Thursday, October 26, 2017

Around-the-World 2017 ✈ Tokyo

I've always been fascinated by the idea of traveling around the world, and I'm thankful to be able to fulfill a realistic version of this bucket list item for my 30th birthday. =) Our Round-the-World adventure brought us to 5 countries, 4 continents, covering 36,000 miles in 20 days. It was a great trip and I'll chronologically share about our adventures in the next few posts, so follow along!

Day 8-12
Tokyo, Japan

As mentioned in my previous post, the routes and destinations for our round-the-world trip was inspired by this amazing route (#9 on the list) to optimize my United award redemption. Hubby loves video game, so Japan is the ultimate destination on his bucket list. Typically, I will avoid visiting places I've been before, but since my previous visit to Japan in 2012 was cut short due to the Amazing Race, I missed out on seeing Tokyo. So this trip was perfect for both of us. =) We were also glad to be celebrating both our birthdays in Tokyo this year!

7 days in Japan is quite a lot, and we could have easily covered Kyoto and Osaka as well. However, we decided to focus only on Tokyo this trip, mainly because we've already booked 7 nights at the Courtyard Tokyo Station. This 7 nights was part of the awesome Marriott Hotel+Air package redemption. If you've been to Tokyo, you know how expensive hotel accommodation can be, so we certainly got a lot of value (approx. $2,000) out of this redemption. =)

16 Aug 2017 (Wed): Frankfurt - Tokyo

After another long 11-hour flight from Frankfurt, we landed at Haneda airport at noon, on hubby's birthday. =D I had several to-do's before leaving the airport. (Note: Certain tourist passes are only available at the airport)
1. Exchange Japanese yen at the ATM in the airport (a lot of places accepts only cash)
2. Purchase Tokyo Travel 1-Day pass at Haneda Keikyu Tourist Information Center - ¥800 ($8)/pax
3. Purchase 72-hours Tokyo Subway Ticket at the Visitor Information Center - ¥1500 ($14)/pax
With these two passes ($21.50/pax), we were able to travel all around Tokyo for 4 days. =)

Used pass #2 above and took the Keikyu/Asakusa line from Haneda Airport to Takaracho Station. Haneda airport is much closer to the city than Narita airport, so our subway ride only took 25min. P.S. I slept quite a lot during the flight but obviously someone didn't...looking rough! 

Tokyo welcomed us with a rainy weather but fortunately the subway station wasn't too far from our hotel. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance to various public transport - 1min to Kyobashi station (Tokyo Metro Ginza line), 5min to Takaracho station (Toei Asakusa line), and 10min to Tokyo Station (JR lines). 

I've read a lot of great comments about this hotel on TripAdvisor prior to this trip, especially the perks for Marriott Gold and Platinum members...and it certainly didn't disappoint! As compared to the Courtyard in the US where Platinum members don't even get complimentary breakfast, this Courtyard is so much better. Upon check-in, we were upgraded to a bigger King corner room, received our breakfast vouchers for 8 days, received a menu of complimentary food and beverages for the evening reception, and was informed that there is a fridge filled with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available for Gold and Platinum members 24 hours. Absolutely awesome!! =D

Our upgraded King corner room (not shown on the hotel's website). The room and bathroom is considered good-sized for Tokyo's standards. Even though the room wasn't big, it was equipped with all the amenities we needed, including a mini fridge and mini iron.

On top of all the great perks for Gold and Platinum members, we also received a nice welcome goody bag with Japanese snacks, a cookie, and 3 cans of Suntory beer. =D Thank you Courtyard Tokyo Station for kicking off our stay in Tokyo with such a warm welcome! 

Oh and of course, the Japanese experience that is impossible to miss...Toto washlets (with instructions) in every toilets! P.S. The angle of cleansing water coming in contact with the buttocks is adjustable. =P

Before we got too comfortable in the hotel room and pass out from jetlag, we decided to head out for some sightseeing while we have the Toei subway pass for the rest of the day. Walked back to Takaracho station and took the subway to Shinjuku. We skipped lunch so our first stop was Ichiran at Shinjuku Kabuki-cho. According to Forbes, Japan's Ichiran is the best ramen in the world (maybe a lil' overrated), so it's not surprising that this was our first stop for food. =)

The Ichiran experience includes ordering and getting your ticket through a 'vending' machine (cash only), sit in your own little booth (and be antisocial), and personalize your ramen to your taste. Fortunately, there wasn't any line when we got there around 4.30pm and we were seated at our booth immediately.

We kept our order simple...Classic Tonkotsu Ramen + Half Boil Salted Eggs for ¥1020 ($9.40) per bowl. Looks like hubby absolutely enjoyed the his birthday meal, evidenced by the empty bowl...haha! =P Happy Birthday bby!! <3 Before we left, we also bought the packaged Ichiran ramen to bring home as souvenirs.

The main reason we went all the way to Shinjuku was for this VR Zone. This place was newly opened few weeks before, and we were hoping to at least get a door ticket and try the Mario Kart (in VR) coz it looks really fun. Unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out for the day, and there was no option to play just one game so we decided to save the $40 for arcades instead.

Checked out the arcades at Shinjuku but didn't play any, more to come at Akihabara.

Roamed around Shinjuku and Kabukichō (red-light district)...lots of buildings, lights, and people! And a godzilla on top of the building. Welcome to Tokyo!

Walked through Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley), a small alley filled with small shops selling Yakitori (grilled skewers). We were still full from the ramen so we didn't eat here.

As night falls, we left Shinjuku and took the subway to Asakusa station. Went up to 8th floor of the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center for free view of Senso-ji temple and Tokyo Skytree. Unfortunately, we could barely see Tokyo Skytree as it was hiding behind the fog (bottom right photo). =.=

Senso-ji (Asakusa Temple) is one of the top tourist attractions in Tokyo, and it is almost always crowded during the day. Therefore, we decided to visit at night to avoid the crowd. Besides, Asakusa temple at night looks stunning from these photos

Even though we were a lil' bummed about the rain, the beautifully lit-up and serene Senso-ji by night certainly didn't disappoint. =)

We visited around 7pm and there were still some tourists. It would have been better for photos when this place is deserted, but we've had a long day and needed to get some rest to get over jet lag so we decided to head back to the hotel after taking enough photos. =P

17 Aug 2017 (Thurs): Kirin Yokohama Beer Village - Tokyo Stock Exchange - Ginza

We had complimentary breakfast throughout our stay and I must say I was very satisfied with the selections. Good quality and delicious (not just the typical American breakfast).

My favorite was definitely the Japanese set that comes with grilled salmon, egg roll, miso soup, seaweed and rice. Hubby opted for the made-to-order waffle and 'mini' pancake. =)

After a good night's rest and a good breakfast, we were ready for more sightseeing! We ventured out of Tokyo city to Yokohama, to visit Kirin Beer Village. P.S. Kirin is hubby's favorite Asian beer. =P We walked 10 min from the hotel to Tokyo Station, bought 2 one-way JR tickets for ¥390/pax, and hopped on JR Keihintohoku Line to Shin-Koyasu Station. The train ride took only 30 min. Spotted a bullet train as we were leaving Tokyo Station. 

The Kirin Yokohama Beer Village is not located in a central location, and one of the closest train station is the Shin-Koyasu station, located approximately 15 min (1.3km) from the beer village. It is quite a distance but it was quite an easy walk.

We called +81-45-503-8250 in advance to reserve the free brewery tour. Surprisingly, there were only 4 foreigners (including us) in our group, the others were elementary school students on a field trip. School students visiting a beer factory?? This would have been a big no-no in Malaysia...haha!! The tour was conducted in Japanese, but we were provided with an English presentation binder to follow along as we go through the tour. The tour guide was also constantly making sure that us 'foreigners' are not neglected. 

Towards the end of the tour, we had the option of selecting 3 glasses/cans of alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. Best of all, these are free of charge! Great way to end the tour! 

The selections on tap are Ichiban-shibori, Lager, and Stout. We were also given a snack to enjoy with the beer.

We were given 20 minutes to enjoy the beverages and we had to finish them pretty quickly (7 min each) to enjoy all 3 selections. Good thing we weren't driving. =P Hubby tried all 3 types of beer, while I opted for green tea as my 3rd selection. Our favorite is still Kirin Ichiban. Overall, we would definitely recommend this free tour if you don't mind going a bit out of the way to visit it. =)

Effects of too much drinking and jet lag, someone passed out on our train ride back to Tokyo Station. =P

We made it back to Tokyo Station in time to have lunch at Ikinari Steak at Yaesu underground mall (the lunch menu is quite a good deal). This place is known for their good and affordable steak, that you eat standing up. And you don't have to worry about dirtying your clothes because they provide 'aprons' as! Hubby was skeptical when I first told him about having to stand and eat steak, but managed to convince him with some Youtube videos. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do right? =P It was a fun experience!!

We ordered the 200g CAB Wilde Steak that came with rice, salad, and soup for ¥1188 ($11). The steak was very tender, tasty, and delicious!! Definitely can't beat the price for this quality! Hubby was very satisfied with this meal...haha! So we had Ichiran ramen to celebrate hubby's birthday, and Ikinari Steak to celebrate mine...we are easily satisfied. =)

After all the drinking and eating, it was time to burn off some calories by walking 15 min (1.4km) to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Admission is free. Everything is electronic these days so there weren't much to see apart from the museum (no trading on the floor).

As mentioned earlier, the hotel provides generous complimentary food and beverages for Marriott Gold and Platinum members between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. We ordered edamame, marinated olives, smoked salmon, fish & chips, french fries, grilled sausages, shrimp caesar salad, sparkling wine, and beer. =)

Last stop for the day...Ginza, which was conveniently located 15 min (1.1km) from our hotel. Ginza is a shopping area with all the luxury brands, felt very similar to 5th avenue in New York. The only store I was interested in was the largest Uniqlo flagship store, just for window shopping. 

19 Aug 2017 (Fri): Hie Jinja Shrine - Shibuya Crossing - Meiji Jingu - Harajuku - Nakano Broadway - Shinjuku - Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Started our day right with a good breakfast. We've got a busy sightseeing day ahead. =)

Started using our 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket by taking the subway from Kyobashi station, which was right next to our hotel to Tameike-Sanno station. Our 1st stop of the day was Hie Jinja Shrine at Akasaka.

 You don't need to go all the way to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto to see Torii gates, you can experience it in Tokyo too! Even though they are not as big as the ones in Kyoto, these are good for photos too!

This shrine is located on a small hill in the middle of the city. I liked the fact that there weren't any other tourists there coz it's not a popular tourist attraction. =)

Next was a quick stop at the Shibuya crossing, known as the busiest intersection in the world. The Starbucks (under that iKON commercial) is supposed to be the most famous place to people watch but it can be quite crowded so we went to Mark City Shibuya instead. It was a lil' disappointing that the crossing wasn't as busy when we were there, probably because most people are at work at 10am on a weekday. =P

We then visited the Meiji-jingu Shrine. We had to walk quite a bit from the big wooden entrance to the shrine. Fortunately, the path was shaded with trees so it wasn't too bad.

After walking all the way to the shrine, we were welcomed by 'drawings' of the buildings as they were doing some restoration work. Well, at least they took the effort to show us how the buildings should look!

Next to Meiji-jingu was Takeshita Pedestrian Street at Harajuku. A crowded shopping street...and the only shop I visited was Daiso (dollar store). This area is also known for crepes but we decided to give it a miss since we were going for lunch after this.

Found this gyoza restaurant at Shinjuku called 餃子の福包 when I was researching of cheap places to eat in Tokyo. Their lunch deal comes with rice, soup and 12 gyoza (steam or fried) and costs only ¥590 ($5) for 2 person! It is a small restaurant and the chefs were Japanese (not foreigners like other famous gyoza place). This restaurant was filled with locals when we were there, and the gyoza was pretty good!

After lunch, we hopped on the 30 min subway ride to Nakano Broadway. Nakano Broadway is an indoor shopping complex filled with anime, toys, electronics, and video games. This place was mainly for hubby to look at video game stuffs. This is just round #1 of video game 'window' shopping...more to come on the next day. =P

Continuing with the video game themed sightseeing...our next stop was Square Enix Artnia Cafe at Shinjuku. Honestly, my video game knowledge is close to zero. All I know is Square Enix is the company that created Final Fantasy, hubby's favorite video game.

Last video game related stop for the day was Capcom Bar at Shinjuku, a video game themed bar. We had controllers to play Street Fighter while waiting for our food. We ordered the 'Resident Evil Brain Cake', which looks like a bleeding brain stabbed with a knife. This place has some creative/interesting menu, definitely worth a visit if you are a video game fan.

Last stop of the day was not related to video game. The original plan was to enjoy the free sunset view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. However, the weather in Tokyo was gloomy and cloudy the entire time we were there so sunset was nowhere to be seen. 

On a side note, the gloomy weather was a blessing in disguise coz it made it less tiring for us to walk around. P.S. Be prepared for lots of walking when you follow my tour...hahaha!

Decided to call it a day earlier and headed back to the hotel for our free dinner. =)

19 Aug 2017 (Sat): Tsukiji Fish Market - Akihabara

Starting another new day with a good breakfast. =)

First stop for the day was Tsukiji fish market, the oldest and biggest fish market in the world. Unfortunately, there was a fire that destroyed part of the Tsukiji outer market few days before we arrived Tokyo. 

The fish market is a popular tourist attraction, and the outer market was packed with people. I thought about trying some fresh seafood at one of the stalls but was turned off by the crowds. I had fun watching all the mini carts buzzing around the market though. We were glad we had the opportunity to visit this place before this market relocates.

We've had our breakfast but couldn't leave Tsukiji or Japan without having sushi! =P

We spent the rest of the day at Akihabara....for video games of course! =P Hubby had been looking forward to this day ever since we booked the trip a year ago so he's definitely a happy boy. Tip to share when traveling in Tokyo during summer, look for the a/c at the subway station and stand right in front of it while waiting for the subway. =P

Before 'indulging' in the video game world, we made a stop at this interesting departmental store called M's Pop Life. I'll let you google to find out what it is.

Hubby's favorite place in Tokyo is definitely! If Disneyland is your childhood dream come true, Akihabara is hubby's childhood dream come true...hahaha! Erm...Hard-Off??

Told ya this is hubby's childhood dream come true...playing old school arcade games...Street Fighter.

Then we played Mario Kart...guess who won??? =P

Hubby's mission for this trip is to look for used consoles and video games...and the most famous place to find used games is this store called Super Potato, with a big Mario. 

I was glad to be able to meet up and catch up with my fellow UGRAD and JSPO junior who's working in Tokyo. Thanks for the awesome Yakiniku and Kobe beef lunch treat!!

Akihabara has soooo many used video game stores!! We hopped from shop to shop comparing prices, and finally stumbled upon this shop called Surugaya where hubby found what he wanted. Of course, massive thank you to Zaolon for helping to be our translator and got us the original Dreamcast box for free. =)

Hubby was very satisfied with his findings and subsequently went back to Akihabara twice after I left.

It started raining shortly after we left the shop so we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel to enjoy the complimentary evening reception. At this point, you're probably wondering how much we spent on food during our stay in Tokyo with all these complimentary breakfast and dinners. of $63 for 2 person for 7 days. =D

20 Aug 2017 (Sun): Tokyo Imperial Palace

Ok I promise...this is the last breakfast photo for this post. =P

The last tourist attraction for our trip in Tokyo was the Imperial Palace.

Palace in the middle of the city, and nope that lady in red wasn't posing for my photo.

The palace grounds were huge and we were tired from just walking around the surroundings.

Nijubashi bridge

Stopped for a quick photo of Tokyo Station on our way back from the palace to the hotel.

I had one extra stop on this Round-the-World trip, so my Tokyo trip ended 2 days earlier than hubby. Took the bus from Tokyo Station to Narita airport to catch my flight to KL.

5th and final stop of this trip...I'm coming home!!

GoPro Selfies

Last but not least, the 'lengthy' itinerary for our 7D6N Tokyo trip (skipped the last 2 days coz hubby was just roaming around himself at Akihabara). =P

Overall, we were both very happy with our stay in Tokyo. I managed to make up for all the sightseeing that I missed out on 5 years ago, and hubby relived his vintage video game memories at Akihabara. Absolutely loved the culture, courtesy, convenience, cleanliness, food, video games culture, and the wonderful fushion of modern and traditional in this city! Credits to Courtyard Tokyo Station for our wonderful stay in Tokyo! 

See you next time Japan! Next destination...Malaysia!

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