Did you know that the Japanese flag is just a pie chart showing how much of Japan is actually Japan?
Ever since I was a little girl I have always wanted to visit Japan. My fascination with Asian culture began when my late grandfather showed me some wonderful books on Japanese calligraphy. I was so amazed by it (and by the stories my grandfather told me) that it wasn’t long before I attempted some calligraphy myself. Admittedly, I was no child prodigy and the paintings were “complete and utter s&*te” (not my words, just a direct quote from my Mum). This was part of a Christmas card she sent me when I was travelling. Don’t worry folks! It’s only a joke…
Anyway, turns out Stephen ALSO always wanted to go to Japan!
So off we went in our hot air balloon…
FREE MEAL ON A TWO HOUR FLIGHT…SWEET! We booked the flights with www.skyscanner.com planning to stay for a total of 4 nights. We flew from Gimpo Airport (South Korea) to Haneda Airport (Tokyo) and it cost around £350 per person (return).
ARRIVING AT THE AIRPORT: The staff at Haneda Airport are great at making you feel welcome. At tourist information, you can find train maps and buy tickets. There are also little point and say sheets that you can pick up for free when you are at the airport. These are great because they help you translate, get around and buy things even if you don’t know the language. Just point at the translation for what you need and off you go!
Our first train ticket cost us 1000 yen which is around £7.60, I tried to Google getting around Japan (before I arrived) and kept on seeing adverts for a JR Pass which can cost anywhere between £300.00 – £1000 depending on how much travelling you want to do when you are there. My advice? Just buy the train tickets at the station (or airport) when you arrive in Japan. A day pass for the Tokyo area is 1000 yen. You can find out what the cheapest option is at the airport. Please don’t believe rumours about having to purchase tickets outside of Japan first! It’s rubbish!
FIRST STOP: HOTEL KIBA (CAPSULE HOTEL)
- HOTEL INFO: HK
- NIGHTS BOOKED: 4
- ROOM TYPE: Double Capsule Room
- LOCATION: Nearby Kiba Station. (5-minute walk).
- COST FOR 4 NIGHTS: ¥22,000/£165.00/$216.00
WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT IT? Well, if you have never stayed in a capsule hotel it can be quite an experience! It’s not as small as you would imagine:
Inside the capsule, you can find a TV, radio, mirror, mattress, pillows, bedsheets, pyjamas, slippers (for 2) and somewhere to charge your phone! Reception is 24 hours and the staff are very friendly. You can’t get Wi-Fi inside the capsule but there is Wi-Fi available if you head down to the reception/tearoom area on the 2nd floor.
There is a large room where you can store bigger suitcases/luggage and you are also given a locker key (so you can have a secure place for smaller valuables like your laptop, cameras and all that jazz) that must be returned to reception each time you leave the building. In the tearoom, you can purchase some small snacks and drinks. If you need a travel adapter for your phone charger you can also get those at reception for ¥500 deposit. As long as there is no damage, you should be able to get back your deposit when you leave. There are lots of maps and brochures in the reception area which can be helpful if you have rocked up in Tokyo with no real plan on where to go or what to do.
WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT ABOUT IT…
SHOWER FACILITIES: This is a strange one purely because of swapping rooms to accommodate male and female visitors. *PLEASE ASK ABOUT THIS AT RECEPTION*. When you walk into the shower area you will be faced with two curtains; pink for female/blue for male. You can only enter that area one day and the next day, you change rooms. Stephen went down there in the early hours to get a little video of the place (with no-one in it!) so hopefully, that explains it.
I’m sorry if it’s rather confusing. It just means that one day you can take an awkward, naked, communal bath or in the other room (on another night) you can take an awkward communal shower. I don’t want to be too negative about the experience but I don’t like walking around with no clothes on in front of other people. However, if you want the cultural experience, try it! It just wasn’t my bag.
THE SOLUTION: Go and have a shower at 5am (or at some anti-social hour) during the week there is no-one around so at least you have a little privacy. The problem is that it’s very tiring and can take away from the experience.
OTHER INFO: There is a great massage chair in the shower area and access to lots of different shower gels, face creams and hair products. Don’t worry if you have forgotten your toothbrush, hairdryer or towels, it’s all there! If you need any extras, ask the guys on reception.
The reason I gave it 3 stars is because we booked far too many nights at it. Realistically, I would recommend only booking one night at a capsule hotel and a few nights somewhere else. It can get really hot and stuffy inside the capsule and that will ultimately mean having multiple nights of broken sleep. If you are like me you’ll want to feel fresh and well rested when you are travelling around Japan so that you can truly enjoy the experience. If you want to sleep in after a late night out, it’s not an option. You are not allowed to be in your room between 10am-2pm because they need to clean it. This also applies to taking a shower/bath. There is no access to the area during that time for the same reasons. The location is great as you are directly facing a shopping plaza with plenty of places to eat, drink (and purchase all the stuff you forgot). If you are not a fan of Japanese food there is something for everyone. It has an American diner, Starbucks, KFC, Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants (ALL THE BIG NAMES) so it’s great for even the fussiest eater.
LITTLE GEMS IN THE AREA
DHABA INDIA: CURRY & NAAN
I know what you’re thinking! Why were we trying Indian food in Japan? Well, to be honest, the smell of it simply lured us off the street as we were on the way back to the hotel. The picture above is of the three curry and naan that we ordered (which was just beautiful). The staff are very attentive and have great English. It’s not in the shopping district, but it’s only a stone’s throw away from Kiba station. Stop in if you get a chance! Two drinks and a two meals with a starter will only set you back a few £££ which is great in Japan (everything else way more expensive).
BALLTONGUE BASKETBALL CAFE
If you have had enough of the busy streets of Tokyo and want a relaxed drink in a beautiful little spot then try this place! It is across from Hotel Kiba. Inside you’ll find one seriously cosy bar and owners who will make you feel right at home. The bar has wonderful character and according to the owners, it has been open for around 10 years! The basketball is always up on the big screen so it’s a great spot if you want to catch the game. For a sports bar, it’s pretty magical. The staff were hands down friendliest people I ever met. We are from Ireland so you can imagine how great it was for us to hear that there was Guinness (seriously good Guinness) on tap! My partner is from Donegal and actually said it was his one of three of this favourite bars…ever! Did I mention that the staff made us little origami animals and spoke great English! I say get yourself over there if you get a chance!
I can eat in reverse…
I will openly say that you want and need as many of these veg and pork filled dumplings in your life as you can possibly manage. The bread is soft and doughy, the meat/veg combo is enough to blow your mind. If this had to be my only “Apocalypse” food of choice, I would take it… over any other food EVER! You can purchase these bad boys at any Lawson’s or Family Mart for a yummy 600 yen I think we ate about 12 in one week.
TOKYO FROM THE SKY BUS TOUR
If you really want to understand the history and character of Tokyo while travelling around the city, DON’T take a ride on Sky Bus Tokyo. It’s a double-decker, open-top bus cruise around the city. The route option that we took for the Sky Bus tour was the Imperial Palace-Ginza-Marunouchi, Diet Building, British Embassy etc. I only managed to get these photos…
Yea, that was pretty much the end of the tour. We saw 2 seconds of the Imperial Palace and a lot of tall buildings. There was nothing on our route that made me say “WOW”. The best part of the tour was when we all had to duck going under this bridge.
If you aren’t Japanese, don’t go on the tour. The English translations aren’t great and you spend most of your time feeling like this…
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR…
If you see these little stations around Tokyo, pop in and upload a video of yourself on YouTube. It’s free and you can do it 24-7. These are attached to multiple channels.
MY FINAL THOUGHT…
TRY TO AVOID TAKING TAXIS AND USE THE SUBWAY (DAY TICKET) AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. THE TRAINS STOP RUNNING AT MIDNIGHT. IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO STAY OUT BE PREPARED TO SPEND AT LEAST £40-£70 ON TAXIS. WE WERE ONLY A FEW MILES AWAY AND IT WAS A KNOCK TO THE BUDGET.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. JAPAN IS A SERIOUSLY EXPENSIVE PLACE. IN 4 DAYS WE SPENT £1300 (NOT INCLUDING FLIGHTS OR PRE-PURCHASED TICKETS). YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU CAN BE A LITTLE FRUGAL WHEN YOU GET THERE BUT YOU CAN’T. FOR YEARS JAPAN HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR HAVING THE WORLD’S LARGEST GOVERNMENT DEBT LOAD. RECENTLY, THIS HAS BEEN QUIETLY AND SLOWLY DECREASING, BUT THINGS (AS A RESULT) ARE STILL REALLY EXPENSIVE. BE CAREFUL.