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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

TRAVEL: Tokyo in Spring 2023

Spring is the most awaited season in Japan simply because the blooming sakuras and other flowers are quite a lovely sight. Of course, most tourists prefer to see actual cherry blossoms and most will flock to Ueno or Meguro or Shinjuku Parks. Also, spring is a nice time to explore Tokyo because of the cool weather. 

Luckily, we booked our trip a week ahead of the forecasted Sakura season in Tokyo. We arrived March 20 and we still got to see the 'early' bloomers in Chidorigafuchi Moat of the Imperial Garden and Ueno Park. Also, being early means less crowded parks.

Parks to visit during Sakura season: 

Chidogarifuchi Moat at the other side of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. During spring season, both locals and tourists flock here because of the scenic view of cherry blossoms surrounding the moat. Aside from that, there's also the East Gardens with lots of different hued sakuras and other flowering plants. 

Chidogarifuchi Moat
Walking around Chidogarifuchi up to the East Gardens can be quite tiring (lots of long walks) but if you aren't tired yet, you can also cross to Hibiya Park to enjoy the spring flowers. 

Then there's Ueno Park, which is another popular destination especially for Hanami parties. It is quite nice to sit under the cherry blossoms- maybe reading a book or having a picnic with family or friends. 

Like Chidogarifuchi and the East Gardens, Ueno Park is quite huge and it even has a zoo. There's also Bentendo Temple that is surrounded by a pond (very picturesque), and Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple. 

Even if you're not a Buddhist, you'll find it hard to resist the charms (literally and figuratively) of Bentendo Temple. Haha, we we're able buy several charms which are sold outside and inside the temple. Only cash payment though which is lucky, otherwise we'd be buying a lot. 

Shinjuku Gyoen Park is another huge park that has the best Hanami party in Tokyo. Alas, one needs to buy a ticket to enter Shinjuku Gyoen Park especially during the night viewing party. 

Meguro River also offers an ethereal view of sakura blooms especially at night. This location is really popular with tourists as this is also where the biggest Starbucks Reserve store is located. 

Yanaka is also a nice place to see cherry blossoms. What makes this different is that it's an area with old architecture and artisanal shops. The Yanaka cemetery also has both cherry and blossoms. However, one needs to be mindful and not to be too loud. 

Senso-ji Temple is not really a sakura destination BUT I do love this temple and its 'weeping' sakura which is quite a sight to behold especially at night.

Sumida River Park is just at the other end of Senso-ji Temple. The pathway along the river is lined with sakura blooms and it is really, really lovely. Strolling under a canopy of sakura branches is one of my favorite activity during our trip. 

Somewhere along Sumida river is Kinshi Park, a popular local destination for hanami party. There are also stalls selling food in the park so having a nice stroll under the sakura blooms and having a picnic is enjoyable. 

But if you're not into sakura blooms, Tokyo has a lot to offer especially when it comes to food and shopping. 

Tonkatsu Yamabe is one of my most memorable restaurant discovery during this trip. This is just across Ueno Park, and is somewhere in Ameyoko Shopping Street. Aside from Tokatsu Yamabe, Ueno also offers a lot of choices when it comes to food especially in Ameyoko. Food here is also cheap. Not only that, you can also shop to your heart's content here and maybe discover bargain finds. Of course, you can also buy food from konbinis like 711, Family Mart, MiniStop, Aeon, etc.

The restaurants in Marunouchi Center are also worth visiting as long as you avoid lunchtime because restaurants in the area are quite full because there's a lot of offices nearby. Tsukiji Market is also a nice destination to eat although this is best visited early in the morning till maybe around 1pm or after lunch. 

The coffee scene in Tokyo is also strong. There's like several coffee shops in one location. The first one we went to was the Uniqlo Coffee Ginza. The place is mostly for takeouts since there's just a handful of chairs. Uniqlo Ginza is the Uniqlo Flagship store so if you're a fan of the brand, then this is a must-visit store. 

Now let's go shopping. Don Quijote or famously known as Donki, comes to mind first because this huge store not only sell 'pasalubongs' such as food and souvenirs, it also has a wide range of beauty product choices, small appliances, grocery items, clothes, etc. And the best part, it is open 24/7. There are numerous Donkis in Tokyo but the ones that I've been to are in Asakusa and Shibuya. 

For bookworms like me, I suggest visiting book stores like Maruzen or Kinokuniya. Between the two, Kinokuniya is much more well-known amongst tourists as it has branches outside Japan such as in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and even here in Manila. 

For actual shopping, there's Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Omotesando. But if you're a smart shopper, you'll schedule a trip to visit the outlets in Gotemba, Mitsui, or Yokohama. Vintage shopping is also popular in Tokyo. 

For transportation, easiest and fastest would be the trains. There's JR Yamanote Line or The Loop, and Tokyo Metro Line or the subway. It's best to get a Suica card so you need not fall in line to pay for a ticket. There's a Y500 deposit when you avail of Suica but that's refundable when you surrender the card. You can use Suica for trains, bus, and even convenience stores. You can also opt for the 24-hour or 72-hours subway pass but that's strictly for subway and sometimes, it is still cheaper to just pay for a train ticket when you need it because you'll be doing a lot of walking. 

And since it is spring season, you need to dress accordingly. Layering is advised, and do bring thermals and puffer jackets. Rain is also likely. It rained the whole first week when we arrived and that really brought down the temperature to 4-6 degrees. Yes, that cold. 

It didn't cross my mind that I'd be enjoying spring in Tokyo. I'm not much into flowers and such but it's really quite a beautiful season when the trees, plants, flowers are just waking up from the long winter slumber. Also, it's not as cold and freezing as winter. 

You can also book activities and tours via KLOOK

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