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Travel & Food | Tokyo, Japan

Hello again friends! For the husband's and my second international travel this year, we headed off to Japan -- again! On our previous (and very first) trip to Japan, we wanted to absorb the culture, food, and sights of Osaka and Kyoto. This time, we headed off to the big capital city Tokyo and also visited the island of Hokkaido, which is known for their milk and soft serve! You can read more about our visit to Hokkaido here.

Our trip began August 31st and ended September 8th. In total, we spent about 5 days in Tokyo, and a little over 2 days on Hokkaido island. This time frame does not include the time to fly in and to fly out.


What we did

  1. Shibuya Crossing. Wow, what a sight to see! It was definitely the busiest crosswalk I have ever seen (internationally and domestically)! At the reset of each crosslight signal, you can watch as crowds of people begin to pile up and crowd all corners, awaiting the signal change so everyone can cross over and be on their way -- at the same time!

    Fun Fact: Shibuya Crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. At Shibuya Crossing, approximately 2,500 pedestrians cross at a time, coming from all directions at once.

    Some people have said that the best view is on the 2nd floor of Starbucks. The hubs and went there to check it out, and yes, we crossed Shibuya Crossing. But boy, was it crowded! In our honest opinion, you can get a great view on the 2nd (or higher) floors from any of the street corners! You just have to be strategic and watch out for them trees that might block your view. For us, we settled with the view from the subway station!
  2. Ikefukurou (Owl) Cafe. Love owls but don't necessarily want to own one? Or perhaps you do want to own one? This is the place for you! With a small fee, you'll be able to spend some time with the owls! You get to choose up to 2 owls which you can hold on your arm (for bigger owls, a glove will be provided). Each owl has their name, a small picture, and blurb about them near them, so you can read up on your new pal. You are allowed to pet all of the owls as many times as you want, but beware if some of them get a little grouchy! The hubs held two owls (one large one, which flew off his arm; and one smaller one). I only had time left for one, which ended up flying off my arm after a little while. Although it's called a "cafe," I personally wouldn't call it a cafe? You do get a bottled drink (like the ones you can get from vending machines) along with your fee to hang out with the owls. So, in that sense, not really my definition of a "cafe." It was a fun and unique experience (I mean, where else can you see so many species/breeds of owls and pet them/hold them). This place also allows you to adopt the owls too, so if you're looking to add an owl to your family, it would be a good way to gauge the owl's temperament and see how well you bond. Due to the owls possibly getting aggressive or flying off, I would not recommend this activity if you have young children.
  3. Harry's Hedgehog Cafe. Three words -- hedgehog cuteness overload! The hubs and I purchased tickets from a machine prior to getting seated. They have several options ranging from time differences or if you wanted to purchase some food to feed the hedgehogs. Since the shop was closing within 40 minutes, we went with the 30 minute package and one little tin of food. The tin of food is pretty bare, and we would not recommend adding it unless you want to experience feeding hedgehogs some dried worms(?) using tweezers. They provide gloves for you to wear when handling the hedgehogs because they do get spiky when they feel threatened.

    After paying for a ticket, the hubs and I were seated in front of a display with four hedgehogs. The shop people assisted the hubs and I with holding our first hedgehog and went through some brief basics. After that, we were on our own. One of the hedgehogs in the group absolutely loved running on the wheel and refused to leave. Another hedgehog that was off the wheel was sleeping on the side and refused to be disturbed. The other two hedgehogs, which the shop people assisted us with holding, were very sweet. They did spike up from time to time and especially when they got anxious and wanted to go back to the bin.

    Your purchase of tickets include drinks from their machine. The hubs and I tried their iced green tea and their iced matcha latte. Both were really good. For this place, the cafe looked like a cafe, and there was still plenty of space for the little hedgies. This place does allow you to adopt a hedgehog too! So, if you find one you bond well with and would like to have a hedgie friend, this is the place for it! When adopting pets from abroad, be sure to know the policies for your home country/state. The worst thing would be for your new little friend to get confiscated!
  4. Moomin Cafe. Ready to hear of our biggest regret of this trip? It is this: going to Moomin Cafe. The fact that it was practically empty on a weekend night should have been a red flag. But we gave the cafe a try anyways.

    Yes, this place is an actual cafe. They have food, coffee, and dessert. The special thing about this cafe is that it's an anti-loneliness cafe. What does this mean? Supposedly, you get to sit with/across from a large-sized Moomin plush toy. The plush may have an outfit on too, which makes it fun. At least this was all I read via Google when I added this place to our "to visit" list. I wish I had read the Yelp reviews.

    Upon entering the shop, we were greeted and treated nicely. After being seated, it took a long time for the waitress to bring out the English menu after she had given us the Japanese menu. After that, she pretty much disappeared on us. There was a couple who was seated next to us, and they got their orders taken and food served. The couple was just about to leave to pay when the waitress made her way back to us to get our order. The cafe wasn't even busy to begin with. Three other tables had emptied since we arrived, and now the couple next to us was done and leaving too. This left a total of 4 other tables: two with one person each, and two with two people each. And all of those tables had their order and was sitting with a Moomin plush.

    The hubs and I just had dinner (Kura Revolving Sushi -- see below), and we were really there to sit with a Moomin way of ordering dessert. We were pretty stuffed, so we ordered one dessert to share. My hubs asked when the Moomin plush would come, and the waitress said "later." The dessert came out at a relatively reasonable time, and we took our time to eat. As we ate, I eyed two Moomin plushes being put back on the couch area (another table had just left). I scanned the other tables that had a Moomin plush to see what other people had ordered, and it was the same thing: just dessert or drinks.

    We had finished our dessert, finally, after a long while. Needless to say, the Moomin plush never came. And there were two available Moomin plushes sitting right across the room from us on the couch. My hubs went to the waiter to ask for the bill and to have a Moomin plush to sit with just for pictures (with my smartphone). And wow, this was a mistake. The waiter stormed back to my table with my hubs trailing a little behind. I sat there smiling like an idiot, excited that I would get a picture with the Moomin plush. And that smile changed quickly as I noticed the expression on the waiter's face and the way he abruptly just put the Moomin plush down. The waiter also uttered the words (in English), "One picture okay??" before retreating to entertain one of the tables at the corner with two girls. They conversed in Japanese, but I could tell they were probably talking about the commotion at our table -- you know, kinda obvious if you're looking over at our table, talking, and giggling afterwards (and still looking at our table).

    The hubs was very upset, and I was shell-shocked going into upset mode. We took some quick pictures and headed to the store side to pay. This time, we were treated more rudely than when we first entered the cafe. Overall, the absolute worst experience the hubs and I have had on our trip, so my advice to you, friends, is to avoid. Skip this place if you don't want to waste your time and if you want to preserve your dignity.
  5. Teamlab Borderless. Let me start out by calling this place the picture-taker's paradise! It's absolutely beautiful with their play of the lights and literally "borderless" theme! There are so many ways and places to take pictures. The difficult part? The crowd. There really is no crowd control here (except for certain special exhibits like the infinite lamps). You can technically stay all the way until closing time too. It was a fun experience that the hubs and I would do again (personally, we enjoyed planets more)!
  6. Teamlab Planets. Go here for the touchy, feel-y immersion experience! The theme of "planets" really hits home. First, you thread through feet/ankle-deep water and end at a small waterfall. They have foot drying stations, where workers will hand you towels to dry your feet. Then you go to the next exhibit -- boom! Off you go into the black hole! Not 100% literal, but it sure feels like it as you're trying to make your way through huge bean bag cushions. You can take your time and just lay in the bean bag or try walking around from one corner to the other. Either way, enjoy that weightless feel.

    If you went to borderless, be ready to go through another lights and mirrors exhibit! If you weren't able to get a good shot there, give it a shot here! Because planets had fewer people and was less crowded, we were able to get better pictures here. Next up, walking through knee-deep water! Per my pictures, the water level was actually just below my knees. The lights above the water is beautiful to watch though! And yes, there's another foot drying station afterwards.

    Next up is a balloon, mirrors, and lights exhibit. The light colors change from purples, to reds, to greens, to blues (not necessarily in that order...but definitely shades of those colors). Some of the balloons are moveable, so be careful when going through the exhibit. There were some kids running around, so some of the balloons were going here and there. But it makes it a fun experience! If you angle your photos just right or find a corner area, you can take your photos and make it look as if no one else is there in the exhibit! Pretty neat!

    The final exhibit of planets is the "Falling Universe of Flowers." Lie down on the mirrored ground and look up to the dome screen. Watch as flowers float on by in space! The mirrored ground just adds to the effect!

    Our advice is to take your time going through planets. Once you reach the last exhibit, I don't believe you can go backwards. Use the blurb above as a guide to see if you're getting close to the end of the exhibit. Also, bring shorts! If you do forget to pack shorts, you can rent them (although disclaimer on what they look like because I don't know!). Also, planets offers a discounted student price -- just bring a student ID.
  7. Shinjuku Gyoen National Park. A beautiful, large park with areas of traditional Japanese landscaping and tea houses (where you can take a break or purchase food and drinks). As you walk near the pond side, pay attention to the koi fish and the turtles swimming about. You can also see some water striders making their way away from the fish! For the people who care about the restrooms, there are toilets but the stalls are on the smaller side. There is a small fee to enter the park and a discounted fee for students (you'll need to bring your student ID). We definitely recommend this if you're looking for a peaceful/relaxing activity on your trip!
  8. DisneySEA. Such a fun experience and definitely worth visiting if you want to see something other than your usual Disneyland/Disney World! At DisneySEA, you'll get to explore different areas that are port themed. If you want to make the most of your day, I would strategize getting Fastpasses first, then taking the time to enjoy the park. The park is big, but there aren't as many rides as Disneyland. Definitely don't stall on getting Fastpasses though because they do close the Fastpass stalls! Also, the snacks are very different at this park compared to your run-of-the-mill Disneyland parks. Some foods the hubs and I recommend that you try are the alien mochi (comes in a pack of 3 alien mochis, each with different flavors -- custard, strawberry, and chocolate); the tiramisu ice cream sandwich; the Mickey/Minnie mouse ice cream pop; and as many of the different popcorn flavors you can. The hubs and I tried the curry and the caramel one. Both were equally delicious! Also, try to hunt down the cinnamon churro shop! They have Mickey shaped churros, which are definitely unique! The hubs and I ended up being unable to find the churro shop because it was raining; however, we stopped by another churro shop and were pleasantly surprised when we bit in and found out it was a savory churro!
  9. Edo-Tokyo Museum. A very interactive, hands-on museum! Aside from browsing through historical texts, maps, and whatnot, you can sit on one of their older bicycles, go through a model of a traditional Japanese home, sit inside a palanquin, and more! The museum was informative and the ability to do some hands-on things kept everything interesting!
  10. Kit Kat Chocolatory and Cafe. We came to this cafe after I had read reviews about sushi shaped chocolates and being able to create your own flavor of Kit Kats. At the time of our visit here, we were already scarred by our experience with Moomin and didn't see those options on their menu. We didn't really do much there except stop in. It's definitely the place for Kit Kat lovers, as they have all kinds of Kit Kats.
  11. Pokemon Center. A pokemon fan's dream come true! There are all kinds of pokemon plushies and accessories -- all of which are for sale in Japan only (per the label). If plushies are not your thing and you just want a small souvenir, the most cost-effective thing would be to buy something from the gatchapon machine outside of the shop (but inside the Pokemon Center). Be sure to take all the pictures you want of the plushies! I definitely did!

Travel Pro Tip: When traveling to Tokyo, expect to make reservations for places (ie. Pokemon Cafe) or buy your tickets for things you want to do (ie. DisneySEA, Teamlab) well ahead of time as places can and do sell out. The only thing to keep in mind when purchasing tickets ahead of time is that you may be locked in to the date, so plan accordingly!

Where we stayed

  1. Courtyard Marriott Tokyo Station. The luxury of a Marriott hotel that you would expect in the United States, but Japanese style! The living space is smaller, there's a small coffee table and pair of chairs, and a bidet toilet in the bathroom. But otherwise, it's very clean and their common area (where the check in desk is at) is very classy looking. They also provide reusable house slippers for your use during your stay.
  2. Hotel Intergate Tokyo Kyobashi. Another really nice hotel that is attached to a Mini Stop (think 7-11, where you can get snacks and water...just be sure to check in to your hotel room first because you'll need your keycard if accessing the shop after hours). It's a nice and clean hotel on par (at least in my opinion) with the Courtyard Marriott. They have nightly ochazuke where you can mix tea with rice along with unlimited varieties of toppings for free. Yes, I said free! And you can fill up on that as many times as you want. There are also other free activities for guests, but the hubs and I didn't try anything else out since we were out during the day. They also provide reusable house slippers for your use during your stay. Space-wise, the room is similar to that of the Marriott.

What we ate

  1. Uobei Sushi. Looking for delicious sushi that is approximately $1 USD per dish (2 sushi pieces per dish)? This is your place! Do note that the conversion rate is as of the time of this post. We entered the restaurant and told the front desk person how many people were in our party. After that, we were seated within 5 minutes and given mini clipboards with our assigned seat numbers on it. All of the sushi dishes are made fresh to order and will be served via a bullet-train style conveyor belt when ready. The conveyor belt has two layers, so be sure to pay attention to which layer your order arrives at (it will show on the iPad display). Place your orders via the iPad at your station. You can order 4 dishes maximum per iPad at a time. You'll be sitting bar stool style. There are no other table style options. At the end, if you're paying together, you just need to bring your little clipboards back to the front and let the front desk person know that you want to pay together. It was a good experience, the fish was fresh, and we would visit again if we're back in Tokyo!
  2. Sukiya. A Japanese chain store that is known for their breakfast, which consists of raw egg mixed into rice. You're probably reading this and thinking "wait...what?" Yes. You crack a raw egg into your fresh steamed rice bowl and mix! There's also some light soy sauce to mix in for some flavor as well. The dish set comes with protein (I went with salmon) and a bowl of miso soup. It was a unique experience and something we would recommend if you're looking to try a different type of Japanese dish!
  3. Kura Sushi. Yes. I know. Some of you are cringing as I talk about this place because we do, after all, have this place in California. Here's the difference: the one in California (at least in the Sacramento area) has a lot of rolls on their conveyor belt. The one the hubs and I went to had pretty much no rolls and the fish was fresher. Except for the maki or natto rolls, everything else was straight up nigiri (2 pieces per plate). It is very price friendly, but the process of getting seated is not for the faint-of-heart. The hubs and I got there at a random time (3pm local time), and we were number 92 with a estimated 65 minute wait. Say what? The hubs and I decided to explore around town and come back (that's when we went to the owl cafe, hehe). By the time we came back, we got a new number (9) and now had an estimated wait time of 20 minutes. The wait to get seated is frustrating, and the greeters call the numbers in Japanese, so if you don't know your numbers...well, good luck.

    Once seated though, you'll be sitting booth style in a booth that can probably fit 6-8 people. It was very spacious for us hubs and wife. Once seated and ordering, you can really take your time. Order, chit chat, sit there -- and repeat. That's probably why the wait time can get crazy during the peak times (although I have no idea why it was so busy at 3pm). The fun part, of course, was clearing enough plates to get a gatchapon! We cleared a total of 30 plates (we got our first and only gatchapon at plate #15 and was hoping that we'd get a second one when we hit plate #30). Overall, the hubs and I agreed that we would have rather gone back to Uobei Sushi or tried a different place than play this waiting game.
  4. A Happy Pancake. If you have never tried Japanese style souffle pancakes, this is the place to go! They used locally sourced honey to make their butter, and their pancakes literally melts in your mouth. Even the hubs was very impressed!
  5. Moyan Curry. A delicious Japanese curry place. Imagine thick curry sauce and tender slabs of beef. Mix them with rice and start nomming! The curry from here is different than the Japanese curry the hubs and I had during our last trip to the Kyoto/Osaka area. Definitely worth trying if you want to get your fill of rice and curry!
  6. Pokemon Cafe. Such a wonderful experience here! You'll need to make reservations for this cafe well before your trip. You could also try doing a walk-in and snag a seat of someone who reserved but didn't show up. I'm not sure of the likelihood of you actually getting a seat. But honestly, if this is your "once in a lifetime" chance to go to the cafe, just make a reservation to be guaranteed a seat and table!

    The hubs isn't a pokemon fan, so he had no idea about anything here, but he definitely appreciated the very good service compared to how we were treated at Moomin. We ordered the pikachu pudding and the blue articuno cream soda drink and shared both.

    Before you start eating, be sure to save your placemat! Each time you go to the Pokemon Cafe, you're given a random pokemon placemat (of the 150 pokemon total), so think of it as a free souvenir! For every drink you order (cold or hot), you get a free coaster (it's a plastic film coaster..nothing too fancy, but it's free). The coaster features a random pokemon. You can take your time to order and eat, so long as it's within your reserved timeframe. Your last order will be 30 minutes before your reservation time is up.

    Be sure to sit and enjoy! There were people who left early and missed out on the surprise pikachu appearance/show! It was super cute and entertaining! And it brought smiles all around!
  7. Motodane. One of the hubs' and my favorite sushi places on our trip! It's by no means as cheap as the $1 USD places, but getting some good-quality, fresh fish while visiting Japan is a must! It's a small, mom-and-pop, hole-in-a-wall restaurant. The shop owner has two tables that seat 4 each and one large table that seats 8-10 people. Be ready to get cozy and possibly sit next to random people, unless you're a party of 4. You just might luck out and get your own table. The popular dishes at this restaurant is the chirashi and the sushi combo. I opted for the sushi combo, and the hubs got the chirashi. Your order comes with a bowl of miso soup and free refillable tea. If you do end up finding their other entrance, they have sushi bar style seating that seats a max of 4(?) people. The hubs and I aren't completely sure since we didn't enter from there. Overall, we would recommend this place. The fish is so fresh and the fact that people are in and out of the shop is always a good sign! The only issue is that this place might be a little difficult to find.
  8. Rokurinsha. Craving ramen? This is your place to go! The hubs and I had dinner here, and I think we made it in good time with only a 20 minute wait. The wait line literally wraps around the shop. Upon entering the shop, you'll be asked to purchase your meal from a ticket machine. You'll give your ticket to the waitress who will then give the ticket to the chef. After that, you just need to wait for your food. The ramen was delicious!

We were hoping to try out the Mario Kart go-kart, but we didn't have enough time when it was time to get our international driver's licenses. Bad planning on our part. If you do plan on doing the go-kart, you'll need an international driver's license, which takes about 10 business days to process after you go in and submit all of the required paperwork. If this is something you want to try, be sure to plan enough time to complete it well ahead of your trip!

As far as travelling around through Tokyo, we traveled by foot or by public transportation (we purchased a 72-hour subway pass...totally worth it).

Stay tuned for part 2 (Hokkaido) of my husband's and my second trip to Japan!

- Nicole G.
@nextwithnicole // @nursenicoleg

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