December 25, 2017

Tokyo, Japan – Itinerary and planning (3+2 days) – part 3 of 3

This is part 3 of my Japan trip (which I am breaking up into 3 parts, like below)
– 3 days itinerary for Kyoto (link)
– 2 days (0.5 + 1 + 0.5) itinerary for Kawaguchiko (one of the Fuji Five lakes, for Mt. Fuji appreciation) (link)
– 3.5 days itinerary for Tokyo (sans Disney Resort), 2 days itinerary for Disney Resort (Disneyland and DisneySea)

In the actual itinerary, I took most of the 2nd half of Day 6 to travel to Tokyo by bus, and when I’ve reached Tokyo, the first thing I did was to get the IC card for each of us. If you have a kid in the group, your kid is entitled to a half-priced IC card for junior, just like my daughter – which you’d need to purchase at the JR ticketing office (can’t do that from the machine). And then, I made a beeline to the hotel to reunite with my bags (they were sent from Kyoto via TA-Q-BIN, remember?), get my shit together again and set out to Odaiba. However, in the 5 days itinerary, that Odaiba visit can be parked anywhere in the evening, so I’m going to do just that for the sake of convenience…
Now, the disclaimer:

– Since I’d traveled all the locations above in the same trip, my actual itinerary took longer than just 10 days. It was close to like, 13 days (1 day for Bangkok, 1 day for traveling between areas in Japan, 1 day for inbound/outbound flight and misc time loss). If you’d like to follow the exact itinerary listed above for all the areas, you might want to account an extra 2 – 3 days to the 10 days.
– In December, Japan has a relatively short daylight (like Taiwan). It starts to get dark at about 4pm, so naturally, I shifted the daylight loss by starting earlier in the morning.
– It’s also getting very cold in December (although not the coldest yet). If you have a fear of cold, you might want to just go to somewhere hotter instead.
– This is an itinerary post, I’ll do a separate post for what I think about the places I’ve visited.
– This was planned based on 3 pax – my wife, my 11-yo daughter, and myself. I managed to hit > 95% of what I’ve planned, with almost perfect timing accuracy. If you’re planning for a group of more than 4, this probably won’t work as well for you.
– The main objective is sightseeing and to experience Japan (with the final 2 days in Disney Resort). The itineraries involve a lot of walking, averaging about 20,000 steps each day. That’s roughly about 16km of walking per day. If you’re not into walking or has a fat ass, this is probably not your kind of shit. (Go find one of those gay tours)
– The itinerary hinges on the assumption that you’d do your own planning/research on the public transportation. You can choose to splurge on taxi or go smart by subway/bus. Doesn’t matter. Just Google around for info.
– If your religion prohibits you from visiting buildings or monuments of other religious faith, this won’t work for you too. (Japan has a lot of temples, shrines and pig related obsession from its culture to food).
– The day to day planning can be shuffled around, depending on your dates of travel, as some of the places might be closed on certain day of the week. So, check your schedule vs the places of interests during your planning.
– This is just my own planning. It may not be as good as others’. If you think there are flaws with my planning, that’s probably because I’m an amateur.

Prep (general)
Winter clothing – It’s about 5 – 10 degrees in December. You might want to get something that is able to warm you up. Innerwear, winter jacket, beanie hats, gloves. Personally for me, 5 – 10 deg C is just like my lab on an average day – so I survived with just a waterproof windbreaker with a pair of gloves on standby. On days that dipped to near zero, I had my gloves on.

Lodging – One gripe I have about Japanese lodging choices is, the rooms can be too small if it’s something I deem as ‘affordably average’ kind of room (this is especially true in Tokyo). A lot of people would opt for AirBnB but, it’s only worth it if you have a company of more than 3 or 4 (an AirBnB lodging would have saved you the cost of an extra room). So, depending on your needs, I’d recommend to go for upper average range – ~MYR 400 bucks per night (go for Uruyasu area for Disney itinerary, which should set you back of about MYR 700 – 900 bucks per night).

Transit arrangements – On top of regular flight arrangements, if you’re traveling between cities or prefectures when you’re in Japan, you need to pre-arrange your transit, or at least plan it well. Most highway buses services allow online bookings. For Shinkansen (bullet trains), especially between Kyoto – Tokyo route (Tokaido-Sanyo), online booking is not available and you’ll have to print out the schedule to purchase it at the Japan Rail (JR) office. So, plan accordingly. (Forget about Japan Rail pass. That shit is expensive. You’ll only get back your money’s worth if you’re visiting more than 4 cities in the same trip – which is inefficient in my opinion). Go Google for JR trains, there are shitloads of websites explaining how the intricate Japanese rail network works, and it isn’t very hard to figure them out.

Meal budget: Japan is an expensive place for food. Expect to budget around MYR150 on average per person per day for lunch+dinner. This is a very economic figure with expectations on occasional bread-on-the-go kind of meal. If you’re into 100% dine-in restaurants, you’d need to double the amount.

IC payment – It’s like HK’s Octopus card, or Taiwan’s Easycard, or Oyster in England, or our TnG card. It’s convenient payment system that lets you board public transport without the hassles and also groceries without needing to worry about loose change. Except that the Japanese doesn’t have just 1 type. They have shitloads of types. Each region has its own card types. But all IC cards can be used anywhere, although the refund system isn’t as flexible. You can only redeem back your card’s value in its own region. Eg. if you buy ICOCA card in Kyoto’s Japan Rail (JR) West office, you can’t redeem its value back at Tokyo because in Tokyo, it’s under JR East jurisdiction. Depending on where you end up leaving, you might want to consider buying your type of IC card there, so that you can redeem back your balance when you fly out from your last destination. I only used SUICA in Tokyo, and did not use any at Kyoto (for Kyoto, the card would have been ICOCA).

Offline map – While Google Maps is very dependable for figuring out public transportation needs, it sucks for navigating streets or off road footpath on foot. For this need, get yourself an offline map app like OsmAnd, which uses Openstreetmap and allows you to navigate without having an active internet/data connection, just plain old GPS. I use this app 80% of the time, including navigating Disneyland and Disneysea. Make sure you tag the places you want to visit prior the trip.

Google translate – It has this little camera icon under the text translation page that allows you to translate Japanese characters in real time. This will come in handy figuring out if it’s beef or chicken you’re trying to buy…

Moisturizers – You need something strong that allows you to hydrate your skin. Get something like petroleum jelly or anything that sticks to you like an industrial grade grease… otherwise, you risk of getting winter itch or eczema which can inverse your holiday with woes and suffering from the dry winter weather. Oh, don’t forget the lip balm too.

Umbrella – It’s not likely to rain in December (weather check) at Japan, but get yourself a couple of travel umbrellas for fuck’s sake.

Day 1: Northern Tokyo – Asakusa, Ueno, Akihabara, Odaiba

0700: Breakfast on the go. In Tokyo, it is best to avoid the time between 8am – 9am (rush hour) during the weekdays. If it’s the weekend, you can afford to go a little later, but it’s going to be crowded anyway. Make your way (via subway/train) to Kaminarimon 雷門 once you’re good to go.

0800: Kaminarimon 雷門 (location). Famous for its huge ass lantern and bright red arch gate. This is the gate to Senso-ji Temple 浅草寺, which is located further down the short street. The short street is called Nakamise Dori 仲見世, which is full of shops selling food and souvenirs. But since you’re this early, most shops are probably still closed. So, just use the time to take some pictures, and head over to Senso-ji Temple 浅草寺. (wiki link)

0820: Senso-ji Temple 浅草寺 (location). This is actually a Goddess of Mercy temple, but is worshipped in the Japanese way (toss a coin into a slotted platform, clap your hands once, and pray). Take some time to explore around the place and photo op. There’s a pagoda at the compound, and also view of the Tokyo Skytree and its surrounding skyline. Once satisfied, walk towards Kototoi Bridge 言問橋 (wiki link)

0900: Kototoi Bridge 言問橋 (location). Walk across this bridge, and towards Sumida Park 隅田公園 to savor the scene and life at the surrounding Asakusa neighborhood.

0915: Sumida Park 隅田公園 (location). On certain times of the year, Sumida Park is one of the sites for cherry blossom viewing. On other seasons, it’s still a beautiful and tranquil place for relaxation. When you’ve had enough relaxation, walk back to Nakamise Dori 仲見世, the road in between Senso-ji Temple 浅草寺 and Kaminarimon 雷門, the shops should be up by now (wiki link)

1015: Nakamise Dori 仲見世 (location). Lots of food, handicrafts and souvenirs are being peddled here. It’s very lively, and opens till evening (though not late). If you have female travelers in your group, this is going to give them orgasm.

1130: Lunch at one of the restaurants around. We went to the famous Ichiran Ramen near the Asakusa Station (location). Take a subway/train to Ueno Station (location) once you’re done.

1230: Ueno Park (location). It’s right next to the station. It’s a huge park that is connected to several places of interest. You can walk all the way to the far end to Kaneiji 寛永寺 (location) if you still haven’t had enough temple visits, or you can visit an old shrine nearby called Ueno Toshogu Shrine 上野東照宮 (location). There’s also a zoo featuring animals doing bukakke porn (kidding, it’s just a fucking zoo). Explore around the park, there was a flea market going on during our visit and it was rather nice. Allow up to 2 hours or more here. Then take a subway/train to Suehirocho Station (location). (wiki link)

1430: Akihabara 秋葉原, Chuo Dori (location). If you come here on Sunday, the whole road will be blocked off from traffic, and pedestrians can walk all over the road and shop at the same time. (see cover pic for day 1). This street is filled with outlets, malls and shops selling all kinds of shit. Allow another 2 hours here (your legs should be wobbly by now from all the walking). (wiki link)

Now, you have a choice to either continue on till night, or go back to your lodging and call it a day. I recommend to go on to Odaiba (which is rather out of the way). Just take a train to Tokyo Teleport station (location). A few exchange is required.

1700: Odaiba お台場 (location). You’re now smack dab in the middle of Odaiba. There are lots of things to see and do at Odaiba. It has an amazing night view of Tokyo’s suspension bridge called the Rainbow Bridge (wiki link), and a Statue of Liberty replica. At certain times of the week/month (no idea), there’ll be fireworks. We saw some on a Saturday night around 7pm. There are a few malls and an indoor theme park as well. It’s a great place to spend the night off till late. Google more about Odaiba to decide where you want to go before calling it a day. (wiki link)

Day 2: Central Tokyo – Tsukiji, Imperial Palace East Gardens, Ginza

0700: Breakfast on the go.

0800: Tsukiji Market 築地市場 (location). Tsukiji is a marketplace for everything. Some people opt to go there like 4 am in the morning to witness the fish market in action, including the auction activities. As this is not my kind of shit, I opted to just visit the dry part of the market for food and food. But feel free to go there at 4am in the morning. When you’re there, expect to spend some $$ to gorge yourself some of the awesomest sushi money can buy and other street food/snacks. Expect to spend 1.5 – 2 hours here. Then walk southwest towards Hama Rikyu Garden 浜離宮 (wiki link)

~1000 – 1030: Hama Rikyu Garden 浜離宮 (location). Admission JPY 300 per pax (free for kids below 12). Beautiful gardens with views of the Tokyo skyline ala NYC’s Central Park style. There’s a teahouse that allows you to have a cuppa there. Sightseeing and photo op. We did it as our morning walk to burn off the seafood from Tsukiji. Once done, walk to the nearest train station and head to Tokyo Station. (wiki link)

1230: Tokyo Station 東京駅 (location). You can take your lunch here, or one of the basement restaurants at nearby malls. We did ours at KITTE mall (location). Once done, walk over towards the Imperial Palace East Gardens 皇居東御苑管理事務所.

1400: Imperial Palace East Gardens 皇居東御苑管理事務所 (location). Admission is free. It’s the only place at the palace that is open to public, and based on the pictures online, it should be as awesome as Hama Rikyu Garden 浜離宮. Note that this place closes on Mondays, as we found out (we went there on a Monday – for I forgot to research this little detail about this place). I managed to roam around the compound of the palace thought, see the cover pic for Day 2. Once you’ve baked yourself enough in the garden, head over towards Ginza on foot. (wiki link).

1630: Ginza 銀座 (location). Ginza is a shopping district that ought to kill your time well there. But if you’re on foot towards Ginza from the palace, you’d likely come across Hibiya Park 日比谷公園 – which has a Christmas Night Market if you’re there in December. We came across the place and went there instead. Place was lit up and full of stalls featuring German food/merchandise, which reminded us the time when we went to Munich. It was pretty awesome. Either Ginza or Hibiya Park, you ought to be able to spend time till way after dark. (gets dark around 5pm).(wiki link)

Day 3: Shinjuku, Shibuya

Start your day earlier, as Shinjuku is a very busy place on the weekdays rush hour, even more so in the weekend. Head over to Shinjuku district, and walk towards the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden 新宿御苑.

0800: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden 新宿御苑 (location). Admission JPY 200 per pax. Touted as the most beautiful park in Tokyo, it’s not to be missed. One of the prime locations to watch cherry blossoms if you’re in the season. If you’re into running, a run in this park is going to wind back your age for about a few years. Head to Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 after that. It’s just a short walking distance away. (wiki link)

1000: Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 (location). Admission is free. A shrine dedicated to the widely respected Meiji emperor, who indirectly modernized Japan into an industrial and economy giant today. It’s a short walk to the shrine itself, and once you’re done with that, you may choose to head to Yoyogi Park 代々木公園 (wiki link) which is right next to the shrine. We skipped the park because we figured we’d had enough fucking park in Japan. (wiki link)

1100: Takeshita Street 竹下通り (location). If you’re not heading to Yoyogi, then head over to Takeshita Street (or you can do it after Yoyogi). It is a shopping street just like Nakamise Dori, but instead of stalls, it has small shops. Quite a lively little street which we fondly refer as ‘take a shit’ street (which is an anagram for Takeshita). Bought shitloads of stuff there too. (wiki link)

1130: Lunch. There are many restaurants nearby. We lunched at an awesome ramen joint called Kyushu Janggara (approximate location).

1230: Omotesando 表参道 (location). Another shopping street, but with designer brands. Feel free to drop by any shop that fancies your taste (and wallet). Stroll east along this road to get to Cat Street キャットストリー. This shouldn’t take long. (wiki link)

1250: Cat Street キャットストリー (location). No cats, just clothes – both new and used. If you’re into hipster clothes, this is the place to get them. Walk southwards till the street merges with the main road and continue on to head to the famous Shibuya Crossing (location). From there, look for Hachiko’s statue.

1330: Hachiko statue (approximate location). Some say it’s hard to find, but we could see it from across the street. The statue was erected to the memory of Hachiko doge, who waited for its master for a few goddamn years at the Shibuya Station (master died at the office or something). Since then, his fame grew and unlike that Gangnam Style guy, Hachiko’s fame is evergreen for close to a century and everyone wants to take a picture with its statue. We did a few ourselves. Once you’ve honored the doge with enough respect, hop on to the subway/train towards Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 東京都庁舎 at Shinjuku (wiki link)

1430: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 東京都庁舎 (location). So what the hell are we doing here at a government building? Well, free observatory. Just don’t get intimidated by the formality of its looks, just follow the signs to get to the North Tower, go through some security checks and head on to the observatory that has an awesome view of Tokyo. It also has a couple of souvenir shops and a cafe up there so, knock yourself out. You can spend an hour there, or choose to stay till its dark for the night view… then head to Shinjuku for dinner + more shopping (wiki link)

~1630 – 1730: Shinjuku (approximate location). This area in Shinjuku is basically crazy with lights and shops and restaurants. It’s like Hong Kong’s Nathan Road times two. Grab your dinner here and explore at your own pace till late. There’s also an alley called Omoide Yokocho (location) that is a popular food alley amongst the locals. We did not visit the place as our feet were hurting too much, so we just got ourselves something to eat somewhere nearby and called it a day.

Day 4: Tokyo Disneyland

We dedicate the whole of Day 4 at Tokyo to Disneyland. There’s no time limit or schedule to follow here, but bear in mind that the park opens at 8am in December, and gets crowded even before the opening hour. Unlike the Disneyland at Hong Kong which we only did 3 rides due to long queue time, we did some research and managed to follow a few guides some nuts wrote online (forgot the source) and managed to hit 18 rides this round! All I did was to map out all the ride locations to my offline map app OsmAnd, and plotted the order of the rides that we want to do first, and strategize which one to get a Fast Pass instead (FP allows you to skip the queue). Here’s what we planned:

121 – Monsters Inc – Ride & Go Seek! (get a Fast Pass)
83 – Peter Pan’s Flight
85 – Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
121 – Monsters Inc – Ride & Go Seek! (use your Fast Pass)
25 – Pirates of the Caribbean (don’t ever miss this awesome ride! Best ride in the park!)
86 – Haunted Mansion (get a Fast Pass if crowded, come back later)
72 – Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes (if you do this, you can skip the Mark Twain riverboat, or you can do the riverboat and skip this)
24 – Western River Railroad
39 – Crystal Palace (lunch)
Conquer remaining rides in Fantasyland as much as you can
26 – Jungle Cruise (do it when it’s dark)
27 – Swiss Family Treehouse
119 – Space Mountain (get a Fast Pass)
Conquer Toontown as much as you can (after dark)
Watch Electrical Parade
119 – Space Mountain (use your Fast Pass)
Conquer remaining rides in Tomorrowland after doing Space Mountain if you’re still not exhausted.
There are also 2 other extreme rides we did not do but worth considering –
54 – Big Thunder Mountain
71 – Splash Mountain
You can do them when you’re in the area, or simply prioritize which ride you want to do first (the essentials), and clear the rest with your remaining time.
We did not plan for the parade or sightseeing, just did those on the fly when criss crossing the park for rides.
We left the park at 9pm, after the fireworks.

Day 5: Tokyo Disneysea

Day 5 for Disneysea with a 2 day pass. Like Disneyland, we plotted all the ride locations on our map, and navigated like we’re pros through the park, according to planned rides. But we managed to only do 14 rides. Here’s the list:
27 – Tower of Terror (get a Fast Pass) we skipped this – it was quite terrifying
102 – Journey to the Center of the Earth (this ride is thrilling and awesome! best ride in the park!)
101 – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
62 – Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull
27 – Tower of Terror (use Fast Pass)
30 – Toy Story Mania (get a Fast Pass – runs out pretty quick)
1 – Venetian Gondolas
104 – Vulcania Restaurant (lunch)
33 – Broadway Music Theater
Explore American Waterfront
3 – Fortress Explorations
Conquer Mermaid Lagoon
Conquer Arabian Coast
54 – Aquatopia
56 – Nemo & Friends Searider
55 – DisneySea Electric Railway
30 – Toy Story Mania (use Fast Pass)
2 – DisneySea Transit Steamer Line

There were some parades on the river/lake, but we almost completely missed those. Disneysea is a big ass park, and it’s really hard to conquer them all in just 1 day. Anyway, we had fun and was pretty wasted by 8pm. Walked a total of 25,000 steps in the park that day (almost the same as Disneyland).

This concludes the part 3 of my Japan itinerary. We flew back home the day after that.

michaelooi  | places  | 

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