12,000 Steps in Kyoto-Japan Day 7

Comments 2 Standard

It’s one of the most famous shrines in Japan, and for anyone who has seen the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” it’s a must see on their list when visiting Japan.  I’m speaking of course of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its trails to the top of the sacred Mt. Inari.  Commonly referred to as the “Thousand Gate Shrine,” it literally has thousands of torii gates that visitors walk through up and down its numerous paths.  Next to the Golden Pavilion, it is arguably the most popular physical attraction in Kyoto for photography.

WP_20150628_024

Waking up on that Sunday morning, we had to check out of our hotel.  Our first full week in Japan was officially over.  We heard that there was a concierge luggage transportation service that would take our bags from our hotel (the Westin Miyako) to Kyoto’s central train station where the hotel had a special holding location for guests.  The downside was that you had to collect your luggage by 6:00 p.m. that same day or they’d be kept overnight.  While I would have preferred more time, I knew that getting the bags much later than 6:00 p.m. would just mean we’d show up at our next hotel in Nagoya really late, which could be a dangerous situation with a 2 year old tantrum.  Once we got the bags squared away, we hopped on the shuttle to the train station to get our connecting train out to Inari.

Map of the shrine area up the mountain,

Map of the shrine area up the mountain,

The commute time to Inari from central Kyoto was not that long, about 10-15 minutes by train.  Once you cross the tracks and start the walk through the street towards the shrine, you are immediately surrounded by cute shops and street food vendors selling Japanese souvenirs and sweet and savory treats.  It’s a little bit kitschy but fun.  The crowds seemed a bit light for a Sunday but still very busy.  I attributed the manageability of crowds to the fact that we were visiting during the rainy month, though we only had very brief and sparse sprinkles that day.  There were some wide and manageable stairs to get up to some of the religious buildings and the main shrine but were manageable with a stroller. While walking around with the kids, we drew a lot of attention since I chose to put them in their number shirts.  A group of Japanese students even asked to take their picture with us!

Walking from the train station to the main shrines and temple. Inari.

Walking from the train station to the main shrines and temple. Inari.

IMG_1236

Be cautious when photographing around this part and look for any “no photography” signs as there are certain areas closest to the temple where photography is prohibited out of respect for the sacredness of the area and ceremonies preformed.  Once we walked around the main buildings we started towards the path up the mountain.  My husband really wanted to go all the way to the top.  But first, he just wanted the “Memoirs of a Geisha” running through the torii gates shot!  We came to the two paths where naturally most people were walking up on the right and people were coming down on the left.  The start to the top of the mountain essentially began here and the right side of the tunnel had the constant stream of tourist starting their assent.  To get a good picture, try stepping up into the left side path that has a much slower stream of people coming down so you can get a better chance at a picture with just your party.

Go up the path on the right, but first duck into the left hand path of the downward travelers to get a less crowded picture.

Go up the path on the right, but first duck into the left hand path of the downward travelers to get a less crowded picture.

There were a couple times in between each stretch of the gated paths where you had to make a choice of direction, I found it slightly confusing to follow to get to the top, despite there being some maps.  It doesn’t always play out the same way on the path as it does on the map.  But we made our way up and up.  We didn’t make it far before we decided to stash the stroller on the side of one of the rest areas since we were met with many stairs for the foreseeable future.  We figured that it wouldn’t get stolen, but there wasn’t much choice.  For the first hour of our time there, it was beautiful and fascinating to see so many of the torii gates and the landscape of the mountain.  Half way up we got a beautiful view of all of Kyoto below.  The kids and I were very tired at this point.  We had been climbing stairs for about an hour.  I wanted to turn around and since I had already gotten so many wonderful photos, I felt I was good.  But, we promised my husband we’d make it to the top. The only thing that kept me going was that the ½ way up view was so gorgeous I kept imagining how much better the view would be once we got to the top.

IMG_1246

We found several Japanese tourist who wore traditional kimonos and shoes to make the pilgrimage to the top.

IMG_1266

The half way point view of greater Kyoto.

The boys were being troupers but even their patience was running thin.  My 2 year old was the hardest as I didn’t have the Ergo with me so we went back and forth with her walking, them me carrying her, then my husband. We had to bribe them with Oreos that I purchased at one of the stands.  Finally, after two hours from our arrival at the shrine, we reached the top.  I was SO relieved because about 5 minutes before we got to the top, my 5 year old announce that he had to go to the bathroom, and not the stand and pee on a tree kind!

IMG_1264

Bribing the kids with Oreos at each rest station to keep going up the mountain.

Up we go!

Up we go!

As I looked up from catching my breath from the last set of stairs, my heart sank.  We were completely surrounded by trees and in the middle of the path was this two tiered, stone landing area with a bunch of little stone shrines all around it and a gated one in the middle.  I read a sign that said “Top of the mountain.”  I looked around waiting for the amazing view, searching with my eyes for something exciting, some other little path that I had missed that would lead us to the site that would make 12,000 steps worth it.  Nothing.  Nothing but the increased pleads of my son for a bathroom.  I tried to distract him while my husband took a quick look around at the thing he was so committed to seeing, then he took my son back down the trail to look for a bathroom.  There were little restaurants, little souvenir stands and resting landings ever so often on the way up and we hoped that the last one we saw before the top would have a bathroom.  While they started down, I took my turn to look around.  It took all of 5 minutes before I saw all that I wanted to see and I started back down with my 7 year old and 2 year old.

The top of the mountain and no view of the surrounding area below!

The top of the mountain and no view of the surrounding area below!

Seeing all that there was to see of the shrine at the top of Mt. Inari.

Seeing all that there was to see of the shrine at the top of Mt. Inari.

When we reached the first landing station on the way down we looked around to see if it had the bathrooms.  Seeing none, we asked a man there and he said “no, the next, just 5 minutes walk.”  So, on we went until we came to the next stop.  Seeing nothing again, we asked. “Not here, just 5 minutes that way” as he continued to point down the stairs.  We went some more and finally by the 3rd landing we saw the bathrooms, but not my husband and son.  Continuing on the trail we finally caught up with them and we all lamented at how disappointing the top of the mountain was and how many times we had to walk “just 5 minutes” to get to the bathroom.  When we reached the base of the main shrine and temple, my husband looked at his Fitbit and said we had climbed 12,000 stairs!

Running down is fun!

Running down is fun!

We finished up the trip with some food from the street venders and a little souvenir shopping on the way back to the train.  Since we didn’t get back to the Inari station till close to 3:00 p.m. we knew we didn’t have much time before we had to pick up the luggage from the central station.  After some debate, we decided to try to go walk around the Imperial Palace grounds.  We found a wonderful playground that was a nice treat for the kids before we had to call it a day and get back on the train.  We were Nagoya bound, about an hour and a half on the bullet train from Kyoto, and there we would spend the next 5 nights of our journey in Japan.

Fresh orange juice straight from the

Fresh orange juice straight from the “tap.”

Deer Mania! Japan Day 6

Leave a comment Standard

You’ve probably seen the pictures or heard about Nara’s famous deer like I had, so this was one of the day trips I was looking forward to the most.  Nara did not disappoint, especially since we were basically going for the deer, and there were plenty to pet and feed.  But during our stay, we found a few other beautiful and unexpected sights as well as the beautiful and historical Todai-ji Temple.  The speed of our trip, with my husband now joining us picked up a bit, and therefore, my daily writing more difficult, but I’m excited to pick back up on the rest of our 17 day trip to Japan.

We were scheduled to be in Kyoto for day 6 & 7 of our trip (the Saturday and Sunday right after my husband’s conference ended) and I had been saving most of the Kyoto stuff for him.  However, with the poor weather on the day I planned for Nara, we didn’t get to go and it was something I was really looking forward to.  Since our next destination after Kyoto was Nagoya, and it was only 45 minutes by train from Kyoto, I knew it would be easier to come back to Kyoto from there than it would be to go to Nara from Nagoya.  With that in mind, decided to go to Nara while we were still staying in Kyoto.  This would be my husband’s first day to join us in exploring Japan.  While I was excited to have him along, but it’s always a bit different traveling with another adult than it is alone.

By this point, we were all on a new schedule of going to bed around 10:00 p.m. and not waking up till 9:00 a.m.  This, we began to discover, was not an ideal schedule for Japan where most attractions close by 5:00 p.m.  We were rushing to get to breakfast and eat before the buffet closed at 10:00 a.m., then quickly gathered up our stuff to head off to Nara.  The hotel shuttle took us right to the main train station where we had to exchange my husband’s JR voucher for his Japan Rail Pass.  I found it comical that the line in the JR ticket line was so long for all the locals, and the separate line for foreigners (any foreigner) was a deserted.  My husband was the lone customer the entire time we were in there.

We got to bypass the long line of locals for the empty

We got to bypass the long line of locals for the empty “Foreigner’s Line.”

On the train, a small regional one this time, we found the cars a little crowded with school children, around middle school age.  There was one open bench with two seats facing another bench the had two young school boys sitting down.  I ushered my sons over to have a spot while my husband and I stayed with the stroller in the open way of the carriage.  Immediately the school children took notice of the two little English speakers sitting across from them.  The term “giggling like a school girl” could very appropriately be applied to them.  It was a sweet moment to watch over the next 20 minutes while they were on the train with us.  They watched my boys talk and play with their stickers from the train workers and tried out their English by asking my sons a few questions. I even tried a few of my own and got an understandable answer.  Those type of things are what you live for one trips like this, for a few moments our kids had the chance to try to communicate with someone from a culture so different from theirs and it gave them a chance to be a hospitable sight and a goodwill representative of their own country.

Getting a small chance to interact with some Japanese school children, and to be a bit of an amusement for them.

Getting a small chance to interact with some Japanese school children, and to be a bit of an amusement for them.

Once we arrived in Nara, we went to the information booth and found out about the bus that would take us around Nara park and through the areas where you could get off to walk to their 3 different temples, all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The kids were also immediately given little origami gifts to take with them too, spinning tops!

Many information desks in Japan gave out Origami gifts to kids when we would talk to them.

Many information desks in Japan gave out Origami gifts to kids when we would talk to them.

In all, about 15 minutes from the time we boarded the bus, we got to a part of the park where we could see the deer and got off.  Instantly the kids were drawn to the deer, that really, truly were just walking around with the people.  They were on the grass, they were on the sidewalks, they even crossed the streets, obeying the traffic signals even!  The kids carefully and excitedly approached them and delighted in the fact that they could pet the deer while the deer didn’t seem to notice.  A few, sniffed around for food and one more aggressive deer even went after my shirt!  But, that wasn’t the norm.  A very nice gentleman came over and gave us some of his crackers so that the kids could feed the deer.  You can buy special deer “cookies” from the vendors that are all approved by the city.  He also showed us how the deer will actually bow for their food!  If you hold the cracker up high over your head, then the deer will bow their head/neck down low, some even a few times, to get the cookie from you.  Not sure who started that habit or how long it took to for them to figure it out, my guess is, not very long!

Just petting some deer.

Just petting some deer.

We bought some more cookies of our own and started the walk over to Todai-ji Temple.  Because of our time restraints (us not getting there till around 1:00 p.m., we knew we’d probably make it to just one temple.  I picked Todai-ji based on it’s description and the proximity of some other highly reviewed traditional Japanese gardens near it.  As we walked, we encountered more deer and of course, the row of tourist souvenir stands.  The temple had a fee to get in, 600 Yen for us adults and the kids being free. The gate, statues and the main hall (the world’s largest wooden building) were very impressive, as was the 15 meter tall seated Buddha.

The old gate.

The old gate.

The largest wood structure in the world.

The largest wood structure in the world.

As we walked around, we encountered one of the pillars that had a small hole cut through the middle of it’s base.  The saying is that it is the same size as the Buddha’s nostril and that if you can fit through it, the you will gain enlightenment for your next life.  Of course the kids wanted to climb through the hole.  My husband and I declined the inevitable embarrassment.

The hole the size of the Buddha's nostril.

The hole the size of the Buddha’s nostril.

Each kid wanted to take a turn.

Each kid wanted to take a turn.

WP_20150627_080

We didn’t explore much more of the temple grounds themselves, but instead headed over to the Japanese garden I had read about.  It was a little confusing getting there by exiting the side of the temple, but eventually we found it.  We arrived with about 35 minutes left before it’s 5:00 p.m. closing, something we were getting used to in Japan.  While we only had a mere half hour to explore it, and had to pay a small fee, it was well worth it to take in the beauty of Isuien Garden.  It is everything you ever pictured a true Japanese garden to be.  We used the comfortable facilities for the kids and a diaper change as we left and then they literally closed and locked the gates behind us on the way out.

WP_20150627_108

Isuien Garden with the Todai-ji Temple in the background.

WP_20150627_098

From here we figured it was time to start thinking about some food.  On the bus ride in, we saw a miniature Oktoberfest event set up in the park!  That was definitely not the sight I expected to see when coming to the city boasted as “traveling back to Ancient Japan.”  I thought it would be fun to check it out and see what Japan’s take on the Bavarian tradition was.  We walked over to that section of the park again and did a quick pass through.  After not being able to figure out quickly whether you just paid cash at the booth or if you had to buy some special tickets for admissions and food, we decided that just a walk through was enough and continued on foot by the next section of the park.  I had wanted to walk by a particular pagoda that seemed to be on the way to some other shopping and food.  We could see the towers, but of course, being part of a temple, and it being after 5:00 p.m., much of it was gated off so you couldn’t get too close.

A visiting Oktoberfest in Japan, in June!

A visiting Oktoberfest in Japan, in June!

WP_20150627_147

We walked the loop of the park and came upon a row of shops and eateries, I ducked into a visitor’s welcome center that gave us a map and guided me to a shopping arcade where they had 2 restaurants serving classical Japanese dishes.  With the map in hand, we headed up the promenade until we reached the restaurant.  Menus are still hard as they are not always in English.  But these had some good pictures to go by and we were able to ask some basic questions.  I ended up with my own little grill on a plate in which to cook some raw vegetables and a few slices of Kobe beef, my husband got the most beautiful (yet a bit scary) plate of 30+ brightly colored vegetables, tofu and meat that he had to cook in a broth, oldest son got a plate of rice with grilled eel (and he ate the whole thing!), my younger son ended up with a noodle soup that he couldn’t get enough of and my 2 year old, well, she was asleep.  The food was really good, but the bill was fairly high (ended up being about $110 for all 4 of us) and my stomach was still pretty empty.  On the way back to the train station, I stopped in a couple little markets to grab some food for myself and my 2 year old, who had slept through dinner.

WP_20150627_157 WP_20150627_156 WP_20150627_154

By time we got back to the train, it was approaching 7:30 p.m. and we had just the right amount of fun without too much overdoing it on walking.  Getting back to the hotel a little after 9:00 p.m. was probably the earliest we had gotten back in the last three excursions!  But now it was time to pack up.  It was our last night in Kyoto and we had just a few more things on our list to prepare for the next day.  Including leave our really nice suite for a much much smaller single room in the next city.  However, more adventure were about to come our way!

A Rainy Day in Kyoto-Day 5 in Japan

Leave a comment Standard

We woke up to rain, for the first time since arriving in Japan. I knew full well that June was the rainy season for Japan, but we had been incredibly blessed with really nice, rain free, weather up to this point. My plan had been to take the kids to Nara this day, so they could wander around Nara Park petting and feeding the free roaming deer. That just didn’t sound very fun in the rain. I checked the surrounding areas and all had rain in the forecast. So, we needed a new game plan. I still wanted to take the kids to the Japanese performing arts show, and with only a couple more days left at our Kyoto hotel, it only made sense that we do something local. But, we were still saving the main attractions to do with my husband on the weekend.

Since we would be somewhat limited in our adventures today, I pulled out some clothes from the dirty clothes pile and decided to do a load of wash in the bathtub. I had packed 3 packets of sink size Tide detergent travel packs so that we could do wash during the trip. I picked out a couple pieces that I knew would dry quickly and a few that I knew would take a full 24 hours to dry. Then I dumped them all in the tub. Twenty minutes later I had some clean tops, shorts and underwear for all 5 of us hanging up to dry around the bathroom. Then, we headed off to breakfast.

WP_20150626_002

At breakfast, a little late in the morning, I mulled over our entertainment options for the day. I decided to check with the concierge about a few experiences I had hoped to have for the kids that were special to Japan. I wanted them to get the chance to do Karaoke and I wanted them to be able to do some kind of Japanese craft. I was not disappointed with the choices. The concierge pointed out the Kyoto Handicraft Center and the location of a Karaoke club where you can book private rooms to sing within your own party. While the kids didn’t baulk at the ideas, they had one more of their own. They wanted to go swimming again! With the rain pouring down outside, how could I say no. I figured there was plenty of time in the day to swim for a bit and then go out and do the activities I had found.

The funny thing about the swimming pool at the hotel, and this could be true for all Japanese swimming pools, is that you have to wear a swim cap. At first I thought it was just because your hair could be dirty and they want to keep it from making the water oily or something. But they are mesh hats, given to us to use by the hotel since we didn’t have our own caps. So it’s not like a full barrier anyways. Nonetheless, we wore them and I have to admit, the kids looked pretty cute with them on! After some fun in the pool, we went back to the room to change into clothes to brave the weather.

Swim caps required for the hotel pool!

Swim caps required for the hotel pool!

At this point, I started remembering all of the things I forgot to bring to battle the rain. I had a plastic poncho from Disneyland Paris still sitting in my closet at home and my stroller rain cover still in the back of my car. Both of which would have made our day much less miserable. But the idea of staying in a hotel room all day sounded about as much fun as trying to take all 3 kids to the dentist by myself.

So we put on some of our athletic clothes, the ones that tend to pull away moisture and dry easier, our sandals, and rain jackets, then headed out the door with the one umbrella that I had packed. The rain wasn’t mild, but it wasn’t stormy. In fact, it was a typical Seattle down pour. The handicraft center we were going to looked to be about a mile and a half way. It was just past the Haien temple that we had walked to a couple days prior. I convinced the boys that this was do-able and not much further than they had already walked before. I must admit, I was a little nervous at how well this walk in the rain was going to go, and not so much over how the kids would handle the rain, but how I would handle the rain! But we all marched along our route until we hit our landmark 7-11 store.

Given that it was past lunchtime by time we started our walk, we stopped in for some corn dogs that made for a quick lunch. We’ve been getting a pretty big and hardy breakfast each morning at the hotel so I don’t mind making lunch a bit smaller and am flexible in what they choose. After the corn dogs, we continued our walk and ended up having to navigate some confusing side walk and street construction around the area we should have had a direct path to for the handicraft center. Because of that, we happened upon a building that I originally thought was still part of the temple grounds, since it was constructed in the more traditional Japanese style. I saw a few people standing about and decided to check if anyone knew how close we were to our destination. The woman we approached pointed us in the direction that we had been on and said it was very very near. I took the opportunity to also ask what was going on inside the building in front of us that had multiple pairs of shoes lined up outside. She told me that there was a class practicing Aikido martial arts. The large square building had the sliding doors open on all sides so we walked along the path to watch briefly from outside. Since both of my boys are doing Taekwondo, it was interesting for them to watch a different martial arts form practiced in one of the disciple’s native countries. Not wanting to be a distraction, we stayed just 5 minutes then went back to our path to the handicraft center.

Watching a Japanese Aikido lesson.

Watching a Japanese Aikido lesson.

By time we got to the Kyoto Handicraft Center, it was 2:45 p.m. I went in and inquired about the crafts that kids were allowed to do. They showed me a board with the times but said that you had to make a reservation, and that they were not sure if there were any spots left. My heart sank, I didn’t even think about having the concierge call ahead. But, they said I could check next door in their other building to see if there was still space. So over we went. They had one in progress that started at 2:30 p.m. and the next was schedule for 3:30 p.m. While they said that we could still join in at the 2:30 p.m. one, I liked the craft that they were doing at 3:30, so we waited. The rest of the center was a huge shop selling various things that are made in Japan and then some Japanese souvenirs (that were probably made in China). So I picked up a souvenir and some postcards while waiting.

From reading the description for the center in the hotel’s map of Kyoto and recommended things to do, it sounded like the craft was going to be free. So I was a little surprised when at 3:30 they asked for the fee before we went up. Already committed in my mind to do it, we paid the 1900 yen per person (I just did 3, one for each kid) to do the painted doll (that was actually a bell) craft. They led us over to the other building and up the elevator, to the room, and got us all set up with our paints. My 2 year old, who had been asleep up to this point, seemed to wake just at the right time when she heard the word paint, and activity she loves. There was a beautiful display of the finished product examples on the table to give us an idea of what to do.

Doll bells at the craft sample table.  Kyoto Handicraft Center.

Doll bells at the craft sample table. Kyoto Handicraft Center.

And this is how ours turned out.

WP_20150626_029 WP_20150626_030
I tried to let my perfectionist ideals go, and let the kids be kids and paint their bells how they wanted to. I struggled with my 2 year old, because in my mind, I wanted something to somewhat resemble the samples. So we compromised, I let her paint what she wanted and then I tried to make it look like a person with hair and a face.

Our Japanese bell doll that my 2 year old and I created.

Our Japanese bell doll that my 2 year old and I created.

While we had been painting, my husband texted me that he had a break from work for a few hours and said he could join us. By time we were done, he had walked over to the center to meet us. While the craft finished, we could also watch some of the artisans working on Damascene with find nails, little hammers and gold patterns.

Artisans making Damascene.

Artisans making Damascene.

Our plan was to go to the Karaoke club next. My husband walked with us to where I had seen the closest subway station on the map, which looked like a straight shot and not that far away. But alas, it took a good 20 minutes to get there, still in the rain. At this point, he was sweaty and soaked, despite his jacket, and would need to go back to the hotel early to change for his business dinner. So he got off the subway before us and we parted ways. It was now 5:00 p.m. and I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss the show again. I decided to try for the 6:00 p.m. show (there was also a 7:00 p.m one too) to ensure we made it and then try Karaoke after. I knew in my mind that I needed to get some cash. But with my preoccupation at finding the theater with the 3 kids in the now stormy pouring rain, I completely forgot to look for an ATM and get cash. We got to the theater with our outer layers dripping wet and relieved to be inside again. Up at the ticket counter I saw the sign “Cash Only.” Crap. Because I forgot to stop, I didn’t have enough to buy the tickets. I asked where the closest ATM was and they gave me a neighborhood map that showed the closest 7-11, which is the most common place for ATMs apparently. Unfortunately for us, it was practically back at the subway station we just came from. But, at least I found a new route that led us through a beautiful temple complex.

WP_20150626_043

At the 7-11, I got enough cash for the next week and had the kids pick out dinner. Since we weren’t going to make the 6:00 p.m. show and would instead have to do the 7 o’clock one, I gave up on Karaoke for the night, which was where we were going to order food at for dinner. This 7-11 was tiny compared to the one from earlier in the day and had no place for us to stand outside to eat. Cultural custom is that you don’t walk around while eating and I was trying as best I could not to be the rude American. So we set out in search of some kind of covered area where we could stop and eat in our route back to the theater. No such luck until we came back to the temple, where there was a covered pathway between two buildings. It being 6:30 p.m. and in the rain, people weren’t exactly swarming this complex. I decided we needed to stop somewhere with shelter and let the kids eat. We stood in the covered area and ate as quickly as we could before heading back at the theater.

Trying to find shelter in the rain.

Trying to find shelter in the rain.

Finally back at the theater, we waited in line for the 7:00 p.m. tickets, again, thankful to be inside again. Seating was quick and easy and so was putting aside the stroller. The theater was not very big and we got a place near the center in the 4th row. The program included several forms of Japanese performing arts. It began with a tea ceremony (Chado), in which two guest participants were selected. During the tea ceremony, two musicians began playing the Japanese harp (Koto). While they were playing, and while the tea ceremony was still in process, the flower arrangement (Kado) demonstration began. All three ended around the same time. I was really glad of this format as it gave the children something in two different spots to look between, which kept them quiet and captivated.

Japanese Tea Ceremony at Gion Corner.

Japanese Tea Ceremony at Gion Corner.

Japanese harp and a flower arrangement demonstration. Gion Corner.

Japanese harp and a flower arrangement demonstration. Gion Corner.

Next came some of the more lively performances. My 2 year old was particularly fascinated with the court music (Gagaku) and dragon dance.

My 2 year old being fascinated by the court musicians and dragon dance.

My 2 year old being fascinated by the court musicians and dragon dance.

Court musicians and the dragon dancing.

Court musicians and the dragon dancing.

The ancient comic play (Kyogen) came next. While there were some English explanations made over the speakers and written in the program, it wasn’t clear enough for the kids to understand. Nor was there enough time for me to read it to the kids in advance of the performance. So they were a bit confused by the comic play.

Ancient comic play. Gion Corner.

Ancient comic play. Gion Corner.

The main attraction, was 2nd to last and was an actual Maiko (a young Geisha) who performed two Kyoto style dances (Kyomai).

A Maiko dancing.  Gion Corner.

A Maiko dancing. Gion Corner.

Last was the puppet play (Bunrake) which I thought the kids would enjoy the most, but again, we didn’t have time to get the full story beforehand, so they were a bit confused. I think my 5 year old even called it “creepy” haha! But from an adult perspective, it was fascinating how fluid they made the puppet move. For most cases, it took 3 puppeteers to manipulate the one puppet.

Puppet play. Gion Corner.

Puppet play. Gion Corner.

The whole show was an hour total. It was the perfect experience for the kids. They got to see all of the traditional Japanese performances I hoped to expose them too and it was in a very manageable time frame to keep their attention. The theater where we saw the performance was Gion Corner. It is very much a company that created this program especially for tourists. But in my opinion, it was well worth it. Again, my 5 year old and 2 year old were free (and they still got their own seats). I had a discount ticket flyer from our hotel so my ticket was only 2800 yen (around $25 with current exchange rate) as opposed to the normal 31500. And my 7 year old was just 1900 yen.

We had a great time at the Gion Corner performance!

We had a great time at the Gion Corner performance!

By time we were out of the theater, the rain had lightened up quite a bit, so it was a reasonable walk back in the direction of the hotel. I had a rough idea of where we were going, and after 20 minutes of walking, we ended up at the subway station that was on the same line for the stop I had read was next to our hotel. I was so happy to have finally figured out where the subway stop was, turns out it was on the opposite side of our hotel from where we had walked on previous days. This was handy information for Day 6, coming soon!

Himeji Castle and Kobe Harborland-Japan Day 4

Comments 2 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.