9 Nights in Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara & Osaka

As you may know, we were totally captivated by Japan and can’t wait to return some day. Here are some highlights of our 9 nights in Japan, including where we stayed, ate, and what we did.

Tokyo

Shinjuku Tokyo

Despite hearing so much about Tokyo from friends and media, there was no way we could’ve been mentally prepared for Tokyo. This city is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced: the cleanliness, the order, the chaos, the understated friendliness, the lack of English all contributed to the overwhelming and exciting vibes.

Accommodations: 3 nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (free – with free night certificates), famous for Lost in Translation. You can imagine the funny looks people gave us when we walked into the lobby wearing elephant pants, sweatshirts, and backpacks.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo was totally over-the-top, including the pool and fitness center
The Park Hyatt Tokyo was totally over-the-top, including the pool and fitness center

Food: A fantastic, affordable, conveyor-belt sushi place in Shinjuku: Himawari Zushi

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Activities: Strolling around Shinjuku park…

Shinjuku park offers serenity amidst the chaos of the city
Shinjuku park offers serenity amidst the chaos of the city

…and drinking with college friends at tiny Golden Gai bars that can fit less than 10 people

One of the pedestrian streets in Golden Gai
“Salarymen” walking down one of the pedestrian streets in Golden Gai

What We Missed: Robot Restaurant; exploring Harajuku; the famous Shinjuku crossing; go-carting in Mario Kart cosplay outfits (we didn’t meet the requirements); seeing a baseball game (it wasn’t the season)

Kyoto

Kyoto

Kyoto enchanted us in a much different way than Tokyo. Even though it was much more touristy than we expected (note the people who rented kimonos in above photo), the mountainous scenery combined with the laid-back atmosphere and the rich history made this a city we didn’t want to leave.

Accommodations: 1 night in AirBnb ($60); 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto (free – with points)

Food: We tried to eat at some of the famous eateries near the Nishiki market, but since they all had crazy waits, we found ourselves at Tiger Gyoza. This place was not only delicious, but very affordable.

My mouth is watering just remembering how good this gyozo was
My mouth is watering just remembering how good this gyozo was

You know what else rocked our socks off? Musashi Sushi, in the Kyoto station. This conveyor belt sushi place was pretty cheap and really convenient.

Musashi Sushi, Kyoto
Tuna sashimi 4 dayz

Activities: Lots of walking around parks & temples. The first day, we walked from our hotel to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple through a massive cemetery.

Is it weird that I love cemeteries?
Is it weird that I love cemeteries?

On our second day, we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha and hiked around the area for a few hours, which was a lot of fun. The beautiful gates continue all the way up the mountain.

These gates continue all the way to the top of the mountain
It was a great exercise in patience to wait for a break in the crowds for this pic

Highlight: We got lost hiking around Fushimi Inari Taisha and found ourselves in a gorgeous bamboo forest. Two adorable, elderly Japanese men stopped us to warn us about the vipers.

Nara

Lake Nara Park

We took a train from Kyoto to Nara and spent the day exploring the park before we went to Osaka. This beautiful park is famous for its tame deer that roam the premises.

We crack ourselves up
We crack ourselves up

Important note: There aren’t that many large lockers in the Nara station. We were lucky enough to get the last one to store our backpacks. If you also decide to day-trip to Nara, you’ll need change if you want to store your luggage in these lockers while you explore the park (400-600 yen).

Osaka

Accommodations: 3 nights at the Hyatt Regency Osaka (free – with points!)

Activities: Exploring Universal Studios, mostly to experience Harry Potter World! We also enjoyed barhopping near the Osaka station; the multi-level complexes felt like another world.

Missing that frozen butter beer (and my long hair!)
Missing that frozen butter beer (and my long hair!)

Highlight: We went to Universal Studios a few days before Halloween, so most people were dressed in costume. We were pretty sad we didn’t get the memo; we would’ve partaken had we known.

Harry Potter World Halloween

Final Thoughts

Getting from place to place was extremely easy using public transportation. We highly recommend getting the Icoca card; it made things even easier (and made us feel less like tourists).

We basically stayed in Japan for free. We only paid for one night of accommodation, and that was our AirBnb in Kyoto. This kept our expenses way down, so we could enjoy other things (like Universal Studios and piles of sushi).

You may be tempted to go to Curry House – a cheap-ish, fast food chain. Don’t give in. Run fast in the other direction.

We loved the little things about Japan – the vending machines that sold everything from ramen to beer, the bars hidden on top floors of malls, the throngs of “salarymen” walking around Shinjuku in suits at all times of day. The open container laws were pretty fun too; one night we drank beers we bought from a 7-11 on a train…just because we could. #badasses

Once we’re employed again and have a steady stream of income, this will definitely be a place to which we’ll return.

If you’ve been to Japan, what were your favorite parts? If you haven’t, where in Japan do you want to go?

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