It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve returned from my 14 day long trip to Japan. I reckon I shouldn’t put off writing about it any longer otherwise I will start forgetting…
This trip marks my fifth visit to Japan and my longest and most memorable one yet. I’ll write a series of posts with the places I visit and things I did during my trip and hopefully also include some travelers tips for people who have similar interests as me.
I brought along my DSLR but due to a combination of the humid heat and my own laziness, most of the pictures will be from my phone. ^^;
.:Day 0 – Pre-departure Planning:.
Why two whole weeks just in Tokyo?
So our two weeks in Japan was all spent in Tokyo. Most of the people who we mentioned to that we’d be spending two weeks in Tokyo would look at us really surprised and ask why we are spending so many days all in one place. When my mom’s friend’s heard about it, they told her that I would for sure be bored and out of places to visit after a week. Sure. If you didn’t have the hobbies and interests that we have and was only going to Japan for the shopping (not saying that I didn’t do any shopping, because I did. A lot of it).
Originally, the plan was to spend one week in Tokyo and then one week in Osaka. But after looking into it, we realized it would cost us an extra few hundred bucks (extra travel and accommodation expenses) than if we were to just stay in one place. And one week in each place would make it more rushed for us if we wanted to visit all the places we wanted to see. By spending our entire trip in one place, we were able to use the money towards food and shopping and really be able to take it slow when exploring the city.
Before this trip was even planned, we heard some great things about airbnb from a friend who travels to Japan often. Airbnb is basically a hub where people can put up their own places for vacation rentals, be it a room in their own home, an apartment or an entire house. While it appears quite safe to use (I’ve used it twice for when I had relatives in town and needed a place to stay for two weeks, for my dad’s month long business trip to New York, and of course for my Japan trip this time), it is very important that you pay attention to the reviews and take your time to read them.
Seeing as we were staying in Japan for two weeks, it was much more economical to go with an apartment rental. To give you an idea of the savings… The apartment we stayed at in Ikebukuro costs $80/night for two people, so that’s $1120 for 14 nights in total. The last time I went to Osaka for 5 nights and stayed in a hotel, it was the same price for two people. That’s more than double the savings! Yes, you will have to walk a bit more to get to the nearest station, but what is an extra few minutes walk when you are saving $100+ a night?! Plus its a totally different experience to live in a Japanese neighbourhood than in a hotel.
As I mentioned earlier about being meticulous with reading the reviews. The good and cheap ones go REAL fast. When I booked an apartment for my dad, it was just a week or so in advance, so its no surprise that all the good ones were taken. For my relatives, I booked it ~2 months in advance, and the same thing, the better ones were filled up as well. I guess it really depends on your budget and how picky you are. But if you want to be able to stay in your top choice location as well as save some big bucks, you NEED to book well in advance. I booked our Ikebukuro apartment in January, and two days after our reservation was confirmed, the rest of July was filled up and going on to August. I was actually really set on the apartment I was researched on and chosen because the reviews were so wonderful and the price so reasonable so much that I had the dates of the flight arranged to correspond with the dates that the apartment was available (hence why our original plan of end of June to early July trip became mid-July to end of July).
The apartment we stayed in was just a few minutes walk to the local train station where you can take one stop to get to the main Ikebukuro station. Alternatively, you could also walk 15 minutes down to Ikebukuro station and save 144yen. The apartment was small but cozy and had pretty much everything we needed. The only thing missing was a TV but that’s not a big deal. It was really convenient to have a washing machine and a small kitchenette (we didn’t cook anything though). The portable wifi that our hosts provided for free was a honest life saver. I would recommend to bring a portable battery pack so that your wifi and cellphone won’t run out of juice when you are out and about. If where you are staying doesn’t provide you with a portable wifi, you can also rent one at the airport. It is really worth the price and the rent isn’t that pricey either.
.:Day 1 – Arrival:.
I am most familiar with taking the airport limousine bus as all the previous hotels I stayed at in the past all had bus routes directly to them so that’s what I used to get into the city. The ticket prices between Tokyo and Narita range from ~2500 yen to 3600 yen one-way depending on which route/stop you are going to; it’s comparable to taking the Narita Express. The reason why I like taking the limousine bus is mostly because my luggage gets taken care of so I don’t need to lug it around on the train and I get to sit in a nice air conditioned bus. The downside of it is that if you get stuck in horrible rush hour traffic, it can take much much longer than if you just took the train. I was pretty lucky all the times I’ve taken the bus in that I’ve never hit really bad rush hour traffic. This time was the fastest yet as it took us just over an hour to arrive, we were an hour ahead of schedule!
As per our hosts’ suggestions, we got off at Hotel Tokyo Metropolitan in Ikebukuro. We marched into the lobby prepared to sit and wait around for an hour for our host as we were an hour early and we had no way of contacting them as we didn’t have wifi, but we were so surprised that our host was actually already there! It took us a while to recognize/find each other but soon we were united and on our way. A 3-5 minute (5 minutes with luggage) walk and we were inside the Ikebukuro station where we took the local line one stop down to Kita-Ikebukuro, the local train station closest to our home for the next two weeks. Another 5 minute walk and we arrived at the apartment. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to have arrived. The short walk with our luggage in the hot, humid summer weather of Japan made it feel much longer than it actually was and sucked all my energy dry. My clothes were stuck to me as I was sweating profusely already and I had to peel them off to get out of them.
After we had rested a bit and quenched our parched throats, we set out to meet up with a friend in Shinjuku for dinner. After successfully meeting up successfully, we were taken to Jojoen for yakiniku where there was an AMAZING view. It was delicious and of course better than the Gyu-kaku that we have here.
And that concluded our first day in Japan.