Japan -Tokyo, Sapporo, Sendai, Hakone, Kyoto - June 2023
Updated: Jul 17
Japan, in a word, perfection.
This country has cracked the code.
Just a list of random things I loved about Japan:
- The hotel rooms that I stayed in were on the smaller side, however they all give you complimentary pajamas, toothbrushes and paste, hairbrushes, all the bathroom amenities.
-On the hotel tip: early check in and late check in is not really a thing there. You also have to physically hand back your hotel room key cards and check out in person with the front desk.
They won't just charge your card, permission is asked to do everything.
- Breakfasts at hotels = expensive. Breakfasts everywhere else= so cheap. Go out for breakfast, they have amazing bakeries/boulangeries
- Everything is on time. Everything is efficient. If you are in a city definitely take the train/subway over a taxi. If you are flying domestically you can literally show up at the airport 30mins before your flight and have no problems making your flight. Many of the train stations are large, packed and intimidating, but buying a IC card ahead of time/putting money on it, and asking train station attendants for help is a best practice.
-Japanese people don't swim in lakes, only the ocean.
-We visited during the rainy season in June. It was cloudy most of the time but the rain doesn't stop people in Japan from getting out so don't let it stop you! We also had some great weather days so it wasn't all a washout
-The bidets, man I loved them. Bidets everywhere, even in the train stations toilets. What a weird little luxury.
-Restaurants: slight language barrier at some however the people are so nice and accomodating, many places do have English menus. Food comes fast, and you must ask for the check or grab the waiter's attention if you need something. Don't tip- they don't need it, restaurant staff get paid well. There are endless restaurant options everywhere in Tokyo.
-Animal cafes are big in Japan! We checked out a cat cafe, an owl cafe, and another bunch of random animals altogether cafe. They charge a rate every 10mins/30mins/etc so you can decide how long you want to hang with the critters.
-You can ship your luggage domestically in Japan for a pretty small fee. Since we were traveling by many different modes of transportation and didn't want to lug all of our bags, we shipped some luggage from Tokyo to Kyoto- and it arrived at our hotel. We had one night in between in Hakone, and just brought back packs for that stay. Gamechanger!
-The laundry opportunities in Japan are just amazing. Most hotels we stayed in had coin laundry machines, which made the stress of overpacking melt away. I did laundry I think 4 times over the course of 2 weeks. If you exercise while traveling and have ever had to carry around sweaty stinky clothes for weeks at a time, you know what I'm talking about- this made a huge difference!
-Japan was so affordable compared to the US. The only thing expensive was the flight.
-7 11 convenience stores are one million times better in Japan. I went to so many for snacks, toiletries, more snacks, hot food, so so good!
Where we stayed Tokyo:
Tobu Asakusa hotel (1 night) - I got the Hello Kitty room since it was the last one available. Great location in Tokyo, right by the shrines/temples and lots of bars/restaurants/shopping all around. That Hello Kitty room was weird though, I'm sure some kid would have loved it! However, it was pretty big- 4 beds big!
The Gate Hotel (1 night)- right around the corner and a little fancier than Tobu Asakusa. Nice roof bar and restaurant, and roof patio view! Really good buffet breakfast. At both hotels I was able to do morning runs by the Sumida river on the river path.
Excel Shibuya (2 nights)- If you want a good view of the crazy Shibuya crossing intersection- this hotel overlooks it. So many people! Also tons of shopping in this area, but I did find a nice big park nearby for a break from the big city madness.
Keio Plaza (3 nights) - Another area of Tokyo- Shinjuku. Same deal, tons of shopping, bars and restaurants everywhere. The train station was a short walk from the hotel which was perfect for seeing other areas of the city and eventually heading to Hakone on the romance car train.
Highlights in each area in Tokyo:
Checking out the oldest shrines/temples in Tokyo, as well as the bars, restaurants in this area.
The river Sumida run.
Anakuma Cafe with the bear paw service (cute for kids)- 30 min walk from Keio plaza hotel
Harajyuku Animal Cafe: Meerkat, Ferrets, Hedgehogs and a strange fox. $10 for 30mins
TeamLabs: A really cool interactive art installation- buy tickets in advance online
We were only here for the Owl Cafe- which was wild. Just so strange. 100% worth it. Owls are so weird. We bought tickets in advance online.
I was only there for 2 nights. We flew 1.5hrs from Tokyo to Sapporo, then took an hour ride to the Hotel Mercure. Sapporo had really pretty views of the mountains- struck me as a mini-Tokyo in the mountains (lots of high rises, offices, bars, restaurants, but on a much smaller scale). Apparently this region (Hokkaido) is known for skiing. I found a park in the city for a morning run (Nakiyama) which was pretty close to the hotel. Sapporo had some really cool speakeasy bars we went to- Bar Yamazaki and Bar Ikkei. Amazing cocktails, dimly lit, it was a vibe. We also visited the Nikka Yoichi distillery which was about an hour ride each way from Sapporo.
One night only. A much bigger city than Sapporo. Our Hotel (Hotel Metropolitan) was connected to the train station and mall. We toured Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery during the day, and on the ride there stopped at L Albero Pizzeria in the middle of the countryside- and had amazing pizza! So random, so good. This place would kill in Brooklyn- very shabby sheik decor, rustic farmhouse style, very cute and unexpected. In Sendai we also got a karaoke night in at a large chain called Big Echo that I then saw all over Tokyo the rest of the trip. You can pay for private rooms by the hour, this place was full service with food/drinks, and had a ton of songs to choose from/multiple mics/Ipad song guides. Really the complete karaoke package. From Sendai we took the train to Shibuya Tokyo took about 1.5hrs, then a 40min taxi ride from there.
From the Shinjuku neighborhood we took the "Romance Car" train to Hakone for one day/one night. Looking back, I would have liked to have stayed maybe 2 nights in Hakone. After being all over Tokyo-Sapporo-Sendai-back to Tokyo over the last 2 weeks, I needed a break from the city and Hakone was perfect for that.
Once arriving in Hakone we could have just caught a shuttle and gone straight to our hotel, but because Japan is not a big early check in kind of place, we took the long way for a more scenic route. From the train, we took a bus, which took us to Lake Ashi, where we boarded a boat. A short boat ride later, we arrived at a cable car, which we took up to a volcano. Then we took a funicular down to another train station, which had our hotel shuttle. About 10mins later we arrived at the Ryokan Ten Yu hotel- which was just stunning. Our biggest hotel room yet, with a lovely porch with a tub. At this point you are way up in the mountains, in the forest, so the views are amazing. The hotel not only had hot spring onsens to enjoy (men and women separate) but for kids they had a waterpark connected with all sorts of different pools, hot springs, a slide, tons of do. We enjoyed the water park until it closed around 5pm, and then enjoyed a traditional Japanese dinner at the hotel restaurant (they gave us all traditional clothes to wear as well). A very cool experience. Their grounds were really beautiful too, lots of patios and waterfalls to sit by, really peaceful and beautiful. Like I said, I could have done a 2nd day/night here.
Kyoto: From Hakone- shuttle to local train, to train station to bullet train, for Kyoto. About a 3 hour commitment.
Kyoto was my favorite part of Japan. We stayed at the Cross hotel which was such a nice hotel in an amazing location (though they didn't have coin laundry which was a bummer). A few highlights:
Really cool cocktail bars to check out: Bar Liquor Museum (basic but good cocktails), The Bees Knees (favorite- speakeasy), L Esca Moteur (weird french/bar magic vibes- bartenders in top hats, smoke/fire in cocktails, etc)
So many shrines and temples all over the city- you'll never see them all- but they are all so beautiful!
Running and biking on the river path- it goes forever (we figured out the bike share station outside our hotel and rented bikes for like an hour- cost us $1.50)
Breakfast at multiple boulangeries- so so good
Nishiki food market- visually and deliciously stimulating. It closes before dinner and opens around 10am
All you can drink lemon sours in an hour at Bar Ponto Cho Sakaba (I am now a lover of lemon sours)
Must do's While in Kyoto:
Nara- It's about 1hr 15min by rapid train (which ends around 5pm) to get there. But once you get off the train, the walk is about 20mins to just a huge park of endless dog-like deer, more shrines and temples to explore, and also shopping, bars, restaurants. But you go for the deer, make no mistake. I'll never look at a deer the same way again, they can be so friendly! It is a hike and will take up a good part of a day but it's worth the trip
Arashiyama - You can hit up both the famous Bamboo path going here as well as the Monkey park. This area also has lots of shopping and restaurants, you can rent kayaks and canoes for a trip on the river too. It is extremely crowded, but just a few train stops from Kyoto so easy to go and come back, it won't eat up your whole day unless you want it to. What I didn't realize and isn't really advertised, is that the Monkey park is on top of a mountain- about a 20min walk up with switchbacks, so on a hot day it is a commitment you need to be prepared for. Once you are at the top you get great views of the city, and monkeys!
Fushimi Inari Tiashi- a very cool area of the city accessible by subway (25min ride) with the red gates. Very touristy, but you'll want your photo there so just do it!
To check out my photos from this and all my trips- head to my instagram page @everydayvacays