Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Shinjuku Tokyo Japan
Visited: March 2018
On a recent trip to Japan for Sakura I chose the Shinjuku ward as my base. It is an excellent area for travelers in Tokyo, particularly near Shinjuku station. This area is packed with hotels, restaurants, bars and some of the best nightlife in Tokyo.
Visitors have no problem finding things to do, and there are plenty of public transportation options and taxis for getting anywhere else in Tokyo you want to go. Japan is a big place with intricate public transportation, familiarizing yourself with it can be a bit overwhelming at first, but once you do it is relatively straightforward.
If you will be in Japan for a week or more and plan on using public transportation, you may want to get a Japan Rail Pass, especially if you will be taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to other cities. It is not inexpensive, but transportation can add up quickly in Japan, so the pass often pays for itself and is convenient to have. Here is how you can pick up your JR Pass at Narita airport and use it to cover the cost of your transit into Tokyo.
Sushi - Shinjuku
Food is very much a part of Japanese culture, and in my opinion, Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world. I did not go to Japan solely for the food, but I would, and I don't think I'm alone in this. During my stay, I decided to focus on ramen and made a point of eating it at least once per day.
Yottekoya, Japan, 〒160-0022 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−35−13 裕永ビル
I share Japan's appreciation for these heaping bowls of savory magic and the holistic healing power they hold, even if it is just to warm you on a cold day. Ramen is so much more than a simple bowl of soup, and I cannot imagine life without it.
You are likely to see people queueing up at places said to have the "best ramen" in Tokyo. Rest assured, phenomenal ramen is found easily in Shinjuku - no queue required. I tried three places while in Tokyo, all were good, but Yottekoya was exceptional, and I will go back when I return to Shinjuku.
Yottekoya ramen - don't forget the egg!
The broth was hearty and rich, and the noodles were fresh. Sitting at a counter slurping ramen is one of the real joys in life, and when I reached the bottom of my bowl, I was full and satisfied.
Japan loves technology, so the popularity of VR here is no surprise. If you like VR or you want to check it out, try the VR Zone in Shinjuku. You can save a kitten from a 30-story ledge, drive a race car and even slay the evil Zoma from Dragon Quest III. Sadly, my kitten didn't make it. I've never been a fan of heights.
VR Zone, 1 Chome-29-１ Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Located in the Kabukicho red-light district, The Robot Cafe is one of the most highly promoted tourist attractions in Shinjuku. Guests can come for one of the four shows performed daily or reserve a spot for an all-you-can eat sushi dinner and a show.
Robot Restaurant, Japan, 〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku, Kabukicho, 1 Chome−7−１ 新宿ロボットビル B2F
Themes vary, and players include musicians, gymnasts, monsters, heroes and an array of other colorful rotating characters that fill the stage for each act in this laser filled, rock n' roll light show.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden seems to be the most popular place to admire the cherry blossom in Shinjuku, but the wait was too long when I arrived, so I decided to find another option, and ventured to nearby Ueno Park, an exceptional spot for enjoying the season.
Sakura at Ueno Park
Located in central Tokyo, Ueno Park is just 30-minutes from Shinjuku station and a lovely place for a picnic amongst the blossoms. You can pick up a blanket or mat of some sort to sit on at most ¥100 stores in Shinjuku. Bento boxes can be purchased at Shinjuku station or at Isetan Shinjuku, known for having some of the best Bento boxes in Tokyo.
Everyone loves the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disney is a popular destination for locals and travelers. The park is planning a ¥300 billion / USD 2.7 billion expansion, however, they do not regulate or limit the number of people who enter the park daily, so if you arrive on peak dates you could be looking at very long wait times of 90-minutes to 5-hours. Which, of course, means waits for bathrooms, food, etc are also much longer too.
Shinkansen - Tokyo
Any influx of local tourism brings a significant increase to travel costs and crowd size. In April Japan has a "New Year" celebration for what is the start of the country's fiscal year. It also happens to fall during sakura, which is already a peak time for tourism throughout Japan.
Other peak times are Golden Week, which kicks off at the end of April, and July and August when Japanese schools are on summer. Being in town for local festivities can be fun, but if you're not into masses of people, you will probably prefer to come when it is a little quieter.
Checking local holidays can help you plan accordingly. Here is a link to a list of Japan's public and bank holidays.
Tokyo is a wonderful destination for a city vacation. In the 3-days and 2-nights that I was there I slept very little, and though I saw a lot, I feel I only scratched the surface.