Tokyo Trip On a Budget: DAY 3 (Shinjuku + Harajuku)

This is the last leg of our Tokyo trip on a budget. We saved this day for our attempt to be one with nature. From the concrete jungle that is Tokyo, we needed a sweet escape and appreciate the city in spring which is actually the best time to be there. We planned to spend the morning, have a picnic, take a lot of photos at Shinjuku Gyoen. It was the end of March and the cherry blossom trees were still not in full bloom, but thank god there were some early bloomers. Still, with sore feet and legs, we went straight to a Family Mart and shopped for our picnic food: sushi rolls, chips, churros, sandwiches, and coffee. From Shibuya station, Shinjuku is just 7 minutes away.

You can actually walk from Shinjuku station to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden if you’re not a group of little grandmas with early signs of arthritis like us. But if you are, take another train via Marunouchi Line and alight at the Shinjukugyoenmae station. From this station, you can save yourselves a good deal of energy that you would be needing for the day ahead. You may ask around or use Google maps to locate the park entrance since it’s not visible from this station.

SHINJUKU GYOEN NATIONAL GARDEN. Entrance fee is ¥ 200 ($ 1.60/ ₱ 73). It was a bit crowded since it was practically cherry blossom season, but not as much as in April so it was a very nice day to sit on the grass and have a picnic like everybody else was doing.

We sat next to the Real Housewives of Tokyo.

Obligatory photo ops with cherry blossoms.

The park was actually really huge that we weren’t able to see everything during the 2 hours that we were there.

I can only imagine how this would all look like in full bloom. I will definitely come back but I’ll make sure it will be in early April.

We thought we could take the time to get in touch with Japan’s history by shrine-hopping but we were just able to visit one. Next time, I’ll take note that some temples and shrines close early in the afternoon.

HANAZONO SHRINE. The only shrine we were able to see was the Hanazono Shrine. It’s a tranquil shrine in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku. There weren’t many tourists when we went there.

If you’re a superstitious person or you just want to immerse yourself in their traditions, you may buy an ema (a small piece of wooden plaque) and write any wish you have and hang it up at the temple.

Shinto worshippers clean their hands and mouth with water at the cleansing station.

HARAJUKU. Our next stop was Harajuku, with the hope of seeing teenage girls wearing all the clothes they own at once.

I had read that many of their kind hang out at Takeshita street but we didn’t even dare to pass. There were tourists actually standing at the end of the street just looking at the crowd as if this was an attraction to them.

Harajuku Street is actually a lot calmer.

5 PM in the afternoon is not a very good time to look for Japanese restaurants. A lot of them are closed at that time and re-open at 6 so you have fewer choices. Things are quite expensive in Harajuku, including food so we were lucky we found this local restaurant hidden from the main streets. They only served gyozas and vegetables if I’m not mistaken.

KIDDYLAND. After loading up on gyozas, we went to Kiddyland: Japanese toy paradise. It’s a 5-storey toy store with all the Japanese (and non-Japanese) cartoon characters you can think of, even the creepy ones.

DON QUIJOTE. Since it was our last night in Tokyo, we had to save the night for souvenir-shopping. The best place to do this is in Donki (Don Quijote). There are many branches all over Tokyo but since we stayed in Shibuya, we opted to shop near as we were sure we would be carrying a lot of stuff after shopping. It has everything your family or friends want you to bring home – Green tea-flavored Kitkats, instant ramen noodles, souvenir shirts, and magnets.

Our Japan quickie was one helluva trip. If you need tips on how to go about planning yours, watch out for my next post.

Tokyo Trip On a Budget: DAY 2 (Tokyo Disneyland + Akihabara)

I’ve been to Universal Studios, I’ve been to Legoland but this was my first time in Disneyland – home of the most sexist and racist animated movies. Anyway, theme parks attract me, but I guess I just reached the age where I prefer taking in all the energy and excitement of being in a theme park by people-watching and taking pictures rather than trying every ride that I see.

We went on a weekday but boy, was it crowded. I went with my two friends and we sometimes got separated among the crowd.

This was actually my first time to ride the Tokyo metro. We used the Pasmo Card we previously bought at the airport for ¥ 2000 ($ 16.76/ ₱ 745). While I was planning our itinerary, I had computed the train fares for each trip and the total as well. For the 2 days that we got around by train, ¥ 2000 was just enough.

TOKYO METRO. Our apartment was just a few minutes’ walk away from the Shibuya train station but still, it was a real torture to my legs and feet. I still hadn’t recovered from Day 1’s Shibuya walkathon. Plus, the cold weather wasn’t helping at all. We took the Hanzomon Line and transferred to Keiyo Line.

After reaching Maihama station, we hopped on the Disneyland monorail. One-way ticket costs ¥ 260 ($ 2.18/ ₱ 97).

Of course, it’s Mickey Mouse-themed.

This is just a sneak peak of Japanese girl cliques with matching outfits in Disneyland. So much more of their kind inside the theme park. I guess Japan makes it look cool. Back in the Philippines, this would just be plain tacky.

TOKYO DISNEYLAND THEMED AREAS

  1. WORLD BAZAAR. This is impossible to miss since it’s basically the gateway to the theme park. It resembles Main Street, USA, inspired by Walt Disney’s hometown. It is filled with specialty shops, restaurants and “street vendors” of all things Disney. These Disney characters-inspired headbands and headgears are pretty much their cash cow items. Almost everyone in the park bought one and wore it around the park.
  2. WESTERNLAND

LUCKY NUGGET CAFE. We were in such a hurry, we forgot to grab a bite. We arrived at around 11 AM and the first thing we did once we got in was to look for something to eat. Something heavy. We searched for lunch meals on the Disneyland map and we decided to go for some fried chicken. One combo meal costs ¥ 1020 ($ 8.55/ ₱ 380).

MARK TWAIN RIVERBOAT. We hopped on this one because there were no long queues, and that’s pretty much our most important criteria on choosing which attraction to try. Having three decks, the boat has a large capacity, hence no queues involved. I wasn’t listening to the narrator but I still enjoyed the ride while I took photos of wildlife and American Indian villages.

SHOOTIN’ GALLERY. I passed this up but went with my friend who wanted to try it. This is one of the pay-to-play attractions, ¥ 200 ($ 1.68/ ₱ 75) for 10 shots. My friend only hit one though.

  1. FANTASYLAND

MICKEY’S PHILHAR MAGIC. This was one of the two 4D attractions that we visited in the park. We still had to queue but just for a few minutes since the theatre had a large capacity. So as usual, we were given 3D glasses and we watched a short movie starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Aladdin, Ariel, Simba, etc. in freaking Japanese! It was cool to watch it in a different language but I didn’t understand a thing.

QUEEN OF HEARTS BANQUET HALL. It’s an Alice in Wonderland-themed cafeteria-style restaurant, so expect whimsical decors. It actually took us more than 30 minutes to get our food because of the long lines.

I had the Child’s Set for ¥ 890 ($ 7.46/ ₱ 330) because I wasn’t really hungry. The food was yummy but expensive for the quantity.

HAPPINESS IS HERE PARADE. It started at around 3 PM and it was pretty much the highlight of the day. A few minutes before, we looked for a nice place to sit. Somewhere not too far yet not too near since I had brought my prime lens.

I know I can be cynical and hateful sometimes but man, this parade almost made me cry for joy. I guess it just made me well up with emotion. I thought I was weird, but my friends told me they felt the same way after watching it. Haha.

  1. TOMORROWLAND

STAR TOURS: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE. This might be my favourite attraction in Tokyo Disneyland. It reminded me of USS’ Transformers but that one was better in my opinion. It had long lines as well but you could buy a FastPass if you want to jump the queue.

You can watch some Star Wars characters speaking in Japanese and giving you a bit of a background story to what you will be experiencing. Obviously, I didn’t understand anything so I just enjoyed the 3D ride inside the Starspeeder 1000.

We did pass by all the themed zones but unfortunately were not able to experience everything since we had plans for the night – AKIHABARA SOILED PANTY HUNTING. Aren’t you just curious to see how could they actually sell those stuff or if it was just all a myth?

After taking the Disneyland monorail, we took the Keiyo Line then transferred to Hibiya Line.

Kidding aside, we planned our night to take in the vibe of Tokyo’s gadget district.. and to look for Animé stuff our friends back home asked us to buy.

YODOBASHI-AKIBA. Like Tokyu Hands, it’s a mega department store of everything you need to win in life. They don’t only sell electronics and gadgets, they have all sorts of Animé toys and stuff, high-end bags and perfumes, and basically everything.

(RANDOM RAMEN RESTAURANT) – I actually don’t know the name of the restaurant we went to. They didn’t have an English name or an English menu but we tried it anyway. We just ordered based on the pictures. I thought I ordered a spicy miso-based ramen but they gave me a curry-based one, which I’m not really a fan of. I consumed half of it and just munched on the gyozas.

After an incredibly exhausting day, we bought some stuff from Family Mart for a midnight snack and finally called it a day.

Tokyo Trip On a Budget: DAY 1 (Shibuya)

Several weeks before our trip, we booked an AirBnB apartment for the 3 nights that we would be staying in Tokyo. For me, AirBnB is great news for cheapskate travelers who either don’t want to couch surf or stay in a dingy hostel room. You can get decent and sometimes very cozy apartments for a very low price. Fortunately, we found this very cute apartment located in Shibuya, which is actually one of the most ideal neighborhoods to stay in Tokyo.

NARITA AIRPORT. We arrived late morning in Tokyo from Manila. As soon as we’ve cleared immigration and got our luggage, we went to the Airport Limousine bus ticket booths located just outside the arrival area. We bought one-way bus tickets from Terminal 2 to Shibuya Hotel Excel Tokyu for ¥ 3,100 ($ 26/ ₱ 1154) each. Obviously, this was not our hotel, but our apartment was just an 8-minute walk from there.

CAFÉ CROISSANT. While waiting for our 1:00 PM bus, we had a light lunch at Café Croissant at the airport. I admit that my first meal in Japan was not Japanese food but this was also the last Western food I ate on our whole trip. I really love the Starbucks Discoveries Matcha Latte they sell in 7Eleven and Family Mart, I wish we had it here.

Convenience stores here make me happier than they should.

AIRPORT LIMOUSINE BUS. Third world country citizens that we are, we weren’t very prepared for the spring weather of Tokyo. What more if we went during winter. We waited for the bus outside the airport while we held each others’ hands for warmth. The bus arrived on time and they helped us put our wheeled luggage underneath.

I mostly slept through the almost one hour trip, but I was able to take photos before arriving at Shibuya Hotel. They dropped us off the 5th floor of the hotel and goshdarnit was it freezing cold and windy. From there we went down the hotel and walked our way to the apartment.

SHIBUYA MYCASTLE APARTMENT. Our AirBnB host gave us instructions how to get from the hotel to her apartment. She actually sent me a photo album of the landmarks that we were going to pass upon arriving at her place. It was really awesome crossing the famous Shibuya scramble for the first time. After 15 minutes of walking and being lost at some point, we finally arrived.

Our host told us not to talk to the receptionist or anyone in the building, so we had to figure out how to get her key from the lockers and get to her top floor apartment. All of this mind boggling experience was worth it when we saw this view.

We entered the apartment and it was exactly how it was in the pictures. There were 3 of us, so two took the double bed and my other friend set up the futon on the floor. Our host let us borrow the pocket wifi as well, so awesomesauce.

GENKI SUSHI. We were starving because it was silly to have light lunch after all. One of the main food destinations in our agenda was Genki Sushi. I can’t express enough how much I adore this sushi place. It’s cheap, it’s yummy, and it’s a very cool way to serve sushi. We just walked from our apartment to get here. They give you a number and you sit down on the corresponding seat number. You choose your order by clicking their touch screen menu and you just have to wait a few minutes before the conveyor belt brings your sushi.

You enjoy this savory sushi plate and go to the cashier and give your number so they can bill you. Then you walk out very satisfied.

TOKYU HANDS. This 9-storey department store literally has everything. It was just a few minutes’ walk away from Genki Sushi so we burned all our gained calories there. It’s great for window shopping but I also bought some brush pens which are amazing by the way. I regret that I didn’t hoard more.

APPLE STORE SHIBUYA. I thought I lost my Lightning to SD iPad connector so I passed by this Apple Store in Shibuya to buy one. Here, not just the products are sexy, the store itself is very sexy. An Apple Genius helped me with the connector I wanted to buy and I was amazed to see that they use their phones to swipe credit cards. Maybe it’s common there, but obviously not in the PH.

HACHIKO STATUE. We crossed the Shibuya Scramble again to take a look at the Hachiko statue, a small monument of the most loyal dog in the world. It’s worth a photo stop but it can get pretty crowded.

H&M SHIBUYA. We bought gloves because our hands were turning purple and some tights to double up with the ones we brought.

CLUB SEGA. Before heading back home, we saw a Club Sega arcade across the street. I had read before that this was one of the places where you can get a purikura taken. We went inside and we didn’t see any photo booths but we went to the basement and we were surprised to see this purikura paradise. There were lots of booths with different themes to choose from. For three girls traveling in Tokyo, this is definitely a must-do.

We bought some instant noodles from Family Mart and had midnight snack at the apartment before hitting the sack. My feet were really sore and I was so tired from all the walking so I was surprised I had a hard time falling asleep. Probably from excitement because Day 2 was Tokyo Disneyland and Akihabara Day.