Exploring Tokyo

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Charles and I spent a few days in Tokyo on our way to visit his parents in Singapore. We had always assumed that flying to Tokyo would be expensive, but when we went to book our flights we realized that: 1. we had to stop in Tokyo anyway since we were planning to fly on United to earn points, and 2. breaking the trip up wouldn’t really cost us any more money. Unbelievably, the one-way flights to Tokyo were $234 each! When we added in flights from Tokyo to Singapore and Singapore to Chicago the grand total was $915 each. The price of going to Asia is pretty comparable to flying to Europe, it just takes longer.

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We stayed in the Shinjuku neighborhood and loved it. We picked the Hyatt Regency, which we booked on points. The hotel had a free shuttle to Shinjuku station which was a short drive away. One thing that we loved about the hotel was the brunch buffet. The Japanese aren’t big on breakfast, and we were waking up early (at 6am) so it was nice to just go downstairs and eat a big meal before setting off to explore. After breakfast, we would hop on the shuttle to Shinjuku station. The train system in Tokyo is massive, fast, and pretty easy to use. We used it to get everywhere and taking the train from the airport will save you a significant amount of money.

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We arrived at our hotel around 4pm, and decided that we would grab dinner close to our hotel and call it an early night. We walked over to Memory Lane, a famous alleyway in Shinjuku with dozens of tiny closet sized restaurants. Most of these restaurants specialize in yakitori, which is a term for small portions of food served on skewers. We walked around until we found a spot at one of the restaurants and ordered some chicken, leeks, rice balls, and beers. I liked that it didn’t seem touristy at all.

We started off our first full day in Tokyo with a visit to Shibuya crossing, a famous intersection with lots of people traffic in an area with lots of shopping. Next, we went to Harajuku, a trendy shopping area that Gwen Stefani helped to make famous. I loved checking out all of the shops and was fascinated by how specific some of them were. One just sold nail polish wraps, another only sold stickers designed by local artists.

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I know it is really silly, but we are both fans of the film Kill Bill, so Charles wanted to go to a restaurant inspired by the movie. It’s called Gonpachi and the space is modeled after the set where The Bride fights the Crazy 88s. The food was good, not exceptional, but the experience was really fun.

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We had to follow that up with a visit to the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt, which was made famous by Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. My advice is to go there early, because at 8pm they start to charge a cover of about $24 a person. We went at 6:30, had a couple of drinks, and left before the jazz band took the stage and the cover would be charged. Also, after an hour I was tired of listening of the sleazy American consultant sitting beside me hit on every waitress he saw.

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The next day we went to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, which was walkable from our hotel. The shine is within the Yoyogi Park… which was crawling with massive spiders. The shrine itself was definitely worth seeing, especially since it is one of the more centrally located shrines.

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The Meiji Shrine was built beginning in 1915 to commemorate Emperor Meiji and his wife, and the grounds of the shrine can be explored in just a couple of hours.

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That evening we went for dinner at Ginza Sato-Yoske, a restaurant known for their homemade udon noodles. My favorite thing to eat in Tokyo was udon noodles (mostly because I was recovering from an emergency tooth extraction 4 days prior). I had the mushroom udon and it warmed me up on a chilly night.

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On our last day in Tokyo we went to the Imperial Palace. We walked around the grounds and visited the gardens, but the only way to see the inner palace grounds is to register for a tour in advance.

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Have you been to Tokyo? Tell me all about your favorite things to do in the city in the comments!

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