I’ve been fascinated with Asia for a long time. I went to China with my family in high school and loved it. I never expected to go back but it’s been high on my list. When Air China ridiculously dropped its prices from JFK to Haneda (Tokyo) to $398, I had to take it. I found this on The Flight Deal Facebook page. This post will be my attempt to plan my ideal Tokyo trip. I scoured Reddit, Yelp, Tabelog (Japan’s Yelp), blogs, the NY Times, Tripadvisor, and friends to come up with this plan that is focused on cutting costs while maximizing exposure to Japanese food and culture.
The day after Thanksgiving I’ll park my car on the street in Queens for free on a street a kind local Queens redditor informed me works well for long-term JFK parking. I’ll Uber to the airport with a very small bag. I picked this bag on Amazon because it was the closest I could find to meeting the personal bag requirements on pretty much every airline. This will prevent me paying fees for bags. From JFK I fly into Beijing. I was able to arrange a 2-day stopover in Beijing, just enough time to see the city without needing a travel visa. The Chinese government allows visa-free travel for up to 72-hour stopovers for travels from the US to non-Chinese destinations. I found this on the Chinese national tourism site and confirmed with a Google search.
From Tokyo’s Haneda airport, the closest airport to downtown Tokyo, the best option is to walk a few blocks to the subway into Roppongi station. This is only a few bucks and takes about 30 minutes. Roppongi wilhome basehomebase in Tokyo. It’s central, offers many services in English, has a lot to do in the evenings. I plan on booking my stay at a hostel to maximize my access to English language resources and to crowdsource on-the-ground travel advice with fellow travelers.
My goal is to eat as well as possible for my price range. One can easily spend $250 on dinner per person in Tokyo. The city has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. It’s home to Narisawa, the 8th best restaurant in the world and the 2nd in Asia. Curbing my spending may prove difficult in such a rich culinary environment.
Great food can be had in Tokyo for reasonable prices. I’ve found 3 places with Michelin stars under $40: Ramen Tsuta, Nakajima, and Kyourakutei Soba all in Tokyo. I used Yelp and Japan’s equivalent “Tabelog” to generate a map of Tokyo with my top restaurant prospects color-coded by cost. My friend Tom from McGill, who lived in Asia for several years, has pointed me to lunch at Kyubey. The phenomenal sushi fine dining spot has a $70 lunch that seems to rival the $200+ places. All these places require reservations be made in Japanese. I will be studying some basic Japanese, but not enough to call in. Thus, I will make a list of all my desired reservations and timing parameters and hire a Japanese language contractor on Upwork.com to score me these reservations over the phone. I tried canvassing my 4 Facebook friends that speak the language to no avail. You can find friends on Facebook who speak a specific language by searching in the bar “Friends who speak x.”
The areas in Tokyo I will be focusing on are Roppongi, Harajuku, Asakusa, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. These are the neighborhoods I’ve seen mentioned most. A ton of people recommend Tokyo’s SeaWorld and Disney. Maybe I will visit.
A few pedestrian centers, based on Strava, seem to be Shibuya Crossing (thats the huge one you see on TV), Yoyogi Park, the Meiji temple, and the Oyoko RIver. Though I’ve heard that Tokyo’s temples pale in comparison to Kyoto’s.
I’ll be using Combini (“convenience store” in Japanese) for ATM’s & quick snacks (apparently quite good). Japan is a cash-based retail economy. Having adequate Yen is going to be important.
I’m curious to check out how the University of Tokyo compares to the campuses I’ve visited across the US and Europe.
I plan on taking at least part of a day soaking in an Onsen (day spa). These are super common in Japan. One can’t go if you have tattoos, because that is a common sign you’re in the Japanese mafia.
From Tokyo, I’ll be taking trips to Kyoto, Japan’s historical center. Kyoto is known for it’s spectacular blend of old and new Japan, with ornate temples and business parks coexisting in harmony. Though “boring” and “blue collar” I’m also visiting Osaka, Japan’s second largest major city. I don’t think I can skip such a major city. To transit the countryside I’m going to splurge a bit and ride on Japan’s famous bullet trains, the Shinkansen. These trains cut 5 hour drives down to 90 minute rides.
I’m super excited to experience a culture that has been influential on the US. The small sushi bars, crammed shops, chaotic streets, and vast cultural differences will represent a challenge and growing opportunity. Japan is alluring. It’s a country that is extremely traditional. Yet they seem obsessed with technological development. Japanese people seem conflicted between tomorrow and yesterday. The country is naturally beautiful with mountain peaks and endless coastlines. The image of the bullet train sliding past Mount Fuji is the perfect image of Japan.