This is very unusual. I just took this photo from our bedroom. You can see Mt Fuji quite clearly. And it is August.
Normally, you only see Fujisan in winter. Then, the white snowcap makes it easy to see. Normally, it is a bit cloudier and you can not see the mountain at all during the summer months. As a matter of fact, the day when you can see Fuji inofficially marks the end if summer. But I was lucky today, so I wanted to share it with you.
Tokyo is a great city not only in itself, but also because it is surrounded by interesting sights and places that you can easily reach within a couple of hours, and come ”home” at the end of the day.
Here are five places we have visited and enjoyed. We travel a lot around Tokyo so our kids get to see and enjoy lots of different things. Not everyone will enjoy the same things, of course, but perhaps you will find some of these interesting.
These trips are easily doable in a day, leaving in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. And even though I have written about how crowded the trains in Tokyo can be during the mornings, it is likely to be less bad on these lines. You are going against the commuter flow, away from Tokyo and the corporate headquarters and governement offices that fill up with commuters traveling from the furthest reaches of the Kanto plain to slave away until long after dark. If you start a bit later, these trips are still easy.
Mt Tsukuba is in Ibaraki, to the north of Tokyo. The mountain is only 800 meters high but it juts out of the surrounding plain, making the view completely unobstructed.
There are two peaks on the mountain, served by respectively a funicular cable car and a ropeway with gondolas. Since the cable car leaves from the main Tsukuba shrine, in the little city with all the tourist shops, it is often quite crowded. The ropeway is less crowded and the view from the gondolas is much better, but you have to go halfway around the mountain to get there.
To get to Mt Tsukuba, you take the Tsukuba Express train from Akihabara to the end station. Take an express train, then the ride is only 45 minutes. At Tsukuba station, take the bus up the mountain and get off at the Tsukuba-San Guchi station for the cable car, Tsutsuji-ga-oka for the ropeway. You will want to remember that the last bus leaves the mountain station already around 6 PM.
The best thing about mt Tsukuba is the view, and many other visitors will think the same. Since the best part of the view is to see the sunrise reflected off mt Fuji, you had better be early. That is a great way of beating the crowds too, since many visitors hike up the mountain, and then take the cable car or ropeway down. It is not a particularly strenous hike, although you should probably not try it until your kids are about seven or eight. And it is absolutely not doable with a stroller. Once you get to the top, it is easy to get around with a stroller.
2. Mt Takao
Most visitors are surprised when they find out that Tokyo has actual wilderness inside the city limits, but Tokyo is both a prefecture and a city. The westernmost corner borders Yamanashi, where mt Fuji is located. But the Tokyo mountains are not nearly as tall as Fuji. As a matter of fact, mt Takao is a mere 599 meters tall (that missing metre must be a thorn in the butt for many people in Tokyo).
That it is not as tall makes it much more accessible. You can easily walk around the mountain in a couple of hours (even with a stroller), once you have got up to the top. And since there are no other mountains in the way, the view can be amazing on a clear day.
The little city between the cable car station and the train statio is full of stores selling the staples of Japanese mountain tourist attractions: Soba noodles, pickles, and manju. Try the soba noodles with mountain herbs, they are delicious.
There are two ways to get up Mt Takao: Either take the chairlift, or the cable car. But with a stroller, the chairlift is not really an option. When you are there, it is easy to go around the mountain paths, mostly paved or consisting of hard gravel. Your kids will insist that you go to the monkey park, but for adults this is more depressing than fun. The Buddhist temple on the top has been in operation for more than 800 years.
Getting to Mt Takao is easy. You can do it in two ways: The Keio line from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi, which takes about 50 minutes with the express train; or the JR line to Takao, and then change to the Keio line to Takaosanguchi.
You know Narita, right? That was where you landed in Tokyo, unless you flew in to Haneda. But Narita airport is a latecomer compared to the city of Narita, which has grown up around the Narita buddhist temple. The city streets leading up to the themple from the stations look exactly like you would imagine a Japanese city.
And it is worth a visit in itself. Plus it is very easy with a stroller. Even considering it has been in operation for more than a thousand years. It is probably the only place you will find where the same ceremony has been repeated every day for more than one thousand years.
Getting to Narita is easy, but do not take the airport train. Instead, you need to take the train to Narita city, either JR line or Keisei line from Keisei Ueno station.
When Edo, the city that would become Tokyo, was still small it had a little brother. The city of Kawagoe was so prosperous and important that it become known as Ko-Edo, or ”little Edo”. Most of the buildings in the city today were built in the 19th century, after a fire devastated the city.
Today, the city largely retains the 19th century atmosphere. Even modern buildings are being replaced by buildings in the old style, like the Koedo Kurai traditional goids shopping mall. This is what makes Kawagoe an attractive destination, that and the Kita-in temple. This temple was so important in the 17th and 18th century that the shogun donated some buildings from Edo castle to renovate it after an early fire. Since Edo Castle burned down shortly after, this is the only place you can find buildings from Edo castle today.
Kawagoe is the endpoint of both the JR Kawagoe line and the Seibu line. That means there are plenty of trains each day from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Take an express train, then the trip takes a little more than an hour.
Before Edo was even a small village, Kamakura was briefly the capital of Japan during the two Mongol invasions. Both unsuccessful, but not thanks to the shogun, the military commanders who ruled the land from Kamakura. Rather, the reason the invaders were deteated was that their fleet was destroyed by storms.
While the city was capital, it also became headquarter for several of the Buddhist sects that are integral to Japanese religious life. Those temples are still there, and the reason to go to Kamakura today.
actually, the best way to see Kamakura is not to go there first, but get off the JR train in Fujisawa, and then take the Enoshima line to Hase, where you can find both Hase-dera, one of the most interesting temples, and about 20 minutes walk away Koutoku-in, with the great Buddha statue. From Hase it is only two stops to Kamakura station.
Did you think this was interesting? Did you know that I am writing an entire book about great daytrips from Tokyo? And did I tell you that I just finished my guidebook to Tokyo for families and will edit it soon? If you want to know more about what is coming, sign up below!
You may never have heard about it before, but the little city of Koga (古河) at the very edge of Ibaraki, is not only home to the biggest fireworks in the Tokyo area, it is also home to the biggest peach blossom viewing festival.
Unless you planned to spend time traveling around the backways of the Tokyo area, Koga was hardly on your map. But this little town was once a major stop on the road to Nikko, the Unesco world heritage site that is the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who united Japan under a military rule that lasted for almost 400 years.
In those days, you would walk. Horses were rare in Japan and you could not get to Nikko in a boat even if you tried. So if you wanted an outing and needed an approved destination to go to, a pilgrimage to Nikko would fit the bill. Remember, Japan was a pretty harsh dictatorship at this time, and you needed a pass to go anywhere except for close to home.
A city made for driving
The old Koga city center was in the area from what is today the train station to the golf links at the shores of the Watarase river, which comes from Nikko in Tochigi prefecture, now one of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Japan. There was even a small castle, and since this was a major rest stop on the road to Nikko, there were several restaurants specializing in haute cuisine for wealthy travelers. Many of them remain today.
But apart from the restaurants, the shops have moved away from the city center. Koga is spread out like an American city, and if you plan to do anything but watch the fireworks,
The fireworks exception
while you have to drive to get around Koga, that does not apply during the fireworks festival. The street from to the station to the Watarase riverbank is closed off to cars, and everyone walks there between the market stalls.
The best place to see the fireworks is from the river wall above the golf course. But you have to get there early. The best seats are pre-reserved and paid for, but there is plenty of places where you can spread out a “blue sheet” and have an early dinner while you wait for the fireworks to start at 19:20. It will not be too late for your kids as the fireworks end at 20:30. You can let them sleep on the way home. Just remember to slather them in insect repellent. August is hot and prime season for mosquitoes. And the fireworks happen next to the river.
Koga fireworks bomb. Children inserted for comparison.
Walking along the market stalls along the Koga main street is a fun experience. However, eat a proper dinner while you wait for the fireworks. Most of the markrt stalls are selling food of one kind or another, and those that do not sell food will sell toys. Crappy plastic toys that may last until you get home to your hotel.
Are these the biggest Kanto fireworks?
The Kanto region (of which Koga claims to be the geographical centrepoint) stretches from Hakone in the south to Fukushima in the north. The plain used to be the granary of Japan, endless stretches of rice fields fed by the rivers running off the surrounding mountains.
That means if you claim to be the biggest fireworks in the region, you have to make good on it. And you will have a lot of competition. There are huge fireworks in Yokohama, in several of the Tokyo suburbs, and in Tokyo itself. But with 20000 enormous fireworks pieces, each weighing 650 kg, Koga has a good claim to the title. These are not your ordinary sparklers, they are more like artillery grenades. And they go on forever. The fireworks last only for a little more than an hour, and like most Japanese fireworks,
How to get there
Koga sits on the Utsunomiya branch of the Shonan-Shinjuku Line, and there is a train about every 20 minutes. But the last train to Tokyo leaves already at 2130, so if you miss that, you may have to stay the night. And that will not be easy during the fireworks festival.
if you are not coming from Tokyo you may want to drive. There will be parking spaces surrounding the fireworks but be prepared to walk for quite a long distance.
Watch out for the crowds
The Koga fireworks attracts tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands. It is the same with all fireworks festivals in Japan. The fireworks themselves only last for an hour, but for people coming all the way from Tokyo, Maebashi, or Fukushima, you will not want to spend an hour watching fireworks and then go home. Many people come earlier and take seats on the river wall. Others enjoy the market stalls.
But almost everyone who does not live in Koga go home at the same time. The trains get incredibly crowded. All the roads to the riverbank fill up with people walking home. Most are blocked to traffic but there is the occasional residents car trying not to run over anyone. It is better to wait for an hour or so and then take the train home. Or take the train to Nogi, the next station towards Utsunomiya, and then switch to the Tokyo-bound train.
Is it worth it?
So is it wort it? If you love fireworks, absolutely. But if not, then you may want to look for something closer to Tokyo. There are plenty of fireworks around Japan in summer. But I must say, it was impressive. Although keeping the attention of three four-year-olds are hard at the best of times.
oI have written more than 60000 words about Tokyo now. This is actually my second book about Tokyo. If you want to see the books I have already published, take a look at my Amazon author page. .
These are my kids, by the way. They are triplets and soon five years old. They are both the reason and the resource behind my writing travel guides to Tokyo.
The kids as a reason
When it was just us, me and my wife loved to travel to discover new things and collect new experiences. When the kids came, we wanted to share those new experiences with them. We have traveled to lots of places across northeast Asia, which is our home region since we live in Japan.
Since we want to give our kids the best experience possible, we like to know what we should see in the place we are going. That means doing quite a bit of research. As an old journalist, I know a bit about making research, and I have been able to leverage it during my writing. It is much easier than it used to be, now that there is online information about almost anything.
My kids as a resource
While having kids is great in a lot of ways, as a travel guidebook writer creating guidebooks for families having kids is a precondition. I learn what children like by asking my kids (and observing them when we travel too). And they tell me and show me other important things, such as how far a four-year-old can walk. Or how often they want to go to the bathroom. And having kids will show you unexpected things, such as how many attractions at Tokyo Disney Sea that are unavailable to children shorter than 120 cm.
Why would you need a guidebook?
Nowadays, everything is available on the Internet. So why does anyone need a guidebook?
While it is true that you can find information about almost anything, there are two problems: You do not know if the information is trustworthy, and it is not adapted to your needs.
When I am writing, it is from our own perspective. I have been there and done that. I know how to find the elevators, and I can tell you whether they go up or down. When you read my book, it will help you figure out what to expect. If you are a parent with kids in a stroller, or toddlers just walking, you will find it helpful.
I do not want to make a list of hotels, restaurants, and stores. Everyone has their own preferences and when you read my book you will know what we liked. If you want something diffrrent, for whatever reason, there is always Google. Or Bing. Or, in Japan, Yahoo. Or any of a number of specialized search engines. No need for me to try to compete with them. This is actually one of the things I was not so pleased with in the BebeVoyage Abbreviated Resource Guide, which you can find in Amazon. So I will do that part differently this time.
When can we expect the book?
Writing is only part of the process of creating a book. The research comes first, but often second as well in parallel with the writing. You always need to check things. But once the writing is done, you have to edit the text at least once yourself. Ideally you should have an editor go through the text after that, but in my case I am going to skip it for now, since I am an experienced editor myself.
But I have to let the text rest before I am editing it, so I get some distance and it does not feel as fresh. A month at least, maybe two. So with life and everything coming in between, do not expect anything before new year. Although I actually plan to write a different book before then, or really edit this one into something completely different (did I tell you I am an editor)?
Warning: This is something of a rant and contains personal opinions based on personal observations from living many years in Japan, half of the time with kids. You may find that it makes sense or not. I do not usually write like this, so check out the blog again next week for more ordinary tips on bringing your kids to Japan and having a great time.
Japanese people can be awful racist. Usually this is not noticeable, and most of the time they are extremely friendly. But then, you come across a sign saying "no foreigners allowed", usually in badly spelled English. They are rare, and actually illegal.
This usually means the owner does not speak English (or any other foreign languages) and would be embarrassed to try. But there are darker sides, and Arturo Debito, an American turned Japanese citizen, famously fought a long court battle to end discrimination at a local bathhouse.
He won, and in the process became friends with the proprietor. So discrimination based on race is illegal. That is easy to say in a country which has hundreds of years of tradition discriminating against the "casteless", who would handle dirty things like dead animals. To say nothing of how Koreans and Chinese were treated during the time both Taiwan and Korea were part of the Japanese empire.
Korean and Chinese look pretty much like the Japanese, especially if they get their dresses from a Japanese store and go to a beauty parlor to have their hair made. So racism in Japan is not a matter of looks only. Or probably at all. It is more a matter of being different.
You are equally likely to be discriminated against if you are colored, Indian, or blond and blue-eyed. You are not them. If you are different - look differently, then talk differently - you are likely to be discriminated against. This could be a simple thing like not getting a tissue outside the station. But you may also be the wrong sex. Many of the tissue packs, especially outside certain stations, are handed out to women only. The tissue packs contain advertising for beauty salons and other places where men are typically not customers.
If you have been discriminated against, you are more likely to be thin-skinned. The cause may not be racism, it may just be ”foreigners will go away and so are not worth investing time in”. You do not know. But one thing you do know is that in Tokyo, where the percentage of non-Japanese living there is more than 10%, the discrimination has decreased. It is just a personal observation, and I do not think that the people who are racist are less racist now. But the discrimination has decreased, so if that is true, then it had other causes than racism.
There is another type of discrimination that famlies is more likely to be subjected to, which has nothing to do with race but everything to do with family. That is when you enter a restaurant and they are ”full” despite your being able to see that there are free seats.
You can of course not prove that the restaurant has taken reservations for the tables and that the customers will come 10 minutes after you have left. You do not want to eat in a restaurant that does not want to serve you anyway. But the reason they do it are your children. First, they do not have any tableare or high chairs for children. Second, they are worried about your kids disturbing other customers.
So how does mesh with the famous omotenashi concept, that arguably won Tokyo the 2020 olympics. Here is my attempt at explaining, but first let me explain what ”omotenashi” is.
Omotenashi means ”without front” - i.e. Something that is transparent and honest. The Japanese culture has two concepts that do not exist, at least not to this extent, in other cultures: Honne and tatemae. Tatemae is what you say because you think the person listening will like it. Think white lies and flattery rolled into one. Honne is what you actually think, but traditionally you do not express it to anyone except in your closest family.
Harmony, making everyone get along, is more important in Japan than anywhere else, and even though people are the same everywhere, Japanese try to hide their feelings to make things flow smoothly. If someone throws a racial slur at you they are intentionally being disruptive, which probably means they are drunk. Or anyway idiots. Other people will look aside and not try to be involved.
This is also why the police will not go out and knock on the door of business owners who put up discriminatory signs. They want to preserve the harmony in their in-group. The tourist will be gone in a few weeks, the business owner is there forever. But this suddenly changes when the foreigner is going to stay and live there. The policemans contract changes and he will go to talk to the business owner.
It helps to think about Japanese hospitality, and actually any relation in Japan, as a contract. When you make a contract with a ryokan to stay there, they also contract to give you the best experience possible. And that is not all. You become a member of their inner group. When Japan was still a mysterious and hard to access place, there were books and books written, and academic studies done, on what made the Japanese so different. One of the theories had to do with social organization. The thinking was that Japanese tend to organize their relation in terms of the social distance from themselves. If you were a member of a group close to a person, you were entitled to a much better treatment than someone who is not a member of their in-group. Since racism is more a fear of threat to somebodys status quo than an automatic hatred of people with different eye color (or other perceived group characteristics), this means the outgroup automatically overlaps racism.
The policeman, in our example, wants to preserve harmony. If the foreigner is going to be a bigger pain in his behind than the owner of the place not letting foreigners in, then he will act. If the foreigner complains. Change does not happen by itself, in Japan or anywhere else.
So what was it about omotenashi again? Omotenashi is being honestly delighted at being able to host you. It is being helpful and delighting in it. Kind of hard to say ”this guy looks like a German so I will not help him”. Delighting in being helpful does not mesh with being a racist. Even saying ”I want to help everyone but people who look German” grates. You will not find many racists in service industries, it does not go well together. There will be other reasons they refuse you service, if they do.
The basis of racism is objectification, that you see the other person as a thing. You will find it happening to you if you have blond and blue-eyed kids. The in-group consists of real people whom you have relations with, the out-group is everyone else. They are not people in this way of reasoning.
In Japan, children have a strange position. They are cuddled and sheltered but they are somehow the property of their parents. older Japanese may reach out and pet your children, Japanese children too, but especially blonde and blue-eyed children. They remind these older Japanese of the dolls they had as children, which were sent from the US as support for the bombed out country. Even today, Licca, the homegrown Barbie alternative that is much chubbier and shorter, outsells the American doll toys. They just do not look Japanese enough.
Did you hate this post? Check out some other pieces on my blog to see how I write when I am not emotionally annoyed but try to be helpful. I am writing guidebooks to Tokyo, and I can tell you they are much more fun to read and much more helpful than the above.
One more thing: If you write trollish comments below, and do not try to help the conversation, I will delete them. I want us to have a helpful discussion.
Summer is the scariest time in Japan, because that is when the ghosts come out. Lafcadio Hearn bacame famous with his retellings of classical ghost stories. Because ghosts in Japan are not comical, they can hurt you. Badly. Ripping off your ears, or your face, or some other body part.
The reason ghosts come out in summer is not just that it is warmer (so warm the living can have a heatstroke). It is also the traditional Buddhist holiday for cleaning the graves of your relatives. It is when the dead come home for a few days. That is the foundation for the Obon festival (or just bon).
Three different celebrations
The celebration of Obon is spread out over July and August, even though most people still take their holidays in August. Many shops and small businesses close for a few days, usually half a week, around the Obon holiday. The dates for the celebration are determined by the Buddhist calendar and the Obon testival is very much a Buddhist festival, using the temple grounds for the festival.
Welcoming chocolate bananas
The Obon celebration is not just a celebration for the dead, it is also a celebration by the living. The people of the village dance to welcome the spirits of the dead back to their old homes.
And have a party around the dance platform. There are stands selling standards like octupus balls, pound cake, fried noodles, and shaved ice. And candied fruts, chocolate-covered bananas, and steamed Hokkaido potatoes.
This is not too different from the local festivals, except that it takes place in the temples and not the shrines. And there is no omikoshi, or portable altar.
Dancing for everyone
Your children will love it, not just because they love shaved ice and chocolate bananas, but also because of the dancing. This is more like a procession than a pair dance, with moves representing the dance. And everyone is welcome, including your children. And you, since as long as your kids are small they will appreciate your being there.
No website advertising
Since the Obon celebrations are local, there is no special advertising in newspapers or on TV, and no mention of the very local festivals on the tourism websites. You have to go look around the city streets until you find advertising for it, note down the times and dates, and figure out in which of the neighboring temples the dance will take place. There is a huge Bon-Odori in Hibya Park every yesr in August, but that is more of a media event than a religious festival (which takes place in July in Tokyo). If you can not find a local bon-odori, go there, but since it happens after dark it may be late for your kids.
Scary without ghosts
So if you are in Tokyo in July, or most of the rest of Japan in August, should you go looking for an Obon dance? Yes, absolutely. Your kids will love it, especially if they are school age or over. For smaller children, even around five, it may be a bit scary to go dancing on your own. Even if they can not actually see any ghosts. But if they do not like the dancing, they are sure to appreciate the chocolate bananas.
Did I tell you that I am writing more two more books about Tokyo - at the same time? But they will be very different. If you are interested in getting more information, sign up below!
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.
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.