This was the country I was most looking forward to visiting, especially since we had timed it to be there during Sakura – Cherry Blossom season, and it did not disappoint. I loved it so much, I would happily live there.
We spent the first week in Tokyo and the second week in Kyoto and travelled to different places from there.
Just an incredible, vibrant city that is jaw-droppingly modern, efficient and clean. Even the rubbish trucks are sparkling clean!
We explored the city using the metro system which was easy to navigate around, but the stations are humongous, so there was a lot of walking to get to the final destinations.
Tokyo accommodation is very expensive – think London prices for half the space. In fact, they rent out single bedrooms for multiple occupancy, calling it a “semi-double”. We almost ended up in one of those and had a last minute change to a proper double room, but it was tiny! The room had a double bed and around a foot of floor space around it, that was it. The bed was too small for all of us so poor Lee slept on the floor squeezed between the luggage and the bed.
We spent our first couple of days in Disney, there is Disneyland which is a replica of the other Disneylands and based on Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and Disneysea, which is unique to Japan. We took Ethan to Disney World for his second birthday so we didn’t find Disneyland on par with that experience, but it was fine for a couple of days out.
Both parks were incredibly busy but Ethan was good with queuing, and we also queued to see Micky, Minnie and Goofy at Ethan’s request which was an improvement to his first encounter with them, when he screamed and cried his way through it.
I used this blog as a guide to the parks, it was written by an uber fan and was very useful.
We also headed to Tokyo Dome City for more grown-up rides, they had a huge rollercoaster which looped around the shopping centre and could be seen from the street outside!
Tokyo has a few green spaces and we visited two of them, one was Yoyogi Park and the other was Chiyoda Park which is also where the Imperial Palace was, we didn’t get time to visit that though because we queued up to do some boating in a beautiful lake overlooked by cherry blossom trees.
The shopping in Tokyo was great for me – at 5ft 2”, I was amongst peers and wished I had enough luggage allowance to fill up with trousers and long skirts and dresses that would fit without alterations! Lee, on the other hand struggled, at 6ft 2”, he was a giant, t-shirts fit him like cropped tops and buying trainers was a workout in itself. There were also electronic shops as big as department stores but checking prices against amazon showed that they were not cheap.
Our best shopping find was Don Quijote a discount shop where we found great little gadgets, a very big suitcase and groceries.
We struggled with food in Japan because it is a meat heavy country which uses meat-based sauces even in tofu dishes. We tried a vegetarian meal experience I read about at Fucha Bon, it was a fine dining take on temple food but it was a bit too adventurous for us with things like seaweed jelly and chilled sesame tofu.
We did better with snacks though, finding a great popcorn shop and indulging in the biggest, prettiest candy floss ever!
Kyoto was like Tokyo’s poorer cousin, less developed, less clean but still a vibrant city with lots of restaurants, bars and shops and a great base to visit other places from. We had an apartment so were able to cook our own food and Ethan had his own bedroom so no more sitting in the dark come 7pm.
We had an international playdate in Osaka to look forward to on our first day there. I had arranged it with Kids Travel Japan, who I found on Instagram, they aim to maximize communication, cooperation, and fun between Japanese children and foreign native English speaking children. We were joined by an Australian family who had a one year old named Iris and a four year old son named Gabriel. We got on really well with this family, luckily the boys hit it off too.
I found it really interesting observing the differences in behaviour between Ethan and Gabriel and the Japanese children. Our boys behaved like all children I have been exposed to, they ran around tipping containers of toys out as they went. But the Japanese children would get single items from the containers and place them neatly on the floor before going back for another piece. They even tidied up behind Ethan and Gabriel as they went. I’d never seen anything like it! It all changed though when they were called for a soft drink break, speedy sugar hit later, they were running around like loons too and all of them ended up playing tag and hide and seek – language barriers disappeared. It was comforting to see the discipline drop and energetic child behaviour take it’s place.
We enjoyed being with the Australian family (Ana and Adam) so much that we spent the next day exploring the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which was beautiful and a really nice, relaxing day out. It was easy to get to on the trains and walking distance from the station with lots of food options to explore. After walking through the bamboo groves, there is a boating lake which looked pretty too.
On the trip, I mentioned to Ana that I really wanted to try on a kimono, she confessed that although she had lived in Japan for several years, it was something she had never got around to doing. So, we arranged a girls night out to try on kimonos while our lovely husbands took the kids out for dinner. We had a great time, heading to Gion, we found a place opened til late, got kitted up and hit the town for goofy photos and plum wine. Absolute bonus was seeing a real life Maiko, sadly she was with a drunk man who was pawning her out for photos. I confused him when I asked him to pay me for a photo of me with the maiko, pointing out that an Indian Geisha was much rarer than a Japanese Maiko hahaha
Kyoto is pretty big and has a few temples and parks, we chose to explore by bus one day and saw the golden temple and a nice cherry blossom park. The buses were easy to use and the bus drivers were noteworthy for being cheerful, each passenger was greeted coming on and wished a good day getting off – imagine London drivers being like this!
Before leaving Japan, we headed to the Fushimi Inari shrine which was beautiful and worth having a few hours for. It has thousands of orange torii gates covering walkways that lead up into a mountain with streams running around it. Unfortunately we had combined our trip with Nara so couldn’t stay as long which was a shame as the walk up the mountain looked good.
Nara was a cute town with the main draw being the deers in Nara park which bow to you when you bow to them. The park sells biscuits you can feed them which was both fun and nerve-wracking – imagine being surrounded by bowing deers all eager to get into your hands! We didn’t spend much time there but there were lots of places to stop and eat plus a few other tourist sites so I could see how a day could go by there.
Japan was great but we were ready for some heat, bring on Australia!!