Category Archives: TOKYO

Burger Mania

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Illuminations, Central Tokyo

Here’s a list of some of the top illumination displays in central Tokyo.  These are great places to visit during the dark winter months, and they’re all free.  Be prepared for some illuminations to end on Christmas Day; check Time Out Tokyo ( http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo) for specific illumination dates. I have listed the destinations in order of my preference, however, Sagamiko Pleasure Forest’s winter illumination is my most favorite illumination around Tokyo (2014-15).

Tokyo MidtownMidtown Tokyo:  (Roppongi Station, Hibiya Line – H04, exit 8). This mall has a nice light tour from the Plaza, along Higashi Street and through the Garden. It ends with an amazing finale at the Grass Square. The lights run from 17:00 – 23:00, between the middle of November to Christmas Day.

Nakameguro Canal Nakameguro: (Naka-meguro Station, Hibiya Line – H01, North exit). Cross the road, after you take the North exit, and follow the crowd north. These amazing canal lights give you the impression that the river runs through a beautiful blue cave. The lights are lit 17:00 – 21:00 from the end of November to Christmas Day, EXCEPT WEEKENDS!※The blue illumination relocated to Yoyogi park in 2016. The trees are illuminated in an orange-gold color in 2016 instead.
This illumination differs every year. Please make sure to check the info before you visit there!

-Yoyogi Park, Shibuya
The above blue cave has relocated to Yoyogi park in 2016. Please see the separate entry for more information.
Ao no doukutsu: http://yokotatravel.com/ao-no-doukutsu-yoyogi-park-illumination/

ShidomeShiodome: (Shiodome Station, Oedo Line – E19, or Shinbashi Station, connected to several lines). The Caretta mall runs an illumination show every 20 minutes. The GPS coordinates for the display are 35.6648195,139.7624616. Illumination is from 17:00 – 23:00 and begins mid-November to mid-January.

Roppongi HillsRoppongi Hills/Keyakizaka Street: (Roppongi Station, Hibiya Line – H04, exit 1C). This romantic illumination is located near Mori Tower, and in previous years, they have had a Christmas market that runs until 9 pm. The GPS coordinates for the Roppongi Hill lights are 35.6592006,139.7298473 and the trees are lit 17:00 – 23:00, from early November to Christmas Day.

The 4 locations, above, can be visited relatively ‘easily’ as most of them are on the Hibiya Line, but there is quite a bit of walking involved. I suggest seeing the lights at Nakameguro (H01) first, since these lights turn off the earliest and ending with Tokyo Midtown or Shidome. To get to Shiodome, take the Oedo Line to Shidome (E19) from Roppongi Sation (H04).

Tokyo Dome/La Qua: (Served by several lines and can be reached via Kasuga Station, Korakuen Station, exit 2 or Suidobashi Station, West exit). When we went to this display, it was not vast, like the illumination spots above. However, it was colorful and the frequent light shows were well choreographed to music. You may want to see the ‘fountains to music’ display at La Qua too. La Qua also has over 50 restaurants located on the Ground floor and 5th floor. You can see the lights between 17:00 – 01:00 from early November to mid-February.

Shinjuku: (Shinjuku Station also served by a number of lines including the JR Yamanote Line, South exit). There are displays all around Shinjuku Terrace City with a number of them located on Shinjuku’s Southern Terrace, south of JR Shinjuku Station. The lights are generally lit from 17:00 – 24:00 mid-November to mid-February. You can catch some Valentine’s Day lights here too.

Inside Omotesando stationBetween Meji-jingumae Station and Omotesando Station: (Meji-jingumae Station, Chiyoda Line – C3 or Fukutoshin Line F15, and Omotesando Station, Chiyoda Line – C4, Ginza Line – G2, or Hanzomon Line- Z2).  Meiji-jigumae Station is a 10 minute walk from Harajuku station which is on the JR Yamanote Line. Along this ritzy stretch of road, there are a lot of lighted Gingko trees. On the left as you go from Meiji-jingumae Station to Omotesando Station, you can take a quick look at the illumination displays on the rooftop in Tokyu Plaza, next to Starbucks, and then further down the road inside the Omotesando Hills Shopping Mall; where there is a 26 foot tall fake Christmas tree and a cute miniature German house scene. You can catch the lights between sunset and 21:00 from early December to early January.

Yebisu Garden Place: (Ebisu station, Hibiya Line – H02, and the JR Yamanote Line to name a few lines. exit 1 or East Exit). This is a 10-15 minute uphill walk from Ebisu Station, or if you can find it, the “Yebisu Skywalk” is easier. The GPS coordinates for this illumination display are 35.6426292,139.7137002. When we visited, the plaza had a red carpet lined with lit trees and a gigantic crystal chandelier at the end. This illumination is generally lit between 16:00 – midnight and runs November to mid-January.

Tokyo Tower: (Kamiyacho Station, Hibiya Line, exit 1 or Onarimon Station, Mita Line, exit A1 or Akabanebashi Station, Oedo Line – E21, Akabanebashi exit). Besides the tower itself, there are other lights at the base of the tower that are usually theme based. The year we went the lights ‘worshipped’ some anime creature that we didn’t know. It costs 900 yen to get to the main observation tower. For more information on Tokyo Tower, see this Yokota Travel entry http://yokotatravel.com/welcome-fellow-yokotans/tokyo-tower/. These lights are lit between 16:00-0:00 and run between early November to December 25.

Here are a few more illumination destinations that I have not visited, but are well-known illumination spots in central Tokyo. They are a little further from Yokota, but good spots to check out if you are staying at the New Sanno during the winter months.

Tokyo Station: (Tokyo Station is serviced by a number of lines. Use Yaesu exit and exit 4a/4b for Michi Terasse). Tokyo Station usually has a couple of attractions from 17:00-23:00 early December to early January. Tokyo Station’s, Yaesu, Grand Roof is lit with alternating colors. From 16:30-20:30. December 24-28/29 Tokyo Station’s Michi Terrace (or Tokyo Station’s façade) usually has an annual 3D holographic projection display.

–  Tokyo Skytree: (Oshiage Station is also serviced by a number of lines). The Solamachi Christmas Market and Christmas illuminations around Tokyo Skytree run from 10:00-22:00 early November to Christmas Day. The pathways connecting the tower, Tokyo Skytree and Oshiage Stations are lit from mid-December and you can usually see projection mapping shows as well.

Ginza District: (Ginza Station on the Hibiya, Marunouchi and Ginza Subway Lines and Yurakucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line, JR Keihin-Tohoku Line and Yurakucho Subway Line). The lights in Ginza are generally lit between 11:00-22:00 from mid-November to mid-February.

– Odaiba: (Daiba Station, Yurikamome Line). Odaiba has a large “Daiba Memorial Tree” lit from 17:00-01:00 in mid-November to mid-March. Other illumination points around Odaiba include “Odaiba Kaihin Park, in front of the of Decks shopping center, Venusfort and Diver City”, according to http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2303.html.

Linda Bell, December 2014.

 

Ginko Trees in Fall, Tokyo University Hongō Campus

DSC03584Around the end of November to the beginning of December, brilliant, yellow ginkgo trees line the main entrance into Tokyo University’s Hongō Campus. It’s a grand sight, and the leaf-carpeted path leads you through interesting gothic buildings and archways. Most of the campus is open to the public and is stroller friendly, for the most part.

DSC03648From the main gate (Seimon), and part way down the University’s main pathway, a path on the left leads to a huge ginkgo tree. It’s a great place to relax and have a drink, or picnic if the weather’s fine. At the opposite end of the main gate is Yasuda Auditorium, a large, red brick building. Just south of the main gate, towards Hongo Sanchome Station, there is also an interesting red gate (Akamon, shown in the picture above) built in 1827, from the Edo period.

Tokyo University is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in Japan, and the World. The institute’s symbol is the ginkgo leaf, as the trees are “known for their endurance and longevity” (japanvisitor.com). Here is a link to the map for Hongō Campus. It has the locations of restrooms, restaurants, convenience stores and the train stations. Hongo Campus Map. During the fall, we combined this outing with a trip to Koishikawa Korakuen Park. A 1.3-mile walk separates the two locations, or you can take a subway ride between the Iidabashi/Korakuren Stations and Hongo Sanchome Station. Linda Bell, October 2014.

DSC03612DIRECTIONS: The GPS coordinates to the Tokyo University Hongō Campus main gate (Seimon) on Hongo-dori Avenue, are 35.712926, 139.759457. The closest subway stations to the University’s main gate are Todaimae Station (Nanboku Line, N12) and two separate Hongo Sanchome Stations, one services the Marunouchi Line (M21) and the other the Toei Ōedo Line (E08). Take note of the train line your returning on so you go to the correct station.

If you exit Todaimae Station, turn left to head to the main gate, while at the M21 Station take the Hong-dori Avenue Exit, Exit 3. At the E-08 Station take Exit 4 and turn right for the main gate. All stations are approximately a 10-minute walk to the main entrance of the University. I believe all three stations are stroller friendly, according to the University’s Disability Services Office.

Tokyo Toy Museum, Shinjuku-Yotsuya

DSC09030This is a good outing for all ages, but particularly good for kids under 9 years of age. It’s also great for those days you find yourself in Downtown Tokyo, you’re staying at the New Sanno, or you need something to do on a rainy cold day. The museum is located inside an old elementary school and consists of three floors. Each room within the building is dedicated to a different type of play and learning. Some of the attractions include a toy workshop in which you can make your own toy/craft, a wooden toy room, and a room dedicated to the all-time classic toys.

DSC09025Strollers aren’t ideal within the museum, but can be left outside the gymnasium. There is also a small playground outside for nice weather. Take footwear that is easy to slip on and off, if possible, as a couple rooms do not allow shoes. There are no restaurants within the museum. We took snacks and ate outside. However, there are a variety of restaurants back towards Yotsuya-3-chrome station.

IMG_3012The Museum is open from 10:00 – 16:00 all days (last entry is 15:30), but closed on Thursdays. Admission is ¥700 for adults, ¥500 for kids over 2, and free for kids under 2. A parent and child combo ticket is ¥1000 (for a child over 2 years old). For more information, please go to http://www.goodtoy.org/ttm/ (you made need to use a translator). If you finish early at the Tokyo Toy Museum, the Tokyo Fire Museum is another attraction that can be visited near Yotsuya Sanchrome Station, and it’s free! Linda Bell, October 2014.

DIRECTIONS: The GPS coordinates for the toy museum are N35.68951, E139.71805. By train, take Exit 2 at Yotsuya Sanchrome Station, on the Maronuchi Line. The Museum is a 5 minute walk from the station. It’s quite difficult to find as it’s down a mainly residential street. Look for the red flags with yellow writing, TTM (Tokyo Toy Museum) on the right hand side. Parking is not advised, according to the website.

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

Legoland Discovery Center

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

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

Sarah Straus Legoland

 

Tokyo Fire Museum

firemuseumtokyo1The Tokyo Fire Museum, located in Shinjuku, is fun and free.  We took our four-year-old son on a weekday with visiting relatives and practically had the place to ourselves. He really enjoyed trying on the costumes and playing in the firetrucks and rooftop helicopter. I enjoyed the museum itself, as it’s one of the few museums in Japan that I have been to that has information in English.  Stars & Stripes ran an excellent article on the museum titled: Red-hot destination: Tokyo Fire Museum.  Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays.

DIRECTIONS:  Located at Yotsuya -Sanchome Station, Exit #2.   – Emily Gyimah, February 2014.

tokyofiremuseum2

 

La Salsita Restaurant, Tokyo

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

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

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building at Shinjuku

2013-09-02 15.23.11
From the two observatories in the Tokyo Metro Government building near Shinjuku Station you can see an amazing 360 degree view of Tokyo and it is FREE!  Look at a map when you get off the train at Shinjuku to locate the TMG building – it  is about four long blocks away.  Once you are near the building, signs will direct you toward the elevators and there is staff at the bottom and top to assist.  Depending on when you go there may be a line.  My husband and I went after sunset to the North Observatory.  There are windows all the way around, a little store, and a bar at the top. 2013-09-02 15.29.24

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

Robot Restaurant – Shinjuku

Robot2I kept hearing about the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku and decided to give it a try. My husband and I called it a date night and headed down to Shinjuku on a Saturday. We made reservations in advance to secure seats. Seating is limited. It’s easy to make reservations, simply call 03-3200-5500. The man on the phone spoke both Japanese and English. He was very helpful.

On the phone, the person will explain the “system” they follow. There are typically three one-hour shows per night, 7:00, 8:30 and 10:00pm. Please verify this on their website, http://www.robot-restaurant.com/E/. Once you choose a show time, they will ask for your name and phone number. The restaurant will call you one hour prior to the show, if you do not answer, and do not show up 30 minutes prior to the show, you will lose your seat.

Robot3We walked around the block a few times before we finally found the restaurant. There are dinosaur robots in the front. It looks like an arcade from the outside. After you check in to secure your seats, you pick your meal using a ticket vending machine. The choices are a rice ball set, a yakitori set, and I can’t remember the third choice. The tickets are ¥5000 per person. Once you get your ticket, you can walk across the street to a waiting area. They serve beer and drinks.

Robot4When it’s time for the show, you will be escorted to the stage/seating area. Your dinner will be served in a box. While you are eating, they will prepare the stage and will begin the show. Throughout the show, there will be breaks for scene changes. During these breaks, you can get up, use the restroom, or buy more beverages. There will even be a chance for photos with the robots and dancers.

This is not a restaurant to bring kids to. The setting is loud and the women are scantily clad. But it was definitely a Japanese experience my husband and I will never forget! The show was a little cheesy at times, but would take unexpected twists that surprised. Audience participation is encouraged. The restaurant is about a 6 minute walk from Shinjuku Station. GPS: 35.694289, 139.702707. Michelle Nexon, October 2013.

Comment by Elvie Richard, October 2013: Metropolis magazine has 20% discount coupon for admission to Robot Restaurant. You have to have one for each member of the party. That’s ¥1000 off per person. My out-of-town guests totally enjoyed this Japanese experience.


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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

Yoyogi & Harajuku

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

 

Randy: Bistro in Tokyo near US Embassy

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

Studio Ghibli Museum: Mitaka

Studio Ghibli 1-Roxanne R.Located in the small town of Mitaka about 30 minutes from Yokota by train, the Studio Ghibli Museum is a must see for anyone with an interest in art or animation, a love of the studio’s films (such as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away), or just a desire to become lost in a fantasy world for a while.

The museum is surrounded by Inokashira Park in Kichijoji (see linked Yokota Travel entries), lending to its magical feel. Inside the museum is a warren of rooms carefully tucked behind archways or beyond tall staircases in such a way as to make you feel like you’re exploring another world. The rooms are filled with beautiful tributes to the studio’s works, including shadowboxes, animation cells, and my personal favorite, a live stop-motion display, achieved by a spinning display under an extremely fast strobe light. The upstairs rooms are made to look like fanciful animators’ workstations, the surfaces cluttered with reference objects and the walls literally papered with original sketches from the studio’s films. Stained glass images, inspired by the studio’s most famous films, provide light in the walkways.

Studio Ghibli 2-Roxanne R.There’s plenty for the kids to do, too. A play area with a fuzzy, near life-sized Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro takes up an entire upstairs room, and a kid-centric house of lenses and illusions currently fills the temporary exhibit area on the second floor (2013). Throughout other parts of the museum, there are plenty of things to peer into and touch. The kids we saw were especially enjoying the working water pump in the outdoor courtyard. The museum also screens animated shorts which can only be seen there, a favorite with the children.

The museum has two stores. One is a “reading room” filled with books recommended by the museum and famous animator Miyazaki, as well as a book of museum photos and its various displays. The other gift shop is full of everything from inexpensive pens and pins, to necklaces and statues costing hundreds of dollars.

Studio Ghibli 4-Roxanne R.Note that photography inside the museum is not allowed, but there are plenty of photo ops outside, so you may want to bring your camera. We enjoyed getting our picture with the giant rooftop robot guardian from Castle in the Sky!

Tickets are ¥1000 per adult, and less in varying age categories for children. Tickets must be purchased in advance at a blue Lawson store. Follow these instructions as the Lawson machines are not in English: Ghibli Museum Ticket Purchase Instructions. Museum entrance times vary and are printed on your ticket. Entrance windows are every two hours from 10:00am-10:30am to 16:00pm-16:30pm, Wednesday through Monday, except during certain holidays. Phone: +81 570-055-777. GPS: 35.696323, 139.571232. Roxanne Ready, July 2013.

DIRECTIONS BY TRAIN: Take the JR Ome Line to Tachikawa, then switch to the JR Chuo Line towards Tokyo. Get off at Mitaka Station, the seventh stop. Then walk from the South exit for 15 minutes along the Tamagawa Josui “Waterworks”, a waterway easy to spot for the extreme overgrowth of greenery surrounding it. Or if you don’t want to walk, take the community bus from Mitaka Station to the museum for ¥300 per adult, half price per child, round-trip.

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.

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.

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

View Larger Map

kappabashi 4 sarah straus kappabashi 3 sarah straus

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.