Why Visit Tokyo? + Sample Itinerary!

(as published in Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay magazine) 

Greetings from NOT New York! (This is Tokyo.)
Why Visit Tokyo?
Short answer: Why not?
Long answer:
As the birthplace of animation, technological innovations and a distinct cuisine people around the world have come to recognize and love, Japan is one of those destinations every traveler should consider visiting at least once in his or her lifetime. Tokyo, in particular, elicits an inimitable vibe like no other city does. Whether you’re joining countless other pedestrians in traversing Shibuya Crossing, navigating within its remarkably convenient but at times challenging metro system or using a vending machine to order and pay for your meal, simply being in Tokyo is an experience in itself.
Shibuya Crossing in late 2013/2014. Nothing much has changed since then!
Near (Airport), Far (Airport), Wherever You Are
If you have previously traveled to Tokyo from overseas, chances are you landed at Narita Airport. For over two decades, this larger and farther airport accommodated all international flights while the other one nearer to the city, Haneda, handled mostly domestic flights until recently. With many direct flights from to Haneda, tourists can now reach Tokyo Station in as little as 30 minutes – half the time it takes than when landing at Narita. It is now far easier to maximize exploring attractions both in the vicinity and the outskirts of the city center.
Stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku, where the customer service and amenities are exceptional and the view, stunning. A shuttle bound for Shinjuku Station departing every 20 minutes is available. For a more affordable alternative but still with complete facilities, consider booking Hotel Niwa Tokyo (1-1-16 Misakicho, Chiyoda). Conveniently located near train stations and in a quiet district near universities, you can expect that restaurant prices in the area are also budget friendly.
From Haneda Airport, Odaiba Island is a stone’s throw away by taking the Yurikamome Line at Shimbashi Station. Built on reclaimed land, it is home to various ocean-themed malls and popular sites you can’t miss such as a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the giant Gundam robot at DiverCity Tokyo Plaza. Sony ExploraScience, a science museum known for its 3D animal shows, is located at Aqua City Odaiba. To further your penchant for shopping, head on to DECKS Tokyo Beach which has an open-air deck overlooking the Rainbow Bridge (lit at night) and Tokyo Bay. Here, kids will be delighted to visit the Legoland Discovery Center while adults may find it more appealing to pose with famous personalities at the Madame Tussauds wax museum. For a relaxing vista of Tokyo as dusk approaches, hop aboard the Daikanranshain Palette Town, the fourth highest Ferris wheel in the world. You will barely feel any movement as the car makes its way up to the apex and back down
The famous Gundam statue at Odaiba

After a day of shopping and fun, it’s time to head back downtown for some much needed nourishment. Notwithstanding stereotypes when it comes to interests and dining preferences, men may find it appetizing to eat at any of the branches of maid café maidreamin in the gaming and electronics district of Akihabara, where meals are served by dolled-up waitresses dressed in French maid outfits who also perform and entertain. Female feline fanatics can play with exotic breeds of their choice of pets at Calico Cat Cafe (1-16-2 Kabukicho 6F, Shinjuku) and order a Japanese dish of omurice (a portmanteau of omelet and fried rice, ketchup-flavored) that’s cute enough not to eat. Both types of cafés offer a unique experience and require a cover charge upon entry. Lastly, either gender can appreciate the cool factor brought about by visiting the Robot Restaurant (1-7-1 Kabukicho B2F, Shinjuku) where, despite being a restaurant, tourists come for the dazzling and hilarious show and not for the food.
Snow Country beyond Tokyo
Having reduced the travel time from the airport to city through Haneda means having more time to explore the farther reaches near Tokyo. How about reaching the Japanese Alps via bullet train in just an hour and a half? Echigo-Yuzawa, located at Niigata Prefecture to the north, is a winter wonderland that’s home to various hot springs (onsen) and ski resorts where people come for trekking and snow sports. Depending on which resort, they are typically open from December until April or May. Upon arrival at Echigo-Yuzawa Station, notice the festive food stalls alongside the visitor information center, with another one outside the station. Before returning to Tokyo, remember to buy some komako mochi, a signature Yuzawa delicacy of rice cake and sweet bean at the station’s CoCoLo Yuzawa Gangi-dori shopping area.
My sister and I at the said ski resort in early 2014. Sadly, no snowfall. Just snowfell. (Get it?)
Tip: arrive early because they close early!
The most conveniently located resort is GALA Yuzawa Ski Resort, which has its own bullet train station (schedules vary). And with complete facilities such a ski lodge, gondola ride, restaurants, shops, an indoor spa and pool, gear rentals and even ski lessons for foreigners, it’s no surprise that this is the preferred resort of locals for day trips. This March, catch the spectacular fireworks of the Yuzawa Onsen Snow Festival held at the nearby Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort, accessible via free shuttle bus.
As you make your way back to Haneda Airport for your return flight, you’ll be pleased to know that you can still continue your quest for souvenirs. Located at the airport is the Edo Market Place, a recreation of a traditional Japanese town and Tokyo Pop Town, which sells anime goods and has a state-of-the-art planetarium café, the first in any airport.
With that, despite not being as remote as it used to be, something tells me travelers will intentionally be leaving for the airport much earlier than normal.

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Hi! I'm Kevin, a published travel writer, and this is my travel blog about first and business class flights, airport lounges, shopping, visa information and local travel credit cards for mileage programs. In 2017, I fulfilled my personal goal of visiting over 30 countries before I turned 30 years old and I would be more than glad to help you achieve your own #travelgoals too. ;)

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