Tokyo Skytree

We’ve finally made it up Tokyo Skytree! 


We’ve been here for nearly 5 years and we’ve finally made up one of Tokyo’s most iconic views! It only took a visit from a South African cousin to get us up there! 

Tokyo Skytree holds the Guinness Record for the Worlds Tallest Free sanding broadcasting tower. It stands at a height of 634m. It provides digital transmissions for terrestrial broadcasting and needed to be over 600m due to an increase in volume of skyscrapers in Tokyo. It is also reassuring to know that it will assume the role of a disaster prevention function in times of a natural disaster. Something I hope I won’t experience while we are here. 

So we arrived and made our way from the station, through the shops and through  the entertainment, all the while answering “No, we not buying anything now.” “No, we aren’t going on the trampolines or bouncy castle”. Whew, that is a minefield on its own when heading out with the kids. 

It is quite possible to buy your tickets in advance online and to buy a fast pass if you are an international traveller. {So the website says}
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to buy our tickets in advance due to time constraints, and we didn’t want to pay the extra ¥2000/person to get a fast pass ticket. So we queued. For 50 minutes! 
Boy, do I wish I had carved out the 5-10 minutes I would have spent organising the tickets. I will definitely be buying future tickets in advance!

The lift going up was smooth and quiet, reaching a top speed of 600m/minute. In no time at all we were at Level 345. Unfortunately due to haze, the distant view wasn’t that spectacular, but it was amazing to see the various Tokyo sights. 

The brochure had a panoramic map of what could be seen from each window which was very helpful and informative.


Due to time constraints and hungry children, we opted not to go up to the 450m viewing floor, but we didn’t feel like we have missed out. There was lots to see and do. 


Heading down to level 340m, the view seemed less hazy. We wandered round, took a brief look at the glass floor (I wasn’t brave enough to stand on it though!!)and then headed down to find some food…

Lack of food had turned the 3 children into grumpy monsters! 

Access:

 We caught the Hanzommon Line to Oshiage station. 

Exploring, Exploring: My 5 Favourite Beaches near Tokyo

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Summer is here in Japan and in true Japanese weather form it arrived on its due date!

BAM! 1 July- the day that the Japanese beaches and the outdoor pools open- the temperature goes up by 2-3 deg C and the humidity by about 15%. Friday the first, the humidity was so thick, it felt like we could cut it with a knife!

So where to when the temperatures are in the high twenties/ early thirties
Well personally I feel there are a few options…

1: Water
2: Mountains
3: Airconditioning

But it’s the beach that’s calling me, beckoning me…

So here are My 5 favourite beaches to visit.

Ohama Beach is my favourite beach along the Izu penninsula. Admittedly it isn’t near to Tokyo, but it is well worth mentioning. It is a stretch of beach about 10 minutes drive from Shimoda station. The sea is a lovely colour as is the sand. Shimoda isn’t close enough to be a day trip, but well worth it for a weekend.

Araihama Beach is our go to beach for a day trip out of Tokyo. It is a lovely cove,with facilities on the shore. The sea is relatively sheltered, so is great for children.
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Enoshima beach isn’t always the prettiest, but I really like it because it is easy to get to from Tokyo by public transport, and the island is a great place to wander and just people watch. There is also a spa on the island, which is another way to relax and unwind.

Zushi Beach is round the corner from Enoshima. It is a large straight beach, with plenty of water sport enthusiasts enjoying the sunny warm days. This is another one that is easy to get to by car or by train.

Onjuku Beach, Chiba is further to reach than the others, but is still possible for a day trip. That said, the shortest way to get there is through the Aqualine, which isn’t always the fastest- especially on a Sunday afternoon.

Apparently there are some beautiful beaches in Chiba, but I have yet to explore them- when I do, I will let you know!

I hope I’ve whet your appetite for beaches around Tokyo. There are some within Tokyo, but you aren’t allowed to swim in the sea, so on a hot summers day they aren’t really worth visiting!

And if you have found any beaches worth visiting around Tokyo, please do let me know as I would love to visit some new ones!

 

Exploring, exploring: My 5 favourite places in Tokyo on a rainy day.

“Rain, rain go away, Come again another day.
Rain, rain go away, Come again on Mummy’s washing day”

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I often used to chant this rhyme as a child when it rained, but it never seemed to make the rain go away.

So what do we do when it’s raining?
Obviously we can hunker down indoors, watch a movie or even better do a craft activity of some sort. If you want some inspiration, check out this post.

But what if you had to get out for whatever reason. The wet season in Tokyo is generally in the month of June where it can rain continuously for days at a time. (And we are talking about proper, heavy rain!) So after a few days, getting out becomes a necessity. Where to? This list are my personal favourites.

  1. Aquariums- with Tokyo Sea Life Park, and Epson Aqua Stadium being my top two.
  2. Museums- Natural History Museum in Ueno, Fire Museum and Toy Museum win my vote.20140410-140800.jpg
  3. Odaiba- ok, so this is a huge area and if it’s very wet, it can be a challenge to get around, but it has so much to offer. There is the museum of Science and Innovation (Miraikan), Spocha, Legoland, Madame Taussards, shopping galore and plenty of eating places. If all else fails, Toys R Us will allow the children to play with some of the toys and the Aeon pet shop allows the handling of the puppies and kittens. (Under strict observation)
  4. Tokyo Dome City- on a sunny day the rides are great, but on a wet day there’s Asobono (for the littlies), roller skating, Ten Q (a space museum), bowling and that’s just for starters!
  5. imageKidzania- this isn’t a budget friendly outing, but oh boy do the kids love it. Upon arrival, they are given some cash. They then spend the next 3-4 hours going round and trialling various jobs. Firemen, vet, doctor, coca-cola plant, pizza, fashion designer, petrol attendant to name a few. They get paid to do the jobs, but there are also activities that cost money such as having a manicure. Lunch can be bought, but it can also be made at a well know branded restaurant.

So when it’s next pouring with rain, maybe my three will chant.

Rain, rain here to stay, Come lets go explore today.

Rain, rain here to stay, Lets go find a new place to play.” 

Kameido Tenjin Shrine

I had been told about this shrine by a friend who knew my love for plants and gardening.

  
The shrine is very well kept and despite it being in the middle of the city, it was restful and had a beautiful garden. 

  
It is for the garden that we came up visit it on Mothers Day, hoping that the wisteria were still in bloom. But alas they weren’t.  As the spring has been rather warm, I’m not surprised. Still it was lovely and despite the crowds, so peaceful. Possibly because of the gardens, which I am a sucker for! We were only there for about 20 minutes, but I think that when I’m there when the wisteria are in bloom, I could be there for ages photographing them, the bridges and the pond.  
  I’m definitely returning next spring for their festival: Kameido Tenjin Shrine Wisteria Festival and of course to see the wisteria in bloom!

It’s Sumo Time!

It is May, so the next round of Sumo Tournaments are here in Tokyo. Starting today, it will run for 15 days, finishing on Sunday 22 May. 

I have blogged about our Sumo trip before, and the full post is below. 

Should you head out to Ryogoku Kokugikan, please do let me know your experience.

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Apologies that the photo quality isn’t that great- it was a bit far for my flash to have much effect.

Sumo Wrestling is something that I’ve grown up thinking of as very Japanese- it is a national sport a national sport! So when we had the opportunity to go to a tournament, it was one of those ‘No Brainer’ Moments.

We didn’t feel that we could attend without doing some research about the sport, and so to help you along here is a little taster….

Sumo wrestling is an official Japanese sport and an important part of Japanese history, originating in a ritualized performance for the Shintu Gods.

The wrestlers (or rikishi) wear a mawashi which consists of a long strip of heavy silk or canvas that is folded several times and wrapped around the body in a specific way. I couldn’t find any guidelines as to how the wrapping is done and I would be intrigued to find out how they do it as there were no ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ despite parts coming lose in some of the bouts.

The sumo ring is approximately 15 feet in diameter that is raised about 2 1/2 feet off the ground on a huge block of clay called a dohyo. Round the edge of the ring is a tawara, which is made of tightly wound straw and it is raised up by about 3 inches. A light sprinkling of sand is applied inside of the ring. At the start of each tournament a new dohyo is created. Five judges (shinpan) sit round the dohyo. A gyoji or referee officiates the bout and announces the winner at the end.

There are no rules about how to wrestle other than the first rikishi to step out of the ring or put any body part other than their feet on the floor loses. As a result most of bouts last between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. In fact we found when we were watching was that the longest part of the bout was the foot stamping ritual at the beginning of the bout. From a spectator point of view it seemed like they were trying to intimidate their opponent.

I had a wonderous ‘Lost in Translation’ moment when I bought our tickets as I bought them from a convenience store with the assistance of the check out assistant. His English was as good as my Japanese! (Something I need to change!) Anyway- I landed up buying the box tickets which take 4 people and cost a small fortune. When I researched the website again and I saw what the box was like and where it was, I knew that we had to do something different… (The box was a tatami mat {ie no chairs}that seated 4 {we were 5} and quite close to the front {with 3 children that could be a problem}) The tickets were non-returnable, but a friend bought them off me and took his parents who were visiting from the UK.

We then bought the cheap tickets at Y1,000 (about £8). Our seats were at the top of the stadium and non reserved so we struggled a bit to find 5 free. The advantages of these seats were that we didn’t feel stressed when the children got noisy, there were no arm rests so the children were more comfortable and there was a large floor area round the seats so J could play with his cars comfortably and the girls could draw. It was also easy to get in and out, so when we needed a loo break or a running-along-the-corridor break, we didn’t disturb anyone. The reserved seats were closer,had a little table (like an aeroplane) and armrests and understandably cost more (Y2,000). Personally we will use the unreserved again as they were the most suitable for the children.

There are stalls that sell food and drink- but like all these type of events they were rather over priced and very Japanese (just a word of warning if you don’t like Japanese style food and drink)

To keep our little ones entertained, we bought snacks for them to nibble on and a variety of activities (drawing, etch boards, cars etc) and it seemed to work. We also didn’t go for the entire day, but for the afternoon. We missed the introduction of the wrestlers, but we saw the champion receive his trophy at the end. I found it rather entertaining that the music played at the award ceremony was an instrumental version of an Easter hymn- Thine Be the Glory!

The Sumo Hall in Tokyo (Ryogoku Kokugikan) is within a 2 minute walk from the Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line.

The next tournament is in Osaka from 10-25 March and the next one in Tokyo is in May. I would highly recommend a trip- even if you have children in tow. If you want to find out more about purchasing tickets and the dates of the various tournament, visit the official Sumo website and if you would like to know more about the tradition and rules then visit Sumo Talk.
We had a lovely afternoon and if you venture to Sumo with kids, I hope you’ll get in touch and share your experince too.

Exploring, Exploring: My 5 Favourite Zoos in Tokyo

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Note: Japanese zoos are generally not the best place regarding animal welfare. Most of the zoos, I have visited have a few cages where my heart breaks for the welfare of the animals. That said, I believe zoos do have a role to play in educating people, protecting the animals and inspiring the next generation. Steve Backshall summed it up beautifully in This article in the Huffington Post. I take my children to zoos, to generate a greater love for animals, educate them about the animals and their plight in the wild and I use the opportunity to discuss animal welfare. 

There are quite a few zoos in and around Tokyo, all displaying various quality of animal husbandry. Most of them have amazing pens for some of the animals as well as some pens that makes my heart break. 

So which do I think are the best?

1: Zoorasia, Yokohama

This zoo is about an hour’s drive outside of Tokyo. Being in Yokohama, there is more space available, so the cages are generally much larger. It is divided up into areas and while there are a vast variety of Asian animals to see, there are also few non- Asian animals at the zoo. One memory that particularly stands out for us is the aviary filled with seagulls, only because they are such a pest along the UK coastline!

Zoorasia Website

 2: Tama Zoo

This zoo is the largest zoo managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It is about an hour by train from Shibuya and is just as easy very easy to get to by car. It is made up of 129 acres (on a hill) and so most of the cages are large and spacious. 
 
It is divided into three areas- African, Asian, Australian Gardens and the is an insectarium. Most of the animals have lovely cages, but I did find the Asian bear and cheetah’s cages a touch heart wrenching. 

Tama Zoo Website

    

3: Ueno Zoo

Ueno zoo boasts being the oldest zoo in Japan and in places this is visible. It was founded in 1882 and is set over 35 acres of land. It boasts a large variety of animals (over 450 different species) and with it being in central Tokyo, one of the easiest to get to. Personally, I enjoy the vivarium the most, despite it giving me the heebie-jeebies. 

Ueno Zoo Website

 4: Fuji Safari Park

Fuji Safari Park is set at the base of Mt Fuji and so provides a beautiful setting for this safari park. The children loved the opportunity to drive through the pens and photograph the animals close up. The part that I found challenging is that despite the animals being in large pens for us to drive through, they were kept in smaller areas and apart from each other with discreet electric fencing. There is also a part of the zoo where we walk around and the children can pet some animals. Since we visited the park, they have put in a swimming pool for the Asian elephant, which looks like lots of fun- for both the elephant and the spectator.

Fuji Safari Park Website

5: Tobu Zoo

Tobu Zoo is about 1 1/2 hour drive outside of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture. It is a bit tricky to find as its along a typical Japanese country lane and not hugely signposted. I was, as a result, rather surprised as to how large it was. The zoo is in fact a hybrid between a zoo, an amusement park and (in the summer) a water park.  
Their claim to fame is that they have successfully managed to breed their white tigers, which my three really enjoyed watching.

Tobu Zoo Website

   

Let me know what you think. Which is your favourite zoo?


Previous Posts in this series:

My Favourite places to Hanami in Sakura Season

My 5 Favourite Aquariums

Exploring, exploring


Mt Tsukuba

I have created a bucket list for our time in Japan, as I would like to have visited as many of the prefectures in Japan as possible, during our time here.

So, to that end we headed up to central Ibaraki Prefecture for a hike up/ along Mt Tsukuba.

Mt Tsukuba has two peaks to it- Mt. Nyotai (877m above sea level) and Mt. Nantai, (871 meters above the sea level) and is listed as one of the ‘heikyumeizan’ or 100 famous mountains. We parked up at the base of Tsukuba-san Ropeway at Tsutsujigaoka (¥700 for about 5 hours.), grabbed a quick lunch before heading up.

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We have found a great system overcoming the various hiking requirements- ‘A’ wanting to  stretch his legs, the children walking at a more leisurely pace, and me wanting to limit my walking as my PF has returned. (Grrrrr). I take the cable car/ ropeway up the mountain with the children and ‘A’ hikes up. (Usually at a significant pace, so we are t waiting for too long!)

So we headed up. A round trip on the Ropeway costs ¥1100 for an adult, ¥550 for a child and ¥400 for a dog. Ziva had to go in a crate(they provided), which she wasn’t overly impressed about!

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‘A’ describes the hike up as moderately challenging, with large steps/ rocks to climb up. He found it more of a scramble up a rocky stairway than a hike.

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From the top of the ropeway, we had a 5-10 minute climb up to the peak of Mt Nyotai. From here we could see most of the Kanto plain. There is a shrine on the peak, which I’m not sure whether it is part of the Tsukuba shrine at the base of the peak. In true Shrine style, I secured another stamp for my book.

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Once we had met up with ‘A’, we headed over to the other peak. Again, a scramble over stone stairs that took us about 20 minutes. We reached the flat area between the two, known as Miyukigahara, where the cable car station is, some restaurants and souvenir shops. There are also spectacular views over the Kanto plain.

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The stone steps to Mt Nantai were quite something and Ziva provided some entertainment for the other hikers as she scrambled up rocks that were taller than her. I was impressed and only (thankfully) had to catch her once when she fell backwards.

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We headed back down the ropeway, ‘A’ joining us and sparing his knees, and headed to an Onsen at the foot of a mountain. A great way to end a hike, I’ve discovered.

The journey was pretty straight forward and took us about 2 hours by car- heading up on the Joban expressway.

For further information check out the following websites:

Ibaraki Prefecture Tourist Information

Japan National Tourist Information