Japan is one of those countries that I’ve probably been to more times than I should, but I can’t help it, I just love that place! The food, the weather (other than the peak of summer), the people, the scenery, j’dore. While I have travelled to other parts of Japan, I spent more time in Tokyo, a sprawling metropolis that has a bit of the old, a bit of the new and a lot of the fun.
Japan is touted as one of the most expensive place to visit in Asia, and to a certain extent, that is true. However, it is possible to get the most out of Japan on the cheap. Between Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, Osaka would probably be the cheapest to visit and Kyoto the most expensive. Tokyo lies somewhere in between, but does not have to be expensive if you don’t want it to be.
When it comes to a place to stay overnight, there are lots of choices for the traveller, from capsule hotels to five-star hotels, you can find something that fits your budget. I tend to go for for smaller, family-owned ryokans that offer a more traditional experience – tatami mats and futon. Oftentimes, these rooms don’t come with an attached shower and you’ll have to share one with others on the same floor, but I’ve found experiences with such ryokan really great and shared bathrooms are perfectly fine, everything is clean and comfortable. Of course, you can shell out extra money for an ensuite bathroom. Some of the ryokan I’ve stayed at include, Asakusa Shigetsu, Kimi Ryokan (centrally located and very inexpensive, but with just the basics and really thin walls) and Sawanoya Ryokan.
If you prefer western-style beds, there are also plenty of hotels that offer good deals for good value. These hotels may be a little out of the way, but with Tokyo’s extensive rail network, it’s quite a breeze to get from these hotels to tourist attractions. One such hotel that I’ve stayed at is the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. Room is admittedly tiny but it has everything that you’ll need, clean bed, clean bathroom, heater, television and most importantly, internet access.
Food, oh my goodness, where do I start with food in Japan? I have to admit part of my obsession with Japan is its food, from intricately constructed dishes, to hearty bowls of awesomeness, there are just lots to tantalise the taste buds with. Synonymous with Japanese food is perhaps sushi and sashimi, so a trip to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is something not to be missed. I had the freshest, sweetest mouthful of sea urchin in one of those eateries that can be found in Tsukiji and I still dream about it sometimes. Tsukiji Market is perhaps one of the world’s biggest fish markets and is definitely worth the visit, even at ungodly hours because the queues at the eateries get really long.
I have to give a shout-out to, possibly my favourite ramen place in the world, no lie – Ichiran Ramen, a place I go to every single time I’m in Japan. It’s a chain restaurant that serves Hakata-style ramen, which means thick, porky broth and is simply out of this world. Pig bones are boiled for hours on end until you end up with a thick, almost gelantanious soup into which thin noodles and slices of melt-in-your-mouth braised pork slices are added with a dashing of spring onions to cut through the meatiness. To accompany this bowl of greatness, a braised egg that is just gooey on the insides. (Dag it, I’ve managed to make myself start craving a bowl of ramen now!) The quirky thing about this chain is that it is catered to people who eat alone, you buy a coupon for the ramen, see which booth in the restaurant is available, go to your individual booth where you face a curtain through which your server, whom you never see, collects your order and hands you your food. Admittedly, not the most inclusive dining environment, but you really get to appreciate the food a lot more without the distractions 🙂 Psst: Ichiran also gives out instructions on how to shell and eat their braised eggs…
When it comes to eating in Japan, I’ve found that it’s best to let your nose do the search, follow the good smells and you will find a good meal.
Things to Do
I cannot possibly do justice to all the things that you can do while in Tokyo, because whatever you want to do, you can probably do it in Japan. So the best thing I can say is go walk the streets of Tokyo and experience all that the city offers you, you won’t regret it.