Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trips and Tips for Tripping: Japan Day Nine and Ten

We rounded out our trip with a highly anticipated day at DisneySea. It is truly a spectacular place. While DisneyLand is cartoon-like and wonderful and fun, DisneySea feels a life-like dream. The attention to detail in the sets, buildings and rides is impressive.
Agrabah at the 'Arabian Coast' was bustling like a real Persian bazaar, with the majestic palace as it's backdrop.
Triton's Kingdom was like a dream for the kids with colours of the sea, exciting rides and Ariel, of course!
The Indiana Jones Ride was Elara's favourite.
I couldn't help but shut my eyes and stifle a scream on the (actually very scary) Tower of Terror! 
And if we'd had more time, we might just have stayed in the two hour wait line to see the new Toy Story attraction. Maybe? 
Our last day In Japan, and we do some shopping and savour the last sights, smells and sounds of our trip. It will be a long, overnight trip home to Australia. But we have had a wonderful, adventurous, together time that will always be remembered. 

Travel tip for trains and travel:
On our second last day in Japan, we were still having train and travel issues arise. As we had already taken the train to DisneyLand one week before, we thought we had our route sorted. But on this day a rail accident meant that all trains travelling on one line were cancelled or changed. As trains come into stations every two minutes, this would not cause a meltdown for seasoned Japanese commuters. But we had no way of knowing what was happening, which platform or train line to switch to, or just how to readjust our plans. We found our way in the end but were more than an hour later than we hoped. On the way home we arrived at our station, and got off on a platform that was new to us. We simply followed the flux of people, assuming we would arrive near the central, familiar exit. We did not. We surfaced from the subway and had to walk an extra kilometre to get back to the area of the train station that we recognised!
My advice would be to be familiar with the route lines and carry a map. Staying closer to the city or near a popular station will help you avoid too many line changes if you are doing a lot of travel. Our local station was the busiest station in the world! And finally, if things get stressful or complicated, take a taxi. They are expensive. It will be worth it if you are lost! Have a bit of money put aside in case.  

Trips and Tips for Tripping: Japan Day Eight

This was the travelling we had planned for day eight, a beautiful, full trip to Hakone to see parks, hot springs, pirate ships and maybe a glimpse of Mt Fuji. Coupled with a forecast of late-in-the-day rain, we realised that this trip would be too ambitious for our family of littlies. It just took a little adjustment and we managed an entertaining day much closer to 'home'. We began at the Ueno Zoo, which boasts none of the space or beauty or quality of Australian zoos, but was enjoyable all the same. 
They loved the pandas, monkeys and seals. 
(I loved the flamingos.) 
They had space to run. 
They ate terrible Zoo food.
They peeked over the shoulders of high school art students, sketching hippos and okapis.
They inspected the snake enclosures and called 'there it is!' to their siblings when they found one.
They had a good time.
In the afternoon we strolled through Ameyoko Street and browsed through stalls boasting seafood, shoes and sportswear. We are grateful to be only a few stations away from our hotel as the rain begins and stays for the evening. 
Travel tip on using money and shopping: Conversion to Yen is simple, as one hundred yen is approximately one dollar. We exchanged cash while in Australia, and this was easily the best way to access and use money. Our bank offered a decent exchange rate and minimal fees on their travel card, compared to using our existing credit card. This visa debit travel card was accepted at most shops in Tokyo. Withdrawing money from the card is not difficult, but finding at atm that accepts it, is.
My advice would be to take as much cash as you feel safe carrying, use your travel or credit card for large purchases, and find an atm where you can use your card before you are out of money, in case it takes awhile to find a suitable machine.

Trips and Tips for Tripping: Japan Day Seven

This day was the best day.
Two special people hosted us in Tokyo for the day, and took us to some of their favourite spots.
First stop, Kidzania. A must if you are traveling to Tokyo with littlies. Our children loved it, but so did we! Here the children get a taste of the grown-up world with a chance to train and try out vocations that interest them.
Zeb had a go at being a soccer star (and he did pretty well too!)
Elara tested her abilities to flip burgers.
India and Elara put their creative flair to use with some flower arranging.
Elara and Zeb trained to be firefighters and successfully put out this fire!
They got to ride back to the station in the front of the fire engine because of their hard work.
Zeb and India made soft serves at the ice cream shop.
And Elara had some thorough paramedic training and practiced her CPR.
It was all so much hard work at Kidzania that we needed lunch!
We went to an amazing Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake, grilled in front of you) restaurant. Delicious and my favourite meal of the trip.
A short taxi ride (with 5 in the backseat!) to 333m tall Tokyo tower. And it felt very high!
Finally, delicious dinner in our own little restaurant room.
Travel tip for really getting to know a city:
You have to meet the locals. Not only will they know some great places to visit, to eat, and to shop, but just talking gives wonderful insight to their countries culture and people. The girls learnt to count to ten in Japanese, asked why this and why that, and had a ball learning from our Japanese friends. Our hosts were incredibly generous, loving, fun and beautiful. Our trip would not have been nearly as satisfying without this day with them. Thank you Aya and Toshi!   

Trips and Tips for Tripping: Japan Day Six

Teahouses, restaurants, shops and Japanese arts shows are usually spilling people onto the street.
But this morning it is sleepy. We cruise through quiet Gion streets, browsing at hand-crafted wares that have been prepared for the early birds like us. The girls pick through fabric and tea canisters and pretty fans. We practice our Japanese thank you's: "arigato gozaimas"! 
Later, we head to Nijo castle, and admire the painted ceilings, intricate wood carvings and hidden doors. I wished we were in kimonos as it felt like we belonged in a Geisha or Samurai movie!
Finally, we leave Kyoto and head home to Tokyo on the Skinkansen.
Travel tip on travelling with a pram:
The pram was a necessary nuisance. Finding and using lifts in the mosaic of subway platforms, shops and levels was troublesome and it frequently doubled our travel time, particularly when a few train or transport changes were needed. But we could not have done without it. Wherever you travel, your children will be walking around and they will get tired. They will need a rest, and you will need a rest from the high alert that parents remain on whenever their young children are not buckled in somewhere. We used it frequently for our two and a half year old and also occasionally for our five and seven year old.
My advice is to take (or hire - plenty of attractions in Japan had prams for a small fee) a pram and allow extra time for travel!

Trips and Tips for Tripping: Japan Day Five

Our twenty-four hour trip to Kyoto and 'Old Japan'.
What would be a 6 hour drive, takes 2.5 hours on the Shinkansen bullet train. Too much looking out the window makes me dizzy, but it is fascinating to watch rural Japan wizz by: small villages; rice fields; shrines and rivers.
We arrive and trade our everything-we-need-hotel in Tokyo for a simple, traditional Ryokan. Grass mats, paper screens, futons, green tea, and yukatas (Japanese robes) add to the adventure.

Off we walk and head out in search of Gion corner and maybe a Maiko (Geisha apprentice) sighting, but we miss the entrance and explore Yasaka Shine instead. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and I could roam in the moonlight for longer, but the children have sore, tired legs at this stage in our trip. We head back to our ryokan, disappointed that we missed the night-life of Gion corner, but hopeful that Tim and I would come back to explore more someday.
Finally we enjoy Japanese curry and noodles around the table for dinner and then sweet dreams about exploring Japanese castles the next day!
Travel tip on food for kids:
Western food is common in Japan. We took the easy route and had one Western style meal a day. Pancakes, bakery goods and McDonalds meant that our kids ate at least one full (though not necessarily healthy) meal. And they surprised us with their willingness to eat the Japanese food too. Plain noodles and rice, spring rolls, salad, dumplings, cucumber sushi, and mild curries were all enjoyed without complaint. We didn't expect them to try anything unrecognisable or raw, and we only had one major meltdown about food during the trip. 
My advice would be to remember that you are on holidays and that might mean a break from the healthy or fresh foods you would normally serve. Let go of the food triangle for the entire trip and just plan to resume good eating when you get home. As long as my children were getting a taste of the culture they were in, enough energy for the busy days, and enough fibre to keep their bowels moving, that was enough for me.
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