Here’s what we did in Tokyo, Japan!
Travel Dates: 3-7 July, 2013
3.5 days was the perfect amount of time. We arrived late at night on the 3rd and left in the afternoon on the 7th. The only touristy thing we didn’t get to do was watch a Sumo Tournament. That wasn’t a priority either. We picked to go in July/August so that we could hike Mt. Fuji. I’ll write about that adventure below!
Airline: Air Asia from Okinawa to Tokyo, direct flight, $211/person round trip including taxes via Expedia
Good flight, but Air Asia is really strict on baggage allowance. We packed super light so that we didn’t have to pay to check anything. They weighed our bags and tested to make sure they fit in the correct sized bin. The handle on my suitcase was a little bulky and I almost had to cut it off. It was just the handle that exceeded the size limits though, so eventually they let me through.
FYI: I just found round trip tickets for $160 via Vanilla Air and for $186 via Jet Star for Labor Day weekend 2014. Always check multiple sites for airfare before booking!
Visa: Not required at this time. Always check before you travel to another country though: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/americans-traveling-abroad.html
Hotel: The New Sanno, rate is based on military rank, open to U.S. military
They didn’t have any openings when I first checked, but after about 2 weeks on the wait list they had rooms available. They didn’t call me back right away though, so I recommend that you call them every few days to check the status of the wait list. Very nice hotel. Good location, close to the metro. Running distance to Tokyo Tower. Hotel has a small PX inside too.
I haven’t stayed there, but I’ve heard good things about the Hardy Barracks too. https://www.armymwrjapan.com/hardy
From Narita airport to the hotel, you have a few options. It’s about 1 1/2 hours drive. If you’re arriving late at night, be aware that they don’t run last night! We caught the last bus! http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ride/from_airport/
Around Tokyo, the metro will get you everywhere.
To get to Mt. Fuji, you can take the Keio Dentetsu Bus from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal to the Kawaguchio-ko 5th station. Make sure to get the direct, express bus that takes 2.5 hours. It cost us 2,600 yen per person, one-way. Make sure to plan your hike and bus schedules! You’ll read in my Mt. Fuji experience below that we ended up waiting on the mountain for 5+ hours since the buses didn’t start until 10am, and it wasn’t an express bus so it took 3+ hours. Check here for the schedule, prices, and maps: www.highwaybus.com
Day 1 – Tsukiji Fish Market, Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Jingu Shrine
Evening: 1700-Begin journey to Mt. Fuji, 2100-Begin hiking (Note: We choose to do a “bullet climb” which means climbing through the night in hopes of seeing the sunrise. Bullet climbing is not typically recommended. Others choose to hike during the day and reserve a bed in the cabins at the top of the mountain. Then you can wake up for sunrise and hike back down. A 3rd option is just to hike up & down during the day, and not worry about catching the sunrise.)
Day 2 – Journey back from Mt. Fuji (0400-1000, wait for buses to start, 1000-1330 bus/metro back to hotel)
Rest/sleep since we were awake all night
Dinner at a good soba restaurant near The New Sanno.
Day 3 – Asakusa neighborhood, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Akihabara Electric Town, Tokyo Tower
Day 4/Depature – Oriental Bazaar, then head to the airport
The Mt. Fuji Experience
Cost: 2,600 JPY per person, one way
Travel Time: 2 ½ hours
There are a few options for transportation to Mt. Fuji (Fifth Station). After doing some research, I found the cheapest and most direct option was to use the Mt. Fuji Highway Bus. This is the same bus that The New Sanno will recommend you take. You can make reservations online or through The New Sanno.
You will need to take the subway to Shinjuku Station. Go out the west exit. You’ll need to cross the street and the bus terminal is in front of the Yodobashi Camera (West Store).
Time of Day:
Do you want to hike during the day or night or both? Calculate the time it will take you to get to the 5th station via the bus, and make sure there is a bus leaving Tokyo at the time you need. I was set on seeing “the most beautiful sunrise ever” by hiking through the night, but that didn’t work out for us. Here are some options to consider:
Day: If you hike during the day (assuming the weather is okay), you’ll be able to enjoy the view, take pictures, it won’t be as cold, and you will actually see where you are stepping as you climb the mountain!
Night: If you hike at night, you can’t really see anything, and you risk the sunrise being covered by clouds. Hiking at night was kind of thrilling in its own way, but we didn’t see a thing and it was too dark to take any pictures. Wear lots of layers so that you can cover up as it gets colder. I went in the beginning of July and I wore 2 long sleeve Under Armour shirts and a North Face jacket underneath a rain poncho. Not every rest stop/“stamp” stop is open at night. You definitely need a head lamp, not just a flash light. The path is neither paved nor lit. You will need to look down and step carefully as to not twist an ankle. You will hopefully get to see a beautiful sunrise, and then as daylight comes you can take pictures during your descent. There were about 20 other people hiking up around us.
Both: You could hike up the mountain in the afternoon, sleep at a hut, and wake up in time to see the sunrise from the summit before descending. Try to make a reservation in advance so that you know there is space in the hut. We didn’t do this, but from what I could see, you will basically sleep on the floor with a blanket in a shared room.
Rain: Try not to hike if rain is in the forecast. It was only 35% chance of rain for us, but it rained the whole time. If you know rain is in the forecast, put clothes in a locker at the 5th station. We had clothes in a backpack, but it was soaked through by the time we got down. Bring a poncho and a waterproof bag for any important belongings. Some guys we met on the mountain seemed to be well-prepared, but their iPhones were completely wrecked by the time they got back down. Water had soaked through everything.
Gear: In addition to rain gear, and layers to keep warm during the cold nights, don’t wear jeans to hike. I recommend wearing hiking shoes/boots over tennis shoes. You could easily twist an ankle and you’ll need the good grips. We both had hiking sticks too. You can buy them at the base store if you don’t already own one. The ones at the 5th station are 1,000-1,300 yen. They’re plain wood, but at each hut you can pay 300 yen to get a souvenir stamp. If you hike during the day, you should be able to fill the whole stick with stamps. If you hike at night, you’ll still get quite a few, but not all of them. They won’t stamp your stick if it’s wet from the rain, so if it’s raining you may not be able to get all of them. (Some huts stamped it even though it was wet, but we had to wait with the stick over the fire to try to get it to dry out a bit.) As I mentioned above, bring a set of dry clothes, socks, and shoes and put them in a locker at the 5th station.
Snacks: There are huts along the way that sell a limited selection of snacks, for a very steep price. Pack your own snacks and plenty of water. Things like nuts and protein bars are easiest.
A quick summary of our trip: We got to the mountain at about 8:30pm and started hiking at 9pm. By 9:30pm it was raining steadily. (The forecast only had a small chance for rain.) We had rain gear, but it wasn’t enough. The 5th to the 6th station is fairly quick. We accidently took the bulldozer path instead of the hiking path. Thankfully, we still got to the next hut; we just had to climb over a rope. There are multiple 8th stations, so you will get confused as to if you really are at the 8th station or not. The “real” stations are the ones with first aid. If it’s raining, there really is no shelter. The signs say not to hide out in the bathrooms; you can get fined up to $500. You can pay to sleep in the huts, but you may need reservations in advance. We decided to hike straight through, but there are signs that caution against doing so, mainly because of altitude sickness. Since it was raining and very cold, we ended up seeking shelter at the last 8th station/first 9th station, we couldn’t really tell. We crowded into a bathroom with about 20 other people trying to wait out the rain. It didn’t give up. The wind chill was in the negative. A news camera team came in and warned us that they had tried to get to the summit twice but it was too cold and slippery. I think it was about 0130, so we had to decide if we were going to try to get to the top or head back down. The descent path was not open yet, and the employee at the station said we could not go down it because it was too dangerous. The descent path doesn’t have any first aid stations or rest huts. We were also kicked out of the bathroom, and there was no other shelter. Our only options were to go up or go down the up-path. Half of us went down, and half went up. We hiked down the up-path. It was difficult to climb down without being able to see anything, but going down was more fun, for me at least. Probably because I was warming up, or just numb to the cold. It was the best thigh workout of my life! I basically did squats and lunges for 3 hours. (I couldn’t walk normally for a good two days.) We got to the 6th station as daylight started to break, and at 4:30am (the time of the sunrise) we arrived back at the 5th station. Sadly, there was no sunrise. We tried to dry off inside one of the stores at the 5th station, but they closed at 5am, so we were kicked out onto the street. The first bus didn’t leave until 10am, but thankfully some guys had chartered a private bus and they let us sit on it until our bus came. The next few hours felt like I was in some sort of punishment camp. We laid across the seats with our soaking clothes on trying to sleep but shivering since we had no blankets, dry clothes, or heat. The 10am bus would have worked perfectly had we gone to the summit and then hiked down after sunrise, but due to the unforeseen circumstances, our trip didn’t go as planned. The group that decided to go to the top got in contact with some of the guys on the bus to let us know that they couldn’t get to the summit. The weather conditions were horrible and they had to break into some shack to keep warm. They were heading back down once the descent path opened. My husband and I took the first bus out of there, so we didn’t get to hear the end of their story, but we did get a phone call from them to let us know they were halfway down. We didn’t take the same bus back to Tokyo, but we should have. We took the non-express bus because we just wanted to get off the mountain, but it ended up taking longer than if we would have waited for the express bus. Though, we had a nice conversation with a father and son from Beverly Hills who were backpacking Asia together. I think it was around 1:45pm by the time we arrived back at the hotel. We showered, put on dry clothes, and took a well-deserved nap.
I glanced at the Top 10 Tokyo book to help make sure we visited the main sites!