Japan 5 - Tokyo and Hakone
A short trip, but this time with kids!
Mark is currently working in Japan.
We were going to Hong Kong for the annual family pilgrimage and
with a little bit of airline tweaking, you can stop off in Tokyo
almost for free! It's been a few years since our previous trip to Japan
Mark, but no kids) and what better way is there to see a country
than with people who actually live there! Sadly, every day
spent in Japan was a day we weren't spending with family so we
only booked six days in Japan - next time book more!
Mark has a flat very close to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is a great
place to land if you have jetlag because a lot of services are
open late or early so it almost makes it seem normal that you are
waking up at three in the morning.
Our first morning started around 3am - the kids just woke
up. We were expecting this - the kids move at best an hour
or two a night and 3am was roughly their wake up time in
Tsukiji Fish Market
The first time I
went to Tsukiji fish market
was in 2002 on my second trip to
Japan. I was in wonder with the place - so many foreign
sights, so busy. The place was magical - I could have spent
the whole day there. The first visit took a while to figure
out where everything was and I seemed like an alien exploring an
new frontier - vendors were surprised to see me and asked about my
camera. My second
visit in 2009
was much different - we got there in time to
see the Tuna auction but the place was now expecting us - there
was a roped off gallery for visitors. Helen found a
great place for sushi listed in the Rough Guide and although the
place was busy, there wasn't a big line up.
Things have changed further. We didn't arrive in time for
the Tuna Auction - we have done that before, but I wanted to walk
though the seafood vendor area again. We walked for about 10
minutes before a security guard found us. The security guard
had a binder and flipped to a page with the rule we violated - no
tourists in this area until 9am. The rule was written in
Japanese, English and several other languages. He kindly
escorted us out of the photo photo paradise and dumped us in a
parking lot. I kind of wonder what the other pages in his
book have written on them, but it was game over for us - a family
with two kids is really easy to pick out as "doesn't belong
Helen went to get her morning sushi -
remember with Jet lag it is much closer to lunch sushi and so
makes sense. The place we went to in 2009 now had a huge
lineup (at least the volume of the restaurant, if not more).
Second listed restaurant - same thing - long lineup of bored,
bleary eyed tourists. Helen found a new restaurant with fresh trip
adviser and yelp stickers on the door, but not yet swarmed by the
online crowd. She had the restaurant to herself.
Some day our kids are going to read this
blog and hate us. We went to Tokyo. Did we go to Tokyo
Disneyland? No. Tokyo Legoland? No. We
went to the Ueno Zoo. I'm not a strong advocate for zoos and
the Ueno zoo has issues - their elephant enclosure seems way to
small for me, as did the hippo enclosure, but I hope that with
kids seeing wild animals, each generation will think more about
habitat and respect for nature. I don't have much evidence
to support that optimism though.
Taking photos in zoos is kind of
strange. It clearly isn't a wild animal and making the
animal out to be anything other than captive is dishonest.
Because your kids are looking at the animal, it's nearly
impossible to take a photo of them (their face) and the
animal. We did see some people practicing with long lenses
and fancy cameras, but it was mostly moms with cell phone
The zoo has a number of star species
(Panda bears for instance) but it have also stars some Japanese
animals. I was really happy to see the exhibit for the
Japanese Giant Salamander. We were luck to see feeding time
- a dead but whole fish was inhaled in a single opening of the
animals mouth - a quick snap and the fish disappeared. The
close-by exhibits did spend some time describing habitat loss in
Japan and Asia. Good zoo? Mixed bag. I think the
kids had fun.
Day two, did we go to the place kids want most? Nope.
We went shopping. Worse yet, today is Halloween! We
happen to be visiting a country that doesn't really celebrate
Halloween so yet again our kids get to miss out. Was it
completely terrible? Not really. Turns out Japan is
starting to pick up Halloween - in the food area of Isetan (a
Japanese department store), they were running a "Trick or Treat"
event - go to the counter, say "Trick or Treat" and they give you
a gift. The first counter was giving away premium cookies
and they were generous. After that we got ice cream and
found a costume try on photo area. The kids had a good time.
The kids were still working through jet lag
so the kids were generally in bed by late afternoon. I took
parenting duty and Helen tried to eat as many Japanese treats as
she could find restaurants open. Highlights include Wagyu
Beef, Barbeque seafood and authentic Ramen (all different
restaurants of course):
Our trip was basically three days in the
city and three days in country - Hakone. Hakone is really
close to Tokyo (a two hour train ride) so it's quite popular and
hence busy on the weekends. We happened to be in Japan
during a holiday long weekend so we were glad we booked the Ryokan
months in advance. Glad we did.
Our first day was getting there, renting a
mini-van and then driving to Gotemba Premium Outlets.
Gotemba really isn't part of the "Hakone" experience - it's
actually in the next prefecture over - but it was in the top three
for my wife. If you have been to another Premium Outlets it
will seem very familiar - massive parking lots (stacked here) and
a "village" of stores and pedestrian squares and streets.
Most of the stores they had are available in North America as well
- They had Prada and Lego that I haven't seen before, but
otherwise same same.
There are no car rental shops in the
village we are staying in (Kowakidani) so we had to drop off the
car in Hakone-yumoto station and take the train back to our
Onsen. After the short walk from the train station we were
running a little late for dinner. As soon as got in the
plates started arriving.
Traditional meals are generally served as a large number of
courses with each course having a highly stylized
presentation. The meal is generally composed of a number of
flavors and textures but almost always has similar elements - Rice
and Miso soup at the end, generally sushi to start, often a soup
in the meal. Generally there is a lot of seafood, much of it
unrecognizable or without an English name. Generally you see
a tempura dish, local pickles served somewhere and fruit served as
dessert, although more western deserts seem to be entering.
The meal below is from our second night (the black egg was
something I brought home) - each day's meals was distinct.
The only way to make meals like this is for
everyone in the building to be eating the same meal.
Generally Ryokan's have a short schedule - only three different
meals are severed before they repeat, but the menu's usually
change with the seasons of the ingredients. This
Ryokan could not accommodate Vegetarians - they say so on their
web site and confirmed by e-mail. I still got a meal, but
the kids ate whatever they want and Mark and Helen cleaned up the
rest. I got an egg sandwich from the Lawson and the fruit.
Our room came with a private indoor and outdoor bath - a luxury we
first experienced in our winter Japan trip
Claira was having none of it, but Nara was brave enough to give it
a try. The kids didn't have a problem with the traditional
tatami mats or eating on a table less than a foot off the
Hakone has a tourist "circuit" to do -
local train to Gora, a funicular train up to a gondola station, a
gondola up to the peak where there are hot springs, another
gondola to the lake, and a boat ride on the lake to a nice lake
side community and finally a bus ride back to your starting
point. Everyone does it. Everyone. We started by
walking down to our local train station - the train to Gora was
tight but we got on. We arrived at the local train terminus
(Gora) to transfer to the cablecar (funicular). Just getting
off the local train, there was already a half hour wait to
get on the cablecar.
The cablecar (funicular) drops you off at
a ropeway (gondola) station. From there you really gain
altitude. The ropeway takes you up over the forest toward
the peak of the mountain. We are a little early for the fall
colours - some patches of trees are changing colours, but many
trees are still green/yellow.
Unlike other ropeway/gondola/cablecar
systems I have ridden in, this system has two cables widely spaced
that make for a very stable ride. As you crest the ridge
near the top, you find yourself sailing over a valley of sulfur
mining, what might have once been a caldera. The long span
makes you glad that your gondola is super stable because it's a
long distance from one tower to the next.
The top of the mountain is a tourist trap. We had lunch at
one of the larger buffet restaurants and then walked up to the hot
springs to see how they make the black eggs.
As we walked back down to the ropeway station the fog rolled in -
visibility went to a few meters. After a long queue, we got
on a gondola down to the lake side station.
Here we got bad news - because of the fog
(and now light rain), the boats weren't traveling. The
tourists were piling up and there were no taxi's to be seen.
With a bit of help, we found a local bus that would transfer to
another local bus to get us back to our hotel. Thankfully we
were at the bus terminus because for our entire ride, no one else
go onto the jam packed bus. We made it home for dinner.
We had two days at the Hotel and it was
time to go. I had some regrets - because we came on a super
busy weekend, we didn't get much time spend at the Ryokan.
The kids and I went for a short walk while Helen finished up the
Hakone is beautiful place to visit known
for it's views of Fuji. Sadly, we hadn't seen Fuji. We
asked at the hotel for options (given the we had to be at Nariata
Airport at 4pm for our flight to Hong Kong - they suggested a taxi
ride to the lake side village. Being a busy weekend, it took
a while to get a taxi, but the driver (who didn't speak any
english) stopped at some good view points before taking us to the
Shinkansen train station. If you look really closely, you
can see a few pixels of Mount Fuji in the picture.
We had two train rides - first to Shinagawa
Station and then the transfer to the Nariata express.
Considering the distance we traveled, the trip sure went by
Tags: Japan(32), Tokyo(15), zoo(7), fish market(6), food porn(5), market(3)
People: Nara(7), Claira(7), Helen(4), Mark(3), John(2)
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > Japan 5
Last Modified Saturday, January 3rd, 2015 at 22:12:31 Edit
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