Himeji Castle and Kobe Harborland-Japan Day 4

Comment 1 Standard

Himeji Castle was one of my “musts” for this trip.  It also was one of the places we learned about in our Little Passports Japan kit, so I really wanted my kids to see the real thing.  Himeji was also a straight shot from Kyoto with our JR pass.  I had just planned to go and visit the castle then come back to Kyoto in order to attend a show of traditional Japanese performance arts.  After such a long day in Osaka the day before, I figured another low key day was in order. At least that is what I thought.

Given that I only planned to visit Himeji, we took our time getting out the door.  We took the shuttle to the train station and made an easy stop at the JR ticket office for our bullet train to Himeji.  It was going to take about 45-50 minutes to get there.  My daughter fell asleep before we got on the train and I employed reason 497 of “Why I love my Baby Jogger City Select stroller.” Since I had to fold it up and put it behind the seats, I just popped off the seat and laid it on the floor with my daughter in it so she could keep sleeping with no blocking of the aisle.  That left just me and the boys to have a little snack and be silly on the train until we arrived.

Nap time on the train in her stroller seat.

Nap time on the train in her stroller seat.

Just having some fun on the train.

Just having some fun on the train.

Once we were at the main JR train station in Himeji, it was really easy to find the way out and to see which direction the castle was in, being how you could see it the moment you walked out the train station!  So we started looking about and saw the buses.  Even though you could see the castle, it was still pretty far.  Japanese cities are like Paris, something looks like it is close, but really it’s 20-30 minutes away by foot.  We inquired in at a local tourist information center who said to take the castle loop bus around the corner.  So off we went, but we found that we had just missed it and it ran only every half hour.  Walking it was, and boy I was not disappointed.  Before we even got half way to the castle (which is a straight shot down the same street, directly out from the front of the train station) I was falling in love with this city.   The side walks were large and wide with very separate lanes for bikes, walkers and had greenery and lovely art statues every so often.  Little allies that were actually large and long shopping arcades shot off in all directions of the street.  I felt so comfortable to be walking along this street, despite the completely foreign language.

One of many statues that line the street from Himeji station to the castle.

One of many statues that line the street from Himeji station to the castle.

Shopping Arcades off the main road to Himeji Castle.

Shopping Arcades off the main road to Himeji Castle.

As we approached the castle and picked up a brochure and map from the information center, I began to wish we had gotten an earlier start.  We probably wouldn’t have enough time to visit the zoo in addition to the castle.  It turns out Himeji is a place you should spend a couple days!  But alas, we had one, and less than that too.  It was time to get up to that castle and see what was in side this colossus.  I was really glad that I brought the Ergo this time!

Walking up to the main keep of the Castle.  It was above 85 degrees F that day!

Walking up to the main keep of the Castle. It was above 85 degrees F that day!

To go into the main part of the castle, you had to take your shoes off and put them in the plastic bag that was provided for you.  What was not provided, slippers or socks.  So if you were wearing sandals, like the kids and I were, you walked barefoot if you wanted to see the castle.  Just a heads up, when you visit, perhaps you’ll want to wear tennis shoes with socks.

Taking shoes off to go inside the castle.

Taking shoes off to go inside the castle.

There was nothing inside the castle except the incredibly steep stairs that were practically ladders.  You could see however the incredible wood build and design of the castle, Japan’s only major castle that has never been damage in a war.  There was a great view of the grounds and Himeji from the top however.  In all, it was a very beautiful sight to behold.  It lives up to it’s nickname “The White Heron” which is a symbol for the whole city and often manhole covers are adorned with a flock of flying white Herons.

Six floors of these steep steps up and down.

Six floors of these steep steps up and down.

Interior of Himeji Castle.

Interior of Himeji Castle.

I was having such a nice time walking around the castle grounds and had seen many things on the road there that I wanted to go back to, I lost my sense of urgency to get back for the show in Kyoto that night.  I knew there would be other days to do the show in Kyoto, but probably wouldn’t get back to Himeji.  Unfortunately for me, because I only planned to see the castle that day, we had gotten a pretty late start and most things in the area, like the Himeji zoo next to the castle, all closed around 5:00 p.m.  Even though things were all closing up by time we finished the castle tour, I decided to take a stroll through the side shopping promenades that I had seen on the way to the castle.  We looked at a few shops and then came across a cupcake and pastry shop.  I had to go in and we splurged a little before dinner.

Japanese interpretations of French and American desserts.  P.S. Their version of Strawberry Short Cake is better!

Japanese interpretations of French and American desserts. P.S. Their version of Strawberry Short Cake is better!

As we made it back to the train station I tried to think what we could do with the rest of our evening.  I checked in at the JR ticket counter about Kobe.  It wasn’t a place I thought I’d make it to this trip but as I looked through my booklet for the Hyogo area (which Himeji is apart of) and it talked a bit about the Haborland of Kobe and a Ferris wheel and the Anpanman Kids Museum & Mall.  It looked like a fun sight, especially at night and I had read about an all you can eat seafood buffet right on the water with a great view of the light up harbor buildings.  So we hopped on a regional JR train and off we went.

On the train from Himeji to Kobe

On the train from Himeji to Kobe

Once we arrived, we asked for directions to Haborland and wandered our way through the station and the huge Umie shopping mall to get to the harbor shops and restaurants that is called the Mosaic, right on the water.  We came across and escalator that the boys begged to ride it down just to go back up.  Of course I had to say yes!

Cool escalator in the Umie shopping mall at Kobe's Harborland.

Cool escalator in the Umie shopping mall at Kobe’s Harborland.

By chance, one of the first things we saw as we followed paths that looked like they lead to the water was the all you can eat seafood restaurant buffet called the “Fisherman’s Market.”  I saw some pasta and pizza in the window and figured I’d be set for the kids.  They saw us in to a table and through some patience and hand signals, we decided on how much we would be charged based on the kids’ ages, and whether or not we would eat just the food or the food buffet and the drink buffet.  There was a fairly wide selection of choices but all the pasta and pizza had seafood of course.  So it took a little convincing to try a few things even though they looked some what familiar to them.  They also had French fries and what would be close enough to fish sticks.  I made them try some new stuff and then let them have some comfort choices as well.  Plus, the dessert bar with a huge chocolate fountain was a big incentive!  What I liked about this place the most was that they had allergy cards at each station!  So I knew which things would contain wheat.  There was still a chance for gluten, but knowing which things had wheat was a big step because it also told me which things had soy sauce, which is often hard to figure out here since it is a common ingredient.  In addition to the food, the view was spectacular!

View from the Fisherman's Market restaurant in the Mosaic.  At Kobe's Harborland.

View from the Fisherman’s Market restaurant in the Mosaic. At Kobe’s Harborland.

We knew even before dinner that we were there too lake for the kids museum, but what we really came for was the view and the Ferris wheel.  And in that, we were not disappointed!

Ferris wheel at Kobe's Harborland.

Ferris wheel at Kobe’s Harborland.

In all, we had a great evening that was the perfect night cap to a fun day.  Now, we just had to get back to the hotel.  I took the risk again of having 3 sleepy children when we arrived back at Kyoto station.  But I was prepared!  Since I had packed my Ergo, I figured I could just put my 2 year old on my back in case my 5 year old fell asleep on the train. I could then push him in the stroller.  Sure enough, my 5 year old fell asleep, but so did my 7 year old!  To make matters worse, my phone froze up and was not working.  I was in a bit of a panic because I can’t handle being in a foreign place without my phone, just in case.  After a few failed attempts to find something I had to fit in the pin hold to pop out the sim to restart it, I asked a group of business man with my pointing and hand gestures if they had something that could fit.  Thankfully one did, the pin from the back of his name badge!  Good thing for me that people go to work late and come home late!  At 10:00 p.m. the train was packed with business men returning home from work!  With my phone fixed, my last feat was to get all 3 kids off the train.  All 3 dead asleep.

I was the evening’s entertainment. Our skit was an American single white female attempting to move a sleeping toddler from the stroller bassinette position to an Ergo, followed by transforming the stroller into an upright forward facing stroller in which a sleeping 7 year old was placed, then trying to balance a sleeping 5 year old on top of said 7 year old while on a moving train, then exciting the train.  There were several oohs and ahhs.  From there, I had no choice but to take a taxi back to the hotel.  As cheap as I am and hate paying for them, the safety of the kids still comes first and there was no way to get then onto two more subway transfers to the hotel.  But we made it, and I had never been so relieved to find my way to my bed!

Osaka and The Long Awaited Kidzania-Japan Day 3

Comments 2 Standard

Wednesday is English day at Kidzania, so I read on their website. What is Kidzania you ask? Well, it just might replace Disneyland as the happiest place on earth, and you’ll have to read ahead to find out more, ha ha! I will warn you however that this is long since I’m trying out a more diary style of writing for this trip.  Then I’ll come back later and give everyone some shorter articles on what we’ve learned on this trip and a few short hints and trip ideas.  But for now, on to what we did on our 3rd full day in Japan. I first heard about it from a blog I came across called Tokyo Stroller. This mom started Tokyo Stroller to help provide some English content to navigating Tokyo with kids. It was one of her suggestions for something to do on a rainy day. I first thought of doing this in Tokyo after I watched their AMAZING promo video. But when our final plans gave us just 5 days total in Tokyo and a day and a half were already slated for Disney, it just didn’t seem right to take up another full day for that. I saw they had multiple locations around the world and in checking that out, I discovered they had one right next to Osaka in Kochien (think Seattle’s Bellevue). It was perfect.  Since it wasn’t too far from Kyoto, I made a plan do take the kids there on Wednesday of this week. The day they had been talking about for the past 3 months finally came. However, we first had to get out of the hotel and over 3 cities.

There are two entry “shifts” for Kidzania, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. I ultimately went with the 2nd shift even though I wasn’t too excited about being that far away from the city we were staying and that late and night. I still felt the risk of the kids being super tired was not going to be as bad as us not getting to the place we’ve never been to by 8:00 a.m. and the kids missing out. Oh the wrath I would have faced if they didn’t get to go!!! So I figured we would at least get up and moving out the door as soon as we could because then we could go see something in Osaka before our start time. When everyone was awake by 5:30 a.m. I started to think, maybe we could get out the door and try to make it to the 1st shift and maybe they would change our tickets. Then I thought, other than taking the free airport shuttle to the train station, I don’t really know another way to get there and that could take up an unknown amount of time that would be hard to factor into an arrival destination. So I figured it would be easier to wait for the hotel shuttle that started at 8:15 a.m.

Chomping at the bit, ready to get on the train and go!

Chomping at the bit, ready to get on the train and go!

Knowing we had 2 hours to kill before breakfast switched my brain into lazy mode. You would think I would have learned by now, especially since I tell myself each time I get behind (because of lazy mode) that I need to get everything completely ready to go first before we just relax and wait for the time to leave. But no, I get partially ready, or get the kids ready and not myself and start writing or looking through pictures and before I know it, it’s 15 minutes from the 1st shuttle and I haven’t showered or taken the kids to breakfast. Ugh. But hey, it’s a vacation right!? While I clearly want to actually see stuff in Japan, I don’t have a very set agenda. There are thousands of landmarks that are supposed to be beautiful and culturally significant, but you will make yourself go crazy on any trip ESPECIALLY with kids, if you try to see and do too much. So for Osaka, I had identified a few cool things I thought we’d try to pick from. I didn’t care about seeing them all, as I knew similar things existed in other cities. My list was, Osaka Castle, the aquarium, walk around Shinsekai or find some arcades. After our late start, we didn’t get to Osaka till 11:00 o’clock, even though the bullet train got us there from Kyoto in 15 minutes. I decided on the train that we’d try to see the aquarium. So we got off at Shin-Osaka, wandered around aimlessly looking for some information stand. At the stand the very nice man, who spoke some of the best English I had encountered so far (it’s been a struggle even at major tourist spots) and he showed me the route to the aquarium. Unfortunately, it involved taking two different subway trains to get there. And then when I asked how we would have to go back to get to Kidzania, it was way out of the way. But, I figured we still had 4 hours so we’d give it a try.

They try to give foreigners some direction in bigger cities. Subway, Osaka, Japan.

They try to give foreigners some direction in bigger cities. Subway, Osaka, Japan.

Once we got to the first transfer, things were confusing. I began to get nervous about finding my way, and doing it with enough time to make the aquarium worth the trip and get to Kidzania on time. We ran into a mother and son British couple who were trying to find the same line we were going to, only in the opposite direction as they were going to the castle. We helped each other find the way and then started to part. After they disappeared to their platform, I looked on the map and realized their stop was just 2 away and then 2 more back to the train station we needed for Kidzania whereas the aquarium was going to be another 6 stops away, and equally back with 2 transfers. I made a split decision to change our plans and go to Osaka Castle. It did look pretty in the pictures and was said to be one of the most important in Japan. I told the kids that mommy would really like to see the castle and do something grown up since we’d then spend the rest of the afternoon at Kidzania. They nicely agreed and off we went.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

We arrived at our station for Osaka Castle. I had forgot to grab the one map I had of Osaka that I got from back home in Seattle and never found any take away maps in the train stations in Osaka, other than the subway and train map. So we saw one map fixed to the wall and I took a picture. Even with that, once above ground I was completely disorientated. I looked around in all directions but couldn’t find anything that I recognized on the map. Worse, there were very few people around us, which made me think that because we had to travel to the only elevator up, we went to a completely different part of the station from where I saw the map. A man started walking by, he was an elderly man, but I figured, “what the heck” I had to ask someone and my pickings were slim. Not surprisingly, there was little English but I showed him a picture of where I wanted to go and he pointed in a direction and motioned for me to follow him. So we did and got to a street corner that was a busy intersection. He motioned in the direction of the castle and I thanked him and nodded. I figured we were done at that point. I had to stop to fix something for the kids and then looked at a park we passed to see if there was a playground in it and he kept going. We got back on track and soon were back up to where he was again. He looked and pointed ahead again and I nodded and said thank you again. But I still wasn’t sure if he was taking us there or just walking, because when I stopped him, he was going in a different direction from the Castle. We got into the Castle ground park and my 5 year old really needed to go to the bathroom. Once inside the first set of stone walls, the man turned to me and said “I take you.” I said ok, but that my son needed to go to the bathroom. He nodded. At his pace, he knew we’d catch up in no time. Well, sure enough, he walked us all the way to the entrance for the main part of the Castle. A friend of mine told me that people would go out of your way to help in Japan, and she was right! However, once we got to the castle courtyard entrance, we were dripping in sweat, it was at least 85 degrees and the sun was out that day. There was an ice cream stand across from the entrance and I knew we needed to stop or I’d have mutiny on my hands. So we grabbed some cones and sat down on a bench in the shade. Much needed for everyone.

We made it into the main castle courtyard and finally saw the building up close. It was beautiful. But it was also hot, and we had just 2 and a half hours before we needed to be at the Kidzania station. As much as I wanted to go into the castle, I knew the boys were anxious. I also didn’t want to deal with the stroller and going into the castle. Now I did see and elevator that went up to the base of the castle, but I wasn’t sure where else there would be an elevator and we had a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to carry or leave in the stroller. I also wasn’t sure how long a proper tour was either. And in the end, I knew I’d go into Himeji for sure and our 2nd week long stay in Nagoya was also right next to a castle. So we moved on to the perimeter gardens again to make our way back to the train station. Did I mention it was hot? Let me say it again, it was HOT! And humid.

Photography swap with some Japanese girls to get a picture with all 4 of us!

Photography swap with some Japanese girls to get a picture with all 4 of us!

By time we got down to the base of the moat around the castle, we were all tired. That is when I saw this cute, old style Japanese boat. I pointed it out to the boys and asked if we should check it out and see how much it cost and how long its little trip was. Since we still had 2 hours. Turns out it was a 20 minute tour back and forth the moat to see a view of two sides of the castle and it was just going to cost $27 for all 4 of us, because in Japan, basically everything is free for kids under the age of six! So we decided to take another break, and have a neat little experience to make up for not tour the castle. We had the whole boat to ourselves other than the driver and the “guide” who pointed out a few things about the castle base’s rocks. They also immediately gave us the cone/pyramid hats to where, which the kids LOVED. Right after they handed out the hats he handed my 5 year old a samurai sword and another kids a fan. He opened it up and it was a real blade! Well, with the exception that the “sharp” side was in fact blunted, but there was a pretty sharp point at the end! They passed it around for a while then the guide set it off to the side and let them keep playing with the fan. We relaxed, took pictures and saw the castle from a very different angle. It was a real treat.

WP_20150624_071 WP_20150624_075 WP_20150624_084

Back at the dock, we loaded up the stroller again. The boys were dragging in the heat and I was afraid of them getting worn out before Kidzanie, that would last till 9:00 p.m. and they had yet to still be awake at 9:00 p.m. during this trip. So, as cheap as I am on some travel things and as much as I hate to shell out money for a cab, I did. It cost me around $16, but whatever, we were at the train station. I got the ticket I needed, there is usually a live person in a booth at the ticket pass through where the ticket purchase machines are also usually located. So asking for help was relatively easy. Turns out from the station we were at (Umeda), relatively in the middle of Osaka, it was only a 15 minute train ride, if that, to Kochien. I took pictures of the maps from Kidzania’s website to help guide me.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, I promised to tell you what the heck Kidzania is in the first place. Well if you haven’t opened another browser already and gone to the link to check it out, let me explain now. Kidzania is a kids size world with 60-90 different professions set up as activities for kids. Adults cannot participate or help with the activity but can stand near it and watch, as well as walk around the “city” with the kids helping them navigate the job locations and keep track of time. They offer two, 5 hour long, “shifts” per day. The first shift from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the 2nd, the one we were doing, from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Each job activity lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes each, with most being 30 minutes. There is everything from being a fire fighter to a beauty shop worker to a dentist and a Coca-Cola bottling factory worker! A child will earn Kidzos (play money that can be spent on activities or merchandise in Kidzania) for each job they do. If you’ve never heard of them before, check out their promotional video. Very cool stuff. So, needless to say, this is VERY popular and no, they do not have this in the United States, yet.

Arriving at the entrance to the Lalaporta mall where Kidzania Kochien is located.

Arriving at the entrance to the Lalaporta mall where Kidzania Kochien is located.

As we arrived at the train station in the town of Kochien, we were a bit unsure of how easy it would be to find but it proved to be easy. I didn’t expect that it would be in a shopping mall however. We came upon the shopping mall entrance with big Kidzania signs, it was right across the street from the Kochien professional baseball team’s stadium. Once in the mall however, we found that we had to go clear to the back to reach Kidzania. As we walked through the mall, following the signs, it was 3:20 p.m. We could get in line at 3:00 p.m. but what I didn’t totally realize is that people would get there hours early to get their tickets so they could have priority of entrance at 3:00 p.m. They group you with a letter and “A” is the first group that enters around 3:00 p.m. then “B” and so on. So we were already down to “E” by time we showed up at 3:20 p.m. and boy was there a crowd!!! I started to panic, I had hoped that on a Wednesday, with it supposedly in all English activities, that maybe the crowds would be less. I was wrong. There were hundreds of families lined up and the first two groups had already gone inside. Because of my stroller, we were ushered to the front through the first doors and directed to the elevator that would take us to the top floor where everyone else had been climbing the stairs. I thought for a moment, “How lucky! We’re going to get to skip the line and go right in!” But boy was I wrong! We were in a holding area with 2 other families with a stroller. Since we all had our group letter on our passes that we had to keep around our neck, we didn’t get in from the stroller holding area until our letter group arrived from the down stairs. But still, it was better than waiting and moving through the mad house line.

The crowd to get into Kidzania.

The crowd to get into Kidzania.

Portal entrance to the actual "city" via their kid size airport.

Portal entrance to the actual “city” via their kid size airport.

Once we were allowed in, there were staff lined all over the paths with huge smiles, waving, and shouting friendly greetings. It was literally one big party. The theme song music was playing over the loud speaker and you started to feel like you were the most special family in the whole world! The first thing you were supposed to do was go sign up for the activity you wanted to do the most. Everyone who showed up before 4:00 p.m. was let in before that time so that you had a time to be at a spot when the first shift started right at 4 o’clock. Along with their job card that they are given at the beginning, each kid gets a “Kidzos” 50 dollar traveler’s check, which is a starting out currency. Crowds immediately flocked to the most popular job stations. The pizza and sushi shops had huge lines. The first few kids to get to each station go to go first, the rest were given different times to come back to do the activity. But here’s the catch, you can only have one reservation for a comeback open on your card at a time. So for example, if you were in the huge Pizza shop line and you were kid #20 in line, you might get a come back time if 5:30 p.m. That means, that all of the other activities before then have to be ones with no wait. I was even more scared and started to sweat. The boys were off the wall excited and I was trying to keep them from running in opposite directions while push a stroller through crowds and figure out where each activity was between two floors. There was an elevator but just one small one. I was completely overwhelmed but at the same time, it complete awe at the awesomeness of this place. I got my 5 year old right in at the Police department which then gave me some time to take my 7 year old to his first choice of the Fire Department that was on the 2nd floor. Already the Fire Department had filled the first start time so he was given 4:30 as the next one. That meant I had to find something else for him to do in the meantime that was just 15 or 20 minutes and open right then. I saw a Publishing shop and a News Paper office. I asked a staff member what to do since I could barely keep my brain in order on the process amidst all the chaos. I also began to realize that the 3 “white” people I saw as we first came in were probably the only ones that speak decent English and were there to wander around as translators. Nonetheless, I got my 7 year old into the Newspaper thing, which was lame, and he was done by 4:15 and ready to wait for Fire Fighting.

WP_20150624_211 WP_20150624_238

For the next 5 hours, I ran around the facility and up and down the stairs and elevator like a chicken with its head cut off. Learning the process as we went and discovering more jobs to do in every directions, my boys ended up getting to do seven/eight activities each. After spending some of their Kidzos “money” on driving school (and yes, they had a test to get their driving license) they were able to “rent” a car and go for a drive around their mini street track. And the cars are free range. They are given lines and signals that they are supposed to follow, based on their driving school. It was amazing. They could also open a bank account in which they actually deposited the paper money they got and then were given a bank card that they could then make withdrawals from an ATM with to simulate the real world. It was amazing watching my boys be so competent and excited about learning different professions and doing make believe play that was so real! Here is the list of what my kids did…

My 7 year old:

1.Newspaper deliverer (which I barely count) 2. Fire Fighter-Rides in a moving mini fire truck to a fake burning house and sprays real water on it. 3. Voice Actor-Says and records lines for a character in a cartoon and then you get the DVD of the final cut! 4. DMV Driving School-Watched a video of how the cars worked and rules, took test, got a driver’s license. 5. Car Rental-Rented a car, drove it around, and then had it served at a gas station. 6. Airplane pilot-Got to learn about piloting a plane with a computer simulator in a recreated cockpit. 7. Coca-Cola Bottling Plant-Put wrapper on bottle, cleaned bottle, filled with syrup and carbonated water, capped, chilled and tested a 20 ounce bottle of Coke that was really sealed and they got to keep! 8. Electrical worker-learned about power outages, played with a computer board that showed where they were and then went to the downed power line, ride in a lift up to the fake power line and “fixed” the broken wires.

Fixing a "downed" electrical wire.

Fixing a “downed” electrical wire.

My 5 year old:

1.Police Department-Did some detective work to solve a case and I think they also put someone in jail. 2.Airplane Pilot- Got to learn about piloting a plane with a computer simulator in a recreated cockpit. 3.DMV Driving School-Watched a video of how the cars worked and rules, took test, got a driver’s license. 4.Car Rental-Rented a car, drove it around, and then had it served at a gas station. 5.Fire Fighter- Rides in a moving mini fire truck to a fake burning house and sprays real water on it. 6.Bank-Opened a bank account and practiced depositing money and then using an ATM to withdrawal. 7.Embassy-As a patron, applied for a passport, looking into a country to travel to, got a stamp for that country.

WP_20150624_272 WP_20150624_296

For all of the jobs they completed, not only did they get their pay for their work, but they also got a “certification” card for that “profession.” They get to keep the different things they make as well. Like the bottle of Coca-Cola and the DVD of the cartoon with my son’s voice as one of the characters. So of course the ice cream shop, pizza shop and bakery were insanely popular and we missed out because we didn’t realize that people would sign all the way up and spots could fill all the shifts through closing within the first hour! That was a bit of a bummer. So other than the food related professions, we never had to come back more than 30 minutes later to participate.

Are sample of all the different stuff just one of my son's took home from their experience.

Are sample of all the different stuff just one of my son’s took home from their experience.

Now, you might be wondering what my 2 year old did while I was running around helping her big brothers. Well, she just tagged along. They promised a small play area and café/lounging spaces for parents and toddlers to hang out at. Or they could participate as the audience for some of the activities such as the theater and TV show production. I was worried that she would be so upset that she wasn’t getting to do what the boys were doing (you have to be at least 3 years old to participate), but there was so much for her to see and look at that she just went right along with it until the last hour. By the last hour and a half, she was getting tired and bored and so I broke out the iPad and pushed her around in the stroller. Within 30 minutes of that she was asleep. And so, after the clock struck 9, our magical day had come to an end. You might think I lost an arm and a leg on the whole thing. To be honest, it was one of our more expensive single activities, but in the end, I spent $143, and that was because I couldn’t resist buying 4 of the professional pictures at the end that were roughly $12 a pop! The experience in my mind was well worth it! I will be doing a more detail write up of just the Kidzmania experience and other tips in a different post. But for now, I will leave you with the horrible story of us having to get back to Kyoto that took an hour and a half and 3 sleep walking kids that I had to spend another $20 on a taxi to get the last leg of the journey done from Kyoto Station to our hotel at midnight. But as I looked at their sweet sleeping bodies piled up in that cab, I couldn’t help but have a feeling of joy and satisfaction at our amazing day, and that I got through it with the 3 of them all on my own.

Maximizing Your Hotel Amenities-Day 2 in Japan-Kyoto!

Comments 4 Standard

Even in a new and exciting country, kids need some down time and the chance to feel like they are actually on a vacation that includes some rest and leisure. After two full days of travel and sightseeing, I knew that this day would be the perfect day for something low key. We didn’t get to sleep in until 6am this time, the boys were wide away at 4am and I have to admit, so was I. They were all asleep by 8:30 p.m. after our long day in Tokyo and train to Kyoto. Madelyn stayed asleep until 6:30 a.m. which was a relief. Breakfast opened at the hotel at 6:30 but we spent some leisure time getting ready and showering and letting the kids play some tablet games while I caught up on some pictures and got ready for the day. Thankfully, the breakfast buffet was included with our stay so at least we knew we’d have one big meal a day that we didn’t have to pay extra for, and had enough “westernized” breakfast options to satisfy the kids.

When we got to breakfast, I made everyone at lease browse the Japanese breakfast section and chose one or two items to try. My 7 year old went for some rice and a dim sum dumpling and my 5 year old tried some soup and Japanese style egg omelet. I had rice portage and soup but have to admit, I wasn’t as adventurous as I felt I should be in order to set an example of trying new things. I’m also having a bit of a hard time navigating the gluten free aspect of eating since I have celiac and a lot of things are just generally seasoned with normal soy sauce. There were no gluten free bread options but scrambled eggs and the omelet station were delicious. After everyone had a full tummy, we decided that, after reading the brochure of the hotel, we would explore what we had without having to travel anywhere. We’re staying at the Westin Miyako in Kyoto which is actually quite near the Gion district (traditional Giesha neighborhood). The hotel itself is a popular resort for the area that boasts a nature trail that is a bird sanctuary going up on a high hill behind the hotel with its own quaint shrine. It also has a traditional Japanese Nobility home that guests can tour to see what the layout and gardens would be like. Then of course, there is a swimming pool and a kid’s room. So we decided to check that out first.

Westin Miyako Kids Room

Westin Miyako Kids Room

Guests can check out a key to the kids’ room for the duration of their stay. We were showed where it was at, instructed on removing our shoes and how to place them and then left to the room that had a large Little Tykes play structure, a few shelves and drawers with toys, a napping room complete with cots and a bathroom with a dishwasher and clothes washing and drying machine. Thanks to the playroom and free hotel wifi, I let the kids play for over an hour while I caught up on some writing. From there we checked out some binoculars from the front desk to take on the bird watching trail. Clearly I didn’t research this trail too much, nor had a chance to fully gage from the outside, in daylight, our natural environment otherwise I would not have ventured out in flip flops (yes I had another pair!) Immediately at the start of the trail we were presented with roughly 100 steps going straight up the side of the hill. As it curved around the side of the hill there were over 200 steps total with little stops here and there for look-out points and a beautiful small shrine with a panoramic view of Kyoto below. Other than being completely devoured by mosquitos (SUPER thankful that we have the Japanese encephalitis vaccine) it was enjoyable walk that gave us a healthy dose of cardiovascular exercise.

Pathway up through the bird sanctuary behind our Kyoto hotel.

Pathway up through the bird sanctuary behind our Kyoto hotel.

Traditional Japanese house of nobility.  Complete with water well.

Traditional Japanese house of nobility. Complete with water well.

Once back to the hotel, we gathered up our swimming suits with the plan to go out of the hotel in search of food and then return for a swim. With some general guidance from the concierge and a map, we set out to find something to eat. Once we got to the main road where two recommended noodle restaurants were, we quickly found that it was a bit busy for a last minute lunch rush. We decided to keep walking along to see what we could find that might have more room. Here is where I admit, I haven’t quite figured out the whole Japanese restaurant thing. Many, you can identify as being such, with a menu outside and occasionally, some pictures. But there are others that look more like homes, despite a food menu, in Japanese only, being outside. So I feel like am intruding by making an inquiry. This is one of those cultural things that I am going to just have to be brave and get over and just try. The problem, is of course the 3 kids. When we see a picture of the food, I don’t always get an agreeable response. But we’re working on it. After walking for over a mile, we came to a 7-11. This had been a quick and easy lunch stop for us the day before so I conceded and we stopped yet again for a 7-11 convenient store meal. Now, don’t think that we’re making a cultural cop out here. Japanese convenient store food is still very different from what you’d find in an American 7-11. Though you can get some of the same candies, cookies and sodas, and corndogs!

"Oh thank Heaven for 7-11!"  I couldn't agree more on this trip!

“Oh thank Heaven for 7-11!” I couldn’t agree more on this trip!

A ton of American candies and cookies have green tea flavoring in Japan.

A ton of American candies and cookies have green tea flavoring in Japan.

After our little picnic lunch in front of the 7-11, I saw a huge gate to a shrine. It wasn’t that far away from where we were, and wouldn’t be too far of a walk back to the hotel either. Since my 2 year old had already fallen asleep in her stroller, I convinced the boys that it would be unfair to her to go back to the hotel now and swim. So instead, I told them we’d just go see this one shrine nearby while she slept, then we’d go back to the hotel to swim. Just through the huge orange gate was the start of a park like complex consisting of a local public library, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art and the Heian Shrine. Just next to the library was a small playground that made for a nice pit stop before the shrine. When we got up to the Heian Shrine. Once we got up to the shrine, we saw the ema wall. The ema are traditional Japanese wood tablets that you write a wish on. We had first learned about this with our Little Passports interactive games online for Japan where they kids could write and hang virtual ones. Now they had a chance to do the real thing. After purchasing, writing on and hanging their emas, we walked up to the main part of the shrine and did a quick loop around the grounds as the natives were getting restless.

WP_20150623_072 WP_20150623_078 WP_20150623_085

Hanging their ema, wishing tablets.

Hanging their ema, wishing tablets.

On our way back, we saw a baseball field were a baseball practice was going on. The players look at least high school age, if not college. It was fun to watch them practice and show the kids how far the “great American pastime” has spread. From the baseball field we walked past the zoo and just an average housing neighborhood. It’s important along the way in the heat we’ve been experiencing here in Japan (80+ Fahrenheit and around 29 C) to stop for water, which is frequently available in cool looking vending machines throughout the towns. As a treat for walking back instead of getting a taxi for the last 400 meters, the kids got to choose a grape Fanta. Something not too common back in the U.S. We finally made it back to the hotel and were ready for a swim.

Watching a baseball practice.

Watching a baseball practice.

When we checked in at the fitness center for the pool, we got the full rundown of what was needed to take a dip in the hotel pool. We knew the towels would be provided but we also received the required swim caps, a locker key for clothes and a shoe locker key. Shoes of course had to be removed in the first stage of the locker room and put in the show lockers. Then you moved into the dressing area for changing, then showered off out in the pool area then walked through a foot rinse pool in order to get to the main swimming pool. It was probably the biggest and most structured operation the kids had seen to go swimming. But none of that matter once we all got in the pool and enjoyed 2 hours of just swimming and having fun together.

Kyoto on the river!

Kyoto on the river!

Exhausted from our swim, we went back to the hotel room to get freshened up and relaxed a bit before heading back out of the hotel, on their shuttle this time, to the Gion district in search of food once again. The Gion district was just a close shuttle ride from the hotel and is a huge shopping district full of traditional Japanese teahouses and restaurants. It’s close to the River as well where restaurants line the river with makeshift decks overlooking the river. Once again, the price and intimidation factor made it difficult to settle on a place to eat. After about 30 minutes of walking around, the threat of rain loomed and we came across a café with hot dogs in the window. It was settled. We grabbed a couple of hot dogs for the kids and then hopped a taxi back to the hotel since the shuttle would take you to Gion, but not take you back from Gion. Back at the hotel my three full and sleepy kiddos raced to get into their beds and were asleep upon their heads hitting the pillow. Which just left one more thing to do, feed myself! Not being able to eat the hot dogs, I decided to give into hotel room service just one time and ordered myself a plate a delisious sashimi. A perfect end to a low key day! I myself was pretty tired and found my way to bed by 10:00 p.m., knowing full well what a big day we had ahead of us!

Finally some real Japanese food for mom!

Finally some real Japanese food for mom!

Tokyo’s Asakusa District-Japan Day 1

Comments 2 Standard

By 6:00 a.m. my 2 year old was wide awake, and the rest of us were quick to follow.  It was time to start our first day in Japan!!!  We finished up what was left of the airplane food and some of the granola bars and prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I had packed for the plane. I allowed the kids to watch some shows while I rearranged some of the luggage and backpacks and took a shower.  I knew we couldn’t get any official information from the front desk until 8:00 o’clock in the morning, which I also took to be the general starting time, or later, for most attractions.

The neighborhood of our hostel.

The neighborhood of our hostel.

One of the main reasons I went with the hostel that we did (K’s House Tokyo Oasis) was because a friend recommended their chain and I didn’t need anything terribly expensive for such a short single night stay. There also seemed to be some popular attractions in the area. The Senso-ji temple, the oldest temple in Japan, was just a couple blocks away from the hostel. There was also an amusement park and a short train route to the Skytree. Asakusa as also an older, more traditional area of Tokyo so I figured it would be a good starting off point. Once I got everything settled with the front desk for our official “check in” we found out we could keep all of our stuff in the room and didn’t have to check out until 12:00 p.m. I figured with our early start, we could see most of the stuff we wanted to before noon. So we headed out towards the temple to start our official vacation in Japan!

Senso-ji and Asakusa Temple.

Senso-ji and Asakusa Temple.

Seeing everything for the first time in the daylight was less intimidating. For still being part of the crowded Tokyo metropolis, this was a sleepy neighborhood that was barely getting moving at 8:00 a.m. Within 2 or 3 minutes we were at the entrance to the Senso-ji temple grounds. The traditional images of Japan bloomed suddenly before our eyes. There were little shrines throughout manicured garden and pathways along a pond complete with a man-made waterfall and koi fish. As we wandered around the grounds we made our way over to the main temple itself. Here’s where I find myself ignorant. I really don’t know much about the Buddhist religion or any of the other religious practices in Japan. I made a point of telling the children that our primary purpose was to see how the buildings are different to what they’ve seen before and to just observe people. I reminded them that it was a holy place for the people of Japan, just like a church is in America and Europe. That we needed to be respectful of their desire for peace and prayer and to therefore, not run around and be loud. After walking through the main temple, we saw the area for the fountain and the incense. There was a statue of a man holding a dragon and the fountain has several dragon heads sticking out from around it, each a spout of running water. We watched the people use the ladles, made out of tin cups with a wood handle, pour water over each of their hands and some even drank it. I was confused about the drinking verses spitting out because people were doing both. The boys and my 2 year old naturally wanted to participate as they love any kind of water “play.” So I told them that they could do the hand washing but not drink it. This was a little complicated while trying to help all 3 of them without doing something that might be horribly disrespectful, which is my biggest fear for this trip. After they were done, I asked a Japanese woman there if she spoke some English and if she could tell us what the tradition/meaning of the fountain was. We were told that you are washing your hands and cleansing your heart, then you go to the incense and then you pray. I thanked her and we continued to stroll through the grounds of the shrine.

Cleansing fountain.

Cleansing fountain.

When the kids stopped by a tree for a rest, I noticed an elderly couple taking some pictures in the direction of our children. At first I wasn’t sure if they were just taking pictures of the shrine or my kids. But as the kids started moving around to different spots, his camera moved too. We then started to leave towards the market in front of the shrine and he began to follow in front of us, taking more pictures of Madelyn. It was a full paparazzi moment, something I was told to expect, and had also experienced when we traveled in European countries and came across Asian tourists. I take these things in strides as I know that the main motivation is curiosity and seeing a different people in your home country. This happened a few times throughout the day.

As we left the shrine we started to walk towards the river where I had seen some greenery on the map and I hoped to find a playground for the kids. About a 10 minute walk from the shrine we found just that. Along the west bank of the Sumida River, between the Skytree train bridge and the Kotoibashi bridge is the playground in the Kuritsu Sumida Park. It was a really cute playground with some traditional climbing structures with slide combos, a sand box, some free standing rocking toys, swings and a giant whale slide. Another feature of the playground, is one that I’m not sure was meant for the kids or the adults. It was an adventure type log course that went in a circle with beams, bars, and wood logs. All I know is that my kids had a blast climbing on it and occasionally an adult would come over and do a few exercises on a part of the structure. Our playground experience offered a picturesque view of the Tokyo Skytree in the background. My intention had been to talk to the tower too. I wanted to go to the top and our hostel host said it was a 20 minute walk to the Skytree from the hostel, and we had to at least have been half way at the park. As I looked at my watch I had to make a choice, it was 10:00 a.m. at that point and I knew that kids really wanted to check out the old amusement park near our hostel. I knew we could only do one of the two things and still make it back by noon. So, taking into account the popularity of the Skytree and my husband’s probably desire to see it over the amusement park when we all returned to Tokyo, we headed back towards the amusement park.

Playground in Kuritsu Sumida Park.

Playground in Kuritsu Sumida Park.

We decided to walk back through part of the shrine grounds on the way to the amusement park and encountered 2 young Japanese women dressed in Kimono. At first I thought, “Maybe they are advertising some tour or show in the area?” But then I saw that they were taking pictures of each other with their phones. Being how people had no problem photographing my children at will, I asked the two young ladies if they would take a picture with my kids. They seemed a little confused at first but then said of course. As I snapped a few quick photos, another group of Japanese women came by and went crazy over our kids with excitement. After I was done taking the pictures with the Kimono girls, the other women asked if they could take their pictures with my children. My little 2 year old girl was once again the most coveted of the three. When they were done, the Kimono girls came back over to us and asked if they could take pictures with their camera with my kids. Mason, Tristan and Madelyn took it all in strides and smiled and waved at the attention. As soon as we walked out of the shrine gates I saw a sign for kimono dressing. It became clear that it was that shop where the girls had gotten their clothing as an experience I’ve seen offered before in my research to get made up in full Kimono dress and then have a chance to walk around in a shrine area or special district.  What I learned from all of this is that the Japanese people are just as much of tourist in their home country as we are.

The amusement park we headed to next was literally one street away from the shrine and 2 from the hostel.  It is called Asakusa Hanayashiki, an old and very small carnival type amusement park where the term small is only to describe the surface area it takes up.  The little carnival has several rides overlapping in some areas to give kids over 20 choices of rides and attractions.  The cost to get into the park was 1,000 Yen (roughly $10 U.S.) for children age 6 and older and just 500 Yen (roughly $50 U.S.) for adults.  Children 5 and under were free to enter.  Then you had to buy the tickets separately to enjoy the actual rides.  A wrist ban for unlimited rides were available with prices varying by age.  Adults accompanying a child under 4 years old did not have to pay to ride (something that I overlooked in the English instruction sheet they gave me at the entry).  In total, we spend 7,800 Yen on entrance and ride tickets, about $62 USD.  But we could have saved $10 had I paid more attention to the part where I didn’t need tickets for myself.  The park was cute and had loads of rides for the whole family.  It definitely was a good choice and we got through all but one of the rides that my 2 year old was eligible for, which was quite a lot!  In all, we were there about an hour and a half.  Time quickly slipped away from us when I looked at my clock and saw 11:40 a.m. on the screen.  With the close proximity of the hostel, we were out of the park and at the door of K’s House in 5 minutes.

Asakusa Hanayashiki Amusement Park

Asakusa Hanayashiki Amusement Park

We checked out of the hostel and got directions to Ueno Station where I could exchange my Japan Rail Pass voucher for my actual pass.  The vouchers were purchased back in Seattle and are for foreigners only, they cannot be purchased in Japan, however, you then have to exchange the voucher for the pass in Japan.  The hostel staff directed us to a short walk to a subway station that would then take us to the Ueno station.  Again we encountered the subway entrances not having an elevator or escalator.  There was a neighborhood map next to the station which said an elevator was located around the corner. We walked in that direction and never found it.  Another maps said the station we need was just 1.2 kilometers away, under a mile, so I was hopeful we could just walk.  But soon the kids were tired of walking so I found a bus stop that went to Ueno. For a mere $1.50 we hopped on and were there in 5 minutes. The handicap/stroller area is smaller than European busses, but we fit and everyone was helpful in getting us all on, suitcases and all.

Signs were easy to get the passes and once that was done, we went into the JR office ticket office to get our tickets on the bullet train from Tokyo Station to Kyoto.  Getting to the platform to Tokyo station was easy.  They told us 3 or 4 and I just followed the signs.  The train came within 5 minutes of us getting to the platform.  The ride was quick and there were English announcements for each stop.  Next came getting us all off the train.  I did as I normally do, back the stroller off the train.  But this time, I was wearing flip flops and the heel hit the edge of the platform, pushing the sandal off my foot, and since I was in motion, my foot also moved back, allowing it to slip and fall down to the rail tracks!!!  I now just had one shoe, but needed to get the boys quickly off the train with their suitcases.  I got them off the train and away from the tracks amidst their questions as to why I only had one shoe on.  Thankfully, since we had all our luggage, I had a spare pair of shoes in the outside pocket of my suitcase.  Lesson learned, no more flip flops on train days!

My flip flop that fell down between the train and platform while I was getting off the train.

My flip flop that fell down between the train and platform while I was getting off the train.

Once inside Tokyo station, it was a bit more difficult to know where to go for the bullet train.  I forgot to ask which platform when I got the tickets and didn’t remember the Japanese name for the bullet trains (it’s Shinkansen by the way).  My ticket provided no useful information.  I went to a sign board to try to figure it out and while there, a beautiful young Japanese woman came up and asked me if I needed some help.  She direct me towards the Shinkansen train entrances where I then asked a worker for the platform number.  We still had 30 minutes to kill and picked up some snacks.

Kyoto here we come!

Kyoto here we come!

Once the train arrived, we had to wait about 10 minutes for it to get on so it could be cleaned by ladies in pink uniforms and gentlemen in blue jumpsuits. We found our seats and I got the kids settled in. To save money, we just did the JR passes for myself and my 7 year old. Children under 6 are still free if they don’t take up their own seat. I figured I could have the boys share one seat and my 2 year old could sit on my lap. With a fold up arm rest there was plenty for us to sit arm and arm, and there was also tons of space between the aisles so I put the blanket that I packed on the floor for my daughter. In about 2 and a half hours we arrived in Kyoto and made our way to the hotel shuttle pick up. And now, here we are for a full week in one place! My husband has a conference the whole week at the hotel where we are staying, so we have to still be completely on our own and invisible. Which is fine, I’m sure we’ll find plenty of adventures to take! But after 36 hours of solo travel and a foam and wood bed on our first night, I am thankful for a real Western hotel, for now.

Flying to Japan Solo With 3 Kiddos

Leave a comment Image

Well here we are in Japan! I just woke up on our official Day 2 and am excited to have internet access and a cup of tea, at 4:30 a.m. local time. Our jet lag has been minimal but has included starting our days at 6:00 a.m. and today 4:30 a.m. But I can’t complain! It turns out that taking an evening flight, where the kids were tired and then landing in the country at that country’s night was a great idea. We didn’t have a “red eye” per say, but we did leave at 8:00 p.m. Seattle’s local time, which after the 9 hour and 50 minute flight to Tokyo, we landed at 10:00 p.m. Japan local time. Over-night flights can be risky with kids. The hope is always that they sleep, but then sometimes they don’t because of the new environment, cramped quarters, and, in an international case, unlimited free kids tv!   In our case, the kids slept for about 5 hours and I got 3 hours. Which meant just enough for them not to be completely exhausted and cranky when we landed so they could walk off the plane and help with their luggage and get us to the hostel we were staying at for the night. That’s the part I was worried about. Since I was flying alone with the 3 of them and would have to figure out how to get from the airport to the other side of Tokyo, I was praying for just enough sleep for them to manage but then still being tired enough to go back to bed once at the hostel. I got both, 5 hours on the plane then 4 more hours for all of us at the hostel, bringing us to 6:00 a.m. Monday morning in Tokyo with everyone in a good mood and ready to start the day!!!

Loving our shirts by Baby Bird Designs!

Loving our shirts by Baby Bird Designs!

Here’s a little recap of our journey just to get to Tokyo for what will be an 18 day adventure!

The Plane

To help me quickly be able to spot my children in a crowd and help others see which ones belong together in case one wanders off, I like to dress them in similar clothing.  I had a friend (Baby Bird Designs) makes special shirts with numbers on them so I asked if she could do a travel pattern with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 for my kiddos.  They turned out so cute and were very helpful, and drew lots of compliments.  They also each get their own backpacks with a few fun items for the plane and gives them something to be responsible for.  Once we got checked in, breezed through security, and then killed the extra time at the airport’s playroom, we headed to our gate.  The plan ride itself went much better than our last 6 hour trip to Mexico. My 2 year old daughter sat in her seat this time and didn’t complain about the seat belt (too much). The 5 and 7 year olds, who have been traveling since infancy, were a breeze and I always welcome the extensive free inflight entertainment options that Delta provides on international trips. We had special gluten free in flight meals pre-ordered as well as kids meals, however due to a delay error on our part and my oldest son’s separate reservation (his ticket was purchases and ours were on points), we weren’t able to get him a kids meal. The special ordered meals were good, but the regular adult options for the flight were not very appealing at all to my son. So the was mistake #1, not ensuring we requested all the special meals far enough in advance. But there was enough “dinner” to share and make everyone happy. We all slept through the mid-flight ice cream snack, but sleep was more important! An hour before we landed, they handed out egg and cheese sandwiches with yogurt to all the passengers and I got a gluten free breakfast package in a draw string baggie that included a yummy chicken salad, grapes and a gluten free Udi’s roll. The special breakfast snack for the kids included cheese sandwiches, grapes, a bag of chips and a piece of chocolate. They were still pretty tired and after already having had their normal dinner, I stowed away the snacks so they would have something to eat at the hostel in case they woke up ready to go before anything was open. The draw string bags that these came in were very handy!

WP_20150621_003

Kids breakfast snack packs.

WP_20150621_004

Creative sleeping solutions.

Arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport

Arrival in Tokyo was fairly smooth. It was a long walk to get to the first part of customs from the plane, but we took it in strides and there were moving sidewalks, which is still something my kids are mastering. Of course we also needed a pit stop at the bathroom, which was a fun experience for the kids in itself!  A modern Japanese toilet is almost like a video game, and this one was mild.  Our first top was to go through the immigration control, then we got our luggage and heading through the customs control. The process was relatively quick and the personnel were both polite and helpful. Once we cleared all that, we were out in the open and on our own to discover our transportation options. Our hostel, K’s House Tokyo Oasis in Asakusa, gave some distances by foot to their building from the public transportation stations in their area. I didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that there were two stations with the name Asakusa on them and just picked up on the “3 minutes walk” from a station with the name Asakusa. That would prove to be mistake #2.  I asked the information agents if they could tell me how to get to Asakusa Station. She told me which train I needed to take, where to get cash and where to buy the tickets. Everything was really close together in the terminal. From the time we got out of customs and onto a train into the city was about 20 minutes. The ride into the city was about 40 minutes though our walk from the train station to the hostel, was more than I had planned.

Japanese toilet at the airport.

Japanese toilet at the airport.

Taking the subway to the hostel

The subway train was clean and we had enough seats at 11:30 at night. But the map for the lines and stops were hard to figure out and the English didn’t start till you got close to the main stations. Nonetheless we found our stop and managed to get our stroller, the 3 kids with backpacks and 3 suitcases off the train. The bad news was that elevators and escalators only got you so far up and then we were faced with two flights of stairs to get out of the train station. The boys managed the small suitcases fine. At this point I was so glad that I decided to take my Baby Jogger City Select.  The back wheels on this baby are big and that made it possible to pull the stroller up, step by step, without too much impact on the child in the seat. Mind you, I still wish we DIDN’T have to do that and I’m a little concerned about the use of our stroller with the subway for the rest of our trip. We’ll see what’s in store.

My 2 year old helping with the map on the subway.

My 2 year old helping with the map on the subway.

The last piece of bad news is that my free data roaming with my T-mobile plan is SLOW and will not render maps in detail, which makes navigating, especially at midnight in a foreign city with all signs in kanji, very difficult. After struggling to get to the top of the stair and looking around aimlessly, a nice Japanese man asked if we needed some help. I gave him the address of the hostel and he tried his best to look it up and point us in the right direction. He did point us in the right direction, but the walk was a little over a mile. We finally arrived at the hostel, and encountered two Australians who were smoking outside the door. They greeted us and asked if we needed the door open and we learned that the check in staff was not on duty after 10:00 p.m. I started to panic before we even got inside, it would be just my luck that we made it all this way and had no place to sleep at 1:15 a.m.!!! We quickly saw that there was a tiny shoe foyer were we needed to take off our shoes. It wasn’t so much of a problem for having to take off the shoes, but my 2 year old was asleep in the stroller and I wasn’t sure I could manage taking her out and getting everything else inside. So we pushed the stroller through. Thankfully, at the counter there was a little envelope with my name on it! We had keys and a room after all. There was also a small elevator that the stroller fit, which was a huge relief! At 1:30 a.m. we were in our tiny room with a set of bunk beds, a single twin and a closet bathroom. I was ready for bed! So were the kids, for about 10 minutes, then everyone was hungry. I pulled out our airplane food, laid out a towel on the floor and we had ourselves a picnic. Then we were all ready for bed. And that my friends, is how we got through our first “night” in Tokyo. More to come soon!

Preparing for Japan with “Little Passports”

Comments 2 Standard

It’s hard to believe we are leaving for Japan today!  As part of our preparation for the trip, we have some fun with our Little Passports World Edition Japan kit that helped introduce the country to our kids.  This is our first time in Asia so I wanted to do things that would help prepare the kids and teach them something they could understand or and relate with.  The Japan country kit was well received by all 3 of my little ones but my oldest son, who is 7 years old, dove into it the most.  The Little Passport kits are a great way to start discussions on geography, food and culture of other countries around the world.  Here is what we got to play with this month…

WP_20150526_028

The first thing my kids want to do is use the stickers.  They love the fact that you get to put one in the passport, one on their suit case and then find the country on our world map for the “push pin” sticker.

Finding Japan on the map!

Finding Japan on the map!

Both my 5 year old and my 7 year old loved the origami!  They both chose to make the boat.  One of the tips in the booklet was to color the bottom of the boat with a wax crayon so that it could float better.  This created a great discussion about water repellant materials and we did an experiment on which boats would hold up longer, the ones with the wax crayon on the bottom and the ones without!

WP_20150601_010

Testing the first boat with the wax crayon coating.

WP_20150601_022

Making more origami while the test boats float.

One of the other crafts in this month’s booklet was making a carp (koi fish) kite like they hang for Children’s day in Japan.  While we didn’t end up doing this yet, we talked about the custom in Japan to celebrate them and how parents wish health and good fortune and success.  We also took a trip to our city’s Japanese Garden where they had several koi fish in their pond that we got to feed.  Their mouths were so big and round that the kids saw the similarities of the circular mouths of the kites.

Carp (Koi) fish at Seattle's Japanese Garden.

Carp (Koi) fish at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.

One of the biggest concerns we have as parents when traveling with kids is finding food that they will eat.  Our Little Passports Japan activity booklet talked about Bento Boxes and what kids will often eat during the day in Japan.  My oldest son is really curious about cooking and making food these days so this was a perfect activity for him!  We made traditional sushi rice and let him choose things to add according to the ratios that we read about for bento box typical content.

Forming the sushi rice.

Forming the sushi rice.

Designing the contents.

Designing the contents.

The final product!

The final product!

After testing out some Japanese food at home, it was time to take the kids to a local Japanese restaurant where we ordered a bento box and some sushi!  It was a relief to see them so excited for food they wouldn’t normally touch because they had already experimented with it at home.  I hope that this will make it easier for us to eat on our trip in Japan too!!!

Trying a bento meal and yakisoba noodles at a local restaurant in our town.

Trying a bento meal and yakisoba noodles at a local restaurant in our town.

We also used one of the online interactive programs through the Little Passports Boarding Zone to get an idea of what cool things there are to see in different parts of the country which helped us highlight some of the “not to miss” areas that we will visit by train once we’re there.  I think we’re ready for our vacation in Japan!  Sayoonara for now!

Bringing the World Home

Leave a comment Standard

Now that we’re living back in American and our children have begun elementary school, travel is more restricted.  So I am always looking for new ways to keep my kids learning about other cultures and excited to go to other countries.  I came across Little Passports, A Global Adventure that looked just like what I needed.

Little Passports is a monthly subscription of educational kits featuring different countries around the world as well as a U.S. version that highlights a different state in America each month.  The three different product types are called Early Explorers (ages 3-5 years old), World Edition (ages 6-10) and the U.S. Edition (recommended for ages 7-12 years old).  Your first mailing is a starter kit, that includes a little suitcase, a world map, an interactive passport, an activity sheet, stickers, a postcard and the first letter from “Sam and Sofia” explaining the start of their global adventure.  Each month, after that you receive a package in the mail that includes another pen pal letter from fictional characters, Sam and Sofia, telling your kids a little about what they have experienced in that month’s country.  It also includes a souvenir from that country and an activity booklet with craft ideas, recipes or games.  The kids also get stickers to place on their suitcase, in their passport and “push pin” for the world map.  One final thing was the “boarding pass” tags that include a code for you to enter online to access games and trivia about your country of the month.

The kids were so excited to open their World Edition starter kit from Little Passports!

The kids were so excited to open their World Edition starter kit from Little Passports!

Because of my blog, they offered to send me the starter kit and the first two countries (Brazil and Japan) in their monthly subscription pack if I would write some reviews on how we used them in preparation for, during, and after our trip to Japan.  I was excited to try them out with the kids!  My 7 year old was the most interested since he could actually read and complete the games and puzzles.  But even my 5 year old was curious about the online games, the souvenir included and the global trivia. Overall, my kids love getting things in the mail and the kits are a great jumping off point to getting your kids interested in more than just maps and geography.  I’ll be highlighting the package for Japan in my next blog post.

Little Passports' World Edition starter kit contents.

Little Passports’ World Edition starter kit contents.

If you’d like to check out more about Little Passports or even give them a try, just click here!  You can dive right in with a pre-paid one year or six month subscription or choose to try it out month to month.  The first 3 kits have been such a hit in our house that I decided to join their affiliate program to share these products with my friends and readers.  Full Disclosure: as an affiliate, I will get a small commission from any purchases my readers make by using the affiliate links within my posts.

I hope your kids enjoy them as much as mine have!  And to start it off, their summer promotion is going on right now, but there are only 2 days left for the 15% off.  Just go to the Little Passports website and enter the promo code “SUMMER15” at check out, by June 16, 2015, for your discount.  For my readers outside of the U.S. they do ship regularly to some countries and can arrange for shipping to others by contacting their customer service department.