Before we had a little one, my husband and I embarked on one last trip as a duo overseas. We landed on Japan as our destination and, lucky for us, the dates that worked best with our schedule fell during peak cherry blossom season. I cannot stress enough how this is the absolute best time to plan a trip to Japan! More often than not, the best time to see these beautiful trees bloom is late March to early April.
We had a hard time choosing one city to check out, so we opted on three — Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka — and planned a 7-day trip. Flying from LAX we had to add 2 days for travel and 1 night that we arrived very late to Tokyo, all in all a 10-day trip. I’ll be covering the first 2 days in this post, beginning with Tokyo.
Our travels usually have us packing in the activities with very little downtime, so use this as a guideline to see what is actually possible in one day, so you can cherry-pick your favorite items if you’re more of a less-is-more traveler.
Before I start, check out this video of our entire trip to get a preview of what we did.
Park Hotel Tokyo was an obvious choice of hotel since it’s affordable and in a great location once you get into Tokyo. (Note: flying into Narita requires a train ride to Tokyo that takes ~1 hr.) I suggest paying the upgrade to get a room that faces Tokyo Tower. The photo above was taken from our room and the upgrade was roughly $45/night.
There’s a convenience store in a floor below where we picked up some Japanese snacks, candy, and sake to sample before heading out to explore. It really set the tone for the day ahead!
Our first stop was Hamarikyu Gardens, a 7-minute walk from the hotel. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom — the first we’d seen the whole trip. There’s a guided audio tour, a quaint tea house, and if it’s rainy (don’t be surprised if it is) they’ll lend you an umbrella. When we were done there we walked to the dock in the gardens to catch the Tokyo Cruise to Sensō-ji Temple and ate delicious matcha ice cream from a nearby truck while we waited to board.
Sensō-ji Temple was the busiest of the temples and shrines we visited, although it’s definitely a must-see. Plan on picking up souvenirs and street food as this was the best opportunity to do so that we came across.
Hop on the train and head to the Meiji Shrine, a change of pace from Sensō-ji, with a sprawling property and less people to dodge. From there, hop in a taxi or walk 25 minutes to Shinjuku Gyoen, arguably the best place to practice “hanami” — cherry blossom viewing.
Leaving the peaceful garden, walk towards the center of Shinjuku and over to the Park Hyatt NY Bar, made famous by the bar scene in Lost in Translation. Get there early to avoid paying for your table — once the live music starts you pay rent for your space. Once you’ve sipped a cocktail or two, check out the neon lights on your way to Robot Restaurant. Do not miss this experience! It was my husband’s favorite part of the trip. Book in advance to make sure you get a seat — it comes with dinner and sake.
We skipped the famous Tsukiji Fish Market because we’re not early risers, but if you’re interested in seeing one of the most famous sites in Tokyo make sure to head over around 4 or 5 a.m.
It’s important to us to learn as much about different cultures as we can in addition to normal touristy things, so we opted to book a cooking class at a private apartment in Tokyo. Amongst other things, we learned how to make a mean okonomiyaki, or savory Japanese pancake, from our host Mari. She no longer offers cooking classes in Tokyo since she moved, but here’s her recommendation for another class.
When our bellies were full we headed to Shibuya Crossing, a spot where traffic stops at all sides when the lights turn red and pedestrians all cross at once. If you prefer to be outside of that chaos, the Starbucks at Hachiko Square is a great place to watch from above.
A 30-minute train ride will take you to the Akihabara District to wander through the famed Japanese department stores, maid and cat cafes, or to play arcade games to win cute Japanese souvenirs. The photo booths — purikura — made for a great token to bring home. You pose and then put virtual stickers and drawings on before the photos are printed out.
That night we took a 30-minute train to Roppongi Hills to eat some conveyor belt sushi, check out the Mori Art Museum, and the absolutely breathtaking observation deck at the top to soak up our last views of Tokyo.
Stay tuned for my Osaka and Kyoto itineraries!
Have you already been to Tokyo? What would you add to the list?
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