The opening leg of our Japan odyssey was a long holiday weekend in Tokyo bookended by visits to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea for Halloween and Christmas. Our plan was do space those visits out with 5 days in the city, and we’ll cover those days in condensed fashion, along with some photos and video, here. As with our Hong Kong Trip Report, a lot of what we did in Tokyo is deserving of dedicated posts, so we’ll gloss over some of this stuff pretty quickly.
Once again, Sarah and I were joined by our friends, Jenn and Guy Selga. We’ve traveled to Japan with them several times, and we usually opt for moderately-sized Airbnb rentals to share with them when spending times in cities. In the case of Tokyo, we really wanted to be on the JR Yamanote Line that circles the center of the city and connects with almost all of its major stations.
Our thinking here was that we could be a bit outside of Tokyo, meaning lower prices while still being ~30 minutes from pretty much everything we wanted to do. This plan worked out exceptionally well, as we found a cheap unit near Tabata Station that was also near a full-size supermarket. For this, we paid about half of what a comparable unit near Shinjuku would’ve cost.
One goal for this visit to Tokyo was to do more points of interest than normal. We frequently stress the importance of simply wandering a place to get a better sense of it, soaking up the atmosphere, culture, and even stumbling upon hidden gems yourself. Our past several trips to Tokyo had skewed heavily in this direction and, to be frank, it was time to actually focus on actual, substantive points of interest.
Actually, we were probably a bit overdue for this. While I could spend weeks meandering around Kyoto or Paris, I can’t really say the same for Tokyo. Reasonable minds may vary, but I find the city much more utilitarian, and offering less to soak up. Don’t get me wrong—the bright lights of Akihabra and some of the quiet parks are lovely, but Tokyo is better suited to being on the move, and doing.
To facilitate a tighter itinerary, we started by creating a Google Doc into which all of us could enter potential things we wanted to do, organized by parts of Tokyo. From that, we narrowed down the list to about 125% of what we’d feasibly be able to accomplish in a day, and put that into a shared Google Map with layers for each day. Everything was then organized by optimal walking or train routes, as well as hours of operation.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’m trying to keep this short (if anyone is interested in a full post on how we use Google’s collaborative tools for planning—or if you’re curious as to what we skipped—drop a note in the comments).
The first day we started out the day right, with a healthy breakfast of junk food. (Plus some bananas for good measure.) If eating pizza chips for breakfast is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
We then headed out to Tama New Town, which is technically in Tokyo, but feels more like the outskirts of the city. This required connecting through Shinjuku Station, where saw this little gem:
Despite Shinjuku Station being a sprawling, labyrinth of tunnels, shopping, and such, we saw this same wall of posters several times during our trip. Not sure why we all found this so amusing, but we did.
It was a moderately long train ride, and something we hadn’t done in the past due to the time commitment. Also, the fact that neither of us are really into Hello Kitty.
We decided to give it a go this time because our friends had really wanted to do it, and because we’ve had success with going in with an open mind and giving random things a chance in Japan. If we didn’t like it, we figured we could always head to Shinjuku after a couple of hours.
The JR station announced that we’d made it to the correct stop.
Along the walk to Sanrio Puroland, we stopped at a convenience store for coffee and such. I got bored with that, so I headed into an arcade next door, where I found this glorious game.
I don’t know what these oversized cans of Pringles did (I’m guessing they weren’t food), but it’s a good thing Sarah didn’t take too long in the convenience store, or I would’ve found out.
Continuing on, we arrived at Sanrio Puroland. I’ll do a comprehensive post on it very soon, but suffice to say, we loved it. Here are a few random thoughts/photos from the experience…
There were only a couple of actual rides at Sanrio Puroland, and of those, only one (the Hello Kitty boat ride) was worthwhile.
That was totally fine, as we paid ~$17 each for our tickets and there were a few long shows that we really enjoyed. Plus, the rides were really low capacity, so waiting for them was tedious.
The food was only so-so at Puroland, but it looked really cute. Fun and worth trying, but mostly for the photos.
The one exception to this was the “pile of meat” at the food court upstairs. I really wanted to give that a try (for the name alone), but I’m guessing it wasn’t anything special.
Several people on Twitter seemed mildly appalled that I’d post a photo of urinals. I didn’t realize that in an era when gratuitous violence and nudity feature prominently in media, that a clean and empty restroom would offend delicate sensibilities.
I mean, why would the designers of Puroland have even built this in 1990 if not so decades later people would post photos of it on social media?! Blame them for creating a bunch of trees that watch you while you [CENSORED]. 😉
The “parade” at Puroland was not so much a parade as it was visual chaos set to lasers and vivd lights. It is not to be missed.
I remarked during the show that it was basically the same plot as Captain EO; this might sound like an odd comparison, but I’ve since heard others say the same. It was bizarre, but in the best and most entertaining way possible.
Hello Kitty in Wonderland was…really something. I’m still not sure what to think of this stage show, which (I guess?) was supposed to be Hello Kitty’s take on Alice in Wonderland.
It seems fairly normal at first, with Alice meeting White Rabbit after stumbling into Wonderland.
After that, all bets are off. White Rabbit becomes Kyle, the Queen of Hearts sings a song about her husband golfing too much and her having botulism injections, before a joker steals her heart. That’s just the beginning of where things get really weird.
The odd part about this was that the production value of the show was really high, the music was great, and the show was an absolute hoot. The four of us were laughing constantly (pretty much the only ones in the theater who ever laughed), and we’d consider it a must-do even if it was really (really) out there.
After a full 6 hours at Sanrio Puroland, we left. Given how inexpensive tickets were and how fun and detailed the experience was, we highly recommend Sanrio Puroland. Probably not if your time is limited in Tokyo, but if you have 4+ days, it’s a good way to spend a morning.
At the train station, Guy found some elusive Coca-Cola Coffee Plus. Apparently, this is a big “internet thing.” Above is a video of us taste-testing the drink that he posted.
From there, we headed back towards the city for dinner. One of the highlights of our visit to Tokyo was eating. I had put hours of effort into researching good places to eat, and I was a bit apprehensive that i was wasting my time.
In the past, we’ve failed at finding some restaurants since map apps have difficulty with the names and the marquees are not in English.
This time, I was less worried about that (Google Maps had all of these), and more concerned that the lines would be prohibitively long.
Our first stop on the dining front was Fuunji Ramen in Shinjuku. I had read that people regularly wait over an hour for this, so I was a bit concerned. We planned it so we arrived 30 minutes after they opened, hoping we’d swoop in after the first wave of patrons (who start lining up an hour before it opens) and before the dinner rush. This worked perfectly; we waited 10 minutes.
The ramen was nothing short of exceptional. I ordered the tsukemen, which had a thick, creamy fish/chicken broth that is about the paramount of “umami.” It absolutely knocked me out into an intense ramen coma, but i didn’t mind. For that evening, this ramen owned the crown of the best I’ve ever had.
I’m not entirely sure how to approach some of the restaurants at which we ate. A stand-alone review might be excessive, but I also can’t do a ‘best of’ list since we have eaten at like .0001% of the good restaurants in Tokyo. Perhaps a ‘ramen places we like in Tokyo’ post?
Our final stop of the night was the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for its Observatory. Above is a look inside the cool atrium of the building that we thought was the Metro Gov’t Building, only to realize we had taken a wrong turn in an underground tunnel.
Here’s what the real Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building looks like. It’s pretty tough to miss:
For a free observation deck, this was pretty cool. It’s not a seamless viewing experience like that of the Tokyo Skytree, and I’d probably recommend that to first-timers already in the area, as its views are much better.
As a free option in Shinjuku, we were pleased with it. (As with other things, a full post will follow on this observation deck.)
They also had a vending machine with Tokyo’s unofficial ambassador, Tommy Lee Jones. It seems like no better note to end the trip report on this. Plus, we were all barely functional at this point, so we decided to call it a night and head back to our Airbnb.
Thus far, this “condensed” trip report is failing spectacularly at offering quick-hits about our experiences in Japan. To be fair, it’s somewhat concise by my verbose standards (and this first installment from Japan included some prefatory info about planning), but it could still use some work. In future installments, I’m going to try focusing less on experiences and points of interest I’ll cover in full posts, and more on random stuff (like that cool oversized Pringles can) that wouldn’t make it into a regular post. Click here to continue reading Day 2 of our Tokyo Fall Trip Report.
Anything in particular you’d like us to cover during our “live” trip reports from Japan? Thoughts on the things we did during our first day in Tokyo? Does Sanrio Puroland look appealing to you? Other thoughts about the things we did? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!