Author Archives: Straus

Legoland Discovery Center

sarah straus legolandWe took our 6-year-old Lego loving son and 4-year-old daughter to Legoland on a rainy Sunday and had a wonderful time.  While there are plenty of places to just sit and build with Legos or build Lego race cars and race them; there are other things to do as well.  As you enter Legoland, you walk through an amazing lego replica of Tokyo that goes from day to night.  It is so detailed and imaginative.  Inside the main section there is a small ride called Merlin’s Sarah Straus LegolandApprentice, a large play area that invites kids to climb, crawl, and go down slides (for kids only) and a 4-D movie.  The movie plays every 30 minutes and is about 15 minutes long.  They provide 3-D glasses.  The movie is really loud and rather intense with lights that flash, wind that blows and even rain!  There was a long line when we entered for a ride called Kingdom Quest, so we skipped that one but it looked great too.  Stopping for one snack break at the snack bar inside, our kids played here for about 3 hours.  Couple this trip with walking along the beach in front of Decks Mall and enjoy the sand, view of Rainbow Bridge and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.  There are plenty of restaurants on site, some shopping, and nearby there is a large Ferris wheel.

Fred-9727Legoland is located in Decks Mall in Odaiba.  It is open from 10am to 9pm with last admission at 7pm.  Go to their webpage to purchase tickets ahead of time and save money on the entrance fee and avoid standing in a long line.  We had pre-purchased our tickets through their webpage for a day that snowed.  Though we couldn’t go on our appointed time, this wasn’t a problem.  We just took our receipt a few weeks later and for an extra ¥200 each we got right in.  There is a large parking lot for the mall for ¥500 per hour.  We went on a Sunday and got there in just under an hour.  The rail line Odaiba-Kaihin Kouen station on the Yurikamome Line is a 2 minute walk away.  For more information go to their webpage – Sarah Straus, March 2014.

Sarah Straus Legoland

 

Rose Town Tea Garden

FB-6319Rose Town Tea Garden is a beautiful English tea house that serves a large selection of teas and lunch.  Located in Ome, just over the bridge from Yoshino Baigo, it is surprising to drive up to this white, Victorian looking building.  Prior to being a tea house, it was a wedding chapel.  Perched on the edge of the valley, you can enjoy the view of the Tama River, bridge crossing into Yoshino Baigo, and beautiful trees from the veranda.  During the summer months the veranda is open to the warm air and in winter closed in with windows allowing for the view and the sun, but not the cold.

FB-6315When you enter, the first thing you do is pick your tea.  There are roughly 30 teas to choose from.  Samples of each tea are kept in little jars at the entrance and you get to smell each one before you decide.  There are several set menus.  If you choose the full set it comes with soup, salad, sandwiches, scones, and dessert.  Everything is hand made and even the jam for scones is made from the local garden.  The full set costs ¥2800.

The first time I came to Rose Town Tea Garden my friend had called for reservations and we took our 4 year old daughters wearing their fancy dresses and pearls.  The girls had strawberry tea that turned pink and we all enjoyed our very special date.  The second time I came with a girlfriend and found it a wonderfully relaxing place for conversation.  With the amazing food, sun warming us on the veranda, classical music playing and watching the birds sail through the valley, having tea here is a wonderful experience.

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11am – 5pm.  Phone: 080 4187 1727.  Webpage: rosetownjapan.com.  They are also on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/rosetownteagarden.  Located along Route 411 at GPS coordinates: 35.791089, 139.228129. – Sarah Straus, Michelle Nexon & Megan Miller, March 2014; photos Sarah Straus.

Spring Flowers near Yokota

Spring is such a magical time in Japan.  Here is a list of some of my favorite places to see spring unfold near Yokota Air Base.  Each location is linked to a full trip report with directions and gps coordinates.  Do you have another favorite place to add?  Great!  Add it in comments or send us an email: yokotatravel@gmail.com.  – Sarah Straus, February, 2014.

sarah straus cherryCherry Blossoms: There are so many great places to see cherry trees in bloom all over greater Tokyo including of course at Yokota.  Typically they bloom late March through early April.  For one prediction of the 2014 Cherry Blossoms see: www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html or www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php.

Showa Kinen Park – The cherry orchard is located adjacent to the big center field and the tulip garden.

Tama River walk in Fussa – There is a trail that runs along the Tama River and part of it is lines with Cherry trees.  It is an especially nice place to run or bike.

Koganei Park – There are hundreds of cherry trees here adjacent to the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum.  Time your visit right and you might go on the free museum day.  Photo above taken at Koganie Park on March 28, 2013 – a year the cherry blossoms bloomed very early.

Inokashira Park at Kichijoji – I missed seeing the cherry trees here the last two years but I won’t make that mistake this year!  I’m looking forward to riding a swan boat under the cherry blossoms!

Ueno Park – Ueno park is a popular spot for seeing cherry blossoms in Tokyo.  We don’t have a photo for Ueno park… so if you have one, please share!

Tokyo River Cruise – There are beautiful cherry trees in bloom along the river at Sumida Park in downtown Tokyo.  If you start at Sensoji Temple and head toward the river, you’ll run right into cherry trees, a fabulous playground, and nearby a place to board the boats for a cruise up the river.

sarah straus tulipsTulips at Showa Kinen Park – Don’t miss the amazing tulip garden at Showa Kinen Park in April.  This photo was taken April 10, 2013.

sarah straus poppiesPoppies at Showa Kinen Park – The poppies also bloom in April at Showa Kinen Park and there is a large field of them adjacent to the tulips.  This photo was taken April 10, 2013.

sarah straus azaleasAzalea’s at Shiofune Kannon – The Azaleas at Shiofune bloom late April to early May.  This photo was a bit early in the season, taken on April 22, 2013.

sarah straus irisIrses at Fukiage Iris Park – This Iris park, located near Shiofune Kannon, is a great place to visit in June.  This photo was taken June 15, 2013.

ADDITIONS

Hamura tulips Rebekah Storman2Rebekah Storman, Feb, 2014: Another great spot for viewing the tulips close to Yokota is in Hamura. Half of the year the fields are planted with rice, once the rice is harvested the tulips are planted. This pic was taken with my phone (not the best quality) on April 8, 2013.  The parking fee was ¥500. No entrance fee to walk through the tulip fields. There’s a “tower” like structure in the middle of the fields to get a bird’s eye view of the tulips. Taka at the Yujo gave me a hand drawn map last year. That’s the best place to go for directions.  GPS: 35.759410, 139.303065.

sarah straus yoshino baigoPlum Trees at Yoshino Baigo:
Unfortunately, they had to cut down all the plum trees due to  a plum pox virus infection in May 2014. According to the website, the park still has other flowers during the spring. (March 2016)
The plum trees bloom first, late February to Mid-March.  One of the best places to see many types of plum trees blooming is Yoshino Baigo, toward Mt. Mitake in Ome.  The photo above was taken March 9th, 2013, which for 2013 was too early to see all of the trees in bloom.  *** I’ve heard there is a problem with the Yoshino Baigo trees and they may need to cut them down and replant***

 

 

 

La Salsita Restaurant, Tokyo

jenn kantzLa Salsaita is a Mexican restaurant located near The New Sanno in Tokyo.  It is an authentic Mexican restaurant an easy walking distance from the hotel.  Their menu features standard tacos, tamales and enchiladas with the options of unique region specific Mexican dishes.  My husband and I ordered the tacos (delish!) and tamales.  For my daughters we ordered the enchiladas.  Also on their menu is 30+ bottles of tequila with background information about each bottle and about tequila in general.  We had their standard margarita and there was nothing “standard” about it – yum!  On a Tuesday night around 6:15 we walked in and took their last four seats available.  This place is busy!  Go early, enjoy the food, the mix of languages, and have a margarita.

DIRECTIONS: Exit the The New Sanno and turn left.  Take an immediate left onto the narrow road between the The New Sanno and the French Embassy. The restaurant is about a 5 minute walk straight ahead. It will be on the right, basement level, before the Burdigala Bakery. – Jennifer Kantz, January 2014

Yokohama Chinatown & Landmark Tower

sarah straus yokohama-1820With Tokyo so close, it is easy to overlook Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama.  However there is a lot to do in Yokohama and the city is a great day trip destination from Yokota.  On our first adventure to Yokohama we visited the seafront at Landmark Tower and then Chinatown.

sarah straus yokohama-1751Landmark Tower.  There is a lot to do and see in and around Landmark Tower. Take the fastest elevator in Japan to the 69th floor for an amazing view of the city, sarah straus yokohama-1746waterfront and Mt. Fuji.  Open 10am-9pm; Adults ¥1000, High School ¥800, Elementary ¥500, under age 4 ¥200.  The Landmark Tower building is beautiful inside and houses several floors of shopping and restaurants as does the adjacent Queens Square.  There are many restaurants to chose from including some American favorites: Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks, and Sizzler.  Head outside to find the waterfront area with lots to do.  A giant Ferris wheel, huge sculptures, an amusement park, an old dry dock, the Yokohama Port Museum, and the Yokohama Museum of Art are all right outside Landmark Tower.  The thing we enjoyed most was touring the Nippon Maru, a sailing ship built in 1930.  Our kids enjoyed going below decks and seeing the Cadet’s cabins, Captains quarters, engine room and dining rooms.  We went on a Sunday in January and found lively street performances and everything was open, but the area wasn’t overly crowded.  There is a huge and affordable parking garage underneath Landmark Tower.  Park there and be sure to get your parking validated if you eat in one of the restaurants or shop in the mall.

sarah straus yokohama-1829Chinatown.  Chinatown was a bit busier and we just walked around the area and enjoyed the storefronts, people and architecture.  We found street parking close to one of the Chinatown entrances.

There is certainly a lot more to do in Yokohama.  Here is a link to the Yokohama Visitors Guide-Sarah Straus, January 2014.

DIRECTIONS:  GPS coordinates for Landmark Tower parking lot entrance: 35.45426, 139.630833.  See map below.  GPS coordinate to Chinatown: 35.443059, 139.644007.

View Larger Map
More photos from Landmark Tower Areasarah straus yokohama-1790

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Fujiya Camera – New & Used

Tamra Honchul Fujiya CameraFujiya Camera, located near Nakano station, carries a wide selection of new and used camera bodies, lenses and other gear.  The store is about 70 years old, well staffed, and easy to get to by train on the JR Chuo line heading toward Tokyo.  Small, but jam packed, the store is two stories, with Canon, Sony and other camera types on the first floor and Nikon upstairs.  When my friend and I went there were a number of customers calling in for prices and staff were hurrying around on phones grabbing cameras off the shelf.  Camera’s are rated from A (best quality) through AB+, AB, AB-, B and so on.  Run their webpage through a google translator and click on “common questions” to get a description of these ratings.  You’ll also find an online store with their new and used camera prices so you can do a little research before going.  Webpage: www.fujiya-camera.co.jp.  I did buy a used camera body there and was told that I had 10 days to return it if there was a camera defect.  Also it came with a 6 month repair warranty.  There are no returns on new lenses.  If you go I suggest the following: 1. Do your homework ahead of time and know specifically what you are shopping for.  It would be a good idea to have a print out of the camera/lenses you want that includes a price in dollars so you can compare.  2. Be aware that it is a tightly packed place and not the most kid friendly.  3. Understand how their used cameras are ranked and look the camera over carefully before buying.  You should be able to turn on the camera and check it out or put used lenses onto your camera before purchase.  4. If you buy a used camera body, ask the staff to change the language to English for you.

If you start looking around, there are a number of new and used camera stores all over Tokyo, particularly in Akihabara.  I’ve not shopped at those, so cannot compare stores or prices.  Fujiya Camera is open 10am – 8:30pm.  GPS 35.707473, 139.668425.

sarah straus nakano stationDIRECTIONS: Take the train to Tachikawa.  From Tachikawa take a Chuo line train toward Tokyo.  I would recommend a commuter special rapid if you can catch one as both the rapid and commuter special rapids stop in Nakano.  It is the last major stop before Shinjuku.  When you get off the train, head toward the large, arched sun mall (see photo above).  It is fun to poke around in here too!  But rather than enter the arched Sun mall entrance, turn right and then turn left on the first little side street with the KFC on it.  From here I think we just took the next right and found it. – Sarah Straus, Jan 2014, top photo by Tamra Honchul, Feb 2014.

Comments: A friend and I took her old Canon into Fujiya Camera store for a trade in and she was able to complete the transaction all at once.  While she looked at the camera she was interested in, the guy helping her looked her camera over then offered her an amount for the camera.  It all went smoothly and my friend was able to get some money knocked off the used camera she upgraded to. – Sarah Straus, June 2014.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building at Shinjuku

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From the two observatories in the Tokyo Metro Government building near Shinjuku Station you can see an amazing 360 degree view of Tokyo and it is FREE!  Look at a map when you get off the train at Shinjuku to locate the TMG building – it  is about four long blocks away.  Once you are near the building, signs will direct you toward the elevators and there is staff at the bottom and top to assist.  Depending on when you go there may be a line.  My husband and I went after sunset to the North Observatory.  There are windows all the way around, a little store, and a bar at the top. 2013-09-02 15.29.24

After walking around to enjoy the view from each window we had a beer at the bar.  The bar faces windows that overlook both Tokyo Tower and Skytree. Very romantic!  On a clear day you can even see all the way to Mt. Fuji. The walk to and from the TMG building from Shinjuku Station is also fun at night.   North Observatory hours: 9:30pm -10:30pm.  South Observatory hours: 9:30-5:30pm.  Every Monday one or the other observatory is closed.  They are both closed from Dec 29th through Jan 3rd.  There is a cafe in the South Observatory and a Cafe plus bar in the North Observatory.  – Sarah Straus, December 2013.

Australia and New Zealand

Amanda Martin AustraliaTo get to Australia, we took an overnight flight on Jetstar from Narita to Cairns. It was about 7 hours in the air. They also fly a simultaneous route from Narita to Gold Coast. Since it is a discount carrier, there are no meals included in the flight. You either need to take your own or purchase ahead of time from Jetstar when booking your reservation. They also have ipads loaded with shows and games available to rent for $15 AU. We were very surprised when we arrived at Narita and they would not allow our 1 year old to take her car seat on board because it was not Australian. They re-ticketed her to infant in arms at the gate but please note this if you are traveling with a small child.

In order to enter Australia you must have an ETA visa which you can apply for online at www.immi.gov.au. The cost is $25 AU per person.  1459829_539486752816064_2137470165_nCairns has a million things to do. Cuddle a Koala, feed a Kangaroo, swim the Great Barrier Reef, watch bats during their evening migration on the Esplanade, explore the Daintree rainforest, day trip to Port Douglas, and much more. We only stayed for 2 days but could have spent a week. For us the highlight was our day on the reef with SeaStar – they were incredibly kid friendly and the boat was small enough we got personal service.

To Australia and to New Zealand we flew Jetstar and Virgin Australia discount carriers. From Cairns we flew 2 hours south to Gold Coast and stayed near the beach in surfers paradise. The surf was very strong for our 1 and 3 year olds and even though they had a good time playing in the waves it wasn’t an ideal beach situation for them. We spent one day at Sea World which was fun but not up to US standards. With older kids there are many theme parks to enjoy, and they offer combo tickets which really helps with the price. From Gold Coast you are also close to many rainforest experiences.

On to Sydney, another 2 hour flight – the harbor was enjoyable (Opera house, Sydney bridge, botanical gardens). We did not have time to venture outside of Sydney to the beaches or the Blue Mountains but these looked very interesting. We found a wonderful playground in Darling Harbor after visiting the Sea Life Aquarium and from there took a cheap ferry back to Sydney Harbor, giving incredible views of the Opera House without the crowds.

New Z Amanda MartinFrom Sydney we flew to Queenstown, NZ. Entry into New Zealand does not require a visa. However, their customs is VERY strict. They will inspect all food (even prepackaged) and clean anything that could track in unwanted items (your untitled-00886shoes, bike, tent, etc.). Plan for it to take a while to get into the country. Car rental was very reasonable, although gas was pricy. Also plentiful were companies renting converted mini-van camper vans. There are not hotels in the smaller towns on the south island so we had the luxury of staying in bed and breakfasts that were very lovely. Our tour of the south island included Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound, Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, and then we flew out of Christchurch. Highlights were the Milford AustraliaSound cruise we took with Real Journeys, jetboating on Lake Wanaka, and the Earth and Sky tour of Mt. John Observatory in Lake Tekapo. For an incredible cottage stay check out the Park Brae Estate in Tekapo. – Amanda Martin, December 2013; Observatory photo courtesy Earth & Sky Ltd., turtle photo courtesy Sea Star Cruises.

Hitachi Seaside Park

untitled-5747This Showa Kinen-like Park, adjacent to the ocean, has some stunning garden displays, an amusement park, family golf courses, and a BMX course.  English maps of the park are available at the Ticket Entrance.  For garden enthusiasts, the park has a number of magnificent gardens that bloom at various times Linda Bell Hitachi Seaside Parkthroughout the year. When we visited, in fall (mid-October), the northwestern garden, on Miharashi Hills, was ‘ablaze’ with red Kochia bushes (see pictures). Amazing! This same area is also very popular in spring (late April – mid May) when the hillside is completely blue with 4½ million Nemophila (‘Baby Blue Eyes’). In late March – mid April 1 million daffodils are on display at Suisen Garden, from mid April – late April there is a spectacular display of 270,000 tulips at the Tamago no Mori Garden.  The park’s map has a detailed walking guide around the various garden displays for any time of the year.

At the family amusement park, Pleasure Garden, there are 30+ rides, including a giant Ferris Wheel, rollercoasters, a spinning disc, and a labyrinth. Tickets for the rides are sold separately and cost anywhere between ¥100 – ¥600. There are some height and/or age restrictions for the rides, but these only cover a few of the rides and there are plenty of other rides that should keep under 3 year old and under 120 cm happy.

For golf, the park has two courses; The Family Park Golf Course and the Putter Golf Garden. 9 and 18 holes can be played on either course and these cost ¥500 and ¥800 respectively. No 3 year olds are allowed golfing.

According to the park’s map, the BMX course is “a real course of BMX specialty”. To ride here, I believe long sleeved clothing, pants, and sneakers are required. On every 2nd Sunday, in each month, there is a free “experience Classroom ‘challenge the BMX’” session. Children, under age 16 need a guardian’s signature to participate.

linda bellThere are restaurants, cafes and BBQ areas (reservations required) located throughout the park. Bicycles can be rented at various places too. Strollers can be borrowed, free of charge, at the park entrance gate. There are miles of bike lanes and just like Showa Kinen Park there is a train that can take you around the park. Cost ¥500.  Pets are permitted on a leash.  Roller-skates, rollerblades and skateboards are not permitted.

Admission for adults: ¥400. Junior high – Elementary students: ¥80. Children under 6: free. There are discounts for groups over 13 people. Parking at the park costs ¥500.  HOURS: Hitachi Seaside Park is generally closed every Monday and on Tuesday if Monday is a National Holiday. There are, however, exceptions to this rule during spring (Mar 26 – May 13), summer (Jul 21 – Aug 31) and fall (Oct 1 – 31) breaks.  Most of the time the park opens at 9:30am. From Jul 21 – Aug 3 the park closes at 6pm and from Nov. 1 to the end of Feb it closes at 4:30pm. The rest of the year it closes at 5pm.  If you need more information the park’s phone number is 029-265-9001.

Linda BellDRIVING DIRECTIONS: This park is a 2-3 hour drive Northeast of Yokota and Tokyo. It is near Mito and Hitachinaka Cities in Ibaraki prefecture. We visited it on the way back from Nikko, which was not ideal, but still closer than Yokota. I believe the road tolls from Yokota to the Hitachi Seaside Park (one way) are between ¥3,000-4,000 depending on the route you travel.

There are several large parking lots, and the GPS coordinates to the West Parking Lot are N36.40863 E140.59016. If you plan on visiting Hitachi Seaside’s amusement park or golf courses, I recommend parking in the South Parking Lot.  It would be great if someone could give a more detailed review of the Amusement Park, Golf and/or BMX Courses as we only visited the northwestern part of the park. – Linda Bell, December 2013; Baby Blue Eyes photos by Linda Bell, May 2014.

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Chureito Pagoda

untitled-03198The five storied Chureito Pagoda, surrounded by cherry trees and overlooking Mt. Fuji, is a beautiful, quintessential Japanese spot.    We visited the Pagoda in fall, during Veteran’s weekend, and the colors were fantastic, although the cherry trees had lost all their leaves.  The Pagoda is located near the top of a hill, and untitled-03228There are a number of points to visit on the way. At the base of the hillside there are a series of steps that lead to a lovely big torri gate. Continue up to Arakura Sengen Shrine/‘Temple’. There is a small parking lot here. From this parking lot, you climb almost 400 steps to reach Chureito Pagoda. The effort is worth it!  When we visited there were no entrance or parking fees. The Pagoda was built as a peace memorial in 1963 and it overlooks Fujiyoshida City.
untitled-38DIRECTIONS:  The Pagoda is over an hour away from Yokota, in good traffic, and it’s not very far from Fuji Q Highland Amusement Park. There are several small parking lots at the base of the hill where Chureito Pagoda is located. The GPS coordinates to the parking lot adjacent to Arakura Sengen Shrine/‘Temple’ are N35.49969 E138.80025. Parking space might be quite limited during spring with it being a potentially popular spot. – Linda Bell, December 2013

Okinawa

okuma sarah straus (1 of 1)Okinawa can be a very satisfying place to visit using Space-A from Yokota.  There are several fights per week to and from Kadena, you can do all of your sight seeing from Kadena or stay in one of the military owned cabins around the island, it remains warm and lovely as Yokota grows cold in the fall, and the clear blue water and white sand beaches are beautiful. We went in November and found ourselves back in shorts and flip flops as we settled into the most delightful beach vacation.

Kadena is a large Air Force base located centrally on the island.  While we didn’t stay on this base long during our trip, we did enjoy their super large BX, a couple of restaurants recommended by a friend, and on the way out we stayed one night at the Shogun Lodge.  Taxis are available on base, but to do very much on the island you’ll need to rent a car.  If you take a taxi from the air terminal to check into the Shogun Lodge, hold onto the taxi while you get your room assignment.  Our two room family unit with full kitchen was down the street from hotel reception.  There are two restaurants we really enjoyed at Kadena.  The first was the Tee House, located on top of the hill at the Golf Course.   They have a large menu, great prices, club card discount, but the best part is the view.  Sit outside and enjoy the view of Kadena’s two runways and the ocean.  We especially enjoyed watching the fighter jets taking off and landing.  We also really enjoyed Teppanyaki at Jack’s Place.  Dinner was an entertaining affair where the chef cooked the food at our table.  Dinner prep includes a little fire show which my kids totally enjoyed.  They also have great prices, are kid friendly and take 10% off if you have a club card.

okinawa sarah strausokinawa sarah strausWhile there are several options for military cabins on the beach, we chose to stay at Okuma for the week.  It takes a little over 1.5 hours to drive here from Kadena.  We wanted to spend a lot of time just relaxing on the beach and we ended up staying right at Okuma for five full days with plenty to do.  Okuma is located on a small peninsula and has several beaches, many lodging options, a restaurant with great pizza, and a wide range of water activities and rentals.  During our stay we went snorkeling, jet skiing, on a glass bottom boat ride, rented bikes and family buggies, played miniature golf, had a camp fire as we watched the sun set over the ocean and spent a great deal of time building sand castles and collecting shells on the white sand beaches.  All of the lodging at Okuma is situated right on the beach, so no matter where you stay, you can roll out of bed and onto the sand every morning.  We stayed in the Suite Plus units on the North beach.  The buildings are older but comfortable.  With two queen beds in the bedroom and a very comfortable fold out bed in the living room, we had plenty of space for our family of four.  There is a picnic table out front and a small charcoal grill.  While the off season price is posted at $70/night; if you stay off season all week the price drops significantly during the weekdays; plus they take an extra 10% off DSC_7071-001if you have a club card.  The Turtles Nest Beach houses are more expensive than the suites, but are nicely situated on the South beach where you can watch the sunset over the water from the porch (photo).   For couples, the AI beach cabin looks like a fun option.  It may be small but it is far away from everyone else and comes with its own large private beach.  While our unit didn’t come with a fire pit, the family campground located on the South beach wasn’t full and we were able to use one of the camp sites to build a camp fire.  You can buy wood, charcoal, starters, smores ingredients and hot dogs all from the little store next to reception.   The staff at Okuma is really amazing… we were treated so well the whole time we stayed here.  It was a pleasure interacting with everyone.  Also, because we stayed here off season in November, we had these huge beaches almost entirely to ourselves.  It was incredible, so quiet and lovely.  Okuma has its own facebook page; which can be fun to follow before you go.

okinawa sarah strausWhile we didn’t leave Okuma often, we did a few tourist things.  The most worthwhile was the Okinawa Churamu Aquarium located in Ocean Expo Park.  The Aquarium was a lot of fun.  We really enjoyed the opportunity to sit next to the glass at the restaurant next to the largest tank.  Here you can have a beer and snacks while watching the whale sharks and giant sting rays swim by.  But Ocean Park has lots of amazing free opportunities as well!  The free dolphin show is worth seeing as well as the Sea Turtle exhibit.  There is also a large “Kids Adventure Land” with climbing hammocks spread out over a huge area.

okinawa fountain sarah strausWe did enjoy a few other touristy things including: Butterfly Park, Nago Pineapple Park and Fruits Land.  The Butterfly Park is located very close to Ocean Expo Park.  Pineapple Park and Fruits Land are located next to each other in the Nago area as well, closer to Route 58.  You can find information about all of these places and about many more places to visit at the blog Okinawa Hai.  Of these, we enjoyed Butterfly Park and Fruits Land the most while Pineapple Park felt more like a tourist trap to us.

okuma sarah straus 2 (1 of 1)I imagine it would be amazing to go to Okinawa any time of year.  I understand through friends stationed there that it is often shorts weather through Thanksgiving; cherry blossom season in February; and really hot and muggy during the summer months.  The ocean feels like bath water in the summer, but was warm enough for us to enjoy some swimming in November.  – Sarah Straus, November 2013.

 

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Kamicochi

kamikochi inn andrew campbell 2.pngKamicochi is often described as Japan’s Yosemite.  Located west of Matsumoto along highway 158, this alpine plateau sits at nearly 5,000′. It hosts a small cluster of Ryokans and a camp site, well developed hiking trails along the Azuza River, and spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.   You can access the area between 19 April and 15 November; the area closes through the winter.  Personal cars have been banned from Kamicochi since 1975, visitors are required to park at one of several parking areas along Highway 158, then head up the mountain by bus or taxi.  (Japan Guide offers a great overview:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6040.html).

kamikochi area andrew campbell.pngKamicochi offers great day long family hiking along essentially level and easy to navigate paths extending up and down the Azuza river as well as world-class technical climbing on the surrounding peaks.  The scenery is outstanding.  We were also lucky to enjoy a large troupe of monkeys feeding right outside the hotel each evening, and bear sightings, while uncommon, happen.

DIRECTIONS: It’s possible to get to Kamicochi from Fussa by train alone.  There’s a train station on the west side of Matsumoto (Shinshimashima) that terminates at the Highland Express bus terminal where there are regularly scheduled buses to Kamicochi.  However, most Yokota travelers will probably go by car.

Google maps predicts a 3.6 hour drive from Fussa via the Ken-O, Chuo, and Nagano Expressways to Highway 158.  Take 158 westbound into the mountains along the Azuza River. Driving west along 158, you’ll  come to a traffic light with a ‘guard shack’.  Proceeding straight through the light would take you up route 24 directly to Kamicochi—-you can’t go that way without a bus or taxi.    To access Kamicochi, you’ll need to park at one of the parking areas between this intersection and Matsumoto, or make a left at the intersection and proceed westbound for about 10 minutes where you’ll pass through another toll booth, then hit a traffic light.  At the traffic light, turn right onto “old 158” toward Hirayu Onsen.  (Map 1) Pulling into the onsen town, you’ll see a large parking area at what looks like a standard rest area.  If you’re spending the night at Kamicochi, drive past that up 158 a bit further (you’ll go up hill and feel like you’ve gone too far), until you reach the entrance to the Akadama parking area (Map 2).  Make a left, and snake down a few switch backs to the parking gate, get a ticket, then drop your things off at the bus terminal in the parking area.

You can buy bus tickets from a machine at Akadama Parking Area.  1000¥ one way for adults, 500¥ for kids.  The bus leaves Akadama every half-hour until 1650 for, first the Hirayu Onsen lot you past on the way, then up to Kamicochi terminal.

Once on the bus and headed up the hill, you’ll have a choice to get off at Taishoike Pond bus stop or continue all the way to the main terminal. Many travelers disembark at Taishoike then walk (about 1 hour) to the main terminal (near Kappabashi Bridge) for the return trip.  As overnight travelers, we took the bus all the way to the main terminal then walked, with luggage, about 10 minutes, across the Kappabashi bridge to our hotel.

The return trip was very easy.  Back to the terminal, caught a bus back to Akadama Parking, then paid the machine (500¥ per day) for parking.

kamikochi innLODGING: We found our lodging, the Nishi Itoya Inn, through internet search.  Their website, http://www.nishiitoya.com/ns-eng/eng-home/eng-index.html, looks a bit amateurish.  Rest assured, the accommodations and service are absolutely top notch.  They have a few western style rooms, but we stayed in a large and comfortable Japanese style room overlooking the river.  In standard ryokan style, breakfast and dinner are included with the lodging cost.  Both were outstanding, but understand that they serve Japanese style breakfast only—a challenge for some western pallets.

In preparation for our trip, we corresponded regularly with the hotel staff via email.  They were quick to respond and completely helpful.  In addition to meals, the hotel offers free wi-fi, free coffee in the mornings and evening, and a nice Japanese style bath. – Andrew Campbell, November 2o13

Map 1kamikochi map 1: click on map to see close up.

 

 

 

kamikochi map 2Map 2: click on map to see close up

Edo Wonderland in Nikko

edo wonderland odonnellEdo Wonderland in Nikko is sort of like Colonial Willimsburg for the Edo period of Japan. The whole park recreates the Edo period with buildings from the era and actors and actresses all in costume of the day interacting with the crowds. The best part are the ninjas! There are many shows throughout the day to watch the ninjas. They also walk around so there are many free photo opportunities. For an extra fee you can have your kids dress up as ninjas. The ninja costume rental was pricey at 3,900¥ per child, however, they were able to wear it for the entire day and it made for great photos and lots of fun. The costume rental is near the entrance so if you plan on doing it I recommend getting it first thing upon arrival. They will hold your street clothes for you so that you don’t have to carry them around. There were other less expensive costume rentals too, including kimonos for adults.

edo wonderland odonnellBesides the shows there are also concerts, a boat ride around the park, and some huge koi that the kids really enjoyed feeding. While some restaurants are available they are all Japanese. I was happy that I had packed a lunch for my kids as there was nothing there that mine would have eaten. There were some picnic tables available and vending machines are available for drinks.

edo wonderland odonnellDay passes include admission to all the shows. The cost is 4,500¥ for adults and 2,300¥ for children 7-12. Children ages 6 and under are free! Check their website for additional discounts that are often available to print. Also, the Youth Center and ITT often have bus trips from base. This is a great option because you get a discount for group admission and don’t have the pay the 700¥ parking fee or tolls. – Kelly O’Donnell, November 2013.

 

edo wonderland odonnellFor more information check their webpage: www.edowonderland.net/html/en/.

If anyone gets GPS coordinates for this location, please let us know!

For more on Nikko, see our Nikko entry.

Kodaira Fish Market

fish market megan millerIf you enjoy a yummy dinner featuring fresh seafood for the main course, the Kodaira Fish Market should be on your list to try. From my understanding, all of their fish comes from the Sea of Japan. It is fresh that day, affordable, and only a fish market by megan miller 1thirty minute drive from the East Gate. Should you decide to buy a whole fish, they will clean it up for you at no extra cost (do remember to translate your request before arriving). They also provide ice free of charge just outside the market. The crabs were still moving when they took them out of the box.  They even had whale meat. It looked like really red thinly sliced tuna meat.  One tip is to bring along an ice chest to store your “catch” for the ride home.  The market is clean and easy to maneuver. An added bonus is the fresh produce market situated next door. They sell a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, plus milk, tofu, and noodles; basically everything you need for a delicious and healthy meal.  Bon appetite!  GPS Coordinates: 35.745028, 139.49109.
fish market by megan miller 2DIRECTIONS:  Turn left out of the East Gate.  Turn right at the 7-11.  Continue to the second stop light at Route 59 and turn left.  This puts you on the road that passes Aeon Mall.  You will pass the mall on your right.  Turn right onto Route 5 aka Shin Oume Highway.  Drive 10 kilometers down Route 5.  You will see the green “VERGER” sign to your left.  Turn left when you see the Verger sign and left again.  Continue straight as you approach the market, it is down a narrow street opening to a parking lot. The day we came, we noticed uniformed parking attendants who help move the cars through the parking lot. Also, the easiest sign to spot is the large green sign that says Verger, which is the fresh produce market adjacent to the fish market (the actual fish market is not exactly visible from the main road). Keep an eye out for these clues or you might miss your entrance. – Megan Miller, October 2013

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fish market by megan miller 3

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

shinjuku gyoen sarah strausshinjuku garden sarah strausShinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, located walking distance from Shinjuku Station.  There are traditional Japanese gardens here, large areas to run and play, a formal French garden filled with roses and a large green house.  A river runs through the garden with graceful bridges that cross back and forth.  The park is especially nice in the spring when the cherry trees bloom and in November when the leaves turn colors.  Bring your own lunch or enjoy noodles/curry at a reasonably priced restaurant in the park.  There are also two traditional tea houses located in the park.  – Sarah Straus, October 2013DSC_2958DIRECTIONS: This is an easy park to access by train.  Starting in Fussa or Akishima, take the Ome train to Tachikawa.  In Tachikawa switch to a train  heading to Tokyo, Shinjuku Station.  There is a metro stop closer to the parks entrance (Shinjukugyoenmae), but don’t bother transferring here.  Exit the station near the Information Booth and turn left.  Just walk straight down this street.  I always get turned around at Shinjuku Station – but the folks in the well marked information booth are very helpful.  Poke your head in there and they will point you in the right direction.sarah straus shinjuku gyoen garden

Yoyogi & Harajuku

yoyogi sarah strausHeading off to see Yoyogi Park and walk around the streets of Harajuku makes for a very satisfying day trip to Tokyo.  It is easy to get to this area by train from Yokota – requiring no transfer to the subway.  The trip offers a walk through beautiful park grounds and dense shopping streets; and showcases a nice harajuku sarah strausjuxtaposition between tradition and ultra-modern.  The Meiji Shrine is located in the huge Yoyogi Park.  According to Japan-Guide.com, the forest surrounding the Meiji shrine was planted when the shrine was constructed in 1920 and the trees were donated from all over Japan.  The Meiji Shrine is very impressive.  Try visiting on the weekend in the summer to catch a glimpse of a wedding procession.  Come late October through November to see kids dressed up for 3-5-7 day.  So beautiful.  Then, for s0mething totally different, head back to Harajuku Station and then across the street to Takeshita Street.  Come on the weekend to see teenagers dressed in anime and punk costumes.  Go shopping in the trendy boutiques and used clothing outlets.
sarah straus meiji shrineDIRECTIONS: Get on the train at Fussa or Akishima and head toward Tachikawa.  Transfer to a Shinjuku bound train on the Chuo line.  From Shinjuku, Harajuku is just 2 stops away on the JR Yamamoto Line heading harajuku sarah straustoward Shibuya.  Both the grand entrance to Yoyogi Park and the entrance to Harajuku shopping are located right outside Harajuku Train Station.  Also note: Harajuku station is just one stop away from Shibuya Station making it easy to add Shibuya to a day trip to Harajuku/Yoyogi park.  Enjoy!  -Sarah Straus, October 2013

 

Second Hand Stores – A List

This fabulous list is from Jane Keller, submitted in September 2013.  Wow!  Some of these are covered by Yokota Travel already.  They are linked.  Many are not.  If you go to one and want to do a write up for Yokota Travel, please do so.  Include a general description of what they sell, hours, and bonus points for a photo.  Submit to editor @ yokotatravel.com.  Together we know a lot!

Recycle Shop, 35.73635N, 139.356946E

Kasi Kosh Thrift Store, Ome, 35.78741N ,139.303463E,  http://www.haseko.co.jp/kasikosh/

Hard Off, SE of base on Highway 7, 35.729801N, 139.360799E

Shineishoji Thrift/Junk Shop, where Highways 5 and 16 meet, 35.775277N, 139.340692E

Treasure Factory Thrift Store, Musashimurayama, 35.746597N, 139.391261E

2nd Street Thrift Store, Akishima, 35.697896N, 139.373244E, www.2ndstreet.jp

Hamura Recycle Shop, 35.75528N, 139.3208E

Daiei, Mushashimurayama, 35.735723N, 139.378807E (grocery & 100 yen store)

Daiso/Turtle Grocery, Musashimurayama,  35.749268N, 139.383182E (grocery & 100 yen store)

Jumble Store, Tachikawa, 35.712672N, 139.428922E, www.jumblestore.com

Oikura Discount Shop, Hanno, 35.854048N, 139.328052E

Hard Off, Hachioji, 35.664244N, 139.352387E, www.hardoff.co.jp

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grocery Stores and Farmers Markets – A List

Here is a list of grocery stores and farmers markets with GPS coordinates from Jane Keller, Sept 2013.  Thank you Jane!  All of the markets from this list that are covered on yokotatravel.com are linked.  If you go to one we haven’t written up, consider doing a trip report.  Tell us about the market including the open days/hours and for extra credit attach a photo.  Submit to editor@yokotatravel.com.

Fussa Farm Stand, 35.738623N, 139.327674E

Inageya Grocery Store, south of Fussa Station, 35.740395N, 139.328929E

Marufuji Market, near Higashifussa Station, 35.746271N, 139.334986E

Hamura Farm Stand, 35.767508N, 139.307664E

Mizuho Fresh House Market, 35.777183N, 139.342758E

Akigawa Farmers Center, Akiruno, 35.728564N, 139.307712E

Itsukaichi Farmers Center, Akiruno, 35.728566N, 139.240084E

City Farmers Market, Musashimurayama, 35.755328N, 139.387104E

Tsurukame Land/ Turtle Grocery,  Musashimurayama 35.749682N,139.383198E

Shimoda’s Market, Musashimurayama, 35.759638N, 139.373239E

Gyomu Supermarket, Musashimurayama, 35.747161N, 139.389166E

Inageya Grocery Store, Musashimurayama, 35.746216N, 139.373823E

 

Randy: Bistro in Tokyo near US Embassy

If you are in the neighborhood, Randy, a bistro located near the U.S. Embassy, is a great lunch spot.  The day I went the special was off the new Fall menu and included grilled mushroom curry that mirrored a huge bowl of French onion soup in terms of preparation and presentation.  It was loaded with fresh mushrooms, rice, curry, and cheese.  Also enjoyed the ‘Fall cabbage roll’, that was a lot like a ‘pig-in-a-blanket’.  It contained a mix of pork, was wrapped in bacon, and covered in a mushroom based sauce.    Prices for both entrees were right around ¥1200.  They also have a great homemade ginger ale and ample outdoor seating.
LOCATION: It’s located just up the street from the US Embassy in downtown Tokyo at 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, Roppongi, 1−3. (GPS 35.665935, 139.741403).  Phone number: 03-3568-2888.  Closest train station: Roppongi Itchome.  Webpage: cafe-randy.jp– Andrew Campbell, September 2013.

Deli Taj Indian Restaurant

photo by JohnI tried a new restaurant today called Deli Taj Indian Restaurant.  This  is a family run  restaurant.  The owners told me they just open September 7, 2013.    I had tandoori chicken,  garden salad and buttered naan.  The food was really good and portions were a good size.  The price I paid was ¥1550.  The menu has English on it and the owners daughter spoke very good English.   I was very pleased by how friendly the owner and his family were to me.  GPS: 35.749299, 139.325155.  – J0hn, September 2013.

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