Asia has always seemed so far away, so different, so impossible to get to. But here in Hawaii it’s actually closer than much of the US. Living in Hawaii has exposed us to many Asian influences, especially food, so we were very excited about the chance to spend a February week in Tokyo to check it out.
Our itinerary took us first to Haneda airport for a night, then to the historic Tokyo neighborhood of Asakusa, and finally to Tokyo Disney.
But first, there are so many interesting and fascinating things about Japan that we noticed.
1. Matcha – the green tea based flavoring comes in coffee, candy and even KitKats. It’s strong flavor is very addicting.
2. Toilets – let’s just say that these are the most complex and fancy we have ever seen. Whether at a fancy hotel or a public bathroom, toilets will have various buttons for various sprays and to heat the seat, a big plus during winter!
3. Quiet but helpful people – unlike Americans or what we noticed in Australia, the Japanese are very quiet and peaceful people. You do not hear loud talking, laughing, or shouting. They are very courteous as well and stopped to pick up things we dropped on several occasions. Our almost two year old, in particular, was in a shoe and sock throwing phase. Since it was below 40 degrees at night, we found her some thick socks we used and they mostly did the trick. There were a few times however when a nice Japanese person would tap on our shoulder with a “sumimasen” and nicely return the discarded sock.
4. Masks – yes, the face masks are everywhere and I would estimate about 20% were wearing them. After reading up on the topic I learned that they are to prevent getting sick, spreading sickness, for allergies or sensitive respiratory issues, and so on. You stop noticing after awhile and much to our liking none of got sick during or after the trip!
5. Packaging – so many things come in small and cute packages. At all types of stores they would package even a 1 dollar trinket like it was the worlds most valuable item.
6. Vending machines – these rule and there is no other way to say it! Specialty drinks, snacks, toys, you name it. Cheap and everywhere!
7. Showers – or lack there of actually. In both our Asakusa and Disney rooms there was a shower but was built to low to use it that way. Instead, one should rinse off and then bathe (or take a seated shower which also works)!
8. Mass transit – this was awesome as expected on the monorail, subway, and airport shuttle bus. Everything is in English and well marked. The only tricks are to make sure you take the correct line and know that elevators are not always available, especially on the Tokyo Subway. Our transportation highlight, for sure, was the family friendly Cocorotaxi service. They had car and booster seats prepared for both our girls, were promptly on time, and very affordable.
Now a little on the areas we saw…
Pronounced (ah-sock-sah) we learned, this historic area to the northeast of central Tokyo was absolutely incredible. We woke up to views of the Asakusa shrine and Senso-ji temple, the oldest in Tokyo. There is so much within walking distance including the temple grounds, Nakamise shopping street, Sumida River and Kappabashi kitchen town. Highly recommended to stay in the neighborhood!
Our first exploring in Tokyo was a 15 minute monorail ride from Haneda airport. We visited the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden which was so peaceful and pretty just a 2 minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We also went up to the top floor of the World Trade Center which has views of Tokyo in every direction (except west, towards Mt Fuji, due to a new building in the way). The view was definitely worth the few dollars fee.
We spent a solid day in Ginza strolling up and down Harumi-Dori and it’s wide variety of high rise shops and Restaurants. This includes a four story toy store and the 11 story Itōya stationary store which was incredibly cool with themed floors and a delicious restaurant on the top floor. A great place to buy all of the special Japanese art supplies- all sizes of paper, stamps and stationary. Ginza definitely got more crowded as the day went on and we headed back on the Subway to our Asasaka air B&B by mid afternoon.
We stayed two nights at the Disney Ambassador and visited both the Disneyland and DisneySea parks. Both were amazing and DisneySea especially impressed being so different from the other Disney parks around the world. Our 5 year old also rode her first roller coaster! DisneySea is basically a combination of Epcot, MGM and Animal Kingdom- sort of. It’s nearly impossible to explain as there are different areas and the scale is enormous. It feels much bigger than the other parks but was still quite crowded- and the lines for the specialty popcorn flavors were intense!
In summary, Japan was amazing and we will certainly be back to explore more of the country, especially the Osaka/Kyoto area, Hokkaido, and hopefully Okinawa as well.