Friday, August 18, 2017

Japan trip Summer 2017 Part 7: Travel Notes - AirBnb, pocket wifi, food, weather & transporation

This is the "wrap-up" post for the trip series where I'm just going to drop all the odds-and-ends that didn't fit into the other posts. Since this series was a bit different than the others, there's a few things here that are usually encapsulated in the "daily" posts, but now have found a home in "Travel Notes"!
Unfortunately, I don't have the best pictures to illustrate these sections since the trip was very low on photos overall, but those who skip large bodies of text probably never read this kind of post anyway.

AIRBNB
We chose Airbnb for our accommodations again! Since we weren't planning on catching the shinkansen anywhere and wanted to save on travel costs when we could, it didn't make sense to stay in Shinagawa when we really don't have anything to do in Shinagawa. Instead, I focused on looking at the Shibuya and Shinjuku areas because I thought those would be most convenient for Fuji transport access and central to things we would be doing.

Despite investigating other options, we ended up booking the same Airbnb apartment that my parents and I stayed in earlier this year in January. It was a little pricier than some of the other ones we were looking at, but I knew exactly how far it was from the station, how to get there, what amenities to expect and how to easily access the airport shuttle stop for when we leave.

You can check out my previous post about it for my comments on location, convenience and price because not much had changed in just half a year, but something that was important to us particularly in the summer was a place that wasn't too far from the station because it's just such a pain to have to walk walk walk when you're already tired and dripping in sweat lol. This isn't the closest apartment, but we didn't want to risk it with others that we wouldn't know the exact location of until after paying for booking and it was somewhat reasonable.

Like the January trip, we decided to book an extra night in the apartment so we would have access to the apartment throughout the day that we left and have a safe place to store our luggage. That afternoon, we were able to easily pack last minute things, relax, shower/refresh, etc before simply walking over to the shuttle stop just about 7 minutes away. This is definitely well worth it in the summer imo. It's a pain to sit on the plane feeling gross after being out and about in the humid weather all day.

I would consider staying in this apartment again, especially because I like the abundance of space (entirely separate bedroom from living area and lots of closet space), but the one major downside is this terrible sewer smell that seemingly comes from the kitchenette/sink area. I remembered it a bit from the winter trip, but I think maybe it was exacerbated by the summer heat because it was a lot more prevalent this time. If not for that, this apartment would be so great. 

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PUPURU POCKET WIFI
When it's just the two of us, my bf and I will often separate and do our own thing during non-meal times. Because of this, we each needed our own wifi unit to be able to communicate. One unit was provided by the Airbnb and the other we ordered from Pupuru again.

If you recall, I had some issues with the Pupuru delivery to this same Airbnb just earlier this year in January 2017. Despite that, we decided to give them another chance for this trip since we didn't have any issues in March. When I submitted the order, I put in a note to have Pupuru confirm that there wasn't anything wrong with the address I provided. I ended up emailing back and forth with a Purpuru representative who did seem very committed to making sure I received the unit properly.
I was very happy to receive the unit at about 10:30 on the requested day of delivery (guaranteed delivery time period 10:00 - 12:00) which meant I could go out and explore immediately instead of waiting around in the room for at least another hour without even internet connectivity.

Once in hand, everything was about the same as usual - very good. The unit itself worked as expected. Between the Pupuru and Airbnb wifi, the Pupuru unit was far superior. This may just be because the Airbnb unit sucked because it mostly only worked within Tokyo, and I ended up going to Omiya, Chiba and Yokohama, but basically the Pupuru unit performed exactly as we wanted it to except on Fuji. I really wanted the unit to work when we were back at the 5th station and trying to clear up our bus tickets, but it really wouldn't connect. That being said, I don't consider that wholly odd, and Fuji provides its own wifi so we were technically covered.

Since the January incident, I've definitely come to trust Pupuru again and I'm happy with the customer service I received when wanting to validate the delivery address. Everything went without issue this time and I would certainly consider using them again on a future trip.

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RESTAURANTS
This wrap-up post is usually the most boring because it's just little odds-and-ends about the trip, but this time there's at least a small section about food! It didn't make sense to loop it in with the shopping but there really isn't enough to make it stand on its own, so Travel Notes is where they will live.

- Uobei (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 1 for lunch and Day 6 for lunch.
This is a restaurant that we've definitely meant to eat at in the past and just never got around to it on past trips. Uobei is part of the Genki Sushi chain and we have a lot of Genki locations in Hawaii, so we're pretty familiar with the concept of conveyor belt sushi, but it's definitely a bit different in Japan! Compared to Genki, Uobei is known for their cheaper dishes (most 100yen with a few specialty exceptions).
When you are ready to be seated, you are given a small clipboard with a number on it corresponding to where you will sit. Each numbered seat has its own tablet which is used for ordering and what is ordered via the tablet will be added to your "tab" accordingly. There is an English option if you're not confident with reading Japanese. When your order is ready (per plate), it will arrive on the track in front of you. When you're done, you can close out your tab via the tablet and then take the little clipboard to the register to pay.
This is a great place for couples or singles to eat but isn't the best for large parties since its counter seating. There were times when the restaurant looked extremely crowded (esp at night) but whenever my bf and I went, we never had to wait to get seats.
I got my usual for this kind of place - kappa maki, but I also branched out a little and tried the beef "nigiri" which is unattractive in pictures but actually pretty good, so I got 2 servings of it. I always end up eating very cheaply at these places.
It's actually really near the Airbnb (basically just a short walk down), and my parents ate at this restaurant by themselves in January while I was out shopping which should tell you how easy it is for foreigners with little to no background knowledge to figure out how to order and check out. Because of the convenience, we ate here on the last day for a second time after having a pretty good experience on Day 1.
If you don't have this kind of fast, cheap sushi restaurant at home, I would definitely suggest trying it out at least once when there isn't a long line.

From JR Shibuya station, exit at Hachiko and then walk towards Shibuya 109. Once 109 is directly in front of you, keep left and continue walking up the hill past Uniqlo, Family Mart and when you see the Mos Burger, turn right. Walk a bit down that street and Uobei will be on your right.


- Ootoya (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 1 for dinner.
Ootoya is definitely a great fallback restaurant for us when we can't be bothered to pick anything else and don't want to be adventurous for something new. It has a variety of cheap Japanese dishes and it's also fairly quick to find with tons of locations throughout Japan. This was our first time at the Shibuya restaurant.
We already resorted to eating dinner at Ootoya on Day 1 because we spent most of the day prior just kind of preparing for our Fuji hike. We still had more preparations to do that night back at the apartment and wanted something simple but very filling in the nearby vicinity. This was perfect for both of us - low key but consistent. My bf even got a small dessert.

From JR Shibuya station Hachiko exit, walk towards Shibuya 109 and keep right when walking past it. After a couple blocks, you'll eventually see Ootoya on the left.


 - Genki Sushi (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 3 for lunch.
We didn't want to fuss around with a place to eat after coming back from Fuji, so I just suggested a short walk to Genki since we had already tried Uobei, and I figured we couldn't go wrong. 
Like I mentioned, Genki Sushi is a familiar sushi chain to us in Hawaii, but the experience is slightly different in Japan! It's like just like Uobei with counter seating and tablet ordering though. Many of the menu items are similar too, but expect to pay a little more and have a slightly different variety.
For me, it doesn't make a difference - I ordered exactly the same things as I did at Uobei. It seemed like exactly the same portion size and quality too, but that's probably because I'm not ordering fish and the dishes are cheap to begin with. (At Uobei, I think it was 100yen each for my dishes but at Genki, it was closer to 120yen each.)

From JR Shibuya Hachiko exit, walk towards Shibuya 109 but stay on the right side of the street. (When you use Shibuya crossing, you want to go diagonal.) Shibuya 109 will be on your left across the street as you continue a little further until you turn right at Baskin Robbins. Genki will be on the next block on your right. 


- Matsuya (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 3 for dinner.
Matsuya is one of the many gyudon restaurants in Japan (and outside of Japan as well I would guess). It's cheap, fast and convenient and that's the kind of thing we were looking for for dinner on the night after returning from Fuji. You order using the vending machine process - put your money in, select what you want and a ticket will spit out for whatever you pick. Give the staff your tickets and your meal will be prepared.
We decided to do take out because we still hadn't really rested after the hike, and wanted to just call it a night and relax with a basic meal. I picked it up myself and met my bf back at the apartment. For take out, you can choose whether you want the rice packaged separate or underneath the meat, donburi style. 

This is in a pretty similar location to the Genki Sushi actually. After you pass 109 and turn by the Baskin Robbins, turn left at the end of the block and Matsuya will be just a little bit further on your left.


-Ippudo (Asakusa)
Visited on Day 4 for lunch.
One of the few restaurants that wasn't just down the street from our Airbnb. We were out shopping at the Kitchen street by Asakusa and had really taken our time, so we were still there when I was hungry enough to want to eat lunch. There isn't actually anywhere to eat along Kappabashi, but the shop staff at the knife store we visited suggested Ipuddo when we said we wanted a ramen recommendation and gave us instructions for how to walk there. There are several ramen shops that we passed to get to it, but he told us to go to this one specifically and ignore those lol.
This is one restaurant in a pretty popular chain that's known for their tonkotsu broth, and we had to wait in a line of about 8-10 people in order to be seated.We were given a menu while waiting and had pretty much picked out what we wanted to eat ahead of time. My bf got the Shiromaru Classic (tonkotsu) ramen with a set of gyoza, and I got the shoyu ramen because tonkotsu isn't my favorite.
This doesn't really stick out in my mind as being really good or really bad in terms of flavor/taste, but that being said, most things don't. I do think I would consider eating there again though if I came across another location!

I'm not really going to give directions for this one because it really depends where you start from! It is located along a shopping arcade in a pretty popular area, so if happen to be visiting Senso-ji or Kappabashi yourself, consider checking it out from either side. It's not particularly close to either station, but there's plenty of other shops and sights to explore along the way.


- McDonalds (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 4 for dinner.
I can't remember the last time I ate McDonalds in Japan! There was one that was close to the Prince Shinagawa hotel that we frequently stay in, but I haven't stopped there myself in a while. My bf said he felt like eating this during the trip and there's a convenient location in Shibuya, so when we ran out of ideas for dinner, that was the perfect opportunity.
The pictures of the food are super lame, but we really just wanted to eat lol. We got a teri burger, chicken mcnuggets and ofc fries! We also tried the Blue Hawaii drink which is just Sprite with some vanilla syrup in it lol. Looks fancy but I guess I personally prefer straight Sprite. Not pictured bc it was in the freezer, but my bf also tried the little Pikachu chocolate banana McFlurry! It was pre-mixed but still kind of good, I think lol.

Walk towards Shibuya 109, keep right as you continue past it. When you get to the crosswalk, cross the street and McDonalds will be on your left at the end of the block.


- Maisen (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 5 for lunch.
Maisen is known for tonkatsu! It's a little on the pricier side, but the quality is very good and the ambiance and service is very slightly upscale to match the cost. We usually go to the main restaurant in Omotesando, but since we were already staying in Shibuya, we decided to try to get to a nearby location as soon as it opened because we wouldn't have to catch the train to get to it. It was delicious as usual. We ordered the kurobuta fillet and loin (looks the same but we did order two different things).
There was no line when we got there just a few minutes after the opening time. The downside to being at a satellite location is that they didn't have all the same menu options as the main restaurant! If it's your first time trying Maisen, I would consider maybe going to the Omotesando one first so you can have more choices. Be sure to go early though - they only have a limited number of some of the pork and they do run out!

This Maisen restaurant is very close to Shibuya station. Basically you just need to get to the right part of the Tokyu department store and make your way up to the floor with the restaurants. I think it's on the 9th floor of the west section/building.


-WR Cafe (Yokohama Vivre)
Visited on Day 5 for a snack.
This isn't very noteworthy but this is the only cafe-type place I stopped on the trip. Actually maybe it was noteworthy because it was very sub-par lol. WR is located in VIVRE, the same shopping mall as the Yokohama Liz Lisa store. Ebony and I were shopping together and basically just wanted a place to stop and snack and chat. Even though the shop staff didn't end up recommending this cafe to us despite it being in the same building, we decided to try it anyway 😅. The service was very slow and a little unorganized. We did have a nice booth and enjoyed each other's company, but I wouldn't recommend it for the food or service.

From JR Yokohama station, use the West Exit, pass Takashimaya and walk along the street. Once you cross the bridge, Vivre will be on your left. I think this cafe might be on the 3rd floor.

 
- Yomenya Goemon (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 5 for dinner.
Another oldie but goodie. We go to Goemon for pasta since that is one of the few things I will eat and we can't keep eating the same Japanese foods. Somehow I do like it better in Japan, but I think it's how the dish is prepared and the style of pasta that's slightly different and more palatable for me. I don't like it when the sauce just tastes like ketchup.
Tbh I don't have much in particular to say about this restaurant anymore, haha. I've visited one during every trip since 2014 (this is the 8th trip), and it's pretty consistent with a very decent variety of pastas. I always choose whatever is closest to the margherita pasta which has a meat sauce with chunks of mozzarella cheese that will melt a bit when you mix it into the hot noodles.

There is a location that's closer to JR Shibuya station in the basement of 109 Men's (just across Shibuya crossing), but the less frequented location that we went to this time is a little further in along the "Supein-zaka/Spanish Hill" street. Walk towards Shibuya 109, continue past and keep right. When you get to the crosswalk, cross the street and continue for 2 more blocks. Cross the narrow street and start walking up "Spanish Hill". Goemon will be tucked away past the Can Do and Aimer Feel stores on the right.


- Ichiran (Shibuya)
Visited on Day 6 for dinner.
Ichiran is a popular tonkotsu ramen restaurant! I've eaten here during my January and March trips this year, but my bf had yet to try it. We had just eaten tonkotsu ramen on Day 4, and my bf was really just ready to settle for a selection of conbini items for his last meal of the trip, but I insisted on dragging him along to Ichiran during our last few hours in Tokyo. Luckily, whenever I've tried to eat there, there hasn't been a terrible line.
Ordering is vending machine style and the main thing you're going to eat is tonkotsu ramen. What's special about it is the single booth seating and impersonal counter service. You also customize your ramen by choosing how spicy, the toppings, etc, then press a button to let them know you're ready to submit your order. The ramen arrives and the flap in front of you in closed so you can eat privately which is especially nice if you're solo (#me during the March trip). It's quite fast and convenient when you can be seated right away so this was perfect for a quick bite to eat before checking out of our Airbnb.

Ichiran is on the same "Spanish Hill" that Goemon is on except it's closer to the start of the slope and on your left in a basement space. Walk past 109, turn at the crosswalk, continue past the Tutuanna and look for the red Ichiran sign and stairs going down on your left!


- Conbini foods
Visited...everyday.
We always had convenience store food for breakfast and often snacks. There was a Lawson's just downstairs from the apartment, but also a 7-Eleven just a bit further down and a Family Mart a little further away in the opposite direction. Most of the time, we ended up going to 7-Eleven.
Family Mart somehow no longer carries the onigiri I like, but amazingly 7-Eleven pulled through with a gyumeshi one that's extremely similar but I think I actually like better. (Props to my bf for finding it and making me try it.) I would also usually get a croissant and Tropicana orange juice for breakfast and occasionally an "American dog" which is basically a corn dog lol. My bf ended up really liking the crispy chicken in the hot foods section!
Black Thunder ice cream bar also gets a special mention because I LOVE eating this, especially in the summer! Thank goodness our Airbnb had a real (mini) freezer so I could buy it ahead of time and have it there waiting for me after our Fuji hike 😁

Most of the restaurants we ate from are in Shibuya because there are plenty of options there, and my bf and I often met back up at the apartment to drop off our shopping purchases before heading out to eat together. This is much different than Shinagawa where we typically ate at completely different areas than where our apartment was.
Like I've said time and time again, I'm a picky eater so you shouldn't come to this blog and expect anything special in terms of food reviews, specialty treats or even just a picture of an above average meal. In lieu of that, I tried to get a bit more specific about the locations even though these are really mundane restaurant choices. I'm actually a bit surprised we didn't go to any "better" places to eat (besides Maisen) because my bf usually likes to have good meals during travel, but this kind of cheap, simple meals in convenient places suits me the best.

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WEATHER
If you've been to Japan in the summer before, you know - it's humid. Hawaii is humid most of the year as well (depends on the winds) but it's nothing compared to what it's like in Japan in July and August. In Tokyo, be prepared to sweat if you go outside, even at night, and expect to have to wash your hair every day. Despite this, most Japanese citizens are still somewhat covered up, and I like to at least make attempts to blend in when I can which means no spaghetti strap tops or strapless tops/dresses. I did cave and most of my outfits were sleeveless, but at least most of the top of my shoulders was covered lol.
If you've never experienced this kind of weather before, be sure to STAY HYDRATED. This is important on any trip in any season, but especially important in the summer imo. Hand fans are pretty common but I saw a lot less people using them this time than in the past. Businesses with great AC are your friend and it will be nice to stop and rest in a convenient shop or cafe if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the heat.

The weather on Mt Fuji was obviously a much different monster and almost has an entirely different climate because of the elevation. It was nothing like Tokyo at all and you will definitely need two distinct sets of clothing for the variation. We had to be prepared for rain, sun, hot and cold. The experience and what we needed for it are best explained in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series!

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SUICA
This is the first Japan trip in a while where we didn't get the JR Rail Pass! Since it was such a short trip and at least two days would be taken up by Fuji hiking (during which the pass would essentially be useless), we committed to spending the rest of the days in the Tokyo-ish area, not catch the Shinkansen at all and just get a Suica!
Even when I was in Japan for my study abroad, I didn't have a rechargeable card (I caught the bus and paid for everything per ride if necessary), so I've always felt a little bit nervous about getting one despite knowing it couldn't be that much of a hardship. JR actually makes it really easy and there's a lot of information online about how to get one and how it works. There was really no reason for me to be so reluctant in the past because having Suica is so convenient!
We got our new cards from one of the ticket machines at JR Shibuya station and then basically went wherever we wanted, monitored our usage and recharged when necessary. I think maybe I spent a bit under 6000yen for transportation because we weren't being very conservative about it. (And I meant to keep track a lot better but after being home for a month and having not written this post more timely, I've forgotten 😕.)
I would definitely use Suica again when I'm back in Japan and I know I'm just so stupid not to have wanted to use it on prior trips (outside of the ventures when the JR Rail Pass wasn't applicable).

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LUGGAGE/CHECK-INs
Our check-in pieces/baggage in general was a big concern for us this time because we had a lot more than we usually do with our hiking gear!
On the way over to Japan, ofc we had no problem. For myself, I had my one check-in bag (rolling carry-on size suitcase packed inside) and then my tote bag as a carry on.

At the end of the trip however, we had to manage with a few more bags due to shopping purchases and how the pieces were rearranged. Due to their height and Hawaiian Airlines restrictions, the Fuji hiking sticks need to be their own check-in. Before we left, I had contacted a Hawaiian Airlines representative and essentially figured out that they likely could not be carried on (TSA restrictions) and would count as 1 piece of my 2 allowable free check-in bags. This meant that I wouldn't have the option of checking-in something else and that I had to make sure everything fit well into my 1 check-in bag.
It ALSO meant that we would have to figure out how to secure them together and keep them safe in the cargo container without adding extra bulk. I meant to take pictures of this process, but it ended up being a whole ordeal, so... I didn't get a chance. Initially, we used a leftover cardboard box to cover them and it was a great packaging job if I do say so myself, but then I figured out that that made the dimensions way too large. Then, we realized that even on their own, because of my bf's stick's height, it was ALREADY over the size restrictions. (Honestly, the sticks are so skinny, I didn't think that would be the case.) Long story short, I made him cut about 4 inches off and we re-wrapped the sticks just using cut up plastic shopping bags and tape FML. But if we didn't do that, we'd risk having to pay $150usd extra for just those 4 inches.

For our flight going back to Hawaii, we had 8 pieces total - 2 check-ins (large suitcase and packed hiking backpack) and 2 carry-ons for my bf, 2 check-ins (large suitcase and hiking sticks) and 2 carry-ons for me. We had to manage to get all of our pieces from the Airbnb over to the Airport Shuttle pick up point on the 5th floor of Shibuya Mark City. Somehow we made it in one trip, but we did look kind of ridiculous and had some struggles, especially with the humidity still looming over us.

However, we got to Haneda Airport in one piece and checked in without any issues! Stick dimensions were acceptable and none of our other bags were overweight (thank goodness).

Got to our gate with plentyyyyy of time and just sat down and relaxed before our 7-8 hour flight home. Whew.
Basically the moral of the story is - If you want to bring your Fuji hiking sticks home, (if you fly on Hawaiian Airlines,) you WILL need to check them in separately from the rest of your luggage due to the dimensions, and it WILL count as one of your 2 allowable, free check bags.

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Also, small note about the Liz Lisa stamp cards! They've gotten rid of them and have now merged online and in store points. If you have a TKL account, go to your My Page and find your barcode there! I literally only had 1 stamp on my 6th card when I started the trip, but somehow managed to fill it up and use it before it expired! 👍

I purposefully did not organize an extensive plan for this short, 6 day trip. I think I've come back from the most recent ones a bit more exhausted than I should have because I was trying too hard to cram so much into whatever time I had. I really wanted this trip to be more relaxed and just enjoy being in Japan. As a result, I also took less pictures and have less to blog about (as evidenced by such a short trip series), but I did still have a pretty good time. I hope I can do more relaxed trips in the future!

Although "Travel Notes" is usually the last, I decided to do a short OOTD breakdown for the last post in this series, so that will be up soon! Thanks for sticking around ♡
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  Japan trip Summer 2017 
Part 1: Preparing to hike Mt Fuji
Part 2: Hiking Mt Fuji to see the sunrise!
Part 3: Casual shopping days - 7 different Liz Lisa stores, Kappabashi "Kitchen Town" + more
Part 4: Liz Lisa summer items haul
Part 5: Liz Lisa autumn items haul
Part 6: Other shopping items & coordinates
Part 7: Travel Notes - AirBnb, pocket wifi, food, weather & transporation
Part 8: OOTDs

✦ Japan trip Spring 2017 posts
 Japan trip Winter 2017 posts
✦ Japan trip Spring 2016 posts
✦ Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Summer 2014 posts