Practical Tips For Travelling With Kids (And Adults) In Tokyo And Japan.

Tips and hints for your stay in Tokyo and Japan

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Many parents probably would never consider taking their children to Tokyo. The size of the city can be off putting to most parents, but trust me, it is an incredible place to take children especially if you adapt a little your schedules to suit them.

Jerome first travelled with us to Tokyo and Japan when he was 10 months and then pretty much once every year after that. He has grown to love the city and country as much as we do and wants to go back every time we return from a trip to Japan.

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Tokyo is not only one of the safest cities to travel to with children, there is also so much to see and do with them, you will never be short of things to explore and see with children of any age.

The city is vibrant and exotic but requires no jabs, no malaria tablets, is clean and very safe so can make an ideal destination if you want to be a little more travel adventurous, whether with a baby or an older child.

In this post my aim is to give parents an idea of what to expect and some of the key facts that most guide books do not mention.

Travel in Japan with kids sushi

Baby Food:

I remember the first time we went, we had trouble finding baby food, I even went all the way to Hiroo to the International Supermarket, National Azabu, because we were not able to find it in any of the other supermarkets or convenience stores. These days it is much easier to find, in fact most supermarkets and drug stores, like Ippondo, stock baby food and a quick google translate can help you find it. The food can be more expensive than in Europe or the US as Japanese parents tend to cook and mash up their own baby food at home, like Okayu (rice porridge), and therefore do not buy baby food in quantities like we do. You might also be surprised at the difference in flavours, but Jerome ate most of them anyway!

Milk and Breastfeeding:

Japanese woman do not tend to breastfeed in public. Department stores, stations and some public sites have special baby feeding rooms where they retreat for privacy. I do think though that if you are discreet and cover yourself with a scarf or the like and do not sit too much on display, eg. In the corner of a restaurant, park bench, no one would get offended.

Milk formula can also be purchased at drugstores and larger supermarkets, but they might not carry the same brand your baby is used to, so consider bringing what you need if your baby is fussy about the variety.

Drinks for Babies and Children:

As a baby, Jerome also loved to drink the mixed fruit and vegetable juices by Kagome, which were a great add on for small snacks and obtainable in all the convenience stores and many vending machines.

Note that on most corners you will find a vending machine for drinks for old and young alike. This might come in handy if the little ones are thirsty and there is no convenience store close by. Always try to keep some 100 Yen coins ready for the vending machines as they may not always have change. In Tokyo the rail pass cards Suica/Pasmo can also be used to pay.

travel with children kids japan tokyo food udon nodles

travel with kids japan tokyo ramen dinner food

Food for Older Children:

Sushi and sashimi can be a bit of an unwanted dish for children, but do try cucumber (kappa maki) or salmon/tuna (sake/tekka maki) rolls, these are a great way to introduce them to sushi.

There is plenty of food which has similarities with western cuisines, katsu (breaded fried chicken or pork) are a good dish, as are udon (one of Jerome’s favourites) and ramen noodles. Rice is offered with most dishes and can be topped up with some vegetables and miso soup.

Convenience stores, which are found all over Japan, and on every corner in Tokyo offer a basic selection of fast food that kids might like. If everything else fails you always have the option to go to one of the American fast food chains.

Supermarkets offer a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables – many also have wide selections of take away picnic/lunch food ranging from grilled meats to rice dishes.

Japanese food has so much on offer for older children that you should not have trouble feeding them during your stay. Also children will love to see the plastic food in the windows of many restaurants and maybe you can tempt them to try something new and different this way.

When eating out whether in cafes or restaurants it is a good idea to take something for children to be occupied, whether the classic drawing / colouring, books, cards or other simple games.

travel with children kids japan tokyo drawing book

Nappies and other baby essentials:

I would advise you to take enough of a supply of nappies etc. with you to last at least two or three days.  Nappies and other baby essentials, like wipes, can be found at drugstores all around Tokyo and Japan, so after that you should have no trouble finding what you need although brands may differ.

Should you take a pushchair or baby carrier?

We used to bring our pushchair to Tokyo, as we would spend a minimum of 3 weeks there at a time. If you are planning to be out for most of the day your child can easily sleep in the pushchair when it is tired. Most major metro stations are accessible by lift or escalators; some smaller ones only have stairs. A baby sling/carrier or back pack carrier is always useful to have and can come in handy at the airport if you have to check in your pushchair, or if you plan to visit any temples, castles or other sights that might have a lot of steps.

I would not bring a car seat in case you are planning to hire a car, you can rent one for a small fee.

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Public toilets:

There are plenty of public toilets in Tokyo. They are in general very clean and well cared for, and therefore you will not need to worry if your child or you need some in a hurry. You can find them in stations, parks, department stores and many buildings that have public access, especially those with a café or restaurant. Most convenience stores also have a shared toilet.

Baby changing facilities:

If you need baby changing facilities you should head to one of the department stores, where you can find the best public baby changing facilities in Tokyo. Here you will be able to find changing rooms, toilets, nursing rooms and sometimes vending machines for baby food, baby formula machines for hot and cold water and microwaves! Better than anywhere else we have ever seen.

It might be useful to bring a travel-changing mat alongside your changing bag just in case you are not near any good changing facilities.

travelling japan with children metro ride

Entry to sights and travel tickets with children:

In many places and on most transport young children and school students will get free or reduced entry/tickets. The discount system is based on age aligned to the Japanese school system, mostly those under 12 years (when their senior schools start) will not pay or have reduced price tickets and those under 6 are free.

A few notes on etiquette and manners:

We have always found  Japanese people very friendly, but we do recommend you familiarise yourself and your children that are old enough to understand, with all the basic local customs and etiquette.   For example it is critical to understand that the Japanese always will take off shoes when entering someone’s home, many traditional hotel rooms, older and temple buildings, or any restaurant or room that has tatami mats, so watch for piles of shoes or shoe racks and take off yours when you see them.

If you are planning to visit any traditional hotels or Ryokans do check out the etiquette of bathrooms. They are segregated although it is fine for younger girls and boys to go with either parent. Warn your children that the baths can be very hot and make sure they do not spend too long in them and overheat.   Always wash in the nearby showers before entering a shared bath – and never ever use soap or shampoo in there either.

Finally, encourage your children to learn to bow when they greet a local – you will gain lots of positive vibes and comments!

travel with kids children tokyo japan park hotel tokyo

Where to stay:

Tokyo offers a wide range of accommodation. If you travel with children it might be easiest to rent an apartment on Airbnb. It can also be good to stay at a ryokan or hotel with Japanese style rooms, where you can easily book a traditional room for the entire family….. and experience sleeping all together on futons on the floor, which is fun and different to what they are normally used to. They also get a chance to wear a kimono and try a hot sento (bath) – see above for the etiquette. Most western style hotels will offer additional cots or beds for children but these can sometimes be quite expensive and most Tokyo hotel rooms are rather small.

Many hotels and Ryokans offer babysitting in case you require it, but do not be afraid to take children to dinner with you too – just make sure they have something to keep them occupied at the table and check the menu options beforehand if you can.

We have stayed in the past at these places and I can recommend them all to you:

A beautiful old traditional house in a back street of Hiroo, or  a modern house in Meguro.

Hotels:

Park Hotel Tokyo Shiodome

Royal Park Hotel Shiodome

Granbell Shibuya and Akasaka

Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel in Shibuya

travel with children kids japan tokyo ryokan kimono

Travel with children tokyo japan ryokan

 

Top tips for Tokyo, Japan – Things to do with children in Tokyo

Top tips for your stay with children in Tokyo

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Trainspotting and Train Riding:

Since Jerome was little he has somewhat been obsessed by vehicles. Japan is a treasure trove for trains; especially the cool Shinkansen bullet trains. One of the best places to spot Shinkansen is by getting a platform ticket for Tokyo station, 入場券 (nyujouken), from one of the ticket machines. A ticket costs 130 Yen here, but varies from station to station elsewhere.  Tokyo station is the best station to watch the Shinkansen trains as you will be able to see both JR West (the classic white and blue trains) and most other Shinkansen lines.

Another great place to watch Shinkansen trains is from the Shimogoinden Bridge at Nishi Nippori station. Here you can watch all the Shinkansen trains go underneath the bridge and it also makes a great starting point for the tour to Yanaka, one of the lesser-known parts of Tokyo, (see my post here for details of our experience of that).

Take a trip on the Yurikamome line, a driverless elevated train, from Shimbashi/Shiodome station across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba. As the train is driverless you can sit right at the front where you can enjoy the view while the children get to experience what it would be like to be the driver of the train as it races across the big bridge.  Jerome also loves the monorail from Hamamatsucho to Haneda airport that was built for the Tokyo Olympics too.

The Train museum in Onari, Saitama City is a definite must visit for all train buffs. Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Omiya station, from there it is two stops on the New Shuttle to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan Station. The museum shows the history and technologies of railways and has a vide range of trains on show, including steam trains and one of the first Shinkansen from 1964. Most trains and carriages can be climbed on or into. You can try a train simulator for a small fee and imagine what it would really be like to drive a fast train.

travel with children kids japan tokyo train spotting

travel with kids children tokyo japan nishi nippori station shinkansen

travel with children tokyo japan train spotting nishi nippori station

Child friendly museums:

Ghibli museum should be on your list of destinations if you have watches any of their films. Take the Chuo line out of Shinjuku to Mitaka station. From there it is a short bus ride or 15 min walk to the museum. The museum has annual exhibitions about their movies or other fairy tales. The entry ticket for the museum is an actual still of one of their movies. You might get lucky and get a Totoro or Jiji. There is a giant cat bus that small children will love, but it is the little details of the building that made us fall in love with the museum. Besides you are able to watch an unpublished short film in the museum’s cinema. Also a great option for rainy days.

The Drum museum in Akasuka is an interactive museum with over 100 drums from all over the world on display. Get the drumsticks ready and make some noise. Here you get the chance to bang a giant Taiko drum or rather some chimes or gongs. A great option for rainy days and when visiting nearby Sensoji or Hanayashiki Amusement Park.

travel with kids japan ghibli museum mitaka tokyo

travel with kids japan ghibli museum mitaka

Exploring the sights by bike:

Cycling has always been a preferred and fun way for us to get around and explore. After he learnt to ride we used to buy a children’s bike from the Muji store at Yurakucho for Jerome, (as it was almost cheaper and easier than finding a hire shop with the right size and renting one) and hire bikes for ourselves.

Tokyo and Japan is a safe city to cycle, with many places where you can use the pedestrian ways but please make sure to follow all the traffic rules. You should be able to judge yourself if your child is old and experienced enough to cycle for longer journeys through the city than just in the park or car free zones.

We found by cycling we discovered many off the beaten track places that delighted us from wonderful cafes to little parks with amazing slides or playgrounds.

There is also a cycle path along the Tama river and the roads down the Meguro river are a good option for a bike ride. Showa Kinen park offers bike rental.

travel with children kids japan tokyo cycling mamachari

travel with children kids japan tokyo muji bike

travel with children kids japan tokyo cycling muji bike

Try a boat ride:

See Tokyo from a different perspective and go on a boat ride along the Sumida River. Take the futuristic looking boat from Hinode/Hamarikyu pier and cruise up the river past to see the impressive skyline from the water. A fun ride for children of all ages. You also have the option to take the boat across to Odaiba/Palette Town from Hinode pier.

Get up high!

Have you ever been on the 445th floor of a building? No then you should head to Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest building in Japan. Children will enjoy the fast ride in the lift to the Galleria on the 350th or 445th floor where they can use interactive maps to explore Tokyo and its sights or stand on a glass floor or take a walk in the sky and of course enjoy the incredible panoramic view over Tokyo. On a clear day you can see up to 70km.

If this is too high for you but still want to enjoy the view over Tokyo then head to the Mori Tower in Roppongi where you can get the view from the 52nd floor or go outside to get the 360º degree view from the rooftop sky deck and you will find yourself 270 meters above sea level. On the 52nd floor you can also find the Mori Art Museum, which hosts interesting exhibitions that even children will enjoy. In the past we have visited a Ghibli and Yayoi Kusama exhibition here. The entrance fee to the museum usually includes the indoor observation deck.

If that is not enough remember Tokyo’s answer to the Eifel Tower – Tokyo tower as another up high option.

travel japan with children tokyo mori tower city view

travel with children kids japan tokyo mori art museum yayoi kusama

Theme parks with a Japanese twist:

We have never been a big fan of theme or fun parks and whilst many tourists head for the big parks like Disney, it has never been our thing. However, we have made exceptions for the Hanayashiki Amusement Park, the oldest fun park in Japan. After visiting Senso-ji temple this is a great way for children to go on rides and enjoy them selves. There are plenty of rides here for kids of all ages. Jerome used to love the cars and train rides when he was very small.

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travel with children kids japan tokyo Hanayashiki Amusement Park

I should also mention Sanrio Puroland. It is definitely worth the train ride out of Shinjuku station to make any girl happy by meeting Hello Kitty for real. Jerome and I went on our first trip to Tokyo, but unfortunately he fell asleep just when we were about to meet Hello Kitty. It is an indoor theme park with shows, rides and a real sized Hello Kitty house with lots of kitsch and pink furniture, anything to make a girls heart beat faster. A possible option for rainy days too.

Sanrio Puroland tokyo hello kitty

Shopping children style:

Shopping is not usually something children like to do, but take them to Hakuhinkan Toy store in Ginza and they will be in toy heaven. The largest toy store in Tokyo has a wide array of toys and games for sale, some of them not available outside Japan. You can spend hours in here and also a lot of money if you let the little ones talk you into it!  The B1 floor is a girl’s doll paradise. Jerome’s favourite has always been the giant Scalextric racing car course with 8 lanes and many cars to choose from on the top floor. A 5 minute race sets you back 200Yen.  Watch out for the parents hogging the track too!

travel with kids japan tokyo Hakuhinkan Toy store

The cheaper alternative might be to head to a Daiso 100Yen store , the biggest is in Harajuku (the one with the biggest selection) or one of the other locations. Here you can spend your Yens in the hundreds on anything from sushi shaped erasers, Japanese souvenirs and toys to kitchenware. We used to get Jerome a Shinkansen train set with tracks, which he used to put up and play with on the hotel room floor, a great souvenir for him too. It is also a great place to pick up colouring books, pens, stickers and other things to keep your children occupied during your stay.

travel with children kids japan tokyo daiso train set

An aquarium in the sky or animals galore?

All children love a visit to an aquarium. Go to Sunshine City to visit the Sunshine Aquarium. This aquarium was reopened after extensive renovations and now features sea lions swimming overhead and a dreamlike “Jellyfish Tunnel” besides your standard aquariums full of colourful fish. You can also watch performances by sea lions and divers and penguin feeding shows. While you are already in the Sunshine City building you should consider going to the planetarium (a great option for older kids, please check before if audio guides in English are available for the show) or the viewing platform on the 60th floor.

Want to see more animals? Then head to Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan. Here you will be able to see giant pandas, tigers and elephants, just to mention a few. Take the monorail to the west side of the zoo where little ones will love the Petting Zoo. You also have the chance to see rare animals like Okapis and Aye-Ayes, which have been bred in the zoo’s breeding program and are endangered in the wild. Afterwards take a stroll along the pond to admire the lotus flowers and a ride on one of the swan pedal boats.

Parks and playgrounds:

Playgrounds in Tokyo and Japan are plentiful and there the kids can burn off some energy. They can be found in many places, mostly parks and squares but sometimes they surprisingly turn up at the most unexpected places. They offer fun equipment from the standard swings and slides to sometimes more exotic features like dinosaurs and roller slides. Most playgrounds are aimed at smaller children and toddlers but there are some for older kids as well, like the Heiwa no Mori Park and Setagaya Park. Bring a picnic from one of the convenience store and give yourselves a well-needed break from sightseeing.

travel with children kids japan tokyo playground slide

travel with children kids japan tokyo playground swing

travel with children kids japan tokyo roller slide playground

travel with children kids japan tokyo playground dinosaur

Cool off:

Most children love a visit to the pool, especially in summer when the heat and humidity in Tokyo can get oppressive. I would try and avoid the large pool complexes, as they get very crowded particularly on weekends and in the summer holidays. The indoor/outdoor pool in Meguro is a good option for all year round swimming and also has a small pool for babies and toddlers. Sumida City Gymnasium is an indoor pool with a good-sized infant pool, Setagaya Chitose indoor pool has a 43m slide. If you do not care about the expense then why not stay at one of the hotels that offer a pool, there are a few that have an outdoor pool as well. An extensive list of all pools in Tokyo can be found here. Please note that it is often essential to wear a swimming cap, they can be purchased at most pools, and people with tattoos might not be allowed into the pools or may have to cover their tattoos with plasters or wear a UV vest.

travel with children kids japan tokyo meguro outdoor swimming paddling pool

More museums with a difference:

The Fire museum is a museum dedicated to the people, machines and science involved in fire prevention. Here you can see massive fire engines and even e helicopter that your kids can climb into. Both adults and children can try on firemen’s clothing. It has great displays and equipment to show the history of fire fighting in Tokyo. The best part, entry to the museum is free. Tokyo Fire Museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday unless a national holiday.

Tokyo Kite museum is a hidden gem. The owner spent a lifetime collecting over 3000 kites and they can now be seen layering the walls and crowding the ceiling of this one room museum. Here you can see kites from all over Japan together with kites from China and other Asian countries.

The Origami Museum is a great place to learn about the quintessential art of Origami. Get your children to learn techniques on how to fold paper into the shapes of animals, plants and other objects. There are incredible displays of landscapes and scenes all made of paper on show. On the 4th floor you can watch how washi (Japanese handmade paper) is made and dyed which you are able to purchase in the shop.

A little culture for little ones:

Temple and shrines are a great way to introduce Japanese culture to the little ones. First you get to purify yourself at the Chouzuya, a water basin, usually covered by a roof with a dragon or a bamboo pipe sprouting water. Then head to the building where you might have to take off your shoes and step in to honour the Buddha. Some temples and shrines also have a bell hanging on a rope. In this case children can throw some coins into the collection box and then ring the bell and clap your hands and pray. You might be lucky to her some monks chanting or even see them walking around. Larger temples have several building to see, sometimes a garden and cemetery.

You might also buy a wooden prayer plaque, they usually have colourful pictures on them and occasionally funny shapes. Choose one and write your wish on the back and hang them with the other “Ema” so the “Kami” (spirit or god) can receive them.

Try your luck at the Oracle and draw an “Omikuji” from the wooden box. The Omikuji are usually bamboo or plastic sticks, which will contain a number. Take the paper strip out of the right numbered drawer and read your fortunes. Most fortunes are in Japanese but you can always translate them with the Google translate app. If the fortune is bad you should tie it to the tree or wires near the oracle. A good fortune can be taken with you or also tied up as well.

The two largest temples in Tokyo are Meji Shrine and Asakusa Shrine.

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Traveling with kids children Tokyo japan temple shrine ema

travel with kids children japan tokyo temple shrine oracle

Traveling with kids children Tokyo japan temple shrine fortune

Explore the paths in the gardens:

Japanese gardens offer a quiet resting and strolling place away from the hectic Tokyo life. They offer children a break from the busy streets and give them a chance to walk around and explore nature in the middle of Tokyo. Show them the beautiful plants and animals, in summer you can see butterflies and dragonflies buzzing around.

There are small paths, little bridges, stepping stones through streams to be explored and in some gardens children are able to feed the kois and terrapins. Admire the beautiful plants and animals. Our favourite gardens in Tokyo are Rikugien and Hamarikyu but there are plenty more to be explored.

travel with kids japan tokyo japanese garden

travel with children kids japan tokyo flower fields park

Hiroshima Shukkeien japanese garden lake feeding fish

Fun food:

All over Tokyo and Japanese cities in general children will be delighted by the interesting and different foods, whether from cafes, street stalls or stores. In summer they will love Kakigori (shaved ice) with a myriad of different flavourings. We have found street stands or stalls at the temples selling Taiyaki (fish-shaped sweet pancakes), sausages or cucumbers on a stick plus interesting fruits. There are many shops dedicated to crazy crepes, bubble tea and cartoon character buns, not mention unusual sweets and candy. You might struggle to get them to eat squid flavoured ice cream…

travel japan with kids anpanman bread

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Whatever you decide to do we have found that Tokyo is full of the unexpected, so even a simple walk can turn up surprises, whether it is a donut stand selling cat tail donuts, café with crazy cakes or a manga shop selling 1960’s toys, the city can enchant children.

 

Tama River, Japan – Cycling Through The Outskirts Of Tokyo

A bike ride along the Tama river and through the suburbs of Tokyo

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Last time we visited in Tokyo in 2013 we had cycled the bottom of the Tama River that flows out between Tokyo and Yokohama. The cycle path starts near the river mouth at Otori and can be cycled upriver (or down) for about 70km. On the last visit we had managed about the first 30km up to Keio-Tamagawa. Our ambition has always been to complete the entire course, so this time we planned to cycle down river starting in the mountains of the Yamanashi Perfecture, where the Tama river originates, all the way back to Chofu, where we would meet friends for dinner.

From our little house, we took our bikes, a backpack with some basic food and drinks, and our Rinku bags for the train journey. We cycled to Shibuya station, where we took the Keio-Inokashira line to Kichijoji station and there we changed to the JR Chuo line. We had to get off at Ome station for a change between trains.

Omu station tokyo japan platfrom

keiko inokashira line train carriage

Ome station itself was mainly left as it used to look about a hundred years ago in the Showa era. There were nostalgic posters of famous Japanese films in the underpass and quaint old wooden waiting rooms on the platform. Here we waited for our train that would take us to Kawai station. The last part of the train journey took us high up on the mountainside, with views of the river in the valley and little villages along its bed and the towering mountain range above.

ome station notsalcic film poster

ome station underpath film posters

ome station nostalgic films

ome station platform people waiting

ome train conductor cabin

When we got off at Kawai station we noticed the difference in temperature to Tokyo. We had left Tokyo two hours before and the city was almost unbearably hot, but up here in the mountains it was much cooler and the air fresher and cleaner. We could not wait to get onto our bikes and start cycling. The first few kilometers were downhill, along the main road. Luckily this far out in the country there was not enough traffic to spoil our ride.

Kawai japan beauty salon

tama river cycling river

tama river cycling road puddle

Kawai train bridge cycling

Tama river cycling mirror main road

Shortly, we spotted a restaurantきり山 on the riverside and decided to stop for lunch. The mama-san seated us, typical Japanese style on the floor, at a table right next to the windows overlooking the Tama river. We enjoyed a hot bowl of soup with udon and a cold tea while watching men with their fishing rods in the shallow river water trying to catch some fish.

tama river cycling reastaurant

tama river cycling lunch

tama river cycling restaurant guests

tama river cycling roadside flowers

At the next bridge we turned right and cycled along back streets parallel to the river. The main road was getting busier so the detour was welcome and more interesting. We passed a lot of residential areas, mixed with fields and pine forests. As we descended the Tama River started to widen with the river bed expanding and becoming more and more of a river rather than a mountain stream.

tama river cycling bridge art work

tama river cycling village crossing

tama river cycling bar architecture

tama river cycling abandoned house

Past Ome we passed other fisherman and we saw families with their children and friends had put up tents on the dry parts of the riverbed to have a picnic and barbeque. Children played in the water, some even swam in the calmer parts of the river.

We would have loved to join them, the heat was getting more oppressive as the day moved on, but we also were conscious of the time. We were supposed to meet friends at 18:00 in Chofu and were still many kilometers away from getting there.

tama river cycling river swimming

tama river cycling picnic barbeque swimming

tama river cycling fisher men

tama river cycling fisherman

After Ome the path became better marked and we kept on cycling on along the special river side cycling path and only briefly stopped to get an ice cream from one of the convenience stores or drinks from the vending machines.

tama river cycling shrine

tama river cycling playground

tama river cycling swings

tama river cycling soap bubbles

The further we got towards Chofu district, the bigger the villages and towns seemed to get, we pedalled past big apartment blocks but also small residential areas, under train bridges, and over small canals.

tama river cycling path

tama river cycling weeds

tama river cycling baseball game

tama river cycling baseball court

There were playgrounds, football and baseball fields and plenty of other places to stop and have a break from cycling. We saw groups of teenage boys play baseball on the fields and many other cyclists and joggers. The sun started to get lower, the water of the river glittering between the trees and weeds.

tama river cycling apartment blocks architecture

tama river cycling rocks

tama river cycling rocks

tama river cycling clouds sun

tama river cycling birds

At some point we realised that we were not going to be able to make it all the way into Chofu in time, not to mention our tiring legs. We decided to cut our ride short and stopped at Nakagawara station which was enough to nearly complete the river end to end, and saved a few kilometers riding through the city suburbs. We quickly packed up our bikes into their Rinku bags and took the Keio train for two stops to Chofu where we met our friends for dinner. It was great to reconnect and taste the food in a local izakaya (pub) 四十八漁場 調布駅前店 . With plenty of delicious food and sake shared and travel stories told, we made our way by train back to Shibuya tired but very happy to have completed the Tama.

The last days ride was a fantastic and appropriate end to a holiday spent exploring and biking in Japan. We were sad to leave for home, but we also know we will be back soon. Sayonara Japan!

 

Robot Cafe, Tokyo – The Craziest Show in Japan

An evening with robots, taiko drumming and laser show.

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For the evening I had bought tickets in advance online for the crazy Robot Café Show in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-Cho.

I had seen plenty of photos and videos from friends and online. It looked like the kind of show that would only be able possible to stage here in Tokyo. I had not been sure if it was the right thing to go to with an 11 year old but after reading a few comments online I had decided to give it a go and find out for ourselves.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho taxi

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho zebra crossing

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho panda dress

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho camera store

I have always found Shinjuku station a bit confusing with all the different train lines and exits, plus miles and miles of tunnels. You can walk for perhaps 2 or 3km underground literally from one stop east or north of the station to one stop south or west, and with all the shops in the underground passages it is easy to get lost. It is perhaps the busiest station in the world in terms of numbers of passengers per day.

This time we quickly found the right exit and got out into the mayhem of Kabuki-Cho. This part of Shinjuku is famous for its bars, restaurants and entertainment clubs. There are neon lights and signs on every building which make it easier to find what you are looking for. It is unusual for us foreigners to find restaurants and shops on each floor of a building, in Europe almost all shops and restaurants are located at street level apart from in some department stores or malls. In Tokyo you see businesses on every level advertised in bight colours or on the entrance boards.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho architecture

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho signs

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho alley

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho food menu

The Robot Café was not that hard to find and once we had collected our tickets (6.800 Yen per ticket) for the show we crossed from the ticket booth to the entrance.

Outside the entrance were two huge robots, which you could climb onto and have your photo taken as a souvenir. It also gave us an idea of what we were about to experience.

Walking into the building we entered a bright hallway with many lights leading us into the bar below.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe statues

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe entrance

The bar is, most likely, the fanciest and most over the top bar ever, gold swivel chairs, enormous chandeliers and mirrors from floor to ceiling. Our eyes did not know where to look at first; it was a complete sense overload.  It felt like being in Gaspar Noe’s film “Enter the Void”. Every ticket includes a first drink free so we collected our drinks and took a seat to listen to the “robotic” guitar players.  Jerome and inspected the two robots near the door that give you instructions.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe bar

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe bar mirrors on floor and ceiling

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe selfie

About 15 minutes before the start of our show – there are normally four shows every day – we were guided down steps to the basement showroom. It is worth knowing the steps down are near the bar end. We took our seats in the front row and waited for the show to start. The first act was bikini-clad girls playing the traditional Japanese Taiko drums. Afterwards we saw a laser show and then finally the first giant robots came out.

Initially Jerome seemed to be annoyed by the very loud music, but they did provide ear covers for children. We had thought Jerome might be the only child, but there were a range of others, and certainly most over 11 year olds would enjoy the craziness and robots. One part of the show could be quite scary for younger children as it included a giant shark robot, smoke coming out of its mouth and there was a lot of play fighting going on.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe taiko drummer

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe taiko drums

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe laser show

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe laser

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe

Half way through the show we were all given glow sticks and encouraged to wave and cheer with the robots and dancers. We did not notice how fast time flew by and the show came to its end. It was definitely an incredible show to watch, just once is probably enough though! We did feel though that some of the robots and costumes looked a bit dated and should be updated or renewed soon.

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe horse

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho robot cafe dancer

Shinjuku tokyo kabukicho puddle

Most parents would probably not consider Kabukicho an appropriate place to go with children in the later evening, but you always have the option to go for the afternoon show and come out just as the neon lights up. Check their website for dates and times as they may vary from day to day.

Back outside Kabukicho was getting busy with people heading out for dinner or a drink and it took us a while to adjust back to normality after this crazy but wonderful show.

 

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo – Ghibli Museum Exhibition

An afternoon at Mori Art Museum with Ghibli films.

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Following an early morning spent exploring Tsukiji, Tokyo’s fish market, the weather did not look like it was going to be in our favour. Therefore, we made the decision to visit the Ghibli exhibition at the Mori Art Museum.  Jerome has grown up watching Ghibli films, and he, is now also a big fan.  His favourite is “Pompoko”, mine has always been “Grave of the Fire Flies” and Chris’s is perhaps “Laputa, Castle in the Sky”.

On the way to the Mori Tower heading for the top of Roppongi Hills, we passed the Kaikai Kiki Gallery by Takashi Murakami. The gallery was showcasing video installations entitled “The Rebirth Of The World” by Chiho Aoshima. The videos showed us a fantastic, colourful world, of surreal skyscrapers with eyes, and crazy creatures growing until natural disasters struck. We enjoyed watching the videos end to end several times – there were so many little details to be discovered.

kaikai kiki gallery chio aoshima exhibition

kaikai kiki gallery chiho aoshima video art installation

Once we were back outside we could see that the grey clouds had turned to black and we could even smell the rain in the hot air. As drops started to fall we almost ran the last few meters to the Mori tower. Inside we made our way to the ticket office, and we obviously were not the only ones trying to escape the rain.

Roppongi tokyo street scene

roppongi tokyo architecture

roppongi tokyo architecture

It took a while before we had our tickets and were whizzed up in the lift to the 52nd floor.  The 52nd floor not only housed the exhibition but is also the viewing deck, so the surrounding windows give an amazing 360º view of Tokyo’s cityscape.

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli posters

At the very moment we arrived nature was showcasing a spectacular sight, with heavy rain and grey clouds hanging over part of the city, while contrasting in the distance we could see sunrays coming through. Occasional lightning was also visible between some of the clouds.

Some people might have been disappointed that the sun was not shining, but we did not mind as we had seen the view from here many times. If you do visit the Tokyo City View, you may also want to consider for an additional fee to go to the Roof Top Sky Deck where you are 270m high and outside for the perfect view of Tokyo.

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view tokyo tower

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view thunder storm

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view expressway

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view

roppongi tokyo mori tower city view helipad

The view was not the main reason for our visit and we walked on to see the Ghibli exhibition. There were many sketches of Hayao Miyazaki (co-founder and animator of Ghibli) and some of the original film posters to see. Sadly all descriptions were in Japanese only.  They did have some cool models, plus Jerome loved the giant neko bus (catbus) from Totoro and queued to go inside. We all also liked the huge wooden ship from “Laputa, Castle in the Sky”. It was an impressive sight to see it slowly moving up and down with dozens of rotating propellers, which made the ship appear to be floating towards Laputa – a super “Steampunk” imaginative ship.

Around the corner we found a life sized Totoro behind a café bar, surrounded by eager kids to take selfies with him. The next room was dedicated to the latest Ghibli film, “The Red Turtle”. A film Jerome and I were able to watch weeks later at the London Film Festival. A definite must see when it comes to the cinemas, but unlike most other Ghibli movies probably more a film for adults than children. The final part of the exhibition was a room that displayed Hayao Miyazaki’s office and Ghibli merchandise over the years. On exit we passed the exhibition shop and Jerome chose a Totoro T-shirt as a souvenir.

Unfortunately the exhibition is no longer on at the Mori Art Museum but if you are interested in Ghibli films I highly recommennd a visit at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. You would need to book tickets  well in advance, either at LAWSON’s convinience stores or for foreigners at the JTB website.

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition neko bus

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition wind of earthsea

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition laputa castle in the sky

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition air ship

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition planes

roppongi tokyo mori art museum ghibli exhibition laputa village

Back downstairs on the ground floor, the rain still kept on falling, we walked over to the display of Doraemon statues. There were one hundred of Doraemons dotted around the front of the Mori tower. Doraemon is a cute robot cat from the same named manga series. This blue cat has been a big hit with children and has become a Japanese icon since it was first published in 1969.

roppongi tokyo mori art museum doraemon

roppongi tokyo mori art museum doraemon bow and arrow

roppongi tokyo mori art museum doraemon in the rain

roppongi tokyo mori art museum giant doraemon

The rain rather spoilt our fun and made walking around to look at the different Doraemons a challenge, therefore we decided to go back to our house in Hiroo for a bit of rest before our planned show at the Robot Café.

Tsukiji, Japan – The World Famous Fish Market In Tokyo

An early morning trip to Tsukiji – Tokyo’s fish market

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Hurry! Get there now! The world famous Tsukiji, Tokyo’s fish market is supposed to move to new premises at the beginning of 2017, so unless the government decides to postpone the move (due to the contamination of the new location) this could be your last chance to see one of the most amazing Japanese sights.

Tsukiji tokyo fishmarket zebra crossing

Tsukiji tokyo fish market map

The fish market as stands today started operating in 1935 and is largely unchanged since then.   It serves as the wholesale market for fish for Tokyo, but also has vegetables and fruit. It still is the largest fish market in the world.

For us our latest trip to Tsukiji started early, we wanted to be there before 6am.  Be aware that most of the action at the market takes place between 5 and 8am, any later and the stalls will be closing down.  At 4 or 5am the market receives shipments and the fish is then distributed to the middlemen, who then try to sell their goods to buyers from shops and restaurant in town. The fruit and vegetables arrive by truck and some are flown in from all over the world.

Tsukiji tokyo fish market stalls

Tsukiji tokyo fish market alley

Tsukiji tokyo fish market bagging the fish

We still remember on our first visits where we were able to watch the tuna auction. Unfortunately due to ever increasing number of visitors the tuna auction has been closed for anybody other than certified traders, and now they are even restricting some access to the market stalls elsewhere, so beware of these.  The auction was a spectacle to watch, hundreds of giant dead frozen tuna lying on the hall floor while the middlemen and buyers shouted their offers to the auctioneer. The tuna were sold surprisingly fast and then carted back to the stalls. A big tuna is as big as a small human.

Tsukiji tokyo fish market tuna auction

Tsukiji tokyo fish market tuna for sale

Tsukiji tokyo fish market tuna fridge

Even if you are not able to watch the tuna auction, a trip to Tsukiji market is a must when in Tokyo. We always used to go on our first morning, when we woke up early from jet lag.

This time we noticed that there were a lot more foreigners walking down the little alleys of stalls. I could feel that some merchants were not as happy about us gaijins strolling past, but others did not seem to mind, even trying to get us to buy something to take home.

The stalls sell pretty much anything that swims in the sea and is edible. Some animals were still alive, either packed into polystyrene boxes or in water tanks. Others had been caught and then killed before they were shipped to the market. If you eat any fish, sushi or sashimi here in Tokyo, then it was most likely bought here at Tsukiji. Anything from sea urchins, octopus, shellfish, crabs, snails, shrimps…

Tsukiji tokyo fish market boxes

Tsukiji tokyo fish market squid

Tsukiji tokyo fish market customer

It is very interesting to see how the women on the stalls (most of them are still family run) sit in their huts in one corner of the shop and deal with the money and payments, while the man are there to cart, cut up, prepare and sell the fish.

Tsukiji tokyo fish market tuna

Tsukiji tokyo fish market mama san cashier

Tsukiji tokyo fish market

Seeing the bodies of big tuna lying on the tables, the man cut chunks off to be sold on, some shops even have big saws to handle the frozen tuna. We could have spent hours there just watching the people in the shops selling their goods.

Tsukiji tokyo fish market tuna cutting

Tsukiji tokyo fish market bartering

Tsukiji tokyo fish market fish monger knife

However, as we strolled ahead we came out at the bottom end of the market, close to the Sumida river. Here we watched the turrets (carts) whizz by, not taking any care of anybody around them. So if you visit please be careful as accidents are not unknown! We strolled back towards the main entrance gate, past the fruit and vegetable market examining the exotic produce.

tsukuji tokyo fish market turret cart driver

Tsukiji tokyo fishmarket traffic jam

Tsukiji tokyo fishmarket turret drivers

tsukiji tokyo fish market turret driver

Somehow the fruit and vegetable market never seemed to excite us as much as the fish market. We have seen real wasabi roots and other exotic vegetables and fruit here though, that we were not able to see anywhere else.

tsukiji tokyo fish market wheel cart

tsukiji tokyo fish market break

tsukiji tokyo fish market carts

Back out on Shin Ohashi Dori we headed east to the Outer Market. Our plan was to get a fresh breakfast of sashimi in one of the many restaurants there. We decided what we wanted to eat and sat down on one of the stools to enjoy our bowl of salmon and tuna sashimi on rice, fresh off the boat that morning.

tsukiji tokyo fish market sahimi

tsukiji tokyo fish market ramen

tsukiji tokyo fish market restaurant

As mentioned earlier, Tsukiji, is the mother of all fish markets and a must visit for anyone who visits Tokyo. It is a great place to come with older children and to show them the abundance of variety of fish we can eat, but you should also point out the impact the over fishing of our seas might have for their future. Also be aware, this is a busy working market and tourists are tolerated but not its main raison d’etre.

Taking small children is not advisable, and pushchairs are forbidden on the premises.

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Yanaka, Tokyo – Exploring The Alleys Of Lost And Forgotten Tokyo

A day spent in Yanaka, Tokyo

Tokyo hiroo cafe restaurant thick toast

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Who would have thought that a few hours ago it was still chucking it down with rain? The typhoon had passed overnight and we woke up to a sunny hot day, a big contrast to our arrival in Tokyo.

I had craved Japanese style thick toast for over two weeks now and finally found a café around the corner from our Airbnb which served a breakfast set with thick toast and fried eggs, I do not know where my obsession about thick toast came from but I just love it. For those who have not tasted it , the toast is about 4cm thick golden on outside and soft in the middle, hard to get right if you do not have the Japanese style of western bread.

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting

Our first stop for todays exploring was Nishi Nippori station. We exited the underground station on the north side and were right on Shimogoinden Bridge, which is above one of the busiest train crossings in Japan. Jerome had always had a big passion for train and this was meant to be one of the prime spots in Tokyo for Shinkansen and train spotting.

He didn’t have to wait for very long and the first Shinkansen passed underneath us. We were soon joined by some other smaller children and a geeky teenager, who had all came for exactly the same reason – high speed train watching. We spent about half an hour watching the trains go by.

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting double

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting poster

Then, mainly due to the heat, moved on to Tennoji temple and Yanaka graveyard, both were an oasis of calm in this busy city. There were trees that provided us with plenty of shade and a place to sip a cooling drink from the vending machines.

At Kennoji we saw a large seated Buddha statue, which resembles the big Buddha of Kamakura. We only visited Kennoji temple but there are around 70 other temples in the area that wait to be explored.

yanaka tennoji temple water well

Yanaka tennoji temple water rock

yanaka tennoji temple furin

You may wonder why we chose to visit a cemetery? Yanaka-reien is one of the largest cemeteries in Tokyo, there are over 7000 souls buried here. Some of them famous Japanese people, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Shogun of Japan and novelist Ichiyo Higuchi found their final resting place here. To see and experience a different culture includes all aspects of their life, including death. Yanaka-reien is very different to European cemeteries and should not be missed when visiting the area. Even children will be fascinated by the maze of little paths winding past the stones and the many offerings from oranges to origami on the little alters by the graves.

yanaka cemetery graves shaded path

Yanaka cemeteruy food offering

yanaka shopping shop yamazaki architecture

yanaka flower pots

yanaka little alley residential houses

yanaka electric meter

yanaka road street mirror

After our stroll past the graves we headed right along a small one-way street lined with little shops and restaurants. Here we stumbled onto the Asakura Choso Museum. Asakura Fumio, a famous Japanese artist lived and worked here most of his life. He extended the original building in 1935 and started teaching his disciples in this modern annex in sculpturing. The house reminded me of the Villa Choussakei in Setoda, as it combined both modern and traditional architecture into one. We started walking through the house in the modern part where we could see his study and many of his sculptures. We then moved on into the traditional part of the house, which was built around a beautiful, tranquil Japanese garden.

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum roof top

On the second and third floor we found rooms where Asakura entertained his guests and on the rooftop a small garden with an amazing view of Tokyo, all the way towards the Skytree. We were glad to have accidentally stumbled onto this gem of a museum, Jerome loved the cat statues, which were showcased in the Orchid room. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum.

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum tokto skytree view

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum

yanaka tokyo little alleyways restaurants

yanaka tokyo architecture striped blinds

yanaka house entrance door architecture

We then walked on to Yanaka Ginza. Here we found plenty of shops, which still have retained their warm atmosphere away from big chain stores. It seemed to be a popular shopping street with many locals. We stopped to have a Yanaka cattail, basically a doughnut in form of a cattail with different fillings. Jerome ate a banana one and I had chocolate. They were yummy and a funny treat, Jerome went back for more later in the day so they must be good!

yanaka ginza tokyo shopping street

yanaka ginza tokyo furin wind chime

yanaka ginza tokyo doughnut cattail

Yanaka Ginza still seemed to be stuck in a few decades ago, which made it very different to the other areas in Tokyo we had visited before. The shops have a personal touch with a focus on crafts and lots of street food.

It is a great place for getting lost and exploring, never knowing what else you might stumble onto. Jerome loved the funny old hardware stores with interesting household items, and the old fashioned wooden toys in some of the little boutiques.

yanaka ginza tokyo closed shop

Our stomachs were rumbling and I had marked a Soba restaurant 鷹匠a few blocks further away. The restaurant makes its own Soba noodles, we chose from the two varieties, one is coarser, the other softer buckwheat noodles. We had them cold, Zaru style with tasty dipping sauce and some wasabi. Jerome is often not very keen on Soba or Ramen but he ate them, perhaps the walk made him hungry?

yanaka soba noodles shop restaurant

yanaka tokyo sobe noodle restaurant shop

After lunch we made our way slowly back through the back alleys, disturbing cats and looking at the myriad of house styles, to Nishi Nippori station where we got the metro back to Hiroo.

yanaka tokyo bike overgrown

yanaka tokyo playground children

Not far from here is Ueno Zoo, which is an option for a detour on the way back into town if you have time. We always loved seeing the red pandas there. Or perhaps a stroll in Ueno Park with the Swan boats on Ueno park lake is another option to extend the day.