Touring Tokyo & Kyoto
I had wanted to visit Japan for some time. Tokyo seemed like a very cool place to go along with Kyoto.
I arrived at Narita International airport and made my way to find a sim card. Having come from south east Asia where sim cards were next to nothing and then having to pay 80 USD for one, can certainly be a bit concerning. Since I was alone, I wanted to make sure I had access to the internet just in case I got lost. I had heard of crazy stories about people trying to navigate their way on the subway lines and I was definitely expecting a bit of some complication with the language barrier.
Once I got my sim card, I felt prepared to take on the Tokyo Subway. I had been in communication with my host and had figured out what station I would need to get off at. Luckily I only had one train change and my host, Yoko, was going to meet me at the final station!
Prior to arriving in Tokyo, I was contacted by AirB&B letting me know that due to new Japanese regulations hosts would have to get an identification card before their accommodation would be available. A lot of my accommodations ended up getting cancelled, and I ended scoring a bunch of coupons from AirB&B which was pretty sweet!
My host Yoko was someone who I originally booked to stay with. Although she didn't get her identification card in time, she messaged me prior to her listing getting taken down. As a result, we were able to organise me staying with her. I was so incredibly grateful to get to stay with Yoko. As I mentioned earlier, she picked me up from the station and bought me an iced drink at Starbucks on a hot and steamy day in Tokyo. She took me to her home and scheduled a time to have meals made for me, something I didn't expect at all! She made me some of the most delicious multiple course meals I had ever had! She also had an adorable overweight labrador mix named Kochi, and we became best buds!
I didn't have much planned for Tokyo and was there for about three days total (2 at the beginning and one on my way back). I really wanted to check out Shinjuku and Shibuya. I had eight days in Japan and was planning to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto. I didn't buy the special Japanese Rail (JR) Pass. Instead, I went ahead and paid for my subway tickets as I needed them and bought my Shinkansen ticket a few days in advance of leaving to Kyoto. I ended up staying in a place on my way back that was off the JR line. I never did calculate it, but it may have made sense to have bought the JR pass since I was using the line frequently. 20-20 hindsight!
Something to keep in mind is that train tickets are pretty expensive and do add up quickly. There are plenty of sites to research the best way to get around Japan. The good thing is that public transport is excellent! Also, you should buy your Shinkansen ticket a few days in advance especially with big holidays, which you can do at any major JR station. I would opt to buy a reserved seat but if you’re traveling during the off season, an unreserved may be fine.
On my tour in Tokyo, I ended up doing an AirB&B experience with a woman named Stacey. She took photo's of me throughout her tour of Tokyo, and I ended up making a new really cool friend! Some of the places she took me were Harajuku, Meji Shrine and Shibuya crossing. I would recommend her experience online, but she's now left Japan. We also ended up getting together on my last day in Tokyo and visited Sensō-ji Shrine. It was beautiful but super crowded and touristy. Our friendship has continued, and she recently visited me back in Auckland! You can follow Stacey on instagram @ Stuzphotography.
I took the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto three days after arriving in Japan. I wanted to go to Kyoto because I had heard it was one of the oldest cities in Japan and had a lot of beautiful temples. I stayed in an AirB&B that was 85-year-old home built by my host's father. It had traditional Japanese design throughout the interior as well as hospitality. The name of the AirB&B accommodation was Kyomachiya, and Keizo & Ruriko hosted me. They were so incredibly lovely to me and helped make my stay in Kyoto memorable. They gave me a scarf at the end of my stay with them and made me breakfast every morning.
I really loved wandering through Kyoto. Three of the temples that stick out in my mind are Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Tō-ji (for sunset) and Fushimi Inari Shrine. The only temple I had to plan to see was Fushimi Inari Shrine as it quite a bit outside the city. The other temples I just wandered around and happened to be at Tō-ji for a magnificent sunset.
Overall I had a very wonderful time in Japan. I found everyone to be extremely kind and lovely. I also had no issues eating alone at restaurants although some people did seem to give me confused looks. Despite that, I had some of the most wonderful food. My favourite dish in Japan is now shrimp tempura bowls! So incredibly delicious! Japan is a beautiful and expensive place compared to south-east Asia. I hope to go back one day with my husband, Ryan.