Category Archives: Seasons

Hiratsuka Beach/Shonan Beach Park

Only 71 minutes (tollway route) from Yokota is a great sandy family friendly beach to cool off in during the hot summer months. We found this beach on a spur of the moment stop after a road trip we took. There is free parking lot at Shonan Beach Park (a local swimming pool/park) but you need to arrive early to get a spot because the area is well known to the locals and is a popular beach for families and surfers. Walk down the street to the left of the parking entrance and onto the pedestrian bridge over the highway, onto the other side and through the greenery to get to the beach. We liked this beach because unlike many other Japanese beaches, there are showers where you can rinse off (most beaches don’t have a shower area), bathrooms and a beach side kiosk with sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, fries, etc. that is open during summer months. This is a family friendly beach that is sandy with breakers in place to keep the waves smaller in the swimming zone. There are lifeguards posted here during the day too. Keep in mind though that this beach is not tattoo friendly, so cover your tattoos. GPS Coordinates: 35.317392,139.354371. Parking hours vary by the month so check for updates on the park website. In the months of July & August it was posted you can park at Shonan Park from 9am-7pm. – Jennifer Secor, August 2018

Shonan Beach Park website: http://www.s-n-p.jp/english/shonankaigan_park/

Sankeien Gardens – Yokohama

Memorial Day weekend we headed to Yokosuka and followed up with a trip through Yokohama. There, we went to a beautiful Japanese Garden with a couple temples located on the premises. There is a nice walkway around a pond through a forested area where you can see some old thatched roof structures. Around the end of May through the beginning of July the irises are in full bloom which makes for a beautiful scene. Also, Sankeien does a Firefly Festival at night during that time frame. Check their website for details on current events: http://www.sankeien.or.jp/en-about/index.html

Admission is:

Adult ( 15 years old and above) 700yen
Children ( 14 years old and under) 200yen
City residents 65 years old and above
*Please show the Hamatomo Card issued by Yokohama City
200yen
Parking Fees: 500 yen up to 2 hours; 100 yen for every additional 30 minutes.  Automobiles/Buses 1,000 yen maximum per day
-Jennifer Secor, June 2018

Tokorozawa Lily Garden (Yuri Matsuri)

In mid June thru early July there is a Lily Festival (Yuri Matsuri) across the street from the Seibu Dome at the Tokorozawa Lily Garden (fairly close to base). As June is the rainy season in Japan, we decided to take advantage of a clear day and head to the Lily Festival.  It was like a fairytale. Flowers were in a field surrounded by forest. Admission & hours may fluctuate from year to year so be sure to check the website:
There is no parking lot for this Garden. You will need to park in a paid lot or maybe the nearby shrine parking lot if spots are available. The Seibu Dome Parking was not allowed without a baseball ticket. Try to avoid a baseball game day due to congestion and lack of parking options. This Garden is off a train line as well. – Jennifer Secor, June 2018

 

Canyons – Canyoning at Minakami

If you want a one of a kind of adventure while living in Japan, try canyoning with Canyons Adventure Tours.  My husband talked me into doing a trip to Canyons, Minakami with Yokota Outdoor Recreation for my birthday in July.  It was about a 2 hour bus ride from base.  The first canyoning tours in Japan were started by Canyons in Minakami in 1988 and it has grown into one of the biggest canyoning destinations in the world.  The season typically runs from late April to late October depending on the water flow in the canyons.  The water can be cool but they provide wet suits and all the proper gear you will need.  You can also sign up for a tour using their web-site.  They have many English speaking guides.  We had 3 on our tour and one Japanese guide for the Japanese couple that joined us.  Everything was very well organized, instructions were thorough, and the guides were very attentive to questions and concerns.  We did the Fox Canyon trip which was a half day, approximately 3 hour tour.  From the main Canyons base you take a short bus ride to the start.  One of the guides will take photos the entire trip that you can access after the tour for free.  They also take videos but they were un-savable from their site.  I personally was challenged by parts of the Canyon but my husband thought the entire trip was a blast.  I had a moment of being sucked under a waterfall where they had to pull me out and push me to the other side but I survived to tell about it.  I would definitely recommend this trip for any thrill seekers wanting a challenge.  You cannot be pregnant or have any heart conditions and will sign a waiver before starting.  After the tour was complete they brought us back to the Canyons office for a snack.  You could purchase beer and additional food also at their snack bar.  Canyons also offers White Water rafting tours and you can do a combo trip if you want to make a day of it.  They also offer tours at an Okutama location.  – Angela Vaillant, May 2018

Website: https://canyons.jp/en/
Hours: office is open 8:00am-5:00pm daily

E-mail: info@canyons.jp
PHONE: 0278-72-2811

 

Keio-Mogusaen Garden – Plum & Wisteria Blossoms

This lovely, private, flowering tree and floral garden is atop a very steep hill not too far from Takahato Fudo temple in the Tokyo -Hino area.  It is an inexpensive 40 min drive from Yokota and not to be missed if you are a flower lover like me! In late February through early March they have a plum blossom festival which just means the private garden is open to all visitors with a small charge of 300¥ for adults and 100¥ for children, when the trees are blooming in all their pink, white, and yellow glory!  The garden features 500 plum trees in 50 varieties!

We visited on a late Saturday afternoon, Feb 24, 2018 and it was only slightly busy.  Besides the stalwart walkers, there were several groups arriving by taxi up the steep hill coming from nearby Mogusaen station.  It’s 1/4 mile up a 20% grade slope to give you an idea of the steepness for those with elderly or mobility impaired visitors.  The gardens were absolutely gorgeous! There were some flowering plum trees that I’d never seen before! There was one field even featuring small yellow and white daffodils in full bloom as far as the eye could see! I am a flowering bulb enthusiast and seeing daffodils in February made my heart happy!
 
Even my teenage sons agreed it was a beautiful place.  There are many beautiful uneven stone stair steps as well as some gravelly inclines leading up to the top past the restaurant where in nice weather you can barbecue and several 30 minute walking trails leading through the garden. At the summit are nice views of Tokyo! Lots of climbing and exercise for energetic kids as well as a man-made tree lined, koi – filled pond with traditional Japanese building housing an art exhibition.  I’m not sure strollers could visit all the trails and do the steps leading up to the cashier at the entrance without difficulty.  A better bet might be a carrier for babies.  We will definitely visit again during their wisteria festival and I will report on this garden again!  – Julie O’Leary, March 2018

 

Unfortunately I could only find a Japanese language webpage but the photos and map on one of the page links were helpful.

Here is the pinned location (actually of the BBQ garden restaurant 200 or so meters straight up many stone stairs from the cashier booth at the entrance to the gardens) on Google Maps:

There is NO parking at the gardens but if you’re lucky you can find places along the street going up to the gardens or in pay parking lots at the bottom of the hill.  Note: It is about a 5 minute steep walk up a paved hill to the gardens from parking. Below is information from their website’s lavender link and it’s in English!
  • Traffic Get off at Keioi Jusugyoen Station 10 minutes on foot or 10 minutes by taxi from Sacred Sakuragaoka Station · Takahata Fudo Station.
    There is a steep slope partway from Hakusakuen Station to this garden.
  • Address Hinohikusa 560, Hino City, 191-0033
  • Telephone number phone042 (591) 3478
  • Closed holiday Wednesday
    (in the case of a holiday, next day, New
    Year ‘s holiday from 30th December to 3rd January※ It is closed every
    day during the event period
  • Opening Hours 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
    (November and December until 4:30 pm)
    Entrance fee Adult / 300 yen Child / 100 yen

Trout Fishing Near Yokota

You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese for their ingenuity.  In the winter months, some of the water parks fill their pools with trout.  One example is the Seibu-yen – the amusement park just about 15 minutes from base up by the Seibu Dome.  I’ve fished both here and at Akigawa International Trout Fishing Grounds and both are about the same setup.  It’s not cheap, but its easy.  You can bring your own fishing poles, but it’s probably best just to use their tried and true rigs. Basically, you can show up with nothing and rent everything; but I do recommend bringing a hand rag and a needle nose pliers if you have them.  They’ll rent you poles and bait and even give you a bucket or a bag for the live fish.  At Akigawa, there was an old man walking around and helping the kids catch fish. It doesn’t get any easier than this.  At the end of the day, you walk your fish to the kitchen and have them cleaned for free at Akigawa or  ¥100 at Seibu.  Both places have a restaurant and cafe and Seibu has charcoal grills and picnic tables to throw the fish on and eat right away.  I was at Akigawa on a quiet day and nobody was cooking fish there, but they do have all kinds of cooking options.  You can even rent a party gazebo with friends to cook and hangout all day.  It’s also a comfortable place for non-fishing moms and dads to relax in the sun on a sunny day.

If you are looking to fish, I recommend starting at Akigawa.  It’s a pretty 30 minute drive up the valley to a sunny spot on the river with artificial pools.  Some English was spoken at Akigawa.  The fish were surprisingly tasty for farm-raised fish. Beware: it’s hard to resist the rides at Seibu-yen; you’ll have to walk through the amusement park to get to the fishing pools.  Both places charge for parking and all in all, it adds up.  At Seibu, I paid for myself and my son.  At Akigawa I paid for just my sons.   Zeke Lyons – January 2018

Parking:  ¥500 –  ¥1000

Fishing: about  ¥3000 + rentals + cleaning per person

No tolls on road to Akigawa

Akigawa English website: http://akigawagyokyo.or.jp/akigawa_english.pdf

akigawagyokyo.or.jp

seibu-leisure.co.jp

Seibu-yen fishing

Cooking fish at Seibu-yen

Akigawa

Akigawa Fishing

Fishing success!

Sayama Ski Hill

The indoor ski hill at Sayama at the Seibu Dome is a uniquely Japanese place to learn to ski or snowboard before you hit the big time at a real resort.  A short and scenic 20 minute drive from the base gets you to the Seibu Dome. Most of the signage is in Japanese, but I’ve been fine just mumbling and pointing (as usual) to the very friendly and accommodating staff.  The best part is that kids under 13 are free.  When you arrive, purchase a lift-ticket at the counter and enter through the booth.  If you plan to go a few times, the 500 Yen membership card is worth it as Thursdays are “Guys night” for members. The lifts are one-person at a time and easy enough to navigate for kids.  For the first time, you can walk up the hill slightly to let your kids try it out before getting on the lift.  At the bottom of the hill is a nice sitting area with hot food and drinks available (my favorite part). I’m not sure about coming in as a non-skiing observer, but there is at least one bench on the outside. *Note, if you are considering teaching your kids to ski/board, think twice about whether you really need to do it yet. I’ve seen some dads/kids up there looking pretty miserable (including myself). Also, it means a few years of bunny slopes only.  A day at Sayama helps you figure it all out for less.  Good luck!  Zeke Lyons – December 2017

Open from late October until April

Lift tickets starting at 3100 Yen for four hours (Guy’s night on Thursday for 2000 Yen)

Parking: 1200 Yen

Lockers: 500 Yen (you can change in the parking lot and skip the lockers – you can also leave a bag at the bottom of the slope)

Rentals available, including clothing. At least one English-speaking instructor is available for lessons. 

http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/kids/sayama.html

3 day weekend in Shimoda and Hakone

Our favorite 3 day weekend in Japan was spent in Shimoda and Hakone over the July 4th holiday weekend.  I sent my husband a bunch of google pins I had seen shared on Facebook that I thought looked fun and he came up with an itinerary to visit as many spots as we could.  We have two boys, 8 and 4, so all our locations needed to be family friendly and fun for the kids.

We packed up our car early Saturday morning and started our drive to our first spot, a place called the seven waterfalls on the Izu Peninsula.  It took us about 2 hours to get there from base and we spent about ¥3000 in tolls.

We walked down from the free parking lot and first ventured down to view some waterfalls at the bottom of the hill.  It was just a short walk down some stairs and along the water.  Worth a quick trip down to check out the views.

We then went looking for the onsen we had heard about called Amagisou.  This was just a little farther down the road.  It was inside a hotel so we went to the front desk to pay.  They had a QR code you could scan with your smart phone for a discount as well.  After paying (¥2000/adult, ¥1000/child) we headed downstairs to the men’s and women’s changing rooms where we could change into our bathing suits before walking down to the hot springs.  Connected to the changing rooms were very nice gender specific no clothes indoor onsens. It was a short walk down some stairs to a beautiful waterfall with hot springs surrounding it.  One of the hot baths was too warm for the kids but most were just fine to sit in for a good time period.  There was also a pool that the boys enjoyed jumping and playing in.  We stayed for about two hours, most of which we had the whole place to ourselves.  The best part of the onsen was the beautiful scenery.  It was truly relaxing hearing the sound of the waterfall behind you as you soaked in the warm water.

From here we drove to our hotel, Pension Surf Rider, about a 45 minute drive from Amagiso.  Our room had one full bed and two single beds, a bathroom and shower.  The room was very small but we really just needed a place to sleep.   The people working there did not speak much English but they gave us plenty of handouts about the nearby area.   They had a wonderful breakfast in the morning but we realized we were probably supposed to book at the time you make the reservation.  We were also able to book a family bath time in their outdoor bath.  This was a new experience for us but we all enjoyed it!

Five minutes from the hotel we drove to Dogashima which is known for its stone formations, cliffs and caves formed by the lava flow of past volcanic eruptions and shoreline erosion.  There was a parking lot right at the park and a family mart across the street if you wanted to grab a snack.  The boys enjoyed climbing on the rocks and walking the trails.  The views were amazing and it was a great place to take photos.

The next day we planned for a beach day in Shimoda.  Before hitting the beach we visited Ryugu Sea Cave (about a 50 minute drive from our hotel).  The kids played in the water a bit and it was another great photo opp spot.

We passed 3 nice beaches within 1 mile of the cave but settled on Kisami Beach.  There was a free parking lot right across the road.  We spent most of our day here enjoying the sand, sun and water.  The waves were perfect for our 8 year old to boogie board.

We packed up the car late afternoon and started our drive to Hakone.  An estimated 2 hour drive turned into a 3 hour drive because of traffic.  We spent ¥2000 in tolls along the way.  We checked into our next hotel, Hakone Hotel Kowakien, where we stayed the next two nights.  We really enjoyed this Japanese style hotel.  The grounds were beautiful and the hotel was in close proximity to more of the locations we planned to visit.  There was also a Family Mart right next to it where we purchased easy dinners and drinks.  The hotel offered breakfast and dinner buffets but we chose to save money eating Yakitori and sandwiches from the Family Mart.  Our family room had 4 single beds, two vanities and a shower/tub room.

Our first full day in Hakone we walked across the street from the hotel to the Yunessen Resort and Spa.  The kids were able to enjoy a large pool and outdoor water slides while the adults enjoyed the wine, coffee, green tea, and pearl baths.  We also experienced the feet eating fish called Dr. Fish.  There was an eatery on site so we were able to grab lunch there.  You could also leave the resort and come back later if you wanted to take a break at the hotel.

Yunessun entry fee – Adults ¥3000, Child ¥1800 (hotel did offer a discount coupon with stay)

We took a break from the resort to visit the large Tori Gate on Lake Ashi (Shinto Shrine).  It was a short drive from the hotel and it was another great spot to take photos.

We checked out of our hotel on Monday and made one last stop before heading home.  We had heard great things about the Open Air Museum in Hakone and it did not disappoint.  The grounds were absolutely stunning and the art was unique and beautiful.  There were many structures the kids could play in or climb on.  We also enjoyed a family foot bath.

Museum entry fees – ¥1600/adult, ¥800/child

On our way out of Hakone we stopped in town for coffee and a bite to eat for our drive home.  We found a cute little bakery called “Bakery & Table” which had a wide variety of pastries and coffees.

It was an awesome 3 day weekend and we felt we got to experience a lot of great places in a short amount of time!  Our drive back to base from Hakone was only about an hour and 45 minutes and another ¥3000 in tolls.  Definitely close enough to also be done as a day trip!  – Angela Vaillant, August 2017

Ao no Doukutsu, Yoyogi Park Illumination

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This beautiful illumination is called “Ao no Doukutsu”, meaning Blue Grotto, was in Nakameguro in 2014. It has relocated to Yoyogi park this year (2016).
The illumination runs from November 22nd through January 9th. I didn’t have a chance to go to the Nakameguro Illumination, but I’ve heard they moved the illumination in favor of the much wider street of Yoyogi park.
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The Illumination starts on Shibuya Koen Dori (Shibuya park street) and those Japanese Zelkova trees were lit up for your 750 m walk. I recommend stopping by there when you are in the downtown Tokyo area. Check out the Illumination website to see the video for directions. – Mai Takahashi, December 2016

Ao no Doukutsu, Shibuya : http://shibuya-aonodokutsu.jp/
Illumination time in 2016: 5 pm – 11 pm, November 22nd – January 9th  (the illumination starts at 7 pm on November 23rd, December 4th, December 25th, and January 9th)

Direction:
To get to the illumination spot, the closest station is Shibuya. The street is on the opposite side of Meji Shrine in Yoyogi park, so make sure to get off at Shibuya Station, not Harajuku station.
To Shibuya station, take Ome/Chuo line to Shinjuku, and then transfer to Yamanote line towards Shibuya and Shinagawa.
From Shibuya station, exit from Hachiko exit and then cross the famous crowded intersection. And then take the street that is to the right of the building that is all glass and has a large tv display. You will see a Starbucks and TSUTAYA video store in this building. Keep walking until you see the blue lights on the trees.
img_2421Once you find the blue trees, follow them to Yoyogi park.
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Hakone Sengokuhara & Little Prince Museum

 

img_2008Susuki (pampas grass or silver grass) is known as one of seven autumn flowers in Japan. Sengokuhara is a popular spot to stop by to view and walk through beautiful seasonal field. Susuki season is October to November.

img_2014There are temporary parking lots for visitors to see the field in October to November. It was about 10-15 mins walk from the parking lot to the field.

img_1965There is a path in the middle of the field that you can walk through and it took us about 30-40 mins to walk to the end of the path and back. (We stopped for photos often.)

img_2007-1Only the beginning of the path was paved and it was mostly rocky. We left the base around 7 am and got there a little bit after 9 am. There were two parking lots for the field and the first parking lot was already full when we got there. The second parking lot was empty, but it was filling up by the time we left around 10:30 am.

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I recommend stopping by the Little Prince Museum if you visit the Susuki field. It’s only a 5 minute drive from the field. According to its website, the museum was built to celebrate the 100 year anniversary since the birth of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

img_2036It’s a small museum, but has a European-themed garden and the French-themed scenery  were beautiful. Most of the museum displays were in Japanese, but there were binders that had all the translations for visitors.

img_2044If you are fan of the book, this is a place to check out. You can enjoy illuminations and a projection mapping show in the evening from November to early January. There is a nice restaurant next to the museum as well. The lunch set menu price was around Y 1500 – 3000. ( You don’t need to buy tickets to the museum if you are only dining there.) – Mai Takahashi, November 2016

Read more about Hakone sights here:
Hakonehttp://yokotatravel.com/hakone/
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun: http://yokotatravel.com/hakone-kowakien-yunessun/

Sengokuhara: http://www.hakonenavi.jp/season_special_contents/index/4
Hakone Sengokuhara Temporary Parking lot 1 & 2 Hours: 9 am-4 pm, October through November.
The museum of The Little Prince: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm (Last entrance is 5 pm, The restaurant hours: 11 am – 5 pm)
Entrance Fee: Adult Y 1,600, High School and College student Y 1,100, Elementary and Middle School students Y 700.

Directions:
Hakone Sengakuhara (Temporary Parking lot (October to November, 9 am-4 pm. The coordinates: 35.265120,138.999927)
We took the Ken-O Expressway then Tomei Expressway. It costed Y 2,780 one way.

Susuki Field Parking  to the Little Prince Museum

Enoshima East side Beach (Katase Higashi-hama Beach)

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We visited Enoshima Beach, which is a beautiful area with shorelines, surfers, tourist shops, and an island with fantastic views (didn’t visit the island this time because it is Obon Season, a summer holiday for the Japanese, and traffic to get on the island was backed up considerably).

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It should have taken us 1 hour and 20 min and ¥3000 ($30) in tolls to get there, but we got on the expressway heading in the wrong direction and it costed us about 40 minutes and ¥1960 ($19.60) in tolls.

We left early in the morning for the beach to avoid traffic (heading home around 12:30 pm was not the same case). It was a beautiful drive through some scenic areas before we got on the highway.

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The beach was fabulous! Instead of plunking down at the more touristy beach adjacent to the island causeway, we went eastbound along the shoreline for a bit and found a quiet section of beach used by the surfers. Could not have picked a better spot! The beach was soft and had black sand. Water was a great temp, and the air temp was much cooler than at home.

The surfers and other beach-goers were all so friendly. Dogs are welcome on the beach, as are tattoos . We met some new dog friends while walking the beach-line. The beach was super safe…no one stole our chair/towel/book when we left to go for a walk.

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The parking area overlooking the beach we used was actually quite expensive (It was Kamakura Prince Hotel’s parking lot), at ¥600/hour. In hindsight, we might choose an offsite lot next time. But at least we didn’t have to walk far.

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Adjacent to the parking lot and overlooking the water is a cabana cafe called Pacific Cafe with breakfast/lunch/drinks/shaved ice. Super convenient to the beach and your car.

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All in all, we had a great time at Enoshima Beach and we can’t wait to go back! – George, August 2016

Read more about the area here: Kamakura

Katase Higashi-hama Beach (Enoshima East side Beach)
Website: http://www.enoshima-beach.com/index.html

Kamakura Prince Hotel Parking lot
Website: http://www.princehotels.co.jp/kamakura/access/contents/parking.html
Price: Y400 per hour, Y200 per 30min after the first hour
7/1~8/31, Y600 per hour, Y300 per 30min after the first hour

Pacific DRIVE-IN
Website: http://pacificdrivein.com/
Hours: 8am-8pm *Hours may differ by season

Tama River Spot in Ome, Mitake & YOSHIZO cafe

13902833_10210319289879937_8650448021880006200_nI found a great Tama River spot in Mitake and a dog-friendly pizza restaurant called YOSHIZO cafe. If you are looking for something to do out of the city with your family and friends, this is a great Sunday Fun-day getaway.

To the parking lot nearby the spot was about a 40 min drive from the base. There was a group tour heading out on a rafting trip nearby. There is a walking bridge crossing overhead that will take you to the other side, likely into the town of Mitake (I was on the other side of the river from the actual town). There was a family with a tent set up (camping might be allowed). Parking was Y100/hour and there were more than enough spaces in the lot (I was there in the morning). There are public bathrooms adjacent to the parking lot.
I highly recommend aqua-socks, keens or some protective footwear you can wear in the water because the rocks hurt!

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yoshizoThere is a pizza restaurant called YOSHIZO cafe up the hill advertised dogs OK.
They spoke limited English. I tried to order lunch on the patio but they told me it was reserved, so I ended up ordering pizza to go and sat on the grass overlooking the river instead.

13909035_10210319288959914_6446864013225882158_oI still had a nice lunch while the dog enjoyed the air conditioning in the car. – George, August 2016

YOSHIZO cafe website: http://yoshizo-cafe.tokyo/index.html
Hours: Fri-Wed Lunch time 11:30am-4:00pm (Last Order 3:00pm)
Dinner time 5:00pm-9:00pm (L.O. 8:00pm)
Phone: 0428-78-7887

Mitake Parking spot near Tama River

YOSHIZO Cafe

Art Aquarium, Nihonbashi Tokyo

 

IMG_8436Summer is one of the most exciting times of the year throughout Japan. As the temperature and humidity increase, excitements of the summer increase, and there are many summer events going on in our neighborhoods.
Art Aquarium is a seasonal aquarium that opens during the summer, and it is an art exhibit with living kingyo (goldfish). The theme of this year’s Nihonbashi Art Aquarium is the Edo period of Japan, during which the Kingyo culture spread among townspeople. More information on the exhibit can be found here.

IMG_8265The exhibit takes place in Coredo Muromachi, which is a shopping complex where there is fine dining, food stores and more. There are three Coredo Muromachi buildings and the Art Aquarium is located in Building 1. The entrance is on the 4th floor. There is a summer event called “Eco Edo Nihonbashi 2016” around the neighborhood and the Art Aquarium is part of the seasonal celebration. The streets are decorated by lanterns and if I describe the atmosphere, I would say it’s an elegant Japanese old town. Check their Facebook page for more info.

IMG_8329The aquarium exhibits were very unique. There were many kinds of Kingyo. I was impressed by the wide variety of Kingyo that I had never seen. Each exhibit was very arty, and it was a cultural experience of Ryo of Kingyo, enjoying the refreshing coolness by looking at Kingyo swim. The exhibit room is not so big; I would say 30min to 1 hr is enough time to look around.

IMG_8296Starting from 7pm, the Art Aquarium turns into the “Night Aquarium” during which they start serving alcohol and you can walk around the room with your drink. We arrived there around 6:30pm on Sunday, and I saw several families with small children. After 7pm, there were mostly adults. There are special nights with DJ performances on weekends. Check their website for the event schedule because you may need a special ticket to get in on those nights. When you plan your visit, try to avoid the weekends. They limit number of entrances once it gets crowded. According to their Twitter, Saturday is usually very busy and there might be a 30min wait. I heard it’s less crowded in September. If you are going to Tokyo area during the summer, I recommend stopping by the Art Aquarium to enjoy goldfish, symbolic of Japanese summer. – Mai Takahashi, July 2016

Website
Art Aquarium: http://artaquarium.jp/en/
Coredo Muromachi: https://31urban.jp/lng/eng/muromachi.html
Art Aquarium Hours:  July 18th-September 25th, (the dates may differ every year) 11:00am – 11:30pm (Night Aquarium starts at 7:00pm)
Admission: Y1000 for adults, Y600 for elementary school age and under, and free for 3 years old and under. (Children must be accompanied by adults.)

Directions: Mitsukoshi-mae station on Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line/ Ginza Line is the closest station, but from Fussa, getting off at the Tokyo station is the easiest.  To get to the Tokyo station from Fussa, take Ome/Chuo line all the way to the Tokyo station. I love returning from the Tokyo station. Since the station is the first and the last stop of Chuo line, there is a great chance that you can sit all the way from Tokyo station to Fussa. From Tokyo station, exit from Nihonbashi exit or Yaesu North exit. It’s about a 15 min walk.

Tokyo Tower, The Milky Way Illumination

IMG_8175If you are planning on visiting Tokyo Tower, I recommend going there during the summer. There are “Tanabata”(Star Festival) themed decorations called the “Milky Way Illumination” which represents “the night sky of summer where the Milky Way is visible”. The interior sky (ceiling) is filled with blue stars (lights) on the main observatory floor. My husband and I reached the main observatory right before the sunset. Since it was a weekday, there was no waiting time to get up to the main observatory floor and the floor was almost empty.

IMG_8163We decided to wait for the sunset at a small cafe on the main observatory floor. The cafe offers light meals and drinks such as sandwiches, fries, ice cream and drinks. The floor got busy as the sun went down. The view of the city turning its color was very pretty and the floor gradually turned blue, thanks to the stars.

IMG_8136After the sunset, the room was completely blue and the atmosphere was very romantic.  There is a DJ booth on the same floor and the performer differs by the day of the week. We missed it, but there is projection mapping on the second floor of the main observatory. The outside staircase to the main observatory is also decorated with blue lights, but we could not climb the stairs due to the weather.

IMG_8205If you are a fan of manga/anime called “ONE PIECE”, there is a themed park on 3rd, 4th and 5th floor of the building below the tower called “Foot Town”. Also, there will be a haunted house on the basement starting July 15 through September 4th (the dates may differ every year). Hours for the haunted house: 12pm to 9pm, Y800 for junior high school students and above and Y500 for 4 years old up to junior high school students). If those brave souls visit there, please let us know how it was. – Mai Takahashi, July 2016

Read more about the Tokyo Tower from previous posts  here.

Tokyo Tower The Milky Way Illumination 2016: June 1st to August 31st
Tokyo Tower Website
: https://www.tokyotower.co.jp/en.html
Tokyo ONE PIECE Tower: http://onepiecetower.tokyo/?lang=en
Hours: 9 am to 11 pm (last entry 10:30 pm)
Admission to the main observatory (150m high): Y900 for high school students and above, Y500 for junior high school and elementary school students, and Y400 for  children between 4 years old and before elementary school age.
Special observatory(250m): Y700 for adults, Y500 for junior high school students to elementary school students, Y400 for children between 4 years old and elementary school age.
Directions: In my opinion, the easiest way to get to Tokyo Tower from Fussa is take Ome/Chuo line to Shinjuku and transfer to Oedo line(subway) and then get off at Akabanebashi. From the Akabanebashi exit, you’ll see the tower in front of you. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the station.

Saitama Museum of rivers

Saitama Museum of Rivers is an inexpensive and fun way to enjoy the hot summer. Since the exhibitions of the museum are only in Japanese, I would recommend  just paying  for the Waku Waku land, which is a water obstacle park.image4

It is not a pool, so you don’t have to wear swimsuits, (most people just got wet  in their clothes), but it might be easier for your little ones to have swimsuits and water shoes on. Shoes must be worn at all times and no food is allowed in the area, but there is a Japanese restaurant on site. If you walk down a little ways the river is right there for you to play in. We didn’t have time to go down there but definitely will come back to do that.image3Taking the toll road makes it only 1 hour away, and costs Y1610 each way. –Amanda Lynn, June 2016

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PRICE
Parking:
 Y300
Admission to the museum: Y410  for adult, Y200 for high school and above, free for middle school and under
Waku Waku Land: Y 200 for high school and above, Y100 for 4 years old to junior high school
Adventure Theater: High school and above Y430 , Y210  for 4 years old to junior high school
Hours: Tue-Sun  9-5 PM (Mondays are open during the summer time, closed on Golden week ) 
Summer time hours  (July 21-August 31 2016): Weekdays 9-5:30pm, Weekends and Holidays, August 11th-August 15th 9-6pm
Website: http://river-museum.jp/english/index.html
http://river-museum.jp/index.html (Japanese)
Address: 39 Kozono, Yorii, Osato District, Saitama Prefecture 369-1217
Phone: 048-581-7333

St. Patrick’s Day Parade- Tokyo

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

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

Daruma Doll Festival-Haijimadaishi Temple

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

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

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

Fukubukuro- New Year’s “lucky bags”

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

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

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

 

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

Yasukuni Shrine

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking Mt. Fuji with kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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