Friday, February 12, 2016

GMGH's Holiday To Tokyo, Japan!

(I'm going to try to follow the format I did for my last NZ trip!)

Like I mentioned last week, I went for a nice vacation over the long Chinese New Year holiday this year. I'm now back in Singapore and I'm missing the lovely cool winter weather. The mystery destination this time was... Japan!


Airfare

Right of the bat, the first thing that pushed me to select Japan was the crazy, unbelievably good priced tickets that I managed to snag.

Actually, I was all prepared to fly budget to Japan, considering how I heard that normal tickets on the regular airlines that fly to Japan average around $800-900. For those people who "can only fly on SQ because all other airlines service sucks balls and they sure crash", tickets on SQ average around $1.2k and go up to $1.7k on the popular dates. On economy. (just talking about regular tickets, I don't know about those random promotions they have)

I booked my tickets 6 weeks in advance and I managed to get a return flight on United Airlines, direct to Narita Airport (not Haneda Airport) with 2 free check-in baggage included for a bargain basement price of... $454.80. Yup, that's right. Dirt cheap? I think so, especially since it's a freaking 7 hour flight there and then again back!


I found my ticket using Skyscanner as usual and I booked through Expedia. I almost never go directly to airline websites these days because they almost never give the best price. I think of the last 10 flights I've booked, I've only booked directly with the airlines maybe... twice?

Accommodation

Usually when I travel, I do not stay in hotels. For me, I don't like paying a premium for a room which I'm barely going to be in to enjoy at all. Therefore, I usually prefer to stay in cheaper options, like hostels. However, the hostels in Japan were NOT cheap at all. All the hostels that had decent locations were very pricey and they were huge (in a bad way). Like... 120-beds mixed dorm capsule style. Not only is it expensive, but it would not have been very secure or private at all. Rooms were all pushing past $40 a night for a coffin experience with rowdy gaijin tourists. Not my style.

After exhausting my search options for reasonable accommodations, I decided to finally turn to Airbnb. I've had several friends use it before, I have friends working for the company and I understand how the whole company works and all, but I had yet to use it. After searching around and finding a few options that cost slightly more than a hostel, I decided to contact a host and request a stay.

The host accepted my request and gave me plenty of good answers to my questions regarding the accommodation, as well as general Tokyo tips. The apartment was very well located just 20 mins walk from the JR Yamonote line, and being a 5 minute walk from the nearest metro station. Basically, this means that even if I had a late night out, I can catch the later train on the Yamonote line instead of cutting my night short and rushing for my metro, or worse, end up with a 5000 yen ($60 SGD) late night cab ride back! It was nice, clean, with a heater, my own small balcony with a fantastic view, heated toilet seats and nice hot water in the shower.

And I managed all of this for just $348 SGD for 6N7D, or $58 a night!


Transportation

To me, Tokyo felt like NYC. Actually, Tokyo felt a way way lot bigger than NYC. However, it is similar in the sense that the metro network is very dense, normal people don't drive cars and pretty much everybody walked and took the subway to get to anywhere that they wanted to go.

I got myself a PASMO card (the SUICA would work as well) and throughout my entire 7 day trip, I spent 5800 JPY ($70 SGD) on all metro travelling, which works out to about $10 a day. This isn't too bad, considering that pretty much every time you hop on the metro it is $2 if you don't change line operators (and there are plenty of different line operators in Tokyo, so it's pretty common to hit $4 on a one-way trip). I think in my short time there, I've ridden on the JR, Toei, Metro, TX and the TWR operated lines.

The most expensive bit of my transportation was actually going out and getting back into Narita. I pretty much took the most complicated and expensive ($25 each way), but fastest way to get to my destination, which is by the NEX Skyliner. From the central Tokyo area, it takes less than 45 minutes to get to Narita, which is pretty darn quick, but it does involve jumping around platforms and buying special tickets. Not recommended for people that have no clue about what they are doing. Recommended only for people on a tight schedule willing to squeeze out time with money.

A more relaxed alternative is a limousine bus which costs about the same, but requires close to zero effort on your part. You just buy your ticket, then wait at the bus stop, sit in comfy seats and finally alight at your destination. It is about the same price as the Skyliner, but the journey does take longer because it travels on the roads. The cheapest alternative is actually the regular Keisei line and then switching to the normal metro system ($13) but that requires some skill in navigating the train lines and of course, seating is not guaranteed. This takes about 2 hours. (I would probably do this option next time since I actually prefer not to rush, though I didn't really have a choice in the matter this time around)

I spent A LOT of time walking when I was in Tokyo. I walked a total of 130km over the course of 7 days, which works out to about 18.5km a day. Like I said, taking cabs are insanely expensive, buses are a complete mystery and the metro isn't that particularly cheap at all. In the end, I ended up walking a lot, especially if I could save a trip (less than 4 stations) or cut down on a rail operator transfer (walk to the nearest station on the transfer line instead). I strongly advise a pair of good walking shoes and proper socks. To the ladies, please don't wear heels.

Sightseeing / Activities

When I told people that I would be in Tokyo for 7 days, they all told me that it was way too long and I should travel out to the other cities and do my sightseeing. All these people were wrong because I was doing things in Tokyo every single day and I still have things that I didn't manage to see or do, don't even talk about eat!

One thing that I refused to do was to go up to the Tokyo Skytree. Although it is a pretty famous observatory (at least for tourists), I think that it is really expensive and crowded. Instead, I skipped that and went to 3 other observatories to get my fix of city views. 2 of them was totally free, while 1 of them included a nice museum exhibition about architecture (which would have been my major in university if I had decided to "follow my passion"). I was a bit worried that I couldn't fill up my days, but there are really plenty of things to do in this mega city!

Although I did travel to Tokyo alone, I managed to make friends with people there - other travellers and also expats living there. I had a fun time every single day and I was never bored. Tokyo was actually one of my more fun solo trips that I've taken! 

 Meiji Shrine

Takeshita Dori

 The view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building

Memory Lane

 Mori Art Museum Exhibition

The view from the Tokyo City View Sky Deck

Tsujiki Market

Outside Tsujiki Market

Kabuki Theatre

Famous Ginza shot

Odaiba Gundam

Ueno Park Zoo

Akihabara Arcade

Akihabara Streets

Shibuya Crosswalk 1

Shibuya Crosswalk 2

Sensoji Temple

My secret (free) Tokyo observatory
 The night view

Pretending to be a Japanese salaryman at Shinagawa during the morning rush

Shinjuku Gyoen Park 1

Shinjuku Gyoen Park 2

Food and Drinks

Of course, what kind of shit Singaporean would I be if I didn't go over to other countries and raided their food supplies?

Okay, but here's the cold hard truth. As "authentic" as it is eating Japanese food in Japan, I can't say that it is significantly better in Japan. It's nice, no doubt, but queues were long and the food wasn't particularly cheap (except the curry!). There's plenty of good Japanese food options available in Singapore, and although their menus might contain some non-traditional stuff, the quality in Singapore is almost on par while the prices here also aren't that bad.

Where Japan shines in the food department comes to getting food that you CAN'T get in Singapore. Many people would hate to hear it, but the best meal that I had in Japan is Shake Shack, which is American hamburgers. In Japan. Yeah. Then again, considering the queue and the quality, I've now come to terms that Omakase in Singapore is a pretty good, slightly inferior quality Shake Shack-esque burger that is readily available for me if I need a burger fix. I also had more exotic things, such as horse meat shabu shabu and horse sashimi. I was going to go and eat a whole meal of fugu, but I decided to do it on my next trip to Japan instead (I was actually running out of money)! I also had to take a rain check on frog sashimi (yes, it's that same place you probably saw a gross youtube video about) because the restaurant was full and I tried to make a reservation too last minute.

I was constantly eating in Tokyo. Although I managed to skip all the CNY tidbit eating, I probably still ended up putting on weight from all the meals I had in Tokyo! Many of the below foods need no introduction, so here you go!



McDonald's Chocolate Fries?









Horse / Pork Shabu Shabu

Horse Sashimi


I actually have some other food photos too, but the uploading is being weird for me, so I'll try to upload it another time maybe.

My Bill

Airfare: $454.80
Accommodation: $348
Transport (Airport Transfer): 4,670 ¥ ($56.60)
Transport (Intra City): 5,800 ¥ ($70)
Food: 26,210 ¥ ($320)
Attractions, Entertainment, Drinks, Misc: 11,800 ¥ ($143)

Total: $1,392.40

Wow! I did a 7 day trip to Japan, had tons of fun, ate tons of food and I managed to keep my entire trip at around the price of a return SQ ticket, haha!

All in all, I'm glad that I finally made my 1st journey to Japan. It was really very eye opening to see this entirely new and unique culture first hand. I actually had never met a native Japanese person before until I went on this trip. I also spoke to some expats who are living in Japan and they also gave me an interesting perspective on Japanese culture. I will most definitely do an after-thought post regarding Japan and how I felt everything was on the ground.

I was a bit worried about a language barrier initially, but having knowledge in Mandarin helped since the Japanese Kanji script uses Chinese characters. Actually, to someone who doesn't know any better, if you showed them the map of the Japanese train network, they would think that they are somewhere in China until they read the smaller (and newer) train stations that have their names in Katagana or Hiragana. I do regret not learning more basic Japanese before I went because that would've enhanced my trip a lot, but before I make my next trip to Japan (probably not anytime too soon, maybe 2 years away?), I would definitely go for a basic Japanese class and at least get down the alphabet and also the basic phrases!

It was a really great trip that I had, and because I went over the long Chinese New Year holiday, it also felt like I had barely left to the people around me, so that's pretty good! Anyway, I'm probably not going to be taking any more major holidays for the rest of 2016 (maybe just 1 or 2 lazy beach getaways?). I will be planning my 2017 CNY getaway soon though, haha!

5 comments:

  1. Hi GMGH

    This is a blast of an experience and you managed to top it off by spending it cheap.

    Tokyo is one of my favorite destination and looking at your photos, I do miss them quite a bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi B,

      It was a great experience for my 1st time in Japan. I'm definitely gonna pick up some Japanese before I head back again. Japan is a lot bigger than I had expected! Any other places in Japan to recommend?

      Delete
  2. GMGH
    Like!
    I have visited Japan a few times and never tired of it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi starlight,

      I can see why. Tokyo is HUGE! I thought NYC and London was big, but wow Tokyo is just massive. Plus, there's all the other cities in Japan to visit as well! Any tips? Hehe!

      Delete


  3. Great post! The fact that you means someone is reading and liking it! Congrats!That’s great advice.

    Japan holiday packages

    ReplyDelete

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