Thursday, June 11, 2015

Four Days in Tokyo

Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park
We traveled to Tokyo earlier this month for a quick 4-day trip to meet up with a friend. He's the same friend we went to Cape Cod with back in 2013. This time we would be joining him and his significant other on the beginning of their Asian holiday, which would go on to include other cities in Japan as well as Hong Kong.

Our flight from Kaohsiung was our most expensive to date because we had specific dates and a specific location, which is rare for us as we usually chase only cheap fares. Still, tickets were less than NT$15000 (US $485) for both of us on Vanilla Air.

Shibuya Crossing
We arrived into Narita Airport around 7pm on a Sunday. Our goal was to meet our friends for a late night dinner traveling, as per usual, in the cheapest way possible. After exhaustive research we found the cheapest and most time efficient method would be via the Keisei Main Line.

We referenced TokyoCheapo quite a bit in our pre-travel research but nowhere did it help more than on this initial trip from the airport into Tokyo. Of course, it didn't bother to explain the complicated subway map displayed at the Terminal 2 Station. We spent a good 5 minutes staring at that map, utterly confused, before a kind stranger, speaking perfect English and very knowledgable about his city, told us (without even looking at the map) exactly what we needed to do. Thanks to his guidance, we didn't miss a transfer. We jumped on the next train, seamlessly transferred at Aoto Station, and again at Daimon Station, before arriving into Roppongi Station about 2.5 hours later. (Narita is quite a distance from Tokyo.)

Tokyo skyline from Imperial Palace
Our first night in Tokyo included a lovely ramen meal at Gogyo and a drink at the famous Gonpachi. Afterwards, we decided to walk home, taking the scenic route along Omotesando, Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, and the eastern edge of Yoyogi Park.

One of the things I've discovered while living (and traveling) in the world's safest places is that a late-night stroll is a lovely way to end an evening. It's also a great way to catch-up with old friends.

Imperial Palace grounds
Prior to leaving on our trip, I had made us all reservations to tour the Imperial Palace, as advanced reservations are required. Unfortunately, the palace tour is more of the surrounding grounds than of the actual palace, as we never actually ventured within. And, though the surrounding grounds are nice, the palace exterior is fairly unimpressive and not entirely worth the effort. The East Gardens, however, which are open to the public without prior reservations, are lovely and totally worth visiting.

Husband and I are craft beer tourists and Tokyo is our first Asian destination with a thriving craft beer scene and one of the highlights of this trip was a night spent excessively drinking various local brews. The night was not a highlight simply due to the excellent beers, though that was indeed lovely. It was also due to the quality of our company. During our first round at Shinshu Osake Mura we were engaged by a British expat and subsequent rounds brought some locals into our drinking circle. By the end of the night we had made several new friends and had a better experience than drinking on our own would have provided.

East Gardens, Imperial Palace
This experience, along with a few others, including our earlier experience at Narita Airport, really showcased the friendliness and kindness that we experienced from the locals. Not just Japanese locals either, but expats too. Perhaps this is what living in the safest city in the world does to people? If so, I wouldn't mind a bit more of that.

Our last full day in the city was met with rain, which kinda interrupted our plans of wandering through Inokashira Park and paddling in swan boats. So, instead, we stayed in Harajuku. We did venture out to Kichijoji Station for our final evening, which included shooting BB guns in a bar and eating amazing yakitori at a super local joint, before venturing back to Shibuya for some purikura, karaoke, and arcade games. We then savored our last night in Tokyo with one last late-night stroll home.

Shibuya area street entertainment
Although we had heard many warnings about Tokyo being an expensive destination, our experience taught us that Tokyo allows for travelers across the economic spectrum to enjoy themselves, much like New York City, London, and Paris. We successfully stayed within our fairly constrained budget while enjoying activities with friends, eating delicious food, and drinking copious amounts. We even did a bit of shopping. So, yes, Tokyo can definitely be an expensive destination, but it can also be very budget-friendly.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album.

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