Happy 2017! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season full of special times with family and friends. Love this time of year! Although we spent an inordinate amount of time binge watching movies, playing video games, practicing volleyball (ok, only my daughter!) and sleeping in, we had the opportunity to spend some time in Tokyo, Japan visiting my brother and his family, along with my mom and pops who rented an apartment 5 floors above my brother’s apartment for a month. My hubby sat this trip out because of work obligations, so it was just my daughter and I. I have to say, traveling with a 13-year old is a blast. This is the trip that the tables turned and I no longer had to constantly take care of my daughter. She actually took care of me! I don’t think she ever complained on the trip, except for wanting more time in Japan (I complained about that too, 9 days is way too short!). She even scolded me like a mom when I threatened to ask the guy sitting next to us on the flight home if he was in a K-pop group (“…my daughter wants to know”). Ok, I won’t –mom!
My husband tracked our plane on his App at home, while my daugher took a picture out the plane window at about the same time (there is an App for everything!)
Family time and experiencing everyday Japan was the purpose of the trip. Many meals were spent at the apartment eating the various local foods with an endless supply of Japanese beer in the fridge. Many games of Monopoly were played, arts and craft projects were started, crepe cakes were assembled and there were many dance breaks… just because. We had some happy smiling kids! We did leave the apartment everyday to explore Tokyo because we also didn’t want to waste this amazing travel opportunity. This post is about the highlights and recommendations from the trip. Some ideas of places to visit came from other bloggers and I truly appreciate their input and opinions!
Let’s just skip over the travel to Japan part. Door to door, it took 4 hours longer than estimated. My dad traveled with us (on the way there only), so it’s not like we were clueless. But all the things that took a little longer kept adding up. I had to include this picture of the egg salad sandwich because it is one of the first things my daughter bought in Japan (along with melon pan and a drink). Not sure egg salad sandwich would have been my first choice, but she really enjoyed eating it. After marveling at how well it was packaged, she declared how great Japan was! She really set the tone of the trip and I am thankful for that, especially on that long travel day.
To make a long story short, a taxi dropped us off in front of Hikarigaoka Station and we waited for my family to come help us find the apartment. I can’t express how happy I was to see their faces. First we saw my nephew come sprinting down the street, followed by my niece and then my brother. Even my youngest niece and her mom (my sister-in-law) ran over, all the kids in their PJs because it was so late. They looked like a track team in training after hours. My mom greeted us at the apartment with all of our favorite foods on standby. Without any type of prompting, my mom had exactly what I wanted to eat in Japan – Mont Blanc cake (chestnut cake, tastes much better than it sounds). Setting the bar too high, mom! Family time, along with the cake, melted our fatigue away.
The next day we spent the day touring the area where my brother and his family lived. The grocery store, the playground, the bakery, the department store and of course their home, all the places that were a part of their world in Japan. I could tell my daughter was trying to process how different life would be if she lived there. She says she would love it!
Sushi-Ro Kaiten sushi
After NOT filling up on Mr. Donuts we made our way to Sushi-Ro for lunch. This is a “kaiten” (rotating/revolving) sushi restaurant that has a “conveyer belt” system that allows you to pick and choose whatever sushi you want. I liked this sushi, it was fresh and perfectly bite sized as sushi should be. If you don’t see what you like, you can order from their monitor and they will send it out on a special red dish with a colored sticker that is assigned to your table (so don’t pick sushi off the red dishes, unless it has your table’s assigned color on it). It was around $50 for 4 adults and 3 children, and we were FULL. We even had dessert although I think the only thing I could recommend in the dessert category was the warabi mochi. The way they keep the prices down is that there really is no need for a “waiter/waitress.” Everything you need is at the table already. There is even a spigot for hot water at every table so you can pour your own hot water, add the green tea powder and prepare your tea. At the end, a person comes to count your plates and hands you a bill. You pay at the register so everything is fast and efficient. This place does get crowded, so my brother recommended that we get there before the lunch rush which we were thankful we did since people were lining up when we left. This is a chain restaurant, so there are many locations in Japan, not just Hikarigaoka.
Dominique Ansel Bakery Tokyo
My brother had to work the week we were there, so we all took the train one night and met him for dinner near his kaisha (company) in the Omotesando area. Afterwards he took us on a walking tour to the Dominique Ansel Bakery. Dominique Ansel is the person who created the cronut and has a famous bakery in New York, so he’s pretty much a baking genious. I loved his bakery and how modern and inviting everything looked. Most of my family got the frozen S’mores which they “oohed” and “aahed” about, but I got the Pistachio Raspberry Marble cake because I like pistachios and also the cake looked soooo pretty. Both were delicious!
Tokyo Disney Sea
One of our favorite days of the trip was spent at Disney Sea. Before my nephew mentioned Disney Sea as an idea for something to do, I had never even known it existed. Disney Sea is an amusement park that is located right next to Tokyo Disneyland. Disney Sea opened in 2001 and is the fifth most visited theme park in the world (according to worldatlas.com). I love all things Disney, but in my old age I’m finding I’m less and less patient about crowds and waiting in lines. So, going to a Disney park during the holidays in Japan seemed to be just about the opposite of what I like to do. My sister-in-law assured me that her Disney Sea App said that the Tuesday before Christmas (the only day we had free) was “green,” meaning the day was not expected to be crowded. Kids were still in school and the national holiday did not start until Friday. So, we decided last minute to give it a go. Part of the decision was also due to all the wonderful bloggers who shared about their experiences and wrote about how they thought that Disney Sea was one of the best of the Disney parks. I couldn’t possibly pass a place like that up!
That app was right, it was the least crowded I had seen any Disney park. Using Fast Passes and going on popular rides during parade times, we were able to minimize wait times and go on everything we wanted to go, many of them more than once! I think the longest we waited was 25 minutes for the Indiana Jones ride (no Fast pass and not during parade time)! So, if you get a chance to visit Disney Sea on a “green” day, definitely take the opportunity! It was an interesting blend of Disney rides (some new and some we’ve been on in the Disney parks in California) and stories interwoven in the different “lands” with an overall water theme connecting it all. We got through the park quickly and thoroughly because we didn’t have to spend so much time in line. We snacked on curry popcorn and chocolate churros, which we highly recommend. We had lunch at the Yucatan Base Camp Grill, and if you like smoked meat (pork was the best), this is a nice, casual place to stop for lunch. We finished the day shopping for souvenirs and then watched the Fantasmic show. It was a great way to spend the day with family! We left the park, happy with many memories, but also exhausted. My four year old niece fell into such a deep sleep that my superwoman sister-in-law had to carry her most of the way home as we navigated our way from the bus, then train and the walk home (so many stairs!). For a Disney park, the prices for admission were very good, well below what I would pay for Disneyland admission in California. It seems strange for us to go to a Disney park in Japan when we have one in California, but the experience was very different and new to us. I love experiencing an amusement park for the first time! It was definitely worth spending one of our precious days in Japan at Disney Sea.
Tolo (Totoro) Cafe and Bakery
One of my cousins who I haven’t seen in over 20 years (some people just don’t age -lucky girl!) kindly took us around one day and helped us locate the Totoro cafe and bakery (formally called Tolo Cafe and Bakery). I had seen Totoro creampuffs on various blogs and I wanted to see one for myself. This cozy and homey cafe looks like it was a house converted to a cafe/bakery. Just the kind of place you should find a Totoro creampuff. If my cousin wasn’t there to guide us through the residential area, I don’t think we would have ever found it. Totoro is a character from the movie My Neighbor Totoro who is a sweet and very cute “keeper of the forest.” We love all things Totoro in my family. The only downside of this place is that there was nowhere to sit and eat our cream puffs. The cafe on the upper floor had an hour wait time, and you know me with wait times. So after unsuccessfully looking around for places to eat our cream puffs, my American self found an area on a footbridge that looked private enough (“it’s ok, we’ll never see these people again”). I think normally people take their cream puffs home, but we had other places to go and couldn’t bring them with us. Besides, the kids were NOT going to forget about the cream puffs all afternoon. The cream puffs were delicious, filled to the brim with custard or strawberry cream. I think most of us preferred the custard over the strawberry cream, but either way, they were utterly adorable. We all agreed this was a fun outing. First to find the place and second to actually look at and taste the cream puffs.
These were some of the highlights from our trip to Japan. Nothing too fancy, just good old family fun. Many of our highlights revolve around food because…that’s just how we roll. Japan does food extremely well and food brings people together, right? 😉 Luckily, you have to walk and take the train everywhere so you burn most of it off, or at least that’s just what I told myself.
As much as it is fun to visit Tokyo and I am truly grateful for all the experiences, I don’t know if I could ever get used to the population density there. The trains at rush hour (or any hour at some stations) were a sight to behold. So many people, yet most of the time it was organized chaos. People just patiently waited for their turn for everything. Riding the train system was exhausting for me while my daughter got used to everything real fast, pulling out her book on the train and simply dealing with the crowds. I saw my sister-in-law strike a yoga move to prevent my littlest niece from getting squished in the rush hour train when people just kept squeezing on. See, superwoman! I think this trip to Japan gave me a new appreciation for our way of life in America. How fortunate we are to have the space to get away from it all and seek out nature. Our campervan trips have a new meaning to me now. With that being said I would go back and visit Tokyo in a heartbeat, there was so much still to do and visit. The people, the energy, the food, the scenery are all unique and very special. For my daughter and I, it was made even more special because we got to visit family. Wishing you and your family the very best in 2017!!