3 Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan

Over the past two months, I have been asked numerous times about my recommendations for Japan, my itinerary and if I had any tips to share. It turns out that a lot of my friends are planning to visit Japan this year! I thought it would be a great idea to share a couple of tips and advice based on my experience planning for the trip.

1. Get a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) to travel around Japan.

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My JR Pass

If you plan on visiting multiple cities in Japan, I highly recommend getting a JR Pass. You might be hesitant to get one because of how pricey it is, but it’s worth it. A 7 day JR Pass cost roughly the same as a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka/or Kyoto. You pretty much break even and you get to use the pass on all JR lines (subway/rail) and the JR Narita Express (from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station). Since I was in Japan for 2 weeks, I opted for the 14 day JR Pass and used it visit Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. I definitely took full advantage of the pass and you should too if you’re planning to visiting other cities: https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/jr-pass (Note: if you’re planning to get it, make sure you order it before you get to Japan because they will mail you the documents you need to pick up the pass when you get to Japan.)

2. Rent Pocket Wifi and stay connected 24/7 so you can share your adventures on Instagram and Snapchat in real time (jk but not really). 

It was honestly one of the best investments for the trip. I was able to use Google maps, look up/research spots on the go and start this blog on my train ride to Osaka. It comes with a portable charger as well and it’ll only cost you ~$6/day, which is a bargain.

This was the pocket WiFi I rented from Japan-wireless.com. Picture above is from their site as well.

3. Save some room in your luggage for souvenirs if you’re staying in hotels.

If you’re staying in hotels, you will get get basic toiletries – toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, lotion, slippers and some places will even provide razors and body sponges (loofahs). I packed travel size toiletries that I didn’t even touch – aside from my contact lens solution.

Bonus tip: If you’re planning to visit the Ghibli Museum, make sure you buy tickets in advance (more than a month in advance). 

You can’t buy the tickets at the museum, you can only get them online or at a Lawson convenience store in Japan. The tickets only go on sale during a certain time each month and you learn more about it here: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ticket-information/ I wish I knew about this when I was planning my trip – I wasn’t able to get tickets a month before my trip and when I was in Japan.

If you want to read and learn more about my adventure in Japan you can find all my blog posts here:

What tips or advice do you have for someone planning a trip to Japan? Feel free to share them in the comments! 

 

Goodbye 2017

I feel like I should do a quick recap of all my trips this year since I started this blog so late.

Started 2017 by snowboarding in Vermont right after January 1st.

Snowboarding in Vermont at Mount Snow

Back to back snowboarding trips – a weekend in Poconos.

Deer right outside our house.

Spent President’s Day weekend in Boston.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Knocked off a couple of National Parks off my bucket list on a trip to Arizona & Utah.

First stop was the Grand Canyon.

These curves were amazing – Antelope Canyon.

Horseshoe Bend – pictures can’t do it justice.

The Amphitheater at Bryce Canyon.

Kayaking between canyons at Lake Powell. We even cliff jumped!

Zion National Park is definitely one of my favorite parks.

Angel’s Landing, my favorite hike in Zion.

Breathtaking views at Monument Valley.

Literally a week after this trip, I was back on a plane to Iceland! Iceland has been on my bucket list since senior year of high school. Fun fact: we drove around Iceland in 5 days. It was a crazy but beautiful road trip.

One of my favorite pictures – Viti Crater

Svartifoss. I love waterfalls and Iceland is full of them.

I love just stopping the car in the middle of the road to take in our surroundings.

Whale watching in Husavik.

One of the most dangerous beaches in the world – Black sand beach.

Fjadrárgljúfur – one of the most beautiful spots I ever seen.

Skógafoss. Last picture on my phone from Iceland before the heavy rain destroyed my phone.

Since I had two big trips in May, the rest of my trips during the rest of the year were small getaways. (Besides Japan, of course).

Sipping on my gin and tonic in Atlantic City.

A day hike at Mohonk Labyrinth And Lemon Squeeze. One of my favorite hikes but a hefty entrance fee..

Stonecrop Gardens. Had to visit a couple of gardens this summer .

Camping at Bear Spring Mountain.

Spent Labor Day in D.C.

Exploring another garden – Old Westbury Gardens.

Hiking Mount Beacon. My new favorite day hiking spot.

And my last trip of 2017 – Japan! How this whole blogging thing started. Don’t want to share all the pictures I have since it’s all over my other posts!

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Japan was a great trip to end 2017. I’m excited for 2018 and all the adventures to come (and to share here).

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!

Day 13 – [The End Of] Tokyo

I can’t believe our trip is already coming to an end. Two weeks flew by so quickly. We are now on the Narita Express heading to the airport to catch our flight. The feeling of leaving this wonderful country isn’t going to sink in until we are 39,000+ feet up in the air.

Like many others who fell in love with the country after visiting, I know for a fact that I will be coming back. There’s so many things I haven’t been able to do just in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto alone. I can’t even imagine how much more there is to see in other parts of the country. I’m grateful I was able to spend 2 weeks here. It’s a wonderful end to the year as this was the last big trip for 2017.

I wish I have blogged my trips earlier. Especially since I been traveling so much over the past 2 years! Big trips like Peru and Iceland. Adventurous domestic trips like driving down California from San Francisco to LA and loads of hiking in Arizona and Utah. Even smaller trips like exploring Seattle, Vancouver, Boston and D.C would have been fun to blog.

Thank you everyone who followed my Japan adventure. I really appreciate that there are people out there reading my posts even though I’m not the best writer! Cheers to the next trip!

For my everyday adventures – follow me on Instagram! @KennethChong_

Cheers to highball!

I will not be totally inactive after I get back to the States. A lot of updates need to be made that I haven’t had the chance to since everything was done on my phone.

Day 12 – Tokyo

Tsukiji Market:

It’s our last day in Tokyo and we couldn’t leave without going to Tsukiji Fish Market. The market will be moving after the end of this year so we had to go to the fish market.

Tsukiji Fish Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It’s famous for the live tuna auction, which draws many tourists to visit the market during predawn hours at 5am.

We were at the point of our trip where we were getting exhausted so we didn’t get the chance to wake up super early to attend the auction nor line up for the famous Sushidai. Saving this for the next time I come back to Japan!

It was around 9am and the market was already full of tourists. There were so many food options and we started our day off with some fresh raw oysters.

Delicious raw oyster to start the day.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without trying some fresh tuna!

Tuna bowl with sesame rice underneath.

You can taste the freshness of the tuna. It was unlike anything we had back in New York.

Shinjuku:

We went back to Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley) because I had to try the soba from Kameya. We saw a huge line during lunch time during our first day in Tokyo and I knew I need to come back to try it. I got lucky since there was no wait and I ordered the most popular dish, Ten-Tama Soba.

Ten-Tama Soba: Soba with vegetable tempura and soft boiled egg.

I couldn’t stop raving about how good the soba was. Especially for ¥420, it’s beyond worth it. The soba was delicious and there was a good balance between tempura and vegetables. Compared to the soba we had in Kyoto from the restaurant that has been around for 550 years, I would give Kameya the gold medal. I wish I had the chance to try Kameya earlier just so I can eat it a couple more times before we leave Japan.

Sendagaya Station:

We took a long walk from the station to Milk Crafe Cream. Apparently they had icecream that was better than Cremia. I personally enjoy long walks through different neighborhoods of Japan since they are just so different from each other. I love seeing how unique each area is and how you feel a certain way while walking down the street.

Icecream parfait from Milk Crafe Cream.

Okay, the icecream is comparable to Cremia; rich, creamy and delicious. On the bottom there was custard and tapioca, which I’m not a big fan of. Cremia icecream is better in my book.

We walked all the way back to Omede-Sando. Believe it, another day and we end up back in this neighborhood. A beauty brand had a pop up store which we happened to come across and got free totes, samples, macarons and coffee!

We were pretty exhausted after a long morning so we took a break at our hotel.

Hikifune Station:

We wanted Kura Sushi and since we were going to the Tokyo Skytree, the closest one was near Hikifune. This was probably the most residential area we have been to. Walking around the area, we pretty much stood out like sore thumbs since we were probably the only tourists.

I love these buildings.

I couldn’t help by admiring the different buildings we passed by.

We finally got Kura Sushi and fulfilled our cravings. I also tried the Dan Dan noodles and udon and to my surprise they were decent! Quite cheap too, around ¥200-¥300. This time we didn’t win a prize despite devouring 20 plates.

Oshiage Station:

We got to the Sky Tree building and to our luck there were plenty of stores for us to check out. I had to do more souvenir shopping since I was still missing gifts for people. We ended up not even going up the tower because of time and monetary constraints. Maybe next time we’re back in Japan!

We called it an early night since we have to pack and prepare for our flight tomorrow. I’m going to miss Japan.

Day 11 – Tokyo

It’s Thanksgiving in Japan and I’m feeling a little homesick. This is probably the first time I’m not home with my family for the holidays. At least I have good company!

Omote-Sando Station:

We wanted to eat at A Happy Pancake for breakfast since we heard they had the best fluffy pancakes! I seen videos of people jiggling them too which is pretty funny. Turned out we weren’t the only ones that wanted pancakes for breakfast. There was a long queue and we just didn’t feel waiting. We went next door to Franze & Evans, which I think is from London. We had a funny moment when we walked in and our waitress thought we were Japanese.

After breakfast we did a little window shopping around the neighborhood. Next stop was Naka-Meguro Station.

Naka-Meguro Station:

We did some more souvenir shopping and exploring of this area since we haven’t had the chance to head this far southwest. Besides getting coffee at Onibus Coffee Nakameguro, the only thing notable was picking up my first item in Japan from Blue Blue Japan. We also stumbled upon & Style Store where we got a couple of souvenirs from.

We did a lot of walking since we wanted to explore and see as much of the neighborhoods as we could as our trip is coming to an end. After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we took the train all the way to Toshima because we were craving Kura Sushi. Unfortunately the queue was so long that we would have to wait at least 3 hours. We even checked two different locations but the wait was just too long for Kura Sushi. It was just a bad day for us as this was the second time as the wait was not in our favor. We settled for Go Go Curry instead. Nothing too special about it since it almost tasted exactly the same as the one in New York. I expected to be wowed since so many people said it was better in Japan.

After dinner we spent quite some time buying snacks and souvenirs from Don Quijote. Shopping in the store was a hellish experience. It was unbelievably hot, extremely crowded and everyone is just pushing each other to get what they want. I never want to go back in another Don Quijote again.

Akihabara:

We ended our night picking up Pablo cheesecake/ cheese tart in Akihabara. We wanted to try these cheese tarts since we arrived to Tokyo Station. We were seduced by how delicious they smelled every time we passed by. We were either on the move or too full every time we passed by one.

Original and Matcha mini cheese tarts.

Okay, so usually I’m not a big fan of cheesecake but these are SO DAMN DELICIOUS! The original cheese tart wasn’t too heavy and I didn’t get bored of the taste after the first bite. The matcha one was a bit too creamy and heavy for me. I definitely like the original more. I highly recommend trying Pablo at least once.

Not my usual picture heavy post since we were too busy shopping for souvenirs.

Day 10 – Tokyo

Omote-Sando:

After breakfast, we took the train to Omote-Sando Station for the Nezu Museum. The walk from the station to the museum felt like walking through Beverly Hills (minus the palm trees). One luxury store after the other. Everyone was well dressed as well.

I heard of Nezu Museum from an Instagrammer I followed. He was actually in Japan two weeks before our trip. The entrance of the museum was very instagramable.

Entrance to Nezu Museum.

Nezu Museum houses a collection of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art. My favorite exhibit was the “Pinnacle of Elegance: Sword Fittings of the Mitsumura Collection”. The exhibit consisted of swords that were made in the 1700-1800s and they were beautiful. It’s crazy how detailed the swords were. Imagine how much skill and labor it took to make these swords. Unfortunately the museum doesn’t allow photographs inside their exhibits or else I would’ve shared it here. Aside from the exhibits where I couldn’t get a nice picture, the lobby and garden was enough for me.

One of the areas in the museum.

A stroll in the garden

We were immersed in nature; the sounds of running water, birds chirping and all sorts of trees and plants around you. We missed out on a lot of gardens in Japan due to bad weather. I’m glad we were able to experience this one.

It was time for a coffee break and there was an abundance of cafes around us. I had to stop by Cafe Kitsune, since I’m a big fan of the brand AND I also wore my shirt for this occasion.

Drinking an espresso at Cafe Kitsune.

The next spot was Aoyama Flower Market Tea House. We couldn’t leave the neighborhood without trying this. My sister told us about a tea house behind a flower shop and we pretty hyped to try a “speakeasy” tea house. It was more apparent than I thought it was. They had signs and there was quite a long line.

Jacqueline ordered hot lemonade and I got rose soda. We shared French toast which was kinda mediocre.

Hot lemonade and rose soda.

French toast with vanilla icecream and nuts.

The overall ambiance was nice, it felt like we were eating in a greenhouse.

Akihabara:

We went to Akihabara afterwards to do some souvenir shopping. It was a good spot since there were tons of shops that sold anime stuff and almost every store had gachapon machines too. We both have friends that are into anime so it was a perfect area. The best spot we went to was the Akihabara Gachapon Hall. This one store had the most machines out of all the places we been to and they had the ones we were looking for.

Tokyo Station:

After a few hours of souvenir shopping it was time for an early dinner reservation I made at Manten Sushi. Unfortunately There was some logistic error and my reservation wasn’t in their system. They let us eat anyway since I had the confirmation email. The only exception was that we only had half a hour to eat instead of a hour and a half. That was fine by me as long as we got to eat there.

We have been waiting to try good sushi in Japan. Most of the popular spots needed a reservation months in advance. I got lucky with Manten Sushi since I made my reservations two weeks before the trip.

It was an Omakase restaurant which means that you don’t order and the chef basically has a menu that he/she is preparing for the night.

Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose your order. The word means “I will leave it to you”. It’s a tradition that gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience.

Dish after dish, they were all amazing. I was able to take a couple of pictures, but ultimately we tried to take in the experience as much as we can.

(Uni sea urchin).

There were a couple of unique pieces we ate like octopus with yuzu and sardines with soy sauce(?). We were also served Miso Soup with baby clams which made it a very heavy soup. I normally love miso soup, but this was just too much for me.

The Spanish mackerel and the uni were my favorite pieces aside from the salmon, salmon belly and tuna but those are common.

It was a great way to end our day. I highly recommend Manten Sushi (まんてん鮨). For around ~$60 per person, you get quality omakase which can easily be $150 per person in New York. Next time I’m back in Japan I need to try Jiro or Saito.

Day 9 – Kyoto to Tokyo

Kyoto Station:

Unfortunately we did not get to cross off everything on my to-do list for Kyoto. I’ll be back, that’s for sure.

It was time to head back to Tokyo, where we will spend the rest of our remaining days for this trip. We boarded the Hikiri bullet train with bento boxes we picked up at that station.

My bento box.

Jacqueline’s bento box.

These bento boxes were perfect for the train ride since they were convenient, easy to eat and light. We pretty much devoured our food since it was our late breakfast and we were starving.

Tokyo Station:

2 and a half hours later, we arrived to Tokyo. We had some time to kill so we stopped by a Doutor Coffee cafe in the station. Mainly because Jackie wanted to try a piece of cake that we saw every time we passed by one. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture but it was actually better than I expected!

Toshima:

After we dropped our luggage off, we took the train to Toshima. I really wanted to go to another Pokémon Center since I was amazed at the one we stumbled upon in Osaka.

We ended up getting lunch at Kura Sushi first since it was along the way and since we were getting hungry. We were pretty excited to finally get sushi in Tokyo and also because it’s a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Kura Sushi was even more unique because every 5 dishes you eat, you get a chance to win a prize from a gachapon machine. (It’s all luck by the way.)Our table and you can see the gachapon machine above the touch screen.

Sushi from the belt!

My favorites were the salmon with onion, salmon with cheese and pork with cheese. We were pretty disappointed after finding out that it was all luck for the gachapon prizes. We finally won something after 20 plates.

In total, we finished 25 plates of sushi and 1 special plate that didn’t count towards the gachapon. In total, that only came out to around ¥2800, which is around $26-8. Not bad considering that the sushi was actually pretty good. Way better than any non-high end sushi restaurants in New York.

We spent quite some time at the Pokémon Center and even got ourselves some souvenirs to bring back home. I grew up watching and playing Pokémon so nostalgia hit me hard. Now I’m serious about getting a 3DS and the new Pokémon game. Too bad I couldn’t find a U.S 3DS or else I would be playing it right now and on my flight back.

Toshima Station was surrounded with stores and department stores. We couldn’t help but walk around and window shop. Afterwards we headed to Tokyo Tower, our last destination for the day.

Akabanebashi Station:

Tokyo Tower kind of resembles the Eiffel Tower. I think it’s mainly because of the tip and the legs of the tower.

Tokyo Tower

On the lobby of the tower, there were so many Christmas decorations. It seems like Japan takes Christmas very seriously since we saw something similar in Osaka and Kyoto.

Unfortunately for us, the special observatory portion of the tower was closed for renovations but we were still able to go up 150 meters to see the view.

The view from 150 meters above.

I’m pretty disappointed at the view. I’m not sure if the view would be any better if we were higher either. There wasn’t really much of a main focal point to look at, unless I’m looking incorrectly… We didn’t get to see the Osaka tower or the Kyoto Tower and I don’t think the Tokyo Tower did any justice. Now we have to go check out the Tokyo Skytree. Hopefully that doesn’t disappoint us.