Japan Travel – Off the Beaten Path in Tokyo (with Notes from TimeOut Tokyo)

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Intermediatheque https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/intermediatheque

Jointly operated by Japan Post and the University of Tokyo, this multifaceted museum opened in 2013 inside the Kitte complex right by Tokyo Station but remains a niche spot despite its superb location. That’s a real shame: the Intermediatheque is one of the city’s rare free museums and displays the academic achievements of Japan’s most celebrated educational institution, along with an extensive – and occasionally creepy – collection of zoological specimens. There’s some explanatory text in English, most of it quite informative.

Ueno Park

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/ueno-park

It’s a mystery why so many guidebooks implore tourists to visit Ueno Park during their stay in Tokyo. The sprawling site enjoys historical significance – it was one of the capital’s first official parks, established way back in 1873 – but you’ll find more attractive spots of urban greenery elsewhere. That said, it is worth visiting for the museums that are housed within the park (including the National Museum of Nature and Science, and Tokyo National Museum) and for Ueno Zoo, Japan’s oldest.

Ueno Park is the sweetest gem tucked inside Tokyo. Low key, a lovely shrine, water lily laden vast pond and tons of nooks to sit and think. That’s just what I did.

Met Art Museum

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/art/tokyo-metropolitan-art-museum

Founded back in 1926, this museum is Japan’s very first public art museum. It features a variety of special exhibitions, thematic showcases and art masterpieces from around the world. Not only worth the visit for the art, visitors are welcome to drop by to enjoy the museum’s restaurant, café and museum shop where you can pick up great souvenirs. The building is designed by renowned Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa, and is an absolute highlight for those who appreciate design.

Shitamachi Museum 

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/shitamachi-museum

This museum presents the living environment of ordinary Tokyoites between the pivotal Meiji restoration of 1868 and the Great Earthquake of 1923. It’s a small counterpart to the large-scale Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku. Take off your shoes and step into re-creations of a merchant’s shop, a coppersmith’s workshop and a sweet shop. Everything has a hands-on intimacy: open up a drawer and you’ll find a sewing kit or a children’s colouring book. Upstairs are traditional toys that even today’s kids still delight in.

National Museum of Modern Art

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/art/the-national-museum-of-modern-art-tokyo

This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.

Tsukiji Market

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/tsukiji-fish-market-walk

A walk around the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market may leave you feeling a little sour, knowing that 80 years of history will come to an end when the market is relocated to Koto Ward in November. Or maybe it’s just the pungent smell of fish. In any case, we suggest you head to Tsukiji at 9am, which is when the Inner Market opens to the public. You may have heard about the 5am tuna auction, but unless you’re a Japanese fishmonger and your livelihood depends on it, there’s no good reason to get up before the crack of dawn and queue for hours to watch men shout over dead fish.

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730-10 Arashio-beya

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/arashio-beya-sumo-stable

1 min walk from A2 exit of Hamacho

If you weren’t able to get your hands on some tickets at the Kokugikan, don’t worry. Head over to the Arashio-beya sumo stable in Nihonbashi and watch the giants in action during their asageiko (morning practice) for free. Through large street side windows, you can observe the battling, grappling wrestlers daily from around 7.30am to 10am. Afterwards they come out to greet their fans and you’ll have the chance to take a picture with your favourite wrestler.

Hamarikyu Gardens

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/attractions/hamarikyu-garden

This tranquil garden, once a hunting ground for the Tokugawa shogunate, now cowers in the shadow of the Shiodome development. The garden’s main appeal lies in the abundance of water in and around it and the fact that it feels deceptively spacious, thanks to beautiful landscaping. Situated on an island, it is surrounded by an ancient walled moat with only one entrance, over the Minamimon Bridge (it’s also possible to reach Hamarikyu by boat from Asakusa). The focal points are the huge pond, which contains two islands (one with a teahouse) connected to the shore by charming wooden bridges, and a photogenic 300-year-old pine tree.

Hibiya Park

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/hibiya-park

A municipal park located in the heart of Tokyo, not far from Kasumigaseki and the Imperial Palace Gardens, Hibiya Park houses a range of facilities, including Hibiya Public Hall, Hibiya Library and both small and large open-air concert halls. The park is also home to the Hibiya Park Gardening Show, which takes place every October, and its flowerbeds contain a variety of species, meaning there’s something blooming all year round. Around the perimeter of the park, you’ll find the Imperial Palace Gardens, as well as the Imperial Hotel and various ministry and government offices.

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Roppongi Hills

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3031_hills.html

Roppongi Hills is one of the best examples of a city within the city. Opened in 2003 in the heart of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, the building complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel, art museum, observation deck and more. The office floors are home to leading companies from the IT and financial sectors, and Roppongi Hills has become a symbol of the Japanese IT industry.

At the center of Roppongi Hills stands the 238 meter Mori Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the city. While most of the building is occupied by office space, the first few floors have restaurants and shops and the top few floors house an observation deck and modern art museum that are open to the public.

The Tokyo City View observation deck is one of Tokyo’s best. When the weather permits, views can also be enjoyed from an open-air deck on the rooftop. Also located on Mori Tower’s top floors is the Mori Art Museum, a modern art museum with a focus on new artistic ideas from all over the world.

Other areas of interest in Roppongi Hills include the Mori Garden just behind the tower and the Grand Hyatt luxury hotel. Numerous shopping and dining options can be found all across the complex, and there is also a large Toho Cinemas movie theater that plays both Japanese and international movies. The headquarters of TV Asahi are also located on the grounds.

Omotesando Plaza

Occupying a prime slab of Harajuku real estate, this ambitious development houses fashion shops like American Eagle Outfitters and The Shel’tter Tokyo in a complex crowned with a verdant public park – and a spectacular wall-of-mirrors entrance. Go up the stairs to the Starbucks on the rooftop for views of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji

Try your best to catch a coach up to Mount Fuji even if it’s for a day trip.  I would suggest checking in with an Information Centre once your arrive in Tokyo and see which reputable tours they would recommend.  I grabbed a coach from Shinkjuku train station and got to Mount Fuji in just over an hour.  The coach was around $30 CAD and well worth every penny.

https://tokyocheapo.com/travel/tokyo-to-mount-fuji-transport/

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6919.html

Owl Cafe

Albeit weird and perhaps not the friend of your local PETA chapter – an owl café is a must see when in Tokyo.  You can check out dog, cat and a variety of other cafes whilst in Japan – I personally liked the owl café.  The owl café I visited also had hedgehogs you could handle.  For $15 CAD you can stay as long as you want, take photos and just take in the whole experience.  I liked the owl café in Ikebukuro.

http://www.owlpark.tokyo/

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Japan Travel – Tokyo Free Walking Tour

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If you are looking for an easy way to see Japan that is also FREE, check out a tour using Tokyo Free Walking Tour.  You can find them on social media and also using the website link below.

The majority of their tours run over the weekend, so as you are planning your Tokyo itinerary leave ample time to join their tours.  The tours are limited to attendees – so try to get the meet up location early and pop your name down on the list of attendees.  The guides all speak impeccable English and are very friendly.  The tours are indeed free – but leave a handsome tip at the end of the tour.

I liked the below tours – they were beautifully curated and I still had time to enjoy the rest of my day in Tokyo after the tour.

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East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

Visit the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, going back 400 years in time to the days of the Shogun right in the center of Tokyo!

Asakusa

Explore the downtown district in and around Senso-ji temple and find something really unique among the temples and shrines!

Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

Discover Meiji Jingu shrine, the urban oasis full of nature, then try a stroll around Harajuku which is one of the busiest and most popular shopping areas in Tokyo!

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https://tfwt.jp/

Japan Travel – Shopping Adventures in Daiso, Muji, Tokyo Hands and Don Quijote

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Shopping in Tokyo

When I get to a new city I always like to get a lay of the land by checking out some stores and their pricing. Keep in mind Tokyo is far more expensive than Osaka and Kyoto. I liked the following. But I found the most of my gifts from Daiso (100 yen shop) and Donki for Kit Kat and snacks. I was staying in Ikebukuro so I checked out the Sunshine City Mall. It’s worth a visit it covers everything you may need or those people you want to buy for back home.

Daiso

I purchased the bulk of my buys at Daiso.  The price was right and I was able to stretch my yen with treats for me and my friends.  I got ideas on what to buy from this link:

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You may feel totally overwhelmed when shopping in Japan – because you will want to buy everything but won’t be able to read Japanese.  I suggest you looking up some youtube links before you leave for Japan to get your research on.

What did I buy from Daiso?

Hello Kitty plastic purses for my girl friends back home.  They are cute and every girl needs a make up purse or travel case for their make up and the like.

My Melody make up travel cases which came in packs of two.

Cute note card stationery and decorated masking tapes to decorate envelopes and gifts.

Hello Kitty Ziploc bags for candy treats to give to friends.

Facial Mask tabs for lazy Sunday afternoons at home.

Cute kitchen supply items – like sponges made in shapes of toast and handcloths with Japanese imagery.

Hair accessories to look super swish when you return home.

Wooden chopsticks as gifts for friends.

Origami Paper to pop into frames as art.

Shopping Itinerary
Muji
Tokyo Hands
Don Quijote or Donki
Sunshine City (Ikebukuro) 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Daiso – Harajuku https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/shopping/daiso-harajuku – The Harajuku shop is the busiest and also has the most stock. They are also open late.

If you are out late shopping  – check out Shibuya Crossing at night.

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Japan Travel Day 8-14 – Tokyo Sights

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I booked my Shinkansen ticket from Osaka to Tokyo four days before my travel date at Midori-no-madoguchi office using my JR Rail Pass. I wanted to leave early in the a.m. and knew if I left it too late, I would not get the departure I wanted.

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Itinerary
Drop bags off at the hotel
Find an Information Centre to get acclimatized
Get some food and water and take a break and plan you next few hours

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Japan Travel Day 7 – Arashiyama and Sagano Sights

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Arashiyama and Sagano

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3912.html

https://www.youcouldtravel.com/travel-blog/how-to-best-enjoy-the-arashiyama-bamboo-grove

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The easiest way is to walk to Kawaramachi Terminal of the Hankyu Railway’s Kyoto Line. Take the Hankyu from there Katsura Station, where you can transfer to Hankyu’s Arashiyama Line to its Arashiyama Terminal. Then, walk to the Togetsukyo Bridge and to the entrance to the Iwatayama Monkey Park (don’t walk over the bridge). After the Monkey park, walk over the bridge, visit Tenryu-ji temple and its nice garden, exit from its north back exit, and walk leftward for a few min. and you will be in the Bamboo Grove.

I would suggest giving yourself a day to check out Arashiyama.  The temple, bamboo grove and monkey park are a walkable distance apart and with English signage you can get around with ease.  After you have your day and afternoon at these locations walk over to the touristy street with souvenir shops and eateries.  I grabbed an ice cream and then walked back to the train station for my trek back to Osaka.

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Itinerary:

9 a.m. Tenruyi Temple 830-5

10 a.m. Bamboo Grove

Monkey Park Iwatayama 9-4 550y

Japan Travel Day 5-6 – Kyoto Sights

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Kyoto

11 a.m. Kyoto Walking Tour http://www.kyotofreewalkingtour.com/. This a great tour that gives you a lay of the land locally. It is pay what you can tour.

This free guided walking tour with an experienced English speaking guide provides a 2 – 2.5 hours stroll through the historical streets of Kyoto.

You will get to know the real Kyoto, great of information about Japanese culture, religious, gourmet experiences.

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During the tour you will visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Walk through the geisha quarters of Gion and Higashiyama district.

After the tour is finished, your guide will answer questions and is happy to provide advice you on what to do and what to see during the rest of your stay.

Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-Ji Temple didn’t disappoint. It took an hour to get there in traffic – but worth it to see its luxurious elegance.

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To book your ticket – state you are ‘Going’ on the tour on their Facebook page and the guide will meet you even if there is one person who rsvp’s. On my tour there was a good 20 people who attended.

Itinerary:

Kiyomizu-dera Temple 300y

Sannen-zaka and

Ninen-zaka

Shoren- in Temple

Yasaka Shrine (Gion stop)

Nishi Hongan-ji

Nanzen-ji 300y

Nishiki Market – desc

Kinkaku-ji/Golden Pavilion 400y

Kitano Temmago 300y

Daitou-ji 350-400y

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Japan Travel Day 3-4 – Osaka Sights

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Osaka

9:30 a.m. Osaka Free Walking Tour http://www.osakafreewalkingtour.com/. This a great tour that gives you a lay of the land locally. It is pay what you can tour.

The Osaka Free Walking Tour and will show you why Osaka is called the “Kitchen of Japan”, you will learn about the unique Otaku culture and will travel back in time to the beginning of 20th century visiting the old New World of Osaka.

During this 2 to 2.5 hour trip you will take a walk through Dotonbori street with its huge billboards, hundreds of restaurants and food stalls selling local foods including the famous Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki.

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You will pass through Kuromon market, a traditional Japanese market offering different foods with a great choice of seafood.

For Manga and Anime fans the Nipponbashi DenDen town would be a paradise on earth with its numerous shops specialising in selling manga, anime goods, figurines, etc. You will see the famous maids, girls wearing maid uniforms trying to get new customers into one of the many maid cafes in the area. The tour will end in Shinsekai , the New World, with it’s Tsutenkaku, the Osaka Eiffel tower, kushikatsu and Billiken , the God of wealth and money.

To book your ticket – state you are ‘Going’ on the tour on their Facebook page and the guide will meet you even if there is one person who rsvp’s. On my tour there was a good 20 people who attended.

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The hotel that I stayed at was a 3 minute walk to where I met the Osaka Free Walking Tour group.

I never used the Osaka Amazing Pass, https://www.osp.osaka-info.jp/en/about/whats.html, but if you are in Osaka for a few days it maybe helpful to you.

The Osaka Amazing Pass is a set of one card pass (unlimited times of rides for 1 day or 2 days) with barcode for entering free facilities for about 35 tourist spots input on it, and a guidebook with TOKU×2 Coupons, which allows the holder to enjoy a great deal trip during the day(s).

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IMAG8800Itinerary:

Midosuji Street

Hozenji Yokocho

Doguyasuji Arcade

Osaka Castle/Garden 9 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Keitakuen Garden 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. 300y

Nagai Park 9:30 – 5:00 p.m. 200y

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

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Try Takoyaki (たこ焼き or 蛸焼) is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are brushed with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise, and then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito. There are many variations to the takoyaki recipe, for example, ponzu (soy sauce with dashi and citrus vinegar), goma-dare (sesame-and-vinegar sauce) or vinegared dashi.

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Try Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き o-Konomi-yaki) is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki meaning “grill”. Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region. In Tokyo, there is a semi-liquid okonomiyaki called ‘monjayaki.’

Umeda Building/Garden/Base – Observatory (Free 10 p.m.)

Harry Potter Wizarding World – https://www.usj.co.jp/e/attraction/att_detail/the-wizarding-world-of-harry-potter.html

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