The Shinkansen trains - known as ”bullet trains” outside Japan - is an amazing way of traveling. Japan is a physically small country with a lot of mountains and forest, so despite the country being the size of California, the population is very concentrated in the cities. And while there are slow trains that stop almost wherever there are two houses together, those do not go on the Shinkansen tracks.
I have written before about how much better the Shinkansen is for almost every destination in Japan except Okinawa, which does not even have a railway. Actually, I have written twice about the convenience and efficiency of Japanese trains. I have written about how much easier it is to take the train than driving in Japan. I have even written about our best travel hack so far, getting a platform ticket to see the Shinkansen trains. But I have not written about what it is like to take the Shinkansen itself.
Separate Elevated Tracks
The first thing to remember about the Shinkansen is that part of the reason the trains are so fast is that the tracks are physically separated from other train tracks. The trains run in a straight line (well, as straight as they could make it in a country full of mountains and rivers). And most of the way they run on elevated tracks, so there are no crossings to worry about.
Stations Outside The Centers
This means the second thing to remember about traveling on the Shinkansen is a consequence of the first, and it is much more noticeable for travelers. The stations are way outside the city centers, otherwise they would not be on the straight line. So this is why the Osaka station is in Shin-Osaka, and the Yokohama station in Shin-Yokohama. “Shin” means new, except in Shinagawa, where it has to do with goods being transported on a river.
Kyoto Station Controversy
The Shin-Osaka station is quite far from Osaka city center - not like the Tokyo or Kyoto stations, which are smack in the middle of the city. The Tokyo station was placed there because the powers that be wanted to make travel convenient for the emperor. Originally, trains terminated in Ueno and Shinbashi. Kyoto is somewhat different. The station is in the middle of the city, but it was created with great controversy, family homes being torn down in the process and the winner of the architectural competition being somewhat less than a public favorite, to put it mildly.
Taking Additional Trains
For travelers this means your trip is not over when you arrive at the central station. That is a third thing to remember. There will be additional trains you have to take, except in Kyoto. You will have to transport the family through a huge complex like the Tokyo and Osaka stations, and get on the right train for your destination - which is one of those trains that stop at every two houses, since these are local commuter trains. And then you may have to change to another train to go where you are finally going. Or a bus.
Planning In Advance
This is the part of your trip that you need to plan out carefully. That is the fourth thing to remember. Getting to a different place in Japan is as simple as jumping on a train, but to jump on - or off - that train and get it right you need to plan your trip. Sure, stopping in the middle of Tokyo station with three toddlers and a ton of luggage (and no baggage carts) to look up your destination in Google map may work. There is free wifi and your kids will enjoy the snack or lunch. But knowing in advance where you are going and how will make things so much more expedient.
No Luggage Space
That is related to the fifth thing you should remember: There is no luggage storage space on Shinkansen trains. Well, there is a small space behind the seats at the end of each car, and there are overhead shelves. But even if the train is roomier than a low-cost carrier flight, like with Peach Air or Vanilla Air (which I have personal experience from), there is no hold where the train crew could store your luggage. Even if you paid extra.
Send Your Luggage Ahead
The Japanese send their luggage ahead. You can have the courier company come to your place and pick up the luggage the day before your trip, and it will be waiting for you when you get there (unless you are going to Hokkaido). You only need to bring the stroller (or strollers), and a small going-out bag with change and diapers.
Very Short Stops
The sixth thing to remember about the Shinkansen is that it is fast. It takes less than six hours to go to Hakata in Kyushu, and less than 2.5 hours to go to Osaka from Tokyo. If you were to take a regular train, a day may be enough to go to Osaka, but you would have to either take an overnight train or stay on the way if you took the regular trains from Tokyo to Hakata. This of course makes it more convenient for you as a traveler, but there is one thing you have to look out for, and that is that the stops in the stations are really short. The Shinkansen is fast not just because it travels in a straight line, but also because it has fewer stations, and because it stops for a shorter time in those stations. You have to be careful to get everything together in good time before you need to get off. Including your kids and their toys. It is like getting ready to deplane but only have a few seconds to do it.
Be Prepared To Get Onboard
The seventh thing to remember is that unless you are entering the train at the end station, you have only that short time to get onboard. Here, too, you really have to be prepared if you board in Odawara, Nagoya or Atami. Make sure you are ready to get your kids and luggage (and/or husband/wife) on the train as soon as you can. In a country where the train company is investing hundreds of millions of yen on shaving one minute off the travel time, causing a delay because your toddler is having a tantrum will not be appreciated.
Bring Snacks And Drinks
Thing number eight is to bring snacks and drinks. For your kids. There is a vending machine on the train, and a cart who goes around and sells coffee and sandwiches (and more things). And there are hostesses (I have yet to see a train host (although I am sure they exist). But the trains are long and at lunchtime or around breakfast they will be really busy. And you do not have to be a very seasoned family traveler to know that your kids are no fun to others when they are hungry or tired. Or hungry and tired.
Let Them Sleep
Number nine: Let them sleep. Fuji will not go away. Because one of the great things to do from the train is see the view of Mt Fuji. But if you are traveling early in the morning or around naptime, then you know that it is going to be hard work to keep them awake, and ultimately futile. Let them sleep and have a beer while you watch Mt Fuji. You have probably earned it.
Since I live in Japan, I write a lot about it here on the blog. Check back regularly - I try to update it every week.
But I also write books and travel guides about Tokyo and travel in other Asian countries, so if you are interested in that, feel free to sign up.
If you think about going to Tokyo, take advantage of this offer now.
The Bebe Voyage guide is a great resource for anyone planning to go to Tokyo. Get it now while it is free (until Monday July 16, 2018).
It is actually a great resource. I wrote most of it but the BebeVoyage community is really the co-author. It is a community of and for traveling parents who want to explore the world with their children.
And now we have written a book about Tokyo, with tips on what to see, what to do, and how to get around - with your kids in a stroller. If you have followed this blog you know that our kids can walk now, but when I were on parental leave I spent lots of time taking long walks with the kids. Two in the stroller and wearing the third. Later, we got a board the third could stand on, when they outhrew the Baby Björn.
You probably know that you need a special ticket to ride on the Shinkansen trains. It can be quite expensive if you want to ride a short distance, and if you do, getting back can be a major hassle - if you go to Shin-Yokohama, the easiest way is to ride the Shinkansen back. Which means you have to buy a second ticket.
There is a cheaper alternative to get tickets to the Shinkansen, but you can not ride them anywhere. Going to Oomiya or Shin-Yokohama not only costs money, it also takes time. And taking that extra time might mean changing your itinerary.
The Shinkansen Platform Ticket
But you can get a ticket which allows you to make your children happy, at least if they are boys. It may be gender stereotyping, but my girls are much less interested in trains than their brother. And the way to make him happy this weekend was to go to Tokyo Station and show him the Shinkansen trains. Yes, he was extatic, but a bit shy about talking to the train staff. His sisters had to do it for him.
We bought platform tickets. They allow you to go on the platform and see the trains. You can not ride the trains, not even get on them. But you can look in through the windows. And you can talk to the train staff. And best of all, the ticket only costs 140 yen for grownups. And children under 6 do not need any tickets.
How To Get The Ticket
Not only was the ticket cheap, it was also easy to get. You just go to one of the automatic ticketing machines, switch to English guidance, select ”platform tickets” and then the number. When you enter the Shinkansen area, you just push the ticket into the slot, and you are in. Since your kids are short, they enter with you without having to pay.
The Local Speciality Bento Box
The Shinkansen trains go to destinations all actoss Japan, and when trains were new, they stopped at local stations long enough for them to buy a bento with local specialities.
There are occasional stations where trains stop long enough for passengers to buy a bento, but mostly trains today are so effective that you have to buy the bento before you board the train. In particular if you are boarding the Shinkansen.
Get Your Shinkansen Bento Early
You do not even have to go to far-off train stations to get the local specialities. They are readily available at Tokyo station. There is a special store that only sells ”ekiben”, the local speciality bento boxes.
Your kids are likely to be less than interested in high-quality Japanese meat or fish, however. The bento box you need to buy for your kids is the Shinkansen bento box. The contents are nothing special (grownups may find convenience store bento more tasty), but the plastic box in the shape of a Shinkansen train may be the most loved souvenir your kids will get in Japan.
Did you know that I am working on several guide books for Tokyo right now? I am trying to adapt them to different reading styles. To find out how it goes and when they will be ready, sign up below!
The Tokyo Disneyland is on the bucket list of many people, but in reality the park they should go see is Disney Sea. Unless you are in Europe, in case you want to go to Disneyland Paris, which requires its own preparation.
Fisney Sea is amazing not just for the cyberpunk vibe, although the rollercoaster which runs through the volcano is closed at the moment. You could try the Raging Spirit instead, it is an amazing roller coaster in the Lost River Delta, and to get back to Port Discovery ot the Mediterrenean Harbor, you just take the boat.
But the main reason, at least in the eyes of my kids, for preferring the Disney Sea park over the Disneyland is not only that papa can have a beer or even a mojito, it is the character greetings. They happen equally early as in Disneyland, but the lines are much shorter (and you do not have to go to the ”greeting docks” either). And they have odd characters that die-hard fans would, well, die for.
My kids got to meet Daisy Duck and Goofy. Someone scooled in quantum theory will have to explain why they can be in two places at once. But they also got to meet Gepetto and the fox from Pinocchio, but we did not get up to Benjamin Cricket, he was too busy. And my daughter got a date with King Louie from the Jungle Book, although daddy had better come along and chaperone that one.
If you have ever thought about taking your kids to Japan, the planning got a lot easier. The BebeVoyage Travel With Toddlers guide to Tokyo is now available from the BebeVoyage website.
If you are interested in more of my books (I have some about Bangkok and the one about Hawaii is still in the works), please check out my Amazon author website. There will be more books coming there soon, but you can still help me name my next book as I asked for help on in the previous blog post.
Getting Into The Background
I have got into the habit of waking up an hour before the rest of my family and spend the time writing. So you can guess I am becoming more proficient in my writing. There is a lot to write about. However great it turned out, the BebeVoyage could have been richer in background. At least that is the type of information I want out of a guidebook, since I like to know the background of what I am looking at. But if you want to know where you should go and what you should do when you get there, then it is definitely for you.
Tell Me The Name
The BebeVoyage guide is already named ”Traveling with Toddlers to Tokyo: A Family Friendly Travel Guide”, but you can help me name my next book and my next, and next. Just let me know what you think it should be. Or what place I should write about next. Just use the handy form at the end of my previous blog post about writing.
Shinjuku is one of the 23 “wards” of Tokyo. It is not a city, but a knd of province with limited autonomy. This city-within-Tokyo provides free wi-fi in limited areas which see frequent visitors.
You have to choose the Shinjuku free wifi in the network list and then you get redirected to the service website, where you have to press a button that shows you accept the terms and conditions. The big green button. This is for the government to have a way to tie you back to the access, in case something criminal is going on.
Once you have pressed that second button (the orange one) you get access to the free wifi network. This is exactly the same way that the free wifi in Starbucks works, and like the Starbucks free wifi in Tokyo it is time-limited. You get an hour free, then you have to log in again.
it is when you have pressed that second button that you get pleasantly surprised. Because that is when you get redirected to the Shinjuku Convention & Visitors Bureau.
I live next door to Shinjuku, and I was surprised that there is a Convention & Visitors Bureau there. Well, maybe not visitors, I see lots of them as I change trains every day. But conventions?
It is also worth noting that the city of Tokyo has lots of tourism marketing activities. Shinjuku is a part of Tokyo, which is why it is surprising (it is a ”ward”, much like arrondissements in Paris).
The Seasonal Shinjuku
The traditional Japanese year has several holidays, most of which are not in the current calendar. They are still celebrated, but unofficially since they are religious holidays, although you have to work hard to avoid it.
The one most obviously celebrated holiday is the Tanabata holiday, which is based in a legend about two star-crossed lovers separated by the Milky Way, but reunited for one night. Which they spend fulfilling the wishes people write on slips of paper tied to bamboo branches.
Since this a star-related festival, there are plenty of souvenirs related to stars. And often the seasonal souvenirs are worth bringing home, like these star-shaped sweets.
Walking Tour Pamphlets
The seasonal tips are only part of the website. Worth picking up or printing out are the walking tour pamplets which provide scenic walks (with explanations) in the most interesting Shinjuku areas.
The translation in the pamphlets are better than the website translation, and the maps are really useful.
The Beer Garden Which Steak Can Enjoy
If you think the language on the website looks a bit funny, it is because it is machine translated. Not that English translations in Japan often look less funny, mind you. Japanese is a very tricky language to render into English, since the grammar is completely different. And large parts of a statement can be understatements. So be careful anout using Google Translate in Japan. You may come out as funny as your Japanese interlocutor.
sometimes the result is not just laughable but funny in a LOL way. Lke the beer garden that a steak can enjoy. It should be a beer garden where you can enjoy a steak, but a word for word translation of the sentence from Japanese gives you the one in the page.
Beer gardens are a great feature for thirsty travelers, by the way. The ability to sit on the terrace and enjoy a beer with your steak is one of the great things about Japanese summer. Just make sure to choose a different beer than your steak is enjoying.
Should You Use The Free Information?
Nowadays, most of us are somewhat suspicious about ”free”. We are aware that someone always pays, and that if you are not buying, you are being sold.
In this case, however, you should not worry. There will not be any ads popping up in your feed trying to sell you things you have no interest in. Japan has extremely strict privacy laws, and if the person has not given her consent, then you can not use information for some other purpose.
So no need to worry. Instead, you should take this opportunity to spend some of the Japanese taxpayers money.
However, free WiFi does not only come without a price sticker, there is also a cost for using the service. Since the city has to pay the provider, they have not spent an unlimited amount of money on bandwidth. Rather the opposite. Very frequently, the free wifi service gets congested. So congrsted that it hardly is usable any more because so many people try to use it at the same time.
you may be better off using a different free WiFi-connection, especially if it is a day with some kind of event, or a publc holiday. I already mentioned Starbucks, but that assumes you are in the cafe itself. There are several other alternatives, and most restaurant chains have free wi-fi now. But the ones you are most likely to bump into as you are walking around Shinjuku and the rest of Tokyo are the free wifi networks of Lawson, 7-11, and FamilyMart, the three giant convenience store chains of Japan. They all offer connectivity in their stores, which usually spills over a bit to the outside. And they have much better bandwidth than the free wifi offered by the city.
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The rainy season has started in Tokyo. But so far - touch wood - it is a lot less strenous than usually. Look at the weather forecast. For a rainy season, we certainly are getting a lot of sun.
I have written before about how Japan has five seasons, with the exception of Hokkaido and Okinawa. Five seasons means the usual ones plus the rainy season.
Planning For A Rainy Day
When it rains in Japan, it can really pour. Tokyo is not like southwestern Japan, where they can get a hundred millimeters in a day. You had better plan for some activities when the weather is bad.
Although today is fine, and we plan to go to the park before lunch. But tomorrow looks like a good day for a museum visit.
I apologize for not blogging as often as I used to, I am writing. Not a blog, but a book. At last. Actually, by the time you read this I may even be editing.
But I can write all I want. The real question is what you want to read.
The Tesla, the Porsche, or the Leaf?
I have started writing a couple of guide books about my home town, Tokyo. As I bring our triplets whenever we travel, the experiences we have should be useful for other families. Especially if you do not know what to expect from your Tokyo visit. Setting the expectations right is crucial in having a good experience. Technically, the difference between an electric Porsche, a Nissan Leaf, and a Tesla is not that enormous. But your expectations of driving them is not the same.
Should you expect a heffalump?
So what should you expect from my book? Well, I am more ofa Tesla than a Nissan Leaf, and definitely not a Porsche. But I am also interested in people buying my book. So please - tell me what you want to know. I am writing this book
for you, to create something that will be useful when you come to Tokyo. I of course know how confusing the city can be (the houses are numbered in the order they were built). But also how rewarding it can be (our kids went overboard when the koto player at Kani Doraku played the theme song from Tonari no Tottoro).
What should a guidebook be like?
While the Internet has changed travel, it does not seem to have changed guidebooks nearly as much. You still either get listings of what there is to do or semi-literary memoirs. I love reading those though, because I am much the same as you: I know the only way to judge wether something is worth my time and money is the experience of others. So that is what I am focusing on - but not a memoir. Take a normal guidebook and put all the listings of things to do on the Internet (like in this blog). Then you get something like what I am writing today.
How to beat Google Maps
i know (perhaps better than most, since I had to go there with a twin stroller) what a parent needs to know about navigating Tokyo (or the rest of Japan). But it is not useful to have a book that lists every restroom with a changing board. They all have them now. If you need one, you will not want to drag around a book. You will look in Google Maps.
Weighing less than an iPhone
Not that the book I am writing are going to weigh more than Google Maps. An ebook is just a file with formating codes. That is what I am writing. Maybe I will do a paper version in the future.
But for now it is an ebook that you can download and read when you are planning your trip. I will try to include information to help you find places to stay, what to eat, how to figure out where to eat it, and how to find playgrounds for your kids.
Piling words together
Maybe you are not familiar with the process of putting words together so that they form a coherent whole. Most people can write a reasonable document of some 10 pages, corresponding to about 1000 words or so. Here we are talking about something about 50 times as big.
Every writer has their own way of approaching writing, but since I have a background in journalism, I usually start with a first draft that will be about 150 to 200 pages in the old way of counting, something between 60000 and 80000 words. That is a lot of words. But I have written books before, 15 actually, two of them were bestsellers, although that was more luck than anything else. They were all fairly boring.
How to thrash your first draft
But that is only the first draft. It is just my ideas stacked on top of each other. When I get there, it does not have much structure and there is a lot of duplication. So I take off my writers hat and put on that of the editor. Now it is not my book anymore, it could be written by anyone and I have to beat and carve and cut and paste into shape. I did mention that I used to be an editor? Of an old-style paper magazine, no less. I know more about the art of cutting and pasting than most people who start working today will learn in a lifetime.
Ebooks but not Kindle
There is nothing that says an ebook has to be all text. Except Amazon, because they charge extra for books which take a long time to download. Techically speaking you could include pictures as well. But then you have to pay for them. I may include them in non-Amazon versions of the book - you can download ebooks from other stores on the Kindle too, although an iPad with the Kindle app is a better reading platform. We will see how it works out.
Okinawa is an amazing destination (our kids still talk about the beach near the villa we rented on Sesoko Island), and the northern, rural part is a lot more fun than the urbanized and industrialzed south. Even if there are quite a few amazing beaches in southern Okinawa too.
But if you are going to Okinawa (or coming back) there are several things which your kids will ask to do, and several that they will want to do if they knew about them. Apart from going to the beach, that is. Not that you could not do that every day, for most of the day. Okinawa is part of Japan, so many of the questions people have about going there are the same. But nevertheless, Okinawa is a bit different.
Despite the balmy weather (pretty much like Hawaii, except when there is a typhoon), there will be rainy day. Okinawa does not have the same seasons as the rest of Japan. There are plenty of things you can do then, but I will come back to those.
But while weather is nice, there are plenty of things you can do apart from going to the beach. Actually, your kids are likely to ask you to spend time on the beach all the time. But just in case they happen to ask for something else, here are a few things they may want to do.
1. Churumi Aquarium
It is somewhat surprising to find a world class aquarium and aquatic museum in northern Okinawa, but this would be the pride of any big city, if it was not located in the northern Okinawan countryside. It is huge, with several rooms and departments showing off the Okinawan sea life. Which is exciting in and off itself, since the islands are isolated enough to create some interesting marine plant and wildlife.
But the thing that steals the attention is the huge tank in the center of the exhibition. It is one of the biggest saltwater tanks in Asia and it is full of the marine life of Okinawa (although your kids will probably be more fascinated by the divers cleaning it). There is a small café by the main tank but you have to be very early to get a table, or wait for several hours (which is not worth it).
While the aquarium is great if it rains, the huge park surrounding it offers a completely different experience for your kids - even if most of the attractions, like the dolphin show and the turtle breeding tanks, are connected to it. The dolphin show is amazing but try to get seats at least 30 minutes before the show starts. In particular if you want good seats.
2. Ocean Expo Park
The Ocean Expo park has several other parts than those which are related to the aquarium, however. There are several traditional Okinawan buildings, but without a guide explaining them it is a bit hard to relate to what you see - entire families, and their animals, used to live in what is smaller than a modern campervan. The Okinawan government had a rule that nobody was allowed to have houses bigger than a certain measure, and it was strictly enforced until the Japanese Meji government formalized their annexation of the islands, ending three hundred years of Satsuma clan rule.
Fun though that is the really interesting thing are two other museums: The Oceanic Culture Museum and planetarium, and the Tropical Dream Center.
The Oceanic Culture Museum in the Motobu Ocean Expo Park is heavily focused on Polynesia and the travels of the Polynesians. As interesting as those are the Polynesians probably never made it to Okinawa, although their predecessors may have. But the museum is fascinating and well executed, with some artifacts behind glass but most of the focus on interactivity and discovery.
The park is full of flowers and plants which are lavishly distributed throughout the park, often bound up in shapes like monkeys, frogs, and footballs. Your kids will love posing in front of them. But the third attraction is not the flowers and plants themselves, it is a greenhouse. Or rather, three greenhouses. You may wonder why anyone would want that in subtropical Okinawa, which surely is hot enough during the season. But not humid enough to grow the more than 2000 orchids you can find here. Another reason to take the little shuttlebus that runs throughout the park is the restaurant at the Tropical Dream Center, as the greenhouses and associated buildings (like a viewing tower) are called. It is much better than the buffet restaurant at the acquarium, not that it is especially bad. But it is a buffet. Your kids will love the sausages and fried chicken, but do make an attempt at making them try at least the “nikujaga” the stew with potatoes and meat.
3. Nakajin Castle Ruins
Okinawa was once divided in several warring states, but they were gradually unified under the king in Naha, the capital of the province today. Then, the Japanese invided and conquered the islands.
Some of the most pitched battles took place near the main castle of the northern kingdom (since the Japanese came from the north, and had already conquered the islands bridging Okinawa and Japan).
Today, the castle is completely destroyed, only the ruins remain. Although they are impressive enough, it is hard to imagine how impressive it must have been when there was a Japanese-style fortress tower, although probably colored red, rising at the center. There is a visitors center which sells drinks and food. The restaurants are extremely crowded but the food is surprisingly reasonable for tourist restaurants. Do not put any spices in the food, Okinawan cooking uses much more spices than mainland Japanese, and not wasabi but the regular chili peppers. The aspic with chilli peppers make a great addition to the noodle dishes - for grownups.
Another interesting feature, which may only be available seasonally, is the kiosk just before the ticket gate. Although to call it a gate may be stretching it. Anyway, keep the fingers of your kids away from the huge shallow pan with a brownish liquid in it. It id going to be hot. But buy a bottle of freshly pressed sugar cane juice (even better if they will press it in front of your kds). And then explain to them that this is how you make sugar, and thanks to all the hard work that goes into it and that the sugar cane only grows in tropical climates, sugar used to be fantastically expensive (not quite worth its weight in gold but sometimes in silver). It was the sugar production that made the Japanese conquer Okinawa, and that kept the Hawaiian kingdom going until the Americans took the islands in a coup.
Let your kids run free among the castle ruins, but make sure that they do not slip or fall. The stones in the paths can be loose here and there. And watch out especially that they do not fall down one of the magical wellsprings that dot the ruins. The Okinawans still worship them.
4. Water Buffalo Ride
Okinawa is in the tropics, and the climate is not just mediterrenean like that of Tokyo and most of mainland Japan, it is actually tropical all year round. This means water buffalo thrive, and just like in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand they are the favorite beast of burden. They are much stronger than cows, and they have much less problems wading in the mud of the rice fields.
In most of the Okinawa archipelago, this means they were once the only dray animals people had access to (except themselves). Horses were rare and expensive. But water buffalo could pull heavy loads, so they were hitched to carts.
As the roads developed and became nicer, some of those carts were used to transport not just goods, but people. Today, the water buffalo rides are probably more associated with the Yaeyama islands to the south, where you can ride the water buffalo cart between Irimote and Yubu island (the only way to get there). But there is also a water buffalo cart ride in northern Okinawa, in the village of Bise just to the north of the Ocean Expo park. The streets of the village are lined with fukugi trees, which makes them feel cool even when the temperature is hot. And the villagers offer rides in their water buffalo carts along the streets.
5. Neo Park
This park is a zoo where you can come close to the animals who roam free throughout the park. But there is also a petting zoo which kids will love, and the only railroad in Okinawa, a remainder of the railroad which once went from Nago to Naha. Today, the original locomotive is used to pull visitors around the park. Most of the animals are birds, and you can feed them (although not from the train). Be careful of your fingers, they may look appetizing.
No Rainforest Without Rain
The main Okinawa island is a very long island - it takes several hours to go from the northern to the southern tip, even if you use the freeway. It is narrow but not so narrow that there is not a lot of nature in the middle. You have rainforests and montaneous vistas, although there are no real mountains.
But there are several more islands than the main Okinawa island. Not all of them are archipelagos in their own right, like the Yaeyama islands to the south. The main island includes Ishigaki, the amazingly beautiful island that feels like a Japanese Hawaii. All of the Okinawan islands are on the same latitude as Hawaii, but as they are closer to the South China Sea, they are susceptible to typhoons. But they blow over quickly. On the other hand, it rains quite a bit in Okinawa. This is a tropical island, after all, and you can not have a rainforest without rain, after all.
In summary, northern Okinawa is a great place to go for a vacation with your kids. We always think of going back to the villa on Sesoko island, with its amazing beaches and the fantastic Villa Kohola. But there are several more amazing beaches, including the breathtaking Emerald Beach next to the Churumi Aquarium in Ocean Expo Park.
this year, Disneyland in Tokyo and Tokyo Disney Sea will be extra crowded on June 16. Why? It is an ordinary summer saturday, although in the rainy season. So why will the Disney parks be extra crowded on that day?
Extra Crowded Weekend
Tokyo Disney Resort (the two parks plus the shopping center and the hotels) is located in Chiba, not in Tokyo. Anyone would be challenged to tell this and most people in Tokyo or Chiba will not be able to say where the border between the prefectures are.
But as I have written about before, you need to be early to get the most out of your Disney visit, and if you live nearby you have a better chance to be early than people who live farther away. That is one reason why it makes so much sense to stay in the hotels near the park (which we do even though we live in Tokyo and can get to Maihama, the station serving Tokyo Disney, in an hour).
But we will not go there on June 16. The park will be crowded as it is a weekend, and with the extra people taking advantage of the Chiba Prefecture Citizens Day, it is likely to be one of those days where the tickets run out. Even though it will probably be raining.
The day will see a lot of prefectural facilities open for free to the public. The prefecture itself runs a lot of facilities like parks and sports facilities, including the Makihari Messe a few stations from Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. It will be crowded but you do not hsve to go. There are plenty of other things to do in Tokyo. Even if it is raining.
By the way, you may wonder what this local holiday is. Japanese prefectures have some degree of independence. They can decide for themselves how some of the tax money they recieve can be spent. And they can declare local holidays, but not too many. Since the prefectural govenors are elected in direct elections, they tend to spend on popular projects. Or white elephants, like the Ibaraki airport.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.