Nights out in Tokyo

What a place – as you walk the crammed streets, ride the insane subway, visit the various bars / restaurants / shops that cater for any niche, you start to realise just how big and varied Tokyo is.  It also has so many different centres in their own right that you could spend weeks wandering around and only see a sliver of the place.  Instead, best thing to do is just get yourself lost in the mayhem of it all

For each of the 4 times I’ve been to Tokyo, its mainly been for lash / partying, which felt like a blur, so I won’t try and write a review.   Instead, I just have a few tips / thoughts:

  • Nights out:
    • Kick your evening off with the Robot Restaurant.  It’s hard to describe – it’s kind of like a robot / giant animals / skaters / burlesque show with booze, and, I think food, added.   All very odd, but heaps of fun and is in Shinjuku (next to Golden Gai) so a great place for going out
    • Golden Gai is a great spot for drinks – 200 tiny bars crammed into within something like 5 very small streets right next to each other, some with only room for 4/5 people.  Quite a unique experience
    • Geronimos in Roppongi was great atmosphere.  Good fun banging the drum
  • Be prepared for lots of taxis – Tokyo is huge and getting from area to another can take a while
  • Places I enjoyed:
    • The famous Shibuya Crossing is worth a visit
    • Tokyo Skytree is good for a view of the city
    • Getting up early for the fresh fish market
  • Gutted each time I missed the Sumo Wrestling.  That looks awesome
  • Accommodation – there are so many places to stay in Tokyo that there is something for everyone and really depends on what your itinerary and budget is, so I won’t go into specific recommendations.  But, I would recommend the capsule hotels – the ones where you sleep in a capsule rather than a room.  The shared services, such as onsens are usually superb, and its just a fun very Japan-style experience
  • Short trips from Tokyo.  If you do have more time, I really recommend
    • Taking the 2.15 hour bullet train to Kyoto for a classical Japan feel, seeing the imperial heart and sampling some of the Japanese whiskies in the famous Suntory distillery – for more details and tips, see the individual travel entry for – Cycling around Kyoto and sampling whiskies in the Suntory Distillery
    • Climbing Mount Fuji in Summer – you go from central Tokyo to the summit and back easily within 24 hours for what is a real bucket-list item.  For more details, see this individual travel entry – Climbing Mount Fuji in Summer

A weekend in Okinawa for Naha and the Aquarium

Okinawa offers a very different style to the rest of Japan.  Yes you still have the politeness, cleanliness and things, well, just working.  But its all within the backdrop of semi-tropical trees and a culture quite different to that of mainland as the Okinawa island chain used to be the former Ryukyu Empire and only joined Japan in the 1870s


Not many places in the world have that developed vibe in the tropics, so it’s definitely worth a trip, especially if living in this part of the world and fancy a weekend away.  Worth also picking up a few of the local’s habits – Okinawans are some of the longest living people in the world!

Zamami Jima and Aka Jima, from Okinawa

Less than an hour ferry ride away from the bustling Naha, the islands of Zamami-jima and Aki-jima feel a world away.  The crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and access to such wonderful wildlife make the trip worth it on their own, but it is the distinctly Japanese style of this tropical environment that makes it so idyllic, intriguing and pleasantly odd at times.  If visiting Okinawa, I would suggest that this is the highlight.  Great little adventure

Staying in a Ryokan by Lake Toya-ko

Staying in a Ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn with woven matt floors, sleeping on futons and eating all your (local and delicious) meals in the room – is one of those classically Japanese things to do.  Doing so in the northern island of Hokkaido by a classically round active volcanic lake in the snow is also a very nice addition.  Only issue is you should chose wisely on the location
We stayed in the Toya-ko Onsen town, which was easy to reach from Niseko / Sapporo, and the Daiwa Ryokan was great fun, but it’s not the most attractive town.  I would suggest trying to find somewhere else, maybe a bit more isolated.  Considering just how beautiful the surroundings are, it would be worth a bit more of a detailed search, even if you have to plough through the Japanese sites!
For something a bit unusual (more unusual) – head up to the Windsor Hotel, which is still on the rim of Toya-ko, and is an uber 5 star hotel that hosted the G8 summit in 2008.  It’s nice to walk around and has superb views of the lake, but also bizarrely has 2 Michelin 3* restaurants on the top floor which, based on what we saw, are largely empty.  Bear in mind there are only 135 Michelin 3* restaurants in the world, so you get the idea how random this is.  We tried the French one which was great
Unless a bit desperate for something to do (you mean you’re bored sat in one Ryokan room for 2 days?), don’t bother with the ferry ride around the lake.  My girlfriend likes to say it’s the worst date we’ve been on.  Instead, head up to the Usa-zan viewing platform

Skiing in Niseko

Niseko has a strong shout for being the world’s best skiing destination. Yes, yes, I know the North American sites have vast slopes and every other room has a hot tub; the Alps are wonderful for their apres and interconnected communities; and I get that Queenstown has bungee jumping, but there are 3 killer reasons for why Niseko has to take the crown:

  1. It is the undisputed King of Powder, with 15m / 50ft of wonderful light powdery stuff on AVERAGE each year
  2. Its Japan.  This means that everything works perfectly, people are 10/10 polite (no fighting over chair lifts), you finish your ski with an Onsen and the food . . . even the most basic of meals demands a quality zat wud mek even ze french jelos!
  3. The views.  Think less endless mountain chains, and more looking at the perfect conical volcano of Yotei-zan, aka Hokkaido’s Mount Fuji
It can be expensive, especially around the holidays, but a must experience if you’re a skier

A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Japan is my favourite country to travel through.  A big call I know.  Whilst it may get pipped by some of the bigger countries when it comes to natural vistas and cultural pursuits, there are three things that cement it as number one:

  1. The people and surrounding culture is one of respect, politeness and calm – just travelling through Japan you find your blood pressure dropping, being more considerate and the pleasures that come with this
  2. Stuff works in Japan – it’s not just the trains being on time to within the second, it’s everything!  I know there is something wonderfully memorable about travelling with a few hiccups as part of the adventure., but there is also something rather pleasant about having a country like Japan to explore knowing it’ll be super easy (and safe)
  3. The food!  I know the French think they are the best in the world.  They are not
There’s a lot to see, but if you have a week, I’d recommend this itinerary which lets you see 3 highlights of Japan and with a bit of adventure thrown in

Cycling around Kyoto and sampling whiskies in the Suntory Distillery

Kyoto has been Japan’s Imperial capital for a thousand years and has . . . a thousand temples.  If, like me, you can get a bit templed out, its quite easy to get tired walking from one temple to the next and, honestly, whilst I enjoyed the trip to Kyoto, I don’t remember any of the specific temples.  So, my tips for a visit:

  • Rent a bike to cycle around the temples, and generally around Kyoto.  It adds a different angle to the day as you can see areas outside of the standard temples, including the large gardens, are not restricted by a driver, and Kyoto city centre is very safe to cycle, including being able to cycle along the canals
  • Unless you are a Japanese history geek, one day is more than enough for the temples
  • The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in the west of the city is definitely worth checking out as it’s super dense green bamboo forrest makes you think you’re in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  • I’d highly recommend taking a half day trip to the Suntory Whiskey Distillery just outside Kyoto.  Even if you are not a whiskey fan, it’s a nice experience as they show you how the whiskey is made, tell the history and give you some free samplings at the end.  Considering the standard of these whiskies and their recognition internationally (they won many of the world’s best awards), this is very generous.   It’s only a 25min train ride (which is fun on its own) from Kyoto Station and has very pleasant surroundings nestled in a glen
  • As with all things Japan, try and stay somewhere with an Onsen – coming back and relaxing in them at the end of the day really adds to the overall Japanese experience.  You’ll find your blood pressure dropping quickly and even catch yourself dropping in a small bow to people in the lifts
  • We stayed near the station, which was a perfect location
  • For more details on how Kyoto can fit into a week itinerary for the highlights of central Japan, see the individual travel entry for – A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Climbing Mount Fuji in Summer

If you’re in the Tokyo area for a week or so during climbing season (July – September), climbing Mount Fuji should be high up on your list.  Fuji-san as “he” is know is Japan’s tallest mountain (3,776m / 12,389ft) and one of the most recognisable mountains in the world with its near perfect symmetrical dome.  Yet it is surprisingly easy to summit (you can be there and back from Tokyo within 24 hours) and has the feeling of an event as you join the 300,000 people who make the ascent every year

Throw in the spectacular views for the sunrise from the summit and the great fun of staying with various Japanese travellers in one of the mountain huts (bring whiskey!), and you have a wonderful Japanese experience.  Plus, I mean how often can you summit one of the most famous mountains in the world within 24 hours?