Jul 1, 2018

Getaway Guide: Shibuya, Japan

The only way to summarize our recent trip to Japan is to say that it was a total culture trip. We travel all over the world to crowded cities like London and New York, but none of those trips prepared us for the sea of humanity that is Tokyo. It was exhilarating and overwhelming, all at the same time. Japan has been on my personal travel list for a while now and I'm thankful that my family had the chance to experience the city and all that is has to offer. Here's everything you need to know about visiting Shibuya, Japan.

The Flight & Arrival: We took a 9-hour direct flight from Seattle to Narita on ANA Airlines. The service was great and the staff was kid-friendly. Once in Narita, we hopped in a taxi and took the 90-minute journey to Tokyo.

Best time to visit: We visited Japan at the end of March. The weather was perfect, in fact, it was in the mid-70's on most days, and it was cherry blossom season which was an added bonus. The spring season is an ideal time to visit as the summer months give way to high temperatures, rainy weather, and monsoons.

What to pack: We averaged walking about 6-8 miles per day in Japan because it was easier than trying to flag down a taxi or navigate public transit. Walking is the best way to see the city anyway, so be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes or sandals. I also recommend a light jacket for evening and clothing made from breathable fabrics to keep you cool during the day.

Good to know: Tokyo operates well into the early morning hours which is great if you love to party, but terrible if you are an early riser and want to get breakfast. Most restaurants, including those that serve breakfast, don't open until 11 or 11:30 a.m. so plan ahead if you're someone who loves a morning meal and do yourself a favor, make reservations. There's nothing worse than being hungry and then having to wait an hour for a table. On the bright side, if you're a night owl you'll be pleased to know that most places in Tokyo stay open until well past midnight. You can even live out your childhood video game fantasies by dressing up as your favorite character and driving around the city in a real-life Mario Kart.

The shopping in Shibuya is a colorful mix of fashion-forward apparel, adorable cartoon-inspired accessories, and beauty products for days. Get ready for large crowds and an overwhelming selection of just about everything in packaging that you probably won't be able to read. I recommend researching in advance if you have certain products you want to buy that are only available in Japan. This is especially important if you want beauty products because most of the ingredient lists and directions are not printed in English.

Loft - This top-rated lifestyle department store has everything you didn't realize you needed including home goods, magazines, stationery, beauty products, fitness equipment, and more. Loft is a great place to buy souvenirs on the trip and if you want to shop tax-free don't forget to bring your passport.

Shibuya 109 - Located just across from Shibuya Station, Shibuya 109 features ten floors of women's clothing boutiques and restaurants. Designed as a "fashion community", brands compete for pop-up space to sell and leases are extended based on revenue, making Shibuya 109 a popular place for young trendsetters to shop.

Dover Street Market - Located in Ginza, Dover Street Market is well worth the trip. It took us about 15 minutes on the train to get to Ginza from Shibuya Station. Featuring seven floors of fashion, Dover Street Market feels more like a shoppable art installation than a brick-and-mortar boutique. Famous for it's curated collections from cult brands like Comme des Garçon, Gucci, and Vetements, Dover Street Market is the perfect fusion of art and fashion. My son Liam (pictured below) got his first designer t-shirt at Dover Street market. Let's just call it a litsouvenirenir from the trip.
Seattle readers: Take note, Dover Street Market is coming to LA in the fall of 2018.

WEGO - Described by Vogue as "Japan's fast-fashion alternative to H&M" Wego is where the cool girls shop in Shibuya for on-trend clothing at low prices. The WEGO store is located inside Shibuya 109 (listed above) but there are also two other locations in the city.

Beauty Tip: Japanese drugstores carry a full array of beauty products and colored contacts. Take advantage and explore as many new products as you can. You may have to google ingredient lists and directions, but trust me, it's worth it. While in Shibuya I picked up the Kao Megurism Steam Warm Eye Masks in Lavender, a tube of Kiss Me Heroine Waterproof Curling Mascara, Yumi Mori Gel Blush, and the K-Palette 24 hour liquid eyeliner (all pictured above). I also stocked up on Bioré SPF 50 gel sunscreen.

One of the things I loved about our trip to Japan was experiencing the abundance of Hawaiian-inspired restaurants. I grew up on Kauai and have fond memories of eating pancakes with rich coconut syrup. For breakfast head to Harajuku to visit Eggs 'n Things. Their signature dish is a stack of buttermilk pancakes topped with a mountain of whipped cream. It's Instagram-worthy and insanely delicious. You'll also find other Hawaiian classics including spam and eggs and loco moco, plus a full "Keiki" kids menu. Foodie tip: Arrive early, even on weekdays. The line usually wraps around the block.

For a culinary adventure, check out Uogashi Nihonichi Tachigui Sushi, a stand-up sushi bar located in the heart of Shibuya. You won't find many mainstream rolls here, but that's all part of the fun. We enjoyed delicious handrolls, fresh sashimi, tuna, maguro, and amazing miso soup. Our kids loved it too!

For those with a serious sweet tooth, make time for Santa Monica Crepes. It's a total sugar rush and so worth it. We tried the strawberry chocolate crepe but you can also add cake, yes, cake or even scoops of ice cream. It's a delicious excuse for a cheat day. Santa Monica Crepes is located near the entrance of Harajuku's main shopping row.

During our trip to Tokyo, we stayed at Centurion Hotel Grand. It's located just across the street from the famous Shibuya Station and a 10-minute walk from Harajuku. The rooms were modern, clean, and spacious. We also loved the sweeping views of the city, especially at night. This hotel is a 90-minute cab ride from Narita Airport. The taxi fee was around 25,000 yen, or approximately $225. This hotel also features several restaurants and bars. Pictured below, one of the many alcohol-infused drinks we picked up from the street-side vending machines sprinkled around Tokyo. The peach flavor was my favorite.

Tokyo is famous for its cat cafes and for good reason, it proves to be a nice excuse to get out of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, even if just for 30- minutes. We visited the Bengal Cat Forest in Harajuku and paid a small fee for a half hour session with cats. They stretched out on artificial tree limbs and played with each other while my daughter tried to lure them over with a cat toy.

For visitors looking to check out local theme parks, I highly recommend planning a day (or two) at DisneySea. Opened in 2001 by The Oriental Land Company, DisneySea is the fifth most visited theme park in the world. It's not operated by the Disney company so although there is a crossover with characters and themes, it's a unique experience that you can't get anywhere else. Attractions include Toy Story Mania, Nemo and Friends, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Tower of Terror, Venetian Gondola Rides, Steam Ship cruises, and train rides. There's something for everyone at the 176-acre park including the usual parades and shows you would expect from a Disney experience. Tickets were around $66 USD for adults and slightly less for children. We purchased in advance at the Disney store in Shibuya to avoid waiting in line on arrival at the park.

New York has Central Park, London has Hyde Park, and Tokyo has Yoyogi Park. It's a beautiful park that is the perfect place to take a relaxing walk when you need to slow down and get back to nature. Located within the park is Meiji Jingu Shrine, which is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The original shrine was destroyed during World War II and was later re-built in 1958 through public fundraising. It's a beautiful park and worth the visit.

Tokyo is one of the coolest cities in the world. It's rich in history and perfect for travelers looking to balance historical sightseeing with shopping, dining, and entertainment. We can't wait to go back again soon.

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