This series comes in 3 parts and is a 5-day itinerary in Tokyo, complete with food!
Estimate about ¥10000-¥16000 (S$150-S$250) a day to be comfortable. Bring ample cash because many restaurants don’t accept credit cards. Besides, it’s relatively safe in Tokyo to carry a wad of cash. Just be vigilant.
You have to walk long stretches to get to a metro or a JR train so it is best to stay near a major station: Tokyo, Ginza, Shibuya, Roppongi and Shinjuku. Roppongi is most convenient because it is located near all the sightseeing sites and boasts of a bustling nightlife. But for our trip, we stayed at Shinjuku Park Hotel, which is just beside Takashimaya.
The room is small but has space to maneuver. Toilet bowl for dwarves but has the newfangled Japanese spray functions. Strange enough, there is a bathtub. A rather clean room with daily top-up of usual amenities including bathrobes, slippers, shavers, etc. For less than $1000 for two people for six nights seven days, this hotel is perfect.
However, one unhappy incident stood out. We requested for the hotel to make restaurant reservations on our behalf–since we cannot speak Japanese–but the hotel refused because they didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility should we not show up at the restaurants. It makes no sense since we would be booking under our names; they would be merely acting as translators. This is really a bad service on their part.
How to Get To and From Narita Airport
There are two companies providing transport to and from Narita: Skyliner or Japan Railways (JR). The Skyliner has tickets as cheap as ¥1000 (S$15) but it takes a longer time. We opted for JR that costs ¥5000 (S$75), which includes a return ticket to the airport and a Suica (similar to MRT card) that has ¥1500 (S$21) and ¥500 to be refunded when you return the Suica.
How to Get Around Tokyo
There are two companies in Tokyo providing transport: Tokyo Metro and JR. You can use the Suica for both. A tip we learned from experience is: don’t look at the colors on the transport map. Look at the alphabet of the line. Trains don’t run 24-hours and cabs are expensive so if you’re out bar-hopping, make sure you can walk back. That’s why we picked Shinjuku area in the first place.
If you’re on iPhone, I strongly suggest that you call your telco and ask for data plan to use Google Maps on your iPhone. The map isn’t accurate but it gives a rough estimate of where the place is. See: How to read addresses in Tokyo.
How to Get to Shinjuku Park Hotel from Narita Airport
Shinjuku Park Hotel is near the Shinjuku station, Shinjuku sanchome station and Yoyogi station. If you’re coming from Narita Airport, take the JR line which stops directly at Shinjuku station. Exit at the New South Exit (新南口), walk towards Takashimaya. I know you’re excited to shop but don’t enter Takashimaya. There is an escalator going down; take that. Once you’re at the lower level, turn right. You will pass by a police post, a Lawson (a convenience shop), and Tully’s Coffee. Then, you’re there.
How to Get Around from Shinjuku Park Hotel
Besides the JR trains, the Tokyo Metro lines, E, M, F, S, are nearby. If you take the Tokyo Metro lines, it’s best to drop off at Shinjuku sanchome station and walk towards Exit E8.
DAY ONE ITINERARY
So you’ve reached Tokyo. It’s 4pm. Best to explore your own district. Tip: Visit museums and temples in the day as they close early.
Suggested Itinerary for Shinjuku Area
-Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices – bird’s eye view of entire Tokyo, can see as far to Mount Fuji on a clear day. Free admission. Nishi-Shinjuku 2-8-1, Shinjuku-ku; 5321-1111; 9.30am-11pm; Website)
–Kabukicho (Red-light district)
– Isetan (Shinjuku 3-14-1, Shinjuku-ku; 3351-1111; Website; 10am-8pm). Isetan and Takashimaya are remarkably like Singapore’s version of them. So no loss if you don’t go.
–Yodobashi Camera (for electronics. Nishi-Shinjuku 1-11-1, Shinjuku-ku; 3346-1010; website; 9.30am-10pm)
–Tokyo Hands (within Takashimaya. It sells everything.)
–Kinokuniya (Some hard-to-find Japanese novels translated into English at an incredibly low price. I bought FUKUNAGA Takehiko’s Flowers of Grass at only S$20. Sendagaya 5-24-2, Shinjuku-ku; 5361-3301; website; 10am-8pm)
Where and what to eat in Shinjuku, Tokyo
–Isetan VS Takashimaya Basements
Takashimaya – Go to facebook to check out more food photos
The basements are amazing, hectic and quite intimidating. The best way is to plunge right into the buying. But the food looks better than it tastes. It’s like the Crowd Effect. People look better in a crowd but individually, they are so-so niah. Isetan’s food is much better than Takashimaya’s. The Japanese crowd agrees with me. Go after 5pm for discounts. We got 4 dishes at only ¥1000 (S$15)! No seats here. Ta-bao and go.
– Lumine 1
Lumine 1, a mall right at the JR Shinjuku Station, has two foreign imports: Dean & Deluca and Laudree (a chain from Paris).
Dean & Deluca – Go to facebook to check out more food photos.
Like the shopping malls’ basement, Dean & Deluca‘s food looks better than it tastes. For Dean & Deluca, it’s style over substance; pretty but horrible or average tasting at a premium price. I tasted two muffins–blah–and a lime-mint soda that is salty and bitter. If you are buying products, Dean & Deluca is coming to Singapore in June so buy only “Made in Japan” products. I bought three jams–all products of Japan–that cost ¥1000 (S$15) a tiny jar! That’s S$45 worth of jam. OUCH. I regret buying S$45 of so-so jam.
Touted to have one of the best macarons in the world, we tried four different flavors at about ¥1000 (S$15) including one called “incroyable” or in English, “incredible.” Not incredible at all. No good.
We tried three udons in Tokyo and Tokyo Metsudan (DaikanPlaza Business Kiyota Bldg. 1F, Nishi-shinjuku 7-9-15, Shinjuku-ku, tel. 03 5389 1077, Website) is the best. Wonderful texture of chewiness and silkiness. You can watch the noodle makers make the noodles on the spot. Self-service. You point to the noodle maker which udon you want, collect it, then move on down the counter to take tempura, oden (stewed soya sauce dishes) and other dishes. BEST UDON EVER, WORST TEMPURA EVER. Skip the tempura, stick with the udon. ¥700-1000 depending on what ingredients you take.
Another udon restaurant we visited is Rakugama (Nishi-shinjuku 1-12-6, Shinjuku-ku; 03-5908-8390; Website; 7.30am-11pm), a chain restaurant. The ramen is much thicker and tougher than Tokyo Metsudan‘s, and altogether more inferior, lacks the oomph of Tokyo Metsudan. But the tempura is better and cheaper too. ¥500-¥1000 (S$7-S$15).
Mos Burger – Facebook for more food and restaurant photos
Turn a corner from the Tokyo Metsudan udon shop (see above), you’ll come to a Mos Burger. I know, I know, we shouldn’t eat fast food overseas but Mos Burger came from Japan! And this mushroom cheese version isn’t available in Singapore. Verdict: Same as Singapore. Can skip this.
Izakaya means “drinking houses.” Packed full with salarymen and chain smoking–yes, you can smoke in restaurants in Tokyo–izakaya is like a tapas place which you order things from yakitori to sashimi.
We stumbled upon Toku Ichi (Nishi-shinjuku 1-14-4, Shinjuku-ku; 03-3340-5557; Website; 4pm-2am) which is as authentic as it gets, all Japanese here, mostly chain-smoking homosocial salarymen. Very atmospheric. We had a katsu-don–quite bad–and 5 yakitori sticks. The liver, chicken, and cartilage are good, smoky and flavorful. Facebook for more food and restaurant photos.
Darumanome (Nishi-shinjuku 1-14-5, Shinjuku-ku; 03-3347-0021; Website) is a chain with a ticketing machine. You put your money in and press your selection. If you want to add extra ingredients, just press on the ingredient. Present the ticket to the server, take a seat, and wait to be served. So good!!!! Soup is milky with the (pork?) bone completely dissolved in it. About ¥1000 (S$15).