9 Days in Japan: Part 5 – Tokyo Disneyland

Disney holds a very special place in my heart. I was raised on Disney movies, and most of my all-time favorite movies are from either Disney or Pixar. I grew up in South Florida, and we lived in driving distance from four major Disney theme parks. We spent many family vacations and school trips at the parks. It’s also on my bucket list to visit all the Disney parks and castles. On our wedding day, the Hubbs gifted me tickets to three Asia Disney parks that we would be close to (Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo Disney Sea). Smart man knows his wife.

As you can see, Disney is really important to me. There was no way I was going to visit Tokyo and miss out on two Disney theme parks. When in Tokyo… am I right? Since there is so much to say about both parks, I decided to do them justice and split them into two blog posts. This particular post is going to only cover Tokyo Disneyland.

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Day 6 in Japan

We woke up very early because I am super serious when it comes to theme parks. I am one of those people who is first in the park, has a full game plan for the day, and would be devastated if we arrived late and missed out on something. Plus, since you pay for the full day experience, I like to actually be there the full day from open gates to closing fireworks.

Photo Credit: Disney

Getting There

We left our hotel and took the subway on our corner headed toward Tokyo Station, which took about 12 minutes. Next, we transferred to a second subway line that took another 16 minutes but took us right to the Disney area. Once you depart the cutely branded train, you walk down the train station and along a long sidewalk path leading to the park entrance. If you’re like us, then the park won’t be open upon arrival. So we took a seat in the sea of people who had also arrived early for the entrance.

Photo Credit: Disney

Tickets

I highly encourage you to buy your tickets in advance of arriving at Disney. We were visiting from America and purchased ours online and used e-tickets from our iPhones to scan and enter the park. We had no issues, and it saved us from waiting in lines that morning to purchase tickets. Not to mention that sometimes when you buy online in advance you can get a discounted rate, and you guarantee they won’t sell out for the day.

We had purchased the 2-Day Passport ticket that came out to ¥13,200 JPY ($118 USD) per person. That is actually really affordable for not only theme park tickets, but especially for Disney tickets. So that comes out to about $59 per day. In comparison, if you commit to four days at Orlando Disney parks, they will give you a discounted rate of $89 per day (totaling a whopping $356 + tax)!

We bought the 2-Day Passport since Tokyo has two Disney parks, Disneyland and Disney Sea. We planned to spend day one in Disneyland and then switch over to Disney Sea on the second day. I highly encourage you to see both parks, because when’s the next time you will be in Tokyo? However, if you only had time or funds to see one park, then it MUST BE DISNEY SEA. I’ll cover Disney Sea in the next blog post, so stay tuned to see what makes that park so special.

Pro Tips:

  • 1-day and 2-day tickets are sold in senior, adult, junior, and child pricing brackets. Special rate tickets are not always sold like this, but sometimes as a flat fee for any age.
  • There is a discount ticket called the After 6 Passport. This ticket allows you entrance into the park after six in the evening on weekdays only so you can enjoy the later shows and potentially shorter ride lines as families begin to head home early for the day. The price is an incredible flat rate of ¥4,300 JPY ($38 USD) per person. That’s a great savings!! You 100% won’t see the whole park from 6pm to closing, but with that savings it may be worth it to some.
  • There is also a discounted ticket called the Starlight Passport for use from 3pm on weekends and holidays, and the price to enter is ¥5,500 JPY ($49 USD) for adults, ¥4,800 JPY ($43 USD) for juniors, and ¥3,600 JPY ($32 USD) for children.
  • There are also 3-day and 4-day tickets available. I’ll say that we spent two full days, gate opening to closing fireworks in the park, and I felt there were things we could have still seen. We didn’t get to see every show in each land, and there were lotteries that we lost so we missed those shows. We just weren’t in Tokyo long enough for a 3-day or 4-day ticket to Disney. This was also our first time in Tokyo, and we were there for some culture and exploration too, not just the parks. I felt we experienced most if not all the rides. But should you be interested, the pricing is broken down by adult, junior, and child pricing on the Disney Tokyo website.

Attractions

Tokyo Disneyland has a very similar layout to Orlando’s Disney World. The heart of the park is Cinderella’s Castle, surrounded by several themed lands: Tomorrowland, Toontown, Fantasyland, Critter Country, Westernland, and Adventureland. The main difference is that there is no Main Street USA to enter the park. Instead, at Tokyo Disneyland you enter the park in the World Bazaar, which has restaurants, shops, arcade games, and a double-decker bus tour attraction.

Photo Credit: Disney

Pro Tip:

  • In the World Bazaar and 10 other places around the park, there are mailboxes. Letters and postcards placed in these mailboxes will be imprinted with a special Tokyo Disneyland design and delivered to the post office. It would be neat to send a postcard to someone back home, or even to yourself if you scrapbook or like keepsakes. Wish I had known about this one on our trip!
Photo Credit: Disney
Image Credit: Disney

On the exterior, the castle looked similar to other parks’ Cinderella castles. From the outside, there was a set of steps you could use to walk up and enter the castle, and this is where the similarities stop due to a different interior. From there, a room themed with the scene where Cinderella tries on the glass slipper was inside. It was very beautifully done with stained glass windows and tile mosaic floor and wall murals. There were several photo ops Hubby and I took advantage of. There was also one shop in the castle that sold high end statues, tiaras, and other more expensive china cabinet knickknacks.

Instead of me outlining every single ride in each land, below I have provided a taste of my favorite ride from each land (excluding FastPass rides, which we’ll discuss below).

  • Tomorrowland’s Stitch Encounter allowed us to talk live time to Stitch in a humorous theatre style show. We visited in May, and it was a really nice escape from the heat. All other large attractions in Tomorrowland are FastPass.
  • Toontown’s Gadget’s Go Coaster is a small but quick coaster that takes you through all of Gadget’s latest inventions.
  • Fantasyland’s “It’s a Small World” was so fresh and different from all other Disney Parks’ versions. Seriously best in the world thus far that I’ve seen. I absolutely LOVED that they sprinkled Disney movie characters into the regular international children. For example, Belle was in the France area, Peter Pan was in the UK area, Jasmine and Aladdin were in the Arabian area, Simba and Timon/Pumba were in the African jungle area… And they had new characters like Elsa, Ana, Moana, Merida, and more… It was all really well done.
  • Critter Country has a Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes ride where a bunch of people get into a large canoe and then you paddle yourself throughout the ride. We regrettably didn’t get to go on this ride, but it’s something I’ve never seen in a theme park, so I figured it should make the list.
  • Westernland featured the Tom Sawyer Island Rafts ride that carried passengers from the mainland, down the rivers of America, and over to Tom Sawyer’s Island. We also didn’t have the opportunity to ride this one, not enough hours in the day. But it did look neat. I think by the time we had gotten to this area of the park, it was already closed because they close before sunset.
  • Adventureland had one of my favorites: the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where we get ready to set sail with Captain Jack Sparrow. I think this version seemed more recently updated than the Orlando ride.

FastPass

FastPass is a free way to skip the lines of the most popular rides in the park. If you were familiar with the old FastPass system at Disney Orlando Florida parks, then you already understand the system in Tokyo. But for those that are unfamiliar, Disney Tokyo allows you to get FastPass tickets once you have entered the park. All you have to do is bring your park ticket up to the participating attraction you’d like to ride and insert it into the machine, collect your newly printed FastPass ticket, and come back later at the designated hour window of time to skip the line.

There are eight rides that have FastPass:

  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek! (Exclusive to Disneyland Tokyo)
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
  • Splash Mountain
Don’t judge us for taking this pic! OK, maybe just a little…
  • Space Mountain
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (Exclusive to Disneyland Tokyo)

Pro Tips:

  • The most important thing to understand is that the park will run out of FastPass tickets EARLY! Every ride only allots a certain number of FastPass tickets per ride per hour, and they are all distributed first thing in the morning. The day we were there, they ran out of FastPass tickets in under two hours of the park opening.
  • There are some rules the machines will make you follow. Since you have to scan your park ticket to receive a FastPass ticket, the smart system tracks which FastPass tickets you already have, and then only lets you have one ticket for that particular time slot. There is usually a two hour wait period between FastPass ticket times. For example, if your first FastPass ticket window is from 10am, then the next allowable time you can have a FastPass ticket is beginning at 12pm.
  • I suggest you arrive at the park early (before they open) and get in the queue to enter. Once the gates open, you should make a beeline to your number-one FastPass attraction and immediately get the ticket. Your goal should be to get a ticket for what you believe will be the most popular ride in the park; that way, you can guarantee you’ll ride it. Then your goal should switch to obtaining as many additional FastPasses as possible. So head directly to your next FastPass attraction to pull that ticket… and so on. You are able to hold several FastPass tickets at a time, as long as the two-hour rule is followed, so maximize and optimize on this timing.
  • If you’re visiting with a group of people, then you can designate one responsible and fast person to hold all the park tickets. They can quickly go to the FastPass machines to retrieve all the tickets for your party while everyone else waits in another ride’s stand-by line, uses the restrooms, or grabs a bite to eat.
  • The most popular rides for FastPass are Monsters Inc. and Pooh, since they are exclusive to Tokyo Disneyland. You can find the rest of these FastPass rides at other Disney parks around the world, and although they are great attractions, there is a little less of a draw in my opinion. The internet will tell you to get a ticket to these rides first thing in the morning because lines are heavy all day long. However, most of the morning rush will run to these rides for FastPass. We did the complete opposite to avoid crowds and ended up getting more FastPasses throughout the day. We gamed on the fact that later in the day those lines would die down. We still rode Monsters Inc. and Pooh, it was just later in the day in the stand-by lines. So you can take two different routes as one of the first people in the park, you can firstly go straight to the exclusive rides (more popular option), or you can go straight to the next best rides and avoid the crowds (what we did).

Single Rider

There is another way to skip the line at two of the best attractions in the park: Single Rider lines. Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain both have an option where you walk up to the FastPass line attendant and say you’d like to ride “single rider.” They will magically step aside and let you into that lane without a FastPass ticket.

My hubby and I did single rider as much as we could. There is a chance that your party gets split up when you go to ride, but these rides are only a few minutes each, so you can experience the ride and meet up after in the exit gift shop. At bare minimum, the ride wait times are half an hour, so for us to save a whole hour (minimum) of our day riding single rider, that left more time to do other attractions and shows.

Dining

One of the most interesting things we learned about dining in a Tokyo Japan theme park is that the Japanese love popcorn. This park had FIFTEEN popcorn stands featuring SEVEN different flavors: soy sauce and butter, caramel, curry, corn potage, honey, salt, and milk chocolate. They do every once in a while change flavors without notice on the map, so you may have different flavors when you visit. It is so popular they they even denote an entire section of their map to showcase the numbers of popcorn stands throughout the park.

Some other special snacks you could look into are character-themed mochi dumplings, Mike Wazowski melonpan, pizza spring rolls, Mickey-shaped churros, and mango soft serve ice cream (that has been compared to the dole whip).

As far as regular (non-reservation) dining goes, it seemed like every opportunity Disney had, they themed the food. There were eggs with Mickey Mouse-shaped yolks, Mickey Mouse glove bao sandwich buns, Mickey-head waffles, and Mickey and Minnie-head steamed Buns. I am sure this list could go on forever, but you get the idea. Very on-brand. Very cute. You will want to eat it all.

Parades and Shows

There are a bunch of shows throughout the day, but these are a few really special ones that I will highlight.

Dreaming Up! (Daytime Parade): You guys, this is a mandatory must-see if you come to Tokyo Disneyland. I think my favorite part of the day. The whole parade lasts about 45 minutes in person. However, Hubby and I loved the music so much that we downloaded the song, and it runs only about 20 minutes. It is the happiest and most catchy of all Disney songs I have ever heard. Really special. There are several reasons why this parade is so unique. One is that the parade music doesn’t play throughout the whole park; it actually plays the music specific to each float as the float gets to you. Another is that they include a diverse group of movies and characters. And finally, the floats are gorgeous animatronic machines. The characters literally fly off of the floats as they sing and dance. Just WOW. It’s the most beautiful parade that I’ve ever seen.

Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights (Nighttime Parade): This parade is during the night with all floats and some characters lit up with thousands of lights. I believe in Orlando I’ve seen this same style of parade, but this one was really much better. It was fresh and really well done. As I am writing this, I am trying to think of which was my favorite float, and they were literally one better than the next. Some standouts were Belle and the Beast (a personal favorite childhood movie), Jasmin’s palace and the Genie from Aladdin, Captain Hook’s pirate ship from Peter Pan, and the Ice Castle from Frozen.

Disney Light the Night (Nighttime Fireworks): Following the Electrical Parade, there is a five-minute fireworks display to signal the end of the evening and the park closing. This show will run rain or shine, so if it rains, then they may cut the Electrical Parade, but you at least get to see Light the Night, and Disney knows how to do fireworks.

In addition to those three most popular park-wide shows, there are other smaller shows in each land that have specific timing throughout the day. Some shows require a free ticket since space is limited and coveted. The way you can try to get a ticket is by heading to Tomorrowland Hall and scanning your park ticket at a machine. Tickets open up 45 minutes prior to each performance. You should have all of your groups tickets together when you are ready to scan. If you are a winner, then your show tickets will print. If you’re not a winner, then you can come back later and try to win for another show.

Photo Credit: Disney
This is the exact spot in the park where you can enter lotteries for shows.
Photo Credit: Disney

Pro Tips:

  • Plan your day to include the top three parades/shows. Definitely don’t have a FastPass or dining reservation on top of one of these time slots.
  • Arrive early for the parades. We claimed our curb-front spot early so we would have a less obstructed view over people’s heads. This really is important because you could be ten people deep and have a decent view of the elevated floats but no view of the characters and dancers on the street level. You will inevitably miss something if you arrive just when the show is about to start.
  • If you had more than one day in Tokyo Disneyland, then I would recommend one day you experience all of these shows, and the next you skip them and do the rides with really short lines while everyone else is busy watching the shows.

🐭 🏰 ✨

Photo Credit: Disney

Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, and although it’s only the 6th largest park, it is extremely impressive. We spent a full day in the park, from gates opening to closing fireworks, and we didn’t even get a chance to see everything. I have visited eight Disney parks, and this is one of my top favorites. You can tell there was a different quality and attention to detail put into this park over the others. We had an absolutely magical time at our first Tokyo Disney theme park, and our next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post will cover our time at Disney Sea, which (if you can believe) was even more spectacular!

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9 Days in Japan: Part 4 – Tokyo

This week, we’ll be covering our next few days in Japan, which also marked the last leg of our six-week honeymoon around the world. If you have interest in reading about the other cities that we fit into that unforgettable trip—London, Beijing, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Bangkok, Sanya, Okinawa, a cruise through Asia, Kyoto, and Osaka—then click here and enjoy.

🚅 ☕ 🎮 🍣 🦉

This is Part 4 of our 9 Days in Japan series, and it will cover our first day in Tokyo, the best Starbucks drink ever, the Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum, the lively Akihabara region, an owl café, and conveyer belt sushi.

Before we get into the activities of the day, I wanted to show a map and provide you with a brief understanding of the Tokyo neighborhoods. Tokyo is divided into over 1,000 neighborhoods! The ones separated by color blocks in the map below are the most popular. That being said, the numbers within those large neighborhoods perhaps better represent the main attractions and regions. You can see that although the map is large, the numbered bullets are densely populated into one small central region. If you are looking to visit Tokyo, then that area should be your focus to find a hotel and book activities.

If I can break that down as a New Yorker, this is the difference in comparing the five boroughs of New York City to the touristy borough of Manhattan. Although the other neighborhoods are a part of NYC, they are more of a residential space for locals than the central hub.

Photo Credit: japandreaming.com

Day 5 in Japan

We arrived in Tokyo around 2pm via bullet train from Kyoto. The fast train journey was super convenient and a great alternative to flying. We covered that journey in our last post: 9 Days in Japan: Part 3 – Kyoto Continued

In the other Japanese cities, we elected to use Airbnb as our accommodation, because pricing for hotels had been so costly. However, in Tokyo we decided to stay in a hotel for several reasons. This was the final few days of our six-week vacation, and we wanted to end it with a bit more pampering (you know, like having someone else make our bed). We found that pricing wasn’t too much of a difference between the Airbnb and our hotel. Additionally, we had a not-so-comfortable traditional Japanese futon bed in our last Airbnb, and my backache told me that it was time to sleep on a proper mattress again before coming back to reality in the States.

We ended up staying at the APA Hotel Iidabashi-ekiminami. This hotel was really conveniently located and in walking distance to several of our daily activities. The room was modern and clean but super tiny. Most of the actual room was a bed that was wedged awkwardly into the corner with little space to walk around. We spent very little time in the room anyway, so the tiny size didn’t bother us, but it was our smallest room in Japan. I guess that was the trade-off we took when we paid nearly the same price from large Airbnb to tiny hotel.

Be sure you go to the right APA hotel, as there are two a couple of blocks apart and it was easy to get them confused. We initially walked into the wrong lobby, and they didn’t have our reservation, so they suggested we go to the other location, and that was our hotel!

After checking into the hotel and unpacking, we ran out to go explore. There is only one timezone in Japan, so we weren’t exhausted from jetlag, but we were exhausted from maximizing our time in each city and simply running low on sleep. First stop was to a Starbucks to get the jolt of caffeine that we would need to get us through the day. Since we’d been in Japan, hubby had been purchasing a drink called an Affogato Frappuccino. It’s basically a vanilla bean Frappuccino with made-to-order vanilla ice cream, a shot of espresso, and whipped cream topping. I mean, YUM! Today was the first day I followed suit and ordered this glorious drink and I now feel it’s a MUST-HAVE JAPANESE TREAT. Being that they don’t even sell it in America (or anywhere else in the world that we‘ve seen), it’s a must try. Also, note the adorable cartoons that the barista drew on our cups… how cute is that?!? Attention to detail.

Caffeine wiring us up, we were now ready to explore. Our next activity may not be one that interests most, but the hub’s career is in energy and water, and so when we learned that the Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum was in walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out. The museum is open nearly every day 9:30am-5pm (closed on Mondays and for winter holidays) and it offers FREE admission with audio headsets to accompany your self-guided tour. So if it’s a rainy day or you have time to spare, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

Our museum visit included reading all the plaques and listening to the full guided audio and it took us about 50 minutes to complete the two-story building. It was really well done and informed us on the history of clean water in Japan from the early 17th century through today. We’ve been to many museums, but this was our first water museum. Definitely a unique museum, and hubby was really happy he was able to experience it.

Next stop is the Akihabara region. It was only an 18-minute walk from the water museum, so we decided to walk instead of taking public transit or taxi. The walk was fast, and there was plenty to see along the way. This area is really busy and reminded me of Times Square with its bright LED screens, lots of shops, restaurants, and attractions. This was one of my favorite evenings in Japan, because it was just so happy. We literally couldn’t believe our eyes. Sensory overload, and a complete 180 from our past Japanese cities of Okinawa, Osaka, and Kyoto that were more cultural and perhaps seemed sleepier and more tranquil than what Tokyo had in store for us. You could already tell that Tokyo had more nightlife and was going to be awesome.

The streets were lined with store after store of game shops. There was a big variety, from gumball toy capsule type machines (gashapon), claw games, video games, and proper casinos with floor after floor of colorful and loud slot machines. The gashapon shops were the kind where you insert a coin, turn the dial, and then a ball pops out the bottom that opens up to reveal a small trinket inside. We went into shop after shop that only had these machines. They literally sold nothing else; it was just a rectangular shop with every wall covered from floor to nearly ceiling with an impressive quantity of machines. Depending on how great the prize inside was, we observed you could pay anywhere from ¥100-1,000 JPY ($1-10 USD)

We took this opportunity to purchase some unique souvenirs for folks and pets back home. For example, we got these adorable hats designed for cats. We chose the ones in the bottom right that were in the shape of the clown fish and blue tang fish from Finding Nemo the movie (lucky the two balls came out back to back and coordinated). We actually gifted them to hubby’s parents and sister who have small dogs. They were adorable. As you can see, the most unique and kitschy items could be found in these machines.

The stores with claw games and video games were better than our best arcades back in the States. It was like a gamer’s paradise. So many options. So many prizes. Again, they were full stores where they didn’t actually sell anything, but rather you pay to play, and you could win a prize in the end. And it was store after store of this same model.

The casinos were really intriguing. I am not a table games type of person; if I go to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or on a cruise ship, I only play slot machines. These casinos were huge, and it was as if they were designed with me in mind. Like 10 stories tall with floors full of anime-themed slot machines. They were all LED and so bright and flashy. Definitely no old-school Vegas-style machines. This was the future. It was also extremely loud inside. Think of if you put your slot machine on full speaker, then multiply that by the few hundred machines they had in the building… it was insanely loud haha! We didn’t stay too long before we decided to seek refuge back outside on the busy streets. If you are an anime fan, then I bet you could walk around and find your favorite characters. That may be a fun experience to play a machine you’ll likely never find back in America.

There were many electronics stores including small vendor shops as well as large company stores carrying an array of products. There were also many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga toys and goods.

We also saw really kitschy food and beverage spots such as maid cafés, manga cafés (manga kissa), and animal cafés. The maid cafés had waitresses dressed up on the sidewalks outside to entice passersby to come in. When inside, they act like maids and other characters while they serve the guests. The anime cafés are a type of internet café where customers can read comics and watch DVDs in addition to having access to the internet. This one usually charges for the duration of time you are inside. The animal cafés we passed ranged from dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, hedgehog, snake, and owl, but I am sure there are many more options. Really something for everyone.

I am a huge animal lover and just couldn’t leave Japan without experiencing an animal café. I had my heart set on a shiba inu dog café. We learned that the more popular animal cafés featuring dogs and cats get booked in advance, so you will need to reserve this. We hadn’t thought to pre-book, and since we weren’t coming back to this area of town, we just looked for a café that had availability. The owl café was the first one that we could go into. The ¥1,500 JPY ($15 USD) fee included two hours to play with owls and two non-alcoholic beverages from a vending machine.

The only thing I knew about owls prior to this experience was that Hedwig from Harry Potter was a snowy owl haha. So I literally knew nothing. Before the staff set us free to explore, they gave us a brief tutorial on how to approach the owls and how to pet (or not pet) them. They told us not to make sudden movements, to pet the owl with the back of our hands, to not put our hands by their faces, and to take off all of our jewelry.

Each owl had its own perch or home space. And there were owls everywhere. We went one by one and each took a turn petting them. Owls are strange creatures, because they can rotate their necks up to 270 degrees. So we’d approach the owl with it’s head turned away, in an optimal petting placement, and as we’d put our hands closer, the owl would sense us and quickly whip their heads around, which would scare us and we’d quickly pull our hands back. If you remember the directions above, no approaching the head and no quick movements were two things to avoid. So I was getting nervous every time they would turn their heads. We had a fun time nevertheless and spent almost the entire two hours there. It was unique and exciting, but I did learn on this day that I was actually afraid of owls.

After the owls, we headed back into town to find a sushi restaurant on the walk back to our hotel. We stumbled upon Gansozushi Iidabashi go-round sushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi, or kaiten-zushi) and stopped in to dine. We really enjoyed this style of dining where you sit at a sushi bar and there is a conveyor belt that brings plates of sushi around. If it looks good, you take it off and eat it. When finished, the server totals up your bill based off the colored plates. Red would be one price, green or blue would be another. The restaurant also offered unlimited self-serve green matcha tea and all of the accompaniments for sushi—fresh, real wasabi (nothing like the dry green paste that we have in the States), fresh ginger, and soy sauce.

This was literally the best sushi that we had ever had in our lives. Hubby says that he still dreams about it to this day. Hubby eats the raw fish options like tuna, salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, and so on—while I only eat cooked ones like California rolls and shrimp tempura. The fish was so fresh, and the fish-to-rice ratio was very generous compared to America for basically the same price (if anything, Japan was cheaper than America). The rice was perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned, and the ideal lukewarm temperature for real handmade sushi. The sushi master behind the bar, at the center of the conveyor belt, can make custom orders too, so don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you want. It’s also crazy how cheap the sushi was, even the raw fish cuts that are usually expensive in America. We basically had all-you-can-eat sushi of the most premium-quality sushi we’ve ever eaten, and it cost the same as our go-to sushi buffet in Brooklyn. Highly recommended!

🚅 ☕ 🎮 🍣 🦉

Our first day in Tokyo was incredible. We were able to get out and walk everywhere, drink some great coffee, enjoy an unexpected and free water museum, be wowed by the lights and sounds of the Akihabara gaming area, play with owls, and dine at a delicious go-round sushi restaurant. There is so much more excitement to come from Tokyo including DISNEY!!

9 Days in Japan: Part 3 – Kyoto Continued

Welcome back to our nine days in Japan itinerary! If you haven’t been following along, these nine days are spread across Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo and were part of a six-week honeymoon around the world. In this week’s post, we’ll be covering the remainder of our time in Kyoto — including the Golden Pavilion, the Heian Shrine, Toji’s Pagoda, and the prettiest Starbucks in the world — plus traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo by bullet train (the Shinkansen), as well as pro tips for this portion of our trip.

🗻🗾🎌🏯🚅☕

Day 4 in Japan

To complete our final day in Kyoto, we had a jam-packed itinerary that included many destinations that were literally located nowhere near each other. So this day was full of attractions with breaks in between for transportation.

First stop of the day was to the very popular World Heritage site Kinkakuji (or Golden Pavilion). We left our AirBnb and headed to the train. The whole route took about 35 minutes and included taking a train four stops, then transferring to a bus for seven stops, and then walking a short distance to the entrance. Total cost of the ride was ¥490JPY (or $4.47USD) per person.

Adult entry into Kinkakuji cost ¥400JPY (or $3.65USD) per person. Kinkakuji is a three-story building made of wood, with the top two floors covered in gold leaf. It is surrounded on three sides by Kyokochi Pond (mirror pond). If you catch a good day like we did, the sun shines on the building and water and reflects the gold leaf even more. I don’t even think these photos gave it justice. After we walked around the pond and saw the Golden Pavilion from every side, we continued to take in the rest of the garden. There was the sound of running water throughout the park because of a creek and small waterfalls cascading over rocks that went along with the main pathway.

Believe it or not, the Golden Pavilion has burnt down once before, and the pagoda has burnt down four times! (What’s all that about?!) Well, structures in Japan need to be built to withstand earthquakes, and builders over the centuries have decided to build in wood, even though the structures are more susceptible to fire. The five-story pagoda was for many centuries the tallest tower in Kyoto, until Kyoto Tower was constructed.

It was a really peaceful day in May, and the weather was warm mid-day, so to finish our time in the park, we grabbed a quick soft serve iced cream and headed to the next destination: Heian Shrine. The trip took about 35 minutes with no transfers this time. Just one bus that we took for 18 stops. Total cost of the ride was ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person.

On the bus ride over, I was beginning to get hungry for lunch. Just outside of the shrine, we stopped at a 7-Eleven for a grab-and-go snack to tide us over before lunch. This store has some benches outside for you to have a place to stop and eat, which was nice. If you aren’t familiar, 7-Eleven dining is very popular in Japan. There is a huge selection of hot, cold, and prepackaged food options that are all superior to the offerings of 7-Eleven in America. We each got a corn dog and then split a bun and headed over to the shrine.

Photo Credit: Google Maps (as described in above paragraph)
This was not the 7-Eleven mentioned above, but an example to show how beloved 7-Eleven is in Japan. Look at this exterior decor!

Heian Shrine has no entrance fee for the shrine grounds, but if you would like to visit the gardens then the admission fee is ¥600JPY (or $5.48USD) per person. We had a lot of attractions we still wanted to squeeze in that day, so we skipped the garden. Looking at photos online, I see that the garden is really beautiful. So if you had more days in Kyoto, you may want to add that in while you’re already on the property. We hung out for a little inside the shrine, taking photos and exploring, then we headed to our sit-down lunch.

A quick walk from the shrine, we came across a small family-owned bakery called Le Bac a Sable that specialized in quiches, tarts, and breads. We ordered four small quiches and tarts to share between us because we just couldn’t decide on two, and they all looked so good! For savory, we ordered smoked salmon and spinach with egg. For sweet, we purchased apple and apricot. They did not disappoint! I believe they were about ¥350JPY (or $3.20USD) per tart. So for a total of $13USD, we had an insanely delicious meal baked fresh that day. So happy we came across this place. Had our hotel been closer, I’d have wanted to come back the next morning for breakfast to try more flavors. I highly recommend.

After that lovely lunch and break, we continued our walk toward Ninenzaka, which is a darling pedestrian walkway lined with shops, teahouses, and cherry blossom trees. I was really impressed by all the traditional architecture in this area.

We knew that we wanted to visit this part of Kyoto thanks to a Buzzfeed article about the Starbucks there: “This Might Be The Prettiest Starbucks In The World.” When you entered the Starbucks, the downstairs had a queue to order, some small tables leading to the back, then another queue in the back of the store to pick up your drink as you gaze out the back window onto a zen garden. The upstairs was set up with tatami flooring. This Starbucks is actually the world’s first Starbucks with tatami seating. If you remember from our last post, I explained that tatami is a tightly woven straw mat flooring used in traditional Japanese households, with low to the ground tables, and pillows to sit upon. The store was so crowded while we were there that we didn’t even see a single seat available. We just ordered our drinks, then continued our walk outside.

Hubby ordered the most delicious Starbucks drink in all of Japan, an Affogato Frappuccino. He had discovered this drink early on in Japan. It’s basically a vanilla bean Frappuccino with made-to-order vanilla ice cream, a shot of espresso, and whipped cream. I mean, YUM! I hadn’t yet had it, and generally am not the biggest coffee drinker, so I ordered a sweet iced tea. (PS: It wasn’t until the next day that we stopped at Starbucks again and I tried the affogato and finally saw the light. From that point on, that was all I ordered the remainder of the trip. Additionally, it’s not even sold in America! So enjoy it while you can in Japan!)

From here, we needed to take public transportation to our next destination. We hopped on a bus that without transfer took 40 minutes and again cost ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person. Next stop was Toji’s Pagoda. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. The entrance fee is ¥500JPY (or $4.57USD) per person to enter the property, plus add charges if you would like to go into any of the buildings. It was near closing time, so we figured we’d have just enough time to see the grounds but not enough time to go inside. We opted to only walk around the park.

The grounds were absolutely beautiful. Definitely the most lush garden that we had seen that day. There were so many varieties of trees and flowers, and everywhere you turned was another gorgeous shot. There was a pond with lots of turtles in it. Lucky guys get to live on that property year-round. Even though we didn’t pay the additional fee to go into the structures, we did walk up the steps and take a peek inside, so we didn’t feel that we missed out. We basically stayed until we were asked to leave. Haha we shut that park down!

From here, we were a 30-minute bus ride away from our AirBnb. The price was the same as the other bus rides for the day, about ¥230JPY (or $2.10USD) per person. When we arrived back at our accommodations, we went upstairs to drop our bags from the day. If you’d like to read more on our AirBnb, click here to access last week’s post.

With our booking, our lovely host had included some meal voucher coupons for the Karasuma Bar Yokocho food court restaurant downstairs. It was super generous and convenient, so we decided to spend our last evening in Kyoto at our host’s recommendation. Since this style of dining was more small bites, we decided to order from several of the shops and then bring our medley of foods back upstairs to our AirBnb to dine. Maybe it was from hunger, and wanting to just dig in, but we unfortunately didn’t take photos of this meal, but we do remember everything being tasty. I happen to love this style of food court dining with small bites and tastes of many varieties of foods.

And that was a wrap on Day 4 of Japan, our final and most jam-packed day in Kyoto. We began to pack up all our possessions, and got a bit of rest before a hectic day or travel.

Day 5 in Japan

Rise and shine, today is Shinkansen (bullet train) day!! Woohoo! I think most people would get excited to ride such a fast train, because they will be getting to their next destination faster. But for me as a New Yorker, I was also excited to experience such a high-tech train in comparison to what I ride on a daily basis around NYC.

Today, we are traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo. Although the distance is long, the route can take as little as three hours to get there. Our AirBnb was conveniently located by a local train station. We hopped on a local train and took that a few stops to Kyoto Station. Then we went to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets and had a little bit of time, so we grabbed a sandwich while we waited to transfer to the bullet train.

Total cost was ¥13,910JPY (or $127.03USD) per person. That was the most expensive travel we did while in Japan, but it was totally worth it for the nearly 200-mile-per-hour ride. We had wanted to experience a bullet train anyway, and this also allowed us to get to our next destination a lot faster. We could have flown from Kyoto to Tokyo, but then we would have had to be at the airport a lot earlier than we needed to arrive to the train station.

Before we even started our honeymoon, our original itinerary included a one-day layover in Fuji, the town at the base of Mt. Fuji, on the way from Kyoto to Tokyo. However, we kept an eye on the weather, and the area around Mt. Fuji was rainy and foggy. Luckily our Japan leg of the trip was flexible, as we only booked hotels the day before arriving, so we decided to go straight to Tokyo from Kyoto. I’d have liked to see Mt. Fuji while in Japan. We had figured that we could at least see Mt. Fuji from the train as we passed, but the rain and fog completely obstructed the view. If you were planning on seeing Mt. Fuji during your own trip to Japan, then it is probably recommended to spend a day there rather than see it from the bullet train anyway.

Pro Tips:

  • Ziplock bags of varying sizes are a travel necessity. We saved money by purchasing larger portioned snacks and making small ziplock bags versus buying pre-packaged small portion snacks. These came in handy during our long days away from our hotel room.
  • When traveling, it’s more affordable to dine-in for one meal a day. Since this was a six-week trip, we weren’t trying to dine out three meals a day for six straight weeks. $$$!!! However, if you are traveling for just a week, you may feel differently. Treat yo’ self, ya know? Anyway, no matter where we travel, we tend to visit a grocery store shortly after arriving and always stock up on items that can be eaten for breakfast: water, juice, yogurt, bread, cheese, etc. If the room has a mini fridge, then we will definitely be stocking up on cold items. However, if your room doesn’t have a fridge, you can still purchase bottles of water, a loaf of bread, and peanut butter, Nutella, or jam. And those items don’t really need to be chilled. The only meal we’re really willing to eat in is breakfast because it’s easy to eat as you get ready that morning, then you’ll want to spend lunch and dinner out exploring.
  • If you enjoy sushi, then we recommend you eat as much as you can while in Japan. To get the full experience, consider ordering sushi from several different types of dining options: grocery store, conveyer belt restaurant, and sit-down made-to-order restaurants. Our favorite was conveyer belt where they either make random rolls and send them around on plates, or you order and it comes around on the belt to your table. At these places, the plate color usually represents the price. So for example, a red plate may be $3, and a blue plate may be $2. And if you had one red and one blue plate, then they’ll give you a bill for $5.
  • Not sure about other areas of the world, but if you are from America and don’t normally eat wasabi, you should give it a chance in Japan. Wasabi in Japan tastes very different from wasabi in America. Actually, most sushi restaurants we went to automatically put wasabi in/on the rolls (unless you specifically ask them not to). Don’t knock it before you try it!
  • Be adventurous with food, and don’t be too particular and look for a dish you are familiar with back home. Odds are that is not authentic at home, and probably not sold in that country. In the last post, I explained how I searched high and low for chicken teriyaki and came short finding it. It would have been a very different night had I not gotten so frustrated with food options in Kyoto. If I had to say one negative from the city as a whole, it’s food selection. That evening of searching for a good restaurant put such a bad taste in my mouth for the Kyoto food scene.
  • The trains in Japan are very sophisticated and efficient. For example, when looking up directions on Google Maps, it will advise you on boarding position for fastest transfer. Genius! As a New Yorker, I ride the train daily. For your most common stops such as home and work, you learn the best placement to sit, but if I were to visit a random tourist attraction, I wouldn’t know the best car, and our Google Maps doesn’t make those types of smart recommendations. I suggest you use this to your advantage.
  • Although some of the attractions can be very busy, angle your camera to hide people behind your body in the shot. We use this trick all the time to make it look like we were the only ones there, when in reality there were people all around us. The shots look 100% better when you are the focus and not one of the many people featured. Example of this below:

🗻🗾🎌🏯🚅☕

And that’s it for Kyoto! Over our three-and-a-half days here, we experienced feeding monkeys, hiking a mountain, a manga museum, multiple temples, shopping, dining, gardens, and one of the fastest trains on Earth. Stay tuned for two weeks from now when we dive into Tokyo!

If you are interested in reading more about our travels, then check out the Amarvelous Honeymoon Blog.

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9 Days in Japan: Part 2 – Kyoto

Hello Amarvelous people! Hope you and your families had a wonderful holiday season and soon-to-be Happy New Year. We’ve been on a two-month holiday hiatus from blog posts but are excited to kick off this new year with an exciting lineup of topics. Just as a friendly reminder, Amarvelous posts two themed blogs: Amarvelous Wedding and Amarvelous Honeymoon. We post every Monday and trade off between the two blog categories. If you have a suggestion on a topic for a week, then feel free to write a comment and let us know!

We will start back up with a continuation of hubby’s and my honeymoon. If you haven’t been following along, you may not know that hubby and I took an incredible six-week honeymoon around the world! You can view all past blog posts from England, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, a cruise through Asia, and Japan HERE.

Specifically in Japan, we spent a total of nine days, and Kyoto was our second city where we spent three days plus some travel time. In this week’s post, we’ll cover our experiences traveling to Kyoto, a fun museum, tranquil temples, shopping like locals, an unfamiliar food scene, climbing a mountain, and feeding some monkeys!

Day 2 in Japan

We were still in Osaka, Japan, and had just finished having a glorious Kentucky Fried Chicken (my favorite!) lunch buffet at the Expo City. Next stop on our Japan itinerary is Kyoto, and with bags in tow, we were ready to head out. The route via train from Expo City to Kyoto takes about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. There are several options of routes, but we took the Osaka Monorail to the Hankyu-Kyoto line, which lasted about 1 hour and 17 minutes and cost about ¥5.70JPY ($5.21USD) per ticket. The train was a regular train, and not a bullet train, and actually very similar to the trains in NYC.

First thing we did once in Kyoto was get off the train and walk to our Airbnb to check in. Our Airbnb was in the center of Kyoto and close to three transit lines (literally one minute from the train we took daily). We stayed at a modern Japanese accommodation that was a single private room with a low dining table, roll-out bed mats, a refrigerator, a microwave, and an electric kettle for tea. There was a separate closet for storage and a bathroom as well.

The traditional Japanese flooring is called tatami, which is a tightly woven straw mat flooring used in Japanese households. It’s hard to clean and generally more delicate than tile, which is why many people remove their shoes before entering Japanese homes. You also cannot wheel luggages on this flooring due to potential for soiling and damage. The strictness of the no-shoes-or-bags policy did not bother me, as I found the mat to be very beautiful and clean.

Photo Credit: Be-My-Guest on AirBnb

The traditional Japanese bedding mattress is called a shikibuton or futon. Similar to the futon of the 90s in America, the Japanese futon is the same type of padded mattress, but it is frameless and meant to be easily rolled up during the day when they are not needed. However, we set up the bed and then just left it out during our stay. I have included a review below on what I felt about the futon after we slept on it.

Photo Credit: Be-My-Guest on AirBnb

Overall, the room itself was really nice and clean. The owner provided us with a restaurant voucher coupon which we used on the final night of our stay, which was super nice. This is the exact Airbnb we stayed at, if you are interested in booking the same space. For $41 (USD) a night, it was uber clean, a convenient location, and a great deal compared to other hotels in the area.

We didn’t stay long: just dropped our bags then headed out on a walk to the World Heritage Site Nijo-jo Castle. We knew they closed at 4pm, so we thought we’d have time to see it, but unfortunately by the time we arrived, the guards said entry was closed because it was just past 3pm and within an hour of closing. It was unfortunate, because we totally could have at least seen a glimpse of it and left, but the security was strict. So instead, we just took a few photos outside the entrance by the plaque. This would have been our only opportunity to see the castle, so glad we at least tried, but sad we missed the chance. If you plan to visit, definitely arrive more than an hour before posted closing times.

Since that plan got squashed, we had nothing else on our itinerary for the evening. We did a quick google search for things to do in the area and found the Kyoto International Manga (Japanese comic books) Museum, which was a 13-minute walk away. They closed at 6pm, so by the time we arrived, we had about two hours to walk around. Entrance fees were ¥800JPY (or $7.39USD) per person. The museum had floor-to-almost-ceiling walls lined with bookshelves full of manga graphic novels and comic books. They had divisions separated by year and seemed to have every manga book ever published, categorized by each section. It was extremely organized. Similar to a library, there were ample spaces available to encourage picking up a book and reading. Indoors they had benches and chairs, and outdoors there was a turf lawn where you could sit in the fresh air and sun. We had limited time so elected not to sit and read, and instead we went on to explore the rest of the museum.

There was a special 10-year anniversary project ongoing, a showcase of every major “manga artists’ hands” on display. They took a mould of every artists’ hand while holding a pencil. Then, next to each hand, they put the artist’s name and a drawing of their most famous character. It was a very unique and clever way to honor the artists and celebrate the craft. We stayed at the museum until it was closing, and then we headed out back towards our Airbnb.

A few blocks from the Airbnb we stopped into a large local grocery store to pick up dinner and snacks. The store was called Kyoto Yaoichi Honkan and was two stories. Downstairs had normal grocery foods as well as quick grab-and-go options, while upstairs sold beer, wine, and household items. Unlike some of the sushi you find in grocery stores elsewhere in the world, the sushi in the Japanese grocery looked very fresh. We took a chance and bought two plates of sushi and a plate of gyoza dumplings. To accompany our meal, we picked up a nice local Kyoto bottle of plum wine, which is a deliciously sweet alcoholic drink and one of my favorites. We also stocked up on sweet buns and other breakfast foods so we could dine in our room in the morning, and trail mix-type snacks and candy that we could put into ziplocks and bring with us for the day.

After shopping, we headed a few more blocks back to our room and sat down at our low dining table to eat. Hubby thought the sushi was okay. Not the best, but it was grocery store sushi, so we weren’t expecting the best. That being said, the variety was better than in American grocery stores. My gyoza were awesome. After dinner, we rolled out our traditional mat futon beds and went to sleep.

Before I continue onto the next day, I wanted to provide a mini review of the futon bed itself: I HATED IT. Haha It’s fair to say that we knew what we were getting ourselves into with this accommodation. We read the reviews, and many people said the beds would be comfortable, which is what eased us into the idea that the beds would be sufficient. Hubby enjoys a firm bed and didn’t find the mats to be uncomfortable at all, so if you are like him then don’t let my opinion deter you from this traditional experience. However, I enjoy a soft bed more, so to me this felt like I was sleeping on a rock, and I couldn’t get comfortable. On the second night, Hubby suggested we double up the mats to allow more cushion between our bodies and the floor. This helped a bit, but then we were literally sharing a twin mattress, and that caused other forms of discomfort from not being able to sleep in our normal positions (I toss and turn a lot throughout the night). Over the few nights we stayed at this Airbnb, I developed a backache that got progressively worse as the days went on. Hubby felt so bad that he eventually offered for us to move to a hotel, but I said it wasn’t worth the expense and time needed to relocate. But I gladly accepted a few back rubs as a compromise. Moral is—if softer beds are how you roll, then this particular Airbnb probably isn’t the wisest choice for you. If you don’t mind a firm bed, or if you want to experience this traditional form of Japanese sleeping accommodations, then book it!

Day 3 in Japan

The itinerary for our second day in Kyoto was jam-packed, so we woke up, got ready for the day, ate a breakfast in our room from the groceries we purchased the day before, and headed out early. I had done some research and really wanted to visit the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. Since we were going to that area of Kyoto, we also researched other nearby attractions to do there that would maximize our day. The day’s schedule looked like this: first stop was to Chikuren no Komichi (path of bamboo or bamboo forest), second was to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, and third was the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine.

Once off the train at Arashiyami Station, you had to walk through a small town to get to the area of the attractions. The walking route we took off the train looked like a “T”: the one bottom point was Arashiyami Station, the far-right point was the Bamboo Forest, and the far-left point was the Monkey Park. Along the way, we passed small grab-and-go food kiosks, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Clearly, it was a touristy area. Not complaining about that though, because this was one of my favorite days of our nine days in Japan.

First, we stopped for rose and matcha ice cream. I just couldn’t resist. Ice cream is my favorite dessert, and we kept passing shop after shop of soft serve. It was really hot outside too, so we ate it on our walk to the first attraction, which helped to cool us down. We had green tea ice cream several times while in Japan, and I had tasted better. I didn’t find this one to be sweet enough. But we did enjoy it nonetheless.

We then visited the Chikuren no Komichi. The paths leading in were super crowded. I guess everyone had the same idea as us to start their day in the bamboo forest. If you have time and are patient, you can hang back and let some of the crowd disperse so you can snap some photos that don’t have you surrounded by people. We walked through and took pictures with the green bamboo. Even with the crowds it was a very peaceful scenery. It was really lovely. We didn’t walk through the whole path, because although it was beautiful, it was super crowded, and we felt we had all the photos we wanted from this attraction. So we decided to move on to the next activity to give us more time there—and I am so glad that we did.

We walked back down Road 29 past the Arashiyami Station and kept walking in the opposite direction to get to the Monkey Park. On the walk, we passed Katsura River, which was picturesque. There were people canoeing in one area and a small dam with a waterfall effect. We crossed Togetsu-kyo Bridge, and just up the path was the entrance to the park.

The entrance fee into the Monkey Park was only ¥550JPY (or $5.05USD). A total steal! This was my favorite activity of the day and 100% a necessary stop if you are visiting Kyoto. Upon entry, you begin a hike up the mountain. It’s pretty steep, and there are steps built into the mountainside as well as hand rails to help support you on your way up. There are some fun and informational signs along the way that provide facts about the monkeys. There are also a few benches and flat areas to take a break along the path. We hadn’t had lunch yet, and I was working up an appetite, so I was glad I packed some of the snacks we purchased the night before at the grocery store. I would suggest you either pack snacks or eat before you begin this arduous activity. It was a workout, and once on top I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to leave.

As you get closer and closer to the mountaintop, start to look up in the trees. It wasn’t until we were literally entering the monkey area that I noticed there were already monkeys around us that we had been missing. The monkey area was a large flat top of the mountain overlooking the city below. There was a small pond with koi fish, lots of trees, and a few photo spots for guests. Then at the center there was a house that had wire mesh over the windows, sort of like a cage, but for the humans to go inside to feed the monkeys. The wires were just big enough for a monkey to stick their arm into the house. On this mountaintop, we were the guests, and this was their home to run wild and free. We went inside, purchased peanuts and fruits and fed them through the cage. Then we went outside and explored the site to observe the monkeys. There were really old monkeys, middle-aged monkeys, and infant monkeys still drinking milk and hanging onto their mothers. Very sweet that the natural environment, caretakers’ upkeep of the park, and respect from the visitors all allow multiple generations of monkeys to thrive.

There was a moment we were walking around taking photos, and then the peaceful sounds of nature were disturbed by a kind of carousel music that began to play. The monkeys immediately reacted and began to run to the area in front of the house. Then a worker came out of the house with a big bucket of food and began to disperse it through the site. This food included whole chestnuts and other fruits and nuts. Once or twice a day, the monkeys are fed at meal time (which is announced by the music), and the remainder of the day they are fed by tourists who pay for the experience to feed the monkeys. Even the koi enjoyed a chestnut that rolled into its pond.