The highlights of this trip had to be the seeing the beauty of the majestic Mount Fuji on a clear day (we went on 2 different days hoping to catch a better view); seeing a rainbow over Lake Kawaguchi; experiencing first-hand the politeness and hospitality of the service staff in Japan especially at Disney Sea which makes our Disney experience so magical and also navigating Tokyo’s super complicated train system with Google Maps to reach our destinations without a hitch (thanks Google Maps!). Our main gripe was that the station names were not in English, hence, we had to do the additional step to google their Japanese character as well.
In this post, I will share some travel tips (so that you’ll not make the make the same mistakes I did and save some money), as well as some of our favourite places that we really enjoy visiting during this trip.
Flying Tiger Copenhagen
Flying Tiger Copenhagen is a Danish lifestyle shop that sells a variety of creative household, lifestyle and kids products for every occasion. We bought a lot of souvenirs and lifestyle goods from Flying Tiger and visited different branches 3 times in total. Flying tiger is a great place to shop and I highly recommend this place!
Nitori is something like the Japanese version of Ikea which sells a wide variety of quality home accessories, interior goods, linens, curtains and furniture. We visited Nitori Shibuya twice which is a 9-storey shopping haven with nice clean toilets located at every level. My only wish is that they should have a café and sell some light food here then we probably would stay here the entire day!
Travel Tip #1
Do look out for the “Japan Tax Free” sticker prominently displayed at these huge retail chain stores like Muji and Nitori where you can get the 8% tax rebate in the store itself by presenting your passport and filling up a form. However, take note that you need to spend a minimum of 5400 yen in one receipt to get the tax rebate. We made the mistake of not planning what to buy and went back to Nitori again just to purchase 2 clocks for our house. If only we had bought the clocks on our first visit then we would have met the minimum spending of 5400 yen.
Travel Tip #2
Do take note that if you try on clothes in Tokyo, you need to remove your shoes first before stepping in and ladies had to put on a disposable cloth over their head to prevent makeup from smearing/dirtying the clothes.
Mount Fuji (Fujisan) & Lake Kawaguchi
I find it cute that the Japanese call Mount Fuji as Fujisan because “San” is what you use to address a person usually. We wished that we had spent more than 2 days at Mount Fuji as the scenery and view of Mount Fuji was simply so awe-inspiring, we had to return the next day to marvel at Mount Fuji again.
On the first day, we bought the bundle tickets for the Hop-On-Hop-Off (unlimited) Sightseeing Retro bus, Kawaguchiko (Kachi Kachi) Ropeway and Lake Kawaguchi Pleasure Boat for 2600 yen at the Kawaguchiko station. Most tourists would do the ropeway (you can see Mount Fuji at the top once you alight from the cable car) and pleasure boat ride on their first visit.
Does this tempura dish looked like Mount Fuji? We ate at Fuji Tempura Idaten located near Kawaguchiko station and order their tempura set menu for 2 persons at 3000 yen. The meal was a little expensive and overrated with a huge mountain of rice, 6 tempura prawns and some tempura vegetables. There was a live band performance while we were there.
Travel Tip #3
Do take note that the Sightseeing Retro bus tickets is valid for 2 days as the Japanese knew you cannot possibly finish touring this area in just one day! I didn’t know that and threw my bus ticket (a normal printed ticket with Japanese words) away at the end of the first day!
The next day, I returned to Kawaguchiko station to re-purchase my bus ticket at 1500 yen and this time, they gave me a nicely printed post card with English words that says “2 Days Ticket”! I had spent 1500 yen for nothing which is around SGD$18. It’s a pity we had to leave Mount Fuji on the same day and had to forfeit the second day of the sightseeing bus ride.
Travel Tip #4
If you study the map and bus guide carefully, the Red line had the highest frequency with buses that arrive every 10-15 minutes, as compared to the Blue and Green lines which were very much less frequent. As there were only 4 buses a day for the Blue bus, we found it too challenging to visit the Wind and Ice Caves and had to give them a miss.
Travel Tip #5
For breath-taking close-up views of Mount Fuji and lovely views of cherry blossoms, tulips and the lake, we visited Oishi Park (take the Red Sightseeing Retro Bus & alight at the last stop at the Natural Living Centre).
Highland Resort & Spa Hotel
In my opinion, this modern hotel offers great value and perks such as free admission to Fujiyama Onsen next door (the hotel and Fujiyama Onsen are connected by a long passageway); free shuttle buses at every hour just outside the main lobby to Kawaguchiko station; free admission to Fujiyama Museum and free admission to Fuji-Q Highland theme park which features 5 adrenaline pumping roller coaster rides not for the faint hearted! You need to buy tickets for the rides at the theme park separately.
We went to the Haunted House instead and I twisted my ankle trying to run away from flesh eating zombies! So I think it’s better to walk in front rather than hiding behind someone as the “zombies” always appear from behind!
Travel Tip #6
We went to Tokyo Shinjuku station by purchasing a Highway Bus ticket at Kawaguchiko station and took the hotel shuttle bus to Kawaguchiko station to board the bus. It was after we boarded that we realised the Highway Bus does make a stop just outside our hotel and we didn’t know! That would have save us a lot of traveling time and lugging our heavy luggages to Kawaguchiko station. By the way, you can also deposit your luggages at Kawaguchiko station for a fee at your convenience.
Travel Tip #7
If you are looking for good and affordable food just outside Highland Resort & Spa Hotel and love eating soba like me, I highly recommend Nakau which sells the kind of springy soba noodles with tempura bits that I enjoyed.
Do get the map from the hotel staff so that you know how to find this place located just a 5-min walk away from the hotel. You need to purchase the food ticket at the machine first before passing it to the staff.
Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku
It was a 2-hour bus ride from Kawaguchiko station to the Shinjuku Bus Terminal and another 5-mins walk to reach our hotel. This hotel was the most expensive of all the 3 hotels we stayed during this trip at SGD$260 per night as its location near Shinjuku station was unbeatable. There was also an Airport Limousine service that stopped just outside the hotel lobby.
However, there were so many bad points about this hotel I wouldn’t want to stay here again. They don’t provide complimentary water or newspaper, the room was not cleaned thoroughly every day, the room was also old and dated, the carpet was not clean, the toilet had a perpetual urine odour and was the most low-tech toilet I ever seen in Japan without the basic seat warmer. The worst thing of all was that their WIFI was virtually non-existent and as a result, I need to consume my own data plan!
Their lobby was modern and beautiful and they even had a robot near the reception area that could keep me entertained for a while. It’s a pity that their rooms were far from being modern!
If you have some spare time, do visit Jiyugaoka (Tokyo’s little Europe) where you can visit many fashionable boutiques, enticing craft stores and trendy cozy cafes. I bought a lot of clothes from one of the boutiques there.
Kani Doraku Restaurant
You need to reserve a table at this restaurant beforehand as they were really popular and we asked the hotel staff to help us book a few days earlier. We opined that the staff at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku could speak really good English but they were really transactional and brisk in their service, lacking the Japanese grace and human touch if you know what I am driving at.
Back to Kani Doraku Restaurant, this was the best and most expensive all-crab lunch we had at Tokyo that cost around 10,000 yen. I didn’t managed to take a lot of photos as my hands were full of crab!
Tokyo Disney Sea
I will end this long post with the happiest place on earth – Disney! As there is only one Disney Sea in the world, we simply had to visit Disney Sea instead of Disney Land located one stop away on the Disney monorail.
Travel Tip #8
The best strategy is to come early to collect all the fast passes for Journey to Centre of the Earth, 20000 Leagues, Toy Story, Indiana Jones & Tower of Terror, so that you will have time to watch some shows instead of queuing for 5 solid hours just to take 7 rides like us. The staff gave the fast pass holders greater priority over the normal queues which moved ever so slowly. The rides we enjoyed most had to be the Tower of Terror and Toy Story!
The gondola ride is a must try as the staff were super funny, friendly and make the entire gondola ride so memorable for us. They sing Opera for us, taught us a few Italian words and even posed for us while rowing the gondola.
What makes Tokyo Disney so magical is the people that works there. Although the workforce comprised of 90% young people, their customer service, friendliness and courtesy were unparalleled and we almost didn’t want to leave when the clock strike 10 pm.
Thank you for reading my long travel post on Tokyo, I wanted to share a few more shopping places but that would be too long. I hope you’ll find my travel tips and guide useful when planning your Tokyo trip! 🙂