Tokyo, Japan – Taking a break from visiting all 50 states, I decided to visit one of my favorite countries, Japan. During this trip, I visited multiple cities within the country so this first article will specifically be about the most famous city, Tokyo. Other cities I spent some time in were in the Kansai Region, which included Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. A little further South, I also spent a few days on the island of Okinawa that will also be covered in a separate article.
- If you plan on using the Japan Rail System (JR) or the bullet train (Shinkansen) as your main method of transportation, you may want to invest in a JR Pass. Note that you can only purchase this voucher outside of Japan. With the voucher, you can then trade it in for your actual pass at the airport in Japan.
- If you’re landing in Narita Airport go to the ticket counter and reserve a seat on the Narita Express that will take you into the heart of Tokyo.
- If your phone does not include roaming data, it may be cheaper to rent a pocket Wi-Fi device. These can also be found at the airport and serves as a Wi-Fi hotspot as you travel throughout Japan.
- Tokyo is very credit card friendly so you won’t need to exchange for that much yen. Smaller shops of course take only cash but a majority will accept credit card assuming that your card works abroad.
- Buy a coin purse. Japan’s currency utilizes a lot of coins so you’ll find yourself carrying a lot of them. Pick up a pouch or purse of some sort to store them.
- Plan for the weather. It only rained one day during my two week stay but be sure to check weather prior to your trip. If it happens to rain, you can get a clear plastic umbrella from almost any store for 100 yen ($1 USD).
- Be prepared to get close! If you’re using the JR during peak hours it’s going to be jam-packed! Stations will be filled with business people and students rushing to their location. Either merge into the crowd or stay off to the side.
- When in Rome do as the Romans do. Being in a different country, it’s best to following the behavior of the locals.
- A little Japanese goes a long way. Even if you just know a few common phrases, it will get you far as a foreigner. Locals really appreciate it when you at least try to speak their language.
- Shoes! Many places will require you to take off your shoes before entering. Typically these include shrines, temples, and homes. Be sure to watch others around you or be on the look out for a sign at the entrance.
- If you’re hungry or need a quick snack, convenience stores are your best friends. Unlike what we have in America, 7-Eleven actually has great food selections. Other useful convenience stores include Lawson, Daily, and Family Mart.
- Don’t eat and walk. It’s considered rude to walk and eat. You can get by if you’re a foreigner but it’s best to be respectful of the culture when in another country.
Places to Visit as a Tourist
Tokyo is a huge city so there’s so much you can do depending on what you want to see and do. Below are just a few of the areas and hotspots that I would highly recommend where you can easily spend hours or even a whole day at each:
- Shibuya Crossing – The famous crosswalk that you’ve probably seen in many movies. Go and just walk with the crowd for the experience. This is immediately outside of Shibuya Station. There are many shops and restaurants in the area too so you can spend hours here.
- Asakusa/Senso-ji Temple – One of the famous temple of japan known for the big red lantern that hangs at the entrance. Leading up to the temple itself, there are many shops where you can buy souvenirs. Parallel to these shops, you can also find many food stalls and restaurants where you can buy snacks or a full on meal.
- Odaiba – Fairly new artificial island that is in Tokyo Bay. You can take a train here. I recommend going during the day so you can see the view while on the train. There are many shops here and also many miniature sculptures of famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty or Venus Fort (European Town). Stop by a take a picture with the giant robot Gundam that’s over two stories tall and then enjoy the food, shopping, and arcades.
- Odaiba Oedo Onsen – Come and trade in your clothes for a yukata/kimono for a few hours. Relax in the footbaths, hot springs, or get a massage. There are many options for food here and if you have kids there are plenty of carnival games to keep them (or yourself) entertained.
- Tokyo SkyTree – One of the best views you’ll get of Tokyo. There are two observation decks you can see the whole city from. I would recommend paying and going all the way up to the top to get the best view. Both day and night are recommended. There is a café here so you can grab a drink and just take in the amazing view.
- Tsukiji Fish Market – Come early if you want to see them auction off the daily hull of fish. See the giant tuna that are cut up and sold to different restaurant owners. Or go enjoy some of the freshest sushi you’ll ever have in your life. Grab some ice cream and sweet egg tamago made fresh too at the local booths around the fish market shopping area.
- Ueno Park – A beautiful park that includes a zoo and many museums. If you’re here during April you can sit under one of the thousands of fully bloomed cherry blossom trees and have a picnic. Walk around and enjoy nature while admiring the surrounding urban backdrop.
- Roppongi – The busy business area of Tokyo where many companies are located. Also known for the nightlife. Come here for sightseeing or to hit up a local bar. Make sure you read reviews before trying any bars or clubs here as there has been some reports of “incidences”.
- Ikkebukuro – A lot of shopping and food. This area is filled with entertainment and the large Sunshine City Mall. If you or anyone you know is a Pokemon fan, come visit the famous Pokemon Center here too.
- Shinjuku – Often referred to as one of the business railway stations of the world. Many shops and restaurants can also be found here.
- Akihabara – The electronic district of Tokyo. Come here for all your electronic and anime needs. If that’s not your thing come take a few pictures of the insane amount of lights and advertisements up on all the buildings.
- Meiji Shrine – A famous shrine that many tourist visit. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife.
- Tokyo Tower – Check out the view from the famous tower. Not as tall as Tokyo SkyTree but also worth a visit for a different view.
- Tokyo Dome – Many sports take place here (Baseball being the main attraction). There’s also shopping and an amusement park here for your entertainment.
- Imperial Palace – The famous residency of the emperor. Come take pictures but be prepared to walk and this is a long walk.
- Tokyo Disney Sea – Nothing needs to be said here. If you’re a Disney fan then you need to go to the Disneyland of Japan.
There are so many more suggestions but if you’re looking for specific recommendations such as restaurants, shops, or sights please shoot me an email (http://bjjbug.net/contact-us/).
- Tip for “Mat Surfing” is to always call or contact the school ahead of time to see if you are even allowed to take a drop-in class or come by for an open mat session.
On this trip, I visited the famous Carpe Diem BJJ School. Note that there are multiple locations but I was at the Hiro-o location this time. Prior to arriving in Japan, I was in contact with Professor Yuki Ishikawa who is the director of Carpe Diem BJJ. He told me to drop by and I was more than welcome to visit.
The class I took was with Hashimoto-sensei. He was very welcoming when I entered. I explained to him that I spoke with Ishikawa-sensei and that I was there to take a class while I was in Tokyo.
The facility itself was fairly large. There are two mat areas so two classes can happen at the same time. Even though my Japanese was very limited, I was able to make a lot of friends during my time at Carpe Diem BJJ. The classes were taught in Japanese but Professor Hashimoto even explained the techniques in English since I was there.
Class structure is typical of any BJJ class that you would attend. The class started with a group warm-up and then the instructor proceeded to demonstrating a set of techniques that you would then drill with a partner.
I wasn’t sure whom to partner with since I was the random foreigner in class but luckily Kaoru offered to be my partner for the class. We drilled some guard pass techniques and an armbar variation. Even though my Japanese isn’t that great, Kaoru was really friendly. Her English was really good too and we had some great conversations. We ended up becoming good friends. She also introduced me to Yumuna which I plan on trying in the states.
When it was time to spar, I rolled with a total of 5 different people from white, blue, to purple belts. Each round was about 5-minutes each. The students here are very technical. I didn’t know what to expect going in but everyone here were very chill. I had a great time and I’ll definitely be back when I’m in Tokyo again.
Special thanks to Hashimoto-sensei, Kaoru, Kazu, Akio, and Andy for being so welcoming. Hope to see you all again soon!
Honestly, I haven’t had a bad meal in Tokyo. Taste, service, and presentation have been great no matter where I went. Unlike other countries, it’s not which restaurant you pick but what kind of food. Here are a few recommendations:
- Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station
- Any sushi restaurant at Tsukiji Fish Market
- Taiyaki at Kurikoan by Senso-ji Temple
- Takoyaki at Gindako (multiple locations)
- Baked cheese tarts at Pablo
- Convenience store meals at 7-Eleven, Lawson, Daily, and Family Mart
- Fresh green tea
- Yakiniku BBQ
- Dessert Crepes
- Animal-shaped donuts and pastries
- Various flavors of Kit Kat
- Shabu Shabu Hot Pot
Photos from Tokyo:
Tokyo has been one of my favorite cities to visit for a while. Great food, service, people, and sights. I’ll definitely by back in the near future. The only downside is how crowded it is but that’s part of the fun when in a big city. Go check it out for yourself and you won’t be disappointed.
Tokyo, Japan – November 2016
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