Japan trip & why you should take your kids to Tokyo too

So I clearly haven’t blogged in a (long) while, but I am going to cut myself some slack because I have busy… really busy (but more on that later). So, let’s start the process of catch up…

Leo and I just got back from a 10 day adventure in Japan! Random, I know.  There were a few reasons for this trip: we had friends living in Tokyo for the summer, the endless weeks of school vacation coupled with the fact that Leo refused to attend his usual summer camp (“it’s too hot!!!”) and generally, I thought it would be good for him to get outside of his comfort zone and see a little more of the world. Lucy’s school is year-round (thank god) and since she is too little to do a proper on-the-go city vacation with a lot of walking, she stayed behind with Lenny.

With all of the chaos of the end of the school year and two other family trips (Laguna beach and Alaska), I didn’t actually have a lot of time to plan this trip the way that I normally would- which was fine because there is so much to do in Tokyo! The trip was amazing- here’s why:

  1. Amazing Transportation: You can get basically anywhere you want to go in Tokyo (we also went to Kyoto & Nara) on a subway or train- and it’s cheap. Driving in foreign countries is not something I can handle. In Tokyo (and a few other cities in JApan) they use Suica cards (preloaded debit cards) for transportation. You just buy your Suica card and go… you can also use it at convince stores, supermarkets and even some restaurants.
  2. So much to do! There are so many cool neighborhoods, restaurants, museums, temples, parks, activities that Leo and I barely scratched the surface in 10 days.
  3. A lot of kid-friendly activities. If you’re kids get over-museumed, over walked, etc. there is bound to be a rainbow soft-serve shop or kid-oriented activity easily accessible from where you are.

Our home base in Tokyo was the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, not the Park Hyatt for sure but it was perfect for traveling with Leo for a few reasons. It was only a 10 minute walk from Shinjuku station, one of the main train stations in Tokyo which made it very easy to get where we needed to go every day. The hotel is also home to a surprisingly good pizza restaurant, a small shopping center on the main floor with fast casual restaurants and a 7-11 (there are enough odes to Japanese 7-11 on the web that I won’t add to the clutter- but it’s AMAZING) and it has a GIANT Godzilla outside on the 8th floor lobby terrace that Leo found super entertaining. You can even make him roar!

terrace--v13452498.jpg
photo via TripAdvisor

 

 

Leo and I booked the larger of the two double rooms and the rooms was TINY. This ended up being a good thing. Because the room was so small we really didn’t want to hang out there during the day so we usually just got up and at it early and came back and crashed at night.

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Witchcraft and or special photo lens used to make this room seem more spacious.

A typical day would have us up at 6:00AM (jet lag), hitting hotel breakfast and out the door by 8:00AM… It was also miserably hot and humid while we were there so there were a lot of stops for cold treats and AC along the way. I have to say that I was amazed by how good Leo was, even though we walked miles and miles every day in the heat he was such a trooper and always excited for the next activity.

I tried to balance the trip so that there was a little of what I wanted to do mixed with more kid-focused activities. Rather than give you a breakdown of what we did everyday I am just going to give you a quick laundry list of our (fairly touristy) activities and what we thought of them.

Tsukiji Fish Market– So much more than just fish! Every kind of bean, rice, grain and veggie you can imagine and also some that you can’t. And yes, also a lot of fish… dried and fresh. The actual commercial fish market is moving in a few months but the outer market was the best thing to see anyways. If you’re looking to buy kitchenware or fancy Japanese knives- make sure to check it out. We booked a private tour through Voyagin which was super-helpful because the market is HUGE and I would have totally gotten lost if I tried to do it on my own.

Ninja restaurant– Really fun and surprisingly really good food for a tourist attraction.

Harajuku Monster Cafe– Skip it.  If you’re going, you’re probably going just for the gram and the lighting is pretty terrible in there. It’s just a cafe on the top floor of a shopping complex. They were also out of basically every food option on the menu when we were there but every person was required to order a drink and menu item. WTF.

Animal Cafes- Japan is known for it’s animal cafés. The logic is that people live in small spaces and don’t have pets so they can go experience them in a café setting. I call bullshit. These cafes seem to be mainly for tourist and Leo really wanted to go to one. I found a rather nice looking cat cafe by the Harijuku train station but Leo was too young to go in so we ended up at an Akita cafe (which had an owl area as well). It was pretty sad, none of the dogs wanted to be around people. And the owl area was dark and terrifying- the owls clearly didn’t want to be there and even lashed out when we walked by… maybe we just had a bad experience but I would say skip these if you go to Japan.

Tokyo Disneysea– We had a great day at this park! Admission is so cheap compared to Disneyland (only $120 for me and Leo!) and he was tall enough to ride every ride. Even though it was crazy hot they do a lot here to combat the heat from outdoor air conditioning to indoor play areas with rides.  The people watching was also amazing. There were barely any children the day that we went and the park seemed to be filled with adult annual pass holders that came in groups with matching Disney-themed outfits- couples, groups of friends, families… so fascinating.

Akihabara– This is more of a neighborhood than an attraction press but don’t miss it. There are hundreds of arcades to test your skills at everything from Mariocart to Guitar Hero. Leo and I had a ton of fun here finding out how bad we were at video games Smoking seems to be allowed in a lot of the arcades based on what I smelled, though I didn’t actually see anyone smoking.

Odaiba– This is a weird man-made island in the Tokyo Bay that is basically a giant shopping mall but there is a ton of stuff for kids to do. We checked out Legoland (a small indoor playground with a few rides and a lot of AC), the beach, and the Daikanranaha (not that impressive on a hazy day). Tickets to the TeamLab museum were sold out the day we were there and I was super bummed because it looks pretty cool.

Shopping- Now I did not get to shop as much as I wanted to because 6 year old boys just can’t spend hours hunting through garment racks with glee but if you’re in Tokyo and you want to shop I recommend this awesome Japanese line (in Harijuku) and this shop in the Lumine Est department store in Shinjuku where I was able to find some cool Japanese designers. I probably had the most fun shopping at Kiddyland toy store where I found all sorts of great Hello Kitty stuff for Lucy and random only-in-Japan items like Star Wars sheet mask.

Other Tokyo attractions we checked out Meiji Shrine which was not only beautiful but a nice escape from the city, the Edo Museum (supercool and good for kids), and the Samurai Museum which I thought was cool but Leo found a little boring.

We also took a quick trip to Kyoto and Nara which I will try to post about later. Here are some photos of the highlights. You will notice from the photos that it looks like Leo took a solo trip to Japan, that is the downside to traveling alone with a child who can’t quite angle and iPhone yet…

 

 

 

 

 

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