From December 17 to 29, I spent an amazing two weeks in Japan! I was in Akihabara, and traveled to Hakone, Takayama, Osaka, Kyoto, and Minato-ku (but not in that order)! I took over 1000 photos on my phone (I wasn’t bringing my DSLR for obvious reasons), and several videos (mostly of trains). I ate amazing food, bought a lot of merchandise, visited friends, and then some!
This blog post is going to be a breakdown of my travels, the amazing sights I saw, how I packed for my trip, and everything else in between. I want this to serve not just as a newbie’s guide to Japan, but also as a review of my amazing two-week vacation. I will have a few galleries of the amazing places I visited linked as well.
So this is how it came to be… It was interesting. In November 2022 I received a letter from a company regarding my mother’s life insurance policy (she died back in 2005). I wasn’t sure how much it was going to be, but I decided that this would pay for my trip to Japan. I contacted Inside Japan Tours in January 2023 and got the ball rolling. While that was going on, I handled the paperwork to get the life insurance payout. It was enough for me to pay off all of my credit cards, and make a payment on the trip.
Once the financials were done, I needed to get equipment. And by equipment, I mean electronics, luggage, etc… For luggage, I got a basic hard shell luggage from Amazon that fell within Air Canada’s requirements. I also bought a travel bag from Don Quijote because of all the anime figures I bought. I also had three battery packs (2 – 5000mAh, 1 – 10000mAh), a 100-watt USB charger, cables, and my Surface. Honestly, I wish I had brought my tablet. I would have used it to keep track of some notes, and digital brochures, and used that for Google Maps. I had a MiFi device with me to have high-speed internet and it would’ve worked. I had a base international plan on my phone but with 4G speeds capped at 256kbps. You can purchase a SIM/e-SIM between ¥1500 and ¥7000 for a duration of two weeks to 30 days. If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around and exploring, I would recommend going with battery packs at least double what I recommended. But if you do need them and you’re in Japan, I highly recommend going to Don Quijote.
So let’s begin!
The start of my trip brings us to Akihabara on Sunday evening. I stayed at the Remm Akihabara for two nights. The hotel was a little small, I do recommend bringing your washcloth. Upon arrival, I relaxed in my room, got my bearings together, and then did a late-night walk around a few blocks. I stopped at Yoshinoya for dinner and then went back to my hotel room. The next day, I went about, checking out local shops. I wasn’t able to bring up my Otakumode wish list so I could see what figures I wanted. I was able to use the Opera browser’s VPN and access it tho. I found some great deals at local shops right by my hotel. There’s a Suruga-ya and two Book Offs in the area. I also stopped in the GIGO arcades as well. I didn’t play any games here, I just explored.
On Monday I ventured out to Nerima to do a pilgrimage to my favorite anime series, Ranma 1/2. I walked around for a while and did a livestream. What’s interesting is that Nerima is a Warner Bros studio. And there’s a Harry Potter Studio Tour that goes on there. I will say, that while I was walking around there, I came across the river and the fence that Ranma would walk on… That felt nostalgic. I left and went to Ikebukuro to meet my friend Evan. He’s been living here for several months as an English teacher. I planned to do some holiday shopping and check out some sweet spots, and thanks to Evan, I was able to check out the Pokemon Center, Studio Ghibli store, Star Wars pop-up shop, Animate Japan, Book Off, sample some great tasting coffee, and then some at Sunshine City. Now Sunshine City is a pretty big mall. Walking around in there made me feel right back at home… It was packed full of people. I also saw a Sesame Street retail store there, and I absolutely loved it. After we went our separate ways, I went back to the mall and explored a bit more.
For the record, if you’re a mallrat, you are going to love being out here. The malls are full of people and shops. Online shopping in Japan isn’t an alternative like it is in the US. It’s an option. Also, there are stores in a store here. I got confused trying to find a Daiso because it was on the 6th floor of a mall next to Uniqlo. One thing you have to remember is that certain shops you’re looking for are in buildings, so look around for an entrance. I will say, that if you have ever been to the Macy’s in Herald Square, you have a general idea of how this works.
On my last day here, I traveled to Shibuya and went to the Sailor Moon Store. When I went over to the Sailor Moon Store, the associates there loved my Sailor Venus shirt. I bought a lot of merch and I put it on my credit card. I did have yen on me, but if I’m spending over ¥10000, I’m going to put it on my credit card. Evan told me that when you use your card, it’s cheaper because you’re paying at the current USD rate. I hadn’t thought of that, but then again when I was in Toronto I had bought coffee and a donut from Tim Horton’s and saw the price difference. After that, I went to Nakano Broadway. Some consider it a mecca for anime, video games, super sentai, and everything. When you come here, get here early and explore your heart’s content. It’s only four floors, but a lot of shops. I found myself taking mental notes and doubling back a few times for items. I did overpay for a couple of things, but that’s okay. Honestly, I would have saved ¥1000 if I had picked up two items at local shops near my hotel. But I’ll know for next time.
And before you ask, yes I did attend a maid cafe. I went to Shangrila. This is a maid cafe I wanted to attend for years. It’s a plus-sized maid cafe. Now before we continue, when you’re walking up and down the streets of Akihabara, you’ll see maids out there advertising their cafes with signs. Some of these outfits you’ll see them wear, you will never see on Amazon, Wish, or Aliexpress, unless you look really hard. A lot of maid outfits I saw, go beyond the typical style you see in animes and stores, they’re that unique in design. Given that most of them were wearing coats, it was hard for me to get a variety of photos. As for Shangirls, there were three of them on shift at the time, and I talked to them… Through Google Translate. We typed questions back and forth. I showed them my cosplay photos, and I can say they loved seeing plus-size cosplayers and lolitas. We talked about favorite animes, living in America and New York. I gave them my e-mail address just in case they wanted to know more. I did take my picture with the girls, and that for me was the most memorable part of being in Akihabara. Now on the way back, I passed another maid cafe that had a replica of Oinky Doink (Meido Kafe Ton Toko Ton). One thing is that the cafe was kinda plain looking with a giant logo on the wall. I liked it. From what I saw, a lot of maid cafes are on different floors of small buildings and they look like a standard cafe or shop.
I checked out and caught a Shinkansen to Hakone. This was an interesting trip. The day before I packed up my belongings and sent them to the next hotel… Which in a way worked against me. I had an extra bag full of stuff I bought, which made things a bit more difficult to travel with. I decided that on the next trip to Japan, going to Akihabara would be last.
But off to Hakone! I did get lost along the way. It did look like I got on the right bus but wasn’t told which stop to get off at. I did get off and ask someone, and I was on my way. I had to take a pirate ship (yes you heard me right, and no it wasn’t Going Merry or Thousand Merry) to a ropeway (which is a tram). Upon arrival, it was a 10-minute walk to the hotel (and I saw a Lolita along the way). I checked in, relaxed, and realized that I didn’t really know how to make a futon. Thank god for YouTube. And upon watching how to make one, I was reminded of pallet blanket beds I used to sleep in when visiting my grandparents.
While traveling here on the bus, I saw signs for Numazu, so I may have to go there, depending on how far it is. For those of you who don’t know, the anime Yohane the Parhelion takes place there. I did say that I wanted to go there to check it out, but I didn’t. It would have taken two hours and about ¥2900 each way to get there and back. So instead, I traveled to Hakone Sekisho and the Hakone Open Air Museum. And for those of you who don’t know, Hakone is the basis for Neon Genesis Evangelion! Tokyo-3 is based on Hakone! When I arrived on the tramway, there was an EVA-01 on display, along with various images of the cast of Eva on the wall. There’s an official Evangelion store here, but I didn’t come across it because I was too focused on getting to my destination.
The onsen was amazing. I was a bit nervous going in because I wasn’t fully sure of what to do, lol. When you arrive there, you’re given a brochure on onsen etiquette, and they do ask you if you have tattoos. Some onsens will give you patches to cover them up, so make sure you check before you go. Not enough anime watching prepares you for this, even with the brochure. So I darted my eyes around to take cues from other people, so I could figure it out. I relaxed in the indoor spring for a bit, thinking that no one would go outside, cold as it was, but someone did go to the outside hot spring. And I did as well… And it wasn’t that cold out either. The outside hot spring was partially covered. You could see some of the night sky. There were maybe one or two gusts of wind, but how the roof was set up, it wasn’t that bad. If I were the only person in the hot spring, I probably would have flailed out and just floated. I went back inside to the indoor spring and rested there. I chilled in the sauna for a while and went back to my room.
There was one thing I really wanted to see, Hakone Sekisho. Hakone Sekisho is a major checkpoint that connected Edo to Kyoto. I was amazed at how it looked. What’s great is that there’s a route that you can follow throughout the area. You can see the insides of the buildings, maps, and signage. I walked up a set of stairs that made the stairs at Broadway Junction look like a cakewalk. At the top of these stairs is a lookout point. The view from there is breathtaking. I followed the route, got some souvenirs and I left. I took the bus to the Hakone Open Air Museum. For those who don’t know, it’s a museum where the majority of the art pieces are outside. There are some buildings there as well that house various exhibits. I did walk through the Picasso exhibit, but I was not able to take any photos. There was another place I wanted to visit, but given the time I left the museum, I went back to my hotel.
And that was interesting. I missed the last shuttle going back to the hotel, so I had to walk the path up. Originally, I missed my stop and Google Maps pointed out a path to walk, but I decided to go back and take a bus back to my original stop and walk from there. Walking up there was long and a bit cold. It was also eerie, I expected to see wild animals or some straggler trying to get my money. But as I walked through here, I saw various homes and hotels. Thankfully, there were a lot of lights along the way to make the trek back easier.
Now pack it up and head to Kyoto. I had gotten here before check-in time, and the hotel was able to hold my bags as I spent time exploring the area. I went out and got a Teriyaki burger from McDonald’s and it was tasty! I took this time to walk around the shopping arcade. If you’ve ever seen the shopping areas from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, it’s the same thing. Walking through here felt vast because of how open it is. Seeing American retail stores here felt kinda surreal, yet pretty cool.
On my second day here, I had a tour guide and I saw two shrines… Fushimi Inari and Tenruji. My tour guide told me some interesting details and histories of both of these shrines. After that tour, I ventured off to the Niji-jo Castle and it was amazing. I started to make my way to the Imperial Palace, but I had to stop. I needed to take a break at this point. After enjoying a Pocari Sweat and checking the time, I decided to return to my hotel and get some rest before going back out again. Now where I was staying, it was only a 15-minute walk to Gion, a district in Kyoto. It was an entertainment district, but it is where you will find geikos and a lot of shrines. I came here yesterday in hopes of seeing a geiko. I didn’t see one yesterday, but today tho… I saw a couple, but I didn’t bother to ask for a photo because they were busy. As I was leaving the area, I did see one. I politely asked for a photo, thanked her, and bowed.
On my last day here, I made my way out for revolving sushi for lunch. I walked through the shopping district and I paid more attention to everything around me, and I saw so many second-hand clothing stores, as well as clothing shops… Shops playing rap music… Man, I thought I was back in Brooklyn or Mount Vernon. I walked into a second-hand store called Spinns, and I felt like I flashbacked to the late ’90s, when I was in high school, wow! I did visit the Nintendo Store in Kyoto. And if you’re wondering, I did visit the Starbucks that’s built in a traditional house, and that my friends, was cool.
Osaka cannot be done in a day. Thankfully I don’t have to be at the next hotel until 3 pm tomorrow which gives me some time. Upon arriving, I dropped off my things, got food, and came back. I had thought about going to Universal Studios since it’s only like 30 minutes from my hotel. But I saw the prices for a ticket and said nah… Next time I come out here tho. So I’m walking around and discover that this is another otaku neighborhood I’m near named Nipponbashi / Denden Town. Saw more girls advertising their maid cafes… I wandered through here, and I did find the Ranma 1/2 game for Turbo Duo CD at Super Potato. Once I was settled into my room, I traveled out to the Nintendo Store Osaka, Pokemon Center Osaka, and Capcom Store, and popped into the One Piece store (not a word from the peanut gallery). I was going to head into Tobita Shinchi to explore, but I changed my mind because of how late it was getting. I did get some KFC Christmas chicken (which is really good), took care of some laundry, and then headed back out to Dotenburi.
Ahh Dotenburi. I was highly recommended to visit this tourist trap. When I got there and looked around, it reminded me of Times Square, right before Guiliani cleaned it up! It’s an entertainment district. It reminds me of the entertainment district from Demon Slayer. It’s like Times Square unhinged. You will see the most beautiful women there. You will find bars, clubs, late-night restaurants, and massage parlors. You will be propositioned as well. Now, I didn’t get over there until late because I was stuck trying to do laundry (3 washing machines in a hotel with over 400 rooms, more on that later). This is one of the few times I wished I knew conversational Japanese (might have to change that). I spoke to a couple of Japanese girls because they said Merry Christmas to me. The conversations didn’t last long tho. There were also hip-hop bars there too. So many jiggas (Japanese niggas) out there. A lot of trash, I saw a dude just taking a piss in the corner, and a couple of homeless people, but don’t worry, they won’t bother you at all. Since it was Christmas, everyone was out in Santa dresses and Santa outfits. There were fellas out in full suits. It was hella mindblowing. And because it was so late, I didn’t get to walk around as much but I did take a lot of photos and videos.
The trek to Takayama wasn’t so simple. There is an express train that gets you there from Nagoya, but if you miss it, there’s about a 90-minute wait for the next one. It’s partially my fault. I spent about an hour or so walking around Osaka for last-minute touristy things. This place is chock full of history and has two onsens. I went to both. The first outdoor onsen at the hotel was nice, and more covered up. The second outdoor one was more open-air, but closer to the hotel… This also reminds me, that the first outdoor onsen and the one in Hakone are very traditional in design, using a lot of rocks for a natural style.
As for history, I took a bus to Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village). It is a traditional folk village during the Edo Period. It’s not the exact village, but what a typical one would look like. I was not able to fully explore the village because parts were roped off due to the weather. Granted there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but some locations did look a bit rough to walk around. After I left, I planned to visit the tea ceremony museum, but the bus I was on, didn’t go to that stop, so I got off at the last stop and walked through Takayama Old Town. Takayama Old Town is a small neighborhood, with a mix of Edo-style buildings and modern buildings that look like they’re from the 1980s. I stopped at a local shop for beef skewers, and I tell you, Hida beef is quite delicious! Right up there with Wagyu! I explored throughout here and marveled at everything I saw.
The last night in Japan, where everyone knows your name, and the spirit of hospitality… It took me five or so hours to get from Takayama to the Minato-ku ward of Tokyo, you know, the home of Sailor Moon and the Tokyo Tower. I did not see any senshi tonight, but it kinda would have been funny if I did. As soon as I unloaded my luggage, I went straight to Ikebukuro and met up with my friend Cheyenne. We sat down for some dinner and shared life stories. As we were leaving Sunshine City, I ran into my friend Flora as we were going through the crosswalk! We took a selfie and chatted. Flora and her crew are headed off to Comiket! And thanks to Flora and Cheyenne, I was able to score Ranma 1/2 swag from K Books! From there, I met up with Liam for dinner at the FF14 cafe. We traded stories, and I told him how much of a shit show Anime NEXT has become. Then we walked down to the Square Enix Cafe and I met up with Spuffles! We went over to Donki, and I showed them the magic that is Don Quijote! We also traded life stories and played catch-up, and they loved all of the anime merch that was in the store!
After parting ways, I came back to Minato-ku and I just walked around. On my way here earlier, I stumbled across a local bar. I went in tonight. And they had this awesome sign that said all are welcome. I had a couple of beers, and I chatted it up with the bartender and the patrons! We talked about sports, NYC, the culture of Japan and so much more. I had a great fucking time there, and the next time I come back to Japan, I will stop in. For those who are wondering, the name of the bar is 変幻自在, and it’s around the corner from my hotel. Walking in and talking to everyone, I could hear the theme from Cheers in my head as I was chatting it up.
On my final day, I traveled to Kawaguchi to meet a longtime Facebook friend Shino. She brought a friend with her and we both bonded over Sailor Venus. We ate at a dumpling restaurant and it was absolutely delicious. I also had map tofu for the first time and a real highball. And by real, I meant the drink made for me at the restaurant and not from a can in a conbini. It sucked to have such a short time here with my friend, but I have a plane to catch. I made my way back to my hotel, got my luggage, and made my way back to Narita for the journey home.
And as I look back and reflect, I truly had an amazing time. I didn’t see myself freak out shouting I’m in Japan. I felt more humbled that I was here. I took everything in stride. I wish I had more time to visit all the places I had marked, but I will save that for a return trip. Also, I hope this blog inspires you to travel, and it doesn’t have to be to Japan. It doesn’t have to be another country. You’d be amazed at some great things you’d find in this country. It’s not much, but it might be worth it. If you get an opportunity, travel to another state and discover something new.