My “In 8 beds around Vietnam” post was such a success, that i decided to do the same thing for Japan. Also because it’s best to split my tips up into two parts and areas I’ve visited, cause there are just too many.
So let’s start with the first part.
#1 Tokyo – Book and Bed (3 nights)
I HAD to stay here during my visit to Tokyo, simply because I’ve seen so many videos about it and I am madly in love with books. So it was a given.
The place itself was great (I stayed in the one in Ikebukuro), but it’s definitely not a social hostel. (Then again, not many hostels in Japan are..) It’s still very clean and the staff is super friendly!
Tokyo definitely didn’t disappoint me as my introduction into Japan. It might not be at all like the rest of Japan but it is one of the most vibrant, colorful, crazy cities I’ve ever been to. It’s true, it’s overcrowded sometimes but I gotta say that I haven’t had a day where I got home, wrecked from all the people and the hustle and bustle of the city. It still had areas where I could just breathe for a bit. I definitely fell in love with Tokyo and would go back in a heartbeat!
Here are a few suggestions on what to do there (but only Part 1, find the second part below):
- Meijishrine. It’s located right behind the Harajuku station and is a shrine surrounded by a huge park. It’s nice to walk around a bit before or after walking into the madness which is Harajuku. The main park there has an entrance fee but there’s so much more park area around it, so you can easily save yourself that money.
- Asakusa. Even though it’s a pretty touristy area , I loved it around there. One of the main reasons for that is definitely Sensoji, one of the most beautiful shrines in Tokyo! There are plenty of little shops around, mainly with souvenirs and local foods to try, but the atmosphere feels like a small town. In a way. So I’d definitely recommend it!
- Jimbocho. I walked around Jimbocho for quite a while, strolling around all the book stores and the book market, that happened to be on the weekend I was visiting. It’s really cool and interesting, especially when you are into books, mangas or old movieposters and magazines. Most of the books are Japanese, which makes it hard to really shop there but it was pretty cool to see. And it shows once again how Tokyo is structured: Every district has its purpose.
- Roppongi. The nightlife district of Tokyo I guess. Even though Shibuya has loads of bars, especially the Golden Gai area (even though I found it a little bit dogdy around there), Roppongi is the place where all the (international) locals go to, if they are looking for a night out. There’s not much going on during the week, but it’s packed on the weekends. We went to three different bars (shame on me, I don’t remember any of them) which they all played similar mainstream music, a little mixture of everything. So if you want to party in Tokyo, definitely head there!
#2 Kusatsu – Kiyoshigekan (1 night)
Kusatsu was one of the place, where I was most lonely. The reason was, that I decided to stay at an actual hotel, since the only hostel in that area that still had rooms available had really bad recommendations on Hostelworld, so I decided to treat myself and stay in a hotel for a night. The place itself wasn’t too bad and it also included breakfast, which I really enjoyed – especially since I haven’t had a typical Japanese breakfast at that point. It had a typical Japanese room and a private Onsen as well.
The area around Kusatsu is beautiful and exploring it by foot is the best way to do it! It’s actually well-known for its Onsen (=naturally hot pools of water, basically like a hot tub), but with my tattoos I wasn’t allowed in them. (Tipp: Research Onsen that allow tattoos, I found out that there actually are some. Just too late.) I also wasn’t very keen on visiting one either though, because even though I love tubs, I get bored in them after maximum 10 minutes so I guess it wouldn’t have been worth the entrance fee. If I ever go back with someone, I’ll make sure to visit a (tattoo-friendly) Onsen for sure though!
#3 Tokyo – Citan Hostel (1 night)
Back to Tokyo. Because Tokyo has so much to offer and I had enough time to stretch out my trip a little, I decided to head back to Tokyo for one more night.
Citan Hostel was one of the coolest hostels I stayed in in Japan – it had a coffee shop downstairs, which was also accessible for not-Hostel-guests and a restaurant/bar in the basement. The prices for both might have been a bit high compared to other places around Japan, but it was a good place to meet fellow travelers.
I already started with a few things to do in Tokyo above, so here we go with the second part.
- Tsukij-Fishmarket. A while ago the fish market was separated into the outdoor fish market, which is Tsukij, and the indoor area Toyosu. As a tourist, I guess Tsukij is enough, since you can try loads of different fish dishes and specialities. If you are looking for a great sit down meal (especially Sushi), you should head to Toyosu. And even though it might sound weird to any western person: Be there VERY early. So 9 is ideal so you definitely get a seat at one of the better restaurants. My friend, who lived in Tokyo for a while, recommended Sushi-Dai to me (寿司大) but unfortunately I tried to go there twice and I was too late both times. So, be prepared to be there in time and to wait for at least 30 minutes – the place is tiny!
- Akihabara. I didn’t stay here for long because it’s not really something I’m deeply interested in, but this is THE area for everything electronic and anime – and it’s definitely worth looking around. Also because it’s another example of the diversity of Tokyo. This is also the best place to go to, if you are looking for a maid café.
- Go shopping (and exploring) in Harajuku. It definitely has a lot of typical “Harajuku-Girl” clothes, but you can also find great vintage stuff around there. Just stroll off Takeshita Dori and Omotesando (the two main streets) and you’ll run into plenty of them.
#4 Hakone – K’s House Hakone (2 nights)
First of all about the hostel itself. K’s Hostel is located a bus ride (or a walk up a steep hill) away from the main train station. It was super easy to find everything (this includes the train from Tokyo to Hakone itself) and everything went smooth at arrival. The rooms are once again very typical Japanese guestrooms with Futons that you can fold out when you’re sleeping, all laid out next to each other.
The hostel itself was super clean, offered an Onsen and had a kitchen, which I didn’t see in many hostels around Japan. Even though it had a (very cozy) common room, it still wasn’t very social unfortunately. I really haven’t figured out what it is about Japan, but it doesn’t seem to be the place to chat away in common areas of hostels. Maybe it is the fact, that Japanese (or many other Asians) are pretty reserved themselves and travelers don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Whatever it is, it led to me exploring Hakone by myself.
How to explore Hakone though?
Depending on how long you plan on staying there’s either a Two-Day-Pass or a Three-Day-Pass (around 45€/50€), which you can both buy in Tokyo or at the trainstation in Hakone. They include all the different means of transportation around Hakone, such as the Gondola or the train.
My day started in Hakone with a train- and gondola-ride up to Owakudani, which is an active volcanic zone. It’s pretty interesting to see but to smell surely makes you not want to stay for too long. I then took the gondola back down to Lake Ashinoko and boarded the “Hakone Sightseeing Cruise” across the lake to Hakone-Machi. It’s not a very buzzing place, but it offers a beautiful walk along the lake with a beautiful view of Mount Fuji – definitely worth it!
Somewhere along that trip I lost my 2-Day-Pass (yay me!), so I decided to instead of taking the cruise I’d just walk to Moto-Hakone. One of the most famous Insta-worthy places around Moto-Hakone is the torii of the Hakone-Jinja Shrine that’s built into the lake. It’s just a short walk from where the cruise stops. Bring some time if you really want a photo in front of it, because the queue for it is crazy! (I didn’t do it, in case you were wondering.)
Since I was really bumped about losing my ticket I just headed home afterwards. There were a few more things I would have liked to do and see, such as a little hike around Owakudani or stroll around another cute town, but I guess I gotta do that the next time.
With your purchase of your ticket(s) you will get a little leaflet that gives you ideas of what else you could do and see, which was super helpful!