There has been a lot of chatter among the blogger mommies about Japan. Knowing we will be grounded next year for academic reasons, we decided to jump on the band wagon and head to the Land of the Rising Sun with our kids during the September school holidays.
As this was our maiden trip to Japan, we chose to concentrate on Tokyo. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of things to do with kids in Japan.
We took the Red Eye flight to Japan and arrived early (6am) the next morning. After retrieving our luggages, we proceeded to the train station to catch the Narita Express into town. The train systems in Japan are extensive and complicated. If you have a child who loves trains, bring him or her to Japan. They will have fun just riding on the trains.
We were very impressed by how reliable and efficient the train systems in Japan were. The Narita Express arrived punctually to pick us up and delivered us to where we needed to go at the promised time. The train seats were spacious and comfortable. We placed our luggages in the front section of our train compartment and relaxed for the hour duration of our trip into the city of Tokyo.
It was amazing how the train stops on the dot of its promised time.
We realized that flying the Red Eye to Japan was not such a good idea as the check in time for most hotels in Tokyo are 3pm. Fortunately, our hotel allowed us to check in earlier (at 1pm). Still, that meant that we had a couple of hours to spare. The shops will not be opened for another hour, so we walked around our hotel and found a lovely bakery whose fresh baked aroma enticed us into its bodice.
Having brought our bread, we went in search for coffee. We walked into one quaint-looking Japanese coffee house but decided against it as it smelt of smoke. We are so used to the non-smoking in restaurant policy in Singapore that I had forgotten that in some countries like Japan, smoking in restaurant is still allowed. And here is an interesting fact, there are certain street corners in Japan where smoking is NOT allowed. Go figure!
After breakfast, we walked around the Ginza area where our hotel is located and discovered a four-storey Toy Store at the end of our hotel block.
On the top floor, we found these! If you have an 8-year-old or tween, you will know that these (Kendama) are the latest fad among the kids today and making a comeback from our childhood days — Japanese Maiko and Ninja Kendamas! My son was thrilled!
On the same floor, we spotted a Hakuhinkan car track where we could rent cars and race them on the track. Of course we had to have our version of Formula One race. It was heaps of fun and cost only 200¥ per person (SGD$2.30) inclusive of car. We went several rounds.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking in Tokyo. Wear comfortable shoes. The weather was great the first two days, but by the third day, the sun went into hiding and it began to rain. It rained day and night and did not stop raining till we left Japan three days later. We learnt about the floods in Japan on television.
WHERE TO STAY
While researching for where to stay in Tokyo, we were told by friends who used to work in Japan that anywhere along the red train line (see map below) was fine as it makes your travel accessible. The hotels in the Ginza and Tokyo area are pricier due to their locations.
The best way to get around in Japan is by train. It is the most convenient, economical and I say it again, efficient way to travel. The only downside is that you need to take some time to study the extensive train lines. The first time I saw the train map (below), I almost fainted. I thought it was more complicated than a primary 5 mathematical problem sum.
According to the Japan Guide website: Tokyo’s most prominent train line is the JR Yamanote Line, a loop line which connects Tokyo’s multiple city centers. The city’s 13 subway lines are operated by two companies and run largely inside the Yamanote circle and the areas around Ginza and Shitamachi. Most of the many suburban train lines commence at one of the six major stations of the Yamanote Line (Tokyo, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Shinagawa). Click on the link for more info on the train system in Tokyo.
You can catch the subway or the monorail to absolutely anywhere in Tokyo. Once you get the hang of reading the train map, you will be able to get around relatively easily. We found the Japanese people very kind — many offered to help when they noticed we were lost and when I had to head to the airport with two kids in tow and a hefty 20kg luggage, a few Japanese gentlemen assisted without us even having to ask for help.
You can purchase the tickets as and when you travel or you can buy the prepaid cards like Suica or Pasmo. These prepaid cards only offer convenience but not any discounts on your travels. For us, we were visiting Tokyo by areas (Harajuku or Obaida) so it was cheaper and made more sense to purchase as we go.
Avoid taking the trains during the peak hours (mornings and evenings) unless you want to experience this sardine-packed compartment sensation.
A word of caution: there are no barriers on the monorails, make sure they are standing behind the yellow line or hang on to your young kids especially when the trains are arriving.
What To Do
We compiled a post on 30 Things To Do With Your Kids In Tokyo. Our kids were too old for some of the places, and we did not have the time to get to all the places.
There is plenty to shop if you can afford the yen. Tokyo being a major city, you get lots of the major international brands. One thing I will say about the Japanese products, everything is exquisite and as such, pricey. We did manage to find a place where I could get Japanese souvenirs, my cosmetics and Lego sets (20% cheaper than Singapore) for my kids.
My children are not very adventurous with food, and I was worried that they have to survive on McDonald’s and Tamago. To my surprise, they really enjoyed their Japanese meals, but they are still resistant to raw fish (sashimi). Click on this link to see where and what we ate on this trip.
Regardless of your kids’ age and your planned itinerary, Tokyo was definitely an eye-opening experience with plenty for the family to enjoy. Now I understand why so many friends and mom bloggers gushes over their Japan trip. I am linking their posts here so you have a broader spectrum to plan your own trip with your family.
I hear Osaka and Hokkaido calling out my name… If you have been to any of these destinations, do share your links with me in the comments below. I will love to hear about your experiences. Connect with US on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.