May 16, 2019

Two Weeks in Tokyo, Japan – Part 02.


So in my last post I shared about the first half of our trip to Japan. In this post I’m going to tell you about the second half of our trip! The first half of our trip was incredible and we were so thankful for second week we had! So here we go… week two!

April 10, 2019 – A Rainy Day in Shibuya

Shibuya is another lively area of Tokyo! I would say it had the same crowds as Shinjuku, but for whatever reason still felt more laid-back. It seemed like more younger people call the ward of Shibuya home whereas Shinjuku just seems like where a bunch of people go to work.

One thing in particular about this day: it was so rainy! Definitely the wettest and coldest day we had on our trip. From the moment we got up in the morning to when we went to bed that night it never stopped raining. Originally we had planned to go to Hakone on this day and I’m so glad we didn’t! Shibuya was actually the perfect rainy day place to visit. Pretty much everything to do in Shibuya besides Yoyogi Park is indoors!

Our first line of business was coffee. Ryan and I both can’t start our day without fueling our brains with coffee first. Believe it or not Starbucks was consistently our best coffee option. Anywhere else we had coffee it was rubbish but Starbucks in Japan is even better than it is in America. I had many white mocha lattes while I was there and pretty much all of them rocked. The cool thing about the Starbucks in Shibuya is that it looks down on the famous Shibuya Crossing. It’s said that at one time thousands of people will cross that the same time. It’s the mega crosswalk of all Tokyo. Unfortunately when I tried to get a photo of people crossing, it was during a slower part of the day so it doesn’t look as cool. But, that night when we were going home there were a ton of people crossing at the same time! It was extra crazy too because we all had umbrellas that were bumping into one another!

The best part about our day in Shibuya was definitely our conveyor belt sushi lunch. In fact this was one of our favorite meals we had during our whole trip! Throughout the trip thus far we had been stiff arming sushi. We thought it was going to be expensive like it is in America and not fill us up. But we figured we’re in Japan we have to have sushi at least once while we’re here. I had seen conveyor belt styled sushi restaurants in many blogs, from when my friends Natalie and Adam went to Japan and from Paolo’s videos. So we decided if we’re going to have sushi we’re having it conveyor belt style! We went to the restaurant Paolo suggests in his video about Shibuya and it was SO FUN. Basically there’s a conveyor belt that goes around the entire restaurant that has little plates of different sushi on it. Each kind of plate represents the price of the sushi. If you see something on the belt that you like, you grab it! Simple as that! They also have a special ordering pad at each table. You can order special things from here and they send it out to your table on a cute little train! Seriously if you haven’t seen my Instagram stories from the trip yet, go watch just to see the sushi train, haha. We had a blast eating here and the sushi was also super fresh and very delicious! Best sushi we’ve ever had! The kicker though was we spent about $30 total for us both to eat a sea of sushi. What a deal! America, you gotta get some conveyor belt sushi!

So I don’t have many photos from the day because of all the rain, but we really did enjoy our day in Shibuya despite all the weather!

April 11, 2019 – A Day Dedicated to Studio Ghibli

One of the first things I was curious about when we booked our trip is if there was a theme park, museum, memorial or something dedicated to Studio Ghibli – a common known Japanese animation studio. Ryan and I love Studio Ghibli movies, especially the ones created by Hayo Miyazaki. Ghibli movies are packed full of whimsey, quirky characters, beautiful animation and plot lines you can never predict. They are some of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen.

So when I found out there was a museum only 15 minutes away from where we were staying I freaked. There was no way we weren’t visiting this museum. Here’s the thing though: you can’t just show up to the museum on the day of and purchase tickets. Getting tickets is extremely difficult. I was very glad I did my research on how to get them or else we wouldn’t have been able to go! So here’s the process: tickets for whatever month you are wanting to visit go on sale the month prior on the 10th at 10am Japan time (so 8pm EST on the 9th). So for us I had decided we’d go on April 11th, so on March 9th at 8pm I had my computer armed and ready to get tickets. Having done the research and knowing what website to go to and what day and time to get tickets I thought the hard part was over. No – that’s the easy part! Here’s the thing about Japanese websites- they’re all terrible. And as a web designer this actually makes my stomach turn. So as soon as the clock stoke 8 the website was so slammed with traffic the server couldn’t handle it and the site straight up crashed. I spent 45 minutes trying to make progress through the ordering process. I even got as far as entering my card info when it crashed and I had to start the process all over again. It was the most frustrating 45 minutes I think I ever experienced. Word to the wise though if you want to go, just be patient! Eventually I was able to place my order for the tickets and once I had the email confirmation and knew it was official- I was stoked!

The Ghibli Museum is located in the neighborhood of Mitaka. I fell in love with this area while we were walking around waiting for our ticket time to start. I think if I were to live anywhere in Tokyo I’d want to live in Mitaka. The museum itself is incredible! The architecture is just as whimsical as the films themselves and they did such an awesome job at incorporating all the different films into the details of the design. From the moment you enter you’re greeted by Totoro (the face of the Ghibli brand) in a “ticket booth” although the booth isn’t real it’s an adorable detail. One of my favorite details about the museum was all the stained glass windows. Each window depicted parts or characters from the different movies, they were so beautiful! You aren’t allow to take photos inside the museum, which was kind of nice because we were able to enjoy all the exhibits without iPhones and selfie sticks in view. Miyazaki and an amazing filmmaker. He puts so much attention and focus into his films from the initial sketches, to the storyboards to even the exact colors he paints for each scene. It was fascinating to see! The funny thing is the whole museum is in Japanese, but because it’s so detailed we could pretty much understand what was being showcased in each exhibit.

After leaving the museum we continued our “ode” to Studio Ghibli by heading to Shimo-Kitazawa. In this hipster area resides a bakery owned by Miyazaki’s cousin selling yummy and adorable Totoro cream puffs! We ordered a vanilla custard one and a strawberry one and they were both very tasty! It was the perfect Ghibli themed treat and it was cool getting to meet Miyazaki’s cousin! After our cream puff snack we continued to explore the neighborhood of Shimo-Kitazawa. I really enjoyed this area too. Like Mitaka this spot was less crowded and way more chill than the bigger wards we had been to earlier in the trip. We sipped on some coffee we bought from a street store and it was very tasty and enjoyed some ramen at local eatery.  Shimokita (as they call it for short) is the perfect place to get away too if you need a break from the bustling city, but don’t want to leave Tokyo!

April 12, 2019 – Digital, Digital Get Down in Odaiba

Please tell me someone got the N’SYNC reference in that title?

Okay so Odaiba was awesome. When trying to decide where all we wanted to go on our trip Odaiba almost didn’t make the cut. At first from my research (i.e. another Paolo video) it seemed cool, but like it was just a bunch of malls – which we had already gone shopping. Here’s another fun fact about me: I’m a massive fan of the Bachelor. I watch every season and then end up following a bunch of the contestants on Instagram. So what does this have to do with Odaiba? Well I follow both Astrid Loch and Dean Unglert and they’ve both been to Tokyo recently. A common stop on both of their trips? teamLab Borderless! Seeing how freaking cool this digital art museum looked on their posts made me want to visit it so bad! So I guess I can thank Astrid and Dean for keeping Odaiba on our itinerary!

Okay so now that I’ve confessed my past / present N’SYNC fandom (which is not that bad), and probably more embarrassing – totally shown my cards with how much I follow the Bachelor Franchise, let me tell you about our day!

I was mainly excited for the museum this day, but didn’t really have any other expectations. For whatever reason Odaiba ended up being one of my favorite areas we visited while in Tokyo! I think we liked it because it was super chill, but not in the same way Mitaka and Shimokita are. Odaiba is full of wide open spaces and its basically its own little bay connected to the mainland of Tokyo by the landmark rainbow bridge. What we were guessing is that it’s just kind of out of the way so not as many people flock over here? Nevertheless we didn’t mind one bit!

The first thing we did was hit up DiverCity Plaza – one of the newer mega malls in Odaiba. We wandered around several stores before we gave in on our American cravings and had McDonald’s for lunch. I think that’s the best a Big Mac has ever tasted. And since we’re on a roll with admitting guilty pleasures – yes I devour a Big Mac when I go to McDonald’s. No shame. Outside of DiverCity is the GINORMOUS Gundam statue! Okay, I actually know nothing about Gundam all I know is that it’s an anime that is super popular in Japan and that Ryan doesn’t really like it. Nevertheless I still had to get a photo of him in front of the statue!

After wandering around the tulip beds and gazing in awe at what is the Fuji Television building we embarked on our digital adventure at teamLab Borderless. So basically this is an ever changing digital art museum. There are projections, lights, crystals, and even giant lit up balloons. The museum is huge and you could honestly get lost in there if you weren’t paying attention. Coolest rooms were definitely the giant Edison bulb room and the crystal maze room! We literally spent 3 hours getting lost in this digital realm.

Another perk about Odaiba – it had one of the best views of Tokyo we saw our whole trip. After grabbing a bowl of Sapporo style ramen at AquaCity we noticed how insane the view of the skyline was from one of the many balconies on the mall. You could see the rainbow bridge, all the skyscrapers, dinner party boats on the water – Tokyo is such a beautiful city and the skyline is the proof. It was the perfect way to wrap our day in Odaiba.

April 13, 2019 – Owls in Electric Town

This is the day we went to Akihabara. I’m going to keep it real with y’all… didn’t love this ward. We were looking forward to it because its the anime district and I know how much Ryan enjoys certain anime. While it was cool for him to see some of the figures, souvenirs and “swag” for the shows he likes, a lot of what is portrayed in Akihabara is over sexualized. Which is honestly weird because Japan is a rather modest country. But I’ll be honest we could only handle seeing over accentuated body parts for so long… lol.

So the highlight of Akihabara was easily Owl Cafe Akiba Fukurou. This owl cafe is worth the trip out to Akihabara alone and was without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip. When can you say you got to be in a room with 30+ owls and hold some of them on you arm? Never! This place runs like a well oiled machine too. Its obvious the owners of this cafe are extremely passionate about owls and love every moment of their job. Its clear that these owls are so well taken care of and are in good hands.

The first owl I held was a little itty bitty spotted owl named Sweet Potato. She was the queen of the RBF, but was quite calm and sweet. Little did I know she was one of the most popular owls in the cafe. When it was time for her to get off my arm so someone else could hold her she didn’t want to get off. She really enjoyed my arm if I do say so myself. The second owl I got to hold right before we left was named Charles Xavier (lol). He was super chill and didn’t seem nervous at all unlike some of the other owls in the room. Ryan didn’t quite have the same experience I had. The first owl he held was a huge tawny owl named Spring Onion. Initially he went to pet the owl, but when he did Spring Onion gave him the evil eye and even hissed at him. For whatever reason this prompted the worker to ask if Ryan wanted to hold him… LOL. And when he did he was told not to touch him because he doesn’t like to be touched. Not intimidating at all. The whole time Ryan had him on his arm he looked so mad! The second owl Ryan held was named Almond Caramel and he was a little spit fire. Ryan was told to take his hat off because apparently hats piss him off. However Ryan did get a hilarious selfie with him, its probably the funniest photo from the whole trip- you can see it in my Instagram highlight for Japan!

We walked away from the owl cafe with big smiles on our faces because it was just such a neat experience. If you ever visit to Japan, come to this owl cafe!

April 14, 2019 – A Day in Hakone

After a little bit of a hectic started we embarked two hours south of Tokyo to Hakone! This sweet little resort town could not have been a more perfect day trip for us. Before leaving for Japan we had decided not to go to an onsen to free up some budget space. However after a couple fridged days nothing sounded better than soaking in a piping hot onsen. What a spa resort is here in America is a Ryokan in Japan and an onsen is a bath filled with hot mineral water heated from nearby hot springs – thx Mt. Fuji. We were a solid 30 minutes late to our onsen reservation thanks to train confusion, but the employees at the front desk were so nice and let us have an hour long slot anyways!

If we ever go to Japan again we’ll have to stay at a Ryokan because the onsen was heavenly. We had our own private space where we got to enjoy the hot onsen to ourselves. It was one of the more relaxing things I’ve ever enjoyed. When we left the resort we felt so clean and rejuvenated and ready for the rest of our Hakone adventure.

So the awesome thing about Hakone is the rail line offers a “Free Pass” for a decent price that gives you access to all modes of transportation in Hakone. This includes the train ride to and from Hakone, the bus ride to Lake Ashi, the cruise across the lake, the gondola over the sulfuric mines and the cable car back to the train station. All these means of transportation take you in a perfect loop around Hakone allowing you to experience all the exciting and beautiful things this region has to offer!

Our first stop after the onsen was the bus ride to Lake Ashi. You guys alpine lakes are the best. We were already a fan of them after our honeymoon to Lake Tahoe last year and Lake Ashi certainly didn’t disappoint either! On the shores of the lake are a bunch of cute little shops and eateries, we had a delicious burger at one of them! The main attraction of this spot? The Hakone Shrine! This shrine made me feel like I was on Endore in Star Wars. I was just waiting for Ewoks to start coming out of the woodworks lol. But seriously, this shrine hosted some of the biggest and most glorious trees I’ve ever seen. Not to mention, I’m a big fan of the iconic red torii gate on the shore of Lake Ashi. It truly is a sight that reminds you of this gorgeous country.

After our walk through the shrine, we boarded the boat for our cruise across the lake! It may have been a cold sail across the waters, but it sure was a pretty one! The mountains that surround the lake look like a painting especially with the torii gate from the shrine in perfect view.

From the boat we climbed aboard our gondola up the mountain! This was definitely one of the coolest parts of the day. The gondola soars right over a volcanic sulfur mine! It wreaks of eggy sulfur smell but it’s a fascinating sight to see! You can actually purchase hard boiled black eggs that have been prepared by the volcanic atmosphere – but we decided to skip it, I like eggs but not when they are that hard boiled haha.

The last leg of the loop before heading back to the train station was our cable car ride. Probably the least enjoyable of all the transportation routes just because of how crammed we were. However it did take us to our favorite stop of the day: Hakone Gora Park! This was probably one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen. It sits on the side of a mountain and everything was in bloom all over again. Multiple kinds of sakura trees, all kinds of flowers there was so much color here. Not to mention they had three unique greenhouses that were so impressive! My favorite had a zillion flowers in it – so pretty! I was actually sad when we left because I knew I would never get to do a shoot here. Because guys, a shoot there would be the shoot of my dreams!

Once we got back into Tokyo we enjoyed a late dinner at a ramen spot right across from our AirBnB. It ended up being one of our favorite ramen spots of the trip!

So if you ever go to Japan and you’re looking for an easy day trip – GO TO HAKONE! It is 100% worth a visit!

April 15, 2019 – Our Final Day in Harajuku

When we woke up this morning, I couldn’t believe it was already our last full day. The trip had gone by so fast! I guess it’s true when they say “time flies when you’re having fun.” Our final day was also a great one!

We chose to hit up the ultra trendy Harajuku for our final day. Sitting right next to Shibuya, this neighborhood hosts lots of stores, a crepe shop on every corner, and the latest fashion trends of Tokyo. We decided to spend our morning in a more traditional way at the famous Meiji Shrine.

This shrine is one of the most popular in all of Tokyo! I’m actually not sure if “traditional” is the right way to describe this spot because the emperor this spot is dedicated to and named after was anything but traditional. Emperor Meiji was one cool dude. He is one of the major leaders in Japan’s move into a more modern era. He strongly encouraged more foreign relations with other countries after Japan had been closed off to western countries before his rule. Meiji thought it was important for the country of Japan to start seeing what positive things they could begin implementing in their country from other foreign nations. Before Meiji, Japan was far more traditional and wasn’t as likely to take inspiration from another western land. In fact, across from the famous sake barrels are wine barrels from France. These barrels serve as a tangible representation that wine created a strong bond with France and is a representation of bridging cultural exchange between the two countries– pretty cool!

Not only does the Meiji Shrine tell you all about how neat Emperor Meiji was, but it’s also beautiful! To get to the shrine you have to walk down a long wide open road surrounded by massive trees on either side. The further you walk the more you’re swept into the wilderness and forget that you’re in the biggest city in the world. For a small fee, you can also enter the inner gardens. Here you’ll find the teahouse Meiji built for his wife. Although it’s not the original, as the OG was burned down during WWII – but still so dope that Meiji built his wife a teahouse. Ryan will you build me a teahouse? Can it face a serene lake like Meiji’s too?

So Meiji Shrine was great first stop in Harajuku. Once we left we were reminded we were in a busy spot! Especially as we walked down Takeshita Street – the main drag in Harajuku! I was in need of some coffee and knew exactly where I wanted to go – Reissue! I had seen on Pintrest people getting coffee here with amazing 3D latte art! The latte artist at the store can create all kinds of cute cartoon characters out of foam. I knew I had to purchase and sip on one of his creations. I got Pikachu, and it was awesome to see the artist in action. As a bonus my caramel latte was delicious too!

From Reissue we stopped by another cafe – Cat Cafe Mocha! I’ll keep it 100 with y’all… owl cafes > cat cafes. I love cats so much, but the cats at this cafe were huge jerks. They wouldn’t let you anywhere near them, we got lucky getting the photos we did get! Either way, we had never been to a cat cafe before so it was still quite the experience. However if you’re looking for a similar one, just go play with the cats at the SPCA and bring a water bottle – same experience but better. Those cats will actually let you pet them lol.

Other things we did on our last day: ate a crepe, got a waffle croissant, walked around in a bunch of stores, had a delicious and cheap gyoza lunch, and we had to squeeze in one last conveyor belt sushi experience for dinner!

Our day in Harajuku was very bittersweet. I actually found myself shedding a few tears as we sat to eat a crepe that afternoon. There were things I really missed about home: my soft bed, my spacious shower, the taste of cheese and my mom. But I also was really sad to leave because we had truly experienced the trip of a lifetime!

My whole life when my family goes on a trip, we make sure to pack it full of adventures and things to do. So I was use to having lots of experiences on trips – however this was different. So many things we experienced for the very first time and they were things we’re likely not ever going to experience again unless we come back to Japan. Traveling internationally has provided me with a new perspective that every space is different. That there are beautiful things and beautiful people everywhere you go no matter how different it is from your norm.

Japan was an amazing country to visit and if you’ve never thought about visiting you really should. It’s a stunning country, the people could not be more kind and accommodating and it’s not difficult to navigate. Plus, I’ll give you my itinerary. It’s quite impressive if I do say so myself. I have a Google Drive folder filled with ideas for you 🙂

If you read this whole post and the the other post THANK YOU! It means a lot because this trip meant a lot to us. Next time we go back to Japan we’re going to go to Kyoto and Osaka, and we’ll be sure to make it happen!