Help me build my Japan Itinerary
October 2, 2019 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Three mid-to-late 20 somethings will be flying into Tokyo (HND) on November 20th and departing on November 28th. What should we do while we're there?

Three mid-to-late 20 somethings will be flying into Tokyo (HND) on November 20th and departing on November 28th. We have a few ideas and aren't totally helpless, but none of us have been to Japan or have any specific "must-sees" on our list, so we'd like your help crafting a great trip itinerary! Any advice would be helpful--where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, and what to do!

If it matters, we're happy to spend if it's worth it, but otherwise we tend to be easy-to-please budget travelers. We'd like a mixture of a mixture of activities--cool technology, museums, outdoor hiking/activities, food, and shopping. One of us is a vegetarian, but we're all adventurous eaters/drinkers excited about trying new foods. I was particularly interested in hiking Mt. Fuji, but it seems like that might be a bad idea in November? We'd also like to check out a (tattoo-friendly) onsen and I'm keen to get specific recommendations on places to buy awesome stationary and/or skincare products!
posted by lucy.jakobs to Travel & Transportation around Japan (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I just returned from my first trip to Japan, and I found the Japan Travel subreddit both very helpful and a bit too much. The "itinerary checks" there were helpful to review as we planned our trip, but it's very easy to overthink the planning as you'll probably see.

We loved the teamLab Borderless immersive art experience, which ticks your "cool technology" and "museum" boxes. We also had a fantastic walking tour with Simon from Tokyo Memories on our first night, which made a huge difference in the whole trip because Simon gave us great advice that paid off often throughout the trip. If you're in Ginza go to Itoya, an enormous stationery store. At some point you'll find yourself in a Don Quixote or Bic Camera, where you can find just about anything you could ever want including skincare products (and candy, and liquor, and sewing machines, and watches, and fetishwear, and...).

You'll have an incredible trip!
posted by arco at 8:58 AM on October 2, 2019

The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku is undeniably touristy but also a completely ridiculous experience -- definitely something to consider. Any hotels that have tourist information pamphlets should have some coupons to help defray the cost.
posted by kdar at 9:00 AM on October 2, 2019

Oh, if you make it to Hakone the Hakone Open Air Museum is fantastic, and there's an onsen theme park nearby that kind of has to be experienced to be believed. It's not a classic onsen by any means, though there is one attached to it (non tattoos allowed, though we covered ours and were fine).
posted by arco at 9:02 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you'd like to climb a small mountain, I recommend Takao-san. It's about 45 minutes out from Shinjuku station, so an easy day trip. When you leave the station, take a right and walk a short distance. During that walk, there's a tiny sign for the 599 museum, which is a charming space that has information on the life on the mountain. There are shrines, a (perhaps overrated) monkey park, a cable car, etc. on the walk up. At the top, if the sky is clear, you can see Fuji-san.

I second the Robot Restaurant. It's both not at all Japanese and the most Japanese at the same time.

On the stationary front, definitely go to Loft. I'm fond of the one in Shibuya, but there are small locations all around (including in the mall at the base of the Skytree). You might also enjoy Seikaido near Shinjuku Sanchome station, but it's more on the art supplies side and less on the stationary side.
posted by past unusual at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Five-time Japan traveler here (leaving for my sixth in two weeks!)

Tokyo > Kyoto is a normal first-timer's route but if you're only staying for 7 days and already have your flight booked out of Tokyo you may just want to stay in Tokyo the entire time - there's more than enough to fill your days. If you're not going to Kyoto consider a day trip to Kamakura or Nikko to see the more traditional side of Japan.

There are a million things to do in Tokyo so I'd suggest doing some reading and see what appeals to you personally. You can create custom maps on Google Maps - as you find places you want to check out, add them to the map and then you'll get a sense of what places are near to each other and how you might want to plan your days.

Some of my favourite resources:
Japan-Guide for general trip planning - it will cover all the basics about attractions and navigation as well as other FAQs.

Time Out Tokyo great lists of events and things to do in different neighbourhoods.

Tokyo Cheapo has some good guides as well, and a focus on free or lower-cost events. for finding restaurants - if you don't speak Japanese you'll want to look for places that are English friendly, which is increasingly easy in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.

For accommodations, is reliable. Business hotel chains are quite affordable, safe and clean (albeit tiny) and often include a basic breakfast buffet. The neighborhood you stay in isn't as important as how close you are to transit - anything along the Yamanote line will get you to most major destinations quickly.

For transportation within Tokyo, just get a Suica or Pasmo card at the airport (they're totally interchangeable) and load it with money (you can get the remaining balance refunded before you fly home). There are various day passes that cover different aspects of transit, but in general unless you're doing an excessive amount of travelling in one day you're better off paying as you go.

I'd also recommend renting a portable wi-fi unit so you're not stuck with offline maps. Google Translate is also very useful, especially the in-camera translation that overlays English text on anything you point your phone at.
posted by Gortuk at 9:58 AM on October 2, 2019

If you make it to 65 things to do in Asakusa | Time Out Tokyo to visit the Sky Tree or such, drop by Best activity in Tokyo - make your own woodblock print!. David Bull (mefi's own woodblock100) is on NHK World TV quite often and always seems like a really cool dude.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:34 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The art museum in Roppongi Hills can have excellent exhibits. There'll be a new one starting on November 19 called Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow which could be neat to go to.

I don't know if you could still get tickets now but the Ghibli museum is one of the top things on my Tokyo to-do list.

Spending the night in a love hotel will be more expensive than a business hotel but the room will be much larger and it'll be more of a unique experience. I'm not sure if they would be OK with 3 people staying in a room though. On the other end of the spectrum spending a night in a capsule hotel might be fun for you too.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:03 PM on October 2, 2019

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