07 August 2016

Konnichiwa Tokyo!

Over Memorial Day weekend, my roommate, Caroline, and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Tokyo. 

Let me back up a bit and explain how it came about...

We knew there was a long weekend coming...we had a half-day on Friday and would have Monday off, so we started researching various options for a weekend getaway. Initially, we looked at Nashville, New York, Portland, Seattle--but tickets were a little higher than we'd expected. Then we thought, "if we're going to pay $300 for a domestic flight, why not pay a bit more and go somewhere international?!" 

We searched GoogleFlights and found round-trip tickets to Tokyo for $450! Cheaper than nearly every major city in the continental United States! So, we jumped on them!

We had some really great connections who'd been to or lived in Tokyo and sent us recommendations on places to visit, places to eat, and even some tips on how to get around with ease.

We bought the tickets on Sunday morning and departed around 11pm Thursday night! (Keep in mind, we had to be back at work Tuesday morning...)


We landed mid-afternoon and were ready to make the most out of our three days in town.

 We checked in to our hotel, changed clothes and headed downtown. First stop: gyoza!

We ate our weight in gyoza and walked around for a little while after--popping in shops and crossing the small bridges over traffic...at least until it felt like a reasonable hour to call it a night. We were wiped out from the red-eye flights and knew we had a full few days ahead of us. Our hotel room was tiny but had a great shower and nice bed, which was all we'd really need.


We were up bright and early Saturday morning. And by early, I mean, about 3:30am. So, by 5am we were out the door and on our way to the Tsukiji Fish Market--by far the top recommendation from our friends on Facebook. And, not without reason!

We stopped by 7Eleven to grab some coffees on our way to the metro.

Several sites and apps had stressed the importance of arriving at the market early...and, though it was just after 6am when we walked up, the place was already bustling! We wandered up and down the aisles doing a mix of shopping and checking out the restaurants. Caroline announced, pretty quickly, that we'd be having sushi for breakfast!

We waited in line for seats in this small sushi restaurant. I was pretty new to the world of sushi, so Caroline ordered for us. It tasted even better than it looks, so I'd say she did a pretty great job! 

 vvv the old man waiting his turn

After breakfast, we went to Ueno Park. We walked through stalls of vendors selling everything from plates to statues and only bought one thing: a giant snow cone.

From there we headed to Senso-ji or Asakusa Kannon Temple. (I should mention that, in addition to being the cleanest major city I've ever visited, Tokyo was also one of the most easily navigable. We only got turned around twice--and, each time, someone in the station came over to assist us!)

I tried my best to convince Caroline to purchase (or rent) a pair of kimonos for the day, but we compromised with this photo instead.

At that point, it was only 11am, but we'd already been awake for several hours--and seen so much!--so we went back to the hotel for a nap. Two hours later, we were back at it.

Up next: The Owl Cafe. We'd heard about several types of cafes in town: cats, rabbits, reptiles. With the hope of taking a photo with Hedwig, I convinced Caroline to visit an owl cafe.

Let me say, this was definitely an animal rights violation in action, so while we are smiling in these pictures, we talked about how heartbreaking it was for hours (and have mentioned it every time we show the pictures). I know we're contributing to the violation by paying to visit, so you don't have to mention that...and we probably wouldn't do it again. We paid the lowest amount: they gave us a glass of water and, once we completely finished our drinks, we were allowed 15 minutes in the owl room.

But, aside from the rope on his leg, this owl is beautiful! And heavy! Just look at those big, lovely eyes!

He was very heavy...and pretty intimidating.

This sweet white bird was more Caroline's style.

After the owls (and some hand sanitizer!) we visited Takeshita Street, famous for the shops that sell Harajuku style clothing and accessories. 

An hour or so of people-watching later, we made our way to a highly recommended ramen restaurant. The line was out the door and across the street, but we each had a book to read, so we were fine to wait. (One of my favorite parts of traveling with Caroline is how comfortable we felt just sitting, drinking coffee, and reading a book--no need to talk every second of the trip!)

Once we walked in, the line continued around the back of the restaurant. We placed our order (and paid) in a vending machine near the front door which printed small tickets that we handed over to the cook when we reached the front of the line. They sat us and handed us our order within a minute or two. Their system was incredibly efficient!

Ramen with bamboo shoots!

After dinner it was, once again, time to go to sleep. We slowly made our way through the streets and back to the metro with ease.


Sunday morning began beautifully: with a breakfast buffet overlooking the city! The hotel restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows on one of the top floors--a 360-degree view of the city. Oh, and they played Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits through the whole thing! It was the best. We had several cups of coffee, eggs and toast, and even tasted some octopus pastries while we talked about how we'd spend our last full day. The plan was to site-see until lunchtime and then head out to Tokyo Disney.

But, first things first: donuts and Godzilla.

We'd read about a Hello Kitty cafe that was supposed to have some adorable cat-like (shape? design? who knows...) donuts, but when we got there we were told it had closed down. We made the most of it by popping into Uniqlo to do some shopping. As we walked into the dressing room, we were handed a face mask--most likely this is to prevent makeup from getting on the clothing, but we were not able to confirm this. (We laughed as we walked out of the store because Caroline and I had each taken a mirror selfie with the net on without the other knowing and then excitedly showed one another as we left the store.)

We then headed to a gorgeous park, filled with gardens with flowers from around the world.

Couldn't pass up this bad ass shot on the way back to the subway.

There was another Shrine in a park closer to Takeshita Street that we'd hoped to see, but after walking a half mile around the gate, looking for an entrance, we gave up and made our way back to do explore more of the area we'd rushed through the night before...and have lunch.

While waiting in line for another round of gyoza and some celebratory sake, we ran in to someone Caroline knows from a salon in CA. Crazy to be so far from home and hear her say, "Hey, I know that guy!" (As it turns out, he and his friends were on our flights home the next day, so we hung around with them in the airport.) They told us Tokyo Disney was a little further outside of town than the map had shown, so after lunch, we headed over to a 5-story mall for a Frappuccino and souvenir shopping. (My cup says, "Arigato" or, "Thank You!")

When we left the mall, we knew there was only one more big tourist spot left to see: Shibuya Crossing. We'd read online that the best view of the street was from the Starbucks on the 2nd story of the record store, so we ran straight up to grab a spot by the window...

After watching the madness unfold a couple of times, we went down to join the action!

With very tired feet, we walked down the street to a sushi place for dinner. The line was super long (a sign that the place would be good!) but moved quickly--and we each read our books while we waited. The food was delicious and just what we needed to get us back to our hotel for one final night's sleep.


Our flight on Monday was at 4pm, so we had the morning to do some exploring. We'd been told that Tsutaya Bookstore was "the most amazing bookstore you'll ever see" and for two big readers, this was the perfect last stop.

Just reading my book club book on the way to the shop... while enjoying my final 7-11 coffee, of course.

Three two-story buildings, connected by bridges and walkways make-up what is now my favorite bookstore ever. I spent at least twenty minutes walking through the Children's section looking for books I recognized...and looking through many I didn't.

This display was my favorite!

As I toured the grounds, I caught Caroline reading in the lobby of the coffee shop.

Though we spent three hours there, it was not nearly enough time. I can't wait to spend a whole day browsing and reading in the lounge next time! I bought a book for our flights and a copy of The Great Gatsby in Japanese because I loved that I knew exactly what it was from its cover.

And with that, our time was coming to an end. We went back to our hotel to change and pick up our bags, then shared a quick order of fries while we waited for a taxi. 

Obviously, we couldn't leave Tokyo without one more round of gyoza. 

During our layover in China, we made friends with one of the employees in the gift shop, who happily took some photos of us. 

We landed at LAX at 6pm, had Chipotle with my mom, and made it home in time to catch my friend Ethan's show and for Caroline to watch The Bachelor. We were back at work the next morning like it had been any old weekend.

After all of this, we're itching for another trip! There are a lot of Google Flight searches going on at our house these days. I can't wait to share where we choose to go next!

By the way, on our flights, I read The Circle by Dave Eggers. I couldn't put it down and landed at LAX with only 20 pages left! Such a great, captivating story--I highly recommend it.


Julie Hibbard said...

Love re-visiting this trip with you!! Osso much fun!!

Unknown said...

Sounds like you had blast. Did you have Gwen Stefani songs in your head the whole time?