Author Archives: Jamie Cowan

Aneby Trimpark

The rainy season is almost upon us, and right after that we will be faced with the depths of a humid summer. This to me signals one major thing – ideas for ways to keep children occupied indoors!3568e394-1d60-43e3-a07c-b367b3d816e7
A new play center has opened on the third floor of The Mall on 16. It is part of a chain of indoor play centers – similar to Bornelund at Aeon Mall. The name of the chain is Aneby Trimpark.2f9b12d4-60a0-4397-95b0-94e9f19a0656
The play center has a lot of wide open space for your little ones to run around, as well as engaging activities like a trampoline, indoor slide and playground, climbing wall, musical activities, a water lab, building lab, kitchen area – it’s really quite comprehensive! It was a nice change of scenery for us – and sometimes that’s what the kids need! Kim Bosack- May 20169833a1a0-877f-4078-bac7-f6a604bb5d88

PRICE: It’s 800 yen for an hour of play for kids, with a 600 yen charge for adults – and a 200 yen extension for each 15 minutes after that, or you can get an all day pass for 1600 yen for a child with the 600 yen adult charge.
HOURS: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
DIRECTIONS: To get there, take a right out the terminal gate and simply follow the signs for Route 16. About 6.5km down the road you’ll see “The Mall” on your left. Parking is free, and then just head up to the third floor!
WEBSITE:  www.anebytrimpark-labo-m.com/guide. (It is in Japanese though, but gives you a bit of an idea of the setup of the facility.)

WORD Coffee

For the coffee lovers out there who might be craving something other than Starbucks or other chains, there’s a wonderful new coffee shop that has popped up in Fussa. The owners are a young Japanese couple who are passionate about both coffee and baking. There’s a host of yummy baked treats on offer daily too – when I visited there was carrot cake, banana bread, chocolate cubes and custard cubes.1f965e01-462e-4e3a-8528-955b615f8fd8
The atmosphere is very chic and minimalistic, but warm and welcoming too. The owners also speak perfect English and have an English menu available too, so don’t let not knowing Japanese deter you from visiting!
One of the other great things about this place is they open early. I’ve found many places off base don’t tend to open as early as WORD Coffee do, which is just another reason to love them!
I know there are plenty of people who enjoy supporting the “mom and pop” type stores and this cafe is one of those places. –Kim Bosack, May 2016
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DIRECTIONS: Getting there is easy – head out the Fussa gate as if you were going to Seiyu. Continue past the Seiyu, you’ll go past Mikes Tex Mex on your left and Fussa Hospital on the right. Word Coffee is just a short walk beyond there!

HOURS: M-F 6:00 am- 5:00pm, Saturday 6:00 am-1:00 pm, Sunday-closed
PHONE: 070.4163.8269
They also have a Facebook page and Instagram account!2590b4dc-7df3-432d-bfb8-493bf50a5254

“The Dirty Dish”

In talking with friends, one told me of a place in Tokyo called The Dirty Dish.  It was supposedly a large Japanese dishware store.  I googled the name and found a few write ups on some blogs, one of which had a phone number I could use to look the place up on the map.  The google street view of the location matched one of the pictures on the blog entry, so I decided to go check the place out.  The actual Japanese name of the store is not known, but the gaijin name of The Dirty Dish stuck due to the warehouse style set up of the store.  It is located about a 90 minute drive or train ride from Yokota in the town of Kawasaki.  If you drive, there are two pay parking lots around the corner from the store that max out at 900 yen, so parking is reasonable.  If you take the train, google maps estimates about a 15-20 minute (1.2km) walk to th store from Musashi-Nakahara Station.  It definitely looks like a warehouse from the street.
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And inside there are racks and racks of dishes.  Cups, mugs, plates, bowls, tea pots, and etceteras of every shape, size, color, and pattern.  There isn’t just blue and white pattern.
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The day I went everything was 40% off the sticker price, but I’m not sure if this is an everyday discount or something that was happening on that day.  Irregardless of the discount, most items are very reasonably priced.  Cash only.  Katie Campbell, April 2016
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Phone: 044-488-4888
Hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1700, closed Sat/Sun & Holidays
Website:  http://www.okuno-co.jp/ (Can switch language to English)
Dierctions: GPS for the store:  35.572669, 139.637653
GPS for the two parking areas (across the street from each other):  35.572210, 139.637007

Tokuju, soba restaurant

Tokuju– There is a great little Soba restaurant with lots of character right out the Fussa Gate. They have a great udon, nabe yaki and katsu meals, among other things. The owners speak almost no English, but they have a (mostly) translated English menu, and you can get by with pointing 😊.  It’s has six or seven tables, several with chairs and several with the traditional tatami seating.  Nice little family-run restaurant, good prices and great food!  I think it is only open for dinner.- Emma Stober, March 2016
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Directions:  It is a 15min walk straight out the Fussa gate passed the “Y” intersection on the left hand side, two doors before the German restaurant, Stuben Ohtama.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade- Tokyo

Asia’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place in the heart of Tokyo’s Harajuku district. A section of Omotesando Street is closed to traffic for the parade and you will see everything from marching bands to the Tokyo chapter of the U2 fan club. It is a lot of fun! Also, don’t miss the I Love Ireland festival held in neighboring Yoyogi park, for food, entertainment and fun! The date varies every year, but this year (2016) the parade is being held on March 20, and begins at 1:00pm. (A quick google search will tell date and time for subsequent years).- Jamie Cowan March 20162014-03-16 13.37.00

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DIRECTIONS: Take the train to Harajuku station. Yoyogi Park and Omotesando are a quick walk from the station.

Kawaii Monster Cafe

My daughter and I were looking for something to do, and of course Japan never disappoints. 03715006-e6c0-457b-9d3a-7c3a490dcb68We went to Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku, and what a treat it was! It all started with the friendly hostess, she informed us that there’s a Y500  per person table charge, then we got to choose a place to sit. There are four sections to choose from, my daughter choose Mel-Tea Room. Once we were ready to be seated they have you wait by the door and say “you ready”? My daughter said “yes” and they opened up the door and WOW,  all you see is nothing but amazing decorations all over the place. You feel like you stepped into a magical place. My daughter couldn’t stop smiling.icecream
Once we were seated they handed over the menu, which in itself was different. We only had dessert,  but the food looked delicious too. My daughter had the Monster Girl ( Nasty) ice cream.
I’m not 100% sure if this always happens, or we got lucky, but when she ordered her ice cream  a guy dressed in a tutu skirt and mid drift top with pink hair came to our table and started playing with her hair and tickling her.
She got picked on by a kawaii monster! He did speak a little English and tried to talk to her, but my daughter was a little freaked. As for me, I couldn’t stop laughing! After all, we did come here for the kawaii monster experience, so if you don’t feel like getting messed with, you might not want to order the Nasty girl ice cream!
20160112_154909 As we were getting ready to pay, all the lights turned off and they said something in Japanese. I asked the hostess what was going on she said ” the performance was about to start”. I couldn’t believe our luck. In the middle of the Café there was a merry-go-round that actually moved, and two kawaii monster’s where dancing around.
After the performance was finished we got to take a picture with them.502198d2-5b87-4850-912a-47c16815d71f
Once we were ready to leave, a kawaii monster grabbed my daughter’s hand and escorted us to the exit where they have a small gift shop. In total we spent Y2,480 for the entrance and two ice creams.
It can be a little pricy but you have to keep in mind that you are paying for the Kawaii Monster experience.I highly recommend this café as a great family outing, or  just a great night out with friends. Some info that you should know, Lunch time 11:30-4:30 (Last entry 3:30) Dinner time 6:00-10:30-Yasmin Cruz, January 2016
Phone: +81-3-5413-6142 (Reservations accepted)
Directions: From Harajuku Station take the Omotesando Exit once you get to the major intersection make a left go all the way down until you get to the major intersection cross the street and make a left you will keep going straight once you pass American Eagle Outfitters its going to be in the YM building 4F. Take the escalators all the way up.

Daruma Doll Festival-Haijimadaishi Temple

Looking for a fun New Year’s activity? Look no further than the Daruma Doll Festival, in nearby Akishima. A visit to a shrine, within the first few days of the new year, is  very important aspect of Japanese culture, known as hatsumode.
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The lines to get to the front of the shrine will be very long,  but we bypassed the line and had a great time wandering the festival. Daruma is a good luck doll for the upcoming year. You buy a new Daruma doll each year (there were many to choose from of all sizes), and color in one eye when you make your wish. If your wish comes true during the year, you color in the other eye.2015-01-02 13.57.15
You bring last year’s Daruma to throw in the fire, which is part of the Japanese approach to the new year, “out with the old, in with the new”.
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Also look for the kabura-ya, or arrow with a “turnip” shaped tip, for a fun souvenir. These are modeled after arrows that the samurai used, to attach messages to and shoot them into a fortress or other enclosure. Now, they are sold at Shinto shrines at the new year, as protection from evil spirits.
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Of course, as with all Japanese festivals, there will also be FOOD! There were many vendor stalls set up selling your favorite Japanese street food; yakisoba, yakiniku, takoyaki, etc.2015-01-02 13.50.28

The festival is held at the Haijima Daishi temple every year on January 2nd and 3rd. Parking is extremely limited. The website recommends taking the train, closest station is Akishima station (which is the Moritown station), then it is about a 20 minute walk from Akishima station. Jamie Cowan, December 2015

Website:http://haijimadaishi.com/daruma-ichi/
Hours: 0900-1600, January 2nd and 3rd.
GPS to the shrine: 35.7056997,139.3449119

Fukubukuro- New Year’s “lucky bags”

2015-01-01 08.09.13New Year’s Day is the most important Japanese holiday, where many “firsts” are celebrated. Some of these special firsts include; first prayer, first sunrise, and first …SALE! The Japanese phenomenon known as fukubukuro, (orlucky/happy bag”), entails heading to a store on January 1-3 and buying a bag with unknown contents for a set price. The only guarantee is that the bag will be worth more than you paid, sometimes several times more, but it’s a gamble.

If you are a risk taker at heart, you will love this custom! Some stores show the contents of the bags, but most do not, it’s a complete surprise. Opening your lucky bag has all the anticipation of Christmas morning, and possibly some of the disappointment. Was it money well spent, or not?2015-01-02 08.49.17-1

For example, I spent Y3000 for this bag at a kitchen wares store, and this was its contents; a  small roasting pan with rack, frying pan, spatula, “pig” microwave lid, utensil holder, and two fish shaped kitchen sponges. This bag was definitely worth more than what I paid.

 

Head to your nearest mall, specialty store or grocery store January 1-3, to join in the fun. But, beware, if you don’t act fast you’ll miss your chance! Lucky bags are only around while supplies last. Jamie Cowan, December  2015

LaLaport Tachikawa Tachihi

2015-12-11 09.06.16Lalaport Mall is a beautiful, American style mall that just opened in Tachikawa
(near Ikea and Showa park). There are over 250 retail stores, restaurants and services to enjoy, including some of our American favorites; Old Navy, Banana Republic, American Eagle Outfitters, Diesel, Guess, Godiva,  North Face, and Starbucks,  just to name a few!

As far as dining options go, there is both a food court  and a wide variety of different restaurants. I did notice that three of the restaurants on the third floor offered a child play area. KidsBee and Mogoon were restaurants with really fun kid areas (ball pits, slides, and different activities), and Sirotan Museum, was a candy store with a play area in the back. (Cost was approximately Y300 for 1 hour or Y100 for 30 minutes at Sirotan.) None of these play areas were as large as Bornelund in Aeon Mall, but its always nice to have more restaurant/play area options! There was also an Eggs ‘n Things, Pinkberry, Cafe Amigo (someone please let us know if it’s authentic Mexican food!), and so many more.

Driving was super easy (about 20 minutes from the east gate) and there is a huge covered parking terrace with over 3,000 spots. The cost was Y500 for 1 hour and Y250 for every 30 minutes following. This added up very quickly, but take your ticket inside with you because the stores will validate with purchase, though the validation will only subtract one hour from your total. It would also be an easy train trip with the closest station being Tachihi, which is a monorail stop. The station is literally right in front of the mall entrance. Jamie Cowan, December 20152015-12-11 11.42.45

Check out the LaLaport website for a complete list of stores.

http://www.lalaport-tachikawatachihi.com/en/

HOURS: Open daily. Stores and food court: 1000-2100, Restaurants: 1100-2200, Supermarket: 0900-2200

PHONE:Tel:+81-(0)42-595-9393

TRAIN ACCESShttp://www.lalaport-tachikawatachihi.com/en/access.html

DRIVING: GPS 35.7143693,139.4148003

Kidzania!

Kidzania is such a clever concept and an absolute must if you have kids.
Arranged like a city, the basic premise is allowing the kids to try out different “jobs” in the city and get paid for their work.2014-10-08 10.51.10

There are over 50 jobs to choose from ranging from pizza maker, to flight attendant, to fire fighter, and everything in between. 2014-10-08 09.07.35 HDR

Parents are allowed to watch through the window at the different jobs, but are not allowed to participate. They really encourage the kids to be independent.

Upon arrival you will be given a schedule card, you take this to the job that you are interested in and make a reservation.
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You can only make one reservation at a time. The groups are very small for each job, so I felt like we were getting almost one on one instruction all day. Each job lasts about 30 minutes. (Smaller groups of kids are easier to handle. If you want to go in a group with friends, prepare to not hang out together. All of the scheduling takes some coordination on the part of the adult, and many jobs only take up to 4 kids per session. Just a heads up).
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After the job, the kids are paid in “kidzos” that they are able to deposit into the bank, or spend for services, food or trinkets at the “mall”. They are also given a trading card at each job, to collect.2014-10-19 14.58.55

Kidzania is one of the best things we’ve done here!
It certainly rivals Disney in every way, in my opinion.  Also, being completely indoors, it makes for a great rainy /snowy day option. I highly recommend it! Jamie Cowan, August 2015

Helpful hints:

  1. Check out the reservations page on their website, it will tell you if there is availability on any given day, or already sold out.
  2. Like anything else, I would avoid weekends and Japanese Holidays whenever possible. Coincidentally, the website actually flags the Japanese holidays for you on the calendar.
  3. Wednesday’s are English days and most of the activities are presented in English. Even on a non-English day I think you would still get the gist of what was going on, though.
  4. There are two shifts; 1st shift is from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and 2nd shift is from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. You will only be allowed in the building during your shift. No matter your shift, arrive EARLY! The line can be hours long, even with a reservation.
  5. Activities are for children 3-15 years of age. There is a toddler room, for younger siblings, but younger than 3 yrs are not allowed to participate. There are also a few parent lounges.
  6. You cannot bring in your own food, but food is available to purchase. Many of the jobs include food, like the pizza maker.
  7. Kidzania is actually inside a mall, so you won’t see it from the street.
  8. Prices; the average price for a child is Y3450 and adult Y950, however there are several price changes due to holidays and there are also discounts if you buy far enough in advance, so check the website for specifics.
  9. I had a hard time booking tickets online for some reason, but you can also purchase them from the Family Mart on base, this way you also have something tangible to hand the ticket person.
  10. The train will take approximately 80 minutes, including several transfers. Driving will take about the same, depending on traffic. You may want to consider staying at the New Sanno, before or after, which cuts the drive to 20 minutes. (Rumor has it that a Kidzania location will be opening in Tachikawa, but I can’t find any information. Fingers crossed!)

Kidzania has a very good website, in English that will also answer many questions that you may have, I recommend reading up before you go.

http://www.kidzania.jp/tokyo/en/

PHONE: 057 006 4012

TRAIN: Toyosu station is the closest station, then it is about a 10 minute walk to LaLaport Toyosu, the Kidzania location.

GPS 35.6562989 139.791486

PARKING Parking is available at LaLaport Toyosu 24 hours a day. For complete information,
please check the LaLaport Parking Accesspage.

Car height must not exceed 2.1m. The first hour of parking is free.
Guests who visit for the 1st Shift (9:00am – 3:00pm) receive 5 additional hours of free parking.
Guests who visit for the 2nd Shift (4:00pm – 9:00pm) receive 4 additional hours of free parking.
Please present your parking ticket for validation at the entrance of KidZania Tokyo.

Sushi-chu

2013-12-08 14.35.18There is Japanese food and Japanese cuisine…Sushi-chu offers the latter – to the maximum delicious degree. Prices are reasonable, the staff is learning English to serve their customers, and the atmosphere is cozy and relaxing. You can order from their set menu, or create your own experience by ordering a la carte. The restaurant is family-run and family-friendly (kids can even roll their own sushi). Sushi-chu delivers on taste, freshness, presentation – and most importantly, a welcoming staff.2013-12-08 15.03.31

2013-12-08 16.02.37Arrive with cash (yen) and park next to the building on the West side. You can even reserve special tatami rooms to dine in. This would be a great place to take visitors for an authentic Japanese experience. Pictures, Jamie Cowan, July 2015

DIRECTIONS:This restaurant is about 20 minutes away from base, in Hachioji.

Phone number: 042-691-0230

Coordinates: 35.708078, 139.295207

Website: http://www.sushi-chu.com/pg9.html

Tripadvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1060898-d6656894-r290066255-Tobuki_Sushichu-Hachioji_Tokyo_Prefecture_Kanto.html#

Yasukuni Shrine

IMG_4016Yasukuni shrine is a Shinto shrine in central Tokyo, close to the Imperial Palace,
that commemorates Japan’s war dead.  The purpose of this shrine is to enshrine those who have died in war for their country and sacrificed their lives for Japan.

A political controversy IMG_4013surrounds Yasukuni because since 1978, fourteen class A war criminals (including General Hideki Tojo from WWII ) are among the 2.5 million enshrined here.  Several Japanese prime ministers and cabinet members come here to pay their respects, which infuriates some from China and South Korea.  They believe it is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Each time I have been there, there have been Japanese news personnel watching to see if anyone noteworthy was paying their respects.

Next to the shrine stands the Yushukan, a fascinating museum thatIMG_4014 commemorates and documents Japan’s wars from a very pro Japanese point of view.   Let’s just say their take on WWII is VERY interesting.  If you are a history buff, or have a visitor that is, you should definitely check it out.

 

Around the shrine grounds there are hundreds of cherry trees, including Tokyo’s representative cherry tree that is used by the meteorological agency to pronounce the official opening of the season in Tokyo.  It is also widely considered one of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom viewing spots.

This shrine also has several very impressive Torii gates, and two huge stone lanterns ( Japan’s largest) built to honor the Army and Navy respectively.

There is a weekly Sunday flea market on the grounds, except during the blossom viewing in April. Merri Kever, July 2015

Yasukuni Shrine
Hours 6:00 to 18:00 from may to August, to 17:00 from November to February
No closing days
Free

Yushukan Museum
9:00 to 16:30 (admission until 16:00)
A few irregular closure days in late June and late December
Cost:  800 yen

DIRECTIONS:
Yasukuni shrine is a short walk from Kudanshita Station on the Hanzomon, Tozai, and Shinjuku Subway lines.

From Shinjuku station
Take the Shinjuku subway line directly from Shinjuku to Kudanshita Station.  It takes about 8 min

From Tokyo Station
Take the maranouchi subway line to Otemachi, then the Hanzomon Subway line to Kudanshita.  About 5 min total.

Hiking Mt. Fuji with kids

Every year thousands of people make the trek to the top of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s 2014-07-14 15.03.17tallest peak. A hike up Mt. Fuji most popularly begins at the “5th station” and ends at the 10th station, or summit. The Outdoor Recreation group, on base, take many trips to Fuji every summer, but you must be 16 years or older to join their tours. Though quite a challenging hike, it is very possible for children of all ages to make it to the top. My daughters were 6 and 7 when we made our trip up Mt. Fuji, so here are a few tips and suggestions for anyone considering this amazing adventure.

First off, and most importantly, your child needs to have the desire. If they are not 100% on board, I would not attempt it. The going can certainly get rough, so having your child’s buy in is paramount. (**TIP- if you think your child is not “all in” you can still easily make it to the 6th station, take in the views, turn around and have ice cream at the 5th station, and call it a day.)2014-08-09 08.28.04 HDR

The terrain is challenging, but not insurmountable. The 5th to 7th station trail is mostly gravelly rock on a steep incline.2014-08-09 07.00.52 HDR

After the 7th station, it gets more rocky, and boulder-like. My girls almost did better than we did because kids are so agile with low centers of gravity!2014-08-09 08.49.11 HDR

And closer to the top, it is almost straight up, like a stair case.2014-08-09 13.20.57 HDR

The down route consists of switchbacks all the way down the mountain, which I found considerably easier than the up. And it’s much faster, too. (If you don’t make it to the top, there is a path to reach this down route around the 8.5 station. Find it! It will make life easier.)2014-08-09 14.38.43

The Yoshida Trail is the most popular trail and also the most accessible from base. There are several mountain huts with food, and drink along the way, also lots of restrooms along the way, which cost about Y200, for each use. (Keep in mind, you may only go inside  most of the huts if you are staying the night there. There is no other form of shelter on the mountain, as you are way above the tree line. This can get difficult if you run into bad weather.)2014-08-09 11.15.53 HDR

Speaking of weather, the volatility of this mountain is your biggest unknown and can either make or break your trip. Even if you have clear skies at the bottom, you never know what’s going on up top. High winds are common, as is rain and even snow in early July. Trust me, staying dry is HUGE when it comes to reaching the summit, especially with kids. We bought the cheap plastic rain outfits from a convenience store and cut them off to fit. I think this was a difference maker in our success. (On the other hand, I had a friend get third degree burns on her lips from sun exposure, so be prepared for anything and everything!) I like this website for weather at the top. http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Fuji-san/forecasts/37762014-08-09 12.47.55 HDRAltitude sickness can also be a very real problem for people of all ages. Make sure you take lots of breaks and have lots of snacks and drinks on hand. (Find out more about altitude sickness here. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html) I would recommend buying an oxygen can at Outdoor Recreation before you go, if you don’t need it then they will let you return it for a refund. This was a difference maker in my oldest daughter reaching the top. (You remove the lid and it attaches like a face mask, then push the button and breathe.)2014-08-10 07.35.53

Lets talk logistics. The hiking season is very short, officially only July and August, and sometimes the first few weeks of September. During July and August, the toll road that leads to the 5th station is closed to local traffic. You must park and ride the shuttle to the 5th station to begin your hike. The Fuji Hokuroku is a great place to park and the shuttle runs every 30 minutes to the 5th station, and takes approximately 30 minutes. (See the schedule here; http://www.pref.yamanashi.jp/kankou-sgn/documents/jikokuhyou.pdf ) Cost of parking is Y1,000 and cost of the shuttle, round trip, is Y1,860 adult and Y930 child, cash only. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes between 0530-2200 Sunday-Thursday and 0430-2200 on Friday and Saturday. You don’t need reservations for the shuttle, just show up and buy your ticket at a hut at the parking lot.

Be sure to take lots of yen, even more then you think you’ll need. If you are planning to buy food and water, everything gets more expensive the higher you get.  Don’t forget, the restrooms cost Y200 per use and you may want to purchase a souvenir hiking stick, as well. The initial cost was Y1,200 and you can buy stamps from each hut you reach. Each stamp costs about Y200-400, but it is such a one-of-a-kind souvenir, I’m really glad I have it.2014-08-11 15.03.00

When you make it to the top, there is an actual town with a shrine, and a ramen shop, of course! You can circle the crater if you wish, which will add an extra hour to your trip. For us, getting to the top and down before dark was our goal. It took us 8 hours to reach the summit, we spent about 30 minutes at the top, and 3 hours to climb down.    We took the 0500 shuttle and began the hike at 0530, and were back at the car by 1900 and home around 2100. So, plan for a long day. Also, throw some dry clothes in the car, for the return. Just in case! (You might consider spending the night before or after at Camp Fuji, this really cut down our drive time in the morning).2014-08-09 13.30.52 HDR

This is a good website for general information. http://www.fujiyama-navi.jp/fujitozan/en/ And, definitely stop into Outdoor Recreation to pick up a map and a list of packing essentials. They are very knowledgeable about the mountain and you can even rent water gear, and adult hiking boots. We found some very reasonable hiking boots for our daughters at Sports Depo, across from Moritown mall.2014-07-13 04.47.52 HDR

The bottom line is, you know your kid and their personality. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “fun” activity, but it was a very rewarding one for our family. It was a very good test of will and perseverance, and my  daughters still talk about lessons learned while on the side of Mt. Fuji often. So, be prepared, do your homework, and make some memories! Jamie Cowan, July 2015

DIRECTIONS TO HOKUROKU PARKING LOT: Plan on this drive taking you about 1.5 hours from base. GPS coordinates, 35.4819018, 138.7734145

Shimokitazawa

IMG_4002Be prepared to get pleasantly surprised if you get a chance to visit this small
hipster neighborhood called Shimokitazawa.  This bustling area is full of cheap eateries, gadget shops, vintage clothing, retro furniture and a ton of performance venues.

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This area is a lot of small alleyways waiting to be explored, so take your time and enjoy.  It focuses on second hand stores with a lot of character.  I got 2 great skirts for 800 yen!

The train station divides the area in a northern and southern part, with the north having an edgy, but sophisticated urban touch to it.
Vintage stores, and coffee houses are  found in abundance.  If you see the Canadian flag hanging in an alleyway here, you may have some amazing poutine if that is something you like.

The southern exit  is where the going out scene takes place.  Live music venues, IMG_4004restaurants and bars, tattoo shops, as well as some gaming and arcade centers.

Shimokitazawa is only four minutes from Shibuya station on the Inokashira lines.  Or 7 minutes from shinjuku on the Odakyu line.  Merri Kever, July 2015

Burger Mania

If you find yourself at the New Sanno and you have a craving for a great burger, then this place is a must.  Without question one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

IMG_4005Burger Mania is a little cafe with eccentric choices, which include; the cherry cream cheese topped burger, blue cheese burger topped with Roquefort and Gorgonzola, or a seasonal peach topped burger, to name a few.  They are perhaps most known for the Avocado burger and the BBQ cheeseburger.  It should win extra points for having a vegetarian option, substituting grilled veggies and cheese for the meat. The average price of the burgers were between 900-1300 yen.  Includes a small salad, and either onion rings or fries.

There is also a location in Shirokane if you are interested in going there as well.

Hours: 11:30-2300 daily.
Closed on the third Monday each month

Location:  Burger Mania is located about exactly half way between exit 1 and exit 3 of Hiroo station.  If you are walking from the New Sanno, go past exit 1 of Hiroo station, and start looking for signs for Burger Mania.  It’s on the second floor of a brick building.  Citibank is just past it.  Enjoy! Merri Kever, July 2015

How to ride the train

The Tokyo train system can be very intimidating to a newcomer, but it’s not that bad when armed with the right tools. There are two train systems, the above ground lines and the underground lines (subway). I was terrified the first time I saw the train system maps below! But, don’t spend too much time with the maps, the best way to navigate is with a smart phone.
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There are many apps to choose from, but my favorite is called Hyperdia. (**TIP- Just google Hyperdia.com on your phone and bookmark it rather than buy the app. It’ll save you money and I actually found the app not as efficient.) Then follow a few easy steps.

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STEP 1 Type in the station you are leaving from, where you want to go, and the time you wish to leave.

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STEP 2 A lot of different routes will display. Look them over and select your favorite.

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STEP 3 Each route will tell you how long the trip will take and how much yen it will cost. Also, which station and line to transfer to. For example, when you arrive in Shinjuku station, look for a sign that says “Yamanote line”, and go there to wait for the final leg of your trip.

***TIP- See under the Tachikawa station where it says “special rapid”? This is a faster train that does not make as many stops, so your travel time to Shinjuku will only take about 35 minutes. There is also a “rapid” which is not quite as fast, and then the “local” line, which will make every stop on the line. This will add at least 15 minutes to your trip.

When you enter the station, you will need to know where you are going in order to buy the correct fare. This is where having a Suica card comes in handy becuase the signs are not always in English. (Learn how to buy a Suica card here: http://yokotatravel.com/how-to-buy-a-suica-card/)2015-06-25 09.57.16

Enter through the turn style and proceed to the platform.2015-06-25 10.11.25

Watch for the signs directing you to the correct track.2015-06-25 10.14.34

Now, its time to wait.2015-06-25 10.09.41 HDR

 Look for the electronic sign above, it switches between Japanese and English and will tell you if you are waiting in the right place. It also indicates if it is a Special rapid, rapid, or local train.2015-06-25 10.10.15 HDR

When you reach your destination, look for the map near the exit and it will tell you landmarks in the area, and also which exit to take to get you where you’re going. Some of the train station’s are massive, so this is really helpful.   2015-06-25 09.56.57

And, that’s about it! The best way to get started is to JUST DO IT! Plan a trip that is nearby, like Tachikawa, and go for it. The more you challenge yourself, the easier it will become. Also, don’t hesitate to ask people for help, you will usually always find someone with enough English to point you in the right direction. And if you miss a train? No worries, another one will be along in a few minutes. Now, get out and see something! Jamie Cowan, July 2015

How to buy a Suica card

Train travel in Japan can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, the sky’s the limit! Yes, you can purchase an individual fare ticket, but life is so much easier with the Suica card. It is a re-loadable card that allows you to simply scan the card at the station, and it will deduct the money as you exit at your destination, just like a debit card. Here’s how you do it in a few easy steps!

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STEP 1 Find a ticket machine at the station with the Suica banner above. (Not all machines sell new Suica cards.)

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STEP 2 In the top right corner of the machine, there will be an “English” button, first select that, then choose the blue button titled “purchase new Suica”.

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STEP 3 Select the middle button titled Suica. (NOT the one called My Suica).

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STEP 4 Select how much money you would like to load onto the card. (Keep in mind, the purchase of the Suica card is Y500, so that will not count towards your balance.)

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STEP 5 Insert your money (cash only) into the proper slot at the bottom of the machine.

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And your card will dispense from the slot below. It’s that easy! (Remember, losing your card is just like losing cash, you will not be refunded any balance.)

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You are good to go! Approach the turn style with the green “in” arrow.

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Place your card directly over the blue window and the gate will open. And that’s it!

***Don’t forget- this card is re-loadable. To check your balance, simply insert your card into any machine, and it will display your balance. Then, add more yen if needed.

A children’s Suica card is also available for purchase, but you must go to the window with the child’s passport and purchase directly with an agent, since children travel at half fare. Not every station sells children’s cards , but depending on which side of base you live on, Akishima (at Moritown mall),  and Haijima,  are the closest options.2015-06-25 10.14.08

***Children under 6 years of age do not need train fare. Simply swipe your own card and walk through the turn style together. There is usually a wider lane with no turn style doors for strollers or wheel chair use. (The rules regarding children’s fares can be a bit confusing, but 6 years of age is when the child is considered school age, therefore needing train fare.The Japanese school system begins in April, so if your child turns 6 prior to April, 1st of the current year, you must buy a card. If your child turns 6 after April of the current year, you are good until the next April. Hope that makes sense!) Jamie Cowan, June 2015.