Author Archives: Straus

Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

Water Slides by Linda Bell HakoneHakone Kowakien Yunessun is a water amusement park and spa resort in Hakone-machi, Hakone. It has over 25 water attractions with fun and kitschy theme pools like the red wine pool, green tea pool, Greek Santorini pool, and Roman baths (see photos below).  There are also different spas, water slides, and kiddie pools. Water temperatures vary between the different pools from ~100F to cold spring water. This park is great because it can entertain a wide range of ages from babies to grandparents.

Red wine spa pool linda bell hakoneTo buy tickets to the park proceed to the second floor of the building.  There are three main tickets you can buy, depending on what zones you want to visit. A ticket to the Yunessun Zone gives you entry to the swimsuit-wearing zone. Admission, here, is ¥2800 for adults and ¥1500 for children over 3 years old. A ticket to The Mori No Yu Spa Resort Zone gives entry to two separate nude areas for men and women, and admission here is adults ¥1800 and children over 3 years old ¥1200. A combo ticket can also be purchased which allows entry into both zones. This costs ¥4000 and ¥2000 for both adults and children respectively. I believe tickets for just the afternoon session can be purchased for 1pm til close, but check. Discounted tickets may be bought by using Google Translate at this web site A map of the park, in English, is available on the second floor, but you may need to approach a staff member in order to get one.

Greek Santorini Pool by linda bell hakoneEach ticket holder will be given a plastic bracelet which will act as a key to your locker and also allow you to purchase items at the various restaurants and vending machines. Once you pass the ticketed turnstile and take off your shoes, the locker rooms are basically down the hallway, to your right, on the same floor. The first number on your bracelet does NOT denote a particular floor for your changing room. I don’t believe there are any family changing rooms.

Roman Baths linda bell hakoneThe men’s and women’s locker rooms exit into the same area, the “Clock Square”.  There are a number of restaurant/fast-food places inside the park that range in price and variety. Tattoos are not allowed to be seen at the park. You may need to use sun block/swim tops as part of the park is outdoors. I would not recommend bringing a stroller as the park has many stairs and potentially crowded hallways, and swim diapers need to be accompanied with a swimsuit. In general, the pools aren’t very deep. Our three year old (100cm) was too small for only one of the pools.

When you’ve finished at the park, you leave through the same hallways that you entered, and pay off your bracelet’s amount at the park’s machines. We used cash, but according to the park’s website the reception takes credit cards.  We only visited the Yunessun portion of the park on a Sunday, in summer, and it was relatively crowded so I would suggest trying to go during the week to get the most out of your experience.

The Yunessun Zone opens at 9am, year round, and closes at 7pm from March-October. The rest of the time it closes at 6pm. The Mori No Yu Zone is, however, open from 11am-9pm throughout the year.  For more details about this destination, please visit their website:

Parking at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun park is ¥1000 for the day, but it might be free for the first two hours of your visit (this needs to be confirmed). Parking fees are paid to the automated machine on your way out of the parking lot. Large notes are not accepted e.g. ¥5,000. We arrived at the park after 10am, after we’d stayed the night in Hakone, and we got one of the last parking spots.  – Linda Bell, September 2013.

DIRECTIONS: The GPS coordinates to the entrance of the Park’s parking lot are 35.23916, 139.04460.

For more on Hakone check this separate entry: Hakone.


Fuji Q Highland Amusement Park

fuji q sarah strausLocated at the base of Mt. Fuji, Fuji Q Highland is a wonderful place to spend the day, especially if you love roller coasters!  The park boasts 14 roller coasters – and they are intense.  The Dodonpa goes so fast… 111 miles per hour in 1.8 seconds after take off.  The Fujiyama is a huge roller coaster with multiple loops and drops that seem to go on forever.  The Takabisha has a vertical ascent and rather than just a free fall to start, actually hangs upside down during its initial descent.   Most of these roller coasters have a height restriction of 130 cm (4 ft 3 in) and age restriction of 10 years, though there seems to be no age restriction and 120 cm for the Fujiyama.

Ok, honestly, I enjoy watching roller coasters from the ground rather than riding them and I had younger kids with me the day I went (ages 5 and 3).  Still, there was a lot to do and we had a great day!  There are plenty of intermediary rides that are not as intense as the big roller coasters.  Our favorite was the mouse in the clouds roller-coaster that zipped through the trees.  Both our kids met the 100 cm height requirement and could ride with an adult.  Many of the other rides have a height requirement of 110 cm.  Elementary aged kids will have a great time too… there are plenty of rides for every age.

fuji q sarah strausThere are many rides suitable for the very young.  The large Ferris wheel, tea cups, Merry-go-round are all very tame.  Thomas the Train land is filled with rides great for 2 and 3-year-olds.  See the separate entry on Thomas the Train Land.  For those who want to be scared, there are two horror rides – The Ultimate Horror Maze and a Monster House.  I didn’t go on these either, but even the entrances looked scary.

There are plenty of restaurants and snack bars throughout the park as well as food courts like the Food Stadium.  On the third floor of the Food Stadium the Latteria serves hamburgers and fries.  I would avoid the Pizza-La – especially if you have kids.  They do not have any slices of plain cheese pizza and the topping are truly strange.  There are plenty of places to eat a picnic if you’ve brought a packed lunch/snacks.  I would recommend bringing and refilling your water bottles there too because the ice cold water that comes out of the tap tastes wonderful.

fuji q sarah strausObviously any amusement park is going to be more fun when the lines are short and the area isn’t too crowded.  We went on the last Friday in August when Japanese schools had resumed after summer break.  The park wasn’t too crowded and in particular, there were no lines for all the rides designed for smaller kids.  The roller coaster lines were 1 hour 30 minutes during the day, but after 6pm the wait was closer to 15 minutes.

For a list of prices check the webpage here.  It is possible to just buy your entrance into the park and then pay for rides as you go.  However, if the park isn’t crowded and you plan to ride on a lot of rides, it might be worth it to just pay the full entrance fee that includes unlimited access to all of the rides. Instead of a full pass for our kids, we bought the cheaper kids pass.  It allowed them to ride everything they were old enough for except this funny, yellow roller coaster toward the entrance, near the tea cups.   Everything I read says the hours are 9am-6pm on the weekends, 9-5 weekdays.  However, they must be open longer during the summer… at least we stayed there long after 6pm in August when we went.  I’m not sure what their summer/holiday hours are.  Open year around but closed one Tuesday a month.  Check here for which Tuesdays.   Japan Guide has a nice review of the park and some good photos.  GPS coordinates for parking: 35.486655,138.77625.

DIRECTIONS:  Basically head to Mt. Fuji, towards lake Kawaguchi.  Find your way to the Chuo and head away from Tokyo, toward Mt. Fuji.  When the freeway splits, head toward Kawaguchi/Fuji/Tsuru.  As you travel towards Mt. Fuji you’ll see the Fuji Q roller coasters at the base of the mountain before the exit.  Exit the freeway at Kawaguchi, pay the toll (we paid ¥1900 each way) and turn almost immediately into the parking area.  GPS 35.486655,138.77625.  From this parking lot you’ll walk right under the impressive Fujiyama roller coaster.  Go through the gift shop and the little french village to find the pay booths.  If you purchase an all inclusive day pass, go to the photo booth before entering the park.  Here you can exchange the pass you just bought for a pass with your photo on it.  You’ll show this pass at each ride. – Sarah Straus, September 2013

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Rose Hogs in Tachikawa

DSC_0067_1Rose Hogs is a great place to get an international beer very close to Tachikawa train station.  Directed here by a friend, my husband and I found ourselves at Rose Hogs during happy hour which lasts from 5:30pm-7:30pm.  They carry many international beers on tap from Belgium, Scotland, the USA…  Rather than a brewery, this is a pub serving traditional American pub fare: steak, hamburgers, fish and chips, and they have some great salad choices.  The Cobb salad was delicious!  The menu was in English and had pictures making it easy to navigate.  The best part for me was the beer from my home in Northern California!   They carry bottles from two Humboldt Country Breweries: North Coast Brewery and Mad River Brewery.  They also had a seasonal North Coast Watermelon Wheat on tap.  It was crazy good and reminded me of home.  During Obon, happy hour lasts from 5:30pm – 11pm.
rose hogs by sarah strausDIRECTIONS: From the Tachikawa train station, take the South Exit towards the three story McDonalds.  Go down the stairs near the McDonalds and head straight down that street passing McDonalds on your left.  About a half block down you’ll find a tall, narrow building that houses Rose Hogs on the 3rd floor.  This photo was taken from the elevated sidewalk right next to McDonalds and shows the sign for Rose Hogs, though it is hard to read in the photo.  Take the elevator up and enjoy! – Sarah Straus, August 2013


Camping and Cabins at Lake Saiko

campground saiko meg martinAcross from Lake Saiko there is a great little campground.  The campsites are small but surrounded by trees and very quiet.  Lake Saiko is right across the road, making it easily accessible.  Additionally, there is camping right on the beach, but when I went this area was crowded.  The campground was very clean, with clean bathrooms, and a picnic area with charcoal grills, running water and soap/brushes available for cleaning up.  The campground owner was very nice and great with kids.  We were able to get firewood free with purchase of the campsite, though this may have been a special promotion.  We also rented a boat to take out on the lake for just ¥500/day.  There was lots of great fishing.    Camping price: ¥3,450/night.  There are also cabins available.  For more information, to make a reservation or print a coupon, check their webpage:  GPS: 35.492088, 138.68533.  Located on the south side of Saiko Lake, on Route 710.  Address: Saiko 2202 Fujikawaguchiko Yamanashi Japan 401-0334.  – Megan Martin, July 2013 – see more of Megan’s photos below.

boating on the lake saiko meg martinWant to go camping but didn’t bring your camping gear to Yokota?  You can rent camping gear from Yokota’s Outdoor Rec.

See all entries for Fuji and the Five Lakes area.

saiko cabin meg martin firewood at saiko camping meg martin saiko camping meg martin saiko camping office cabins saiko meg martin cabins saiko meg martin 2


Thatched-House Settlement Near Fuji

thatched sarah strausSaiko Iyashi No Sato Nenba is a settlement which was rebuilt after a devastating typhoon in 1966 destroyed the area.  It is a settlement with thatched houses of “Kabuto-zukuri” (roofed like Samuri warrior helmet).  Now after 40 years the area has been restored and remains rooted in the region’s history, culture and the natural environment. 

Thatched houses by Jenn 2The area is pedestrians only and built into a beautiful hillside with gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji.  Once you park, walk to the ticket counter and you will receive a map of the settlement.  There are 22 separate buildings each representing a different aspect of the old culture.  For example, there is the Gorone-Kan (house to lie down and doze) and the Kutsurogi-ya (house of relaxation) and House of Oishi-tsumugi and Fabrics.  Each of the houses are open to walk through and many have shops or activities which invite participation.  On the day we visited (Sunday) there was an opportunity to participate in the art of paper making, dressing up in traditional Japanese clothing and Samurai warrior armor for a photo op (extra fee).  In addition, lots of houses sold souvenirs representing their cultural element.

Thatched houses by Jenn 3Be sure to bring your camera as the views of Mt. Fuji are amazing, the grounds are well kept and set in an idyllic Japanese hillside complete with babbling brook running through the middle.  There is also a few small restaurants at the entrance with vending machines, ice cream, and clean restroom.  The admission fee is: Adult ¥350, Child ¥150.  Hours of operation are Summer: (Mar-Nov) 9am-5pm, open daily; Winter: (Dec-Feb) 9:30am-4:30pm, closed Wednesdays.   Website:  but you’ll have to run it through translator!  There are coupons for entry online sometimes.  GPS: 35.501374, 138.659046 to turn off for parking.

Thatched houses by Jenn 1DIRECTIONS: Leave Yokota from Fussa gate and turn left onto Route 16.  Follow Route 16 to the Chuo Expwy.  At the Otsuki JCT stay left to continue on the Chuo towards Fuji.  At the Kawaguchiko Interchange exit the Chuo (you’ll be right next to Fujikyu Highland).  Make a Right onto Route 139 (away from Fujikyu).  Stay on 139 until you come to sign for Route 21.  You’ll turn Right onto Route 21.  You’ll see signs for Saiko Iyashio-Sato Village on your left.  Parking is Free and plenty of it.  – Jennifer Bobrowski, July 2013.

sarah straus thatchedComments by Sarah Straus, August 2013: We went on a Sunday in early August and had a wonderful time.  It took us just 1.5 hours drive there, though in Sunday afternoon traffic it took us closer to 3 hours to drive home.  The grounds were gorgeous and there was plenty to do with kids.  My favorite part was the opportunity to dress up in traditional clothes for ¥1000 each.  Adults and children can all dress up.  There are gorgeous kimono and fun ninja costumes complete with swords.  Once dressed up, you are free to walk the grounds with no time limit.  Makes for some amazing photo opportunities.

jenny iverson thatched roofPhoto from Jenny Iverson, November 2013

See all entries for Fuji and the Five Lakes area.  The Canady Restaurant is just up the road.

DON-DON, Yakiniku Buffet

I went to a new yakiniku restaurant DON-DON over the weekend.  It is a Yakiniku buffet with salad bar and dessert bar, about a 10 min drive
from the East gate. It is housed in a 2-story structure with the restaurant on top and parking on the bottom.  The buffet comes with 85 items to order from plus the salad bar, dessert bar and cotton candy- all you can eat for 100 minutes.  It costs ¥2480 plus tax.  Grade schoolers cost ¥1240 plus tax while kids under 6 eat for free!  There is also a menu to order from where items are ¥1980 plus tax, but this doesn’t include the salad-dessert bars.  The drinks are a separate charge, all you can drink soda is ¥200yen/person.  All you can drink alcohol is ¥1200/person.  All parties at the same table have to order the same menu and all additional orders are placed via a tablet on the table. I think the tablet menu came with pictures (my friend did all the ordering). The first plate of meats comes with the initial order and then you can start ordering from the tablet.  It is that is non-smoking in the general restaurant.  There is an enclosed room for smokers.  Open M-F 1700-2400, weekends and holidays 1130-2400.  GPS 35.750761, 139.390193.
DIRECTIONS:  Exit left out the East gate.  Turn right at the Seven-Eleven.  Turn left on Route 59 towards the AEON mall. Turn right on Route 5.  It will be on the left side across from a Seven-Eleven past the “Sanbonenoki” light. – Hiromi Arita, July 2013.

Sumida Aquarium at Tokyo Skytree

sumida2 by kelly oOur plan for the day was to head to the Skytree. I was surprised when we arrived to see an aquarium at its base: Sumida Aquarium.  After our Skytree tour we decided to check it out since we literally had to pass right by it on our way out.  It isn’t super large but it is brand new and very well done. They had a jellyfish laboratory where they are breeding jellyfish and you can see the jellyfish at all different stages, from 5 days old, 1 month old, 3 months old, etc. It was an impressive collection. They also had some interesting fish which I had never seen before. My kids enjoyed this “Rock Fish”. If you look closely you will see it’s mouth and eyes. There was also a large tank of these fish that look like worms sticking up from sumda 5 by kelly othe sand. I can’t remember their name but they were fun to watch. Of course they have all the usual stuff like penguins and seals and a large tank with shark. It is entirely indoors. We were happy just to be out of the summer heat.

I don’t think I would make a separate trip just for the aquarium, however, if you are planning to visit the Skytree it is worth adding an extra hour or two to your plan if you have children with you.

Open 365 days. Hours are 9:00 – 21:00.  Adults – ¥2,000; HS students – ¥1,500; Jr. HS and Elementary ¥1,000; Children 3 and over – ¥600. – Kelly O’Donnell, July 2013

Find more aquariums: Hakkeijima Sea Paradise; Shinagawa Aquarium; Tokyo Tower; Sunshine City.

Outdoor Pools open during Summer

Here is a list of local outdoor pools open during the summer months – culled in 2012 by Shelby Hansen and passed along to Emily Parks who graciously shared it with us!  It would be wonderful to have full posts for each one of these.  If you go to one we haven’t already covered, please consider sending us a trip report.  Thank you!

Fussa Pool (first week July – first of Sept)  Open Daily. 9am-6pm. ¥200 for HS age and up, ¥100 for MS age and younger (2 hrs).  Free parking available.  Features: kid’s splash pool, simple water slides.

Hamura Pool (Mid July- first of Sept) Open Daily. 10am-6pm. ¥300 for HS+, ¥100 for MS – (2 hrs) (double for full day).  Parking available.  Features: kid’s splash pool, water slide, lazy river.  -For more information: Hamura Community Water Park

Rainbow Pool (Showa Park) (Mid July – first of Sept) Open Daily.  9:30am-6:30pm (only ’til 5:30pm weekdays in July, only ’til 6pm daily from 8/20 on). ¥2,200 for HS+, ¥1,200 for ES/MS, ¥300 yen ages 4-5, 3- free (¥500 maternity price) (full day price).  Parking available (¥800/day) (A free Park bus can take you to the pool from the Sunagawa or Tachikawa Park entrances). Features: multiple kid’s splash pools, lazy river, wave pool, water slides (for 120cm+; yellow one is for smaller kids), concessions.  Discounts on admission for paying by SUICA/PASMO (minus ¥400 for HS+), or smaller discount just for showing SUICA/PASMO (minus ¥200 for HS+).  For more information: Showa Kinen Park: Rainbow Pools.

Higashi Yamato Pool (Mid July – August 31). Open Daily 10am-6pm (only 1:30pm-6pm 7/17-20) ¥300 for HS+, ¥100 for MS, ¥50 for ES, free for 5 and under (2 hrs). No parking (though the Ito Yokado store next door has a free parking garage…and a Baskin Robins).  Features: kid’s splash pool, lazy river, water slides.

Driving directions to Higashi Yamato Pool: Go right out the east gate, turn LEFT on the 7 and go 6 km, at Imokubo Hwy turn LEFT (the large blue sign points to Imokubo, the street name is Sunagawa Nana-something), go through the tunnel under the train station and turn RIGHT at the light, come to a T intersection and turn LEFT. The pool will be on your right and they do have free parking!

Fuchuu Miyoshi Mizuasobi Hiroba (Splash Pad near Tama Hills) (late July – August 31) Open for three blocks each day 10am-12pm, 1pm-3pm, 3:30pm-5:30pm (some closures during open season) ¥160 for adults, ¥100 for HS, ¥40 for MS- (they may charge half this if they don’t ask if you’re a city resident). No parking.  Features: splash pool, simple water slides. Swim Diapers OK.

Fuchuu Kyodo no Mori Pool (near Tama Hills) (late July – August 31). Open Daily 10am-5pm. ¥300 for adults, ¥200 for HS, ¥100 for MS- (2 hrs) Parking available.  Features: kid’s splash pool with slides, lazy river, water slide (for older kids).

Inagi Pool (near Tama Hills) (mid July – August 31) Open Daily. 9:30am-5pm. ¥200 for adults, ¥50 yen for kids (2 hrs). No parking. Features: kid’s splash pool, simple water slides, lazy river.

Fujiya – all you can eat cake!

cake by meganAt Fujiya you can order meals or just dessert, one option being the cake buffet or “viking cake”.  Alone the buffet is ¥1380 per person or added to your meal it is an additional ¥980. Meals include Japanese cuisine or pasta dishes.  They allow 60 minutes for all you can eat cake and the slices are large. Children under five are allowed to share with an adult at no extra charge for the buffet. The menu is in Japanese only, but has pictures of everything and is easily understood. My family of five went around 4:30pm on a Sunday and were seated immediately,  We experienced quick and friendly service. GPS 35.733032, 139.325688.
DIRECTIONS: Fujiya is easily accessible by car about ten minutes from the supply gate and there is plenty of free parking. Head straight out the supply gate, cross two railroad tracks and continue down the hill. At the bottom, just before the road crosses the river, there is a raised blue pedestrian crosswalk.  The street name is Legal Affairs Bureau Road (written in English on the street sign). Turn right here. The restaurant will be on your right approximately one stop light up, You will notice the sign by it’s logo, a girls face with a hat.  The sign is written in English as well.  – Megan Miller, July 2013

Tokyo Skytree

skytree by kelly oWhile in Tokyo don’t miss the tallest attraction, the Skytree. It is certified by the Guinness World Records (TM) as “the tallest tower in the world”.  The height of the Skytree is 634m. Besides being a tourist attraction and the best place to view the city, it’s also a broadcasting tower.

The first stop on your visit is the Tempo Deck, on Floor 350. If you are feeling brave then, for an extra ¥1,000 fee, you can go up to the Tempo Galleria on the 450 floor. On a clear day you will be able to see Mount Fuji, as well as a 360 degree view of the entire city.

skytree by kelly o 3When it first opened in early 2012 there were very long lines. When I visited in July of 2013, on a Wednesday, the wait was not long to purchase tickets. Only 10 mins at 9:30am. I suspect it would be significantly longer on the weekend. You can purchase advance tickets online for a fixed time reservation only if you have a credit card issued by a Japanese bank. I hope this will change in the near future. The online form to purchase the advance tickets is also only in Japanese. If you have a Japanese friend they  can make the reservation for you, however, the person making the reservation will have to be present when you go because you must present the Japanese credit card with which you made the reservation.

photoOur favorite part was the glass floor. You can stand on tempered glass and look all the way down to the ground! They also have a photo service here. You can purchase you photo for ¥1,200.

There are several casual cafes available and also one nicer restaurant, the Sky Restaurant 634 on the 345 floor. It serves, “Tokyo Cuisine” and is open for lunch and dinner 11:00 – 20:30 (last order). The views from the dinner tables at night are suppose to be spectacular. We went during the day. I saw no way to make a reservation for the restaurant in advance on the website so I guess you would just have to wait to be seated. After the Skytree be sure to check out the brand new aquarium that is right next door! It’s actually attached to the base of the Skytree. It is called the Sumida Aquarium.

skytree by kelly o 2Open 365 days a year. Hours are 8:00 – 22:00. Day tickets cost ¥2,000 for adults, ¥900 for 6 -11 years and ¥600 for 4-5 years. Children 3 and younger are admitted for free.  Get there by car or train… see Tokyo Skytree access page. – Kelly O’Donnell, July 2013

Also check out Tokyo Tower.

Sylvans Brewery near Fuji

sylvans by kelly bullThis past weekend my family drove to Mt. Fuji to meet some friends. They suggested we meet at Sylvans, an award-winning brewery/restaurant. It is VERY easy to find and literally has won world-wide beer competitions. There is a kiddy land area and doggy park area adjacent to the restaurant, so bring the whole family!  Find a write up for the restaurant on the Yamanashi Travel Guilde.   Closed Thursdays unless it is a holiday.  Open for lunch 11:30-2:30, Dinner 5:30 – 9:30, however during Saturdays and Sundays in the summer they are open 11:30am-9:30pm straight through.  Major credit cards accepted. Phone: 0555-83-2236.  GPS 35.458393, 138.760089.
DIRECTIONS: Sylvans is located about 5 minutes from the Fuji/Kawaguchiko exchange (Fuji Q Amusement park). Take the Chuo towards Fuji. Take the exit towards the left (towards Kawaguchiko) at the Otsuki interchange. Take the Fujiyoshida exit (I think) where Fuji Q is on your left. Pay the toll (¥1900 if you got on at Hachioji) and turn RIGHT (away from Fuji Q). At the first light (almost immediate), take the ramp on the left to turn left onto the Fuji Suburu Toll Rd. You will drive for about 5 minutes and the restaurant will be on your right! Added directional note: The restaurant is located along the road that heads toward Mt. Fuji 5th Station, just after the music that plays as you drive over the grooves in the road.– Kelly Bull, July 2013.

Sylvans by Sarah StrausComments by Sarah Straus, August 2013: We went to Sylvans and yum.  What a great find.  It was a Sunday in August and we found Moose Hills Burger had an hour wait for lunch.  While Sylvans was busy, there was still room.  The food was great and so was the beer.  I would recommend sitting in the atrium located in the back.  Also, there was some kind of amusement park type thing located adjacent to the restaurant.  We didn’t go, but picked up a brochure and it seems to include great things for younger kids… petting zoo, slides, paddle boats, miniature train ride.  If anyone goes, please consider writing a trip report for Yokota Travel.  Thank you!

Kappabashi Street – Kitchen Town Tokyo

kappabashi 1 sarah strausKappabashi Street in downtown Tokyo between Ueno Park and Asakusa is a great place to go if you are looking for dishes, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, or even restaurant supplies.  You can find things you might want… amazing pieces of pottery, dish sets, tea sets, cookware, aprons and red lanterns.  You can also find things you may not want… podiums for the front of a restaurant, display cases, full chef apparel, expensive shaved ice machines and neon signs.  Here several storefronts are dedicated to fake food – every kind of food you might eat in Japan.  There is a coffee roasters, selling coffee beans but unfortunately no cups of coffee.  There is also a store that sells a huge variety of coffee making machines.  This is such a fun place to browse.  With its covered sidewalks Kappabashi is a good outing even in the rain.  This would be a hard place to bring small children… the stores are bursting with all thing breakable and most of the stores are not stroller friendly – you have to squeeze through narrow isles to see everything.
kappabashi 2 sarah strausDIRECTIONS:  The start of Kappabashi street is located between subway stations Inaricho (G17) and Tawaramachi(G18) on the Ginza line.  The map below shows the length of Kappabashi.  It is also possible to walk here from either Ueno Park or Asakusa.  GPS coordinates for the south end of Kappabashi Street: 35.710489, 139.788224.   – Sarah Straus, July 2013

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kappabashi 4 sarah straus kappabashi 3 sarah straus

Hakkeijima Sea Paradise

sea park cameron hillAquarium and Amusement Park all in one – there is enough going on at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise to spend an entire day – it is like a smaller version of Sea World. We went on a Monday in June and the park was almost empty. There were no lines for rides! Rides are based on height, with some rides open to all and others limited to 110, 120, and 130 cm and above. The two biggest rides were a nice steel roller coaster and a huge stomach dropping free fall, but there were also plenty of rides for little ones like the teacups. You can either pay for rides individually or purchase an all-in-one pass that includes the aquariums and rides. They advertise three aquariums, but there was really one big building (aqua museum) that has your normal aquarium fish plus a polar bear, walruses, and a sea life show. Then, there are two smaller attractions, an indoor tunnel where dolphins swim around you called Dolphin Paradise, and an outdoor area with pools where you can touch the dolphins, beluga whales, starfish, etc called Fureal Lagoon. Kids can get wet and dirty wading in fabricated tidal pools. In addition, there is a nice boardwalk where you can enjoy watching boats, wake boarders, and even beach goers across the bay. One area of the park has fishing with poles to rent. There are many dining options, from nice sit down restaurants to food courts and take out. There was no problem with bringing in our own food and drink either.

From the parking lot it is about 250 meters to the bridge, which you then must cross to get to the entrance. Stroller rental was ¥500 and located on the parking lot side of the bridge at the info center. Cross the bridge and go down the steps to find the ticket booths. There are multiple options for buying tickets – the all-inclusive for adults in the summer is ¥4900, ¥3500 for school children, and ¥2000 for kids over age 4. Costs run a few hundred yen per person cheaper in the winter. You can also buy tickets just for the aquariums or just for the rides. You can actually roam the grounds without a ticket, it is a well-kept, spacious island. Sea Paradise coordinates: 35.338129, 139.646484.

DIRECTIONS: Follow 16 as if you are going to Yokosuka. You will pay ¥250 at the Hachioji bypass. Past the Grandberry Mall you will get on the Yokosuka Yokohoma Road. Take Exit 4-1 to the left and pay the ¥800 exit toll. You won’t go far, then exit 4-3 to the left. Follow signs to go right on 357 (there will be a business there called NAPS at the correct turn).  Sea Paradise is directly in front of you, someone will direct you to turn left to parking, which costs ¥1000. In terrible traffic it took us almost 3 hours to get there, but that seemed unusual. It only took 2 hours to get back. – Amanda Martin, June 2013, Photo by Cameron Hill, June 2013.

Fussa Playground

New in 2013, there is a playground that can be seen from Route 16 before leaving Fussa.  It is a bit convoluted to get to, but it is very close to the base and well worth the trip.  There are tall, enclosed climbing structures that have imagination games written all over it. There is a zip line and a great tire swing.  Put kids in clothes that they can get dirty because the ground underneath is just hard packed dirt.  There are bathrooms and a water fountain where kids can clean up if needed.  Playground GPS Coordinates: 35.72393, 139.342065.  Parking lot GPS 35.722589, 139.343171.
Fussa Park Alex WinklerDIRECTIONS: Leaving Fussa Gate, turn left onto Route 16.  At the end of the Yokota fence line, where Route 16 curves right, exit toward Route 7 but don’t turn left onto Route 7.  Instead go straight through the first light toward Haijima Station.  There is a paid parking lot straight ahead.  Park and this metal barrier will raise to trap your car.  Pay at the kiosk to get out.  From this parking lot it is an easy walk under Route 16 to the playground. – Alexandra Winkler & Sarah Straus, June 2013.  Interested in another Fussa Playground?  Try the Fussa Roller Slide Park or the playground on the Tama River Trail.

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Railway Museum in Saitama

saitama railroad sarah strausIf your kids are like mine and are obsessed with the trains in Japan, then you’ve got to check out the Railway Museum in the Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. We had been to the Ome Railroad Museum several times and always enjoyed it, railway_museum1 kristabut thought it would be nice to see something different. This museum is much newer and nicer than the one in Ome (although I love the charm of the one in Ome) and takes longer to get to, but we thought it was totally worth it. When I was figuring out how to get there, I came across this blog that will definitely give you some great tips and information.  One of the best tips is that you can bring your own lunch into the museum. There is a McDonald’s at Omiya Station right before you get on to the “shuttle train” to go to Tetsudohakubutsukan Station, which is where the museum is located. They have a little train that is specifically for eating or you can sit on the 3rd floor and watch the Shinkansens come by. They have a couple of restaurants too inside that have your typical Japanese food. (tonkatsu, curry, etc).
DSC_0227At noon and 3pm, they have a special steam engine “whistle blowing” demonstration that is great. If your kids are sensitive to loud noises though, I recommend going up to the second floor to watch it from above as it can be quite loud and startling for the younger ones.  This is a great day trip and I highly recommend it!  Hours: 10am to 6pm.  Closed every Tuesday and Dec 29-Jan 1.  General admission for adults is ¥1000. Elementary – high school age it is ¥500 and children ages 3 and up ¥200. If you have a Suica train pass, you can use that to purchase your entry tickets at the electric ticket vending machines.  Phone number: 81 48-651-0088, GPS: 35.922238, 139.616874.  -Krista Whipple, June 2013
train musuem kristaDIRECTIONS: Take the train to Omiya Station.  From Omiya station take a shuttle to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan Station.  From there it is a 1 minute walk to the train museum.  There is limited parking at Tetsudo-Hakubtsukan train station at GPS coordinates: 35.922238, 139.616874.  If you decide to drive, basically you’ll head North on Route 16 for 36 kilometers past Iruma and Kawagoe.  At Route 216 exit left and keep left until you turn around and head under Route 16, traveling on Route 216.  Click on “view larger map” below for more directions.

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ASOBono at Tokyo Dome City

asobono by sarah 3A trip to ASOBono may be expensive, but for kids ages 6 and under it can be a really fun day and a chance to do something different in the city.  It is clean, bright and colorful like Bornelund, but larger and with different features.  Like Bornelund, there is a large ball pit area.  However, here it is set up to look like a pirate ship in a blue sea.  There is also a huge train track area with moving trains.  Kids can put the easy to assemble, plastic train tracks together to make complex mazes and run battery operated trains across them.  For my 5 year old son, this was the highlight of the trip.  Great for pretend play, there is a big kitchen, grocery store and restaurant area for kids with plastic food and shopping carts.  A play bakery is filled with play cakes to decorate and a asobono by sarah 4home area has dolls, doll clothes and vacuum cleaners.  There is a doll house zone, magnetic boards, game area and a large play area just for crawlers and new walkers.  Vending machines carry juice and milk boxes in addition to soda and water and there is a nice place to sit and enjoy your beverage.   When it is time for lunch, OsoBono is located next to a food court where you can eat your own food or buy from several vendors serving noodles, rice dishes and even soft serve yogurt.  With an all day pass you can come and go from ASOBono.  The day pass costs: ¥1500 for children ages 6 months to junior high, ¥900 for adults and ¥200 to rent a locker.  There is stroller parking and no strollers are allowed past the entrance area.  Open weekdays 10am-6pm, weekends 9:30am – 7pm.  GPS for parking garage nearest ASOBono: 35.703829, 139.754789.
asobono by sarah 5DIRECTIONS:  The nearest train station is Suidobashi.  However, if you are going with kids, it may be easier to drive.  We went on a weekday from Yokota, leaving at 9:30am and got to the parking area next to ASOBono in just over an hour.  We drove out of the parking garage and were on our way home at 3pm and it took us just one hour to get back to Yokota.  The trick is to avoid rush hour traffic.  Parking costs ¥400 for 30 minutes, but during the week maxes out at ¥1500.  If you get your parking validated at AsoBono and keep your stay under 4 hours, parking will cost ¥1000.   So… for one adult plus two kids driving from Yokota it will cost: ¥4100 entry, ¥1000 parking 4 hours, ¥3000 tollways = ¥8100.  It worked well to team up with a friend and share parking and toll costs or it may be a fun think to do if you are already staying in downtown Tokyo.  – Sarah Straus & Linda Bell, June 2013.  Also see LaQua Spa also at Tokyo Dome City.

Ueno Park

Ueno Lorri ShrewsburyUeno Park is one of the most popular attractions in the city of Tokyo and one of the livelier sites during the annual Cherry Blossom season in early April. Ueno has many things to offer and should be visited at least once during a stay in Japan. Ueno Zoo is one of the largest in the world and attracts “kids” of all ages. The animals’ names are written in English. As a special attraction, the zoo houses pandas from China. A monorail connects the main zoo area with the Africa section on the west side. You can also cross a bridge over historic Shinobazu Lake where thousands of ducks and cormorants swim. The Shinto shrine on an island in the lake makes a striking picture. Rowboats are available for rent. Also, next to the lake is the Ueno Zoo Aquarium with more than 500 species of fish exhibited on four levels.

In the park there are numerous museums that are nice during the winter months when it is too cold to be outside. Tokyo’s National Museum is an imposing structure built in 1936 in modern Oriental style. It displays many of the important national treasures and cultural properties of Japan, including ancient tapestries, screens, samurai armor, swords, scrolls, kimonos, ceramics, and more than 100,000 works of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art. Ueno has a very good National Science Museum (see separate entry) with special sections on zoology, botany, geology, science and engineering, and astronomy. Children will be awed by dinosaur and whale skeletons, and by the collection of clocks and stuffed animals. Even Mexican mummies and shrunken heads can be found here. (Although very little is in English and adults may not be impressed, the museum can be a good learning tool for children.) The National Museum of Western Art is also located in Ueno Park. It was built in 1959 and exhibits the works of French artists. This exhibit features masterpieces by such famous artists as Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh, as well as several sculptures by Rodin. All of these attractions are open daily 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, and closed Mondays and from December 29 – January 3 during the Japanese New Year. Entrance fees for each of the attractions range from ¥200 to ¥400 for adults; ¥100 for 13 and up; ¥50 for 3-12; those under 3 and over 65 are free.

DSC_0827You may also want to explore the Ameyayokocho shopping district which runs south from Ueno to Okachimachi Station. Famous for hundreds of tiny discount shops, second-hand motorcycle dealers, and open air markets, it offers countless small inexpensive restaurants where you can make a good lunch of noodles, tempura, yakitori, or other specialties. A picnic is a nice alternative because there are numerous places in the Ueno Park area where you can sit, relax and watch all the people go by. So enjoy your visit!

TRAIN DIRECTIONS: To reach Ueno, take the Ome Line to Tachikawa and change to the Chuo Line toward Tokyo. Get off at Kanda, three stops after Shinjuku. Change to the Yamanote Line toward Ikebukuro, and get off at the third stop, Ueno. Check train times on Hyperdia. – Chris Underwood, Mugs Wedemeyer, date; updated Sarah Straus, May 2013, top photo by Lorri Shrewsbury.

Fukiage Iris Park

DSC_0441Located less than 2 kilometers from Shiofune Kannon in Ome, Fukiage Iris Park is a lovely place to take a stroll during June when the irises are blooming.  It costs ¥300 to park and ¥200 entry per adult during blooming season.  There are a few vendors selling food and tents with tables and chairs set up to picnic under.  It is not a large park, but very pretty and worth the visit.  Couple it with a visit to Shiofune Kannon for a nice morning.  Open 9am-5pm.  Iris season June 1 – 30.  Off season it is still possible to walk the grounds for free.   GPS: 35.79713, 139.27665.  See map to Iris Park from Shiofune Kannon below. – Sarah Straus, June 2o13









Map from Shiofune Kannon to Fukiage Iris Park

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Shinagawa Aquarium

shinigawa aqu by linda bellThis Tokyo aquarium is not big, but it is quaint and entertaining.  They have a small dolphin and sea lion show with two dolphins and two sea lions.  There is an extra sea lion show in the morning and on the weekends.  They also have an underwater tunnel with a massive turtle and stingray as well as other fish and eels. In smaller enclosures there are exotic crabs, jellyfish, penguins and two large sharks are located just before the exit.  Strollers can be used, but the place is quite small and on a busy day it may be difficult to move. On the Saturday we went, it was easy to use the ramps and elevators. Strollers can, however, be stored at the front of the Aquarium. There is no ramp to the Splash zone, but kids in strollers can see the dolphins and seals underwater when you take the elevator to the basement.  Bring extra clothing if you want to sit in the Splash zone.  Outside the entrance are lockers for valuables shinigawa aqu by linda bell 3and refreshments. You may enter and exit the Aquarium with your day-pass.  No food is allowed inside, but there are picnic tables right outside the entrance that overlook a small downtown lake -perfect for a stroll on a nice day. Adjacent are “Restaurant Dolphin” and other noodle and ice cream vendors. Drinks can be bought in the vending machines in the basement of the Aquarium.  Admission for adults: ¥1300.  Junior high – Elementary students: ¥600.  Children above age 4: ¥300.  Hours: 10am – 5pm, closed Tuesdays and Jan 1.  For more details check   GPS to parking: 35.588755,139.738924.

shinigawa aqu by linda bell2DRIVING: In light, Saturday morning, traffic it took 1 hour and 15 minutes from Yokota for me to get there.  Depending on your route, prepare for a few downtown tunnels to interrupt your GPS navigation. I drove because taking the train would take longer and be more difficult with small children.  If you take the train, make your way to Omorikaigan Station.  The aquarium is walking distance from this station.  If you don’t want to drive or take the train, check ITT.  They offer trips here on occasion also.  There is parking, but there are only 96 parking spots. I had no problem getting parking soon after it opened. It cost us ¥1000 for parking, and we were there for three and a half hours. I am not sure if it was a flat fee.  The parking lot is directly behind the main entrance of the Aquarium, and off of Route 316 (NOT Route 15 which is the Aquarium’s train-user’s entrance), near a tiny lake. You need to cross over a bridge just before the parking lot’s entrance which is on the left. Do not use the Aquarium’s physical address for a GPS destination as it will take a lot of time to loop around confusing traffic, and non-designated parking zones, to the ‘back’ side of the Aquarium.

After parking, head towards the booth that you bought your ticket, and away from the road entrance. Then turn left after a hedge/fence. The Aquarium’s entrance signs (the dolphin) are not apparent until you head left, around the tiny lake. You’ll eventually pass an exit ramp on your left, and then ~20 yards later find an entrance ramp with a blue and white awning. It’s about 100 yards from the Parking Lot to the Aquariums entrance.  Road tolls cost ¥3000 round trip. – Linda Bell, June 2013

Interested in Aquariums?  Also see the entry on Sunshine City and Tokyo Tower.

Shokudo – All Day Dining Cafeteria

The food at Shokudo, “all day dining cafeteria” is yummy “home-style” Japanese cuisine (no sushi).  It is a very family-friendly place; the prices are amazingly cheap for Japan, and there’s plentiful parking adjacent to the building. The first thing you’ll see upon entering the restaurant is a bento box counter for take-out.  Keep walking around the corner, past the huge rice steamers to pick up your meal tray. Slide your tray along to check out all the offerings, the first of which is a made-to-order omelet station (the three toppings offered are red diced ginger, shredded scallions and teenie white fish (not at all “fishy” tasting)–it’s the rectangular pan-style omelet–delicious! Next comes broiled whole fish or salmon steak, then the chill-bin with lots of little dishes of pickled this-and-that (everything’s good, but the eggplant is particularly so). If you like thick slices of sweet and tender stewed daikon, this is the place! Then you’ll see various fried meats like tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and chicken. There is donburi (meat strips stewed in sauce) and udon-noodle;  ramen; rice (a “chiisai” [small] bowl is plenty) and miso soup (with a variety of self-serve toppings) come with the dinner. The cashier is at the end of the line and you pay for each item on your tray. The dining room includes a lot of 2-person tables, a solo counter, bigger tables by the windows and tatami-on-the-floor. ENJOY! – Pam Tubbs, June 2013
DIRECTIONS: Shokudo is on the Seiyu road.  GPS coordinates: 35.747579, 139.325687. Here is the new restaurant’s website, with their main menu items: as well as their map link:

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