KIMCHI AND BEANS' CITY GUIDES
TOKYO CITY GUIDE
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WHY TOKYO? From neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples, Tokyo has it all. This is a city of over 9 million people, with over 500 train stations, over 160,000 restaurants, not to mention the hundreds of attractions in the metropolitan and suburban areas. Needless to say, it pays to plan ahead.So start planning! In this guide, we give you some practical information on how to get around, where to stay and what to do and eat when you visit.
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BEFORE YOU GET THERE Booking your tickets Find the perfect balance between time and cost savings. Cheaper flights could mean longer layovers and additional lodging expenses. Also, consider traveling off-season and leaving or arriving midweek. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re traveling to multiple destinations, like Korea or China, it might be cheaper to book your round-trip to one of those countries instead of Japan. Then, you can book low-cost flights between countries. Narrow down your to-do list Make a realistic list of the cities and attractions that you would like to visit. Research distance and give yourself enough time to rest. Get all the addresses in-language. Open Google maps, go to language preferences and switch the language to Japanese. Then, enter the address of each destination in English and it should give you the address in Japanese. Print them and take them with you. If you need directions, you can always point to that reference.
Request foreign currency at the bank. Japan is a cash-centric society so it will be helpful to have cash when you arrive. A few weeks before your trip, request Japanese currency in advance at your local bank. Keep in mind not every branch has foreign currency at hand. Once youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re there, you can get cash from any 711 with an ATM machine or bank. Bring comfortable walking shoes. Even if you're used to walking in a city like New York or Chicago, you'll be walking so much more in Japan. To get to some of the attractions, you'll walk considerable distances from train stations and bus stops, and in the attractions themselves. Shoes like Converse Chuck Taylor's won't do. You'll need shoes that let your toes breathe and don't squash them together to avoid blisters.
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ARRIVING AND LEAVING No visa required Getting your passport stamped won’t be a problem. But make sure to keep printed copies of your plane tickets. The immigration agent might ask to see the departure date.
We took the Skyliner train, but here are your options: Limousine bus: It will cost you around $37 per person from Narita to the center of Tokyo (Shinjuku). You can book in advance or at the airport and it takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes, depending on traffic.
Narita Airport. Most likely, you’ll arrive here. This is the biggest airport in Japan and it’s indeed huge. Give yourself time to walk from the bus/train terminal to your airline check-in booth. (We walked about half a mile to and from the train station and gate, so you get an idea.) Also, keep in mind that the airport is 60 kilometers (37.2 miles) from the city. It will take you over an hour to get to the city and vice versa. Getting from the airport to Tokyo. Limousine bus or train. Those are your two options... Unless you have about $250 dollars to drop it like it’s hot! Because that’s how much a taxi will cost you to get to the center of Tokyo.
SKY Access Line (Skyliner): It will cost you $21.96 to Ueno with a free transfer to a local city train that will take you to your desired city station. It takes about 40 minutes to Ueno, plus any amount of time from Ueno to your destination. It also operates on a set schedule. Keisei Main Line: It will cost you $9.15 to Ueno, but then you would have to transfer to a local train. Narita Express JR Line: (N’EX) It will cost you $35.55 round trip to and from Narita to Tokyo station and it operates every 30 minutes. It takes about an hour to the city. Transfers to local trains are available, but you will have to choose between available timetables.
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STAY CONNECTED Portable Wifi vs. Sim Card. Google Maps is incredibly useful to get around in Japan. Not every street is properly labeled, not to mention how incredibly confusing the train stations are. If you have Google Maps on your phone, you can follow it pretty faithfully and it will get you where you need to go. But, of course, in order to use Google Maps you’ll need portable Wifi. You can choose between renting a Pocket Wifi or buying a Prepaid Sim Card.
Pocket Wifi: You can rent these in advance or at the airport for about $9 a day. If you’re renting in advance, finding the booth at the airport might be tricky. Various companies might use the same booth to do business, but when in doubt, ask at the Airport Information Booth. You can choose to return your device at Narita or at another airport in the country.
Prepaid Sim Cards: These can be purchased at many convenience stores in Japan but internet access is available only on the device with the sim card.
GETTING AROUND Suica or Pasmo. You’ll need one of these transportation cards to get around, unless you’re planning on buying a ticket every time you’re riding a train. Get a card at any convenience store like 711 or Lawson. (There are convenience stores at the airport too.) Also, there’s no real difference between cards. They’re just made by different companies. You can only recharge them with cash at any automated machines at different stations. When it’s time to leave Japan, make sure to return them at the airport to get the remaining balance back. JR Train Pass. If you’re traveling to multiple cities in Japan, you might want to consider getting this unlimited train pass. A 7-day pass will cost you around $258 dollars and it will give you access to JR trains, buses, ferries and the Shinkansen or bullet trains. (We didn’t get this because we took a low-cost flight from Osaka to Tokyo, which was the cheaper option for us. Then, bought the local train card in Osaka, known as Icoca.)
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LOCAL TRANSPORTATION Trains. Tokyo has several railway systems running simultaneously. Different systems also appear on different route maps. So yes, it can be confusing. The good news is that you can rely on Google Maps for guidance and your Suica or Pasmo card will let you tap in and out at different stations. Fares will vary depending on distance. Once you tap out, your card will be charged. And if you pay close attention, when you tap your card, the scanner will tell you how much your card has been charged.
Lastly, the trains will stop working between midnight and 5 a.m., so plan accordingly. Finding a cab at that time can be a nightmare. Buses. While we didn’t ride a lot of buses in Tokyo, that option does exist. Just follow the app and use your Suica or Pasmo to pay the fare. Taxis. This option is crazy expensive in Tokyo, but a lifesaver when your feet can’t take it anymore. To save some money, consider taking a cab to the nearest train station instead of your destination.
LOCATION CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EXPERIENCING TOKYO AS A LOCAL OR AS A TOURIST FIRST BREAKFAST AT OUR AIRBNB
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WHERE TO STAY Hotels. If you prefer to arrive in Tokyo and quickly check into your room, then hotels are your best bet. They might be slightly pricier and you might be charged per number of guests, but it’s easy. There’s always someone at the lobby ready to answer any questions. And most likely, your hotel will also have additional services, such as room service, a nice bar and laundry. Airbnb. Airbnb tends to be more affordable. You can rent an entire apartment, a home or just a room for a number of nights. You have access to a kitchen and sometimes even a washing machine. But you do have to contact a host and exchange several emails prior to arriving at your Airbnb. If the host is not greeting you when you arrive, make sure he or she gives you proper instructions on how to get to the place, how to get into the home and the house rules. Having a great host makes a big difference, so read the reviews.
A good host will give you good instructions and recommendations on what to do and eat around the neighborhood. Popular Areas. Ueno: This area is highly recommended for budget-friendly options, both Airbnb or hotels. It’s also more residential, so you’ll be close to lots of neighborhood markets and affordable places to eat. The only negative is that it can be a bit far from many of the attractions, about 40 minutes to the popular Shibuya Crossing. Shinjuku: This is the Tokyo from the movies. Think bright neon lights everywhere, exciting streets and hidden alleys, and the world’s busiest subway/railway station. You’ll be in the middle of it all, with lots of great stores, cafes, restaurants and entertainment.
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Asakusa: This area is also not as expensive as Shinjuku or Shibuya, but not the cheapest either. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s located at the northeast edge of central Tokyo, making it a very good base for sightseeing.Â Shibuya: Depending on the location of your Airbnb or hotel, the experience will be very different. It will be closer to the Shibuya Crossing area, with lots of stores, restaurants and entertainment to choose from. But the closer you get to Yoyogi Park, the quieter it will be. We stayed about 10 minutes north of the crossing and experienced a more chilled vibe with small restaurants and bars near our Airbnb. It was perfect for us.
FIND LOCAL SPOTS THAT SPECIALIZE IN ONE DISH ONLY. PORK KATSU AT TONKATSU TONKI MEDUGO, TOKYO
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FOOD Breakfast. In Japan, breakfast is a simple affair. A more traditional meal includes miso soup, rice, fish and natto (fermented soybeans). If you’re in a rush, a piece of bread or pastry with coffee or tea will do. Most locals also eat breakfast at home or grab it to-go at a convenience store — meaning that you won’t find many places open or offering breakfast early in the morning, unless you’re OK with going to Starbucks or a westernized venue. Our go-to for breakfast were the conbinis. Konbinis. 7-11. Lawson. Family Mart. These were our go-to’s for affordable, quick meals that we could eat on-the-go or enjoy at our Airbnb. Try all the sandos (Japanese sandwiches!), starting with the egg salad and katsu sando. You can also enjoy hot croquettes, fresh salads, lots of unique and delicious instant ramen and readymade meals that your cashier will warm up for you. Most options are made fresh daily and are super delicious.
Food courts at department stores. Many department stores in Japan have a food section in the basement of their building. And you will find everything you can think of! Food is high quality too and for the most part, affordable. A good example is the Tokyo Food Show at the Shibuya Station. We found food favorites from different areas of Japan and it was a good way to get smaller portions of different foods we wanted to try. Do keep in mind, however, that not all items are warmed up, so you might have to eat it at room temperature or take it back to your Airbnb or hotel room. Markets. There are so many markets in Japan! We highly recommend visiting at least a couple of them, starting with the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. You’ll not only eat good food, but you’ll learn so much about Japanese cuisine and cooking techniques. It’s also a great place to purchase quality kitchen knives and gadgets, as well as delicacies and spices to take home. Supermarkets. It took us a while to find a decent size supermarket, but they do exist. We stopped by one more out of curiosity than anything, but you’ll find lots of the same items you would at a western grocery store, plus the unique items you’d expect to find in Japan. If you’re just looking for daily necessities and convenient meals, konbinis will do just fine.
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MUST EATS Looking for the top Yelp restaurants in Tokyo can be a serious pain in the butt when you have a list of attractions to visit. So instead of focusing on where to eat, we focused on what we wanted to eat. Depending on the area that we were and what we wanted to try that day, we would ask around or look for the most recommended place. This list is only some of our favorites.
Egg Salad Sando: The egg salad tastes like mousse and it’s just addictive. Find it at any konbini. 7-11 and Lawson are the best! Pork katsu with rice: If you can make it to Tonki in Meguro, we highly recommended that restaurant. Otherwise, look around. There are lots of local joints that serve this. Curry: Japanese curry has a unique taste and when served with rice, it’s such a comforting dish. Try a local place or the popular Curry House Ichibanya chain (Coco Curry). If you’re sensitive to spice, make sure to order “mild”.
Ramen and Tsukemen: Try ramen noodles in a heart-warming broth or dip room temperature noodles in a slightly more intense broth. Try both if you can! Every ramen shop has its own style and broth base: Shio (salt-based), shoyu (soy sauce-based), miso (soybean-based) or tonkotsu (pork bonebased). Our favorite is definitively the tonkotsu base, but try several if you can.
Sushi: You can't leave Japan without trying the cream of the crop. Eat sushi at various locations if you can: at markets, sushi shops and conveyor belt restaurants. It’s hard to eat bad sushi in Tokyo. The best sushi we tried was at Tsukuji market, straight from the fish vendor. But the most affordable sushi we tried was also great. We went to Genki Sushi for some of the most unique sushi.
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Gyudon: Think thinly sliced ribbons of beef simmered with sweet onions with a soy sauce-based sauce and served over a bed of rice. There’s nothing like it and it’s all over Japan. Yoshinoya or Sutadonya are two very popular Japanese chains where you can get a decent bowl for less than $5 dollars.
Croquettes: This was our go-to snack when visiting food markets. It’s usually prepared with mashed potatoes and ground beef and costs just about $1 dollar. Strawberries or Seasonal Fruit: Seasonal fruit in Japan is ridiculously sweet and fresh. It might be on the pricier side, but it’s totally worth trying it. Plus, it will help keep you hydrated during your trip. Okonomiyaki: Osaka is the best city for Okonomiyaki, but you’ll be able to find very decent ones in Tokyo. This pancake is prepared with lots of cabbage, meat and noodles, and amazing with beer.
Tendon Bowl: If you’re a fan of tempura, you’re going to love this bowl. Different types of vegetables, seafood or meat are deep fried in a light batter and served over rice with a light sauce. To ensure quality, you might want to skip the budget restaurants for this dish. We paid about $22 for a decent bowl that included seafood. Melon Pan: It’s crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and not too sweet. You’re going to love it with a cup of coffee or tea.
Mochi: This rice flour treat is Japan’s pride and joy. Try it grilled with sweet soy sauce or with tea at a local tea house. Green Tea Desserts: Green tea desserts are huge in Japan and the combination of bitter and sweet makes them delicious and unique. Try it in pastries, ice cream, cake and flavored milk. Tea: Try all the tea you can, at a tea shop, at a tea house, at a market, anywhere. It will open your eyes.
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Kobe beef: Enjoy the most tender and succulent beef, with a high degree of marbling that makes it so flavorful. No need to spend a small fortune either. Get good quality Kobe at various markets for a fraction of the price. Udon: Here’s another noodle dish that you’re going to love. Try it as a soup with thinly sliced beef on top or sautéed with curry. Onigiri: This delicious rice sandwich tastes like a Japanese morning. It’s wrapped with seaweed and filled with ham, tuna, plum, beef and a number of other ingredients.
Yakitori: Who doesn't like meat on a stick? And nothing pairs better with a nice cold beer. So hit an Isakaya and order away! Omoide Yokocho is the perfect area to try several yakitori spots in one night.
TIPPING Tipping in Japan is not customary. In some cases, it could even seem offensive. Just be polite and thankful for the service. Compliment the food, say how tasty it is, but don’t tip.
LET YOUR PERSONAL PASSIONS GUIDE YOUR TRIP. COZY BAR IN THE BACK STREETS OF SHIBUYA
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SOME OF OUR FAVORITE ATTRACTIONS If you only have a week in Tokyo, this is what we recommend as our musts. But having said that, make sure your experience matches your personal interests. This city truly has attractions to suit every personality. Also — and we can’t stress this enough — make sure to leave enough time to wander around and get lost in new adventures. Spiritual. Meiji Temple and Yoyogi Park: To get some perspective on how perfectly balanced this city truly is, we highly recommend spending an hour or two strolling down this green oasis. Find peace under the amazingly tall trees and write down your wishes for the future. Leave your worries behind at the 98 year-oldshrine. Senso-ji and Asakusa area: Located in Asakusa, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple and the most impressive. Locals and tourists line up to pay their respects and waft some of the incense smoke that is said to cure ailments and improve health. Don’t forget to take a picture at the iconic Thunder Gate or Kaminarimon as you enter. And before you leave, enjoy local snacks at Nakamise street with about 90 different stalls to choose from.
Markets. Tsukiji Outer Market: If you want to immerse yourself in Japanese food culture, Tsukiji Market is a must. It’s not only the most famous of over 10 wholesale markets in central Tokyo but one of the largest fish markets in the world. We came here for the sushi, the unique spices and to get our very own customized chef knife. So much to see and eat! Tokyo Food Show: Plan to have lunch here or take a few staples home for dinner. It’s conveniently located at the Shibuya train station, it’s affordable and you won’t run out of options. If you’re curious about the ingredients or preparation, the vendors will kindly answer your questions.
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Shopping and entertainment. Shibuya: This is one of Tokyo’s largest commercial and entertainment districts. As many as 2,500 people cross its famous crossing every time the light changes, making it the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. Aside from Tokyo Food Show, stop by the famous Hachiko Square, do a little shopping, enjoy the nightlife, have a bite with the locals at Nonbei Yokocho or visit the more hipster bars and Izakayas, like Alleyway Bar Abaraya, Teppen Otokodojo, The Legless Arms or Oslo Brewing. Shinjuku: To get a feeling for how big this city is, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The views from the top are spectacular and entrance is free.
You can also check out the Godzilla Head, the popular Robot Restaurant and Omoide Yokocho for a taste of bar culture in Tokyo and great yakitori. Omotesando and Harajuku: Renowned for its colorful streets and fashion scene, Harajuku is a popular neighborhood among teenagers in Tokyo. And let’s not forget the unique street food and sweets making Harajuku highly Instagrammable. But in case you’re wondering, there’s another side to this beloved area — more relaxed and livable. Just follow the tree-lined Omotesandō Ave to Tokyu Plaza and head straight to the rooftop. Enjoy spectacular views with an iced yuzu tea.
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For the kid within. Odaiba: This is a huge complex with various museums, attractions and stores. Some of the most popular spots are the Observatory Sphere, the Palette Town Ferris Wheel, the indoor spring Oedo-Onsen Monogatari, the National Museum of Science and Innovation, The Mega Web and the Unicorn Gundam in front of Diver City. Akihabara: This is Tokyo's Electric Town and the heart of Japanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Otaku culture. Some of the most popular stores are Super Potato, Kotobukiya, Animate and Tamashii Nations. Make sure to compare prices and visit the second-hand stores. And if you have time, dare to find the hidden Akihabara Shrine.
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Daiso: This is Japan’s dollar store. But so much better! You can get everyday items like towels, tools and soup, as well as unique souvenirs to take home. We loved their variety of rice seasonings or furikake, their cute stationary, the bento boxes, tea cups and health and beauty products. There are also over 2,800 stores in Japan, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one.
Shopping for souvenirs. Finding affordable souvenirs in Tokyo is actually not impossible. Here, we're only including our two favorite discount stores, but you can also check out Tokyu Hands, Muji and local outdoor markets.
Don Quijote: There are 23 Don Quijote or Donki stores in Tokyo, but one of the best ones is next to the Shibuya Crossing. It's open 24 hours and you’ll never want to leave. They have a great food section, unique gadgets for the home, a huge variety of Japanese souvenirs and a great toy and electronics section.
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MIND YOUR MANNERS Here’s just a small list of Japanese manners that we’ve learned in preparation for our trip. 1. Slurping your noodles is OK, even encouraged. But if you need to be closer to your bowl, raise the bowl and eat. Avoid hunching over the bowl. 2. Do not stick your chopsticks in the rice, and do not cross them on your plate or when resting them at the table. 3. If you’re riding the train with a guy, do not take the women-only passenger car. We learned the hard way. 4. Be quiet onboard the train. Don’t play music or talk on your phone. 5. Overall, keep your voice down and don’t play loud music in your Airbnb.
6. Japanse people are very sensitive about their privacy. When taking pictures or recording videos, be careful of not filming people directly. 7. Having said that, not many restaurants and stores allow pictures or video either. It's polite to ask. 8. Do your best to say hello and thank you in Japanese. Kon’nichiwa and Arigatogozaimashita. If you like the food, say “Oishi” or delicious. 9. For women in Japan, it is OK to show legs. Wear shorts or skirts. It's not so Ok to show cleavage. Cover up. 10. Make sure to wash your hands and rinse your mouth when entering a temple or shrine.
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DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS FOR US? If you're planning a trip to Tokyo, leave us your questions or comments on Instagram @kimchiandbeans. We'll do our best to answer. We hope you enjoy this city guide and thank you so much for your support. Safe travels!
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BY KIMCHI AND BEANS