What else to do in Tokyo? On my recent trip to Japan in September 2017, I had to decide on what to do on my only scheduled day in Tokyo (Day 1). After going through my wish list and repeatedly changing my plans, I finally settled on an anime-themed outing and go-karting. Here’s a long post on what I did 😉.
Unagi Chirashi-zushi Breakfast
First off, I had a rather heavy breakfast. The buffet breakfast spread at Hotel JAL City Haneda Tokyo had both Western and Japanese dishes including curry, bread and cakes, cereal, salad and miso soup. But mostly I ate the unagi (broiled eel) chirashi-zushi topped with lots of fish roe. It was yummy!
After breakfast, I went over to the Yamato Transport office that I found the night before. I wanted to check the price and possibility of sending my 24″ suitcase from the hotel to the next – Richmond Hotel Narita within the same day. Since I was planning to go to a few places that day by train, I didn’t want to lug my suitcase around. Well, I could have used the coin lockers at the train stations but that was not cost effective as my route involved different stations. (The cost of each coin locker is between JPY 300 and JPY 600 per day, depending on the size.) And there are far fewer large sized lockers than smaller ones. Also bear in mind that there is limited space on trains for large luggage (worse during peak hours) and that it is mostly staircases at train stations. Escalators or elevators can be difficult to locate.
Luggage delivery service was the only smart solution that I could think of. If you have never experienced the convenience of hands-free traveling, I recommend that you check out the services offered by Yamato’s TA-Q-BIN (door to door parcel delivery service). I used a similar service along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route last year and loved the freedom of sightseeing without my luggage. The service was practical, reliable, convenient and most importantly, affordable.
Prior to arriving at Tokyo, I had arranged with the hotel’s front desk to put in my order with the delivery company but the collection time by TA-Q-BIN was rather late at 11am. With such a schedule, a same-day delivery was not possible. With a Yamato Transport office just opposite the hotel, I just had to compare. Going direct to the company turned out to be cheaper (JPY 1,304) and I was given a more definite delivery time. The staff at the transport office did not speak English but that didn’t stop her from giving her most professional and helpful service. Thumbs up! 👍
After considering the different possible scenarios, I decided to send my luggage to the campervan rental office instead. I packed an overnight bag and checked out of the hotel.
Anamori Inari Shrine
It rained just as I walked out of the hotel. Can you imagine the hassle of dragging the suitcase in one hand and holding an umbrella in another if I didn’t use the delivery service 😏. Before going to the Anamoriinari Station (穴守稲荷駅), I made a detour to Anamori Inari Shrine (穴守稲荷神社).
This shrine is like a miniature Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto. It also has a row of red torii gates (though on a much, much smaller scale) and fox statues of different sizes. It is believed that visitors to the Shrine will be blessed with good money fortune and safe travels. Read about the Shrine’s interesting history here.
Have you ever wondered what the words on each torii mean? Well, these are actually the name of the torii sponsor. The donor could be a company praying for success in their business or an individual seeking blessings.
Good Luck Sand
Going through to the end of the torii tunnel, you will come to a small shrine where you can collect the Shrine’s good-luck sand (御神砂) or buy mini torii. Small envelopes and scoops are provided for you to bring back the sand. Scatter the sand at the entrance of your home for your family’s safety or office for business success. For the healing of the sick, put it under the floor. In the case of disaster, misery or morning sickness, cast the sand in the direction of the problem. (Reference)
The Shrine is free to enter and it is an ideal spot to visit on a stopover at Haneda Airport. It takes only 3 minutes (2 station stops) of train travel from Haneda Airport International Terminal Station and another 5 minutes of walking from the nearest station.
Tip : For train travel, use HyperDia to search for the best route. Compare the number of transfers needed, the total fare and travel time. Alternatively, you can use Google Map. Consider getting an IC card (rechargeable stored value card) to pay for your public transport fare for convenience. Read this for more information.
Anamori Inari Station on Keihin Keikyu Kuko (Airport) line 京浜急行空港線
(HyperDia route search)
Anamori Inari Station
I love to wait at a street-level train crossing when I’m on foot and watch the train pass. After it has passed, I would briefly stay in the middle of the crossing (while watching out for oncoming vehicles) and enjoy the view of the track on both sides. This one is near Anamori Inari Station.
While you are here, look out for a stone fox statue called Kon-chan just outside the station. It spots different look depending on the season or festival. I read that the local residents dress it up but I had seen a photo of Kon-chan with costumes contributed by Japan Airlines. I guess anyone can volunteer or sponsor the outfit. Interesting isn’t it?.
Mirai Store Tokyo
Are you into anime or video games? If you are, then you should check out Mirai Store Tokyo and Smart Doll! I remember how excited I was when I read about Mirai Suenaga and how I can custom make my own fashion doll with an anime look like Mirai. But, alas, the price was prohibitive and I didn’t have enough time to do a workshop to make one in the store (cheaper if you put together your own doll). I’ll have to set aside time and money for this on my next trip! I guess you won’t understand what’s the fascination about if you are not a fan …
Smart dolls in 3 skin tones. image source
Even if you are not an anime fan, you may want to download a copy of the Japan Map featuring Mirai and her friends published in collaboration with Japan Tourism. The map for the Kanto Region can be obtained from the store.
Gotanda Station on the JR line or Ikegami line (HyperDia route search)
Opening hours :
Mon – Fri, 10am – 1pm, 2pm – 6pm
Second and fourth Sundays of the month, 11am – 4pm
On my way back to Gotanda Station, I walked past a steak restaurant that had a queue that went across the street. Like always, I did a quick check on the Google map, was happy with the reviews and joined the queue. While waiting, you can browse through their English menu.
The queue moved pretty fast and after about 20 minutes of waiting, I was given a seat. (Eating alone in Japan is commonplace, so you don’t have to worry about having to share a table with strangers.) Though I was still full from the morning’s breakfast, I decided to try the Hamburger Steak & Steak Combo (comes with miso soup, salad and rice). The overall taste was good but sadly, you can’t choose the cut (of beef) for the steak cubes. I was given some not so tender chunks 😕. Next time, I will just have the steak and choose the more tender cuts.
Tip : In Japan, lunch is typically cheaper than dinner. So check the prices beforehand and save your Yen for lunch instead if dinner is more expensive.
Gotanda Station (HyperDia route search)
A display of ekiben (train bento boxes) from Ekiben-ya Matsuri at JR Tokyo Station where you can find bento from all over Japan.
I made a stop at Tokyo Station to avoid walking in the rain and wandered around the Station. When the rain stopped, I headed to Akihabara (秋葉原) or Akiba. This is the place for the otaku. Whether your interest is in anime, manga, video games or electronics, you will find no better place than Akihabara to satisfy all your fandom desires. (Also check out Nakano Broadway for more anime and manga merchandise or collectibles.)
On Sundays and public holidays, the main street Chuo Dori becomes a pedestrian-only street from 1pm – 6pm (5pm Oct – Mar). As you jostle through the crowd, you will be attracted by the cute girls from maid cafes inviting you to their cafes. Most tourists will walk past them and stop instead at the owl whose minder will gladly tell you where you can come face to face with an owl. Judging by the number of owl cafes that I saw on this trip, I think owl cafes are the most popular animal cafe in Japan right now. A new store that caught my eye this time was Animegane. It promoted itself as the world’s first anime eyewear store. Check out its website.
Akihabara can be overwhelming if you are a first-time visitor. If you have limited time, I would suggest you do your research and plan your itinerary according to your interests while leaving some leeway for exploration. Here is a useful post to start your research.
I didn’t spend much time window-shopping at Akihabara as I was there for my first street go-kart experience with MariCar. Bet you didn’t know that you can drive a go-kart legally on the busy city streets of Tokyo! Dressed up as Pikachu, I drove a go-kart alongside other cars and buses during the evening peak hours from Akihabara to Odaiba through the Rainbow Bridge and back. En-route, I passed by the Tokyo Tower (see photo above) and the Ginza shopping district. It was fun but taxing on my short leg that had to stre-e-etch to press the brake pedal 😓.
This activity deserves a post of its own so I will leave out the details for now. Meanwhile you can check out MariCar’s website here. There are 7 MariCar shops in Tokyo itself, each with different routes. I did the 2-hour A1-M1 course from its Akihabara #1 shop. Do note that you need an International Driving Permit or equivalent before you can drive one of these go-karts in Japan.
Richmond Hotel Narita
It took me about 1.5 hours to get from Akihabara to Narita. It was a long journey but I needed to be in Narita the next morning to pick up the campervan that I had rented for this trip. So glad that I didn’t have to mind my luggage that day. The hotel for the night was Richmond Hotel Narita.
JR Narita Station or Keisei Narita Station (different buildings)
(HyperDia route search)
By the time I checked into the hotel, most restaurants in the vicinity had closed or were closing. Thankfully, Saizeriya was still bustling with diners at 10pm (2 hours before closing time) when I arrived. Food was decent and affordable.
Tomorrow will take care of itself
As I went to bed that night, I wondered if I could sleep well in a campervan. Will I miss staying in hotels? Will I be alright living out of van? Yes, I was a little worried but too tired to be scared. I decided that I should just go to sleep and worry the next day. Ya, tomorrow will take care of itself…