Tokyo with Kids- Yoyogi Park

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visit so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow! 

For my Japanese readers, I seriously doubt that I need to write a post on Yoyogi park, but for my other readers I felt it vital and interesting. Vital, because if you have kids in Tokyo, then Yoyogi park is a crucial part of your “Let’s-get-the-kids-outdoors” arsenal, interesting because the visit is never the same experience twice!

Yoyogi park is to the north of Omotesando and Shibuya. At 134 acres it is one of Tokyo’s largest parks. It borders Meiji Shrine and is easily accessible from Harajuku or Yoyogi-koen stations. It has trees all round the edge, which make it wonderfully cool in the summer and a haven for photographers in autumn.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And spring.

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The park provides a place where people can relax and unwind, practice their dance moves or musical instuments.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe open field in the center is a place where children of all ages can skip, fly kites, play football or whatever. IMG_5628

My girls and their friends had a wonderful time one spring day, when they joined in with a group of Japanese students who were playing skipping games. The students were only too happy to let the ‘gaijins’ join in!
(Gaijin- a Japanese word for foreigner/ alien.)

It is a wonderful place for children to burn off energy and be free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is a cycle centre where you can rent bikes for all ages and cycle round the park, or on the circuit, if you’re little and still learning. Admittedly I’ve yet to use it, though it’s very tempting as my 4 year old still can’t ride a bike! Ours love the freedom that the park offers, from climbing the trees or the modern art statue, digging the ground with the toy diggers, putting leaves on the vent from the underground and watching them fly into the air or just stroking the animals.
Aaah the animals…

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So dogs dressed up in coats and other outfits, IMG_5632

(or their owners dressed as dogs)

riding in a pram or bike, isn’t overly uncommon, but it does bring new meaning to the word personification. Yoyogi park, does provide two dog runs (one for medium- large dogs and one for medium-small dogs.) where people can let their dogs off the lead and run free.
But I’ve seen a pet rabbit going for a walk, a tortoise and most recently a pet owl.

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Like I said, no visit is ever the same and it always an interest factor about it!

Yoyogi park is open from dawn to dusk, all year round (except this summer just gone where there were some reported cases of dengue fever resulting from a visit there. In true Japanese style, they closed the park for nearly 3 months, and I believe they sprayed it with insecticide as well.)

Access is easy too, as it has its own car park and Yoyogi-Koen station (on the Metro Chiyoda line) is right underneath the park. On overland trains, Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote line is a 5 minute walk, as is Yoyogi Hachiman station on the Odakyu line.

I love Yoyogi park and every little aspect of it, and I would love to hear about your experiences at it too.

Tokyo with Kids- Tokyo Toy Museum

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visit so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow! 

 

 

 

It felt in mid-March that Spring was taking a while to show up, so Toddler Trips headed out to the Tokyo Toy Museum, where we could be indoors from the cold.

The name is a bit deceptive as it isn’t a museum, like we Westerners know museums. Yes, they have some toys on display, but the whole feel of the place was that of a place where children can play with beneficial (ie aiding development) toys.

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It is located in a former school, on a side street about 7 minutes walk from Exit 2 (the elevator exit) of Yotsuya Sanchome station. The rooms are former classrooms and are dedicated to various types of toys.
Our first stop was the Good Toy Gallery. This room houses toys that have been accredited as effective in assisting children’s development. There is a doughnut table in the middle with a selection of these toys and our little group had no qualms about trying them out. J and a friend thoroughly enjoyed a ball helter skelter toy.

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The Wood Toy Forest was our next stop. This was spectacular! Everything was made out of wood. Wooden ball pits to play in, a tree house, bead pit to rake (Zen Garden style- though ours rather enjoyed picking up and throwing them!)- all beautifully made.

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Toy Square Red was another room where we lost the children for a while as they disappeared a mini tatami room and played tea parties- Japanese Style. This room is primarily focused on traditional Japanese toys.

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Unfortunately time constraints meant we didn’t really explore all the rooms or try out the activities that are offered in the Toy Factory, but it was a great morning out.

The museum was a big hit with our group from the 13 month old to the nearly 4 year old. I think my girls (ages 7 & 9) would enjoy it- but not as much as my son did, or for as long. That said, I never visited the Games Salon and I’m sure they would happily have stayed in there playing table top football, Catch the Lion or one of the Chinese puzzles.

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A lovely morning, enjoyed by all and one I’d highly recommend.

Address: Yotsuya Hiroba, 4-20 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku,Tokyo 160-0004.
Hours: 10:00-16:00
Closed: Thursdays
Tickets: Adults:¥700
Child: ¥500

Tokyo with Kids- Shinagawa Aquarium

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visit so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow! 

My son, J loves aquariums and zoos. He especially loves matching the fish to their image. We have been to a few aquariums, Tokyo Sea Life Park, Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and Epson Aqua Stadium and over the Winter Holidays, we had an opportunity to visit Shinagawa Aquarium.

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After driving around for 30 minutes trying to work out where the car park was, we entered the aquarium. Like most animal attractions in Japan, it is a cheap place to visit.

The tanks had the usual assortment of various types of fish. The tunnel had a couple of turtles, rays and other fish. It had a few cameras dressed up as turtles and for 100Yen, the girls had a go at moving it up and down and round and watching the fish on the screen. They had great fun pretending they were Octanauts in an Octopod.

There was a dolphin and walrus show, which the children found fascinating. You could also watch the dolphin tank from below. I thought their tank was a bit small for them, and unfortunately I don’t believe that they have much more room behind the scenes.

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The highlight for me was the seal tunnel. The seals are in a tank with a U- shaped tunnel going through the pool so the seals can swim over, under and round you. I haven’t seen a tunnel in the seal pools in any aquarium before, and thoroughly enjoyed watching them whizz over, under and round me.

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The highlight for the girls was the touch pool. The loved being able to pick up starfish and feel them. They kept going back to the pool for more.

As I mentioned before, getting there was a bit of a challenge, though now that we know how to get there, it is easy by car.The train stations are all a bit of a walk- 8 Minutes from the Keihin Omorikaigan Station and 15 minutes from the Omori Station on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line.The aquarium does offer a free transit bus from Bus Stop No.6 outside the Oi Town Central Station,East Exit, which is on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line.

A lovely afternoon out and worth visiting.

Apologies that the photo quality is a bit erratic- we weren’t always allowed to use a flash.

Tokyo with Kids- Epson Aqua Stadium

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visit so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow! 

After our last trip to an aquarium- Tokyo Sea Life Park, I’ve been quite keen to get to another as J had such fun there.

We got an opportunity recently as the girls were away in a school residential trip so I didn’t need to do a pick up, and the weather ensured that we needed to do an indoor outing.

I put forward to J a couple of the aquarium options that he could visit and he chose the Epson Aqua Stadium as he wanted to see the dolphins.

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So off we went, Yamanote line to Shinagawa, out at the West Exit. We wandered through Wings shopping centre and discovered that the aquarium only opened at 12 during the week. It was 11am. J had been up since 4:30am, so he popped into the pram and had a nap. I grabbed an early lunch.

At 12:45 we went in. I experienced a Lost-in-Translation moment as I asked a young lady where I could get the tickets and she directed me to the lift. Upstairs I got sent back down, where I found the ticket machine.

Realistically I should have guessed as most places in Japan have machines that spit out the entry ticket.

¥1800 for me (about £13) and J was free as he is under 4. ¥400 for children over 4.

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The aquarium is small and an easy 1/2 day trip. Their feature tank is their tunnel with rays and some sharks. J loved watching the fish and matching the fish to their image. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Alfred Ray (the teacher ray in Finding Nemo) and admiring how the actual ray moved with the same grace and flow as the one in Nemo. This one didn’t sing however!

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Most of the other tanks were small, but still entertaining for the children. Some of the names were written in English, but there was no information about the fish given in English.

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The dolphin and sea lion shows were very entertaining and the highlight of our visit. Everything was in Japanese, but you got the jist and the atmosphere at the dolphin show was great. We had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed watching the people get wet. Most of the show was about the dolphins splashing the audience, so a warning if you do sit in the seats with the red stripe on the back of the chair- you WILL get drenched!
It is possible to buy ponchos for a nominal amount, which most people did.
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It is possible to re- enter, so you can head out to the shopping centre and have a meal, or eat downstairs, enjoy the rides of Pleasureland and then go back in, but after a few hours J was ready to head home.
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A lovely afternoon out and well worth a visit.

Apologies that the photo quality is a bit erratic- we weren’t allowed to use a flash.

Tokyo with Kids- Tokyo Sea Life Park

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visitIMG_9801, so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow! 

 My parents have heard me wax lyrical about the amazing Japanese weather, so they come over to visit and Japan have a week of English grey wet weather! Typical. One particular day on their visit we were planning to go to Showa Kinen Park and we woke to find it raining. So a quick search on the internet came up with a few museums and aquariums and we headed out to Tokyo Sea Life Park.

We caught the Keiyo Line train to Kansai Rinkai Koen station from Tokyo station. There is a bit of a walk across Tokyo station, and other than about 10 steps at one point, there are elevators and escalators for those of us with strollers. The journey took 15 minutes from Tokyo and we disembarked and found ourselves looking at the park by Tokyo Bay next to the giant ferris wheel. We followed the signs to the park and purchased our tickets for Y700 (about £6). (Elementary aged children, like the zoos here, are free.) IMG_9764

My father was a little concerned that we would be wandering outdoors all day as we walked towards a dome shaped building. The building seemed very small so we incorrectly expected it to be so. As we walked into the building a helpful security guard pointed me in the direction of the lift for the stroller. So off I headed and with the help of another helpful security guard was shown where to go. A third helpful security guard linked me with my parents (possibly as as Gajins we stood out a bit!) and told them where I was.

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The initial tanks help some pretty big fish, and I found them rather small for the fish inside. The shark tank,for example, had a fair number of hammerhead sharks in it and it took the sharks about 4 seconds or so to swim across the tank. But the tanks portraying the other exhibits were smaller, as were the fish so I didn’t feel to disturbed by them.

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All three children were thoroughly engrossed all day. J missed out on his afternoon nap and we didn’t suffer for it either! He loved matching the pictures on the side of the tank to the fish in the tank. K loved the touchy feely tank and spent ages stroking the rays and carpet sharks.  IMG_9779 E loved the penguins and watching them being fed. Dad and I enjoyed the variety of fish (especially the new ones for us) from all over the world- from the Caribbean, to the barrier reef to Antarctica (yes there are fish there!), and Mum enjoyed the one tank after a helpful staff member took the time to show her that the rocks, shells and seaweed in the tank were actually various living creatures. Admittedly though, the challenge of finding the sole still remains! We also managed to see quite a few tanks being fed, touch a shark skin and see some puffins.

In case you haven’t worked it out yet- Tokyo Sea Life Park was a great day out and I would highly recommend it. I would suggest that if you can leave the stroller behind- do, as we often left ours unattended as we looked at some tanks etc and while the stroller can reach most parts of the aquarium, it is much easier without.

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I hope that you will visit Tokyo Sea Life Park and please let me know what you think.

Apologies that the photo quality is a bit erratic- we weren’t allowed to use a flash.

Tokyo with Kids- Sumo Wrestling

One of the things that I found challenging when I first arrived was to find places to take the children to where they could have fun, learn new things and experience this amazing country. I have decided that I will write a review of the places that we visit, so to encourage others to experience this country with kids in tow!

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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.

Travel bug

I wrote this blog when we were flying back from Florida to Tokyo at the start of the year.

Mountain view from flight

As I write this, we are currently 10 363 m above sea level, flying over Vancouver and surrounding mountain range on our way back to Japan.
It is an area I have wanted to visit and now that I’m seeing it from above- even more so…

I think I got the travel bug as a child. My Dad only got leave at Christmas, and so we would always go away and explore other parts of South Africa. Mum always said that it was because Dad never went anywhere in his holidays growing up and it got too hot and humid in Natal in December to stay put…
Either way, off we would go. When we were little, staying in self catering cottages and then in our caravan which my folks bought when I was 10.
We never went directly there. Part of the holiday was the trip there. An 18 hour car journey to Cape Town was taken over 3 days, stopping at little towns, and exploring. Even when we were passing through a little town or ‘dorpie’ as the Afrikaans people call it, Mum would read us the information from her book ‘Off the Beacon Track’ which was the SA equivalent of Lonely Planet.. The book would be opened and we would groan (especially when we were teenagers!) but the seed was planted!

So as I sit on this aeroplane, looking over the mountains, I’m wondering where this year will take us. Can we visit some new places? We are so fortunate to be living in Japan for this period, we should be able to visit some very different places and have some great new experiences. But when we travel- am I sharing my love for travel, new experiences, cultures and the histories behind the country with the children or do they feel like they are being dragged round another place? How can I share it with my kids? My Mum’s technique worked for me, but my siblings don’t get the same thrill out of travelling that I do, so it didn’t work for them…

Guess I’ll just keep visiting and get excited about places across the world- their history/ geography and culture and hope and pray that my children too will get the travel bug and want to explore this wonderful place that God has created.