Travel Hacking Japan 1: Tokyo

Travel Hacking Japan 1: Tokyo

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Free Tokyo Itinerary Cheatsheet. A roundup of all our favorite places and a travel guide. This is a multi-series for the cities we visited in Tokyo, Japan. #Japan #Tokyo #travelguide #itinerary #birdsofafire #travel

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Back in 2017, I headed back to Japan for a vacation! While I had been there a couple of times, mostly in Tokyo and Disneyland, I hadn’t really gone to other cities and experienced the culture as much.

Now, before we get to all the cool pictures and descriptions, I’d like to say we booked our tickets for $11.20 for two people on business class on lie-flat seats from the US to Tokyo. That’s ELEVEN dollars. No typo. God, I love travel hacking.

Accommodations were paid for by checking account bonuses + points/miles from credit cards. We did pay for food and entertainment though! But to be quite honest, our checking account bonuses probably covered the food cost as well. Have I convinced you of travel hacking yet?! Yes? I’ll write up a post about how to do it soon. This is more for the food + travel pics that haven’t ever seen the light of day. I took so many pictures, I wanted it to be of use somewhere.

We started off the trip with visits to the Priority Pass Lounges. We get free lounge passes via the CSR (Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card). The Priority pass visits are normally $25+ each full price. Considering we travel multiple times a year and basically galavant around the airport visiting lounges for fun (hey, I know we’re weird, but we’re fine with that), it’s an awesome perk. These lounges were in Dulles Airport (DC). If you’re ever there with Priority pass, I’d recommend visiting the Air France lounge for some delicious food to fill up, then moving over to the Turkish Airlines lounge to curl up with some Miso Soup and cozy decor before your flight.

Air France Lounge

Keep in mind we visited all these lounges during breakfast, so we have no clue what “real food” they have for lunch and dinner!

There were tons of charcuterie options. Well, it’s Air France! They should have a ton of charcuterie options, along with refreshing drinks, and healthy assorted dessert.

Charcuterie @ Air France, along with small warm bites and fruit
Parrfait? Perrrfect. Fruit? Healthy!
Top it all off with refreshing drinks and breakfast cereal. Morning yum!

Turkish Airlines

The nicest lounge here aesthetically. Gorgeous interior design, with mirrors and supremely comforting chairs. Since Turkish Airlines is a part of Star Alliance, they allow some business classes of Japanese airlines as well. Thus the miso soup and wasabi peas, as well as the normal American/European snacks. Yum!

Snacks for all the healthy people! Wasabi peas due to Star Alliance (ie, some Japanese airlines) sharing this lounge with Turkish Air.
Fruit and cheese! What is better?

Lufthansa Lounge

The decor was a bit like a cafeteria, but the cold cuts were good!

snacks and occasional fondue :0
Better cold cuts (and boiled eggs!) than the other lounges.

United Business Flight

Ever flown across the world? We have limited vacation days each year and wanted to be well rested for our vacation. A 16 hour flight is no joke. The ability to sleep in a lie flat seat made all the difference in minimizing our jet lag. The seats were super comfortable, with the blankets feeling like puffy clouds. The pillow was memory foam so it provided structure for your neck. If you’d like, you can also ask for a mattress topper and pajamas. You get to keep the pajamas. I don’t have a picture of the amenity kit opened up, but Cowshed was the sponsor, and they did an amazing job. Side note: They used to offer Polaris teddy bears, and I was sad that they wouldn’t ever have them again. They had them for a while after the launch of the Polaris service, but not anymore.

When we boarded, there were two chocolates waiting for us. Soon the flight attendants came over to offer a wine tasting. Some people tried all 6. Hey, if it gets you asleep! Dinner started soon after and I chose the braised ribs with rice and veggies. There were a few other Asian options, but I didn’t take a picture of the menu this time :(. I marathoned a few good movies before falling asleep. I woke up and they were serving snacks, so of course I went and tried them all. My favorite was the tomato soup and grilled cheese — the perfect combo for sitting in your fluffy bed for. I went and read some good books, then went back to sleep. By the time morning came around I had watched 3 movies and read 2 books on my reading list. Productivity!

An amenity kit, comfy blankets, and our own PJs! I now own way too many pairs.
Yummy chocolates before takeoff.
Tuna Nicoise with buttery garlic bread as the appetizer.
Braised ribs with veggies and rice for the entree.
Snacks of grilled cheese and tomato soup, so creamy and flavorful. There were also instant spicy Korean noodles and a beef and rice bowl.
Breakfast of noodles, chicken, and veggies with a fruit bowl and chobani yogurt. Missing is the bread with the jam and butter. The fluffy slippers given. So comfy!

Day 1 of the Japan Trip: Tokyo

We landed in Tokyo in the mid-afternoon refreshed and excited for the day. Upon passing by a 7-11, I immediately turned to FireBear and said that we needed to go in and get Onigiri. I had been dreaming of Onigiri since I was last in Japan. Mentaiko (cod roe) onigiri is the stuff of gods. We also got delicious drinks — the peach drink is my favorite. Don’t worry, in Japan there’s vending machines full of weird drinks everywhere (even beer!).

So many varieties of Onigiri at 7-11!

We walked onwards for some sushi and soon realized most of the good places only accepted cash. Not to worry, 7-11 has a bunch of ATMs and if you have Fidelity or Charles Schwab accounts, they have fee free ATM withdrawals for certain debit cards. We ventured into a restaurant where you had to stand while eating. Here’s the link, and it’s super close to Shibuya Station. Most items were $1-$4 for TWO pieces. Ikura and Toro (fatty bluefin tuna )was only $4 for 2. In any HCOL city that would be close to $6 PER PIECE and it wouldn’t even be fresh.

An amusing older Japanese gentleman tried to engage us in banter at dinner while we were standing up, but we didn’t speak any Japanese. He spent most of the dinner miming at us, and us guessing what he was trying to say and miming back, before a Japanese businessman stepped in to try and translate — the businessman’s face later turned to “Please don’t ask me to translate anymore.” Here are some of the pieces we got. I might’ve scarfed down some pieces before we took a picture… Oops. It was just so fresh and tasty.

Fresh fish in Japan for $10 a meal beats $80 omakase in the US sometimes.

From left to right: Ikura, Negi-Toro, Aji, and Nama-Geso
From left to right: Anago, Saba (Mackeral), and Torosalmon
More Negi-Toro! Also, tiny fish. The older gentleman picked it from the secret menu. I am not sure of its name.
Yaki-Salmon-Mayo and more salmon!
Hirame and charred shrimp.

We ventured back towards Shinjuku and noted that everyone was wearing the same thing. Even in the business districts in the US, people tend to wear different clothing. We walked around the busy streets of Shinjuku before we realized the Robot Restaurant was right there. Anthony Bourdain had featured the Robot Restaurant when he was in Japan and we thought it looked amazing. Possibly not ok for kids to watch, so watch it yourself first.

You can watch his show, Parts Unknown, on Netflix. Great show for cultural and food experiences.

A ton of upbeat music, people in costumes, and robot dancing.
Dancing unicorns and parrots!
A hidden scary Godzilla.

On the way back at about 2AM we passed this scary Godzilla monster. Don’t worry! Things are still super lit up at that time and Japan has a notoriously low crime rate. We made it home safely and knocked out, with me eating a snack Onigiri before bed.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Author: Olivia

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14 thoughts on “Travel Hacking Japan 1: Tokyo

  1. Agree – I should start travel hacking too! We donโ€™t travel on a plane too much, but dang, I am missing out! I had a friend recently go to Japan – made me want to go there just because of all the food pics he took! Looks amazing and canโ€™t wait to see more!

    1. You should start! I feel FIRE and travel hacking go perfectly in hand. It’s like being frugal, but just maximizing the system! You will freak out when you see the cute bowing deer in Nara coming soon :). They also have rabbit island (haven’t gone yet). And yes, the food, oh the food :D!

  2. Nice lounge action, and those sushi pics are making me hungry!

    I went to Tokyo on Delta in economy on points, but next time, I’m def going to try to get an Asian airline.

    I also thought the Polaris food was terrible! But I guess it’s nothing to complain about if you get a lie flat seat ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Lol, I couldn’t read the draft anymore due to the pictures. Last night I was super hungry at 2AM in the morning, not good for my diet or my wallet. It makes me sad to think of the cost of Omakase here :(.Excited to read your post when you go :)!

      ANA has some really great redemptions at half the price of United, but unfortunately they were out (we booked the reward flight a month before so couldn’t find a lot of redemption and got lucky with United Saver). The food is def better on the Japanese airlines for sure, but the Polaris seat is much comfier. Tradeoffs! I half joke I’d be happy just eating Popeye’s or Chick-Fil-A on the flight, but they’re never open when I travel to Asia lol :/.

  3. Totally awesome that you were able to get into the lounge. Food on United business class looks good. ๐Ÿ˜€

    If you are in Tokyo on the weekend, some of the major streets are blocked off for pedestrians only. It’s rather cool.

    Watch out for the drunken Japanese business ppl. It’s a very common sight at night.

    1. Perhaps one day we’ll get bored of visiting all the lounges, but for now, it’s like a fun activity. It was pretty good :).

      I didn’t realize that! I can’t remember which weekday we were there, so I don’t remember, but will keep that in mind for the next trip! Yes, they were very funny.

  4. (1) “Have I convinced you of travel hacking yet?! Yes? Iโ€™ll write up a post about how to do it soon.”

    Can’t wait for the post on travel hacking! To be honest, I’d more interested in that post with the gory financial details than this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (2) “Not to worry, 7-11 has a bunch of ATMs and if you have Fidelity or Charles Schwab accounts, they have fee free ATM withdrawals for certain debit cards.”

    Using ATMs in a foreign country is so tricky. There are at least 3 fees: a withdrawal fee from your own bank, a withdrawal fee from the bank that owns the ATM that you used, and a foreign transaction fee (3%-5%). Were you able to avoid all those charges? What debit cards were you using exactly?

    1. Hello! Awesome, thank you for commenting! Really helps me know where my readers are and what they are interested in. Most of my friends already do travel hacking, so I thought pictures would be more fun, but it’s seeming like the opposite from the emails I’m getting haha. I do have the entirely of the Japan series written up already, so I’ll let those post and then post the explanation to travel hacking :).

      2). Yes, if you use the Fidelity or Charles Schwab Debit cards you can avoid all the fees. A fee might get charged to your account by the bank that owns the ATM, but Schwab/Fidelity will refund it. I suspect they can do this because they repo out your securities plus it’s a nice perk. Fidelity actually has a lower expense fee for the equivalent of VTSAX than VTSAX, by .01%, which is something you never hear from any of the bloggers. I only found out because a friend mentioned the Fidelity expense ratio of .03% and my immediate reaction was,”No way, let me double check bc Vanguard should have the highest!”. I was wrong!

  5. I absolutely can’t wait for the travel hacking post. I’m not yet at the point where I can do travel hacking but once I get that first career job, I know that will be on my list of things to get started on! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Wow, people keep asking for the travel hacking post, so it’s definitely coming up! There are a bunch of travel hacking super-blogs so I didn’t want to touch on it too much if people weren’t interested, but it seems FIRE and travel hacking definitely go hand in hand, so I’ll be doing a series on it very shortly. Just have some other posts scheduled in the pipeline in the meantime :).

      Thank you for your request! I always appreciate being asked about things because it lets me know what readers are interested in :).

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