More fun as an adult…
This was my third trip to Japan and second to the Tokyo area. It was an unexpected getaway. My parents, being retired, are traveling all the time, and I haven’t seen them in over two years. When they told me they would be in Japan and I would be on winter break, I decided Japan in December was a good time and place to meet up. A bonus was that my Aunt and Uncle from Hong Kong would also be joining the trip!
Even though this was my third trip to Japan, this country never ceases to amaze me. It was Phil On Tour’s first time in Japan so it was exciting to experience it through his eyes. Since it was winter it was perfect time for onsen! We traveled just outside of Tokyo to Hakone and stayed at Hakone Green Plaza Hotel known for their majestic view of Mount Fuji - when the weather is clear of course. Being from Switzerland, we missed the cold winters and warming up in natural hot springs, so we were looking forward to soaking our bodies. But traditional Japanese onsen is quite different to anything we were used to: you arrive to the onsen in a yakata (Japanese robe), many are separated for women and men, you are expected to wash yourself twice - before going in and before a second dip, only your naked bodies are expected in the water - therefore no swimsuits, no towels, and even women are expected to put keep their long hair up and, the most important rule, no photos! Since we were separated, I was on my own, the moment I stepped into the onsen I had to look around and watch what to do. First, wash yourself clean in order to go into the hot spring. They provided all the soaps, shampoos, and scrubbing loofas. Everyone had their own washing station and it isn’t just a rinse, you really need to clean yourself and people took their time. The second I got into the onsen I could feel all the stress leave my body. The hot water was a great sensation especially since it was so cold out, and after living in Hawaii for two years and not having a bath, the soak was so welcomed.
The Hakone area was beautiful, and with the Hakone Free Pass, we were able to travel on busses, gondolas, boats, and trains without wasting time or more money on purchasing extra tickets. It allowed us to visit the Hakone Shinto shrine, Lake Ashi, and volcanic valley Owakudani, Luckily, on the last morning, the skies were clear and we saw Mount Fuji from the hotel! It was beautiful and so majestic, which made the trip even more worthwhile.
We took a day trip to Yokohama, not only does it have the largest Chinatown in Japan, but also it’s a ramen lover’s dream - having the ramen museum and the Cup-O-Noodle museum. The ramen museum is pretty special because over two floors they have different pop-up restaurants from all over the country. We were able to enjoy three different regional ramens: Rishiri Ramen Miraku from Rishiri Island, Komurasaki from Kumamoto, and Nidai-me Genkotsu-ya originally from Koenji now exclusively at the museum. Overall, it was also educational and super fun. A bonus pic below is from Toride Ramen in Shibuya - we ate a lot of ramen.
Design and art are two things the Japanese are known for. We saw this first hand by visiting the teamLab Borderless exhibit and the Yayoi Kusama Museum. The Borderless exhibit is a sprawling wonderland to wander and discover the magical and beautiful interactive light installations. It truly is something you’ve never experienced before, where you’ll be going through room after room of amazement. We ended up spending 5 hours here! Besides being an Instagrammer’s paradise, make sure to just experience the rooms and have fun, so put down those phones and cameras and interact with the lights and colors. My top three favourites are the Forest of Resonating Lamps, Crystal World, and the colouring room - where you get to choose a picture to color and once you’re done you take it to the attendant who scans it and it magically appears as a 2D image on the wall projection where you can interact with it as well as all the other visitor creations - we had a special Christmas theme landscape. The entry price to teamLab’s creation is reasonable, and while about an hour’s ride on the subway, it is definitely worth at least a half day’s visit. Yayoi Kusama is one of the most famous contemporary artists alive and her work speaks for itself to her genius. She is known for polka dots, pumpkins, color, and her installation pieces like infinity rooms. Her creativity stems from her psychological issues and hallucinations, which comes across in her art. The museum is small, but the work is displayed over four floors, and you are limited to an hour and a half.
Day 1: Arrived at Narita airport and took the slow local train (1.5hrs, double the time but half the price of the Skyliner) to get to Ueno Hotel. Met up with the parents and aunt and uncle for a quick dinner of tempura tendon.
Day 2: Purchased tickets for the Romance Train and the Hakone Free Pass at Shinjuku. We took the train, bus, and then the Hakone Ropeway to get to the Green Plaza Hotel. Right after checking in we headed to the onsen, then had the buffet dinner included with our hotel price.
Day 3: It was an overcast day so we decided to abuse the Free Pass and take a boat ride on the pirate ship. We found the best bakery called Bakery and Table and ate probably 10 pastries along with a nice hot chocolate and coffee. Then took a walk to the Hakone Shrine when it started to drizzle, so cut the day short and headed back. I decided it was time for a massage and included with it was a private onsen! I slept so well that night!
Day 4: We woke up early to check on the sky and fortunately it was clear! Mount Fuji was visible from the rose garden and so we went to go for a morning onsen with the gorgeous view of the infamous mountain. After another filling breakfast buffet we checked out. There were several routes to get back to Tokyo, but the clouds were coming in so we went back for more pastries at our favourite bakery. After getting back to Tokyo we wandered around Ameyoko Market and found a fun little yakitori restaurant.
Day 5: We had a family eating day! Starting off at Happy Pancake in Ginza - we didn’t know how delicious these would be but they were so fluffy and tasty. After walking it off through Ginza we headed to the famous Kani Doraku seafood restaurant for a lunch crab kaiseki. It was a nine course meal that just got better and better. Ginza’s main shopping street is closed on weekend mornings to vehicles so it’s fun to run around and people watch. That night we had plans to have dinner with my good friend from Georgetown and her husband. She took us to Kamikura in Iidabashi. It was a unique place that fused French and Japanese styles. Then we went out for a night on the town, with our friends taking us to different bars in the city. One time we walked along a freeway and then there was a random door which lead to a building with three levels of bars. It was a fun night catching up and being young again.
Day 6: Started of with another family lunch in Ameyoko. Then headed to the Yahoo Kusama Museum. Phil On Tour and I headed to Shibuya to take in the bustling heart of Tokyo. The Shibuya crossing is always a fun site to see and is incredible the amount of people that cross it at each and every light. Our friends recommended a yummy ramen restaurant for dinner, Toride - go here if you like warm hearty soups and Beatles music.
Day 7: This was a family day for me and my parents. We decided to head to Yokohama, on the train it took just over an hour. The ramen museum was easy to find and a fun place to go as a family. Chinatown is surprisingly large, but by the time we were there we were so full and didn’t eat a thing.
Day 8: It was a chill day and the highlight was visiting the Sumo training stable Azumazeki-beya. We weren’t sure what we were doing or what the rules were, but it was so awesome watching these guys train, much respect to them for dedicating their lives to this traditional Japanese sport. Afterwards, we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a free 360 degree view of all of Tokyo from the 45th floor.
Day 9: Visited the Kaminarimon Gate, Nakemise Street, and Sensoji Shrine. It was a traditional morning, tasting various Japanese goodies and buying souvenirs. The afternoon is when we went to the Odaiba district for the Borderless exhibit. Buy tickets online for ¥3200 per person.
Day 10: Since this was our last day we had to do the main things we missed so far. One thing was to get great sushi. I found Yujima Sushi in Shibuya just Googling and made reservations that morning. It was fabulous! The chef and his wife are very cute and nice. Lunch is only omakase (¥3650) and I wish I did two rounds. The fish, rice, and garnish for each piece was perfect. The sushi chef is no joke and the service lasts about 20 minutes. No chit chat here, just great fast eating. For Phil On Tour, this was his first experience at a real omakase sushi bar, and even though I’ve been before, the style of the chef was something I never encountered before. A bit overwhelming and in hindsight we both wish we savoured each bite more than we did. We stopped by Harajuku on our way to the Meiji Shrine. It was a fitting contrast, these two places, to end our tour in Japan.