Took an overnight ANA flight that landed at Haneda International Terminal at 6am. Had to wait at the arrival hall until 7am to purchase the Welcome! Tokyo Subway Ticket from the Keikyu Tourist Office.
We could choose to go into the city via airport limousine bus or train. Decided to go with Keikyu rail as it connects directly with the Asakusa line that stops at Higashi-Ginza, one of the stations near our hotel, Sunroute Ginza. It also comes with a 1-day subway pass. Perfect for our first day itinerary.
Got a bit panicky at the start of the train ride when none of the station stops were reflected on the subway map. Then we heard something familiar – Shinagawa and felt assured we were traveling in the right direction.
In our excitement to exit Higashi-Ginza station, we made the rookie mistake of not checking the right exit number and ended up on the wrong side of the road. After getting our bearings with the help of Google Map, it was a 10 min walk to the hotel located on a quiet street.
It was our only day in the city and we planned to see as much as Ginza as possible in half a day, and the other half to explore Shibuya, Harajuku and Omotesando, rounding it up with viewing the night illumination at Tokyo Skytree. Our first stop was brunch at Muji’s flagship store @ Yurakucho Station. The cafe was still in the midst of preparing the food so only the bread and soup were ready. They were good but we ate better ones later in the trip. We bought some stationery and facial products (the toning water high moisture was super effective in keeping my skin from peeling from the cold). Sadly, our purchases were not enough to get the tourist tax refund :(.
Connected to Muji is a lifestyle store, Loft.
None of us have heard of it so we entered to take a look. We ended up spending an hour plus browsing through the stationery, toys, cosmetics and many other nick nacks. We liked the store so much that we visited two of its outlets in Osaka later in the trip. One plus point shopping at Loft is a 5% discount regardless of the amount spent, when you show your passport.
Loft has a wide variety of products but do shop around to get the best value. For toys, we found that prices at BIC Camera were generally lower. The Star Wars version of the pirate pop-up game cost 3,000+ yen at Loft, 1,000+ yen more expensive than BIC.
From Yurakucho, we walked to the main shopping street of Ginza. Our target was Uniqlo’s flagship store but along the way we got sidetracked to visit GU. As it was autumn, most of the clothing did not suit our hot climate back home so we left empty handed. It was the same range of autumn/winter styles at Uniqlo with the exception of a single floor that sold T-shirts. At our time of visit, the store was carrying a range of tees with characteristics of world cities, so we bought a couple of them.
This time our purchases hit 10,000 yen so we were exempted from paying the 8% sales tax. How it works is that the sales staff will ask to see your passport, and then staple the receipt onto one of the pages of your passport. When leaving Japan, just before the passport control, there will be a tax counter where the officer will tear off the receipt stapled in your passport. There is no checking of your goods so you do not have to hand carry them.
All the walking and the chilly weather made us hungry so it was time to check out the depachika (departmental store basement food halls). There were a few within the Ginza area – Mitsukoshi, Matsuya, Daimaru and Takashimaya. We chose Mitsukoshi as it was the nearest. Our last visit to a depachika was 5 years ago at Shinjuku’s Takashimaya and Isetan. We sort of know what to expect but the food hall at Mitsukoshi still amazed us. To me, the only drawback is the lack of seating space to consume the food. This is not unique to Mitsukoshi though. The set-up was the same in all the depachika we visited (there’ll be six more in this trip). But we discovered that quite a number of the departmental stores have roof-top gardens where you can go to enjoy your food. One of the best rooftops was at Mitsukoshi.
The rooftop may not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye but the big open space, ample benches and multiple drink vending machines more than make up for it.
Everyone was tired out from the walking and lack of proper sleep on the plane, so it was back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. By the time we woke up and refreshed ourselves, it was already 4pm, too late to cover the rest of our planned itinerary. Since Shibuya is mainly shopping and it was further away, we decided on Tokyo Skytree, thinking the night illumination and outdoor Christmas market will be something different.
The lights were not very spectacular from under the tower. Perhaps it would look great from a distance. As for the Christmas market, it was simply a few wooden huts, some with carnival games, others selling drinks and hot dogs. It was quite a disappointment. We did not really explore the stores in the shopping mall linked to the tower, except for the Hello Kitty shop and the Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory outlet. After sampling all 3 flavours of the biscuit – Salt & Camembert, Honey & Gorgonzola, Basil Tomato & Mozzarella, the unanimous decision was flavours 1 and 2, so we bought a box each.
On our way back to the hotel, we tried to buy advance tickets for Tokyo Disney from the ticket machine at Lawsons, one of the convenience chain stores. However, everything was in Japanese and the sales staff, a Chinese national, was unsure how to operate the machine. We did not want to risk buying the wrong tickets. Got to go early tomorrow to queue.
- Always check the exit name or number before going through the ticket gates.
- Find out if there is a place within or near the department store that you can enjoy food bought from the depachika.
- Don’t be deceived by pictures and write-ups on host websites. Check travel reviews and blogs to find out if a place or event is worth visiting.
- Carry your passport with you at all times. Many stores have tax rebates and discounts upon showing your passport.
- Shop around to compare prices. Stores in Japan are very competitive. Prices for the same item can vary quite a bit.
- Popular souvenirs, especially food products, can be brought tax free from the airports. Whenever possible, do your shopping before flying off. But do check if the items are available and which shop carries them.
- To save time and effort, seek help from the customer service counter in the airport to locate items you want to buy. Reason is there are many stores and each one sells a specific range of products. During my last trip, I spent 20 mins hunting for Tokyo Banana Gaufrette in the various duty free shops. Finally sought the help of customer service who located the product at a small ANA Festa store at the opposite end of my departure gate.