Japan Vacation 2016 (part 1)- Hello Tokyo!
This year, we take on a new travel adventure as a family in one of my dream destinations, Japan! As there are a lot that I want to share with all of you about our trip, I will be posting a three-part blog series.
We had been planning our Japan trip since August last year. It is a product of months of research and Google-ing to come up with our itinerary. Just like in our previous travels, we did not opt for a tour package to give us flexibility in terms of time and pacing, as we have kids in tow. Plus add the fact that it is the first time that we will be travelling as a family to a country that neither Daddy S and I had been to before. We wanted to make our trip as smooth as possible to give our kids the best Japan experience.
We begin our 8-day adventure with the most popular city in Japan, Tokyo!
From Narita airport, we took a limousine service up to Tokyo Station. It was our hotel in Tokyo who advised us to take the limousine service as cabs are expensive in Tokyo. I initially thought it was one of those luxurious cars with champagne served while on board (silly me!) but later realized (thanks to Google) that it is a bus shuttle service.
Tickets can be bought at the airport and passengers get to choose which schedule or time they prefer. And just like everything in Japan, these buses leave right on time. We were practically running around the airport to catch our bus!
The view all throughout the ride was just magnificent. My eyes feasted on the scenery that somehow gives me a preview of what I will experience with the rest of Japan. We were all excited! Even Little H flashed his brightest smile once we were at Tokyo Station!
Moving around Tokyo
The best way to move around Tokyo is by taking the subway. Taxis are expensive, so unless you really need to, i discourage you from considering it as your mode of transportation in moving around the city.
Since our kids do not get to experience riding trains in the Philippines, I always look forward to this experience whenever we are out of the country. Great learning opportunity as well in teaching kids the do’s and don’ts of taking public transport, as well as basic etiquette. Plus, subway is a preferred mode of transportation in Japan so it gives you the whole experience of moving around the city just like them.
Tokyo subway can be overwhelming for tourist like us, so it is best that you take note of the location of your destination, especially the station where you get off. Download as well the Tokyo subway app. Believe me, it will be your best friend while in Tokyo especially if you are planning to move quite a lot.
It was Spring when we visited Tokyo. A perfect time as it is not too cold nor not too hot.
Places we’ve been
Imperial Palace Gardens
Since it is our first day, we decided to make our agenda light. We visited this vast garden of the Imperial Palace, home to the Emperor and Empress. The garden is open to the public for free (yey!). The palace however, is closed to the public and opens only twice in a year.
Imperial Palace might be boring to some but for me, I love the tranquility in it. The garden is located in a busy and modern business district but you can hardly hear any of its noise inside the park. Nature lovers will find sanctuary in here.
Kid Friendliness Rating: 6
There is not much to do in Imperial Palace but take photos of the beautiful landscape and flowers. There is a big park in the middle of the garden where kids can run around and play.
Younger kids who likes running around freely will find this place exhilarating. With that vast ground just waiting for them to explore, I am sure they are tired even before they can see the entire place. However, for older kids (like my EA), they might find this place boring. there is not much activity, and might get too tired from the all the picture taking (don’t they all ?).
One thing that I find refreshing in Japan, take note, not just Tokyo, is that there are plants, trees and flowers everywhere!Literally everywhere! It is so relaxing to the eye, and the air too!
Tokyo Tower is like the Japan’s version of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. From it, you can get a full view of Tokyo, even reaching a glimpse at Tokyo Disneyland. Guests are given two options on what deck they want to view Tokyo. The higher view is more expensive, of course but those who had been there said that the the view from that standpoint is breathtaking.
I recommend seeing Tokyo Tower at night because the top view, with all those lights in the city is just wonderful. It made me want to explore the whole city right then and there!
Kid Friendliness Rating: 8
The view is great and kids will find it fascinating, especially who are fond of lights. But after that, they will be asking you to leave the viewing deck already. However, the place is bustling with activities so there are ways to preoccupy them.
There are also several food courts and restaurants in the area, as well as some shopping stalls.
One of the main reasons why I was so excited about Japan is because of Disneyland. The kid in me just automatically comes out screaming for fun (you feel me, right?)!
We took an early shuttle service going to Disneyland. It is compliments of our hotel, thus I recommend that you ask your hotel for these complimentary services. Just be mindful about the departure schedule of your bus and make sure not to be late as these buses leave right on time.
We purchased our tickets early on to avoid the long lines, and boy was there long lines! We didn’t know that it is a holiday, and thus, there were thrice a number of people compared to a normal day. We were at Disneyland at least an hour an a half before it opens and it was already brewing with people. It was a good thing that we were at the start of the line and when the gates opened, Mickey Mouse was just a few distances away from our gate and we were able to have our group picture taken in no time before the line gets really long.
Tokyo Disneyland is definitely bigger than the one in Hongkong. The park caters to all ages; kids, teenagers and adults. There are more rides to enjoy, it’s just too bad that there were a lot of people and thus the lines to each ride was long.
The one thing I like best about Tokyo Disneyland is that there were several parades in a day! One can not help but dance and clap with the lively music and cute characters making their way inside the park.
Of course, a trip to Disneyland will not be complete if we did not ride the famous carousel and tea cup!
Later that night we were also able to witness the light parade. Even though I had seen one of these in Hongkong, I’m still in awe of the wonderful parade.
Kid Friendliness Rating: a great screaming 10! And the name speaks childhood fun, thus, need i say more? 🙂
Just a word of advise before going to Disneyland. Drinks and food there are quite expensive, as well as everything else; caps, shades, umbrella and other gear. So before heading to Disneyland please bring bottles of water and some snacks and sandwiches. Also, if you bought your ticket online, always check if the one you got has express pass in it. It will save you from those hours of lining up for some rides.
Another park right in the heart of a busy street is Ueno park. A vast scenic park which housed several tourist spots as well.
I love the sea of green that awaits us. I can imagine what this place looks like in Spring!
Aside from strolling in the park, there are also temples, a zoo and other activities tourist can enjoy.
One of my favorite moment in this park was when we tried the soya ice cream. O-M-G! It is really good! Soooo good! i wonder if we have that here in the Philippines? I recommend that you try it when you get to visit Ueno. It’s easy to spot the kiosk as it is the one with the longest line.
Inside Ueno Park is Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Tokyo home to a large number of animals. I was also looking forward to seeing the zoo because I wanted to see animals not common in a tropical country like ours; rhinoceros, polar bear, and of course, pandas!
“Tokyo Zoo is divided into 63 main sections, grouped into such categories as the Gorilla and Tiger’s Forest, Japanese Animals, The Children’s Zoo (with animal petting area), Animals of Africa, a Birdhouse, and the Vivarium (turtles and reptiles).” – http://www.japanvisitor.com/tokyo/tokyo-zoo
Considering how big the zoo is, and how many animals there are in it, the entrance fee was minimal. Kids are free, same as persons with disability (PWD) plus one companion. The only downside about our trip is that it turned out that the day we visited the zoo is a holiday. There were long lines outside the entrances and packed inside zoo. But that didn’t made our visit less memorable.
In most instances, I get lonely seeing animals caged. I think it somehow limits their movements. But what i like about Ueno zoo is that living conditions of the animals mimic their natural environment. I love how big the spaces are especially for the bigger animals, to give them room to roam. There are also plants, trees, even caves! These are just some of the animals that we saw:
Check out that hippopotamus and the sleeping panda (which made me giggle really!). By the way, the pandas are inside a big glass cage. Too bad it was their nap time when we visited them.
Those are actual flamingos! I love how vibrant their color is!
The polar bear is among the crowd favorite and mine too!
Inside the park, i saw families having picnics by the grass. This is not a problem since Japanese are known to be disciplined in cleaning up their respective spaces. For those who do not have packed lunch, there is an alfresco food court in the middle of the zoo that connects the two major wings. Just be careful when dining in there as there are birds flying around the trees while you eat. Some crows even take away food from unsuspecting guests.
I just love this whole zoo experience, especially for EA. It is a great learning experience seeing and talking about the animals that we saw. The ones we just usually see in books were right before our eyes. It is through these experiences that learning becomes more personal.
Kid Friendliness Rating: a big 10! I highly recommend that you bring your kids here. It’s great learning experience not just for kids but the entire family as well.
If one is a big fan of Japan and reading blogs about the city, I am sure you have come across Shibuya, known as the bargain shopping district of Tokyo. Aside from shopping, it is also known for its popular Shibuya crossing, one of the busiest stoplights in the world. The moments the light turns green, you can see a sea of people crossing from different directions. The best view of this can be seen on the second floor of Starbucks just across the traffic lights. I did not miss this opportunity and went there.
Sipping my Caramel Macchiato, I watched the buzzing activity. I saw several tourists crossing while holding on to their cameras. some even have selfie sticks (but I do not recommend this as a courtesy to others who are crossing the street).
Afterwards, i walked around and saw all the bargain shops around. There are tax refunds for tourists for a minimum purchase, just make sure that you bring your passport with you. I left Shibuya with some pasalubongs for our friends and family.
I really wonder what it is with lights but Japanese sure love them. My eyes feasted on the bright lights around Shibuya. I guess electricity in Tokyo is not as expensive as it is here in Manila, right?
If Shibuya is known as the bargain shopping district, Ginza is for high end shopping requirements. Store of Popular and expensive brands line up the shopping street. Lights are equally amazing. I could go on walking and (window) shopping in here.
Kid Friendliness Rating: 6
Not what I will recommend for a day of strolling with kids since it is really the bright neon lights that is the attraction in both Shibuya and Ginza, and the shopping of course! But if you intend to buy some toys, then there are some well known and big toy stores in Shibuya. For us, we decided not to take the kids anymore since it was really cold at night and we feel like it is not advisable to take them out at that temperature.
That ends our four day journey in Tokyo. It was truly a dream come true being here in this beautiful place! For me, Tokyo represents the modern Japan and how advance their economy and technology is. Next up, our Osaka and Kyoto adventures!
Goodbye Tokyo, it’s been wonderful!!