Before you leave:
Culture – If someone offers a business card, take it with both hands and be thoughtful and respectful about placing it in your wallet/bag.
No loud talking or trash.
Everyone was so nice. We LOVED everyone and the entire experience.
You have to take your shoes off in temples and some restaurants, so always wear socks and shoes that aren’t hard to take on/off. You take them off before stepping up, but you don’t touch your socks to the platform the shoes were on.
Make bullet train reservations at below link maybe a week in advance. We picked the reserved seat tickets around 1pm, and it worked great. We forwarded our luggage the day before from the hotel so no need to buy luggage tickets. You have to remember to do that on return too. Just let the hotel know that morning, and you need to have bags packed by around 4pm.
Look out the window for Mt. Fuji if you are headed towards Kyoto - maybe 20 mins outside of Tokyo. You can watch your apple map to see when you are about to pass it up close.
Use the below email address to book important rides in advance like airport, train station – the vans are really nice, but they have no luggage room if all the seats are up. We had 5 passengers, so we had to book another taxi for our roller bags from the airport.
A couple rides were unavailable, so I booked through hotel. It's the same company just a bit more $$.
Make animal café reservations (there are a few owl and cat, so pay attention to which one you book. We only found one capybara cafe. You don’t eat at the “café”, you just hold/pet the animals.
Get team lab tickets.
Email the hotel concierge for some dinner reservations, especially sushi bc they are tiny sushi bar only restaurants. Ramen is basically fast food and everywhere - and delicious everywhere.
The best Japanese consultant is Chris Rowthorn. He helped me plan our Tokyo guide, Kyoto guide and Geisha Dinner. You can pay via PayPal before to avoid the need to bring cash in envelope (handing cash outright is considered rude).
There is a Japanese tourism app on the state department site where you can pre fill out all the covid vaccine info called fast pass. It didn't seem to save much time though. Customs sucks pretty bad - prepare to wait in long lines and go through several steps. Tell kids to go to the bathroom before exiting the plane.
Taxi from airport booked in advance with MK Taxi -We added the greeting/name board service, and were glad we did.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Gorgeous hotel with great service! Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom were staying there too :) It's nice to have the address in Japanese in case you hop in a taxi.
Room service dinner first night.
Full day 1 Tokyo, night Park Hyatt
Buy Suica cards (subway cards) for everyone from the hotel. Ask the concierge to map the line and the terminal to make it extra easy to find where you are going. The subway system is very well done and nice/clean! You need your Suica card to both enter and exit the stations. Suica card balances can be used at the hotel to pay your balance at end of your stay and also at convenience stores and many retail stores.
Go to a 7-11 and get cash, because you need cash at all the shrine and temple entrances and also at all the ramen order machines. *Use your google translate photo/camera option to translate the types of ramen on the machines and any signs you need to read.
Go to Shinjuku Station.
Check out Akihabara (Mandarake store, etc) in the morning.
Tokyo Dome City in afternoon: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3039.html
GONPACHI NISHIAZABU - I was not impressed. It felt like tourist trap, because Kill Bill was inspired by this place.
Full day 2 Tokyo, night Park Hyatt
Set up luggage forwarding for tomorrow with hotel so you don’t have to carry it to the train or buy special luggage ticket for train.
Take the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku to Harajuku Station.
Get off train and walk into Meiji-jingu Shrine.
12pm Owl café
1pm Tokyo 4-Hour Private Walking Tour / Customized tour (Meiji-jingu Shrine, Yoyogi-koen Park, Hachiko Statue, and Tokyu Hands)
Guide's Name: Hitomi Onishi through Chris Rowthorn. We loved our guide.
Takeshita Street then Omotesando Street. Many shops, boutiques and cafes on Omotesando.
You can use Google maps to walk down to Shibuya (check out Yoyogi-koen Park en route), or you can take the Yamanote Line one stop south to Shibuya.
Explore Shibuya (including famous crossing, Hachiko Statue and Tokyo Hands).
*Very small wonderful sushi omakase experience
KYUBEY SHINJUKU - Policy: 3days prior 15,000JPY per person penalty fee for any change/cancel of any reason
Full day 3 Tokyo > Kyoto, night Aman
Park Hyatt Tokyo to Tokyo station
2 hr/40 min bullet train
Full day 4 Kyoto, night Aman
Taxi to Arashiyama/Tenryu-ji Temple.
12pm Kyoto 4-Hour Private Walking Tour / Walk5
Guide's Name: Chisako Demachi through Chris Rowthorn.
We loved her and this walk – we actually took a bus up to the top and walked down ending at the temple of the meeting place.
Meeting Place: The main ticket gate of Tenryu-ji Temple – This was confusing, maybe meet at the bus stop in front of this temple.
Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji is the temple we started at with 1200 of moss covered carved rakan statues (followers of Buddha).
Nembutsu-ji at Adashino was next, and it has a smaller, amazing bamboo forest with very few tourists.
We stopped and ate at an amazing udon place walking on the way to the next place.
Okochi-Sanso Villa – gorgeous Japanese garden.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – the famous Bamboo Forrest is right across the street.
You walk down through it and come out right back at Tenryu-ji, which is also beautiful to go through.
Evening: private geisha dinner- booked also through Chris Rowthorn.
*We loved this – my teenage girls bonded especially with the younger maiko.
Full day 5 Kyoto, night Aman
This was booked through Aman but if not staying there you can contact the interpreter:
Akemi Koyama email@example.com +81 9092215688
Zen meditation for 2 people before the Tea ceremony at Myoshinji Temple.
Dinner: Tempura Yasaka Endo – tons of food in a coursed meal. I don’t know if I recommend this. You would need to go really hungry and be open to trying tiny whole fried fishes and other weird little things.
Full day 6 Kyoto, night Aman
The below was booked through Aman. We loved our driver and got his contact info. He also works through MK Taxi - so hopefully you can save money and book directly ;)
Nobuto Shimizu firstname.lastname@example.org +819066033072
From the Aman to Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Temple)
We changed our original plan, because I wanted to go across town and see the red gates but our previous itineraray said: From Kinkaku-ji Temple to Ryoan-ji Templethen to Tofuku-ji Temple, be sure to visit the garden (Hojo Hall).
We actually went from the Golden Temple and stopped by the Nishiki Market (where Nobuto hopped out and bought us his favorite little treat) then to:
Fushimi Inari-Taisha (red gates) then to:
Kiyomizu-Dera – one of the famous 5-tiered buildings.
There is lots of traffic, so maybe book 6 hours if you want to see more temples. My kids were not interested in too many temples, so I think we nailed it.
Dinner at Aman, sushi restaurant, private dining room.
We didn’t love this so given how $$ it was – I think at Christmas menus change. We were expecting sushi for an omakase, but instead it was an omakase of fancy Japanese dishes that included pates and other delicacies. Everyone always asks about food allergies, but I should have checked about the menu details.
Full day 7 Kyoto > Tokyo, night Grand Hyatt
*We had to rush – LEAVE EARLY bc traffic in Kyoto isn’t fast to get through. Aman is also 30 mins. out of the city, so that could have been our issue. Also checkout took forever at Aman. I think the Park Hyatt would have been a great alternate hotel, but the Aman was incredibly magical.
Bullet train ride - reservations made before the trip (QR code tickets already loaded in apple wallet) and taxi ride booked before the trip via MK Taxi or through the hotel.
Grand Hyatt Tokyo
Didn’t love the hotel rooms/decor as much as Park Hyatt, but the area is amazing (better to walk to things), so I am very glad we stayed there too. Best shopping (Kapital, my son's fav), tons of walking distance great food basically in the beautiful mall it’s attached to – also right by Tokyo Tower and Takashi Murakami’s office/showroom, Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Have the hotel make reservations in advance. The sushi restaurants are tiny and hard to get into last minute.
6pm-6:30pm TEAM LAB BORDERLESS TICKETS *They have vegan ramen outside the museum.
Explore Roppongi after arriving (including Mori Tower for view).
Full day 8 Tokyo, night Grand Hyatt
We drove really far out to a capybara café, and I loved our driver, Peter +81 9065103265.
He also works for MK taxi. I would text him or try to reserve him through MK. Remember the time difference if texting from the US.
The below was on our itinerary. However, we skipped it since going to the capybara cafe took half the day, and the kids wanted to hit some shopping one more time. Peter drove us and waited for us at the shops.
Asakusa (Senso-ji) or just Skytree. Evening, consider exploring East Shinjuku, Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai.
Sushi Mitsukawa on December 27th at 7pm for 5 people - LOVED THIS – small, special sushi bar omakase dinner. Notice strict cancellation policies.
Karaoke afterwards – the hotel made us a reservation for a private room at one that was close to hotel. Not hard to get reservations for karaoke; it’s everywhere.
Departure day Tokyo (Haneda)
More taxi reservations – My son went to Singapore and left earlier, so we only had to book one van for the rest of us and our luggage.
Our cover shoot for high summer 23 was at Kujukuri Beach Tower about an hour outside of Tokyo. There are lots of beaches right there.