Category Archives: Spring

Tenraiken

For starters if you are looking for something fancy, this is not the place, but delicious it is. My family recently took a trip into Tokyo to get our kids their passports. We found ourselves in a neighborhood near the Kamiyacho station ( the closest station to the United States Embassy) around lunch time and we were starving. After googling “Ramen near me” we found this place about a block from the station and decided to give it a try.

Upon arrival we were a little bit nervous because the machine outside, on which you order, was all in Japanese. We arrived a few minutes earlier than it opened at 11am. Thankfully we had a few minutes to use google translate and order before a long line formed behind us. Inside there was about 5 tables that seated up to 4 people. We have a very active toddler and we felt comfortable with the seating.

My husband and daughters had the miso ramen. It was good but also very different than miso ramens we have had in the past. It almost has a smoky flavor to it. I ordered the Taiwanese soba dish and it exceeded my expectations. It was truly delicious. I would recommend this place if you find yourself in this area and are hungry. -February 2020, Deena Brunson.

https://goo.gl/maps/xiruJKhawMPvUQZD8

ASOBUILD

The ASOBUILD is a one-stop location for hours of fun. It is six floors of all kinds of experiences and there is something for everyone, at every age. Parking like many places in Japan can be an adventure but there are plenty of garages around there. If driving isn’t your thing, even better, the ASOBUILD is located at the Yokohama train station.

My family stumbled upon the ASOBUILD in search of the ever-popular Unko exhibit or better know as the Poop museum. Once we arrived we were disappointed to learn the exhibit had changed but excited to explore the places we had found. Looking at the map we realized how much the ASOBUILD had to offer. The basement is a lounge called “Pitch Club”. The creatively decorated area holds many events. It is like a grow-ups playground with drinks, food, music, pool tables, darts, and comfy chairs. This area seemed to be popular all hours. We saw people going in and out from the time we arrived until we left.

“Post street” is the name of the first floor and main floor. This is where most entered the building and where you bought your tickets to exhibit and play areas. We bought our “Oceans by Nature” tickets with ease at the counter before taking a stroll around the rest of “Post Street”. It was around Halloween when we visited and to our surprise, they had a large decorated area for people to take their own free pictures. They even had some props available as well. Following our photoshoot, we walked the halls among several adorable food booths that had a very gourmet food truck feel.

The second floor called “Ale Box” holds ever-changing exhibits. We chose to go into the “Oceans by Naked” exhibit which was small by awe-inspiring. Once we exited the exhibit we wandered the halls and found so much more. There was also a drone racing area, an escape room and a gift shop that accompanied the “Oceans by Naked” exhibit.

Scanning the brochure area before paying for our “Oceans by Naked” tickets I noticed signs about the daily craft being offered. The third floor called “Monotory” holds workshops making all kinds of crafts from soap to Christmas wreaths. You can see what crafts are available and also make reservations on their very easy to use the website in English. I look forward to returning and trying their recommended DIY welding and shelf making.

The fourth floor is a kid area called “PuChu”. It cost about 2000 yen for 90 minutes for children between 0-12 years old. Parents also pay a fee of 1000 yen for 90 minutes. Day passes are also available for 2500 yen per child and 1000 per parent. The area is full of bright colors, puzzles, things to swing on and places to jump from. It looked like yet another reason we will need to return.

The last floor is the multi-sports floor. It is located on the roof and has various lessons such as soccer, archery, and boxing. The multiple courts can be rented for large functions or games. They have games of basketball and soccer that can anyone can jump into as well. Its a regular sports haven.

The ASOBUILD has it all! It’s the perfect place for a girl’s day, guys day or family day. If you find yourself in Yokohama or feel up for traveling you are sure to be entertained at the ASOBUILD. – Deena Brunson, October 2019.

 Shokusai Kitchen Mayfly

 Nice little river side restaurant that is very relaxing. It is 15 minutes away from Nippara Limestone Caves. They serve things such as pizza, curry, pasta and salad. You can also go trout fishing for about 600 yen which adds a bit of excitement to the day. All in all a great place to stop for lunch. The restaurant also has some free parking spots. ~Kalina Bojkova, August 2019.

http://ttcmayfly.web.fc2.com/mayfly.html

Nippara Limestone Caves

Great for families with babies and kids 4 and up who can walk and do a lot of stairs. A tad more challenging with a toddler but still a lot of fun especially if you have a strong dad with you who doesn’t mind carrying the toddler up the steep stairs. Has a bunch of spots to stop and look around which is very recharging. There’s a little area right by the entrance of the cave where you can sit by the water and have lunch and also covered benches upstairs by the bathroom.

Bring a jacket with a hood and you should be fine. Cold Water is dripping down hence the hood. Definitely hat or hood for little kids who don’t like cold water on their heads. There is not much space for big hats so a hood is better. You can wear long pants but if you are walking the whole time you will warm up. Kids should probably wear long pants too. My warm blooded husband was happy wearing shorts and a tee as you can see in the picture.

Bring little easy snacks for the kids to keep them happy as it is 45 min adventure and the echo makes it extra loud when they cry compared to the Japanese people who talk to each other in a whisper.

There is free parking not many spots available so go early. They also have toilet, a little restaurant, a shrine and lots of nature. It’s a great day trip. Also go with a small car and a really good driver the way up is one way. Perfect for a motorcycle ride per my husband’s words. ~ Kalina Bojkova, August 2019.

http://www.nippara.com/nippara/syounyuudou/syounyuudou.html

Kabuki Theater

When my mom came to visit we wanted to do something different and authentic to Japan. A friend had told me about the Kabuki Theater which was named Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2005. After doing some research we decided to give in a try. The dramatic Japanese performing art was more than I expected.

We took the train from the Fussa station which took about an hour and a half and involved a few train switches. The theater itself was beautiful with a grand feel outside and quaint feel inside. Tickets can be purchased per show or as a day pass. The line for single shows is located outside in front of the theater and tickets range from 500-3000 yen. It was a special Mother and Daughter day for us so we purchased the day pass which cost about 14000 yen each. The day passes can be purchased in the basement of the theater. You will find an escalator on the right side of the building that will take you down. Walk to the right and you will find the counter to purchase tickets. We had no trouble with communication as they spoke enough English to help us with our requests.

Once we purchased our tickets we wandered thru the many booths that can also be found in the basement. There are wonderful things to be seen and bought at the market such as jewelry, scarves, swords and treats of all kinds. As you head back up to the theater there is a convenient store located at the bottom of the escalator. We popped in there and grabbed a few snacks to enjoy while watching the show.

Outside the main doors is a small counter at which you can rent an English translator screen. It was about 1000 yen to rent. The screen is something you have to read but was very nice to have. We were lucky enough to see two very different shows. The first was musical. The vibrant costume colors and energy of the Wa-Daiko had me on the edge of my seat. The first show only lasted about 20 minutes. We were able to grab a glass of wine in the lobby between shows. The pink champagne was amazing!

The second show was more of a play. I felt it showed more diversity and talent of the all male cast. Kabuki Theater which started with an all female cast in 1603 is now know for its all male cast. The dramatic make up and comical script was a side of the Japanese culture I had not experienced yet. The second show was significantly longer and ran for close to an hour. After the two shows we felt like we had seen all we wanted and headed out to find food. You will have no trouble finding food and shopping in the Ginza area of Tokyo right outside the theater. -Deena Brunson, August 2019.

https://www.kabukiweb.net/theatres/kabukiza/information/index.html

Sayamaike park

This park is 10 min from west gate and 20 min from east gate by car. You can see the parking on the photo of the map of the park. It is about 25 min bike ride from west gate. Quiet neighborhood, really interesting houses, not many cars passing so you actually get to enjoy nature without all the noise. Small enough for a 2 year old to walk all around it and big enough to find many beautiful spots to take photo. Perfect for your D.I.Y family portrait. There a 7/11 close by, so you can grab a lunch and have picnic. The park has a playground with a sandbox to play in. Bathrooms can also be found at this park as well. ~ Kalina Bojkova, August 2019.

Westland Farms

Having heard about the yummy gelato and sweet animals many times, we finally decided to check out Westland Farms on my daughters last day of school. We invited some friends and headed there right after pick up. There were four cars in our group and I (per usual) was a little concerned about parking. I also was hoping the location in general was large enough for all of our high energy children. When we arrived I was pleased to see the parking lot was the perfect size and they had a great outdoor seating area that allowed for the children to wiggle and screech as needed.  

Once we got inside we were surrounded with a quaint adorably decorated gelato shops. Cows decor was sprinkled in every corner. The flavors of gelato ranged from commonly known choices such as chocolate chip, to down right interesting such as Olive Oil. The gelato itself is made with fresh ingredients from the farm which is one of the things that makes Westland Farms so special. After living in Italy many years ago my favorite flavor is pistachio and that is what I got. The small 300 yen cup was the perfect size. Pistachio was very good but like most Japanese sweets it wasn’t quite as sweet as I am used to. 

After we finished eating our treats we walked over to say hello to the goat and baby cow they have on property. The children thoroughly enjoyed petting the goat and saying “moooo” to the cow. Near the animals they also have a cow statue which offers the perfect photo opportunity. All in all if you are looking for a fun place to get a cool treat, Westland Farms is a wonderful choice. -Deena Brunson, July 2019.

https://www.westlandfarm.tokyo/


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

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

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

2014-03-16 15.03.16

2014-03-16 14.48.45

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

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.

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and SightsIf you are new to Yokota, or been here for years, this comprehensive guide can help you find new and exciting things to do year-round. Created with the seasons in mind, simply click on the link and find out what’s happening. Time to work on that Japan To-Do list!! Click on the links below to be able to zoom in and start your adventure! Created by Linda Bell, May 2015.

PDF: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Excel: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

 

 

Fall Colors Route Near Mt. Fuji and Lakes

DSC01438Here is a good ‘day’ outing if you’re interested in seeing some of the main fall spots near Mt. Fuji. The fall colors peak somewhere between mid-October to mid-November, but check this website for its report on fall colors round Mt. Fuji, Tokyo and Japan so you can plan your visit – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2014_where.html.

The trip drives around Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Saiko and is best taken during the week and on clear days, when Fuji is visible. Total driving time (not including stops) is about 3.5 hours in good/light traffic. The tolls, round trip, cost ¥4000 (in 2014). This circuit also works well in the spring, when cherry blossoms bloom at Chureito Pagoda and along Lake Kawaguchi.

DIRECTIONS

Begin at Chureito Pagoda (GPS N35.49969, E138.80025). Please see the map below.

FullSizeRenderFollow the road around Lake Kawaguchi, and you have the choice of two free parking lot areas: one parking lot is at the beginning of ¾ miles of fall trees and the other is at the end of this stretch of road. The first parking lot has the GPS coordinates 35.5205999, 138.7714245, and is located next to the Museum of Art. The one at the end, and further along the lake, is near a maple lined canal and has the GPS coordinates 35.5266438,138.7618775. The maple lined canal is down the hill from this parking lot and is a great highlight if you go when its color is in peak. The canal is less than 100 yards long, but all around this area and further up the mountain lane are some great looking seasonal trees. Between the two parking spots there are maple and gingko trees lining the main street as well as along the same distance on the path’s edge of lake Kawaguchi.

Continuing on your drive along Lake Kawaguchi, be prepared to stop for more amazing maple trees at this free parking spot, GPS 35.5153416,138.7369953. Near the far end of the lake there is a good and relatively well-priced, Italian restaurant on the right hand side.

Following this, you can drive to the thatched village settlement with the GPS coordinates 35.501374, 138.659046. Saiko Iyashi No Sato Nenba. Please see the link for parking and prices.

If you have extra time and energy, further around Lake Saiko there is a 20 to 30 minute hike up to Koyodai summit that has fall colors en route and at the top. You can drive to the top of this, but the road is unpaved and very rough. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot at the BOTTOM of Koyodai summit are 35.481077, 138.6720221. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot at the TOP of the summit are 35.4841543, 138.6795045. Linda Bell, November 2014.

Ashikaga Wisteria Flower Park

DSC07361This park has a wonderful array of flowers throughout the year, but is most famous for its spectacular wisteria displays from Mid-April to Mid-May. It is thought that one of the wisteria trees was planted in 1870. For more information about this park, and its other flowering seasons, please see this website http://www.ashikaga.co.jp/en/index.html.

DSC07399During the wisteria season, English maps of the park are available at the entrance. Restaurants and eating stalls can be found throughout the park. Various food items range from ¥400 to ~¥2000. Restaurant Wisteria has the largest selection, but is probably the most expensive. They have pork cutlets, a sushi-type bowl, club sandwiches and a kids’ curry meal. The park is stroller-friendly and there is a large resting/play field for kids to play in. A few playground items are located near the “Local Delicacies Corner” and tunnel of white wisteria. The gravel pathways around the park can be quite dusty so be prepared to bring extra clothing.

DSC07556Ashikaga Flower Park is open daily except for New Year’s Day. Opening hours vary however, so please check the park’s website. During the wisteria season, the park is open from 7am-9pm. At ~5:30pm the park is illuminated and the wisteria looks amazing. It seemed to be less busy during the afternoon and evening. Admission to the park changes on a daily and seasonal basis. In May 2014, Adults were ¥900- ¥1700, and children over 4 years old were ¥500-¥800 during the wisteria season. There are also evening admission prices (5.30pm-9pm).

DSC07604Because we incorporated this visit with a trip to Hitachi Seaside Park, we rented a base van to offset the cost of the road tolls. We took the Kan-etsu and Kita-Kanto Expressways most of the way to avoid traffic and it took 1½ hours from Yokota Air Base. We stayed at Chisun Inn Sano Fujioka. It was inexpensive and basic, but had everything we needed. Breakfast was an extra ¥500 per person, but free for young children. GPS coordinates for Chisun Inn Sano Fujioka are 36.29690 139.60001. The hotel is about a 20 minute drive from Ashikaga Flower Park. Linda Bell, May 2014.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS:  There are 2 entrances to the Flower Park, the West Gate and Front Gate. Parking is free near both gates. The GPS coordinates to the Front Gate parking are 36.31520 139.52274. It is located in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo’s center.

Nezu Shrine, Tsutsuji Matsuri

Schaaf_1192Schaaf_1247We went to the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo on April 23rd for the Azalea Festival (Tsutsuji Matsuri). The azaleas were beautiful and in full bloom. The festival occurs every year from mid-April though the beginning of June. Nezu Shrine boasts over 3000 azaleas of 100 different species. The festivities include food and a few merchant vendors lined up. The cost to get into the garden is ¥200 for an adult. There is no entry fee for children in elementary school and younger. The shrine is located in downtown Tokyo near Ueno Park. When you get off at the Nezu Subway Station, there are plenty of signs in English that point you in the right direction. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the station. During the festival, you should be able to just follow the crowd. The Shrine is open 9:00am to 5:30pm. The website is located at http://www.nedujinja.or.jp/tutuji/t.html, though you may need to use a translator. Christene Schaaf, April 2014

Spring Flowers near Yokota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONS

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

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

 

 

 

Hitachi Seaside Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

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

Big Bear Chalets, Hakuba

Big Bear Chalets, located in Hakuba outside Nagano, is possibly the best cabin that we’ve stayed in.  It has all the amenities of a house plus private in-cabin onsen and it makes for a fun destination in itself.   We had so much fun at the cabin that we found it hard to leave. Our 2 bedroom cabin fit up to 6 adults comfortably and there’s plenty of space to squeeze the kids in.  Bedrooms have American sized full beds. Bring your own food and cook in the full sized kitchen minus an oven.  It is located walking distance to local eats (sweet, savory, or noodles – Mexican too) as well as a 7/11.  Staying here you can enjoy nature hikes, bike trails, and fishing pond.  In winter come for the skiing and walk from the chalet to the ski lifts.  Tip: Owner Darrin suggests that the best time for skiing is late March/early April.  At that time, there are fewer people, much less traffic and the cost of lodging is almost half the December – March price. The snow quality is much better as well.  During peak season (Dec-Mar), the snow is not optimal due to crowds. Hakuba become a popular ski spot after the winter Olympics took place here in 1998.  In winter it fills up with Australians and skiers from all over Asia.  The chalet is expensive, but priced for the unit, not by person.  Split the cost with another family or two to make for a more cost effective vacation.
Directions: GPS 36.705053 ,137.840202.  About a 4 hour drive, located in Hakuba. – Anna S., November 2012

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Summerland

Roughly eight kilometers from Yokota is the land of perpetual summer: Summerland. It is a mix of a theme park, swimming pool, game room and restaurants. You can spend a gloomy, gray day inside and enjoy the wave pool, large and small water slides and numerous rides underneath the heated dome. In the summer months, an outdoor “Adventure Lagoon,” water slides and amusement rides are available.  There are various price ranges.  The cost is cheaper off-season when just the indoor pools are open, March – May and October-November.  The pools close December-February. If you only want to swim you’ll just need to buy the regular pass not the more expensive free pass.  The full price list and opening hours are here.  Parking is ¥1200.  There are restaurants on the premises, but you can bring your own lunch or a cooler.  No tattoos; so if you have them find a swimsuit to cover them.  You can also rent a locker in the changing area. Nearby is Akigawa Nature Park, which charges a modest admission fee.  Summerland phone:  042-558-6511. www.summerland.co.jp/english/. GPS for Summerland parking lot: 35.71826,139.27707. Check here for more information on their tattoo policy.  – Photos by Michelle Nexon 2013, updated Sarah Straus, 2014.

Comments by Sarah Straus, March 2014: I’ve taken my family to Summerland during the spring three years in a row.  We started going when the kids were ages 2 and 4 and our last year they were ages 4 and 6.  These are great ages for the indoor pools at Summerland.  In my opinion the best time to go is early March because the warm humid air under the dome feels so great after a cold, dry winter.  This year we went on Sunday March 2nd.  I thought it would be crowded but it wasn’t!  It was perfect.  Last year we went on a weekday during the first week in March and it was so quiet. We had the place to ourselves and loved it.  I have a few tips: 1: Bring a tarp and arrive when it opens to snag your spot.  Open times vary, so check their webpage.  2: Your towels and food will likely be OK unattended, but take advantage of the coin locker located next to the wave pool for wallets and phones.  You’ll get your ¥100 back.  3. Bring your own food. There are restaurants in Summerland and you can even buy beer, but the food is not great… you’ll be better off feeding your kids PBJ’s and juice boxes in my opinion.  4. Bring your floaties… inner tubes are so fun when the big waves begin on the hour.   5. Don’t miss the grotto rain storm in the basement level which occurs 30 minutes into each hour.  It is so fun and a great place to warm up because there are several large hot tubs.
DIRECTIONS: There’s a map on the Summerland website that includes Yokota Air Base, but it may be hard to follow. See our map below.


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