spotted Samurai armour in a small shop window in Kyoto from the tour bus. I scribbled down the details and turned out they had a website, (no store in Tokyo). My husband phoned them and spoke to one of the guys who spoke English(from Blackpool , amazing) and he's ordered one -something he's always wanted and been interested in.
Just to mention.....Subways in Tokyo, we found easy to use, safe. The ticket machines have a button you can press to get all instructions in English. Our hotel staff gave us a few tips before we left and an enlarged map which made the stations easier to read. Stations have numbers as well as western character names. If you did not pay enough for your ticket there are fare adjustment areas to easily sort the differencet out. We did purchase an all day ticket on our last days and it more than paid for itself as we went all over the place. My husbands ticket got stuck and didn't pop out as it should when he passed through the barrier. We went right down to the other end of the barriers where an attendant was and he knew exactly where my husband had come from, we didn't even have to tell him, he apologised, undid the machine and got the ticket out, saying sometimes they stick!
We found Kobe beef at our hotel to be the best we ever tasted.
The Narita airport shops (Terminal one) are pretty good for gifts, restaurants and food etc but more shops before security than after. After security you get more duty free type goods, Hermes type stores, cosmetics, alchol, sake, electronics ,one big store that has a few Japanese gifts, rice candies etc. Overall you should get what you missed at the airport, except the Samurai suit LOL. The flyers lounge we thought had nice decor, opposite Gate 31.
Toyko is by far the cleanest city to which I have ever travelled. It is aso the largest and busiest city to which I have ever travelled. The amount of effort the people of Tokyo go to in order to ensure both sanity and sanitation is simply astounding.
Sights one must visit while in Tokyo include Harajuku (shopping/fashion), Ueno (Ameyoko for cheap shopping / Ueno Park/zoo), Shibuya (area for young adults), and Shinjuku (nightlife / red light district).
I enjoy exploring Tokyo for it's innovative technology, it's delicious high quality cuisine and the shopping. I loved visiting the electronics district (Akihabara), especially Yodobashi electronics store to see what are the latest gadgets, visiting the trendy district (Shibuya) for it's stylish clothes and anime. Toys are everywhere. Japanese anime is everywhere. My favorite stores to visit for that are Kiddy Land & Snoopy Town in Harajuku. So much to see, so little time to see everything. Try to stay at least one week in Tokyo before visiting other cities in Japan. You'll need at least that amount of time to see a good portion of Tokyo.
We just got back from spending 9 amazing days in Tokyo, and already want to go back. There is so much to see and do there. For those who have never been to a foreign country, don't let that stop you. Tokyo is very safe. And the language barrier is difficult at times, but there are enough Japanese that speak at least some English that this is not a problem. I traveled with my sister plus my older teenage daughter and son. We felt perfectly safe everywhere we went, day or night.
You travel everywhere on trains which are fast and efficient. My best recommendation is to buy a Suica card that you can easily add money to in any subway station. Then just flash your card when going through the turnstiles. It automatically subtracts the correct subway fare. You can even use the Suica card to buy merchandise at some stores.
Tokyo is an amazing city of both old and new. Ancient shrines will be surrounded by modern buildings. There are shrines, museums, marketplaces, restaurants, literally no end of places to go and things to see. You could spend years exploring Japan; there is so much to see and do. Highlights of our trip were Disney Sea, the Ghibli Museum, Kamakura (a small town near Yokohama), the Ramen Museum, and Asakusa (where they have beautiful shrines as well as a marketplace).
Tokyo is a very clean city. It's safe to drink the water. You don't need any special shots. The people are very welcoming. Several times when we needed directions the person we asked walked several blocks out of their way to show us where to go. If we looked lost kind people would come up and ask if we needed help. From ordering food at restaurants to traveling around the city, there were always friendly Japanese people who would kindly help us. If you aren't an adventurous eater and aren't sure if you will like the food over there, there is a large American fast food presence in Japan; Mc Donald's, KFC, Mos Burger, Wendy's, Hard Rock Cafe, Domino's Pizza, and many more. But you MUST also try some of the delicious local foods as well.
I highly recommend Tokyo as a great place to travel. It is a wonderful destination - you won't regret it. I cant' wait to go back.