It’s funny how for a time in 2020 I was so un-energized to write about my 2019 travels despite having all the time in the world just staying at home during a lockdown. It just didn’t feel right or appropriate, so I put it off and put it off, and suddenly it’s 2021. Boy, did time just ZOOM PAST. At some point, I already accepted the fact that it will be quite some time before we can travel normally again, but then none of that actually means I have to lock all my past travels inside a box. Right?
I have to admit I’m pretty close to forgetting some of the details of this trip, and if I didn’t take this time to write it all down I would’ve failed to chronicle my memories as close to the truth as possible. I’ve never aimed to be a travel guru– I’m just a girl who likes to share her personal experiences and recommendations from her travels. And to do that, I need to remember what they actually are lol.
At first I was writing these as a form of escapism, but you know what I came to realize? Writing about it now after the year that was gave me a heightened appreciation for all the chances I’ve had in the past to travel freely. Initially I thought this stroll down memory lane would only serve to help me miss traveling a little less, but now I find myself pondering how traveling would look like in the future. It made me wonder how long it would take to look like this again.
For today’s travel diary, I wanted to draw up a mini itinerary to illustrate how my trip to Tokyo back in spring 2019 mapped out. There’s no right or wrong way to make itineraries because we each prioritize different things when we travel, but this was kind of how it went for us while we were there and I thought maybe this could give you a little idea for a future trip.
An essential activity when you visit Japan in spring is to spend some time viewing the sakura, so I’ll start with that. Ueno Park is a nice place for just generally bonding with nature, so even if you arrived too early or too late for hanami, you can still enjoy the ample nature and the views from this park.
When we visited, it was no longer the peak of hanami, and so the park was not crowded at all and was rather nice to just wander around in. We managed to spot several leftover cherry blossom trees, but I found myself drawn to the Shinobazu Pond. There’s a portion of the pond where the lotus bloom from July to August, but in April you will only see brown stalks sticking out of the water. There is also a temple in the middle of the lake you can visit. Overall quite a picturesque area. And if you like listening to birds squawking, this is the place.
Depending on where you view the lake, it adapts a magical quality to it. I like viewing it from the area where the weeping willows are. Occasionally, you will see birds glide close above the water’s surface. It’s easy to lose track of time just staring out into the water when you’re here.
Now that the eyes are satisfied with the sights, it’s time to satisfy the tummy and the shopaholic inside! I found Ameyoko to hit both appetites squarely on the head for me, which is why I highly recommend it. It’s also a short walk from Ueno Park to here.
Stop by any of the restaurants during the lunch hour for special meal sets the restaurants prepare for office workers. We ate at a restaurant called Shutei Juraku Ueno [酒亭じゅらく 上野店] and had some really good food. You should expect Tokyo portions. I find Tokyo servings generally a little smaller than that of other prefectures for the same price, though it is still delish.
After a filling meal, take a look at the discount stores in the area in case there’s something you want to buy. I scored a nice Mis Zapatos bag here for a great price so I will definitely be back! Hopefully the shop will still be there.
A new Tokyo favorite for me is this shrine at Bunkyo City. According to the guide books it’s supposedly an underrated location, but I beg to differ. There were lots of people here when we visited.
The Nezu Shrine may be one of Japan’s oldest shrines, but what draws people here during springtime is the Azalea Festival. Over 3,000 varieties of azalea bloom within the hillside garden of the shrine, and while you have to shell out a fee to enter this area, it’s a small price to pay for the loveliness inside!
Before leaving, make sure to drop by the tea house near the main entrance inside the shrine that specializes in red bean-stuffed amazake buns!
In keeping with the traditional vibe after the visit to the shrine, get on the train and make your way to Yanaka Ginza. You will be transported right back to the Tokyo of the past as you walk along the roads and alleyways of this area.
One of the best things to do while here is to get your fill of traditional Japanese treats. They’ve got everything from homemade onigiri, takoyaki, yakitori, and even freshly cooked senbei or rice crackers. There are also shops selling some traditional wares you can take home. I don’t want to say too much because places like these are always better when explored on your own!
Fuji Five Lakes Area Day Trip
We decided to allot an entire day around the Mt Fuji area going along with a pre-arranged tour via KKDay. Although it’s possible to explore the Fuji Five Lakes region on your own, it would be best to have your own mode of transportation as certain major locations are located far away from each other. To me, the only con of going with KKDay or Klook tours is the limited time allotted for each location, but if you’re on a short trip like we were, these platforms are always great options to get to visit as many places as possible in a convenient manner.
I’ve had some pretty good experiences with both KKDay and Klook in the past, but I chose to go with KKDay this time around because their itinerary for this location looked better on paper. I was pleased for the most part. I just wish we got to eat lunch some place different because I’ve been to Houtou Foodou already.
In any case, you can check out my individual blog post about this tour to read my full thoughts and see lots of photos of the places we visited. I thought I’d share my personal highlights here:
How lucky we were when we visited Lake Kawaguchiko. Because the sky was absolutely clear on this day, we got to see Mt. Fuji in all its glory. With the lake in the foreground, it was an absolute stunner! We wandered around for a bit and found this little spot where the sakura trees framed the famous volcano, but I actually think I like how Mt. Fuji looks with the rice stalks in the foreground better.
I was also really happy to stumble upon a shidarezakura in the garden. The weeping cherry blossom tree is a favorite variety of mine, you see. This one had been the solitary remaining shidarezakura in the area, and as it stood swaying in the wind with the lake and Mt. Fuji behind it, it didn’t seem lonely nor out of place. It’s so pretty isn’t it?
Speaking of pretty, this was my first time visiting the equally stunning Oshino Hakkai. There’s something fantastical about this location. Even the name sounds fantastical, because it translates to the ‘Eight Sacred Ponds of Oshino‘. I feel like I’d see a similar location in a fantasy manga or Asian fantasy film. The waters in the ponds here are sacred to the locals as they come straight from Mt. Fuji.
Can you see the fish swimming inside the waters of this pond? That’s how pristine the waters here are! When you’re here, you can’t help but stare into the crystal clear depths of the water, not just at the fish but also at the aquatic plants dancing underneath. It’s kind of mesmerizing.
When you’re done exploring the ponds of the Oshino Hakkai, you can also explore the food street right outside the compound. You can take your pick from yakiniku to mugwort pastries and grilled sweet potatoes. Have I mentioned how yummy Japanese sweet potatoes are? We took home some wasabi flavored senbei and it was addictive as heck!
This shrine probably needs no introduction because it’s one of Tokyo’s most famous shrines alongside Asakusa. Compared to Asakusa Shrine which is smack in the middle of a busy tourist area however, Meiji Shrine is located in a forested and more isolated compound. The moment you step through the torii gates, you are separated from the city and are transported into a place of zen.
From the shrine, a short walk will take you to the famous Harajuku location called Takeshita Street. It’s a jarringly different location from the serene Meiji Shrine. There’s so much pops of colors and interesting odds and ends that you’ll see in this stretch of shops. This is the place where the local young crowd buy avant-garde clothes and where many brands test their newest products, so you won’t run out of things to discover.
And yes, for fans of Calbee, there’s a Calbee shop here that sells freshly cooked potato products and limited edition Calbee crisps. (Hopefully it’s still there.)
Free time in the the city/Shibuya
As a final stop before heading home, head on over to Shibuya. To me, this is the main shopping and dining district in Tokyo. There’s a MEGA Don Quijote here, and a BIC Camera with some really interesting food items that I didn’t notice in other branches. I always end up buying a ton of Japanese snack foods to take home from both these places regardless of the prefecture I visit, so any location that gives me both at once is a good location lol. (Not to mention, in MEGA doses!) You can also take your pick of good restaurants that don’t necessarily break the bank.
If you want to view the famous Shibuya Crossing (and film a time-lapse like me!), I recommend heading over to Hoshino Coffee. Most people recommend the Starbucks across the street, but as you know, Starbucks is a popular place even among people who don’t want to view the Crossing. It will be more crowded compared to here.
We were lucky enough to get the window seat, but we had to time this visit during an off hour (around 2PM). Even then we waited in line for over 5 minutes. But we got what we came for anyway, plus some yummy soufflé pancakes to boot! The coffee wasn’t super spectacular but overall it was a good experience, methinks.
And that’s about it for my 4-day sample itinerary. Again, I’m not claiming to be a trip-planning expert here, but these are my suggestions more or less. Of course, you can plug in more locations in between, but sometimes it’s nice to have a mini vacation where you actually get to dip your entire feet into the waters of one location rather than just your toes, if you know what I mean.
From a time management perspective, spending half a day in each location can feel like enough on a short trip like this. You’ll have time to appreciate how each place pulses and beats in different rhythms. My mom would argue though that the Shibuya day (aka the shopping day) should have been a whole day!
I still have so many places I want to visit in the Tokyo Metropolitan. Studio Ghibli, anyone? Hoping that day would come sooner rather than later.
Other posts in this series:
- Some memorable Tokyo Eats from Spring of 2019
- Japanese Food Souvenir Haul from Tokyo Spring 2019 [Vol. 6]