Thursday, February 9, 2012


If our kids learn anything this year in Asia, they will learn how to be hardcore tourists. In Tokyo this week, we’ve been squeezing about 1.5 days’ worth of activity into each day. This has had some negative effects on overall morale, but it has created some incredible memories. We have lots of reflections to post about later, but we first want to just describe some of the things we’ve seen and done.

Upon arriving, we took the nice express train from the airport into Tokyo. We were hungry and tired and then hit the Tokyo subway system with huge bags in tow. It was unbelievably crowded, confusing and lacking in escalators. After making the grueling interchange, we finally got to the nice, if small, apartment. We were in a residential district just outside the central area, which made us feel at home, as if we lived here. It did make it harder to get back and forth to the sights, though, so each day was typically a loooong one in which we left before 9 am and got back after dinner.

The first morning we struck out planning to walk to the main train station a couple kilometers away in Shibuya, just to see the neighborhood. After a pit stop at Denny’s (yes, I know…), we walked a bit further and found that we had basically walked in a giant circle, right back to our local train stop. We figured we’d get lost in Tokyo, but we didn’t guess it would be the very first time we stepped out.

The rest of the day went a bit more smoothly, with a visit to Yoyogi Park. The weather was cold, but sunny, and the boys were happy to (again) find a bike path with rentals. This area is on the funky side, and we managed to spy groups of greasers and harajuku girls.

The main reason for this outing was a visit to the Meiji Shrine. This beautiful site memorializes Emperor Meiji, who in 1868 displaced the rule of the shoguns (and the era of the samurai) and restored imperial rule. Meiji pushed the country out of its feudal stasis and started it on a path of development, industrialization and international engagement. Not surprisingly, he is a revered figure in Japan, and the shrine reflects this. 
At the Meiji Shrine

With rain falling and temperatures in the 40s, the next day called for primarily indoor pursuits. We headed to Ginza, home of the chichi shopping district, mainly just to see it. But, we also visited the Sony Building, which showcases their products over five floors. Cool stuff. The latest 3D tech is amazing. 
Listening to the latest Sony portable music players

After Ginza, we headed to the Mori Art Museum. Here, we saw a great exhibition by Lee Bul. Her contemporary art was genuinely engaging for both the grownups and the kids in the family. (Less interesting was the view from the observatory on the 52nd floor, due to the rain and fog.) Our minds stimulated, we sated our stomachs with beer, pickles and pretzels at a German beer hall (had we found some Italian food on the menu, we might have had a real Axis snack experience).
The plaza at the Mori Art Museum

The next day called for another museum (the Tokyo National Museum) in the morning. As we arrived in Ueno, we were all ready for a little snack. We came upon this little stand-up sushi joint right in the train station. The sushi was among the best we’ve ever had. You had to pick out little sticks indicating what you wanted (we had some help from a server), and place them in the basket where the chefs would pick them up and make it. At the end, they just brought the sticks up to the register to ring up the total. It was so good, we would make another stop there several days later while passing through Ueno (and would manage to locate our own sticks!).
Stand-up sushi; Berkly liked their ginger

The museum was nice, with a great collection of artifacts, but it held less interest for the boys than Bul’s dramatic modern sculptures. So, we were a little thin on patience heading out for a late lunch when we came upon our second great food experience of the day. Looking for a soba place, we instead found a tempura restaurant which had been in business since 1928. The third-generation owner was exceptionally cordial and interested in showing us the ins and outs of eating tempura. Lots of fun. 
At the tempura restaruant

Wanting to give the boys something of interest after the morning museum, we headed to the Pokemon Center. Now, it’s called a Center, but it’s really just a store. With Pokemon crap. Lots of Pokemon crap. And, Quin and Berkley bought some. 

The following day the weather had improved a bit, so we headed to the Imperial Palace. Now, we never actually saw the Palace, or even the adjacent grounds of the Palace. Instead, we visited the East Gardens, which is the only part open to the public. They were nice, though not as compelling as the Meiji Shrine. But, it’s sort of a must-see part of Tokyo. 
East Gardens

Much more interesting was the Senso-ji temple we saw the next day. Though almost entirely reconstructed after the allied bombing in WWII, it is nonetheless a beautiful place. And adjacent are the only touristy street markets we found in Tokyo (in contrast, they were ubiquitous in Hong Kong and Bangkok). Being tourists—and hardcore ones, at that—we were happy to sample rice crackers and ice cream from the vendors and buy trinkets and souvenirs. 
We passed on these desserts, filled with red bean paste

Senso-ji Temple
During our final afternoon, we once again found semantic trickery at a kids’ stop. The National Children’s Castle neither looked like a castle nor contained any samurai or armaments. But, it did have some great spaces and the boys were really happy to be playing and not touring for a while.

Well, if you feel like this post just kept going and going, then you have an idea how we feel at the end of this week! We are all ready to dial it back and settle into a routine in Shanghai. But, there’s still another week of adventure ahead in Xiamen. And, despite how long this post ran, we still have a lot more to say about our time in Japan. It’s been a really amazing experience—bewildering, confusing and often difficult—but always amazing.


  1. All I can say is incredible. What stamina, what patience, what endurance. Hooray for you.

  2. Beer, german food, pretzels, and tempura! My idea of a good vacation. You guys never cease to amaze us! Curious as to what you'll discover in Xiamen. It will be something terrific, we'll sure.

    Dad and Judy

  3. Go team! Berks Lucca is taking karate now and gets tested for his yellow belt in two weeks, and he is now the very proud owner of some new Beyblades he didn't have before his birthday, and he wants to know if you too are into Beyblades? He was quite envious of your trip to the Pokemon store and really likes your ninja get up! Michael & Lucca