Our whole family truly loves Japan. We’ve been several times, first time in 1996. Back then it was a completely different experience altogether. Nothing was in English, signs or subway maps, nor could most people speak any English. Combined with lack of wifi-positioning, getting around and communicating was a real challenge! So many things have changed since then, but I am glad I got to see Japan before its many transformations. Our favorite cities to visit are Tokyo and Kyoto. You should definitely not miss the old capital Kyoto, even if its a couple of hours away from Tokyo with bullet train.
One of the best things on our latest trip was our traditional townhouse in Asakusa, what an experience! In the past, we’ve stayed at favorite hotels, among others Grand Hyatt in Roppongi and The Peninsula in Ginza. But renting a Japanese home really made the experience so much more authentic.
One of the best things on this trip – our traditional townhouse in Asakusa, what an experience!
Once again, we stayed for a couple of weeks to thoroughly experience Japan more like locals. It gives such a different experience once you’ve done all the must-do’s, to just live and experience daily life. This trip became one of the most memorable trips of our lives!
If you have kids, don’t miss the end of this post about traveling with kids as well as info on Disney Japan.
ARRIVING IN TOKYO WITH SAS
We took a comfortable SAS, Scandinavian Airlines flight to Tokyo’s Narita airport, arriving for the usual severe jet lag this far East. (I have no will to live for the first 24 hours, but just knowing this makes me endure it!) Next we headed by train to Asakusa. A historic part of town known for its Sensoji-temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo pictured above. It’s really cool to instantly see locals dressed in traditional attire after just arriving in Japan. This is luckily a common sight in this part of town unlike many other parts of Tokyo.
ARRIVING AT OUR ASAKUSA TOWNHOUSE
We were blown-away by our townhouse upon sight. A four-storied traditional home with roof terrace and paper thin walls. It was the real deal, and the kids where buzzing up and down the stairs exhilarated! We learnt so much about life in Japan staying in this house, which you really don’t discover when you live in a hotel with Western comforts. For instance, the washing machines cannot be set on hot! Japanese people are accustomed to washing in cold water.
Not only that. In winter it can be quite cold indoors and people are accustomed to tables with a blanket and heater under to keep warm. These tables are quite low, so you get to sit more traditionally on the floor. Otherwise, a big family favorite are the wonderful heated Japanese toilets, what’s not to love! 😄
Another difference, which was a bit chocking at first – Japanese visitors to the house. They will open the front door and step right into your hallway. Next they will take off their shoes, step into slippers and wait for you in silence to open the see-through sliding door. First time this happened we thought someone was breaking in, until we realized the surprise visitor was waiting for us to open the sliding door and greet him!
We learnt so much about life in Japan staying in this house, which you really don’t discover when you live in a hotel with Western comforts. For instance, the washing machines cannot be set on hot! Japanese people are accustomed to washing in cold water.
JAPAN IS ALL ABOUT FOOD AND WE ARE FOODIES
Japan has so many great and healthy food choices. You can eat top quality food which is, if not cheap, towards the cheaper end for what you receive. Moreover, most restaurants are focused on what they serve, as opposite to having everything on the menu. You have your Sushi, Kaiseki, Ramen, Teppanyaki, Tempura etc restaurants apart from each other.
As for the world renowned Japanese Wagyu beef, especially Kobe and Matsusaka of Tajima cattle, the best of it doesn’t get exported. Wagyu is a luxury and eating such meats is not a daily occurrence in Japan. If you love Wagyu, make sure to splurge. Japan is probably the only place we actually gain quite a few pounds every trip!
Another favorite, is the Fugu/Blowfish. It’s actually a delicacy not to be missed! Don’t be afraid to try it, just make sure you are dealing with a licensed master. Blowfish is 1 000 times more poisonous than cyanide! We visited Master Sakanya’s restaurant, which also is his home, and part of a family business. We had such a great time with Sakanaya and his family and a superb meal, be sure to visit his restaurant in Asakusa!
Another favorite of ours, is the Fugu/Blowfish. It’s actually a delicacy not to be missed! Don’t be afraid to try it, just make sure you are dealing with a licensed master. Blowfish is 1 000 times more poisonous than cyanide!
DIFFERENT AREAS OF TOKYO – WHERE TO LIVE?
Tokyo is a big metropolis and you may wonder which part of town to stay. I would say after several trips, this really doesn’t matter as you get around easily. Nevertheless, our favorite parts are Yoyogi Park, Asakusa, Ueno, Ometesando Hills, Shibuya, Naka-Meguro, Ginza, Shinjuku and Roppongi Hills. Any and all of these offer different sides to this wonderful city and should all be visited!
Don’t miss to visit the Imperial Palace and Tsukiji Fish Market, as well as the beautiful castles and parks around the city. Mount Fuji is definitely worth a visit and if you are lucky on a clear day, you will spot the mountain from Tokyo!
TRAVELING TO JAPAN WITH KIDS
You shouldn’t deter from traveling to Japan with kids any age. Although its not the friendliest place for kids, they are expected to know their place, there are good facilities available for diaper changing and feeding. Safe playgrounds are available around Tokyo’s neighborhoods and many great food options are available for kids all ages. Overall, Japan is a very safe place to have a great family holiday together!
This was our kids’ second trip to Tokyo and they have many favorites. The zoos, aquariums, amusement parks and Skytree. Shinjuku and Shibuya, are just entertaining as they are!
Do you have a picky kid who gets hungry and moody often? Pop into any Lawson (frequent 7-Eleven type stores) and get pre-heated meat buns for a quick top up. It gets any kid back on track and in good spirits in an instant! Kids love noodles a lot so head for Ramen, Soba and Udon restaurants and check if that will do the trick. I would also try Tempura and Yakitori skewers for picky eaters. Bakeries also have many good options. But of course there are several Western fast-food options if they are super picky. Like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and even Shake Shack.
DISNEYSEA AND DISNEYLAND
Disney is a dream in Japan and do not miss DisneySea. DisneySea has an overall nautical theme and is designed to appeal to a more grown up audience. More importantly, it’s the only one built in the world! Just make sure to avoid Disney’s theme parks on busy days, they are extremely popular. Crowd calendars are available online – it will make your visit much more enjoyable, trust me!
DisneyLand Tokyo above and DisneySea below.
HEADING TO NEW YORK WITH ANA
All good things must come to an end, as we head to New York with ANA, All Nippon Airways. From their exquisite menu, great service and possibility to order hot meals and noodles throughout the flight, to their Japanese style greetings with your name – the whole family loves this airline. Bye bye Japan for this time!