Day 9: Back in Tokyo
Catch the shinkansen back to Tokyo, and ask for a seat on left for another chance to see Mt Fuji. Once back in town, head to Teamlab Borderless, the astonishing interactive art installation and Instagram paradise. Walking through the light and video displays is incredibly calming, and the intelligent art responds to you - "water" flows across the floor and pools around your feet like a rock in a stream. Petals fall from blossoms as you touch the walls and there are even places where you can draw your own creature, scan it and set it free into the space! Be sure to do several laps as the rooms are always changing - artworks move and walk from space to space. Some installations are more popular than others and you may need to queue, but if you come back around again towards the end of the day it gets much quieter. At lunchtime the Floating Nest exhibit had a 90 minute queue, 30 minutes before closing it was less than 20 minutes. We recommend booking Teamlab tickets online to guarantee entry on the day - if it sells out online no tickets are available on the door.
Have dinner in one of the tiny smokey izakaya eateries down Omoide Yokocho, Shinjuku, a narrow alleyway lined with lanterns. Some have steep cover charges so shop around, and squeeze into one for tasty small plates and beer. We recommend the yakitori, or grilled chicken skewers.
Day 10: Off to Shibu Onsen and the nine onsen baths
Catch the train to Nagano, then change onto the Nagano-Dentetsu line (not a JR line, buy a ticket in the station) to Yudanaka. The express is only about 30 minutes quicker, and we'd actually recommend getting the slower local train if you're in no rush - it was really interesting to stop at all the small mountain farming communities as the train winds its way through incredible scenery!
Either arrange a pick up with your accomodation from Yudanaka station, or walk the 25 minutes to Shibu Onsen. We stayed at Senshinkan Matsuya , a beautiful old traditional Ryokan building, and honestly couldn't recommend it more. Ideally located in the middle of all the public hot spring baths, with gorgeous trad rooms - tatami mat floors, futon beds and a low table complete with foot heater- and outstanding food. Our dinner, served sat on the floor at low tables, consisted of at least 16 small dishes, and breakfast was the same - multi course and all local ingredients!
Even if you don't stay here, choose a ryokan that includes meals - we didn't see any restaurants in the little town!
Spend the afternoon visiting all nine public onsens before dinner in your ryokan - only people staying in the town can have a key to the baths, and your hotel will provide traditional yukata robes and wooden geta to wear as you walk around the town. Be aware that in accordance with onsen culture, you need to bathe naked (genders are separated into different buildings), but once you've got over the initial "oh wow I'm so naked" moment, it's actually very liberating!
Day 11: Snow monkeys and back to Tokyo
Another amazing reason to stay at Senshinkan Matsuya is that they give you a free ride to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park early in the morning, which means you can get some time watching the monkeys before the mass tour groups arrive from Nagano. They drop you at the bottom of the hill, and you follow a path up through beautiful forest until you reach the ticket counter. The wild Japanese Macaques live on the hillside just beyond, and you can watch them playing, eating and grooming amongst the rocks, and in cold weather, relaxing in their own hot spring pool!
If you walk back out of the monkey park and down the hill to the Roman museum/cafe, this is where you can catch a coach all the way back to Nagano, where you can hop back on the JR line shinkansen to Tokyo. You buy a bus ticket from a little kiosk in the carpark, and you can admire the spectacular views of the mountains while you wait.
Expect to be back in Tokyo by half 3/4ish, and head to Tamachi station where you can walk to the Rainbow Bridge. Like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this huge bridge over the bay has a pedestrian walkway either side of the road. We recommend the north side of the bridge for views of Tokyo skyline - especially impressive as the sun goes down and everything starts to light up!
Day 12: one last day in Tokyo
Start your last day in Tokyo at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing interchange in the world. This scramble crossing is absolutely mad, and great fun to cross en masse with the huge crowds that gather (at peak times more than 3000 people). For a view of the crossing, head to the Starbucks opposite. We definitely felt like we were in a city of 39 million people here.
Spend some time exploring the cool shops in the area. We enjoyed the 3 story Disney Store shaped like a castle, and the super nostalgic Nintendo store and Pokemon Centre (surprisingly dark and edgy with a giant Mewtwo suspended in a test tube and Pokemon graffiti on the walls), both on the 6th floor of the Parco department store.
For lunch, you have to go to Genki Sushi! Sit in front of a little screen, order what ever you like, and it arrives on a little tray on wheels along the train track around the restaurant!So much fun, and many plates are about £2 each. It's popular, so we'd recommend getting there slightly early for lunch, around 12ish - by 1 it was very busy.
Once it gets dark, spend some time exploring the neon lit Kabukicho red light district of Shinjuku. Enter under an electric red Torii gate and check out the dazzling outside of the Robot Restaurant and see if you can spot Godzilla's head over the Gracery Hotel. Finish the night at Golden Gai, a couple of blocks absolutely crammed with around 200 tiny ramshackle bars. Some only cater to locals (they will have signs in Japanese or "members only" on the doors), look for English menus! Some charge cover charge, some will waive it if you sit and drink for no more than 30 minutes (the smallest bars seat less than 10, so can't afford you to sit and nurse one pint all night!), some have no cover charge. Head up a narrow staircase or two and try your luck!
Day 13: Disneysea!
We couldn't come to Tokyo and not visit a theme park. We've been to the Magic Kingdom in Paris and Orlando, and so decided to visit a unique park, Disneysea.
Open since 2001, the park has an overall nautical theme, with different worlds to explore, including Mermaid lagoon (Little Mermaid themed), Arabian Coast (Aladdin) and Port Discovery (Finding Nemo). A lot of the rides aren't Disney themed, such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Soaring: Fantastic Flight, but still fantsatic (these two plus Indiana Jones were our favourites), and the American Waterfront features Disney classic, Tower of Terror, and the brilliant Toy Story Mania, a VR goggles ride full of carnival shooting gallery style games.
Arrive at 8 when the park opens, you'll want the full day, and take advantage of their fast pass system where you can scan your ticket and receive a timed slot for your favourite rides. This means you can come back later and join the much shorter fast pass queue. Genius! Bare in mind the early slots for the most rides go fast (by 12pm we were given a 5pm slot for Toy Story Mania), so we would recommend going to your#1 pick as soon as the park opens, getting a pass, and then going to your#2 pick before queues build up. And try the flavoured popcorn! We had garlic shrimp, delish!
Day 14: Kamakura Daytrip
Catch the JR Yokesuka train to Kamakura from Tokyo station (about an hour) and spend the day exploring this fab seaside town. Start at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, a magnificent shinto shrine, and the most important in the city, and then head to the mysterious cave temple of Zeniarai Benzaiten, where if you wash your money in the small baskets provided, it will come back to you five fold once you spend it. Stand in wonder in front of the Kotoko-in Daibutsu - this 48ft 121 ton Buddha has the most zen, calm face and since 1252 has survived earthquakes, typhoons and even a tsunami that swept away its wooden building. 10 minutes away is Hase Dera temple, a beautiful hillside complex famous for its 8th century 9m wooden statue of Buddhist deity Kannon carved from a single tree, and its hundreds of Jizo statues dedicated to lost infants. The temple grounds have lovely views over the sea, and votive oyster shells hanging from coloured string.
Take the Enoden electric railway from Hase station to Enoshima, and keep your eyes out for Mt Fuji views. On a clear day you'll get staggering views of the colossal mountain rising over the bay. If the weather is kind, we'd recommend getting some lunch from a 7/11 and sitting on Katese Nishihama Beach while looking at Fuji (just be wary of black kite hawks!). Then walk over the causeway to Enoshima island to explore the shinto shrine split into three parts up the hill. Try the local speciality of tako sembei or octopus cracker - a thin savoury A4 sized sheet that looks like octopus stained glass or a fossil.
Try to be at the top of the island by sunset to watch the clouds turn pink over Mt Fuji.
Catch the electric train back to Kamakura and the JR train back to Tokyo.
We flew back to London at 23:50 that night!