Going to Japan was one of our dreams come true. When news of Japan’s visa lifted came about last year, we were overjoyed and started planning. Sadly, the news wasn’t real at all, as confirmed by the Japanese Embassy. Anyhow, the good news is that, it becomes easier to receive a Japanese visa and they can even provide multiple entries upon approval.
When PAL released their seat sale earlier this year, Tabs and I hurried to book a flight to Narita, business class. It still cost us a little over USD2k, but taking into considerations the 4-hour flight, a baby with us, and our first time in Japan, we decided to splurge instead. Its a seat sale after all, still cheaper than the regular fare.
We booked for June 6-8, and came May, we were still unprepared for the trip, and visa application. We thought of rebooking the flight for September, as our honeymoon after the wedding. But rebooking the tickets will cost us almost USD700 more, and downgrading the tickets to economy is not allowed. And so with less than a month before the flight, we decided to just take it, come what may with the visa. We then prepared the requirements for visa application, and online booking of hotel and tours.
We received the visa just 2 days after submitting to Reli Tours. It cost php3,600 for the three of us. Of course we were thrilled upon our approval, imagine, its a Japanese visa! Meaning we have a chance to get a multiple on the next application. And also, our stepping stone to the US and Europe. (A third-world thinking like us 😝)
Tokyo’s weather when we arrived was 20 degrees with rain showers. 20 was ideal, but the rain, well, it isn’t much when you’re travelling.
It took us almost 2 hours from Narita Airport to Marriott Courtyard Ginza via Airport Limousine. We chose Courtyard because the airport bus and tour bus stops here, and also near a subway station, so its very convenient for our airport transfer and tours. The first day is a free day since we arrived at the airport at past 12 noon already. I noticed that Narita Airport is already an old airport. I’m not so sure with Terminal 1 but I think Terminal 2 needs a renovation to be at par with other airports like Hongkong or Incheon. We collected the wifi router Tabs rented as we were waiting for the next bus shedule at 145PM. Its already raining when we landed, and the rain didn’t stop throughout the day.
After checking in at the Courtyard and resting for a while, we took the subway and went to see the Tokyo Skytree Tower. Because it was raining, we could only see fog from up the tower, and only the tiniest bit of sight of the buildings. After buying our souvenirs we went down for dinner. We looked for a resto that has an English menu, and we settled at Kitchen Jo’s, sort of like Western Japanese. The nice thing about it was, when we asked for a high chair for Sophie, they included a kiddie plate with utensils and a cup with straw. Its so cute. The only thing we noticed about their high chairs everywhere here, its just literally a small high chair, no seatbelt whatsoever.
Access to the Skytree is in the 4th floor of a mall, so after viewing and dinner we walked around inside for a while. There was a Hello Kitty store and bought some stuffed toys for Sophie. I also noticed some stores selling beautiful fans and umbrellas. Too bad we didn’t have the energy to go around anymore, we were tired from all the walking and we still had to take the subway back to the hotel.
Now came the challenging part on our return to Courtyard. When we went up from the subway it was raining hard. As in think of a storm or typhoon with lots and lots of rain. Good thing we bought big clear umbrellas from Family Mart, they protected our upper bodies, including Sophie. But the rest, especially our shoes, were dripping wet. We looked like poor soaked creatures upon our entry to the hotel. And it got me thinking of the last time I got soaked in the rain, which was, forgettably, a long time ago.
The shoes didn’t dry the next day, and we had no choice but to wear them for our tour today. We booked online with Sunshine Tours a Mt. Fuji tour for today and a city tour tomorrow. The transfer bus, which stops in front of the Courtyard, promptly leaves at 815AM. Japanese are very prompt people. So when the schedule is 815, it doesn’t mean you have to be there by 815. You have to be there by 810 or 812 because it will leave by 815 on the dot, whether you arrive or not.
The transfer bus with transfer guide only drops the tourists to Hamamatsucho Terminal, the main terminal of Sunshine Tour buses, where you will stand in line to the corresponding type of tour you purchased, and will be given tickets to board the bus. It can get really crazy here, because they have so many types of tours and so many tourists standing in line, or waiting to board, all in one place.
We purchased the Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour with lunch, but due to the bad weather (yes, still raining), the bus was only allowed to the first level of the mountain. We got down to take pictures, which didn’t look like we’re from a mountain at all. It looked just like a stopover surrounded with trees, and the rain.
Plus, Hakone tour was also cancelled. The tour guide said a road was blocked also due to the weather. Still, he found ways to make up for the lost Hakone tour. We went boating and rode the cable car. Both were so boring that I fell asleep inside the boat, seriously.
Our return to Tokyo was via Shinkansen or bullet train. We wanted to see how fast it can get. The train was fast enough at 300 km/hour, but nothing really beats the MagLev in Shanghai that goes up to 500 km/hour. Kinda scary, really.
The Shinkansen stops at the Tokyo Station, and from there we went by subway going back to Ginza. We looked for a place to have dinner, and we ended up at Yoshinoya. Funny how this was our first time eating in a Yoshinoya. There were so many in Manila we thought its local, but in Japan, they’re everywhere.
After dinner we walked around Ginza for a while, bought some stuff at the Apple store, and baby clothes at Uniqlo.
Our last day tour is called Tokyo Morning city tour. We checked out early because the tour will end by 1220PM at the Tokyo Station. Theres still a bit of rain, but unlike the past 2 days, the weather today has got better. Our first stop was the Tokyo Tower. Since it was shorter than Skytree, we were able to have a better view of the city. Tabs also said that since the opening of Skytree, Tokyo Tower has had decreased visitors. Maybe thats why they partnered with the tours.
Next stop is the Imperial Palace. Or just its garden, because tourists are not allowed inside of course. The garden was lined with hundreds of perfectly trimmed beautiful pine trees. Today’s guide was a nice lady with a good English who shared detailed informations about the city and the Japanese monarchy. She even took a family picture of us in the Armory Storage Building.
The next and last stop was the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. For 100 yen, we tried the fortune telling here, where theres a wooden box with sticks inside that you have to shake. After shaking you get one stick from the hole and compare the Japanese characters written on it to the many different characters placed on little drawers on a cabinet. The only answer you can get is a good or bad fortune. As expected, I got the bad fortune and Tabs, the good fortune. Since I got the bad one, I had to tie the paper to the bad fortune rack, so that the bad luck leaves there. The guide said not to take the game seriously though, as only 30% of it contains the good fortune.
We walked around the Nakamise Shopping Market (also in Asakusa) and tried some street foods there, like buns with different flavors, and ice cream sandwich.
Asakusa was the last part of the morning tour, and we were dropped at the Tokyo Station again. We went back again by subway and did some last minute walking in Ginza. I bought several stuff in Sanrio World in Nishi Department Store.
If only we had lots of time, Tabs would really love to go to Sony in Ginza and Akihabara, and I would have loved to see Hachiko in Shibuya. At least there are things to look forward to next time. After our lunch at Denny’s just across Courtyard, we collected our luggages and took the airport limousine back to the airport. It took only an hour since there were no stops this time. I did some last minute shopping for souvenirs, I just had to buy Kit Kat, Royce and Shiseido, which I was amazed because its so cheap here. We had snack at the beautiful lounge of American Airlines and finally boarded the plane back to Manila.
On our next visit, maybe we can plan on going to Osaka. They say Osaka has lots of beautiful places, ideal for tourists. I don’t know, was it just me, or I just couldn’t seem to find anything special in Tokyo? I mean, the city was nice, though we’ve been to Ginza area only most of the time. I mean, given that it is Japan, I expected to find something unusual, or maybe something I haven’t seen in the countries I’ve been to. Or maybe I expected too much? What I never expected was, most of the people we encountered, I mean the servers in restaurants or the guards in the subway, can speak English. So we never really experienced any language barrier of sort. Also, I expected the cost of living to be really high. But its just something like Korea, and unlike Singapore which was too unreasonably expensive. Also, I liked that the tours didn’t stop at tourists trap shops which I totally dislike in other countries.
I think 3 days is too short to explore Tokyo. Given the chance to return, I think 5 or 7 days would be enough. And I have to make sure it won’t be a rainy season. It was a short, bittersweet experience. Sayonara Japan! Until we meet again.