Ah, how wonderful it was to be back in Japan, albeit for such a small time! This was the first time I’d gone in the cooler months, preferring to spend time in Japan between June and October. A February trip seemed an odd choice, and for the life of me, I can’t remember why we chose those dates. It ended up being fabulous – the cooler weather meant there were fewer tourists at popular destinations, outfit selection was easier (because you’re going to throw a big coat on anyway), trees were just coming back into bloom, and dishes like hot ramen and matcha lattes could be enjoyed even more.
In any previous trip, the most amount of time I had spent in Tokyo was 3 or 4 days. This tour was different in so many ways to any other tour I’ve done of the country. Usually I stop in various cities and, more often than not, revisit old favourites (you can’t go to Nikko without visiting Shinkyo!).
However, this particular trip was all Tokyo, with some day trips out of the city added for good measure. This is the first extended stay I’ve had in one place – even in Kyoto; the longest I’ve stayed is 5 days. Yet there was still a lot to cram into Tokyo; there were late nights followed by early starts. I again experienced rush hour on the trains. I still couldn’t bring myself to eat dried eel. I finally saw Mt Fuji first hand and was able to do the Hakone day trip.
I used Narita airport for the first time to get in and out of the country. Spending a lot of my time in the South, Kansai airport in Osaka has been my main portal for air travel. Narita was confusing at first (two terminals? Um…) but we learned to navigate it easily, after a few hiccups, of course.
There were a lot of new experiences; visiting a cat café, using Airbnb instead of a hostel, seeing the Ghibli museum, playing in snow, suffering through 2°C temperatures with wind chill, and much more. This trip, being the last one, was certainly exciting at every turn.
Who came on this awesome trip? My partner Jack, our housemate Kai and my younger sister Tammy.
This trip was one of the cheapest I’ve created. I’m always the cheapskate and proud of it – I’m not after fancy hotels or extravagant restaurants, but simply the memories and experience that come from these holidays. I keep train tickets and receipts. I rarely get tangible souvenirs like toys, and that’s one of the best ways of saving your money.
The flights were purchased through Jetstar – Brisbane direct to Narita. For the flight itself plus baggage allowance, the cost was between $1100 and $1200 (I don’t remember the exact digits). Tokyo hotels are a little pricey for my taste. Our accommodation, as I said, was found using Airbnb. Split between 4 people, the apartment was $240 each for the 11 nights. I wayyy over budgeted for food, transport and souvenirs (which did end up being about $200, but they were mostly gifts). Actual spending, with souvenirs included, only came to $700 (less than $70 a day!). We ate a majority of our meals from the local Family Mart. We never once ate at a restaurant, though I regret not going this time. However, by the end of a long day exploring, no one felt like going out again. Family Mart and Daiso were our main picks for purchasing food and snacks.
Through Airbnb, I was able to find a perfect little apartment, full of traditional Japanese whimsy, with tatami floors, futons and paper sliding doors, while still having all the modern luxuries (read: wi-fi). It was an excellent choice, especially as it was winter. The heating was something we used any time we were at the apartment – it basically ran throughout the night. The toilet seat was heated too, and we grew to cherish it.
Though we had “hosts”, we only saw them a handful of times. They owned 3 apartments, all next to each other. Two were rented out through Airbnb, and they lived at the third. On the first night, they introduced themselves to us and showed us around the place, explaining devices and giving us instructions. During our stay they cooked us a traditional Japanese meal, and we exchanged awkward stories and jokes (only awkward due to the slight language barrier). On our last day, we returned the keys, said goodbye, and were on our way with no hassle. It was a very pleasant experience, and pending you get a good host, I highly recommend using Airbnb to find accommodation.
We had heard horror stories about places on Airbnb that were nothing like the photos – they were dirty or different, and the hosts unhelpful or possibly even thieves. Sometimes the guest wouldn’t be able to get their money back. While we did have a small hiccup on the road (our original booking with a different host was cancelled without reason. Airbnb came through with a 20% discount to put towards the next booking, or we had the choice of getting a complete refund. You can see which we chose), but in the end it worked out really well and we were stoked with the apartment.
I bought two mugs, a key ring and one dress, which wasn’t uniquely Japanese but just suited me well. Anything else that I thought was cute or worthy of having, I simply took a picture of. I feel no need in buying a ton of knick-knacks.
In my first two or three visits to Japan, I realized I had bought an insane amount of crap – oh boy, did I ever! I returned with several sets of Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland; a thousand ‘kawaii’ plastic figurines and pieces; jewellery; notebooks; plushies. So much crap. While it’s fun to look at and certainly to take home, I soon realized it never had any real use. I have a large storage box filled with the stuff and I’ve only looked at it once or twice since buying it – that’s once or twice in 7 years!
So my advice for souvenirs is;
- Take a lot of photos.
- Keep all your tickets, receipts and wrappers.
- Stick ‘em in a scrapbook with the photos.
- If you want to buy something, make sure it’s for legit reasons (I drink a loooot of tea and coffee. Mugs are my perfect souvenir. But… I think I have enough now).
Updates are coming soon!