- Japan is a largesly cash based country. Larger establishments like hotels and airports will likely take credit, but it's important to always keep cash on hand.
- Getting from Narita Aiport and into the city is best done by bus. You could take a taxi, but it's not much faster and it's wildly expensive (around $300 CAD). When you land and get to arrivals, there is a bus ticket booth. So many people opt to do this, you can't miss the line, and buses are very frequent. Know your hotel stop before you go, because Tokyo is huge and the bus will make multiple stops in the city.
- Getting around in Tokyo can be fun, and it's also very easy thanks to the metro system. Get yourself a PASMO or Suica card, which is good for all subway lines. Keep in mind that there are multiple different metro companies. PASMO or Suica will work on all of them.
- There's no need to tip - even for restaurant wait staff.
About GOLDEN WEEK
- This itinerary is specifically designed for GOLDEN WEEK that falls on April 29 and lasts until early May.
- There are a number of days celebrating during this time!
- The Emperor's Birthday (Tenchō Setsu), 1927–1948
- The Emperor's Birthday (Tennō Tanjōbi), 1949–1988
- Greenery Day
- Shōwa Day
- Constitution Memorial Day
- Citizen's Holiday
- Greenery Day
- Children's Day
- Because of all these holidays, there are a number of amazing festivities during this time. However, because of that, GOLDEN WEEK IS BUSY AND EXPENSIVE. Book months in advance before you would normally book and expec things to be busy.
- I HIGHLY RECOMMEND seeing Japan during Golden Week if you can. It's an experience like no other and there's nothing else in the world like it.
Ichiran Ramen ($)
Since you might be a little bit exhausted from your trip to Japan, the first day will be a rest day, but with a small sprinkle of something rather unique. Head over to one of the Ichiran Ramen restaurants and prepare for both an amazing meal, and also a weird time. Order your meal from the machine (someone will check your work), insert coins, and then head over to your individual eating booth. When your ramen is ready, the chef will push it behind the curtain for you and then close the curtain up so you can enjoy. Water and all utensils are all in the booth already for you!
Bunkyo Azalea Festival ($)
Your first festival is all about FLOWERS! The Bunkyo Azalea Festival has over 3,000 flowers and 100 varieties of Azalea that bloom from early April until early May. Performances take place in the grounds of the shrine and there is also small cafe area by the pond where you can enjoy manju dumplings, amazake, and complimentary green tea. The festival runs from 9:00 to 17:30 each day. Entrance is 200 yen (around $2 CAD).
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Free)
This building is one of the best (and the cheapest) way to literally see Tokyo! Head up in the elevator to the viewing platform to take in the sights and get an amazing photo opportunity. If you're lucky and the day is clear enough, you might even be able to see Mount Fuji off in the distance.
7/11, Lawson, or Family Mart ($)
Ok, hear me out. These pretty typical convenience stores (known as konbini) have the perfect cheap and easy lunches and snacks! Here you can find yummy sandwiches, bento boxes, delicious fresh pastries, hot or cold soba, onigiri, sushi, waffles, too many varieties of drinks to count, alcohol, candy, all kinds of essentials, and more. If you want, get a snack, sit at the counter, charge your phone, use the wifi and hang out.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden ($)
This beautiful and relaxing park will set the scene for Tokyo. Reminiscent of Central Park, with some tall and iconic buildings in the distance, and the huge trees surrounding you, this park is the perfect place to spend the afternoon. Bring all your konbini snacks and lunch that you stocked up on, sit on a bench, and just enjoy the scenery and the afternoon here. There is a small entrance fee to the park that grants you access all day.
Dinner at Kamachiku Tokyo($$)
About a 30 minute metro from the park and you'll find yourself at one of the most elegant, yet traditional udon restaurants in the world. Stunningly beautiful interior, traditional seating, and low tables will set the mood for what's shortly to come. These hand cut udon noodles come with a tray of condiments to pack more flavour and texture into the classic soy and dashi dipping broth: chopped negi (Welsh onion), grated ginger, tempura batter croutons and shichimi-togarashi (seven spice). A one of a kind experience!
Coffee Elementary School ($)
Wake up early on this day!! It's time to get schooled with some seriously good coffees to wake up with. It's fairly popular, but not very touristy and not bustling busy. I've never had to wait here. This cafe has made its way onto many "best of" lists, and for a good reason. If it's a rainy day, the downstairs is the perfect place to chill out. If you're lucky enough to get a sunny day, there's an excellent patio on a quieter side street. I recommend the iced caramel coconut milk latte, or hot if it's rainy.
I won't say too much here because I don't want to spoil the experience, but I will say that if there's one thing you do in Japan, make it be this!!! This "art gallery" is all about experience and integration, where you become one with the fabric of the installations. Plan for a couple solid hours here, and a fair warning: GO EARLY AND BOOK TICKETS IN ADVANCE. It gets very very busy and if you show up late. you'll be waiting upwards of 3 hours, especially during Golden Week.
Oktoberfest/Beer Halls ($)
Ok, hear me out. Golden Week is packed full of activities, from morning until the latest corners of the night. There is often an "Oktoberfest" in Odaiba, just a short walk away from Borderless (around 10 minutes). Go past the mall, or stop in and shop, and in the nearby park, Oktoberfest will be full swing. Sample beers from Germany and Japan, grab a communal table, and enjoy the show. If Oktoberfest is closed for some reason, there are many of these drinking festivals all over the city.
Since you're in the neighbourhood anyway, when you're passing the outside of the VenusFort Mall (the one you most likely walked past to get to the park, check out the giant Gundam. It towers by the entrance to the mall - you can't miss this hilarious photo opportunity.
Kaiten Sushi for Dinner ($-$$$)
It's time for some famous Japanese sushi for dinner - all you can eat style. There are a very high number of conveyer belt (kaiten) sushi places dotting the city, so I won't recommend just one, but if you're looking for budget, I recommend Genki. Pretty decent, and you get the kaiten experience. Mall kaiten sushi is usually a good bet. Keep in mind that the price is per plate, and each plate is colour coded. Grab a beer and enjoy!
Getting to Kawaguchiko ($$)
Do as the locals do during Golden Week, and use this as an opportunity to get out of the city for a while. Hit the konbini for some snacks and a coffee, and head to the Shinjuku bus terminal. I highly recommend buying tickets in advance, especially because this time of year is so busy. Regular tickets cost about $22 CAD, depending on the bus line you end up using. The trip takes about an hour and a half or so, and the scenery is just beautiful. You'll get dropped off at the main bus terminal in Kawaguchiko, and your best bet around the city here is either by foot or taxi. I don't recommend spending too much time here, unless you have a very lfexible itinerary, because it's a bit pricier and there's not a ton to do.
That said, Kawaguchiko is absolutely beautiful, which is why I recommend it here. The views of Mount Fuji are just about as close as you can get, the lake has a heavenly beauty to it, and there are some of the best photography vantage points, and a very cozy setting.
Dinner at 不曹庵 ($$)
This place is legit. A traditional Japanese house converted into a beautiful little cafe/restaurant. There's no English name, but you'll find this place right on the bank of the lake. There's usually only 1 or 2 things on the menu here by day, so go with the chef's choice, and prepare yourself for an amazing seasonal meal with spectacular views of the lake and surrounding hills.
Staying in Kawaguchiko ($-$$$)
There are a few options to stay in Kawaguchiko, ranging from budget ryokans to nicer hotels. Again, please book well in advance as there's not a ton of options and things tend to fill up quickly, especially during Golden Week. There are some traditional ryokan stays in the area, a couple budget hotels, lots of mid-range hotels, and even some really beautiful luxury ones. I recommend staying at any place with a good onsen, to get the full experience.
Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway ($)
Opened in 1959, the line climbs Mount Tenjō from the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, one of the Fuji Five Lakes. This is about a 15 minute walk from the main Kawaguchiko bus terminal, and is so worth it! The views are incredible, the photo opportunities are once in a lifetime, and you'll be able to see Mount Fuji up close and personal. It costs around 800 yen (~$8 CAD) per person to ascend the ropeway and leaves every 5-10 minutes. It does get busy, so go early if you can swing it.
Oishi park (Free)
From this beautiful park located at north side of Kawaguchiko Lake, you can see the towering Mount Fuji and its reflection in the lake. In spring and summer time, when the many flowers are blossoming at Oishi Park, the views are amazing. If you do go later in the summer, the fields here are filled with a bright purple flower and make a lovely photo opportunity.
Eating the regional specialty, Hoto noodles, is a absolute must! The hearty meal is served in a large pot and consists of noodles and vegetables cooked in a miso soup. This may sound like typical Japanese fare, what makes Hoto different is the wide, flat noodles used to prepare the dish. The hand-prepared noodles are cooked along with the other ingredients. Resembling udon noodles, Hoto noodles are actually thicker and prepared in similarity to dumplings. Another key element in the dish is pumpkin, which adds an essential flavor. Hoto Fudo is one of the most famous Hoto Noodle establishments! It's a very short walk (a few minutes) from the main Kawaguchiko Station to get here.
Back to Tokyo
Make sure you book yourself a round trip ticket to get a better deal on the price, and also secure yourself a way back during this busy time of year. A quick note: if your bus doesn't leave for a while and you want to explore more, there is cheap and secure luggage storage lockers at the main Kawaguchiko terminal. These lockers are big enough for a typical backbackers bag, so there's plenty of space. Hit up the nearby Lawsons for some bus drinks and snacks and head back into the city.
Although you may have already had breakfast, if you make it back in time, Flippers might still be serving up some hot and very fluffy pancakes. These towering hot cakes are as delicious as they are artistic. Served with whipped cream, tapioca pearls, mint leaves, or other condiments, these are a must-have while you're in Tokyo. I would recommend a hot drink to go with them - something matcha is always a good bet here (and all over Tokyo).
An Afternoon Baseball Game ($$)
Baseball is huge in Japan! And even if you're not a baseball fan, or even a sports fan, this is still a super fun and cultural experience, and a great way to spend the afternoon. One of their teams, the Yomiuri Giants, are compared at the same fandom level as the Yankees. Check here for their English schedule and to book tickets. They play fairly often, but again, book inadvance to secure both a seat and a better deal on tickets.
This one is a bit of an off the beaten path attraction/bar, but it's so unique, you must see it for yourself. This cozy bar is run by actively practicing Buddhist monks. No, they don’t drink, but they will mix you up “Infinite Hell” and serve it with a side of chanting. This little alleyway is filled with tiny izakayas that are worth checking out for the evening.
Sesno-ji Temple in Asakusa (Free)
This tourist attraction is a main event for a reason. It's a must-see while you're in Tokyo. Golden Week will be busy here, so go early to avoid some of the crowds. Asakusa makes for a fun area to walk around during the day - the buildings around the area are urban and beautiful. There's a ton of little shops lining the streets for some great souvineers. This area has a ton of cloth and paper handicrafts, which make for great gifts, and are beautiful to see.
Arcades & Purikura
Many different arcades are dotted across Tokyo and are so much fun! Go day or night - both are an adventure. You'll see some seriously professional gamers trying their hand at their game of choice. Try out some futuristic games, 3D video gaming, retro arcade style games, and even some cute purikura photo booths for some hilariously edited photos of you and your friends.
Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku ($$)
Yes, this is definitely a bit of a tourist-gimmick. Is it still worth it to see? YES! Fun, weird, bright, and just overall...wow. This show is FUN! There is food available, however, I don't recommend it. Drinks on the other hand are reasonably priced. Shinjuku is also great to walk around at night with all the hustle and bustle around you. There are many different things to see here, and you could easily spend an evening here, walking around and taking it all in. Shops and restaurants here are open late.
If you’re walking around after your Robot Restaurant experience, Golden Gai is right around the corner and is jam packed with tiny bars (izakaya). These little bars can sometimes accomodate only 5 or 6 people, and if you want, you can easily visit multiple in a night. You'll definitely meet some people in this area. Some bars have a cover charge, so watch the signage before you sit down. Enjoy this last amazing night in Golden Gai, and don't forget to take some photos in this beautiful little corner of Tokyo.