Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

 

Goo Italiano – Shibuya

While getting my hair done in Shibuya, my hairdresser recommended a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch after.  Goo Italiano is a cute little Italian restaurant on a corner not far from Shibuya crossing.  I have been twice now for lunch and enjoyed their Paccheri Tomato Sauce dish on both visits.  Their sets range for 1000yen to 1500yen for lunch and include focaccia bread, salad, pasta choice and a drink.  Their iced peach tea is worth a try!    My husband also enjoyed the pasta of the day special.  Their dinner menu has a lot more variety and includes family style meals.  The dinner grand menu includes pizzas, pastas, salads, lasagna, and Italian appetizers.  They also offer carry out.  – Angela Vaillant, April 2018

Website: http://www.take-5.co.jp/goo-italiano/shibuya/
HOURS: Weekdays 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-12am and Weekends 11:30am-12am
PHONE: 03-6418-8300

Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

Last August my family of 4 visited the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum. My husband found this place on Google maps and knew I was missing Europe’s charms during a particularly wet August here and wanted to give me a piece of Tuscany!  We escaped the rains of Yokota one Saturday and enjoyed beautiful sunshine in Hakone where we visited several museums and the infamous ropeway.  I am writing just about this museum, lesser known among Americans, though the entire Hakone area is beautiful and definitely deserves much exploring! This complex consists of a garden, Venetian glass museum, modern glass museum, cafe, gallery shop, and glass experience studio.

The beautiful spring through fall blooming garden features paved walks lined with many statues and sculptural elements – both glass and other elements.  When we visited mid August, some late blooming blue hydrangeas were still hanging on to life.  There are also rose features, a Christmas feature, a mountain of glass leaves and Autumn foliage feature as well as a permanent light corridor and outdoor gigantic hanging crystal glass twinkling and glittering in the sunlight. I loved the glass sculptural elements playing off the sun, combined with the natural flowers and water features to create fantastic photos! We spent our time walking through every inch of the gardens looking for hidden surprises in each nook and cranny.

The museum buildings housed Japan’s only collection of Venetian glass – both from ancient times, through the Renaissance period, up until modern times. The exhibition was very nice and somewhat extensive but I felt just a bit underwhelmed having toured Venice, Murano and Burano, Italy glass factories just 4 years ago. In the small rotunda of one of the museum buildings there was an area roped off where, several scheduled times a day, 3-4 talented Italian men would play the filled water glasses in a 30 minute concert – featuring a famous Japanese song, a classical music repertoire, and even a Disney favorite! It’s much more than Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”! The glass concert alone made the visit to the museum worth the trip!

The cafe was gorgeously situated on the manmade link with outdoor covered seating overlooking a panoramic view of the lovely gardens.  There was also an Italian music show featuring piano and singers.  Unfortunately, this is where the similarities to Italy ended as the small menu only offered one Italian dish!! I have to tell you the quality was bellisimo, though the portion size was rather small! The rest were Japanese curry and beef stew and, I believe hamburger. However, looking at the website as I write this, they seem to have amended their menu and now offer only 1 seasonally changing Italian selection along with a variety of teas, coffee and pastries!

The glass experience studio we walked by and didn’t partake as we have done glass blowing before in Europe and didn’t want to spend the money and wait in line for a turn.  They have a special Venetian mask creation studio right now for those visiting in the winter of 2018!  The price for creating your own work of art is on the webpage as varies based on what you create but is not included in the museum visitation price but an additional charge. – Julie O’Leary, March 2018

Web-site:  http://www.hakone-garasunomori.jp/entrance/english/

Oriental Bazaar Harajuku

This Harajuku area Bazaar souvenir and all things authentic Japan is worth taking your guests to for a great selection of souvenirs and Japanese mementos if they are not visiting during base Bazaar weekends!  It is located on the very glamorous and wide Ometesando shopping street parallel to the Takeshita street, sharing the sidewalk with the likes of high end retailers Mikimoto, Rolex, and the like.  However, the prices here in this 3 story Bazaar on mostly new merchandise, though they do offer some used vintage kimono, obi, accessories  are not glitzy at all and are actually very affordable. They also offer tax free for foreigners with passport at checkout. Everything, including custom wood cut panels, new and vintage kokeshi dolls, pottery, weapons & new and used kimono, yukata and obi are to be had here! – Julie O’Leary, March 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

Kyoto Fire Ramen Restaurant

After a full day of sightseeing in Kyoto our 5 and 8 year old boys were beat and ready to eat.  My husband had read about a unique restaurant called Kyoto Fire Ramen so we decided to check it out.  Upon arrival they were full so we checked in on a computer and waited outside in the cold with some others for the tables to open up.  Luckily it was only about a 20 minute wait before we were allowed in.  We sat up to a bar where we we given full body bibs.  They took my phone and hung it behind the bar to record our fire ramen experience.  The owner spoke very good English and chatted with us a bit before the official start of the cooking process.  It was fun to watch how the ramen was made.  Once they sit the ramen in front of you, they go down the line of the bar setting them on fire.  My 5 year old was increasingly concerned as the fire got closer and closer to him.  He cried but recovered quickly and ate all his ramen.  It was probably one of my favorite ramens I have had in Japan, and the whole family agreed!  The owner also made everyone take a funny photo eating the ramen.  When we left there was an even longer line of people waiting so I would recommend getting there early.  We arrived at 5:00pm.  They allow approximately 3o minutes for you to complete your meal.  If we ever make it back to Kyoto, we’d definitely visit this restaurant again! – Angela Vaillant, March 2018

Check out the web-site for more info on how the ramen is made and pricing.  Set prices range from ¥1480-¥2150. They also want children to be at least 110cm tall.  http://www.fireramen.com/home/index.html

Open daily – 11:30am-11:00pm (no reservations)

 

J.S. Foodies – Tachikawa

If you are looking for a good burger, check out J.S. Foodies in the LaLaport Mall in Tachikawa.  My husband and I stopped into the mall after doing some shopping at nearby IKEA.  We weren’t in the mood for Japanese cuisine so I suggested we get a burger at J.S. Foodies.  I had already visited the restaurant twice for lunch and I thought my husband would enjoy it.  He ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and I had the Maple Butter BLT.  Both meals came with a side of fries which were some of my favorite I have had in Japan.  The burger and sandwich were really good so it’s definitely worth checking out if you looking for more of an American style burger or sandwich.  My husband compared it to a Moose Hills Burger, which is another burger joint near Mt. Fuji we have tried.  At lunch you can get a set that includes a salad.  Burgers and sandwiches are around ¥1000 and they also have kids sets.  If you are craving something sweet, they have waffles (with fruit or fried chicken) on the menu.  The Mall is an easy 15-20 minute drive out the East gate, but you can also access it from the Monorail.   Angela Vaillant – January 2018

Location – Lalaport Tachikawa Shopping Mall – 2nd level (2F on mall map)

Website: http://foodies.journal-standard.jp/
HOURS: Daily 10:00am-9:00pm
PHONE: 042-540-6276

Goshuin – Shrine Stamp Collecting

A wonderful souvenir from Japan is your very own book of Shrine Stamps or Goshuin. Called Goshuincho, your stamp book can be stamped at most shrines and temples throughout Japan. Buy a book at any shrine where offered for around 1000-1500 yen. Shine books are available at some souvenir stores as well but if you buy from shrines they will likely feature a design unique to the shrine or local area. Find the Goshuin area of the shrine/temple and the monks will stamp and sign in calligraphy the name of the shrine and date usually for 300 yen (for each stamp in your book).

Goshuin used to be a way for pilgrims to show proof of their visits to shrines but they have gained popularity among young people and tourists. Please be aware that monks see these as religious symbols/objects so extra writing or other souvenir type of stamps included in the book may be seen as insult or defacement.

If you forget your book, you can ask for a loose paper stamp and glue it in your book later. Shrines usually have a stack available for this purpose.

Blog posts to read more about goshuin:

https://www.thewanderingsuitcase.com/collecting-goshuin-as-a-souvenir/

http://www.kyotoursjapan.com/goshuin/

https://www.japanhoppers.com/en/features/temples_shrines/320/

Stamp collecting can become addicting and the shrines feed into it by offering special stamps and colors for different holidays. Instagrams to follow for shrine stamps and special stamp happenings:

cinzano_limetto
chille0229
mikko0718
holakanappe
or search #goshuin

It’s a fun way to track your time in Japan and the places you visit along the way.  Jennifer McCarthy – January 2018

 

 

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

4 day family weekend in the Japanese Alps – Nagano, Matsumoto, Hirayu

We did this trip over Fourth of July weekend with two boys ages 4 and 6; I think it would work nearly year-round as a chance to see a nice circle of sites from Nagano, Matsumoto and up to the Japanese Alps as a 3 or 4 day weekend.  On Friday, we took off for the 3-hour drive to Nagano (approx $25 dollars in tolls or so) where we checked into the no-frills-but-well-located business hotel Chisun Grand Nagano (cheap parking). Nagano itself is not a city of sites but we enjoyed seeing the huge walls of sake barrels lit up at night outside of the Shinshu Nagoya Sakaba.  This izakaya was completely empty when we stopped by for dinner, but it was one of those places that was “sorry, fully reserved.” In the morning, we checked out and headed to see the pretty grounds of the Zenko-Ji temple and it’s pitch-black-slighty-scary underground passage to the “Key to Salvation” (it’s worth the extra 500 yen). After the Zenko, we drove about 30 minutes to the dinosaur statues and a nice walk through Chausuyamakyoryu Park (free or cheap parking and entry). From there it’s another hour drive to Matsumoto’s castle where we went inside and climbed up to the top for a great view.  After Matsumoto’s castle we drove another hour into the mountains up a crazy curvy road to our Japanese Inn at Hirayunomori (English available at www.hirayunomori.co.jp).  We loved this place!  Couples can opt for rooms in the inn but as a family we settled comfortably into one of the large two-story cabins in the forest just a few steps from the rest of the inn and it’s outstanding indoor/outdoor onsen.  The eight different pools on each side ranged from warm to hot and even our 4 year old was happy in a couple of them. This was our first Japanese Inn experience and our only mistake was wrapping our yukata like a dead person (should be left over right, I think).  Most of the time, we had the pools to ourselves . We did not try the restaurant, but we did bring a lot of our own food for cooking in our cabin – plus some beach chairs (American-style!) so we had somewhere to sit in our room.  The next morning, we walked down the street to the bus station to catch a short 25-minute bus to Kamikochi – the Alpine Japan hiking base accessible only by bus.  We did a short circular walk up and across the famous lookout at Kappa-bashi and back.  This would be another great overnight stay and as an afficinado of alpine lodges I had to check out the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel, but it was less impressive than I thought.  A short bus ride back and we were in our pools at Hirayunomori.  If we had more time we would have loved to go to the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway or (gasp) tried mixed bathing at Shin-Hotaka-no-yu. This was our first trip up into the mountains and I highly recommend this weekend trip.  During Fourth of July it was perfect: we were bathing in 50s and 60s degree weather but reading about Yokota really heating up – so we enjoyed the mountain cool. There is also a ski hill right around the corner from Hirayunomori!  Happy travels!   Zeke Lyons – December 2017

Shinshu Nagaya Sakaba

Zenko-Ji Temple

Dinosaur Park

Matsumoto’s Castle

Hirayunomori Cabin

Yukata’s at the Inn

Kamikochi

Honke Bankyu Onsen

Honke Bankyu is a remote, traditional ryokan located approximately 1 hour north of Nikko.  They have fabulous accommodations, unbelievable kaiseki dinners and breakfasts, and amazing onsens. There are multiple private as well as public indoor and outdoor onsens within the ryokan; public onsens have separate spas for men and women. The ryokan has been owned and operated by the same family for 25 generations. All outdoor onsens are situated alongside a crystal emerald-blue river. We received a special treat while there last week,…beautiful snow! I’ve now stayed in 3 ryokan onsens and this by far was my favorite! Even the futon was luxurious and plush!

Note: the onsen has limited options for eating outside of the establishment. The area is a resort area, but primarily consists of ryokans (most of which all serve meals).

The resort provides yukata, tabi socks, and toiletries. Dinner is served nightly across a swing bridge that crosses the river!  Robin Kidder – December 2017

Peppermint Café – Kichijoji

If you love Thai food, Peppermint Café in Kichijoji is a great restaurant to check out.  It is the sister restaurant of Pepa Café which is just a short walk away. The atmosphere is great and the food was awesome too.  My friends and I stumbled upon the menu on the street on a girls night out .  We were seated at a cute table in the corner where we took off our shoes before sitting.  The dinner menu was very large so we decided to share and sample a variety of items.  The mojito’s were also very tasty!    I have since been back for lunch when we had family in town.  The menu is much smaller for lunch but includes a soup and salad set.  The area itself is also a great spot to check out for a date night or girls night out.  There are many shops and restaurants and it is a 35-45 minute train ride from Akishima station. – Angela Vaillant, November 2017

Website: http://www.peppermintcafe.com/
HOURS: Daily 11:30am-12am
PHONE: 0422-79-3930 

More Yokota Travel posts on Kichijoji: https://yokotatravel.com/?s=Kichijoji

Naruko Onsen

If you love Kokeshi and Onsen, I highly recommend a trip off the beaten path to Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture. It may take some time and trip planning to get there but this cute little town in Northern Japan is a must see for Kokeshi lovers. We stayed at the Naruko Hotel. They did speak a little English – enough to help when needed. We enjoyed the hotel very much! Very nice and helpful. They provide yukata to wear around the hotel in a cute Kokeshi pattern. They serve breakfast and dinner buffets which were very good! The buffets were filled with Japanese delicacies as well as enough recognizable food for tourists. They have a private onsen you can reserve for 50 minutes for a fee (approximately 2000-5000 yen depending on number of people). Highly recommend reserving before your trip to get a good time if you are interested in private onsen (the Yujo can help with your call!). The hotel also has their own vast Kokeshi collection on display and a cute gift shop. We reserved our room on japanican.com for a reasonable price. They do have a cancellation policy so please keep that in mind when reserving.

While in Naruko, check out the Japanese Kokeshi Museum and Naruko Gorge. The Gorge may take some planning to get transportation out to the site. The Japanese Kokeshi Museum is filled with Kokeshi from various Tohoku areas highlighting the different dolls and artists from each area. You can even paint your own Kokeshi! There is a small fee to tour the museum but it is under 500 yen. Painting the doll costs around 1000 yen. The town has many shops filled with Tohoku kokeshi! This trip could be a part of a Tohoku road/shinkansen trip or a fun girls’ trip weekend.

Also recommend following Naruko_Hotel and tohokukokeshi on Instagram for more information and tips.  – Jennifer McCarthy, October 2017

Town: Narukoonsen
Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/PgNprr11Lvv

Hotel:
http://www.narukohotel.co.jp/
Naruko Hotel
Yumoto-36 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6823, Japan
+81 229-83-2001
https://goo.gl/maps/mhfH29qMWC92

Japanese Kokeshi Museum:
http://www.kokesikan.com/english.htm
http://www.kokesikan.com/
日本こけし館
Shitomae-74-2 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6827, Japan
+81 229-83-3600
https://goo.gl/maps/CXFbcMAEAaJ2

Gorge:
Naruko Kyo
Narukoonsen, Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/3Fsngg2r5N42

Station: Naruko-Onsen Station
Kawarayu Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/tthPEQ5qpY32

Din Tai Fung – Dim Sum Restaurant

Din Tai Fung in Tachikawa specializes in Xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings). This is the same restaurant group that is popular in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. If you aren’t familiar with these dumplings, they actually have the soup inside! This restaurant also serves other soups, noodles, and other varieties of dim sum as well as sets. All very tasty and interesting to eat! Traditionally, they are eaten with fresh ginger and vinegar.  Din Tai Fung is located on the 9th floor of a shopping complex near Tachikawa station. – Robin Kidder October 2017

Located in: Takashimaya Tachikawa Store
Address: 2 Chome-39-3 Akebonocho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-8507
Phone: 042-548-1610

Hours: Daily 11AM-10PM

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

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.

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

Kidzania!

Kidzania is such a clever concept and an absolute must if you have kids.
Arranged like a city, the basic premise is allowing the kids to try out different “jobs” in the city and get paid for their work.2014-10-08 10.51.10

There are over 50 jobs to choose from ranging from pizza maker, to flight attendant, to fire fighter, and everything in between. 2014-10-08 09.07.35 HDR

Parents are allowed to watch through the window at the different jobs, but are not allowed to participate. They really encourage the kids to be independent.

Upon arrival you will be given a schedule card, you take this to the job that you are interested in and make a reservation.
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You can only make one reservation at a time. The groups are very small for each job, so I felt like we were getting almost one on one instruction all day. Each job lasts about 30 minutes. (Smaller groups of kids are easier to handle. If you want to go in a group with friends, prepare to not hang out together. All of the scheduling takes some coordination on the part of the adult, and many jobs only take up to 4 kids per session. Just a heads up).
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After the job, the kids are paid in “kidzos” that they are able to deposit into the bank, or spend for services, food or trinkets at the “mall”. They are also given a trading card at each job, to collect.2014-10-19 14.58.55

Kidzania is one of the best things we’ve done here!
It certainly rivals Disney in every way, in my opinion.  Also, being completely indoors, it makes for a great rainy /snowy day option. I highly recommend it! Jamie Cowan, August 2015

Helpful hints:

  1. Check out the reservations page on their website, it will tell you if there is availability on any given day, or already sold out.
  2. Like anything else, I would avoid weekends and Japanese Holidays whenever possible. Coincidentally, the website actually flags the Japanese holidays for you on the calendar.
  3. Wednesday’s are English days and most of the activities are presented in English. Even on a non-English day I think you would still get the gist of what was going on, though.
  4. There are two shifts; 1st shift is from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and 2nd shift is from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. You will only be allowed in the building during your shift. No matter your shift, arrive EARLY! The line can be hours long, even with a reservation.
  5. Activities are for children 3-15 years of age. There is a toddler room, for younger siblings, but younger than 3 yrs are not allowed to participate. There are also a few parent lounges.
  6. You cannot bring in your own food, but food is available to purchase. Many of the jobs include food, like the pizza maker.
  7. Kidzania is actually inside a mall, so you won’t see it from the street.
  8. Prices; the average price for a child is Y3450 and adult Y950, however there are several price changes due to holidays and there are also discounts if you buy far enough in advance, so check the website for specifics.
  9. I had a hard time booking tickets online for some reason, but you can also purchase them from the Family Mart on base, this way you also have something tangible to hand the ticket person.
  10. The train will take approximately 80 minutes, including several transfers. Driving will take about the same, depending on traffic. You may want to consider staying at the New Sanno, before or after, which cuts the drive to 20 minutes. (Rumor has it that a Kidzania location will be opening in Tachikawa, but I can’t find any information. Fingers crossed!)

Kidzania has a very good website, in English that will also answer many questions that you may have, I recommend reading up before you go.

http://www.kidzania.jp/tokyo/en/

PHONE: 057 006 4012

TRAIN: Toyosu station is the closest station, then it is about a 10 minute walk to LaLaport Toyosu, the Kidzania location.

GPS 35.6562989 139.791486

PARKING Parking is available at LaLaport Toyosu 24 hours a day. For complete information,
please check the LaLaport Parking Accesspage.

Car height must not exceed 2.1m. The first hour of parking is free.
Guests who visit for the 1st Shift (9:00am – 3:00pm) receive 5 additional hours of free parking.
Guests who visit for the 2nd Shift (4:00pm – 9:00pm) receive 4 additional hours of free parking.
Please present your parking ticket for validation at the entrance of KidZania Tokyo.

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