This May/June I had the opportunity to go to Japan for the first time, and I honestly can’t wait to go back. Yes, most of the trip was inside of a convention center for a conference, but below you’ll find all of the non-conference highlights from my trip. Here is an overview of my whirlwind journey through Tokyo and Kyoto, and some of my top recommendations and tips!
I was in Tokyo for most of my trip, and I have to say, it has firmly cemented itself as one of my all-time favorite cities thus far.
Our conference was held in the Odaiba area, which is a man-made island located just outside of downtown Tokyo. It’s more of a shopping and entertainment district with some huge shopping centers that have not only good shopping but some great restaurant options as well. We ate at Aqua City Odaiba almost every night after the conference ended just trying a new restaurant each time! (It definitely beats being stuck in a hotel like usual!)
Getting around in Tokyo is a dream! I mainly used the metro and monorail to get around and it is on time, clean, and extremely tourist-friendly. Cabs are present all over and are extremely clean and the drivers are impeccably professional (down to the automatic doors and white glove service) just keep in mind, they are definitely a pricier (and sometimes slower) way to get around the city.
After the conference ended, a friend and I left the Odaiba area and stayed in Shibuya in an Airbnb. We were walking distance to Harajuku, and enjoyed lots of shopping in the area!
One major highlight in Tokyo was getting to see the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo (founded in 628) and is truly beautiful. Not only is the Temple itself breathtaking, but the grounds surrounding the temple are definitely worth walking around in as well. When you are at the temple, make sure you spend the 100¥ to get your o-mikuji (fortune)…it’s a fun experience! (and if you get a “bad” o-mikuji, it is customary to tie it up and leave it at the temple.)
All alone now, I jumped on my Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Station and headed down to Kyoto for 3 days. Kyoto was on my “must-see” list for many reasons, but the main reasons were for the sheer amount of temples/shrines and the shopping. One recommendation I have for people traveling or doing short side trips is to store your luggage to make your life easier! I knew since I had two huge suitcases from the conference I didn’t want to be dragging them all over the trains and through Kyoto, so I stored one (filled with all the stuff I wasn’t going to need for the next three days) with Sagawa in Tokyo Station. For about 800¥ per day, this was a great decision and made my life so easy.
When I arrived in Kyoto, I immediately headed to the Kinkaku-ji temple “Golden Pavillion” which is breathtaking. The top 2 floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf, which is amazing. The entire grounds of the temple were beautiful, serene, and very relaxing to explore. There is also a small tea garden where you can get a traditional tea service for 500¥ and includes matcha and a small sweet.
When I left the temple, I did some shopping at Yojiya which is a cosmetics brand that started in Kyoto. They sell some amazing products, and I could have definitely bought everything in the store. Since I knew I had a lot of shopping to do, I reigned myself in and only grabbed a couple items and a few gifts. I am officially now OBSESSED with the perfume, and I regret only buying the travel size because I am using it daily. When I get back I am seriously going to buy a couple of the full-size bottles because it’s THAT GOOD. I also picked up a small travel sized hand cream, and well as some cool paper face wash sheets which I thought would be great for travel. The paper face wash sheets are really cool, and foam up beautifully and leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.
The next morning I woke up and went to the Ippodo Tea store in Kyoto for the Kaboku Tearoom where I was taught how to properly prepare my tea. One of the items I knew I wanted to buy when I was in Japan was a traditional matcha set, so I knew that Ippodo was where I needed to go! The staff at the tearoom (and the connecting shop) were absolutely lovely, and made the experience one to remember. The tea was exceptional (obviously) and I ended up leaving with not only my matcha set but a lot of different teas for my mom that I probably would have missed out on if I hadn’t tried them in the tearoom.
My next stop was right across the street from Ippodo (convenient right??) at Hakuhodo which is any makeup lovers PARADISE. I walked in and had a “Jesus-take-the-wheel” type feeling and knew that I should have brought someone with me for supervision purposes. The store sells the most amazing and beautiful makeup brushes. You might think, “Come on now… makeup brushes can’t be THAT exciting.” BUT THEY CAN. I knew going in that I wanted to get one practical blending brush that I would use daily, and one brush that honestly, I will probably next use, but is more of a collector’s/showcase type brush. I wanted one of the Yachiyo brushes, which is a traditional type makeup brush. The store is honestly overwhelming, and if you are a makeup lover, and find yourself in Kyoto it’s a must-see.
My last stop of the day was the main reason I wanted to go to Kyoto…the Fushimi Inari shrine. I realize I have developed somewhat of an obsession with torii gates. It’s weird, and I don’t know what it is…the color, the shape, who knows, but I have been obsessed. So, naturally, this is the perfect place for me since there are thousands of torii gates. It is breathtaking. Literally, no words can describe how amazing this shrine is. Make sure you go either first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon/evening like I did since it can definitely get packed with tourists. Pro tip- if you go in the evening in the spring/summer like me, have some mosquito repellant on. I did not, and I was attacked by mosquitos while I was there around dusk. (Still worth it… I just had to use Google Translate to figure out how to say “Do you sell bug bite cream” the next day which was a hilarious adventure in itself!) I would also say to have some patience here if you are trying to get some Instagram-worthy pictures… there are a lot of people, and you have to time it perfectly to get
My last day in Kyoto was rainy, gray and kind of bleak in general. I spent most of the day in the train station doing some shopping and eating and then took the Shinkansen back up to Tokyo. It was bittersweet leaving Kyoto… I knew I had not seen or done a fraction of the things I wanted to, but I know I will be back.
One thing I get asked constantly since I travel alone as a single woman is about safety, and I can honestly say that I have never felt safer than I did on my trip to Japan. I honestly have walked to my neighborhood Starbucks which is 5 minutes away and felt more creeped out. But seriously, Japan is known for being an extremely safe country, and I never saw or heard anything that would make me think otherwise.
Tricia’s Top 5 Tips for Traveling in Japan
- Get lost! This is one of my favorite things to do in any unknown destination, but it was definitely true in Japan. When you just walk in the city, you tend to stumble upon the most amazing things. Living in Texas, I don’t generally walk to get anywhere, but in Japan, it’s how you see everything like a local. In Kyoto, I had a day where I was struggling to figure out the bus schedule (I’m going to blame jet-lag, but I think it was pure impatience) so I ended up walking from the temple I was at all the way back to my Airbnb. Was it a long, hot, exhausting walk? Oh ya. Did I randomly stumble upon (not kidding) 5 shrines I didn’t know were there and would have missed? Yep! I also stumbled into a lot of stores I wasn’t planning on, so I did do a little more shopping than planned, but I am going to call that a bonus!
- Travel by Train! If you plan on visiting a lot of different areas and meet the qualifications, definitely get a JR Pass before your trip! I ended up getting this to use between Tokyo and Kyoto, and from Tokyo out to Narita Airport. It can definitely save you a lot of money, and
- Speak up! Learn a little of the language and customs. In my opinion, this goes for any country that you visit…whether you’re visiting for 3 days or 3 years. Learn some of the language, and brush up on what the social norms are. Just getting the basics down for “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye” will get you so far, and people will be willing to help you out. Google Translate, will also be your friend. 🙂
- Cash is king! I blame it on being a prime example of my generation, but I NEVER have cash on me. Ever. Well, thankfully I did my research before traveling to Japan and knew that this was one place that I couldn’t do that. You guys… McDonald’s in Japan doesn’t even take credit cards. You will need cash. Bring more than you think you will need! Luckily, there are 7/11’s all over the city, and you generally won’t have any issues using an international card to get cash there.
- Eat ALL the food! I try to keep to a pretty strict diet when I am not traveling, but I knew Japan was going to be potentially tough to stick to healthier-low carb options. I ate SO MUCH amazing food. (no regrets! :)) Probably some of the most amazing food I have ever tried. I would recommend trying everything…even if you are not 100% sure what you’re getting into! Sampling different foods is one of my favorite ways to experience and learn about a different culture, and Japan was no exception. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll be in heaven… so many gummy candies, pastries, soft-serve, and different treats everywhere!
Let me know what you think! Have you traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto and were ready to move there for good like me? Stay tuned for my next adventure!