Book into an Airbnb accessible to the train station - we opted for one a little out of town but in a great little neighbourhood called Keisei Tateishi. Now lets face it after a budget flight and perhaps no sleep you’re not feeling for too much on the first night so go and get yourself fed then home to bed so you don’t overkill it or your parents on the first day. We settled on a chain place for dinner called Keishuen which was delicious- we cooked our own meats on a hot plate, mixed our own sauces, drank a bunch of beers and called it a night.
Wake up with a coffee at Doutor - a pretty consistently good coffee joint, get it to go though as the small shops are full of smokers and their smoke. Now if you’re lucky enough visit Japan whilst a Sumo tournament is on then this is high priority!!!! You can either show up at about 6am at the stadium and try to beat the crowds to score yourself some cheap tickets or do as we did; book online, pay a bit extra but go with a group who will give you extensive info about the fights and the wrestlers which I found super helpful!
The matches are quick and exciting, and whilst its illegal to bet on the fights with strangers it’s not amongst friends so feel free to raise the stakes and wager something on each challenge. Our tour which we booked months in advance was through JB sunrise tours, and it met at 2pm in the world trade centre. conveniently this is attached to a food court which had tasty lunches and big beers before we headed to the stadium.
A bunch of beers and 15 rounds of fights later head on into Shibuya - The busiest crossing in the world . Get amongst the foot traffic and head over the crossing to a restaurant for shibu shibu which translates to swimming, swimming. For $40 you have unlimited meat, salads and drinks. Grab yourself a big glass of highball (whisky and soda) and splash your meat around in the boiling hot pot till your tummy is content. Kicking on because your parents just haven’t had enough yet; Catch an elevator up to bridge DJ bar that a local let us in on. This sweet bar has views over the crossing and is always pumping so it is the perfect way to see out your first day in Japan.
Jump on a train to Shimokitazawa to explore an entire little suburb of of vintage shops, funky shops and small bars. From over priced but pretty cool vintage clothing, to troll dolls and cowboy boots.. If you’re like me then this is an entire day excursion. There are some really cool rockabilly bars that come to life in the evening however be prepared for about a $30 cover charge to get into any of these venues. Bar hop till you drop, or until your parents are ready for a big bowl of Ramen and bed.
Escape from Tokyo for a few days and catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. It was around $225 per person and travels up to 300kms an hour. A super comfortable and easy way of covering so many miles.
Try to score yourself another affordable and adorable Airbnb in a good area - we were lucky and snapped one up only two stations from the centre. Spend the late afternoon/evening checking out Gion, exploring the streets of the old town and occasionally spotting a geisha/ or atleast a bunch of tourists dressed as them. Walk via the Yasaka Shrine to check out some beautiful gardens then back to the street of Hanamikoji; lined with many popular restaurants. We ended up at a quaint two story one with sunken seating for a delicious meal before calling it a night. Before leaving this part of town try to book yourself some tickets to see see the tea ceremony and Geisha show - see day 7 for more info.
Head for Kyoto station nice and early to purchase an all day bus pass which will only set you back 500 Yen. Jump on a bus to Arashiyama-Tenryuju-Mae to find yourself amongst the hustle and bustle of the Bamboo forest. This tourist hot spot attracts people by the bus load, so whilst it’s a gorgeous walk through the tall bamboo grove it didn’t take us long to jump back on a bus to escape the manic crowds.
Back at Kyoto station pick up some sushi at one of several chains and be sure to spend some time exploring the insanely amazing arcitecture here. Walk along the bridge which overlooks the entire building.. not all that friendly for those afraid of heights, mum’s legs were weak the entire walk. If this doesn’t get you quite high enough just across the road you can jump in an elevator that will take you to great heights at the top of the Kyoto tower.
These epic views with leave you feeling pumped and perhaps your heart in your stomach but is definitely worth it. Jump back on a bus once your done with the centre bound for Fushimi-Inari-Taisha; A shrine, or shall I say a sea of orange. Follow the posts all the way up the mountain for some spectacular views and if you’re lucky enough to snap a solo photo at this impressive shrine. After ticking boxes all day grab some dinner and head home to put your feet up before another big day tomorrow.
Wake up with a walk by the canal known as the Path of Philosophy which will lead you right by a free but quaint garden temple; Honen-In. Next stop is the busy but extensive World Heritage site of Ginkaku-Ji. These well kept grounds will take about an hour to explore properly but lunch is only a few blocks away.
Chitose will serve you up one of the best Okonamiyakis that you will ever have, this authentic place is well worth seeking out! After so much walking and eating I highly recommend soaking your exhausted body at the Funaoka Onsen baths. Get your kit off let your worries soak away.. it is a unique experience not to be missed and the perfect way to end the day. If your father is anything like mine he’ll spend less time bathing and more time drinking beer from the vending machine in the waiting area.
Back on Hanamikoji Street to confirm our $75 tickets that we pre purchased to see the Geisha show. With an hour to spare before the show we made our way a little further up the river for a scenic coffee at Starbucks. Full of beans we made our way back to be herded in with the crowd up the stairs and into a small room. A graceful Geisha entered with a stern face and dressed immaculately. She slowly and precisely performed her tea ceremony which is a massive part of Japanese culture, we were then served a bowl of chilled, thick green tea and a soy bean sweet…neither of which mum or dad found edible. It is one of those must do experiences that you will only ever do once, and only lasts for about 15 minutes. We then proceeded up the stairs and into the theatre. It was a very dramatic and theatrical show…which I am still confused as to what happened. Dad ended up watching the back of his eyelids, suddenly waking to dialogue that sounded like “I see a lollypop”, it was almost a yodelling type of delivery. Again not for everyone but an interesting experience all the same.
An hour later we emerged to the busy street and walked to the markets; Shingoku and Teramachi; both overpriced and underwhelming. They seem to be really cashing in on the whole “vintage” movement.. but unfortunaly seem to over shoot on the pricetag. We revived ourselves at a chain Ramen place ordering our meals from a ticket machine, and then spent the next 5 hours drinking way too many beers and losing our voices at a fun karaoke club called Barcode.
Checkout Tojisan flea market- over priced but atmospheric. For a better variety of shopping head to Kyoto station and browse around the Cube complex stacked with souveneirs. Grab some lunch at Nishiki Market, again overpriced but the variety of food is impressive.
Farewelling Kyoto we jumped on a train to Osaka which only takes about half an hour. Dropping off our bags to our last Airbnb we then headed into the Dotonburi. This massive, neon washed outdoor shopping arcade stretched for miles and is an easy way to spend the afternoon. Grab some street food from Wanaka- Takoyaki, but be sure to be back on the bridge to watch the famous Glico running man light up at 7.30pm.
Spend the morning strolling through the beautiful grounds of Osaka castle. Next up jump on a train to Temma, which is the longest outdoor shopping arcade in Japan. Longest but definitely not the most interesting however gyoza at Ringer hut made up for the disappointment. Lets face it when your travelling with your parents if they are anything like mine, after every meal it was time to search for a beer, and then after the beer it was time to think of where to eat the next meal.. Japan was great for that. We decided on OK2 in Fukushima which is a korean bbq area.
Back on the fast train to Tokyo we were ready to get back into the city swing. I had become a bit of a ritual for us to be at home by 6pm to watch the sumo tournament, obviously with a beer in hand and some friendly bets. The Super hotel which we had checked into was down town Shinjuku which was a super buzzing area. And now for the absolute highlight of the entire trip with my parents; yup you know it.. Mario Cart. The four of us had rebooked online for the last available tour of the city. We all got dressed up and jumped in our carts and hooned around the city. The bright brights and insanely amazing experience are something I will never forget, and even mum and dad who didn’t grow up playing it on the nintendo loved it!
Spend the morning, coffee in hand perusing the streets of Harijuku. If you’re anything like me then Gwen Stafani’s Harijuku girl is playing on repeat as you pop in and out of the quirky shops full of vintage troll dolls and funky socks. Take a souvineer home from one of the many photo booths where you can edit the pictures and make yourself look like a character. So now you have worked up a hunger head to Ton Katsu which is in a shopping centre. A little more expensive then your street food but darn tasty.
With the holiday nearing to an end and not much left to do on our itinerary we found ourselves escaping the rain and spending the day in games arcades and bowling. Hype up the evening with a show at Robots restaurant. It was electric, colourful and wacky and definitely worth seeing. The dinner that you can opt for is quite hit or miss so pick something up elsewhere after the show.
Checking into a different Hotel for our last evening; The Grand Arc Hanzomon had stunning views out over the city. Check out the sky tree which boast the best views out over Tokyo or save it for the evening; spend the last night at The Park Hyatt. The hotel, famously featured in the movie ‘Lost in Translation,’ comes with a Hollywood price tag of just under $1,000 a night! Fortunately, it costs nothing to catch the elevator up to the Peak Bar on the 41st floor, or the New York Bar on the 52nd. The latter offers sweeping views & live jazz. However, it does come with a $30 cover charge, so if you’re running out of funds, have a quick look but head back down to the Peak Bar. The cocktails aren’t anything spectacular, but the views more than make up for it!