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Japan is at the top of the destination list for any young traveler, so my husband and I jumped at the chance to spend two weeks there for our honeymoon.

We were lucky enough to have an apartment offered to us for the duration of our trip. Located in Tokyo, right above Shinjuku Station, we were at the heart of the city, within walking distance or a short train ride from almost everything. There is a lot of planning required for such a big trip, so I’m hoping this blog is helpful for anyone looking to travel to Japan.


Before leaving for Japan, my husband had taken each of our top sight-seeing choices and created an incredible trip itinerary. We were able to fit in almost the entire island, which wouldn’t have been possible without an understanding of how to travel in Japan. Two absolute necessities: PASMO reloadable cards for access to local trains, and the JR Rail Pass for the bullet train (as well as some local trains). If you don’t plan on leaving the greater Tokyo area, you don’t need the JR Rail Pass. If you want to travel to famous sites such as Hiroshima or Mount Fuji, you will save hundreds of dollars by purchasing a JR Rail Pass in advance.

JR Rail Pass

The JR Rail Pass can only be purchased in advance by non-residents of Japan. I recommend you purchase it through their official website (linked above), giving yourself at least 3 weeks for shipping. It’s available in 7, 14, or 21 day periods, with a start date of your choice. For example, we planned 7 days in Tokyo, and 6 days elsewhere. We set the JR Rail Pass to begin 7 days into our trip. Once these dates are set, there is no going back.

The pass can be picked up at any Japanese airport, you will see a green kiosk with a large “JR.” As you utilize the pass, look for “JR” offices in every major train station. They will help you find the right trains, in the right direction. Don’t expect them to speak English, but if you show them where you want to go on the provided maps–found all over every station–they will know how to help you. CARRY THIS MAP WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO. We found it was our only mode of communication with locals when we got lost


Pocket Wi-Fi

Another must-have for our trip was a wi-fi hotspot. We picked this up at the airport for about $100. They can be rented and returned at any airport in Japan (there is one major company that offers this service), so it’s as simple as deciding the length of the rental, paying, then returning it on the trip home. This was absolutely necessary for us to be able to utilize Google Maps during our tour of the island. I have no idea what we would have done without Google Maps, or how anyone traveled abroad before it! We saved so much time, it was absolutely worth paying for.

Plenty of Cash

For being such a tech-savvy city, Japan is almost entirely cash based. This means exchanging cash for yen. Our bank does free money exchange, so we took advantage of that. However, we didn’t want to travel internationally with two-weeks worth of cash, so we did need to do some exchanging in Tokyo. The cheapest rates are at 7-11’s, which are EVERYWHERE. All the major tourist spots will have ATMs as well. To avoid running out of cash, we made sure to ask if debit/credit cards were accepted at some of the larger restaurants and shopping malls, paying with that method when possible. American Express and Visa are widely accepted.

Protein Bars + Instant Coffee

My final preparatory recommendation is to be prepared for the very different time schedule Japan runs on. Everything is closed until 11:00 am. EVEN THE COFFEE SHOPS. If you are a coffee addict like myself, bring instant coffee packets to make in the hotel/airbnb before starting your day. Also, I would have brought a box of granola bars for breakfast, since there is no food to be found until lunch time. We spent half our days starving, then the other halves bursting at the seams with amazing Japanese fare.


The first night in Tokyo, we woke up at 2:00 am absolutely starving. We decided to go explore the city and try to find food. It turns out that Tokyo is a city that never sleeps like NYC! We found an “Italian” restaurant with some of the best risotto and braised short rib I’ve had in my entire life. The first thing I learned about Japan is how quality ALL of the food was, regardless of where it was located. Even the corner stores boasted fresh veggie cups, hand rolls, and pastries. It was strange to buy sushi from a 7-11 at first, but we quickly realized that the Japanese have a much higher standard for food in general.

Only in Tokyo (Also you can rent these and do this yourself)

The next day we went looking for some of the more famous shrines around Shibuya. They are tucked in parks and neighborhoods everywhere, so you will come upon them even if you aren’t searching. Something very important to remember is that these are active religious locations. My husband took a picture of me in a doorway of the first shrine, and as he did so a woman who was praying behind me exclaimed something, and ran out of the picture. I realized I was being incredibly rude, and made sure to check that behavior at future shrines.

Right after I so rudely attempted to take a picture while a woman was praying (Don’t be the dumb American, pay attention to your surroundings!)
Meiji Shrine
Prayers tied to string at Meiji shrine

One of our favorite experiences was the Robot Restaurant. You have to buy your ticket in advance, and they are fairly expensive (about $50 per person), but it is worth EVERY. PENNY. It is such a crazy, bright, loud, nonsensical experience that everyone who sets foot on the island of Japan should have.


This thing was very old, very dilapidated, and very scary


Are you half blinded and confused at what’s going on? It’s just some robots in a band.

Kabukicho Shinjuku is the red light district of Tokyo. It’s very safe, mostly bars and restaurants, the “red light” portion is pretty well hidden. One thing to beware of: There are many Africans outside of clubs who will aggressively try to get you to go inside their club, advertising free drinks, dancing, girls, whatever they think will work. To make a long story short, we fell for this and ended up paying hundreds of dollars to get out of a sketchy locked in room with women you might refer to as…ladies of the night? It’s a fantastic story, but one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Don’t fall for it.

The first and ONLY time these shoes were worn in Tokyo. Be smarter than me and wear sensible shoes, even for going out.

Another Tokyo must-see is the fish market. Show up at 4:00 am to see them slinging Tuna fish bigger than you! Then walk around and experience all the crazy seafood, and buy yourself some seaweed snacks and perhaps some really nice kitchen gadgets for dirt cheap. You can thank me later.

Japan - Tokyo Fish Market
The huge silver fish in the back are tuna

Japan - Tokyo Fish Market
I could write an entirely separate blog about every crazy-cool type of sealife we encountered. My only regret was the fact we didn’t have time to take it home and experiment cooking!

Because I am a basic white girl traveler, I wanted to go to ALL the animal cafes. Unfortunately we only made it to one owl cafe (because most of these places have bizarre hours and reservation-only style service. Book while you’re still in the states, many are booked out for weeks. The saddest part of the trip was the Pug Cafe being closed for a holiday we weren’t aware of.

Japan - Owl Cafe

The “Owl Menu”
These babies were so sweet. Also, the employees did a brief training on how to act around, and touch the owls. These animals are not mistreated in any way. They are very protective of them.

The Imperial Palace is another must-see place. It is still in use to some extent (I don’t understand how or why), so it is guarded off. They don’t let tourists get too close, but it’s worth seeing anyway. There’s a beautiful monument, and historical information on large plaques outside.

Japan - Tokyo Imperial Palace
Monument outside the Imperial Palace

The most bizarre experience we had was the Alcatraz ER restaurant. I had read at least three travel blogs referring to this place as a “must-see,” and it sounded like silly, cheesy fun. The place was actually disgusting and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. They lock you in a tiny cement “prison cell,” the food is vile, the atmosphere is off-putting, but I must admit the pictures were worth it.

Alcatraz ER menu. This is the PG-13 rated page
The restaurant was decorated with various prison and psychiatric hospital paraphernalia that didn’t really make sense
Japan - Alcatraz ER Restaurant
My cocktail was served in this fancy head

A themed restaurant that turned out to be AMAZING was Alice in Fantasy Book. Japanese people really do themes well, we “fell through the rabbit hole” to get to the restaurant, and no detail went unfinished.

Why yes, my cocktail does have flashing colored ice cubes

He was a good sport to wear the bunny ears

Tokyo has incredible shopping, we walked around the high-end districts, but really loved our time at the flea markets. So many antiques and unique finds.

The entrance to a gorgeous shrine that hosted a large flea market
A small, hand-painted bible set found at the flea-market
A cemetery found tucked inside a small neighborhood. In Japan, the ordinary is magical.
If you go outside of Tokyo, just plan on having to do this at least ONCE.


Our favorite shrine was in Kyoto, the famous Fushimi Inari. It’s a top tourist attraction, so while busy and commercialized, it is still incredible and so special. A plus side to the “touristy” spots, is that there are generally plenty of plaques/brochures in English. Which is nice because we always want to learn about the history and meaning of the spot.

Japan - Kyoto Red Shrine
Fushimi Inari
A lot of shrines have animals that represent different spiritual meanings. This shrine was covered in foxes.
These fountain areas are for cleaning your hands and such before praying at the temple. Please don’t touch them unless you are doing so for worshipping purposes.

The highlight of the entire trip (for both of us) was the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto. Funded by a local university, the monkeys have been left inside their national habitat. The park is at the base of a mountain where the monkeys come down every day–because that’s where the tourists feed them–and then go back up into the mountain around dark. The hike up to the park is a steep, difficult mile, but then you arrive at this oasis of monkeys. They aren’t afraid of tourists, so they brush by your legs and grab food out of your hands.

They sell bags of chopped apples and peanuts for $0.50 to feed the monkeys with. We probably spent $25 (at LEAST) obsessing over feeding these hilarious creatures.
Because it was late spring, there were babies EVERYWHERE! Adorbs.
Panorama shot of Monkey Mountain


Hiroshima was a humbling, haunting experience. If you can only visit one other city outside Tokyo on your Japanese experience, make it Hiroshima. The  visceral feeling of tragedy still hangs in the air. The museum is incredibly informative. I didn’t expect it to be so interesting, but it takes you from A to Z of how the atom bomb was created, to the events leading up to its use. If you’re a history buff like me, it’s going to be a highlight of your trip.

Politics aside, atomic bombs are heinous creations. The creator of the first expressed deep regret after the U.S. government decided to utilize it. The consequences for regular Japanese citizens were horrific, and I felt a deep connection to the importance of peace. Humanity is too precious for nuclear weapons to exist.

Japan - Hiroshima
After restoration, the J government decided to keep only a few buildings in their original post-explosion state, as a remembrance.
A child’s tricycle that survived the blast
One particular child who was in hospital after the bombs went off, had a goal to make one million cranes. The child died before they were able to complete the project, so ever since, children around the world have sent in paper cranes. They receive millions every year and have to rotate through.
Peace Memorial


The town at the foot of Mt. Fuji is like a beach town, it’s really only utilized during the summertime because it’s so cold there. We weren’t able to climb Mt. Fuji because it doesn’t open until midsummer, but we were able to experience Aiokigahara Forest and some of the beautiful surroundings of the mountain. We stayed at a hotel within walking distance of most things, and it also had an Onsen (bathhouse).

If you ever get the chance to experience an Onsen, DO IT. If you have tattoos, please tell them beforehand. Tattoos are still heavily associated with the Yakuza (Japanese version of the mafia), and thus are not allowed in many bathhouses. {The government is working on a tourist law that will prevent businesses from turning away tattooed customers, as they lose quite a bit of profit this way} Clothing/swim suits are not allowed for hygiene purposes, so there is no covering them. Several Onsen’s we visited prior had turned me away, but this particular one provided a special tape to cover tattoos, allowing me in.

Even with the tape, the other patrons would exit every pool or sauna I entered. At first I thought I was being self-conscious, but as time went on it became painfully obvious. After about 30 minutes I had the entire 6 pool (all at different temperatures with different mineral waters) Onsen to myself. Don’t take it personally, tattoos just aren’t as socially acceptable in Japan yet. After my body exfoliation treatment and my $6 foot rub (YES $6 FOOT RUB) I went into the restaurant portion of the Onsen, and was served dinner and drinks in a chaise lounge chair, under dim lights and relaxing music. I would absolutely recommend this hotel to anyone.

The onsen at hotel Fujikawaguchiko
The view from our hotel

For a small fee (approximately $5) we were able to explore Aiokigahara Forest–popularly known as the “suicide forest”. This is one of the more infamous locations in Japan, but it isn’t as macabre as it sounds. It’s similar to an American National Park, where there are smaller activities inside the forest for visitors to do. One of our favorites was the tour of the ice caves. We came upon mini shrines and everywhere, and for a brief moment became very lost. The iron content in the soil ruins compasses and GPS services. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on.

Aiokigahara Forest is unique because it’s partially grown out of volcanic rock. Theres many types of ecosystems happening in one place. We found sedimentary rocks next to lava rocks, naturally occurring.
The picture doesn’t show how steep of a drop off this was, but where the tiny shrine is located was at least 20 degrees colder than where I was standing taking the picture.

The ice caves are where old emperors would store their ice


Japan - Tokyo Disney

Excuse me while my inner four-year old comes out. I have only been to Disneyland once, when I was nine years old. Tokyo Disney was magical in every way. Tickets are less than Disneyland California, and concessions are pretty fairly priced as well. The lines were pretty long when we were there, but it was some sort of school break, and also peak tourist season.

Mochi ice cream
Mickey burger – you can see how happy he is to be eating it.
Mickey nuggets

Japan - Tokyo Disney

The parade of lights

Something that surprised us was the Disney content at Tokyo Disney. There were little to no modern Disney movies/characters, instead there were mostly classics. The only modern movies that appeared on rides or merchandise were Finding Nemo and Lilo & Stitch. Otherwise, all the themes were from the 1990’s and prior.

We stuck with the tried and true Disneyland, but there is another resort next door called Tokyo DisneySea, which is more adult oriented. Bigger rides, alcoholic drinks, etc. Some people think it’s the best Disneyland in the world, but I think all the parks are fun in their own way.


Steven and I are both total foodies, so a major portion of our trip was devoted to eating. We had a checklist of traditional Japanese foods we wanted to be sure to try in Japan. I made it my personal mission to try every pastry I could stomach, because bakeries in Japan are simply incredible (I’ve actually found this to be true of all the Asian countries I have visited).  Here are some of the top choices:

Japan - Ramen
Eat ramen anywhere and everywhere! It’s always under $10, and the variety never ends.
Chicken Katsu (aka Japanese fried chicken)
Crepe display
We went with raspberries and whipped cream
Tempura (battered & deep fried) fish. Most restaurants let you order it a la carte by what you want “tempura’d”. We ordered the standard vegetables and shrimp, then tried various random fish. Everything was amazing, except for the fish referred to as “green eye.”
Japan - Janice Wong
The famous Janice Wong Dessert Bar
Japan - Janice Wong
This dessert was so complicated, but underneath the fluff is an asparagus infused custard which ROCKED
Japan - Janice Wong
Janice Wong dessert course: lemon ice, encased in chocolate ice cream, rolled in something we couldn’t identify, topped with a bacon crumble and hazelnut creme anglaise.
Subway station bento boxes. Total win.
Japanese pancakes (google them)
Cheshire Cat Parfait at Alice in Fantasy Book restaurant
Kobe beef skewers. Pay whatever they charge you. Eat as many as you can afford.
Pies we ate at our apartment with Netflix because we were so exhausted
Choux pastry filled with green tea ice cream
One of literally hundreds of pastry cases we browsed. I tried the one on the far left, Mont Blanc. Would have been delicious if it wasn’t fermented bean paste flavored! It looked like chocolate!
Shark Nuggets
Honey Toast – Stacked slices of sweet bread scooped out, and filled with delicious things
6 chocolate pastries with chocolate from 6 different countries.


Coffee may not be everyone’s cup of tea (see what I did there?), but if you are a coffee drinker, Japan is the place for you. I looked for roasted whole beans to bring back with us, but my lack of language skills prevented that. Japanese coffee has such an amazing flavor, and very little of the bitterness we get in American coffee. It’s strong, but the taste is so clean. I’d love to learn more about why that is.

A pastry cafe in the Tokyo business district. This was literally the best coffee I’ve had in my entire life, and it was $7 for 6 ounces. Yep. Worth it.
Cold coffee from a vending machine. You really never know what you’re going to get. Too sweet for my taste, but still yummy.

Coffee at Janice Wong Dessert Bar


I am not Japanese, and I only spent two weeks there, so please take this with a grain of salt. These are just the few things I picked up along the way, if you know differently, or my interpretation isn’t correct, please comment so I can update/correct the information!

  • No tipping, no taxes. The price you see is what you pay. Tipping is considered rude, just don’t do it. (FYI – refills don’t exist, you will pay the designated price for every glass of your drink if it isn’t water)
  • Don’t leave chopsticks in a dish sticking up. In Japan, this signifies death, and can be incredibly offensive to some.
  • When handing items off, or taking items from another person (like a pen or a receipt) use both hands. It’s the respectful way to do it.
  • When shopping in a store (vs a street vendor) they will have small trays for you to put your card or cash on. When you get your change or receipt to sign, it will come on the small tray. Use the tray, it’s for sanitary reasons.
  • Sidewalk traffic is crowded and fast paced. Be aware.
  • There are special seats on trains designated for the elderly and pregnant. Don’t be the rude American who sees it as just another empty seat. Also, you’ll notice the trains are silent. It’s considered rude to have phone conversations, listen to music, or to speak loudly. Save your stories for another time.
  • If someone bows to thank you, do it back.
  • Don’t expect anyone to speak English. You will run across it, but don’t be surprised how few people will be able to understand you. Be ok with pointing, charades, and taking time to figure situations out.

In reality, this blog post doesn’t do our trip the smallest bit of justice. Two weeks of sunup to sundown tourism can’t be captured. Japan is beautiful, full of beautiful sights, kind people, and things you can’t see or eat anywhere else. I find myself feeling homesick for Japan when I see pictures, especially Kyoto. Please reach out to me if you have any questions about traveling to Japan, or you want more details on anything I’ve written here!