Carla and I just returned from a one-week trip to Tokyo. It was my sixth visit to Japan's capital, and it was my favorite. For the next few days, I'll be writing about recommended things to do there. See them all here.
We arrived at Narita airport about 1:30pm Tokyo time. At the airport, I noticed a lot of vending machines selling SIM cards with high-speed data. You can get a week's worth of unlimited data for less than $10 a day. If your phone is locked, you can rent a wi-fi hot spot for about the same amount. I used a wi-fi hotspot to consult Google Maps many times every day to navigate around the city. Google Maps will also tell you which trains to use to get from one place to another. We also used Yelp to find restaurants and learn when they open and close.
There are several ways to get from Narita to Tokyo (about 50 miles). A taxi or Uber costs almost $300 and you will have to deal with traffic. There are also luxury buses, which can take you right to your hotel (provided you are staying in one of the major ones). My favorite way to get to Tokyo from the airport is by train. Both the Narita Express ($28) and the Skyliner ($22) have terminals inside the airport. They are convenient and fast. The Skyliner is faster and cheaper, but stops only at the Ueno and Nippori stations. The Narita Express stops at more places, including Shibuya and Shinjuku. We took the Narita Express because we were staying near the Shinjuku Station.
At Shinjuku station we took a taxi to our Airbnb. I've taken a lot of taxi rides in Japan, and in 100% of the cases the following five things were true:
1. The driver didn't understand a word of English. (Hand your phone to him with the address displayed on the screen. He'll enter the address in his navigation system.)
2. The car was immaculate inside and out.
3. The driver was a man.
4. The driver got confused if I tried to tip him.
5. The driver automatically opened and closed my door for me. Do not try to open and close the yourself because it will strain the mechanism and annoy the heck out of the driver.
Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan, by the way.
We took a very short ride to our Airbnb (right next to Yoyogi Park, home to the famous Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine) and took the elevator to the 9th floor. Here's what the place looked like, along with views from the balcony:
At $225 a night, (here's a referral code you can use to get a $40 Airbnb credit. I'll get $20 in credit if you use it) it's much cheaper than many hotels in the area. It has a kitchen, a loft with two futons, a bedroom with two large beds, a dining area, a Japanese style tub, and a washer/dryer. It also includes a wi-fi hotspot that you can take with you as you travel around Tokyo.
By the time we got settled in and took a shower after 16 hours of travel, we were hungry and sleepy. I looked on Yelp and found a place called Vegetable Curry Camp just a few minutes walk from our place. It was a cute tiny restaurant in the basement. They had boxes of fresh vegetables next to the front door, and the decor was "1960 American campground." We got sizzling skillets of fresh vegetable curry and plates of rice. The bill for both of us was less than $20. (In fact, many of the restaurants we went to were a lot cheaper than places in Los Angeles).
On the way back, we stopped at one of the ubiquitous konbini (コンビニ, short for convenience store) to buy eggs and onigiri (rice filled with fish or other fillings) for breakfast the next morning. We slept like logs.
Stayed tuned for day 2, to find out about Meiji Jingu and the interesting little stores in Harajuku.