Japan · 10 Days · 53 Moments · September 2013

Andreas Kainer

Exploring Japan for the first time

29 September 2013

Narita Airport Farewell Sushi Before our flight back home we had some time left. So we decided to have a farewell meal. Since it's Japan, sushi was the obvious choice. We just went into the first sushi bar we spotted after the security checks. And it was very delicious, everything was fresh made. Even the prices were reasonable (about 1,500 - 2,000 ¥ per person). And we got to enjoy a great view outside straight onto the planes arriving and departing.
Akihabara Medo Cafes This was one of the strangest experiences we've had during our holiday. Medo or Maid cafes are something i'd describe as "soft-porn cafes". The waitresses are all dressed up in maid costumes (it reminded us of Manga comics). Akihabara is the origin of those cafes and nowadays there are many of them all around Japan. You're treated like a master of them, they serve you very nice and you pay for that. Not explicitly, but food and drink prices are about twice as high as in other, normal cafes. Taking pictures is forbidden. You can let the staff take pictures together with them but of course, this costs extra. And if you look a little bit around you'll some rather strange looking customers. Anyway, even if it's not your favorite place after the description, go there and see for yourself as you won't see something like that anywhere else...
Akihabara Electronic Shopping If you have some interest in do some electronic shopping, then it's a no-brainer to visit the huge electronic store at Akihabara station. On 10 levels you will find everything related to electronic articles. And since Japan has a very low VAT, most of the stuff is significantly cheaper than in Europe. We were there to find an iPhone cover and were confronted with a whole level just featuring phone covers, 2/3 of it iPhone covers. But if you're looking for some other covers, don't worry, there's plenty of them as well. Everything is just huge - and don't think about what day it is, because the stores are open every day.
Ginza Shopping Mile It's the ultimate shopping district in Tokyo. Need any further information? Go there on weekends (the stores are open on weekends as well) since then the main road is converted into a pedestrian area. You'll find all big international companies there, as well with some Japanese stores. We went there to buy a special Japanese cooking book and had no difficulty in getting it since the book store was just huge (like most other stores as well).

28 September 2013

Miyajima Specialities Shopping Miyajima Island is famous for their craftsmanship in terms spoon design and manufacturing. At the local shops near the ferry port you'll see several little shops selling all kinds, types and sizes of spoons. Additionally, you can buy really great Sake at some shops as well. We bought one bottled in a tiny barrel, similar to those barrels you'll see at so many temples and shrines. Be careful: You should, once opened, drink it within a few weeks. But you'll have to take into consideration that these souvenirs can be quite pricy, especially the Sake was quite expensive - 1,700 ¥ for a unit of about 0,25 liters. Anyway, we didn't find many other places where you could get Sake in tiny barrels at all...
Octopus sticks We stumbled across a little food place selling various foods on sticks. We tried several of them (300 ¥ each) and ended up with the conclusion that the octopus sticks were the best ones. Besides, we never tasted octopus or calamari in this way before and thought it was really cool. :-) There are many other little restaurants and stores to get something to eat but we'd strongly suggest to you to try the "stick dealer". Looking like a snack it's surprisingly filling your stomach. We got them completely fresh fried, adding to our positive experience. And when we came past again at our way back to the ferry we stopped over again...
Senjokaku Hall The Senjokaku Hall is the biggest building on Miyajima island. For a little entrance fee of 100 ¥ you'll get access to the "pavilion of the 1000 tatami mats". It's located at the top of a small hill right next to the Itsukushima Shrine. There are several stairs leading upwards to it. Right next to it there's the 5-story pagoda. It was constructed at the end of the 16th century and the construction came to a stop when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three unifiers of Japan and initiator of the construction, died. Until today the building remains unfinished. So ceilings and the front front entrance are missing.
Itsukushima Shrine & Japanese Wedding The giant torii leads the way to the Itsukushima Shrine located at the shoreline and actually standing on wooden poles. We went there at noon and were very lucky. We experienced a Japanese wedding in traditional style and clothes. We watched for little while the end of the ceremony and then the you couple went outside to take pictures. But the really strange thing was that suddenly tourists (almost all of them looked like Japanese) started to take pictures with them together! And the even more strange thing was that the fresh married couple didn't bother and happily enjoyed this special kind of photo session with complete strangers! The shrine itself is quite big and very beautiful with the view onto the sea and the giant torii about a hundred meters way from the shore. The entrance fee is 300 ¥.
Miyajima Sea Torii You can't miss them: The giant torii in the water in front of the Itsukushima Shrine. During most time of the day it's standing in the water but when there's low tide, it rises out of the water and you can walk up to them. During our visit low tide time was at evening so when we arrived the torri was inaccessible. Shortly before sundown the water retreated and quite rapidly some paths appeared and you would walk up to them. This resulted in some great pictures and only then we realized how big this tori was. We estimated that the difference between high and low tide was about 1.5 meters and still this was just about 10% of it's total height...
Wild but curious deer Like in Nara, deer is holy on Miyajima island. Monkeys are holy and therefore very calm as well, but we didn't see any. The deer you can't miss, since they're very curious and sometimes even naughty. Unlike in Nara, you're advised not to feed them (I think we saw some people doing it anyway). We were surpassed how naughty and calm they were in some cases: For instance, we saw one of them walking into a store and looking around for something eatable. And a mother with its calf didn't bother when we walked up to them ending up in a distance of just below one meter and us taking photos of them...
Ferry trip to Miyajima Island You can access Miyajima island by two ways: Either by tourist ferries (some departing right from the center of Hiroshima) or you take the JR ferry. We decided to go with the later option since it's included in the Japan Rail Pass. To get there, you need to take a local train departing from Hiroshima Central Station for about half an hour. The train stop is located right next to the JR ferry port. The ferry is operational all-day with intervals of 15 minutes (there a fewer trips in the evening) and the ride is just 10 minutes. We strongly suggest that you take the JR ferry since the ferries going from Hiroshima are very expensive (about 3,500 ¥ for a round trip ticket) and you don't save any time!

27 September 2013

Hiroshima International Youth House The Hiroshima International Youth House is located just a few hundred meters away from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. They next tram station is about 500 m away. It offers comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price. We paid about 7,500 ¥ per night for a double room. Since we attended an international conference, we don't know if our breakfast was the same as you'd get when you book it directly at the hostel. We had it in a restaurant located within the facility and was prepared just for us. :-) Our room was very nice: It was on the top floor with a great view over central Hiroshima. (Sorry, we took no pictures of our room itself.) One last thing: They closed the front door at midnight and there was no possibility to convince the staff for some exception! And since your room keys don't unlock the front door, be there on time!
Having a cocktail at the 21st floor We think it's a good way to end the day by having a cocktail at the top of the Ana Crown Plaza Hotel at the 21st floor enjoying a great view over Hiroshima. Prices are quite high (not extremely high), but sometimes I think it's worth spending a little more money for a little special evening. The hotel is located just a few hundred meters away from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and right next to the tramway station.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum When you visit Hiroshima you should go inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. For a very small entrance fee (50 ¥) you'll get a very good exhibition. It not only covers the atomic bomb dropping and the aftermath but also the process of the development of it and why the U.S. decided to drop it at Japan at al and why Hiroshima was elected as a target. The aftereffects are shown in detail as well: How the city was rebuild, the deceases caused by radiation, etc. Furthermore, it shows the development of the city afterwards and it's role nowadays as a leading force for peace and the prevention of any use of atomic bombs (including tests). If you want to see all of it, you'll need a few hours since it's a rather large museum with a large number of items and documents on display. I think it was one of the most informative museums I've been to for last years.
A-Bomb Dome The Atomic Bomb Dome is most probably the best known picture of Hiroshima. It served as a administration building before it was destroyed by the atomic bomb explosion. Since most of the buildings in Hiroshima were wooden back in 1945, almost nothing within a few kilometers was left after the atomic explosion. Nowadays, it's therefore the only visible remainder that survived. There's some information displayed but i'd suggest you experience it just as you see it. Although the whole area looks very peaceful and nice today, there's always a depressive feeling in the air, knowing what terrible things happened here.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was established right at the hypocenter of the atomic bomb explosion 1945. Don't worry, radioactivity levels nowadays are as low as anywhere else in the world. It's a big park dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb explosion and the deep pain caused to those that were left behind so that no-one will ever think about using such a terrible device again. There are many monuments to remind visitors of this event. Located within the park is the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome. You'll probably see Japanese school classes visiting the park as part of their history education.

26 September 2013

Holy (and greedy) Deer Inside Nara Park, you see deer. No, don't worry, no need searching for it. You'll stumble upon it. Since deer is considered holy, it's a taboo to harm it. Therefore they just wander among the tourists and it's no problem to touch them since they are really curious. Sometimes they can be more the curious, because they are greedy. If you have anything that looks even just remotely eatable, they'll try to get (even steal) it and eat it. For example, we saw a deer that was chewing someones paper map... There's special food for them that you can buy at several stores in the park. But be careful because it's challenging that you can feed it to them in pieces since you'll be surrounded in a few minutes by several deer. And they appear to be hungry all the time.
Todai-ji Temple The best known and largest temple is the Todai-ji Temple in the heart of Nara Park. There's a long way leading straight to it and it's really full of people, so you can't miss it. You have to pay 500 ¥ entrance fee but you get to see the biggest Buddha in Japan which is made of wood we believe. There are several other Buddha statues at the temple as well as a demon-like statue right next to the entrance that is supposed to keep bad spirits away. Inside there's a souvenir shop where you can buy postcards and all kinds of souvenirs. A special hint: There's a hole in one of the temple's poles. Try to crawl through it. ;-) (You won't make it unless you're really skinny and small.)
Kofuku-ji Temple Located at the front of the big park and temple area in Nara, there's the Kofuku-ji temple. It's best to access it by riding the bus from the railway station. There's more popular temples of course, but we really enjoyed it at this place since there were significantly fewer people than at other temples in Nara. You have to pay 300 ¥ entrance fee. At one building you can ring a bell and have a little silent prayer. It's expected that you throw in a little coin (we used 10 ¥ coins for that). The giant pagoda was very beautiful as the whole area.
Nara Cookery School We got a tip from friends of ours that there's a private cooking school where you can learn how to cook Japanese food. Since it sounded very interesting, we booked a class. Consider doing this a few weeks in advance since it's private with limited capacities (you'll be alone with Miyako, the owner)! Getting there is rather easy, you'll be picked up by her at the Ikoma railway station. It's not too cheap, you'll have to pay 4,500 ¥ per person. This includes all the ingredients (the vegetables are home-grown and the rice is from her parent's farm), eating your meal as well and the recipe of your meal. It was definitely worth it since we spent about 3 hours there and had a great time testing our cooking skills as well as getting some inside tips for Nara where we went afterwards. We think we were quite successful in terms of cooking - we really enjoyed our meal. The only downside is that it's hard to find some of the ingredients in Europe.

25 September 2013

Inariyama - At the top of Mount Inari If you have some hours to spare, have a go at the top of mount Inari. There's several paths up and it's about 4 kilometers to the top. Don't worry, there are some maps and signs that show you the right way. And there's some small food places as you progress uphill, so you can have a rest (it's pretty steep sometimes and in the summertime it's really hot!). During your ascend you'll notice two things: There are several small shrines at the wayside and there'll fewer people the higher you get. When you reach the top, there's a shrine and a little shop. When you're head back down try a different route: We found several other beautiful shrines and places that we missed at first! The torii that you'll walk through virtually all the time can be bought. The bigger and more beautiful, the more expensive.
Fushimi Inari Shrine with more than 1,000 torii Another place that is really a must-visit in Kyoto. Get there by train and exit at Inari station (just two stations away from Kyoto main station). You'll recognize shires normally by red torii at the entrance. Here, the torii are the main attraction. You'll see thousands of them! They are painted in bright red and the whole scenery looks really impressive. There's no entrance fee, so you don't have to worry about wasting money if you just want to have a short visit. But I'd recommend that you plan for a longer stay, because it's really beautiful and there's many paths leading up to mount Inari that are covered with even more torii... The best time to go there is probably in the afternoon because then it's a little less crowded.
Jishu Jinja Love Shrine Right behind the Kyomizu-dera temple, there the Jishu Jinja Love Shrine. It's dedicated to love and there are two stones, 18 meters apart. If you manage to find your way blindly from one to another, it means good fortune in finding your love. There's no entrance fee, so feel free to test your luck in love! If you are interested, you can buy some souvenirs there as well.
Kyomizu-dera Temple This is one of the most famous sites in Kyoto, the Kyomizu-dera Temple. It's a huge temple complex at the foot of the eastern hills of Kyoto. If you manage to get up early, it's worth going there really early since the place can be really crowded later. And it's a great view on Kyoto in the morning. On you way to the temple you walk up steep streets with many shops. There's a Buddha "dungeon" at the front of the temple called Zuigudo Hall. It's pitch black inside and it's symbolizes the mother's womb. You need to pay 100 ¥ entrance fee for it, so it's a nice experience for little money. The main temple is completely wooden and was constructed without the use of nails. Since it is a huge complex, there's normally some renovations going on. The entrance fee is 300 ¥. And if you are hungry, there are some small restaurants close to the temple.
Ramen Restaurant Well, we got a hint to visit this place to have some Ramen noodles. It was hard to find since we had the address just in Japanese writing and we knew it was located somewhere close to the entrance of Nishiki Market. Finally we just asked some young Japanese people if they knew the place and showed them the address. They were so nice that they lead us straight to the entrance and there we experienced the next difficulty: You had to order and pay in advance. At a machine. Somehow we managed after a little while and we were lead by the staff to our seats. There are no tables are somewhat similar, instead you take place in front of a bar with a service window just for you. It pops up, you get a sheet to order your style of menu (spices and stuff). You give your order back through the window and wait. A few minutes later the window pops up again and you receive your food. You eat and leave afterwards. And if you feel disturbed, there are little wooden view barriers to increase privacy...
Nishi Hoganji Temple Well, that's one of the less obvious sites in Kyoto. Although it's world cultural heritage and really impressive, the Nishi Hoganji temple was much less crowded with tourists than many other places. We accidentally went in from the wrong side so we can't tell if there was an admission fee or not. :-) After finding the main area, we were standing in front of several huge temples. The two main ones are really beautiful inside, decorated with lots of gold and artwork. Sorry, no inside photos - there was some ceremony and we didn't think that it would be adequate to disturb them. If you need a little rest, there is a visitors center right next to the entrance, where you can enjoy some tea (for free).

24 September 2013

Staying in a typical ryokan If you want to stay in typical Japanese style, you should really consider staying at a ryokan. Basically, you have a small room covered with rice mats and very little furniture. Your beds are mattresses on the floor. Shower and toilet is normally shared. We chose Ryokan Otho for our experience, and we have to admit that they were twisted. In general, the owners were very nice and it was cheap (about 5,000 ¥ per night). But there was a downside as well: We had Japanese teenagers as roommates. And they were loud. Since the walls between the rooms are basically just thick paper, you could hear everything. :-( On the plus side you have an accommodation right next to the city center with the bus stop less than 100 m away. And don't take breakfast, it's not worth it, get something a food store or at Nishiki Market.
Nijo Castle Wall If you visit Nijo Castle, don't forget to go to the inner castle and head up onto the walls of it. It's quite high and you get a very nice view around the area and central Kyoto. But consider it's a little walk from the entrance to the area, so don't be late!
Nijo Castle The Nijo Castle is located right in the heart of Kyoto and used to be the residence of the Shogun. The Shogun was the second most important leader after the Tenno in the Japanese monarchy but was the real leader for many centuries as he controlled the Tenno and virtually imprisoned him in his residency. The area costs 300 ¥ to enter and you get to see huge and beautiful gardens and the main building (the residence building of the Shogun) is accessible as well. It is definitely reasonable to go inside! The area closes at 5 pm - so don't go there too late since you'll need a few hours in total to cover the whole area.
Nishiki Market The Nishiki Market is a long street that is really narrow and a market only. Mainly it's foods but also artwork, clothing and other things are sold in little stores. Take your time and walk through it, taste what looks interesting. The market closes at 6 pm, some stores close earlier, so try to get there not too late in the afternoon.
A nameless but GREAT lunch! Located right across the street from Ryokan Ohto, there is a little restaurant. We went there to have a quick lunch before heading to the city center. It turned out to be maybe the best lunch of the holiday! They had no English menu, they had no pictures in their menu and nobody at the restaurant could speak a single English word. After the staff gave up talking in Japanese only the waitress rushed off and left ourselves confused at the table. Shortly after she came back with a little 90s translation computer. Since she didn't speak English she just showed us the translation of some menu items. Still it was not very informative but we thought: "Something with fish, miso soup. Ok, just give it a try." The food was really great, it was a menu including miso soup, tempura, some pork (we guessed that) and a little dessert; everything was really delicious. And we just payed 800 ¥, tea was for free!
Gion Corner - Geisha Show Well, it was actually one of the least favorite place we went to, but I think it is worth mentioning. You'll spot it in every tourist information brochure: The Geisha Show at Gion Corner in the evening. We went there as well and even got 10% off, the ticket costed therefore 2,800 ¥ per person. The show lasted about one hour and featured a Japanese tea ceremony, old-style theater and among other parts a (short) geisha performance. If you expect light entertainment, it's the right place to visit. If not, don't go there and save your money for some shopping or a nice dinner at a restaurant.
Getting around Central Kyoto The best to travel between the sights in Kyoto is b bus. There is a special sightseeing ticket which is 500 ¥ and valid for the whole day. There a three special bus lines that take you to all the sides. So you are safe to go with them. If you are a little bit more adventurous you can ride many other bus lines with this ticket as well. The ticket includes mainly all the bus lines north of the railway station. Just drop by at the tourist information at the main railway station or the airport to get a bus map - it's really useful!
Travelling with the Shinkansen When you chose to travel by public transport, the best way to travel bigger distances is the Shinkansen. They are high-speed trains that travel at 300 km/h and they connect all big Japanese cities. Before you start you ride there are a few things you should know. Firstly, it's a good idea to make a seat reservation! Most cars are for reserved seats only. When you have a Japan Rail Pass, it's for free. Secondly, be there on time! If a train is scheduled to leave at 12:15 it will leave at 12:15:00 and no second later! And thirdly, not all Shinkansen trains are in included in the Japan Rail Pass! The ride itself is very comfortable and quiet. You won't really notice that you travel at 300 km/h. On some tracks you can enjoy the Japanese landscape, on others you'll be mainly traveling through tunnels.

23 September 2013

Hot Springs Sushi While our visit at Odeo Onsen we decided to have dinner inside because there were several restaurants and surprisingly the prices were very similar to those in comparable restaurants in the city. Since we had no Sushi so far (it's actually quite expensive) and spotted a little Sushi place that looked nice, we went for it this time. We were surprised how good it was! And the prices were reasonable as well (approx. 1,500 ¥ per person). So, if you visit Odeo Onsen, it's a good idea to eat over there, they don't have robbery prices you and the food is as good as at other places.
Japanese Hot Springs If you have some time, it is a must-experience. Japanese hot springs are somewhat different to a spa in Europe. Odeo-Onsen is a quite place for relaxation in the heart of Tokyo. It is not cheap, 2,200 ¥ is the admission fee. You don't need any bath clothes as Japanese bath robes are included in the admission. And you have to be naked when you go into the water. The place is opened all-day except between 9 and 11 am. There's a little "town" inside where you can eat, relax and even do a little shopping. The is an open-air area where you can have a walk through shallow waters and relax. The spa area itself is separated between men and women. Don't forget to wash yourself at the entrance! The coldest pools start off at 38 degrees Celsius and the hottest ones are 41 degrees. There's a sauna as well. The water appears to be dirty since it is unfiltered and pumped up from 1,400 meters depth.
Edo-Tokyo Museum Located right next to the Sumo Tournament Hall, there's the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It's containing a huge exhibition about Edo and Tokyo and their history. The Admission fee is 600 ¥ and you can have an audio guide as well as guides (but you should book them in advance). You should take into consideration that you can easily spend a couple of hours in the museum! There are two permanent exhibitions: One about Edo and one about Tokyo. There are special exhibitions as well. For further information have a look at the homepage: http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/
Sumo Grand Tournament If you happen to be lucky, there's a Sumo tournament held in Tokyo while your visit. Six times a year, there are tournaments, lasting two weeks. Three times it's held in Tokyo (Jan, May, Sep), three times outside Tokyo (Mar, Jul, Nov). Prices start at 2,100 ¥. Better seats cost significantly more! Daily fights start at 9.00 am. The highest category fights are in the afternoon around 5 pm. There's not many visitors until the big guys are entering the scene. So if you are brave, then just buy the cheapest tickets and take a seat closer to the center, normally nobody bothers you! And if you happen to occupy someone's seat: Just say sorry and have another seat... There's a special lunch available, called Chankonabe, the typical sumo stew. It's actually quite delicious and cheap (a few hundred Yens per portion)! And if you are lucky, you can get some photos taken with you and a real Sumo athlete! ;-)

22 September 2013

Yoshinoya Japanese-Style Fast Food Yoshinoya is a big Japanese fast food chain. But it's worth experiencing it! The restaurant we went to is located right next to the Hotel Horidome Villa, so it's a perfect place to have some lunch after leaving the hotel. We were there at noon and it was fascinating: We are skilled in eating with chopsticks and were actually in quite a hurry. But while we ate, three (!!!) people came, ate and payed at the place right next to us! The food itself is inexpensive (approx. 500 ¥) and was good, so it's a good place to visit once and get some energy for sightseeing tours.
Tokyo Tower No, it's not the Eiffel Tower. But you can find out that it was the model they were imitating when building the Tokyo Tower, which is 333 meters high and therefore slightly higher than the original. It is another great place to have a view on Tokyo from above. Go there by metro (E or H line). You'll see to tower from quite a distance already, so you can't miss it really. There are two levels you can up to: The lower one (820 ¥) is located at 145 meters altitude and the higher one (1,420 ¥) is at 250 meters. Again, the late afternoon shortly before dawn is the best time to visit so you can watch the sunset. But it can be quite crowded during these times, maybe you'll have to wait a little.
Meji Shrine In the heart of the city, there's the Meji Shrine. It is located within a huge park. It is one of the most holy places in Tokyo. Get off at Harajuku station and the entrance into the area is right next to it. You'll have quite a walk through the park until you reach the shrine itself. There's no entrance fee, so you don't have to worry wasting money...

21 September 2013

Japan Rail Pass Train tickets, especially for the Shinkansen, can be really expensive. For foreigners there is a special ticket, called the Japan Rail Pass. It is valid for 7 (28,300 ¥), 14 (45,100 ¥) or 21 days (57,700 ¥) and you really consider buying one if you want to travel around. You'll need to purchase it in advance before you go to Japan (many travel agencies sell it) and trade it in at mayor railway stations as well as airports. The pass covers all railways operated by JR but not other minor private railways. Some public transport in major cities is included as well. Just ask if you need to pay extra or not. Yes, the Japan Rail Pass is not cheap, but for example the cheapest one-way Shinkansen ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto costs 12,710 ¥. So the round trip is almost the same price as a 7-day Japan Rail Pass. For further information visit: http://www.japanrailpass.net
Hase-dera Temple The Hase-dera temple is owned by a sect. Sects are different in Japan and more like religious minorities. The entrance fee is 300 ¥ and you'll get a great temple area to see. At the top you'll have a great view above the little town of Kamakura and the pacific ocean. There are several shrines located within the area. The temple entrance is located right next to the tram station which leads directly to Kamakura train station.
Daibutsu Buddha It's the largest bronze Buddha in the world. We went there because of a special hint by a friend. Since Kamakura is easy to get to by train (a little bit more than 1 hour train ride from Tokyo center), it is a great one-day visit. About the Buddha and the shrine where it is located: You have to pay 200 ¥ admission fee and an extra 20 ¥ if you want to go inside the Buddha. The area is nice and you should take some nice photos of the Buddha and yourself. Be sure to wash your hands at the entrance since it is a ritual in Japanese temple and shrine sites. Altogether it takes you 1-2 hours in total, you should go there either early or late since it can be very hot around noon.
Pacific Ocean Beach If you always wanted to have a look at the Pacific Ocean from the Japanese side, then it is a must-see. The beach is not quite what you see at the Mediterranean Sea. Quite few people, some relaxing after a long sightseeing day. You can get there buy foot or by tram. Go there in the afternoon before sunset, then it is the best time to visit.

20 September 2013

An one-hour sightseeing roundtrip per train When you haven't been to Tokyo before and want to do a little sightseeing without the danger of getting lost, you should consider a ride with the JR Yamanote Line. It is a circle-line around the center, so about after one hour you can exit a the original station again. And it is mostly above the ground so you see several sights as well. It's a very cheap way to so sightseeing: since there are no ticket controls inside the train (there are entrance gates at every station), you just buy the cheapest ticket (approximately 150 ¥) and ride until you end up at the station you departed. Then exit and you don't have to pay extra as you exited at the same station as you started. ;-)
Tokyo Public Transport Tokyo is a city of gigantic proportions. The best way to get around is public transport. In the beginning it can be very confusing. Don't hesitate to ask which way is the best to get to a place: Every metro line has a letter and the stations are numbered, so it's easier to remember a route. There a JR train lines as well - they carry names instead of letters. Almost every hotel has got maps of the Tokyo Metro system, both in Japanese and English. So be sure that you carry one always with you! The stations as well have both Japanese and English names. Buying tickets is easy: Enter the station and look for fare machines. There's always a map of the metro system nearby. Find the station you are going to and look how much it is. Pay this amount at the machine and take your ticket. :-)
Tokyo from above #1 There are several places that give you a great view from above. The Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Skytree and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The greatest thing about the last one: It's for free, while you have to pay for the other places! At over 200 meters altitude, you can enjoy Tokyo and even have a glimpse at Mount Fuji in the distance. There's a restaurant and a souvenir shop as well, if you want to buy some giveaways for friends. The best time to visit is in the afternoon shorty before sunset, so you can enjoy the transition between day and night which happens really fast!
Asakusa Temple Recommended by our friends, we visited the Asakusa Temple. Beware: It is crowded by Japanese normally! But it is definitely worth it - it's a majestic site right in the heart of Tokyo. Go there by train and exit at Asakusa Station, you should not miss the temple. Take your time as you walk up to it through the market in front of it. Right next to the temple there is a little garden that is pretty nice.
Shibuya District Anyone who has seen Lost in Translation should visit the place. Right next to the Shibuya train station there's the famous crossing where a thousand or more people crossing the street at the same time. Join the party! In this area, there are loads of shops, so you can go shopping if you like.
Our first Japanese Dinner A typical Japanese restaurant. Very small and easy to identify from the outside. They even had a menu in English, although they didn't speak any. :-) Don't think a lot of foreigners found it so far... We spent about 3,000 ¥ together and it was delicious. We had a variety of items on the menu (4 in total) but we weren't really sure what we would get when we ordered since the translation helps but you still don't know what it will like and taste like. But in this case it made good choices and had a delicious meal.
Hotel Horidome Villa The Hotel is located right in the city center in the Tokyo's banking district Chuo. Metro stations are nearby (200 meters) and you can go there directly from Haneda Airport (exit at Ningyocho station). We booked it on www.booking.com a few months in advance. We wanted to avoid youth hostels but not to spend too much money on the other hand. The costs were around 6,000 ¥ (approx. 45 €) per room and night. The staff was very friendly and - that is NOT the normal case in Japan - their English was understandable. We had no breakfast but coffee and tee was for free (available until noon) as well as free WiFi. We had a small double bed room (non-smoker) with our own shower. It was clean& tidy and we had a TV, fridge and AC. It was one of the cheaper hotels we found online and we were very pleased with it (we stayed there for 7 nights in total).
Getting there Well, going to Japan always means a long journey if you don't live in China, Korea, etc. We booked a flight that arrived around 1 p.m. local time at Tokyo. This turned out to be great as to whole trip took us 20 hours. Since we couldn't sleep properly on our flight, we were pretty tired at our arrival. After immigration we took to airport train and went straight to our hotel and checked in (the people at the airport gave us a very detailed description otherwise we would have been completely lost - train stations in Tokyo have numbers and there are English names displayed but that doesn't help much if you visit for the first time). We didn't go to bed right away and tried to stay up for some time until we fell asleep at 8. This payed dividends since we managed to get about 12 hours of very comfortable sleep. So next morning we were set and ready to explore Tokyo...