We just came back from a 2 weeks holiday in Japan. It was a wonderful time – certainly a memorable one.
I really enjoyed the fact that we didn’t encounter many international tourists during our trip – perhaps we picked our spots and time well. We did encounter a lot of local tourists as it was a school holiday period in Japan.
Awa Odori festival at Koenji
If you want to know what Awa Odori is all about, you can read it in this wikipedia article, the Koenji Awa Odori website also has more information and videos.
Prior to seeing the parade, we went to a shrine in Koenji where the locals open up food and game stalls. Our boys, Matthew in particular, were so happy to participate in Kingyo-sukui (goldfish scooping game) – yes they’ve seen this game in a few anime.
Goldfish scooping game
Jet, Matt and I didn’t do well in this game – however Lina is a pro – she caught more than 10 goldfish (and we have a video to prove it). I guess years of looking after our guppies has trained her to be a fish whisperer.
The food stalls were amazing, they have different types of okonomiyaki (sister in law told us apparently different regions in Japan do okonomiyaki differently). We were still full, so we decided to watch the parade first and then come back to get some food. This was a mistake and probably the only regret I have in our holiday – we couldn’t make our way back to the shrine afterwards due to the crowds and road closure.
Fish on stick
Anyway the parade itself, it was great, I totally loved it – definitely one of the highlights of our holiday. I loved the beating of the drums, the silly and cheeky dance movements, the colour of the clothes and the cheerful atmosphere. If you travel around end of August – make sure to check one of these festivals (apparently they have it in few places – the Koenji one is the biggest in Tokyo).
Awa odori parade – Koenji
Disney Sea and Disney Land
Nothing much to say about these to parks, I love them – as expected I love them more than my kids did.
If you have to choose between Disney Sea and Disney Land, I would suggest pick Disney Sea, as it is the only Disney Sea in the world. You need to be a bit older to appreciate Disney Sea, I totally loved the details on the buildings and the overall atmosphere of the place, no expense was spared in this park, you will totally feel immersed in another world.
However if you are travelling with the young ones, Disney Land would be better – it has more attractions, shorter queues, lots of parades and involves less walking compared to Disney Sea.
If you are a planning person like me, Disney Tourist Blog is an invaluable resource, just search for their one day plan for each parks. Also this iOS app (it has an Android equivalent too) – TDR Wait, Fast Pass, Show Times is a must have when visiting the parks, it really helps with planning which attractions to go to depending on the queue time.
If you are like my wife, just go, take it easy and take in the atmosphere as much as you can – do whatever attractions that catch your fancy and does not involve long queue.
Hakone is a mountain area, about 80 mins express train ride from Shinjuku station. It is a beautiful place with really well organised transport system.
You should definitely get a Hakone Free Pass to make use of all the transport mode in Hakone, which includes: boarding a pirate ship across Lake Ashi (yes, you read that right, pirate ship), ropeways to travel between mountain tops, cable car, train and buses.
All aboard the pirate ship – har!
We stayed in a Ryokan (Japanese traditional hotel) for a night. Our room has an awesome view to the woods.
After onsen ice cream
The ryokan has a private onsen (hot bath) – which the boys really enjoy (was super hot though). The private onsen is one of the main reason for me choosing this ryokan, normally public onsen in Japan would require you to be totally naked and I don’t think we are up for the full monty (I later found out that Yunessun has an onsen that allows swimming clothes – more on that below).
We did some bush walking, followed by the Hakone Round Course using all the transport mode as provided by the free pass. It was nice trip overall, too bad that it was a very cloudy day hence we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji from the lake, otherwise we’d see this:
By Kentagon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5622308
Our Lake Ashi’s view 🙁
Not quite as advertised
We stayed in Hakone for 3 days, on the last day we went to Yunessun – I’m not sure how to describe it, it’s like a small water park and it has a various pools with differing themes for example a coffee pool, a wine pool etc – they make the water colour and smell to match the theme. Yeah, it was silly but the best part is the outdoor hot pool with the view of the mountain – this is the way onsen should be in my mind.
That outdoor onsen alone is worth visiting Yunessun – oh yes – most importantly you can wear your swimming clothes here, which is great.
I realised now, visiting churches is just part of how we the Tjandrawibawas do holiday. And I really glad that we have that tradition, it’s never a waste of time for us, in fact it’s usually an encouraging time.
I personally was glad to see fellow believers in Japan no matter how in the minority they are (1% of Japan’s population claims Christian belief).
We attended 2 services at the Double O Cross Church in Kichijoji – the church that my sister in law serves in. I was glad to hear Pastor Ryuta preached the gospel clearly and faithfully in Japanese.
I was officially done with eating Japanese food after the 4th day. The bentos, okonomiyakis, takoyakis, tempuras, karages, sushis – while they are nice, but I got bored by their taste after awhile. Lina and the kids were fine though – so it could be just me.
We frequented the convenient store such as 7-11, Lawsons and Family Mart almost in daily basis to get our food. You might say that’s why I got bored by the food – but I did honestly try to find restaurants – but from their menu, I can see similar food from the mini markets but with more expensive price tag.
I really missed Lina’s cooking and thankfully she cooked for us for few days (although she said she didn’t want to cook during the holiday – glad she did :)). I guess my tastebud really used to the full flavour of south east asian food (Singapore is food paradise for me).
I do love the ramens though, we got to eat a lot of them. The best ramens that we ate was from Ippudo in Shinjuku and from a place in Kichijoji – the place has no English name, my sister in law said it’s Kyushu ramen.
Dreamy ramen at Kichijoji
We went to the supposedly most famous ramen in Tokyo, called Rokurinsha in Tokyo station, but it was overrated, nowhere as good as the two places I mentioned earlier. I didn’t mind it – but Lina really didn’t like it.
Lost and Found
At Disney Sea, Jet managed to lose Lina’s wallet. It was quite frustrating at first but we managed to keep our cool heads (despite the super hot weather) and enjoy the rest our day there.
At the end of our day, we went to see the Customer Service department to check if someone has found the wallet. Note: there is no Lost and Found in Disney Sea – which we worked out finally after a couple gestures + mix English / Japanese dominated conversations with Disney Sea’s employees. And to our joy and relief, they have found Lina’s wallet! Thank God 🙂
We’d hoped that was the last time when we lose things, but unfortunately not. We stopped at Odawara on our way back to Tokyo, to visit the Odawara castle (which was awesome). When we speed walked back to the station from the castle, Jet tripped and hurt his ankle – Lina sat him down to check and she put Jet’s phone on the bench. Matt wanted to sit down on the bench too, moved Jet’s phone aside. When we were back on our feet again and started to walk towards the station, no one remembered the phone :/
We only realised it after 20 mins on the train to Tokyo. I was quite tired and upset that time and told everyone that we should just consider the phone lost, it was highly unlikely that the phone still there anyway. Lina however was determined to go back and try to find it. And so we did. We back tracked our way to the place and sure enough it wasn’t there.
We then went to Odawara’s station koban (small police station). After half an hour of questioning and form filling – the police finally told us that they have the phone! Praise God. And then after they gave us the phone – another rounds of forms to be filled in! 😀
At Odawara’s Koban
I am quite impressed by the Japanese’s honesty. I also learned the lesson of not giving up easily, thanks to Lina. And I hope we as parents have shown grace and forgiveness in the way we handled those frustrating moments. On the flip side, those frustrating moments are the ones that make holiday memorable.
I am thankful for the trip – I think we’ve made some good memories. I quite like the pace of the holiday too, I didn’t make the same mistake as I did with our Melbourne holiday – which was cramming too many things into the schedule. Also God’s willing I suspect we’ll be travelling to Japan quite often, so there’s no rush to do and see all the things.
When we asked the kids what their favourite thing about the holiday, they said they said it’s the time they spent with their aunt – I think they got their priority right.