Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Part 5 – Hakone Day Trip)

Mount Fuji – Japan’s highest peak. It is on top of our Tokyo bucket list.

Staying at near Kameari station is a choice I would never regret. Though it seemed to be a little far from the city center, our Tokyo experience would never have been as unique as getting lost on every interchange and exits and the feels of rushing finding the correct platform. I would say, me, my wife and our daughter have experienced the best of Tokyo’s subway from sparked arguments that lasted the next day, to sleeping carelessly on the train because of the never ending walks, to memorable times of just pure happiness of togetherness in a foreign land, typically our normal. Shinjuku area would be a better choice as it provides the easiest access to all points of Tokyo, but the value for money, it is somewhat a “hot” area so everything else would be as expensive: food, accommodation and the likes.

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I have arranged a day trip to Hakone while we were still in Singapore through Odakyu travel. The Romancecar, Hakone FreePass and a Hot Spring for 2 adults and a primary 1 child is worth 19600 yen. The Hakone FreePass includes unlimited use of the Tozan Cable Car, Tozan Train and the Hakone Ropeway as well the the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. More details of the the Odakyu Travel package here. A DIY day trip to Hakone is also possible but I didn’t want to trouble myself too much with the planning. Besides, a day trip is not enough to explore the best of Hakone especially when you intend to catch more of Mount Fuji’s splendor.

We started our day early. We had to be at Shinjuku by 7 AM. That will give us ample of time to find the Romancecar, to relax and to grab a little breakfast before our train departs at 0730 AM. A normal train to Hakone-Yumoto will take about almost 3 hours which includes transfers at Odawara whereas the Romace Car will take you straight to Hakone-Yumoto Station in approximately 85 minutes with breathtaking views.

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 “Romance Car”. The fastest means of getting to Hakone. I wonder why it is called that way.
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Inside the Romance Car is a comfortable 2-4 seater. Immediately we dozed of to recharge ourselves.

Our Hakone Day according to weather forecast is mostly sunny. We are feeling so excited to see Mount Fuji! On the one hour and half trip, I have caught a glimpse of the incredibly magnificent ice capped Mount Fuji. I was too sleepy and too lazy to take out my camera and get a snap. It was a bright cloudless sky though so I really did not bother. I will be taking tons of closer photos of the Mount Fuji later.

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The only photo I was able to take on the way to Hakone.

From the Hakone-Yumoto Sation, we need to transfer to the Tozan Train to Gora Station and from there we took the Tozan Cable Car to Sounzan Station and finally the Tozan Bus to Owakudani since the Cable Car was not on operation during our visit. There are a lot of things to see in between stations like the Open Air Museum but we are too tired to do extra. We just want Mount Fuji.

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From Hakone-Yumoto, we took this Tozan Train to Gora Station.
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The Tozan Cable Car will take you to Sounzan Station.

…and yeah, we reached Owakudani. From the Japanese language, it literally means Boiling Valley and one of their attractions are the hard boiled eggs with shells that turned black from the sulfurs natural from this mountain.

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Steam vents out from the surface of the mountain.
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Normal Tasting Egg. They say eating one would make one’s life longer.

More of the featured egg.

Lil’ Miss asked for some time to play with snow. It was her dream to get her hands on to a real snow, though I heard her complain she wanted it falling from the sky.

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Owakudani is home to a museum, some shops and a few restaurants as well.

I didn’t know that the clouds outside were already covering Mount Fuji. I was expecting we would see Mount Fuji somewhere else. Little did we know, Mount Fuji is just behind us hiding away behind the thick clouds. Can you recognize it from the photo below?

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Perhaps the best shot I was able to take of Mount Fuji. *sigh*

We continued our journey although we know that it is hopeless to see Mount Fuji anymore. It was almost a perfect day trip that started from a clear blue cloudless sky.

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This is the Hakone Ropeway where during cloudless skies, a beautiful Mount Fuji will keep you company as you go down to the Lake Ashi
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Our Sightseeing Cruise ship waiting for us down the Hakone Ropeway

Below is the rich view from the cruise.

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Torii Gate in the Lake

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Coffee break at a local cafe.

Onsen Time!

This officer entertained us while we wait for our Romance car back to the city.

Our mission Mount Fuji may have failed but we will surely be coming back for a better acquaintance with the shy Mount Fuji.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Day 2)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Day 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Night 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday

Run With Me At The New York City Marathon with Team For Kids. Find out more here.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Part 4)

Likewise, our Day 2 weather is even worse. The rain shower is slightly heavier accompanied by gentle winds making it even colder compared to the previous day. The sky is condensed ash grey and seemed to pour  down graciously later. Today’s itinerary is mainly Asakusa and Odaiba as illustrated in the below image.

day 2 itinerary

We had a delicious instant noodles for breakfast bought at the convenience store last night matched with bread and a hot coffee and chocolate. The day in Tokyo appears to start as early as 5 AM. Around those times, outside our window next to our bed is already bright.

We started our exploration starting at Asakusa station which is at one end of the Tsukuba Express, just one transfer from the Joban line where our closest Kameari Station is. As the train nears the terminal station, we can get a glimpse of the towering Tokyo Skytree which is not part of our to-visit-list. The Skytree is said to be the tallest tower not only in Japan but in the whole world – that was a few years back. Today, it is now just one of Tokyo’s most prominent landmark. It is not cheap to get up there and I have been to high towers before and I feel the views will always be the same – small and unrecognizable and dizzying (except maybe for the Mount Fuji which you would be able to see on a clear cloudless day) so I did not include going up the tower’s observatory. They say the view up there is marvelous. I say, you don’t need to be up there and spend excessively to see marvelous views. It is just a matter of perspective.

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On our way to Sumida River Park we saw this tree with little pinkish white flowers – cherry blossoms! Finally ticked off one from our bucket list. The other trees has not bloomed yet. They all looked sick and scary lifeless branches.

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With this sight, I remembered when I was doing my Tokyo planning, the familiar Sumida River/Park stretch is lined with cherry blossom trees too! So, we went on to walk along the Sumida Park first since it is just across the street of the Asakusa Station.

And we were not disappointed.

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Lovely Cherry Blossoms. My wife is still the loveliest!

Here is a closer look at the pretty flowers. (Click to enlarge)

 

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Behind is the Tokyo SkyTree across the Sumida River.
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Lil’ Miss with some tourists in rented Kimonos

It took us some time to move on from our fascination over the cherry blossoms before we continued our walk to Sensoji Shrine. The street is packed massively with people not only because of the shrine but the surrounding neighborhood is the Asakusa Nakamise which is a shopping street of all sorts mostly souvenirs and japanese snacks.

Below is the street leading to Sensoji Temple. (Click to enlarge)

Below is a display from a nearby shop of miniature figures. KiSamaru fitted in so well.

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KiSamaru has made it to the wedding!

More photos of the Asakusa Nakamise-dori below. (Click to enlarge)

And yup, we went in to explore Sensoji Shrine. (Click to enlarge)

 

This has quite caught our attention – a fine looking Caucasian lady.

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A Caucasian yet speaks Japanese.

More inside Sensoji Shrine below. (Click to enlarge)

Below are some of the snacks we tried at the Nakamise-dori. (Click to enlarge)

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Not to forget my Shinobi tools!

Our next stop is the Hama-Rikyu Gardens. The idea of a garden is quite mundane and it doesn’t sound interesting at all. We just wanted to try the water bus and see Tokyo through its waters. Having a pocket WiFi is really an indespensable tool when travelling specially on the navigation part providing us ease of locating our destinations through google maps.

We took our exit from Sensoji Shrine and headed out to Tokyo Cruise. It is not difficult to find as it is just across the street next to a bridge along Sumida River. The attendants at the center are very friendly. Although they don’t speak English, they seem to explain how the tickets are sold on a way we can somehow understand them. The cruise stops at Hama-Rikyu, at the Hinode Pier and then back to Asakusa. Some cruise go even further until near Tokyo Bay. Our Hama-Rikyu stop cost about 980 yen (slightly over S$10, slightly less than PHP500) per adult and my daughter who is just 6 year old is free fortunately. The adult fare includes entrance to the garden. The cruise to Hama-Rikyu is approximately 35 minutes and passes along many bridges of the big city. You can check more details here on timetables and fares of the Tokyo Cruise.

The first 10 minutes of the cruise was okay listening to the soft English recording from the water bus. The next 20 minutes, me and my Lil’ Miss were asleep. We reached Hama-Rikyu stop and the boat slowly docked as Japanese announcements were made. A few passengers went in. We thought we will be asked to alight at least in English and we thought the crew were securing the boat for the alighting of the passengers but we were wrong. The water bus slowly disembarked away from the pier fast enough for us not to be able to alight. We took our disappointment into laughter and instead of whining and wasting another trip we decided to alight at the next stop which is at the Hinode Pier. Hinode is not too far anyway from Hama-Rikyu, just 2 train stations and a little walk, we finally got in the garden. I have totally forgotten that our garden admission was already included in our water bus that I again bought another set of tickets to get inside the garden. What a waste.

Our efforts to visit Hama-rikyu Garden was never, on the contrary, a waste. Opposingly to the mundane impression, Japanese gardens are really worth a visit. As cherry blossoms are in full bloom later this March, the main attraction here in Hama-rikyu currently is the field of rapeseed flowers.

 

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The Rapeseed field at its finest.

More inside Hama-Rikyu Garden.

…and more of the garden.

Last stop for today is Odaiba. It is getting dark quickly and as recommended, we took a seat at the front car of the elevated train of the Yurikamome line for the best view.

You judge!

Spectacular isn’t it?

Odaiba area doesn’t have much to offer I think. Mostly shopping as AquaCity, Decks, Diver City and Palette town are all there. Some attractions like Trick Art and Legoland can be found there too but it didn’t really took our attention instead we did a little shopping since this side of Tokyo are mainly shopping malls before we finally went back to Kameari for another big day tomorrow.

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This is the Rainbow bridge and on the right is the Tokyo Tower.

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San Francisco and New York in one place – Odaiba.

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The Ferris Wheel to Palette Town.
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My anticipated Gundam Robot that has gone under maintenance.

Supper. Nothing tasted better than authentic Japanese goodies.

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Delectable Udon
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Winning Takoyaki

So many sights, so many foods, so little time.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Night 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Day 1)

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Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Part 3)

Our Day 1 was quite not a good day. It was raining lightly as foretold. The wind is much more challenging. We need to put on 1 more layer of clothing. As for me, I was wearing a long sleeved shirt from Uniqlo, a Superdry shirt, then a sleeveless ultra light down vest also from Uniqlo and a light weight water resistant hoodie from Uniqlo as well. They all has to be lightweight and with all these layers, I can still feel cold until my ears and my hands and face feel numb from the cold wind.

Our itinerary today looked liked this.

Western Tokyo Itinerary

This is actually our Day 2 itinerary but I wanted get my hands on the Mizuno Wave Cruise 11 wherein a Mizuno store can be found at Keio Department Store in Shinjuku so I decided to switch our Day 1 and Day 2 itineraries. Getting the shoes would allow me to continue training for the upcoming Sundown Marathon later this March. Yes, it is happening in less than a week. It would be nice to run a 5 or 10km in this freezing city.

First stop was at Meiji Shrine. Google map say we need to get to Yoyogi Station where Yoyogi park is and inside the park is where Meiji Shrine is located.

First things first, we need to purchase train tickets again. From my research getting a Suica card and topping up every time you are short of balance is the wisest decision. I followed this advise but as I am writing this, I realized, the subway is our main transport and getting a 2 or 3 or even 4 day passes should should have been a better choice. The Suica card needs a 500 yen deposit which you can get back after surrendering the card. We had our Suica card at Kameari Station on a ticket vending machine at 2000 yen. Looking closer to the machine, there was an option for the English language so getting the card was a breeze.

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Shinjuku is so full of people walking towards every direction. You cannot just stop anytime or you will be blocking someone else’s way. We headed out of the crazy underground levels of Shinjuku Station and off the streets of Tokyo. Shinjuku area is crowded from its street levels to its underground. Fancy signs are everywhere. It is a concrete jungle with skyscrapers here and there. The NTT DoCoMo Yoyogi Building has welcomed us as we went out of the Yoyogi Station. It is a very prominent huge tower standing as the 4th tallest structure in Tokyo.

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I am halfway of my 10,000 daily steps. We continued walking until the entrance Torii gate of Yoyogi park. A number of people are also exploring the place. Tokyo seems to attract a lot of people, local or tourist, everyday.

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After some more walks at the inner part of the park is the Meiji Shrine. You need to cleanse yourself up by washing your hands and mouth before entering the place.

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We exited the shrine and explored the area a bit more in the hope of the cherry blossoms. I have read somewhere that Yoyogi park houses a lot of those cherry blossoms but the inner gardens were not free and it costs about 300 yen to enter. Instead, we made our way to Harajuko – a very interesting place for shopaholics and the foodie.

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Hopeful for Cherry Blossoms but no, this is not one but it is equally pretty.

Above photos shows how thick the crowd gets at the Takeshita-dori. A food and shoppers haven. We explored this place for an hour or more and we tried all the snacks that this street has offered.

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This cotton candy has caught my daughter’s attention.

It is from this store of colorful sweets. More photos inside this shop below.

…and more snacks.

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Yummy Crepes from one of the street corner shops.
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Calbee shop where we weren’t able to enter. Sigh!

Below street is a shoe haven. 😍😍😍 I almost bought 2 NMDs!

We are still feeling hungry even though we have been eating since we started walking in Harajuko. We found this Ramen shop called Jingu-Ramen and slurped this hot ramen to the very last drop. It is so heavenly. The staffs are friendly and the place is warm.

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After becoming full we continued exploring the area and walked towards Shibuya. We came across this shop themed Alice in Wonderland. My Lil’ Miss is so familiar pointing at every item and telling me what it is about in the story.

Walking in Tokyo is never at all boring. It offers different sights be it people, building and even the smaller things in the surroundings.

Walking some more took us to this place. Lil’ Miss’s eyes grew big!

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Lil’ Miss has chosen a few things from Disney Store. It is very hard to resist her wishes like this specially that she turning 7 next month and she is asking for a Disney Party!

It is 5 PM and it has started getting dark when we reached Shibuya. The street signs start to light up brightly in different hues. It is time to hunt Hachiko and get a good seat at the Starbucks for the best view of the infamous Shibuya crossing.

Below. Shibuya’s play of lights.

 

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Spotted Hachiko. We showed our Lil’ Miss the movie about this faithful dog before our trip so that she would know who this dog is.
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Crossing the world’s busiest pedxing.

Heading home. Tired and sleepy. We need to rest for another adventure on our Tokyo Day 2.

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A busker singing her heart out. Free entertainment before we finally decided to head back to Kameari.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Night 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Day 2)

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Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Part 2)

We arrived in Narita International Airport about 5:30 PM Tokyo time. Tokyo is an hour earlier from Singapore but I did not expect it to be so dark like we arrived at night. The weather was chilly at 5 degrees if I am not wrong. I am not used to such cold weather and so we immediately put on another layer of sweaters and scarves as soon as we felt really cold. The Airport has warmers but the moment you step out to an open area like at the train platforms, you’d feel the sudden change of air temperature specially when it is windy.

Time to check in. Our host Mizuki from AirBnB has given us a very detailed instruction on how to reach the apartment.

Final Tokyo Timetable p1

It did look very easy, but the smaller details specially for first time Tokyo visitors like us, it was rather complicated. From the image, it says From Narita take Kesei Sky Liner to Nippori Station. Pretty simple but boarding the train is the challenge, from purchasing the ticket either from a Japanese language ticket machine or from the manual counter. Well, the counter was easier although the language barrier is intense, we managed to get our subway tickets to Nippori.

On the Dropbox file that our host Mizuki sent us, it contains images as well on how we will walk our way from the nearest train station which is Kameari Station of the Joban line. You can find here a very helpful guide in understanding the extensive Tokyo Subway system. Adding about 10 to 15 minutes to every activity would compensate on the times wasted finding directions. That was us. It was a matter of try and try for us as we get lost every now and then. For me, life is like that. I enjoy discovering things myself, getting lost and I love the feeling when we finally get to where we wanted to go – the feeling of achievement. But then again, time is of the essence and every second counts. It does pays to study the directions well. I had no internet connection that time we reached Kameari Station and it was frigging cold, dark and windy. I didn’t get to screen cap the images our host sent us. I badly needed internet this time and luckily one of the McDonalds (there were 2) near the station has a WiFi and managed to get to the apartment. All we wanted at that point of time was to get to the apartment, get some rest and have some warm dinner.

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Our compact apartment near Akihabara Asakusa. About 7 minutes to Kameari Station and just a block away from a shopping mall, a 24-hour convenient store and an average go-to food shop. You can check out more of our apartment here. It cost only about slightly above S$50 a night and I feel it was really a great deal considering that we start our day leaving the place around 8 AM  or earlier and come back at almost midnight. We only used the place to rest, have quick breakfasts, and take showers. The place is not as spacious as seen on the AirBnB photo but enough space for the 3 of us. We had to restrict our movements though. The bathroom was clean and it even has a tub in it. Shampoo, conditioner and body soap and towels are provided. If you cook, an induction cooker is available, a microwave and a small personal fridge with freezer are ready as well. It is typically complete with all the basics like electric water pot, hangers, and even a blower. It has a double size bed and an extra folding bed too. It lacks a few things however like a dresser mirror and a safe. Overall, it is pretty decent. The backside is that, although I find it comfy enough, my wife found it to be dusty and with the the bed and pillow covers needs more washing. The most helpful feat was the pocket WiFi that comes with the apartment which we can bring anywhere.

Here is how our compact apartment looked like.

We haven’t had dinner yet so after a little rest and a little freshening up, we checked the hood for a quick diner and yeah, there is a very convenient 24 hour food store too, smaller than a restaurant but the food served was so much that it’s worth.

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We looked so tired and hungry.
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Recharged after having a very nice authentic Japanese dinner. yum!

I have read somewhere during my research that eating in Tokyo is not a problem. You’ll be getting what you have paid for even at the most convenient store. You will have full flavors even when eating on corner food stalls and they all were true! Food in Tokyo is simply fantastic! We highly recommend this Gyudon Rice bowl store near Kameari Station.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Day 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Day 2)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday

Please support my cause as I run the New York City Marathon for Team For Kids.

Run With Sam For Team For Kids.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Part 1)

https://whateversamblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/tokyo-japan-march-2017-holiday-night-1/?preview=true

My first blog entry is about our recent travel to Tokyo. It is only about 5 hours after we landed back here in Singapore and so I decided to pen down every moments of out trip as fresh as they are by blogging which I always wanted to do for every new experience but sadly, I just couldn’t find time to write. This time, I am still on leave until tomorrow so I guess I will just make use of this time to refresh, relive and write.

I started planning this 1 week holiday back in December 2016 by first checking the Ministry of Education website on which days are the school holidays. I marked all the school holidays down on my calendar and slowly considered all possibilities into planning. This will be our first school holiday since my Lil’ Miss started in Primary 1 and so I better make use of the resources while we can.

Me and my wife always loved travelling but ever since we have become a family, everything became too limited. My wife had to stop working and look after my daughter. There were lots of things to consider primarily the finances being the sole source of income in the family. Secondly, we would want to have our next child soon as we are not getting any younger and my Lil’ Miss is turning 7 years old next month! So before all these things and while we still can, let us make the most of the school holidays.

Tokyo, Japan it is. It is perfect for a family trip and the attractions are balanced for adults and kids. It is time for the Tokyo Marathon too but I didn’t know about the lottery so it would have been the best runcation as well. Initial things on our bucket list were the cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji and of course Tokyo Disneyland. Since the school holiday is just a week and there are a lot of things to do in Tokyo alone, one day is packed with activities with loads of walking and I kind of worry about my Lil’ Miss.

Well, first things first. I checked Skyscanner for cheap air tickets to Narita from 11-19 March (school holidays). Later I realized, I registered my wife and friends to an all-women race (Venus Run 2017) happening on 11 March and earlier on that day is my cell members Men’s Encounter where it has been our culture in the cell group to send the member to the venue. Moreover, later that day I am scheduled to still do a night shift on that day since my work leave officially starts only on the 13th! Anyways, I managed to survive. Going back to planning, I was redirected to CheapTickets after I decided to take the cheapest fares. Booking was fast and reliable although I was quite reluctant on online third party transactions at first but immediately after all the confirmations I have received my itinerary and I checked through the airline website to double check as well.

I like to put everything down into a spreadsheet as I plan specially this is a free and easy tour. I liked it this way. I want my travels to be on my own pace. I want to take control of my itinerary. It wasn’t easy as I had to carefully arrange everything from transfers to meals to accommodation. My initial timetable was like this:

Initial Japan TimetableInitial Japan Timetable p2

As I went on arranging the tour, I realized Japan is not like your usual tropical country and like all other travels, you need to consider the weather too! Japan around these days were like very cold from average 10 degrees during the day to 3 degrees at night. I relied on AccuWeather for this. The first 2 days seemed to be not a good day outside since both days are cloudy with showers. That also means that I had to rearrange my Hakone Day trip as the shy Mount Fuji will never show up during cloudy days according to my research. It is not good to be at Disneyland when it is raining as well otherwise it will spoil the only activity for my Lil’ Miss where she is most excited about. Luckily, the last 3 days were mostly sunny even in Hakone-Yumoto area. Accommodation was through AirBnB. We are budget travelers and for me, the least of the budget should be at the accommodation. I don’t prefer staying at luxury hotels. My preference is that as long as it is accessible and very near main points of transportation and as long as it is comfortable, it doesn’t have to be way too expensive. I’d rather spend on activities, food or shopping rather than on accommodation. That’s is my idea of travelling. So our entire Tokyo Timetable was jumbled to this.

Final Tokyo Timetable p1Final Tokyo Timetable p2Final Tokyo Timetable p3Final Tokyo Timetable p4

Helpful links and blog sites that had helped me throughout this planning includes:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3051.html

http://asiatravelbug.com/blog/tokyo-itinerary-7-days-japan-travel/

http://trulytokyo.com/tokyo-4-day-itinerary/

https://www.gojapango.com/guides/tokyo/tokyo/itinerary/tokyo-itinerary-5-day-mt-fuji-hakone/

and more.

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Night 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 (Day 1)

Tokyo, Japan March 2017 Holiday (Day 2)

Please support my cause as I run the New York City Marathon with Team For Kids.

Run With Sam With Team For Kids