Tokyo Christmas Market

Nothing gets me more into the spirit of the holidays than Christmas Markets. I spent several years in Europe, and now Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the taste of warm, spiced glühwein and marzipan filled stöllen. Luckily, you can get both, and festive, Yuletide cheer, in Tokyo!

There are several Christmas markets scattered throughout the city, but my absolute favorite is the Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park. I visit every year on Christmas Eve. My friends and I meet at Hibiya Park donning our most cheery Christmas sweaters to sample every flavor of glühwein available (there are many), browse and buy handmade crafts, and eat way too much.

The market surrounds the fountain of Hibiya Park. More than a dozen traditional wooden huts offer visitors a variety of tempting German fare and one-of-a-kind ornaments. Christmas music plays in the background. A stunning 14-meter Christmas Pyramid brought in from Germany twirls slowly. And musical guests entertain the crowds inside a large-ish tent. All together, it creates a perfect holiday vibe. 🎄♥️🎅🏼✨

The mulled wine and hot cocoa are served in little mugs with the market’s logo on them. You have to pay a deposit for the drinks (¥1000) because of them. You get your money back when you return the cup, but I like to keep them. They come in different shapes and colors and have the year on the design.

Admission to Tokyo Christmas Market is free. It started December 14th and opens daily from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm every day through Christmas day. To get there, take the metro to Hibiya Station and leave the station through Exit A14. Just make sure you dress warmly; it gets cold. 🥶

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Tokyo

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS about Tokyo is that there’s always something new to see and do. This summer, TeamLab Borderless launched a new way to spend an afternoon in Tokyo that made me feel like I was on another planet. The Mori Building Digital Art Museum features works displayed through projection mapping and lights, and it’s designed in such a way that all the artwork moves in and out of spaces freely, forming a completely borderless world. One full of color, curiosity, and wonder.

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The exhibit has several spaces with different themes that are constantly shifting and evolving. A lot of the pieces interact with one another, so it sort of feels like one fluid work of art. It’s really cool because many of them look different each time you visit. So it always feels new. And it’s always thrilling to see the lights and images dance around the rooms. Also, many of the pieces are interactive, which is super fun. 😁

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One of my favorite areas is the Athletics Forest. This world is full of spaces and exhibits that you can play in. It really brings out your inner child, or in my case, my outer big kid. 😜 I really enjoyed bouldering the light forest, climbing through a display of vivid, moving birds and playing with colorful balloons. This part of the museum really makes you feel like you’re one with the art, or at the very least a part of it. You get to be in the middle of the artwork, touching and moving in it, and in some case creating it yourself.

All of the works are impressive. They’re enchanting and delightful, making it easy to spend a few hours marveling at the transformation of the exhibits and feeling like you’re in a whole different, light-filled galaxy. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Getting tickets is quite difficult. Don’t expect to get in by showing up and buying a ticket on site. They’re often sold out. I bought my ticket two weeks in advance ( I went shortly after it opened; it might be less busy now). To make sure you get in the day you want, I recommend you buy your tickets online here. Tickets cost ¥3200 (about $30) for adults 15 and older and ¥1000 ($9) for children 14 and under. It’s a little expensive but completely worth it. The museum is open weeknights and Sundays from 1000 to 1900 and on Fridays and Saturdays from 1000 to 2100. Last entry is one hour prior to closing, but I recommend you go with enough time to spend about three hours. This way you have enough time to really see and enjoy the art.

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Getting There

Getting to the Mori Building Digital Art Museum is pretty easy. Take the subway to Shirokanedai station (I took the Namboku line), and leave the station through exit one. That’s the closest exit to the museum. From there it’s a short five-minute walk. Look for the Ferris wheel and walk toward it. You’ll have to walk through Toyota Mega Web, a car theme park; the museum is on the other side. If you’ve bought your tickets in advance, you just have to scan your QR code from your phone or your printed ticket when you go in.

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Capsule Hotels… Yes or No?

Capsule hotels (also called pod hotels) are very popular in Japan. You see them in most cities, and a lot of people really like them for overnight stays because they are relatively cheap (¥3000 – ¥4000). I’m claustrophobic and never really had any interest in staying in a tiny space only big enough for a bed. Also, I’m not really a fan of communal bathrooms. But I just couldn’t leave Japan without experiencing it at least once. It’d be like visiting Japan and never eating sushi or ramen. So on a recent trip to Kyoto, I decided to try one out.

I did my research before selecting my capsule. I’m picky about hotels. I’m very particular about cleanliness, and I really like to make sure the location meets my travel goals. So I checked all the hotel travel sites (Hotels.com, Agoda, Kayak, Booking, Trivago, etc.), Trip Advisor and Google. I read reviews, mapped the locations, and looked into amenities for each capsule hotel available. After several hours, I decided on the First Cabin Capsule Hotel in Kawaramachi Sanjo.

Capsule Hotels vary. A lot. They’re like hostels in that you share all facilities except the bed. However, the pod itself and types of common areas differ from hotel to hotel. Some are more like fabric-covered bunk beds while others are like stacked cubby holes with mattresses in them. The pods at First Cabin are not stacked, so you have more room than a lot of the other capsule hotels I saw online. The one I stayed in was as wide as a twin bed (the walls of the pod surrounded the mattress on all sides) and maybe six feet tall. I could sit up completely in my bed and even stand on the mattress with only having to duck just a tiny bit (I’m only 5’2″). The room also includes a TV, temperature control, two plugs, and a secure compartment to store your valuables while you’re out. The pod doesn’t have a door, but it has a shade that slides all the way down for privacy. This hotel also offers mini-suites (they refer to them as first-class cabins), which are slightly bigger spaces that offer more than just a bed but don’t have private bathrooms. All capsules provide guests with disposable slippers, pajamas, and a towel and washcloth.

The two major concerns I had about staying in this kind of hotel were safety and noise. Neither was an issue here. Rooms and floors are separated by gender for safety reasons at First Cabin. This isn’t the case at all capsule hotels, though, so if it’s something you’re interested in, ask before booking. Japan is a relatively safe country, but I prefer staying in all-women dorms when traveling alone (as a peace of mind thing). At this hotel, the sleeping areas are accessed with key cards so not just anyone can get to the pods. And it’s a completely noise-free zone. Guests are not allowed to listen to music or watch television without headphones. They’re not supposed to talk on the phone and, honestly, I didn’t even hear travelers talk to each other in the capsule space.

The shared spaces at First Cabin exceeded ALL  my expectations. The lobby features a few sofas, a big table for travelers to sit around and socialize, and a bar with a variety of beers and cocktails available for purchase. The hotel also hosts special events in the lobby on some nights that offer guests free food or drinks. The bathroom situation is also quite good. Each floor has sinks, toilets, and vanities, and there’s a shower area for each gender on one of the floors. The spa (shower area) has several private shower rooms, one or two secluded bathtubs (complete with body wash, shampoo, and conditioner), and a few vanities stocked with everything you could need, to include curling irons, facial care products, and even toothbrushes. There are also irons, steamers, and humidifiers in the dormitories and a spot to store your luggage.

From what I saw, most capsule hotel guests only stay a night or two. I stayed for five, and felt completely at ease and comfortable. The small space didn’t bother me at all. It felt way more private than I thought it would, the amenities were great, and the hotel staff was wonderful. I managed to get a business-class cabin for only $20 per night; a terrific value! I can’t imagine a better accommodation for the price. I would definitely try a capsule hotel again. I highly encourage you to try one too. 😉

Summer Nights in Ginza

Summer nights are made for ice cream and sunsets, and in Ginza, Tokyo’s upscale shopping and entertainment district, you can get the best of both. This neighborhood houses all the top luxury brand stores (Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc.), a plethora of gourmet restaurants, and the famous Kabuki-za Theatre. I like visiting Ginza this time on the weekends because the city turns Chuo Dori, one of the main streets in the area, into a huge pedestrian space from noon until about 1800. Visitors can walk around without the worry of traffic and really take in the window displays, enjoy the summer weather, and people watch.

The iconic Wako Department store and the Hattori Clock Tower (pictured here) are located in the heart of Ginza. It’s one of the most popular stores in the area, known for its jewelry and housewares selection and the art gallery located on the sixth floor (it’s really cool). I took this picture of the famous building while enjoying a cool and refreshing ice cream sundae from Ramo Frutas Cafe. It’s just across the street, and if you’re lucky, you can get a table on the balcony with an unobstructed view.

Ginza is known for being one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Tokyo. The real estate is actually the most expensive in all of Japan. And that means most things here are pretty pricey, so be prepared. My ice cream, while delectable, cost me a whopping ¥1500 ($13 U.S.), and I’ve heard of cafes selling lattes with price tags higher than ¥700 ($6.50). But don’t let that stop you from checking out this part of Tokyo. You don’t have to spend a ton to enjoy the vibe and energy here. ✨

Sunset From Sunset Beach

There are fewer things more beautiful than watching the sky change colors. It looks a little bit like magic. Seeing it turn shades of pink and orange before finally transforming into a deep, midnight blue is fascinating. It happens every day, yet somehow, it amazes me every time I see it. This sunset was extra spectacular because of the swaying palm trees, quiet ocean waves, and light, fluttering breeze.  I captured this while enjoying a cocktail after a day of exploring the outer islands and beaches of Okinawa. I couldn’t think of better way to end an already perfect day than with an ice-cold pina colada and a stunning sunset.

This photo was taken from The Calif Kitchen in Mihama, a restaurant in the shopping complex next to the Vessel Campana Hotel. It overlooks the sea wall and Sunset Beach. I usually stay there when I visit Okinawa because of its central location. There are lots of wonderful places to stay on this island. Where you choose to stay should really depend on what you want to do, and where you want to go while you’re here. Because I like to do a little of everything, I feel like this location works best for me. Plus, there are lots of restaurants, shops, and bars within walking distance, so you aren’t limited to only what the hotel has to offer. And the sunsets here never disappoint. ✨

A Walk In Mascot Memorial Park

The sun came out today for the first time in about a week! I realize it’s winter here in Australia, and rain and cool weather are the norm this time of year, but man oh man have I missed the warmth and vibrance that the sunshine brings. It’s an instant mood booster and makes me just want to be outside. So this morning I took a walk. After walking past several blocks of tall, glassy office and apartment buildings, I entered a more lived-in part of town. The homes were older and mostly made of brick. Shortly thereafter, I arrived here. A small-ish, very well-kept city park full of beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers. It was completely empty, with the exception of an older man cleaning up the fallen leaves. This peaceful place is called Mascot Memorial Park, and it is home to a monument commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during World War I. Past the garden area of the park there’s a playground and tennis courts. It’s very tranquil and a really great spot to just relax, clear your head, and enjoy nature.

Walking through here was a wonderful way start to my day. 💕