City Guide: Kanto Region, Japan

This is another one I wrote for a couple friends and have cleaned up and organized here. The Kanto includes Tokyo, Yokohama, Nikko, and Kamakura, which are pretty much the places you’re going to be going if you’re touristing in this region. I’ve lumped them all together because, well, it’s just easier that way.

Getting In, Getting Around

The best time to land in Japan is early evening, ideally before 9PM. Anytime after 10PM and you risk not being able to get into Tokyo proper (at least if you’re flying into Narita. It’s a little easier to get into Tokyo proper if you’re coming from Haneda. Still wouldn’t recommend landing too much later than 10; it’s too much of a scramble to get to your hotel). You’ll likely have fewer people going through customs at that hour, so you can get in and out relatively quickly. Check in to your hotel, then go for a walk and get some food. If you’re down to drink, I’d recommend having a beer or two to help you sleep. Try to sleep as late as you can in the morning, but if you’re like me and always wake up at 5AM the first morning, don’t get up and start doing things too early. You could go for a walk and get some food, sure, but you don’t want to start too early and go to sleep early that night because you’ll just be fucking up your entire sleep schedule. Lie in bed for a bit and take off closer to 7 if you really want an early start and can’t stand being in bed any longer. Stay awake as long as you can. And whatever you do, do not nap in the afternoon until you’ve fully adjusted to Japan time.

If you plan to do a lot of travelling between cities, get a Japan Rail Pass. It’s most worth it for trips of two weeks or more, but if you’re certain you’ll be doing a lot of inter-city travelling, it can be worth it for one week trips, too. You’ll get more options for trains to take, you’ll spend less time in transit, and more time at your destination. You can buy them online, or see if there’s a JCB travel agency or something similar in your country.

Depending on the time of year, you can also see about a Seishun Juuhachi Kippu. That’ll give you unlimited rides on local trains for a set period of time. I only sort of understood how it worked from friends explaining it to me, since I was never in Japan at a time when they were valid.

Download Hyperdia by Voice before you go but don’t activate it until right before you leave or you’ll have to pay for the full version. This app will save your life. Use it to figure out your routes by train before you go, or if you get lost in transit.

A Suica card is probably worth it for travel in the Toyoko region (Tokyo, Yokohama). Paper tickets aren’t bad, per se, but it can be awkward fumbling with them at turnstiles. Load it up in 2,000 yen increments so you don’t risk leaving with a ton of money on it. Also, expect to spend more on transit than you budgeted for.

Fare adjustment machines are your friends. They’re right before you exit through the turnstiles at every station. If you’re not sure exactly how far you have to go, buy the cheapest ticket for that line, then use the machines before the exit at your stop to pay the difference in fare. (This is mainly for paper tickets, but if you’re worried you don’t have enough on your Suica, you can use this to top up and cover the fare).

Rent a my-fi and have it delivered to wherever you’re staying so you can have it there right as soon as you get in, and be sure to bring an extra battery or two so it can stay charged throughout the day. You can rent them from a bunch of places, but CDJapan’s service is my favourite: good prices, good devices. Even if you don’t use it all the time, you’re gonna have a time when you need to figure out where the shit you’re going and in that instance, you don’t wanna be walking around trying to find somewhere with free wifi. Been there, done that too many times, do not recommend it in the slightest. No one looks cool wandering around pretending not to be panicking. Don’t be That Guy, get a my-fi (copyright Brigit 2016 must credit).


Tokyo & Yokohama

Eating & Drinking
Nagi Golden Gai in Shinjuku. You have to go up to the restaurant and get a ticket and wait for them to call you because they have like 5 seats (it’s a SUPER small place) but it’s literally the best ramen you’ll ever eat. Bring your appetite; the portions are huge.

Bear Pond Espresso in Setagaya. Best coffee in Tokyo, hands down. Both people have to order something to be able to sit inside, just bee tee dubs. The owner won’t pull shots after 1PM because it’ll upset the gods or he’s certain the machine is haunted and the shots won’t turn out right or something.

Spring Valley Brewery in Daikan-yama. BEST BEER IN TOKYO. Get a flight. Get the infused beer. If you’re lucky, they might take you down and show you how its made (I have no idea if that’s a regular thing or if our waiter did it for us because I spoke Japanese well. Thinking the latter but who knows).

Mugi to Olive in Ginza. Saw this on “Little Tokyo Live” and the ramen looked SO GOOD. I never got a chance to go eat it either time cos I spent most of my time either at or travelling to concert venues but oh gOD the ramen looked amazing. Also a place you’ll probably have to wait for.

Starbucks in Shibuya. The one above the Scramble. Go and get a coffee and watch people in the Scramble for a minute, it’s fun.

Antenna America in Yokohama. It’s kind of an expat bar run by Japanese people that sells primarily American beers, but if you’re around there and want to find some stuff you might not be able to find where you are (I found Stone’s saison, which I’ve never seen up here), it’s worth popping in.

To Do

Any time of the year is great, but the best times to go are when it’s not going to be unbearably hot (so basically, August is right out). Late March when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, or mid-May when it’s just starting to heat up during the day, or late September when it’s starting to cool down again are all my favourite times to go.

For cherry blossoms:
Ueno Park on a weekend. GET THERE EARLY. We got there at like 11? and couldn’t find anywhere to sit. Tarps fill up quickly, but if you can get one, people around you will probably make friends and drink with you and feed you, regardless of whether you speak much Japanese or not. Hanami is an excuse for day drinking and literally the greatest pastime ever.

Shinjuku Gyoen is also great for hanami! It’s like 2-3 stops from Shinjuku on the Marunouchi line and right by my old language school! Probably much less crowded than Ueno, because fucking EVERYONE goes to Ueno Park. Also, avoid the Ueno Zoo, cos everyone says it’s just really sad 🙁

Anytime:
The Imperial Palace. If you do decide to go, check which days it’s open, cos my friend and her husband kept trying to go this last time and every time they tried, it was closed.

Harajuku The best day to go is on Sunday. That’s when all the people who dress up tend to come out. Get a crepe on Takeshita Doori. Walk down Takeshita Doori, make a right, then walk back up the next big street along Omote-sando. Be sure to make a stop at KiddyLand for all your character goods needs (they’ve had massive Star Wars displays of rotating stuff each time I went this year. Also lots of amazing Ghibli stuff).

Yebisu Brewery in Ebisu. If you feel like going on a brewery tour, this one’s fun. I have no idea if they do English tours, since my best friend took me on a Japanese one in 2011. It’s still a neat tour and you get to do a tasting at the end and Yebisu is one of the better Japanese beers. There are a bunch more craft breweries in Japan now, along with a ton of bottle shops that carry beers from all over Japan. I recommend Ginga Kougen and Miyazaki.

The Cup Ramen Museum in Yokohama (Minato Mirai). Definitely go to the Ramen museum in Chinatown, but also stop here! Go as early as you can and to make sure you can get a ticket to make your own specialized cup of cup noodles; tickets to those sell out quick and neither my husband nor my friend who went got to get tickets to make theirs. Also it’s just a really, really neat museum.

Minato Mirai! My happy place! It’s like Embarcadero in San Diego if it were in Japan. A beautiful walk along the water. There’s an amusement park! The Ferris Wheel doubles as the world’s largest clock! Putz around the Red Brick Warehouse (the building itself was a factory from back when Yokohama was a treaty port after the Bakumatsu/during the Meiji Era that they then turned into a neat mall). World Porters is also cool (and a good place to stop in for a drink when it’s hot as shit outside). Walk all the way along the water to Yamashita Park (if you’re going in summer, you can see Yokohama Hanabi here).

Senso-ji in Asakusa! Tokyo’s oldest temple. Good place to wander, maybe get some cheap omiyage. It’s really just a gorgeous temple tho.

Odaiba. That’s where the Gundam is. You can also tour Fuji TV if you wanted (I’ve seen pictures/heard from people that it’s one of the better TV studios to tour). I dunno what else there is to do on Odaiba, but I think there’s a giant arcade there?

The Ghibli Museum in Miitaka. You have to buy tickets for in advance, so go to a Lawson the day you get in if you can and use the ticket machine near the entrance (or possibly the back, depending on the layout) to choose your day and time to go. I forget if the ticket machines have an English option, but I just Googled how to buy tickets, and the Ghibli Museum site has a guide for how to use the machines. You can also just ask a dude at the register for help using the machine if you need. Alternatively, you can just buy tickets from a JCB or something similar before you head to Japan.


Outside Tokyo

To Do
Nikko
You want that onsen life, Nikko is all about that onsen life. You could book one of pretty much any place. The only thing to be wary of is if you or anyone going with you have tattoos, you’ll have to check with the place to be sure if it’s cool (lots of places won’t let people with tattoos in. Some are more lenient with foreigners because foreigners, but you never know). This is also where you can get that ryokan experience. Two for the price of one!

You’ll need to make this a full overnight trip if you want to do the onsen thing. Get up early in the morning, buy one of the special express tickets and then beast all the temples (Futarasan, Tosho-gu, Taiyu-in, etc etc etc). They’re all p close to one another, so it’s really just a matter of deciding where you wanna start.

You can do Nikko in a day and then head back the next day. You could also do Kegon Falls early the next morning before heading back to Tokyo (it’s super pretty in the morning, calm and gorgeous and UGH I JUST LOVE THE MOUNTAINS IN JAPAN.

Elsewhere in Kanagawa Prefecture

Enoshima. If you wanna walk around an island and go to the beach and just chill, this is where to go. Ride the Enoshima Electric Railway to get there.

Kamakura. This one’s a total day trip but it’s worth it. You could walk most of it if you beasted, but it also might just be easier to take busses around. This is where the Daibutsu is. Yuigahama, my favourite beach in the Kanto, is here.

Amusement Parks

Fuj-Q Highlands. If you wanna ride some mega roller coasters, go through a ridiculous haunted house, and do it all in the shadow of Fuji-san, go to Fuji-Q.

Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea can be hard to get tickets to. You’ll want to get tickets in advance if you can because they’re super popular(obvs). My best friend tells me Tokyo Disneyland is virtually identical to Disneyland in Anaheim, save that the Jungle Cruise is a bit different and I don’t think they had Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?

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