Ever since I was 12 years old, I wanted to go to Japan. This is 100% because I was a total little nerd who loved anime and tried to teach herself Japanese and thought everything was kawaii and I was totally awkward and no one told me– but I wanted to go since then.
Overtime, my love for anime and manga became much more low-key (excluding Sailor Moon– I will love Sailor Moon with reckless abandon until the day I die,) and as I learned more about the history of Japan and the eccentricities of Tokyo, my longing to visit only grew.
Visiting Tokyo while on my adventure in S.E. Asia was not anticipated. While I was sitting in a coffee shop in Manila, I decided to book my flight home from Cambodia, which was six-weeks away at that point. The flight home from Siem Reap was crazy long and crazy expensive, so I looked into alternatives, and for shits and giggles I figured I’d see how much it would cost for me to hop over to Tokyo, then hop home.
It was SO much cheaper. Then I figured, hm, well, what if I took a long layover? After doing the math, a two-day layover in Tokyo was STILL CHEAPER than my flying straight home from Cambodia. So, I booked it, and then spent the remaining two months of my trip excited for the end of it so I could go to Tokyo.
And my GOD.
I LOVED EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF IT.
I arrived at Haneda Airport and took the airport bus to Ikebukuro District, where my hostel was– The Sakura Hotel. If you’re a budget traveler like me, I HIGHLY recommend this place! You pay by the bunk, and the bathrooms are so clean and I was very comfortable. The restaurant attached to the hotel is also very good, and I met some amazing people while hanging out there.
But anyway– on to my crazy two-day adventure in Tokyo!
The first day I was there, I ran off to Harajuku, the famous fashion district known for its youthful clothes and trends. There are lolita shops, vintage stores, one-hundred-yen stores, accessory stands… It was delightful and the energy was high and light and I left smiling, because this was all very much my a e s t h e t i c.
I also had lunch at the Monster Cafe, which was super cute. Food was meh, but I went for the atmosphere, so I wasn’t disappointed. However, the Monster Cafe was the most expensive thing I did in my two days there, and it cost me around $40. So, if you’re on a tight budget and not wanting to splurge, maybe dodge the Monster Cafe this trip.
After my adorable lunch, I browsed the thrift stores in the area then headed over to Shibuya crossing. My first stop was to see Hachiko, the Goodest Boy That Ever Was™, because if you’re going to go Tokyo, you simply have to go see Hachiko.
I mean, the train station has PAWS THAT LEAD YOU IN THE DIRECTION OF HIS STATUE LIKE COME ON
(I think the reason I may love Tokyo so much is because it is so EXTRA and that’s like, me as a person, so.)
I ended up playing photographer at the statue for a good 15 minutes. So many people wanted their family photo, and I just kept offering, because honestly I was in a good mood and didn’t want to leave Hachiko.
Also, this was probably the cutest I ever looked the entire time I was traveling, because Tokyo had beautiful 80 degree weather and not 100 degree weather like everywhere else I had been, and also, I went to Harajuku that morning and I was NOT about to look like a scrub.
After seeing the best dog ever, I crossed the famous Shibuya Crossing and went to the Starbucks on the corner, which has the best view of the craziness that is crossing the street in the busiest intersection in the country. Apparently, everyone knows this Starbucks is the best spot, because I had to legit elbow my way in to see. But, it was fun, and I was just giggling the entire time because its so ridiculous that it’s fun watching people cross a damn street.
I even left the Starbucks and found a tree to sit under at street-level, so I could keep people-watching until I finished my coffee.
Phew– busy day so far, but I WAS NOT DONE. After people watching, I went to Nanako Broadway. Now, Nanako Broadway wasn’t even on my radar, but my best friend was living vicariously through this trip, and told me I “MUST GO TO NANAKO BROADWAY” because they had vintage anime stuff. So, I did, and it was delightful.
The place was relatively empty, save for a few tourists like me, and I think the best part was when a teenaged-American-boy bumped into me and said “Gomen’nasai!” with the most confident, terrible pronunciation and I was just so delighted because kid, you do you. Follow your otaku-dreams.
I also hit up all the Sailor Moon gachupon machines in the building. No shame.
I ended my first day in Tokyo in Shinjuku. I waited until after sunset to visit this district, because I knew the lights would look hella cool. Now, when I went to Shinjuku, I got completely lost on purpose. I just picked a direction and started walking, and I came across great scenes. One the staples of Shinjuku was the 18+ clubs/movie theatres.
Because I was just wandering around, I accidentally came across Piss Alley– a charming name, I know, but it’s a small, narrow alley with Japanese street food served at counters, like you see in movies and such. A lot of places had signs that stated NO PHOTOS but I found a place where there wasn’t a sign and quickly took a shot of some businessmen eating their yakitori.
The following day I had another early start, because there was still so much to see in Tokyo! I figured day one was more about contemporary culture, so day two would be more traditional (which ended up having some exceptions, as you’ll see later on.)
The morning began at Ueno Park, where I walked around for hours, sitting every now and then to people-watch and write in my notebook. I found a shrine, and I snapped one of my favorite photos of all time of a man praying. He’s glowing— I didn’t do anything to that photo to make it happen. Maybe it’s the light bouncing off of his shirt, or maybe its something spiritual– who knows, but I love it.
I walked around the pond to get back to the train station, and I cooed at the turtles and the koi fish, because I’m that weirdo. No shame.
My tourist-marathon continued as I visited Asakusa, one of the more traditional districts, to visit the famous Senso-ji temple. What was so awesome about this experience was the market that lead the way up to the temple (where they had everything a tourist could want– I definitely got my mother a neat mask and myself a Sailor Saturn plushie– see above declaration that I will love Sailor Moon until my dying day).
A surprise for me was seeing women dressed in yukatas and kimonos. Some young ladies were even kind enough to let me take a photo of their group!
Now, remember when I said day two was traditional with an exception? That exception is Akihabara, which is the district where anime-loving-nerds pilgrimage to. Since I’m an anime-loving nerd, I went.
It was super fun, even though I don’t recognize any of the now-popular animes (my day was when Fullmetal Alchemist and like Inuyasha and Fruits Basket were the bees knees,) but what I enjoyed the most was the teenagers who were dragging their confused parents around these stores. 10/10.
For my last evening in Tokyo I knew I wanted to see the city from above at sunset. I left Akihabara and went to Minato, to go to the top of the World Trade Center. However, the sun was still relatively high, and I had about 1.5 hours to kill before I wanted to go up, so I did what I always do and just started walking in any old direction. I ended up walking down by the wharf, where I watched ships cruise by and felt the sea breeze.
When I was heading back in the direction of the Trade Center, I ended up in a throng of white-shirt clad business men. The opportunity was too good to pass up with my camera.
Now, I decided to go to the World Trade Center to view the city instead of Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree. The simple reason why was because it was much cheaper, and cost only ¥600, whereas the other places were five times that much. The more complex reason was I wanted the best view possible of Tokyo Tower, because, once again, I am a Sailor Moon weeb.
Plus, it wasn’t crowded at the “Seaside Top” at all. I got there nice and early, walked around (it has a 360 degree viewing platform,) took lots of photos and took a seat by the window and watched the sun-set. I didn’t ever want to leave.
While watching Tokyo fade into purples and blues, I promised myself I would be back.
After my super-long adventure, I went back to the hotel and ended up at a party-table with the owners of the hotel restaurant and a group of tourists from The Netherlands. That’s what happens when you’re a young lady sitting alone– you get adopted and get drinks shoved at you. And then, when they find out you are American, they ask countless questions about Donald Trump.
I responded by chugging an entire beer without breaking eye-contact.
I had a few hours the morning I was to leave, so I got lost in the neighborhood around my hotel. I wanted to keep exploring, but I had a bus to catch, so the last hour I had in Tokyo was spent rushing around like a mad-woman trying to get to my bus stop on time.
The peacefulness of the neighborhood I was staying in was such a great end to an exciting and crazy trip abroad.
When I was researching what to possibly do with only 2 days in Tokyo, I couldn’t find any itineraries I liked, so I made my own. What I liked about mine is everything I did was free, excluding my lunch at the Monster Cafe and the ticket to the top of the World Trade Center. So, if you’re a budget traveler with a short-stay in Tokyo in your future, here is my itinerary, for your consideration!
- Harajuku Shopping District (bright and early!)
- Lunch at the Monster Cafe
- Shibuya Crossing (during rush hour because I’m a sadist)
- Nanako Broadway
- Shinjuku (at night because the lights are so cool!)
- Ueno Park (SUPER bright and early!)
- Asakusa for the Senso-ji Shrine
- Minato/World Trade Center
And that’s the end of my nearly two-month adventure in Asia. It was wild, fam.
Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!