With our skiing adventure over, it was now time to “sit back” and chill out in Tokyo itself which we planned to do over 5 nights. Like most of our trips, we didn’t really set out a strict itinerary on what we were going to do. The hotel of choice was Mitsui Gardens Gotanda (三井ガーデンホテル五反田). I chose it, because I thought to hang around an area that we haven’t been to. Besides, this hotel came with a nice shared bath (not technically an onsen), and that’s a rarity in Tokyo (at least one that’s reasonably priced). Once we arrived at Gotanda, I was soon hit with the realisation that I had actually been to Gotanda just over 2 years ago when we stayed at an AirBnb apartment in the same area! So much for visiting a “new area”. Anyway, our itinerary went something like this over the coming days:
Day of arrival
Our bullet train ride itself from our snow resort was quite interesting. It’s the first time I recall sitting in a double-decker bullet train (MAX Toki train). Not only that.. it was actually two bullet trains joined as one!
It was probably around 2pm by the time we arrived at the hotel including the time spent switching to a local train. After checking into our hotel, we wasted no time going into “window shopping” mode by heading to Shinjuku and visited Bic Camera for a bit of duty free shopping.
Of course, Ethan wasn’t going to leave without a toy in his hand. I can’t exactly recall when (as a kid) did he get himself interested with “Anpanman” (a famous cartoon character in Japan). But, we left with at least one set of Anpanman toys which he travelled with everywhere over the next couple of days..
Lake Kawaguchi & Thomas Land / Fuji Q / Robata dinner
I’ve always wanted to drive one of those cute little boxy “mini van” that you quite often see on the roads of Japan, or on Japanese TV shows/anime. We never rented one out of concern that it may not have enough luggage room to store our “stuff”. As we were only after a rental for 2 days, we finally picked one up this time round from Nissan rental (near our hotel). A Honda N-Box!
If I’m not wrong, these little Honda runs on a 660cc engine (VERY small!) But I could say they felt ok to me, driving on the roads of Japan, even on the highways. Having said that, driving around Tokyo has always been a bit troublesome in my experience. Google Maps simply doesn’t work well when there are double decker highways and complex crisscrossing involved. It was no different this time round, and quite a number of times, Google Maps simply did not register that I was driving on the wrong “level” and I ended up taking MUCH longer heading out of Tokyo than expected, because I’m stuck on local roads instead of driving on the highway. With a lot of frustration, we eventually made it to our first destination out of Tokyo.. Lake Kawaguchi (about 113km drive)
Taking an “excursion ship” ride on the lake is pretty much “compulsory” for tourists here. We were definitely quite lucky that the sky was pretty clear on the day we went, so we had plenty of photos with clear sight of Mt. Fuji!
It’s not the first time we’ve seen Mt Fuji, although we haven’t climbed it yet (because we are usually in Tokyo during winter and I can’t imagine trying to go up there during winter!). The boat ride was pretty much done in less than an hour (from memory). We weren’t too sure where to go after that. But the nice thing with driving a car instead of public transport is that, we were able to randomly pick a place to go! Somehow we landed with the decision to pay the nearby Fuji-Q Highland theme park a visit. I only intended to take Ethan there for Thomas Land thinking they would have a specific entrance ticket for that.
Whilst we did spend a bit of time at Thomas Land, it turned out that the ticket we bought included the entire park including Fuji Q’s famous and absolutely wild rollercoasters. Knowing that it will probably be quite some time before I’ll ever come back here again, I decided to go sit on some. I can officially say I’ve been on 2 of their rollercoasters, namely Takabisha (高飛車) and Eejanaika (ええじゃないか).
Takabisha features ultra steep angles, and the other features backflips while it’s going round and round the already twisting tracks. I really should have been more nervous/scared of the rides than I did. It’s either that I have mastered riding scary rides, or they were just going too fast for me to even have a chance to be scared! If I had more time, I’ll gladly go to a few more!
After all that excitement, we even managed to fit in a dinner at a Robata restaurant we found on Google called Sanrokuen (山麓園).. which was rather unique, as it involved us sitting around this indoor BBQ pit cooking our own meal!
For me, it was a bit of a gimmick, but it was an interesting experience that took up a good 2 hours of our time. It was definitely more about the fun of it than the food itself. After all, we only have ourselves to blame if we burnt the food!
By the time dinner was over, it was probably around 7pm. The night didn’t end there as we even managed to fit in a little onsen bath at Fujimi Ryokan nearby, along with watching a bit of fireworks that happen to be on that night!
Wouldn’t say it was the best fireworks we’ve seen, but I like how the focus is on fireworks that resembles “things” (like happy face, or ships, flower etc etc).
Anpanman Museum / Mitsui Outlet / Tokyo German Village illumination / Umihotazu
The trip to Anpanman Museum at Yokohama was always on the list to start with, to keep Ethan happy. All I remember was the same frustrating drive out of Tokyo to get to Yokohama using Google Maps. But once we got there, all that frustration vaporised..
It was definitely geared more for the locals, as there were very little English content at all. That didn’t bother us too much though, certainly not Ethan. It’s not particularly big either, and we were pretty much done in about 2 hours.
For lunch and the afternoon, we actually drove out towards Mitsui Outlet Park Kisarazu just chilling out there. Perhaps what’s more impressive for me was the drive over this 23km under-sea tunnel + bridge known as Tokyo Bay Aqualine. What’s impressive about it? Well.. it consists of a 9.6km portion which is completely under the sea, and then out of nowhere, it pops out of the sea with the rest of the road travel completed on a 4.4km bridge! That’s right.. a combined tunnel + bridge to cross from Tokyo Kawasaki to Chiba Kisarazu! To help you visualise it.. here’s a photo of the bridge portion (with the tunnel portion under the sea of course)
Anyway, the photo above does feature a section where the undersea tunnel connects to a bridge. It’s actually a complex they call “Umihotaru” (海ほたる). It’s a tourist attraction on its own with multi-level shopping, restaurants and entertainmant options. Too bad we didn’t spend too much time there, apart from taking a photo for a quick stop 🙁
It’s definitely somewhere we would want to hang out again just to “soak in” this amazing architecture!
Anyway, apart from Umihotaru, we also spent a little bit of time at the so called “German Village” at night to see their winter illuminations.
It’s big.. it’s grand.. it’s bright.. but it’s also a bit too windy and cold to hang around for a long period of time. Still worth the visit though if you’re in the area.
Pancake and Shibuya Shoppping
By the third day, we’ve ditched and returned our rental car with the rest of the trip done with public transport. So most of the places we went were quite close to our hotel. First up.. wifey was pretty into fluffy pancakes especially after we had those unforgettable ones in Taiwan. So she found one near Meguro called Flipper’s (代官山店). At least from photos, it looked as impressive as the one we had in Taiwan.
But I would argue, the pancake was not quite as good as it looks. Maybe we were just unlucky to get an undercooked lot. I suppose people go there more for “instragrammable” photos than the pancake itself!
After that, we paid Shibuya a visit, and you can’t go there without at least taking a photo of their famous pedestrian crossing!
Shibuya didn’t have a lot on offer for kids. But I did manage to find “Shibuya Kids” (website). It wasn’t particularly big, and was probably aimed at younger kids (I.e. about 2-3 years old). But Ethan was pretty happy playing there anyway, so we got a good 1.5 hours fun out of it..
Wifey was pretty much MIA off shopping on her own most of the afternoon while me & Ethan had a bit of “Father and Son” time
Tokyo Toy Museum and more Shinjuku Shopping
On our second last day, we found yet another “Ethan friendly” attraction, this time a fire museum out at Yotsuya (四谷). Photos speak a thousand words.. and I can happily say Ethan had a ball at the museum!
Best of all, it is entirely free! Perfect for cheapskates like us! 🙂 And, it was big enough to spend an entire morning there! Now, most people would combine a visit to this museum with the so-called “Tokyo Toy Museum” not far away from here. We found out the hard way, after rocking up at the museum only to find out that it was closed for renovation during the Chinese New Year period. Without much else planned, we headed back to Shinjuku for a bit of last minute shopping to finish our day.
Maxell Aqua Park
On our last day in Tokyo, the weather turned against us by raining just about the whole day. It was the perfect day for us to pay Maxell Aqua Park a visit given it’s entirely indoors. You really do need to have backup plans for Tokyo to cover rainy days like this. Maxel Aqua Park is an aquarium, though it isn’t a particular big one. What it lacked in size, it made up for it with fancy digital interactions, lights, and very good shows.
I don’t know what it is about Japanese aquarium and dolphins, but just about every single one we’ve been to features highly energetic dolphins dancing and jumping out of water with perfect synchronicity with the music in the background. It’s definitely worth checking out..
Suica Digital Wallet
Arguably, one of the best discovery this trip for me was the fact that you can actually add “Suica” (normally a plastic card for travelling on trains) into your iPhone wallet. We’ve had our Suica physical cards for JR rail rides for a while. Whilst, we’ve always known that you can use Suica for all sorts of payments (food, shopping etc etc), it was no different to using cash, given I had to pre-load the card with cash anyway. So I never really used it for anything but rail rides.
It was only this trip that I realised you can “add” it to your iPhone as a digital wallet card, provided your iPhone is iPhone 8 and above (or Apple Watch 3 and later). AND.. It doesn’t have to be a Japanese iPhone either, which I thought was unusual (Japan standardise most digital payments on their own “FeliCa” standard, instead of more common ones back home like Paywave). Best of all, you can add/charge the digital card with your credit card! So if you ever run out of Japanese yen (cash), you can just use your credit card to top up your Suica wallet! No more using recharge stations using cash! If you want to do the same, check this site out which I used to set mine up..
The only downside was that I could no longer use my physical card once I’ve “transferred” it to my digital wallet. The benefit far outweighs the con though, as I can finally walk through those transit gates and SCAN it with my phone! It’s 2019, and I can’t believe I still can’t do this back in Singapore/Australia!
It was pretty much “Suica” to pay for anything where it is accepted after this. Too bad, you can’t do that same trick with Google’s Android just yet (You can only do that with a Japanese Android phone). Maybe need to give it more time!
As usual, Japan is a destination we are yet to be tired off even after visiting it just about every year the last couple of years. Admittedly, the “culture shock” is long gone for us, as it’s not that “fresh” for us anymore. But the “love” of going there hasn’t waned at all. If nothing changes, we’ll certainly be back here next year!