Sure, there’s sushi, temples and, of course, karaoke. But there is so much more to Tokyo. I’m lucky to be one of a number of media guests travelling to Tokyo via Cairns, courtesy of Virgin Australia. And yes, while I become well acquainted with the Shibuya Crossing in the beating heart of Tokyo, I also appreciate some of the sights of its neighbouring prefectures.

But first, let’s take a step back from Tokyo. My trip starts off in our own backyard – beautiful Tropical Queensland. Cairns, in fact, home to The Great Barrier Reef, Daintree National Park and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, just to name some of the many of the city’s attractions.

But most importantly, Cairns is the launching pad for Virgin Australia’s flights between Australia and Japan. These flights operate year-round daily, with domestic connections to Cairns from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. But more on that later.

For now, join me on my journey to the land of the rising sun.

Relax in a tropical wonderland

The trip starts in beautiful Cairns. My itinerary has me staying here for one night before I jet to Tokyo. I’m lucky to be housed at Crystalbrook Flynn, one of three Crystalbrook properties in Cairns. My room is beautifully adorned with spectacular views of the Cairns Esplanade and lagoon area. And, of course, the Pacific Ocean and The Great Barrier Reef!

I wish I had more time to check out the hotel. The pool looks inviting, and so does the Boardwalk Social Cafe. But I’m sure there will be a next time.

My travel colleagues and I are evenly split among the Crystalbrook properties. So naturally, some end up at Crystalbrook Bailey. Each of the Crystlabrook properties has its own feel and flavour. This hotel is in the cultural precinct of the Cairns CBD and is tailored to the foodies among us. The hotel has three restaurants and bars, including CC’s Bar & Grill, renowned for having Cairns’s best steaks. Also, Pachamama, which is a Latin-fusion rooftop restaurant, and Milk Bar – a one-stop coffee shop.

Rounding out the three properties is Crystalbrook Riley. I am fortunate to spend some time freshening up at this hotel on my arrival back in Australia. This is a beautiful hotel centred around a spectacular swimming pool. The hotel is located at the northern end of the Cairns waterfront and also includes some great dining and drink options.

Paper Crane offers modern Asian cuisine, while Rocco offers Mediterranean cuisine at Cairns’s highest rooftop bar. And just last month, Calypso Club, a specialist rum and seafood bar, opened its doors. What a combo!

Tokyo, here we come!

Tokyo time has arrived! Well, not exactly, as there is still the matter of the flight getting there. But speaking of the flight, I’m excited to see what my Virgin Australia flight to Tokyo Haneda will be like. Virgin Australia’s presence at Tokyo Haneda’s airport has been a long time coming, scuttled, of course, in 2020 by the ‘you-know-what’.

I also review your options for getting to Tokyo with Virgin Australia at the end of this article.

But for now, let’s fast forward to Tokyo. I land, clear customs, collect my luggage and make my way to Hotel Indigo Shibuya. For a Japanese room, it’s quite large, about the same size you would find in any hotel room in Australia. I’d love to stay in the penthouse room, shown in the image carousel below. This room has a great view of the city and overlooks the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. However, that’s not to be on this stay. But given my room has a view of the Tokyo Tower and the city skyline, I’m certainly not complaining.

Hotel Indigo Shibuya provides a large buffet breakfast for all guests. And when I say large, I mean huge! Every cuisine is available. Hot, cold, western, Asian, fruits, breads and pastries. It’s all here. And there are some made-to-order selections as well. The most famous is their Signature Ramen. This is tasty and a must-order when staying at this hotel.

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The range of activities in Tokyo is endless

After a great night’s sleep and a wholesome breakfast, it’s time to start exploring the sights of Tokyo.

My first day is mostly made up of free time, so I set sail with a colleague to the Shibuya shopping district via the Shibuya Scramble Crossing. This has to be the craziest zebra crossing in the world. It spans in all directions, with bustling mayhem created once the green person flashes up. All the while, about a third of the people using the crossing are looking into selfie sticks or phones instead of the more prudent looking ahead. What could go wrong?

Shibuya Scramble Crossing Tokyo Point Hacks
You can’t help but stop and pose for a photo in the middle of Shibuya Scramble Crossing!

That evening, I experience my first traditional Sumo dinner. What’s that, you ask? Don’t worry, I don’t know either. But in effect, it’s a sumo-diet dinner. Think lots of meat! I experience this meal at the lovely Saganobori restaurant, located in Ginza. I especially love the Hot Pot and the wagyu beef. Top-quality meat that is incredibly tender and tasty.

I’m lucky to have visited Tokyo before. And during those visits, I noted two things. First, the technologies that the Japanese love to embrace. They’re everywhere, from toilet designs to ordering food from fast food sushi joints. And the second is their quirkiness. In a moment, I’ll provide examples from my trip of both. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about toilets!

First up is my new favourite sushi place. It’s called Uobei, and is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Located just a mere one-minute walk from Hotel Indigo Shibuya, this is another must-go-to-place. If nothing else than the novelty of it. But let me assure you, there is more than just novelty as a reason to go. The sushi is not only fresh and delicious, but is ridiculously cheap. I would say a good one-seventh of the price found in Australia.

So, what is the novelty? Watch below. You order your food and drink items from the touch screen in front of you and then wait. Once your order is ready to come out, you’ll be alerted from the screen that your order is about to arrive and in which conveyor belt (top or bottom). And then it’s eyes left to watch it arrive and stop right in front of you.

I can’t get enough of this place. In the three days I’m here, I go twice. And I would go a third time if my itinerary would allow.

Less novel and more quirky is my visit to a hedgehog cafe. I can’t say this is originally on my ‘free time’ itinerary. And to be honest, I don’t even know what a hedgehog cafe is. But after some explanation from one of my travel colleagues, I am convinced to join her in this experience. A hedgehog cafe? Think hedgehog meets coffee. And unfortunately, very bad coffee at that!

After getting instructions on what to do from the host, especially the ‘keep your gloves on’ warning, as they can bite, we make our way to our specially selected hedgehog. I quickly learn that these hedgehogs don’t do much, and they love their sleep. But I start to get mixed feelings about these cafes, as the last thing I’d want if I’m trying to sleep is someone poking me! I’m amazed at their sense of smell. Our hedgehog, at times, looks like it is in a coma. But put some food within smelling distance, and it quickly loses interest in rest.

Another highlight of my trip is enjoying a traditional Japanese dinner at Tofuya Ukai Saginuma. Now, I must admit that I’m slightly hesitant at the thought of eating tofu. It’s just not my thing. However, I needn’t worry. The food is delicious and has some great flavour.

And the highlight of the dinner is the chance to channel my inner Homer Simpson and try a Blowfish. Remember that Simpsons episode. Poison, poison, tasty fish! Well, I hope and pray that there is more tasty fish than poison as I bite into my Blowfish. And, phew, there definitely is. It’s a tasty fish, with a wholesome and strong sea flavour to each bite.

The remaining meal is fantastic. I’m treated to a variety of assorted seasonal ingredients. And seasonal dining is huge in Japan. You’ll never eat the same thing in autumn and spring, for example. I try fried radish cake, steamed Taro potato, pickled Japanese radish, seasoned boiled spinach, and deep-fried tofu with sweet miso, just to name some of the ingredients that I savour.

Make sure to venture outside Tokyo

On the second day of my trip, I venture to a nearby prefecture, Yokohama. The first point of call is the CupNoodles Museum. This place is unique – and large. Spanning multiple floors, the museum includes several sections. I try out the CupNoodles Factory, where I get to be creative and design my own CupNoodles cup. What else can I draw but a Virgin Australia plane spitting out Velocity Points? I mean, I do work at Point Hacks, after all!

Next up is the Instant Noodles History Cube. This area showcases the 70+ year history of noodles, which originates in Japan. Every noodle design ever made is shown here. I also experience the Momofuku’s Workshed, a replica of the workshed where chicken ramen was first invented. And I have lunch at the Noodles Bazaar. Click the link to find further information about the different areas and activities at the Yokohama CupNoodles Musuem.

Now, baseball may not be huge in Australia, but it is in Japan. So what better way to experience a local activity than to test my hand-eye coordination with a spot of baseball? I enter a batting cage and wait for baseballs to fly at my face. I must admit, I’m slightly nervous. Definitely don’t want to be that guy that just air swings. I do enough of that playing golf! But luckily for me, I’m not too bad at all, and as I exit the cage, I convince myself that I’ve found my new talent. In all seriousness, this is really fun and a great activity to try out when in Tokyo.

On our last day in Tokyo, I visit HATCOFFEE, a cafe specialising in latte art. This place is amazing! Not only do they create insanely detailed works of coffee art, but they can also make them 3D. Don’t believe me? Check out the dog and Virgin Australia plane below. And I must compliment the coffee artist, who draws a photo of me and takes about 20 years off my age. If only I still looked like that!

And to top it off, the coffee is fantastic, which can be rare when travelling in Asia. There is a reason why many Australians have become coffee snobs.

Getting to Tokyo with Virgin Australia

Looking to head over to Tokyo with Virgin Australia? There are a number of ways to jet there with Virgin Australia by using Velocity Points.

If you live in Cairns, you’re all sorted. You just need to book the direct Virgin Australia flight between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda. Make sure to click the link to read the detailed review of this flight.

If you live elsewhere in Australia, you can get to Cairns with one connection from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. The frequency is as follows:

  • Between Sydney and Cairns – up to four flights per day are operated in peak periods.
  • Between Melbourne and Cairns – up to three flights per day.
  • Between Brisbane and Cairns – up to five flights per day in peak periods.

Obviously, if you are connecting from elsewhere in Australia, you may need a further connecting flight.

In July 2023, Virgin Australia announced their broad partnership with All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline. This partnership is especially great news for Velocity Frequent Flyer members, as it allows members to not only earn Velocity Points and Status Credits when purchasing an eligible fare with ANA, but also redeem their Velocity Points on ANA’s domestic Japanese routes as well as its entire international network.

Make sure to read our guide on booking ANA flights using Velocity Points. It covers how to find and book ANA flights when using Velocity Points, as well as how many Velocity Points you’ll need to fly ANA.

Click the link to read my detailed review of my Virgin Australia flight between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda. But a sneak peek of the newly refreshed cabin is shown in the image carousel below.

Summing up

It’s great to see Virgin Australia finally land in Tokyo Haneda. For a while in 2020, it looked like it would never happen. This is especially great news for those residing in Cairns. But it’s also great news for everyone else too, as it opens up the option to have ‘two holidays in one’. One takes in the scenic beauty of Cairns, and the other encompasses traditional Japanese history with the vibrant modern city of Tokyo. And all at a great value price.

Hop your way to Cairns and Tokyo with Virgin Australia was last modified: December 7th, 2023 by Daniel Sciberras