1.20.2018

Tokyo Winter Holiday, part 1: Shinjuku - Shibuya - Harajuku

We loved Tokyo! It was my family's first trip to Japan last December and I wished we could have stayed longer. Bitin talaga ang 5 days. My brother and his family joined us on this winter holiday vacation and one of the objectives of this trip was to visit a ski resort for the snow, as requested by the kids. Well, lahat naman kami gusto rin maka-experience ng snow =). 

There's so much to explore in Tokyo alone, so ang hirap gumawa ng itinerary that will accommodate the different interests of the adults, teens, tweens and toddler. I've asked some friends who've been to Tokyo for their recommendations and travel tips. Lots of research too from online resources, some of which I included at the end of this post. Eventually, I was able to come up with a feasible list of activities and places to visit for our group. I would have wanted more sight-seeing though.


Aside from a few tourist spots, food and shopping destinations were also incorporated in our itinerary, but still with a relaxed pace. My must-see list was also pared down to a minimum kasi kulang din sa oras. Since children can be very unpredictable, I did not expect too much out of this trip and just kept our schedules flexible, para hindi rin ako ma-stress if plans get derailed. =)

This is the 1st of a 3-part series. I'll share the activities and rates if I can remember them. Our Japan visa, airline and hotel accommodations were arranged by my cousin's travel agency. Everything else we did on our own.

***

Overview of our Tokyo Itinerary
It's not the best, but this worked out for us based on family interests and limited time. I'll include some of the attractions and places that I really wanted to visit but didn't push through (see items in parenthesis from the itinerary below).


Travel date:  December 26 - 31, 2017
Tavel time Manila-Tokyo: approx. 5 hrs. 15 mins. via PAL
Time difference:  Japan is 1 hour advance
Forex:  est. Php 0.46 = 1 Yen
Hotel:  Shinjuku Prince Hotel


Day 1  :  Shibuya, Harajuku and Omotesando areas (Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park are nearby)
Day 2  :  Tsukiji, Akihabara, and Ikebukuro areas  (Ginza, Asakusa - Tokyo Tower, Senso-ji 
               Temple and Ueno Park+Zoo are alternative destinations after Tsukiji) 
Day 3  :  Shinjuku - Gyoen National Park and shopping day (Tokyo Metropolitan Government  
               Bldg. Observatory and Samurai Museum can be added)
Day 4  :  Shizuoka - Mt. Fuji and Snow Town Yeti (Gotemba Premium Outlet as side trip)
Day 5  :  Narita airport (lunch and last-minute shopping at the airport)


***

Sorry, kulang ako sa photos. I'm disappointed with myself, hahahaha! Besides, no one wanted to wait for me while I try to take touristy shots as we were walking around. Booo... so I shoot whatever I can, kebs na sa framing and lighting.


Arrival: December 26, Narita airport

Transfers
I did not book our airport transfer in advance kasi all my friends recommended to just buy tickets at the airport, whether bus or train. We arrived late in the evening coz flight was a bit delayed. So, when we got to the airport around 9pm, closed na yung mga train and bus station ticket counters! Slight panic.


Narita Express (train)
Based on the hotel's website, the most convenient way is by N'Ex -- 80 minutes from Narita airport to Shinjuku station. Then about 5-8 minutes walk to our hotel.

Taxi / Uber
Expensive.
J decided to book an Uber = Y27,000. Sobrang mahalPikit-mata na lang sa gastos. He's the type who will pay for convenience. Hindi na rin ako kumontra kasi it was getting late, we're all tired, hungry, and it was freezing outside. At that point, nobody wants to walk anymore.

And here's our sweet ride -- a smooth 70-minute drive to the hotel in this spanking new Alphard! We stayed warm and comfy in this spacious van. =)


TIPS:
  • Buy YEN before you leave.
  • Pick a hotel or Airbnb near a station.
  • Buy SUICA pre-paid card at the airport or at the train station vending machine
    • Super convenient all-access train pass
    • We loaded Y2,000 per card and used on all our train rides -- it lasted the entire trip, with a few hundreds to spare
    • Average per ride was less than Y200
    • Re-load at any train station with Suica vending machine
    • Kids below 12 y.o. have discounted rate for train (and bus) but cards not available at the vending machine -- inquire at the station where to buy the Suica kids' card
  • Buy / Rent Pocket WIFI if you need one. I didn't. 
    • I simply activated my Smart GIGAROAM for Php999, 1GB data valid for 5 days
  • Get city and train maps, bus line schedules, etc. at the airport, stations, or hotel
  • Google Maps is your friend
  • Carry your passports at all times - for shopping tax refunds
  • Use Hyperdia.com for time and train route options for each destination
    • Plan your rides and route for each day's itinerary so you know which stations to go -- this saves time from searching while walking
  • Sign up with KLOOK to check out available tours and attractions. Good to see options per destination.
    • I downloaded the Klook app on my phone after signing up. They have a variety of services, plus hassle-free booking and payment process.
    • Coupons and Vouchers can be printed or saved on your phone
    • I used Klook for our Hongkong Disney visit, and booked Tokyo Disney Sea and Sanrio  Puroland admissions for my sis-in-law before. But for our recent Tokyo trip, naubusan na kami ng tour packages for Mt. Fuji and Yeti coz we changed plans at the last minute. It was too late to book when we finally decided.


Hotel

SHINJUKU PRINCE HOTEL
1-30-1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, Tokyo (same building as Seibu Shinjuku Station / Shinjuku West)
Tel: 81-(0)3-3205-1111


Trivia:
Kabuki-cho is considered the entertainment center / red-light district in Shinjuku.
I didn't know about this until after we booked our hotel. Kaya pala there were so many (girlie)bars and night clubs near our hotel, hehehe. Lots of tourists and locals during happy hour, many hanging out on the streets every night! More about this in part 2.

We were able to check in at the hotel around 10:45 p.m.

After getting settled in our tiny room, we explored the side streets to look for a place to eat. So many choices! We ended up having ramen and karaage at a corner restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. It was almost midnight when we finished.

Deluxe Twin Room - photo from Shinjuku Prince Hotel website
ROOMS
For 2 adults and 2 kids (ages 10 & 14), we originally booked 2 standard rooms for 5 nights.
After seeing the spacious room of my brother the next day, J insisted on an upgrade, kasi ang sikip talaga namin sa standard room.

We were given the Deluxe Twin Room on our second night onwards, and added Y4,000 per room per night. Pwede na. Click hotel photo for details.

It's comfortable for two, complete with basic amenities and toiletries, a bathtub with shower, mini ref and chaise lounge. I actually forgot to check the mini bar so hindi ko napansin if we got complimentary bottled water.

VENDO & CONVENIENCE STORES
We always buy drinks from nearby 7-11 or vendo. Average Y100 for single bottled water.
Convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere! Every corner ata meron -- 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson, Mini-Stop. Our hotel has a vending machine on every floor as well.

There's a McDonald's and 7-11 across our hotel, and Segafredo on the side of the building, so breakfast was never a problem.

SHOPPING & DINING
Basement 1 - a mini mart and bakery, as well as buffet resto and cafe.
Basement 2 - SUBNADE underground walkway and commercial center, lined with several shops and restaurants. You'll survive without having to leave the hotel building! =)
Screen grab from Shinjuku Subnade website

It is critical that you pick a hotel near any train station so it's faster and easier to get around.
  • Keio Plaza Hotel - highly recommended based on room sizes and location in Shinjuku ward. It was too expensive when I tried to book for our travel dates.
  • Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel in Shibuya ward
  • Shinjuku Prince Hotel - about 5 to 8 minutes walk to Shinjuku train and bus stations. We're happy with our hotel's accessibility.
Check the different station vicinity maps for more hotel options in your preferred area.


Shinjuku Station
Get to know your nearest station. Shinjuku Station is the probably the world's busiest train station, acting as a major hub that connects five railroads. Click guide here.

Japan has a very efficient public transport system. You need to be attentive once inside the stations kasi it can get confusing. Just follow the signs and don't hesitate to ask the attendants.

Sobrang daming Platforms, Lines, Exits, and directions to watch out for. So, even if we already know what station and where we are going, we still ask which train to catch for our destination, para siguradong tama talaga yung sasakyan namin.
Photo from Shinjuku Station website

There was no need to wake up very early the next day kasi we didn't join any tours naman, and the shops open at 10 to 11 am pa


Day 1  :  SHIBUYA - HARAJUKU - OMOTESANDO Hills

* Meiji Shrine (some shrine buildings currently under renovations) and Yoyogi Park are near Harajuku station - sadly, we were not able to visit.  (Photos from Japan-Guide.com)

"Meiji Shrine is a stately Shinto shrine surrounded by the sprawling Yoyogi Park. The cutting edge of Japanese street fashion is to be found in nearby Harajuku with its elegant Omotesando Avenue, and in the boutiques of Aoyama - all a short walk away." - www.japanvisitor.com




SHIBUYA
Hachiko Statue
A landmark in Tokyo.
Outside Shibuya station is Hachiko, the most famous Japanese Akita dog "remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner, for whom he continued to wait for over nine years" going back to the station everyday, even after his master's death. (Wikipedia.org)


Crossing
I was frustrated that I didn't get a nice shot of the famous Shibuya Crossing
We didn't know where to stand and people were walking too fast for me to pause and frame a shot, hehehe.


I've read online that there's a coffee shop in 109 Men's (white building, leftmost, in photo above) building that has a perfect view of the crossing, but J and kids couldn't care less. Wala, talo talaga ako sa plan ko for a nice photo of the crossing. This is the only shot I got. Meh.

Shibuya 109
A whole building of fashion merchandise! 109 for Women and 109 for Men.
We checked out a few floors and quickly left, kasi wala naman kaming bibilhin dun. "Boring" for the kids, as usual. So we skipped shopping altogether during our stay.

It was too early for lunch so we wandered around and checked out local shops along the way para feeling locals daw.



IQOSphere
Kids not allowed inside. Vape store. Daddy only. :p


Ichiran Ramen
This was on top of my Japan foodie list.
It did not disappoint! We even bought two boxes of their instant ramen para ma-enjoy at home. =)

I actually do not know the exact location of Ichiran in Shinjuku, which was supposed to be near our hotel. So I checked branches in Shibuya since we plan to have lunch there before heading to Harajuku.

Google Maps to the rescue. Kaso, we missed the signage kaya nagtanong pa kami sa sales lady sa store, hahaha! She was very kind, sinamahan pa niya kami kasi hindi kami magkaintindihanNasa tabi lang pala ng building nila yung Ichiran, nalampasan na pala namin.  =)  



Gindaco Takoyaki
If you happen to pass by any Gindaco Takoyaki stall, grab some balls!
There were four variants to choose from. We skipped this stall in Shibuya due to long queue, but luckily found another stall in Akihabara the next day.


Dining places we missed while in Shibuya:
Luke's Lobster, Shake Shack, Tonkatsu MaisenPizzeria e Trattoria da Isa. Maybe next time.

Explored more shops, like Claire's accessories shop, on the side streets before we moved on to Harajuku.


Harajuku
Once you get off the station, you'll see Takeshita Dori on the opposite side.
Takeshita Street is one of the main attractions in Harajuku, the Kawaii capital of Japan.

You will find all sorts of cool and whimsy... and weirdness, hahaha! Parang Stranger Things lang ang peg ng ibang shops. It was very crowded when we went there kaya ang hirap mag Kodakan.



I regret not taking snapshots of the quirky shops along the road. There were just too many! Check Japan-Guide link at the end of the post.

Cat Cafe Mocha - I just had to turn around for a shot, kasi M wished to go to one and we had no time, kaya we did not tell her may nadaanan kami, hehe (evil mom grin).



Omotesando
Referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Élysées.
M planned a major Squishies (I defined it as overpriced scented stress balls) shopping spree in Kiddy Land. It's located on the very high-end row of boutiques along Omotesando street. Let's just say she left the store very accomplished.

J went with her inside while I joined the boy at the nearby Island Vintage Coffee shop for meriyenda and to rest our tired cold feet.



Tokyu Plaza
This is one of the most iconic establishments in Harajuku that you should visit and explore.

I almost missed this building while we were walking back to the station! Again, no decent photo under the magnificent kaleidoscope entrance of Tokyu Plaza.

My companions were itching to go back to the hotel to rest before meeting up with the cousins. Kaya nag-rush na lang ako to take a video while we went up and down the escalator like crazy tourists!



Watch my compiled Instagram Stories to get a glimpse of our day in Shibuya.

Bye, Shibuya! You were a lot of fun!

Hello, Godzilla! The night is young in Shinjuku.

My brother's family left on Christmas day and toured Tokyo Disney Sea. We were supposed to meet up in Harajuku on the 27th so kids can shop in Kiddy Land. But they checked in late at our hotel and the toddler had to nap. We just decided to meet at Bicqlo in Shinjuku, and then dinner at Freshness Burger

It was a good first day in Tokyo!


Watch out for part 2. Tsukiji day.

Where and what we ate in Tokyo:
http://www.mymomfriday.com/2018/01/tokyo-eats-good-eats.html

Snapshots of #jmltokyo on Instagram .

Reference sites I used:


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