I had this good idea that when Chris, Krissy and Sean visited I would interview them at the end of each day. I’d ask their impressions of Japan as well as their favorite things from the day. Since we’ve lived here for two years I wonder if I cease to notice things that they find interesting. I was very curious to look at Japan through the eyes of a newcomer. In addition, I would type it while asking and by the end of the trip I would have my blog mostly done. Like lots of good ideas, this one really never came to fruition. I did capture their very first impressions mainly the copious amounts bowing as well as the orderly trains and courteous passengers. Krissy also noticed how clean everything was despite the lack of trash cans. However, this daily ritual never took hold. Everyone was either too exhausted each night or we were chatting and laughing about other things and simply forgot to discuss the highlights. So instead I present their favorite experiences of their 11 day trip.
Best Overall Day: HAKONE
I did conduct an interview near the end of the trip asking their current favorites. All three mentioned all or part of our day on Mount Hakone. It was a long, but very rewarding day trip into part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Sean named the volcano as the best part of his whole trip to Japan. After riding several trains and a funicular cable car, we boarded the Hakone Ropeway and rode a hanging gondola up the mountain and over a ridge. Mount Fuji greeted us to the right (a rarer sight in summer) and Owakudani volcano steamed and released yellow sulfuric gas below. After riding over the volcano, we disembarked and got to walk around part of the edge. This was a nice spot to take in more Fuji views and for our guests to shop for souvenirs. We also got a great group photo taken. Normally, we would’ve rode on a second ropeway down to Lake Ashi; however, this section was under maintenance so we hopped a shuttle bus that promptly took us to the ferry terminal. From there, we boarded a pirate ship to ride across the lake to the small town of Moto-Hakone. The boys loved the boat ride and made the cannon their pirate headquarters. The adults were rewarded with vistas including mountains, other boats, Torii gates and at times Mount Fuji. In Moto-Hakone, I was delighted to see open spots outside Bakery and Table—there has always been a wait on past visits. This fantastic bakery also has a hot springs footbath under the outside seats. Krissy and I went inside and got a few different baguettes and a bottle of wine. This was one of my favorite moments as Mike took the lead with Will when he got restless. I got to sit, relax, soak my feet in the hot onsen, look at the beautiful views of Lake Ashi, drink wine, and talk with one of my favorite people in the whole world. And the anchovy, garlic bread was divine too. After our feet were thoroughly rehydrated and rejuvenated, we ventured over to the Hakone Shrine and then hiked back along the Old Tokaido Highway, an ancient Samurai road. We didn’t encounter any Samurai but a snake certainly took us all by surprise. It was a wonderful day filled with laughter, friendship and exploration.
Best Overall Day Honorable Mentions: ENOSHIMA & DISNEY SEA
We also spent a beautiful day in Enoshima. This little mountain island, dotted with shrines and temples, is one of my favorite places. We hiked up and over admiring the sights along the way. Although my family has been to Enoshima many times, it was also our first time to tour the caves. Will loved holding on to his “candle” (his was fake while the rest of ours were real) and hunting for the wish-granting dragon inside. The tide pools on the backside were a big hit with everyone too.
We spent the last full day of the visit at Tokyo Disney Sea. We’d been nervous about the weather as the forecast had initially been pretty grim. However, it turned out to be a perfect amusement park day with cloudy skies keeping things cooler and only a brief drizzle. The park was busy but not crowded. The people watching was thoroughly entertaining. Krissy loved all the young adult couples or girls in their matching clothes ranging from yukatas with mickey accessories to over-the-top-Disney outfits. The boys got along splendidly and both agreed that their favorite ride was Sinbad and the Seven Seas (a similar ride to It’s a Small World). Chris and Krissy generously bought the boys a small tiger to remember the ride. Flounder’s Roller Coaster was another very popular ride, and I thought the new Nemo attraction was cute and fun. I wanted to do at least one bigger ride (I.e. one Will was too short for) and got fast passes for the rest of us for Indiana Jones: Temple of the Crystal Skull. Krissy and I thought it was a great ride, but felt bad as we didn’t realize how scary it must’ve been for Sean who rode ahead of us with Chris. It was more of a thrill ride haunted house then a roller coaster which is what Sean was expecting. Whoops. We hadn’t necessarily planned on staying at the park into the evening, but I don’t think anyone wanted the day to end. We stayed into after 8 PM finishing with the evening’s show and reminding me once again that Disney does know how to do everything in a magical way.
Best Single Experience: SAMURAI MUSEUM
The Samurai Museum in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood has been on my To Do List for a few months now, and I am so glad we finally checked it out and brought our friends. This was thoroughly enjoyed by all of us. Fortunately we arrived shortly before a show and were brought upstairs. We only waited a few minutes before a young man, who has been training in the art of the Samurai for several years, gave us an impressive demonstration. A translator explained his moves and talked to us about Samurai training. At the conclusion of his performance, we were allowed to ask questions. Will wanted to know the difference between a samurai and a ninja, and we learned that samurai fight face to face with honor. A ninja is a sneaky assassin. Will then inquired what a Samurai does when a ninja sneaks into their house. Samurai have swords hidden everywhere in case this happens. Next, volunteers were requested. Again, Will’s hand shot up quickly followed by Sean’s, and they were called up to train with the Samurai. Both children were given a sword, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a four year old would be given a sword anywhere in the US. The Samurai and the translator led them through a series of moves then all the attendees were invited up to take pictures.
The audience was divided into small groups (about 8 in each) and a guide took us around the rest of the museum. We were shown Samurai artifacts and encouraged to ask questions throughout. We got to try on Samurai armor and hold more swords. We all got to dress up in traditional Japanese and Samurai attire and have our picture taken for free with our cameras by staff members. We finished the tour by admiring several authentic Samurai suits of armor then by our tour guide gifting the boys both with plastic Samurai swords. He shared his passion for Samurai culture with all of us and truly liked children too. The boys also spent a lot of time over the next few days practicing their samurai moves, and Will ‘s sword is frequently under his pillow in case of a ninja attack. This is a small museum but with an amazing staff and was overall an incredible experience.
Honorable Mentions: GET@CITY SHOOTING BAR AND ROLLER SLIDE
Chris’s all time favorite part of the trip occurred on his and Mike’s Boys’ Night Out. Mike took Chris to his usual favorite breweries and bars in Yokohama, but they also ventured into Get@City Shooting Bar– a bar with a gun range. Guns are virtually non-existent in Japan but at this establishment they’ve turned all kinds of weapons into air rifles. Chris was very impressed with the binder presented to select their guns and repeatedly spoke of how much he enjoyed shooting. Every time he spoke of it, he grinned like a school boy.
Sean also listed the roller slides as another favorite activity. Roller slides are long slides consisting of thousands of pipes laid horizontal to one another. Once they start rolling, they shoot the rider fast down the slide. We ventured to Kanazawa Park with the fastest slide in the area. The first ride was a total disaster as both Chris and Sean got hurt as I failed to warn them to keep their hands in their lap (Chris said my tour guide rating was going to drop a bit). I’m proud that Sean gave it another try as then he rode it many more times. The boys also had fun racing up the many obstacles leading to the top of the slide.
Best Culinary Experience: HOTARU
I’d arranged a babysitter for a couple of nights during the visit so we could relax at fancier restaurants without worrying about the boys’ food preferences or behavior. One night, we took Chris and Krissy to our favorite restaurant Hotaru. I’ve recently discovered that the website Gurunavi will make free restaurant reservations at any of the restaurants on their site. This is fantastic since I am not confident in my ability to make a reservation over the phone in Japanese. I was especially glad I booked early as this place can be hard to get into, and Chris and Krissy proclaimed it was the best meal of the trip. Described as a creative Izakaya (an izakaya is a basically a Japanese pub), this is always a delicious evening out. Food is served tapas style so we ordered 7- 8 dishes to share while we drank a couple bottles of good Cabernet. Our two favorites were the salmon sashimi with fresh pesto and the beef garlic rice bowl served in a hot cast iron bowl. The grilled steak was a simple dish but cooked to perfection. We tried the horse sashimi which we all agreed was better than expected but not as good as the other dishes. The butter soy mushrooms were another winner and the shrimp black sesame tacos although not traditional tacos were tasty too. We then bar-hopped, and Mike introduced Chris to Habu sake, sake that is aged with a viper inside. The rest of this night consisted of intoxicated shenanigans that don’t need to be publicly shared here, but were certainly fun.
Culinary Experience Honorable Mention: TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
It’s hard to beat the small bites of seafood one finds in Tokyo’s oldest fish market. This is one of my absolute favorite places in Tokyo. We didn’t attempt the inner market with the boys nor did we get up in the middle of the night to attend the fish auction. Instead we wandered the stalls at the outer market which weren’t too busy on a Tuesday. Sean and Will were content to watch all the interesting creatures still in tanks or chilling on ice while we picked up snacks from various vendors. Grilled eel on a stick? “Yes, please”. A sampler of tuna? “Now you’re talking.” Fresh raw oysters? “Of course!” Side note: it is perfectly acceptable to eat a ¥600 oyster after it falls on the street when posing for a picture. A fish cake with onion and bacon? “Why not?” That last one should’ve been split; it was so filling that I couldn’t even finish it. Chris definitely tried more things than the rest of us could eat at 10 AM and picked up a few souvenirs too. It was our last adventure of their trip, so I hope Chris got his fill of Japanese food.
While I am making awards, here are a few more…
Best Jet Lag Recovery: SEAN. I was super impressed with how well Sean recovered from his jet lag. He powered through the first couple days with little complaints and was sleeping through the night within a night or two.
Best Walker: KRISSY. Sean and Will did a tremendous job of walking sometimes clocking more than 20,000 steps on their Garmin Vivofit watches (which is a great motivator for children–thanks Krissy!). However, Krissy traveled to Japan with a sprained ankle. We did A LOT of walking! Krissy kept up, never complained, and was always ready to see something else. I was amazed.
Best House Guest: CHRIS. He does dishes. Do I need to say more? Thanks for making it super easy to have house guests. You are always welcome in our home!
Worst Photographer: Lady that took this picture:
All in all, it was an amazing visit full of more adventures than listed above. Both Sean and Will liked having a short-term brother and really played well together overall. The boys rolled in giant balls on water in Odaiba and rode in a giant Ferris wheel. Will is still talking about the bungee trampoline. We rode on trains that ranged from super crowded to mostly empty. We toured temples and shrines, survived a day exploring Kamakura in a downpour, and another in the blazing hot sun. We threw plates to get rid of negativity and washed our money to double our fortune. We saw Godzilla and an 800 year old Big Buddha. We chilled on the beach and navigated the busiest crosswalk in the world. The boys ate a lot chicken nuggets and french fries, and the adults ate a ton of sushi! We reminisced and made plans for future travel. I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if I conducted daily interviews, the important thing is that Krissy said, “It was the trip of a lifetime.” We all had a wonderful time, and it was absolutely fabulous to spend time with friends that are basically family. Chris, Krissy, and Sean we are so truly grateful that you came to visit us. Thank you for letting us share our corner of the world with you!
PS. You know what else we did? We took a lot of photos! More photos and helpful links for local friends below…
- Bakery and Table Location Hakone: https://goo.gl/maps/wq5dFoASt372
- Disney Sea: https://goo.gl/maps/VXhQmdpNj9C2
- Enoshima: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3117.html
- Get@City (Shooting Bar):
- Hakone: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
- Hotaru: https://gurunavi.com/en/ga3v700/rst/?__ngt__=TT0d4cdcc3c006ac1e4ae6a2Tl1XVrmbc5BW91usGVsgcS
- Kanazawa Park Location: https://goo.gl/maps/PWKEAsySJjK2
- Samurai Museum: http://samuraimuseum.jp/en/
- Tsukiji Fish Market: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3021.html