Where: Tokyo, Japan
Who: Mr & Mrs Wanderlust together with the 2 kids & Granny
When: December 2018
What: Winter with the kids' first time to experience snow
Japan, our favorite neighbor country. Really developed and futuristic, yet still maintains the calm ambience on some places outside the busy hustle and bustle areas. But for this particular trip we are with kids, of which one is a toddler, meaning we have to design our trip as kid friendly as possible. Also, we definitely have to treat the kids to experience snow for the first time.
Note: Entering Japan needs visa prior to entry so make sure you have it accomplished. Unlike other South East Asian with visa free entry for Philippine passports,. We might consider making an post on how to on Japan visa. But make sure you contact an official travel agency or Japan embassy for more details.
Tip: December in Japan, temperature on average is 10 or below Celcius, so be sure to pack proper clothing. For those who aren't sure. Layering should be done like:
1. Thermal underwear, then
2. Your main wear,
3. A sweater if you are easily cold
4. Then a thick padded jacket (preferably water resist as you dont want snow to make your cotton jacket cold & wet). extra socks if getting snow in and also waterproof or warm shoes/boots. Gloves are important for the kids.
Though, funnily enough, the 2 boys who are active chasing each other gets too sweaty and hot with too much layer, so decided to skip the thermal underwear. The girls are cold and sweat less so we stick with thermal wear.
How To Get There:
Getting to Tokyo is pretty straight forward by booking flight to Narita / Haneda Airport.
Airport has an easy access to the city via Narita express which will connect you directly to a handful of stations like Tokyo Station, Yokohama, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku (our stop) and Ikebukuro.
You can buy tickets on the information/counter seen in different parts of the airport.
And depending on where you plan to go, the information desk people would be nice enough to assist you on which type of Rail pass you should buy to reach your destination. Buying a 3 day pass would be cheaper compared to buying a tickets at the station per trip.
We considered sharing a shuttle with other passengers as it might be easier, but it took so long while shuttle wait for other passengers to arrive so we opted for their airport express train, Might be a little hard since have big luggages with kids and a stroller to carry. The airport trains have luggage storage space on the front and back of each train,
Baby/Child Tip: Instead of using airport express on our flight back to Manila, we considered the airport shuttle bus offered by the hotel. It is a bit slower compared to the airport train as the bus picks up other guests from nearby hotels and around Shinjuku then via highway to the airport terminal directly.
We were alright with that as our toddler was able to sleep in the bus, (and of course we also took time to recharge) and all our luggage including the stroller is stored below the bus, and we just alight at the front of our terminal. ~ Imagine, if we tried the train, our toddler would've been restless while we are going around the streets to the train station, finding platform number and trying to navigate with our big luggage figuring out how to carry them all up on the stairs.
Getting around Tokyo and even nearby (or really far away) towns is easy because of Japan's comprehensive train network system which is basically interconnected subways, train, monorail into terminals and stations underground that is easy to navigate as long as you know where you want to go and do a little research prior to going, but most of all they have information desks that can help if you get lost.
**Protip: Try to plan your route ahead of time by knowing how to get to your destination, by referring to maps provided for by their transportation bureau/train companies, or google, then most of all, confirm or check with information desk that is available on each stations. Signs hanging on the ceiling are also helpful guide if you know your platform/exit.
⛄Getting to the Snow ❄❄❄
The nearest place in Tokyo where we can go to experience snow was either Mt. Fuji or Gala Yuzawa, we have been to Fuji-Kawaguchiko just this Feb 2018 (click here to read our blogpost about it) but reading some about Gala - Yuzawa proves that it is more convenient to go as we have 2 kids with us. Why you may ask?
The snow/ski resort in Mt. Fuji-Kawaguchiko, - Fujiten, is miles away from the train station there, and no shuttles available (as far as we know) which means only choice is hiring a taxi/cab for a 15-20minute ride that costs around 5000JPY ($50) one way which was kinda expensive.
Going to Gala - Yuzawa ski resort proves really easy and accessible for us from Shinjuku we go on a rapid train to Tokyo station to ride a Shinkansen (Bullet train) which goes straight to Gala-Yuzawa (1hr 50min) and the best thing is that the Snow resort is just within the Gala Yuzawa Train station. Meaning just after the exit of the train station, you are already within the lobby /entrance of the resort where you buy your pass and rentals. You may read more about it below.
Bottomline is if you want to bring your friends/kids to snow, Gala is the better option. However, Mt. Fuji is an attraction on its own, and the symbol of the country and you should also not miss it, That being said, for snow playing and ski purposes, consider Gala Yuzawa.
Where To Stay:
Space is a luxury in Tokyo, especially in very dense areas like Shinjuku. If you want to know what area to stay in Tokyo, consider these:
Probably the best place for tourists, Transport hub to anywhere, Lots of shopping malls around, at night still lively with dazzling neon lights, from restaurants, bars and entertainment options available.
Cons: Can get crowded at times, Accomodations can get expensive as area is popular
Area where there is always something happening 24/7, really lively and lots of younger crowd here. Shopping is also plentiful here as in Harajuku are full of specialty and sub culture shops, also where you can find 2nd hand stores, and lots of mid range to luxury retailers along its streets.
Cons: Can also get crowded especially on weekends.
Some of Tokyo's top high end luxury hotels, along with its wide streets, Lots of luxury high end stores.
Cons: Too upscale and modern that lacks charm & culture/history, Expensive accommodation.
In our area, space is a luxury, so prices go up as the rooms get bigger, and as a family of 5 with 2 adults, 1 senior, a kid and a toddler, we expect room to be bigger for the toddler to run around. So we searched the area we like for hotels that have the best value for money.
Be wary, some hotels may be cheap and looks nice on picture, but small or whatever issue we can't afford to have as we have a toddler, so we opted for a known big hotel brand in the area that is really accessible, spacious rooms, and good service.
Keio Plaza Hotel
Mr & Mrs Wanderlust's rating
+ Easily accessible in the middle of Shinjuku station,
+ Hotel is big, and spacious rooms which is hard to find in Tokyo.
+ Smooth checkin, helpful and friendly staff,
+ Excellent facilities and amenities, very nice and spacious rooms with view of city.,
+ Bathroom was also spacious and complete with everything we need and most of all clean.
+ Wifi was fast & reliable, has a free handy/phone for 4G internet use while out in the streets.
+ Breakfast has many choices Western & Japanese buffet which was great and we have no complaints. +Everything was great from hotel made our stay in Tokyo very pleasant for a family with a toddler and child. + They have shuttle for disneyland but have to book in advance for timeslot
+ Near everywhere in Shinjuku, but most of all have a convenience store inside the premises.
- Only complaint or more of suggestion is that they should lessen the use of plastic bottles for complimentary water and plastic containers of liquid soap which we think is a bit wasteful for the environment
Price: $$$ 12,000 - 15,000 / night for triple room (3 adults 2 children)
Service: 5 star - Service & staff were all very helpful and friendly
Facilities & Amenities: 5 star - classic designed rooms
Restaurant (foods): 5 star -choice of Japanese / Western breakfast was great also inroom
Bar: 5 star - Different bars inside the hotel and many more nearby, but all looking very good
Overall: 5 /5
There are so many activities and things to do around Tokyo, we just chose a few ones to not exhaust our kids for the last part of our trip which is the snow resort as the resort will just resume their operations at Dec. 15, so we were lucky we were in time for the opening of the season. Almost all of the places you can go are easily accessible because of their massive subway rail systyem connected to malls and shops where you can also do some shopping.
1. Stroll and Munch around the area
Shinjuku was the area of our accommodations as it was one of the biggest transportation hubs in the country, it is easily accessible and has lots of food, shops, markets and it also almost never sleeps with all the bars, karaoke places nearby.
At daytime there are also lots of places to go like parks and museums that kids can enjoy, and for the moms, there are lots of retail therapy, from the department store like Odakyu and Lumine, and other food shops around the area which would have you overwhelmed.
Shinjuku is also the home of Kabukicho area which is like the party district, lots of bars and karaoke place, and other restaurants which is very lively at night, this is also the area where we got money changer late at night.
Our area is also where the Tokyo Metropolitan Building is located, which offers free access to public on its observatory floors and has the nice view of the city.
Another part worth a visit is the Golden Gai neighborhood with nice old tiny bars and restaurants and their looks remained unchanged since the 2nd world war.
Tokyo Disneyland is definitely the place to go if you are going with kids. Packed with all the dreamy rides, and cute Disney themed foods, children will totally enjoy their stay here, just be prepared with extra things of the kids to make sure they are warm enough.
This theme park is really jam packed with people and tourists especially on weekends, so try to avoid scheduling a weekend as you may be disappointed with long queues on rides. Although you may use fastpass for few rides but be sure to register a couple of hours before you ride so you can have your fastpass scheduled.
We did not ride as much, as the toddler was getting uneasy, but we still managed to ride a few rides like the space roller coaster ride as our daughter insisted which means waiting for almost an hour in line.
***Protip: Some hotels offer a free shuttle bus to disneyland, so try to inquire with your hotel if they do and have your slots secured at least a day before.
Alternatively it is still very easy to get to disneyland viA Japan Rail Pass
***Protip: Try to just take 1 or 2 photos of the Disneyland entrance, then go ahead to the park, I observe that people take too much time posing at the entrances, s we try to keep it quick as possible then go enjoy the rides.
3. Ueno Zoo
One of Japan's prized parks managed by Tokyo Metropolitan Government, just a few walks from Ueno station and will pass by Ueno Park, which by the way is a really nice place to walk around and even play with your kids for free. Though the Zoo is not free, but really cheap and worth being seen by kids.
Their zoo animals seem to be well taken care of by professionals and facilities are great for the animals' well being. (not a professional but just according to what we saw, no animal abuse here SJWs)
4. Tomica World at Tokyo Central Station
The Tokyo Central Station is a big brick structure on the outside, and a giant complex of trains, subways and terminals as the main transportation hub, or the heart of its capital. We havent got the chance to go outside and take pictures, because - toddler.
However we managed to check out the retail shops in Tokyo station as we had a stop over to the station from an earlier activity.
Ever since we can remember, the little boy wanted to play everything with wheels in it, and probably "cars" was his first word after mama that being said, you can imagine how his father supports this and making this an excuse to buy his toys and of course, daddy also got some special edition and vintage ones that you can only get there.
Upon knowing that we are going to stop by Tokyo station, we decided to stay a little while at the station and look for the famous Tomica toy store, so we asked around the info desk, and got to the retail shop part of the terminal. Right beside the store is PLA-Rail which is also a toy store about trains and rails.
This particular Tomica store has build your own car section, and has almost all of the tomica retail collections like disney, marvel, classics, and of course special edition ones.
5. Explore the Hi-Tech City, Odaiba
As we have been reading and seeing online, Odaiba seems to be a nice place to check out as it is an entertainment city, full of display when it comes to high tech and their latest technological showcases, such as museums and parks.
Getting from our area, Shinjuku (yamanote line to Osaki) then transfer to Saikyo line to Daiba station. But getting back from Daiba, no need to transfer as it goes straight to Shinjuku.
A) See the giant Gundam statue at Diver City
A theatrical urban space where everything from renowned domestic brands to famous tokyo restaurants can be found and also has the largest food court in Odaiba but most of all, we went there to see the giant Gundam robot at the back of the mall. Divercity mall itself is a nice mall that has all the usual stores like h&m / uniqlo, but most of all they have many stores that cater to Japanese anime and manga fans.
DiverCity directory click here
B) Legoland Discovery Center at Decks
Right beside divercity is another mall called Decks Tokyo Beach, with an outside facility overlooking the Rainbow Bridge, and most of all it houses attractions such as, Legoland Discovery Center, Madamme Tussauds, and Sega Joyopolis, among other nice retail shops inside the mall, truly something to do for everyone.
C) Other sites in Odaiba
There are definitely lots more sites and activities to do in this awesome area of Odaiba,
Landmark of the area that becomes very colorful at night
Fuji TV Headquarters
Head office building that has various facilities open to public
Odaiba Marine Park and Statue of Liberty
Popular photo spot where you can fit rainbow bridge and the statue of liberty in Japan.
a popular spot consist of Venus fort mall for shopping which recreates European shopping, Mega Web theme park auto theme park that has the giant Ferris Wheel which symbolizes Odaiba, Zepp tokyo concert hall and more.
Aqua City Odaiba
5 storey shopping center with entertainemnt center and also a science museum filled with Sony;s latest technology.
6. Winter Wonderland Day trip near Tokyo at Gala Yuzawa
Here we are, the part you have all been wondering about and waiting for our info... So here it is:
Gala Yuzawa is a ski resort town near Tokyo, you might be wondering, why not Fuji as it is also accessible by trains. Because Gala Yuzawa ski resort is the more convenient of the two, especially that we have a toddler in tow, we really need a place that is accessible and also can do a day trip without any problems.
So it has been decided we go here, we are also delighted to know that we are just a few days short of getting to their opening day, December 15, it was actually our 2nd to the last day in Japan.
Getting there is really easy, we go from our Shinjuku station, to Tokyo station, where we change to a Shinkansen (Bullet Train) that will go from Tokyo station straight to Gala-Yuzawa ski resort station.. That's right, the ski resort is just within the bullet train section.
There are timetables available (click here!) - this is 2017 but just to give you idea of the time and frequency of the trains so you can schedule your day properly, but mostly trains from Tokyo to Gala is 1hr and 20mins and trains arrive every 15-30 minutes starting at 6:am up to noon.
Within the train station, you can immediately see the lobby of the ski resort where you can buy day passes which includes voucher for gloves, and rental for either jacket, boots, etc. It is truly convenient and advisable to bring kids in this ski resort.
7. Bring kids at the Museums & Parks
Fire museum in Shinjuku area is really great for families with children, especially our kid who likes firetrucks and is currently fascinated by them, so we decided to have a quick tour to the museum which shows history if fire fighting in Japan in the Edo period (16-19th century) with horse driven carriages to modern fire fighting helicopters. And you can certainly say it is a museum in Japan because they also have a lot of media presentations, from an augmented reality screen to other interactive presentations.
There is another museum nearby which was Toy Museum, however we decided to skip it as we were lacking time, and we had to do some errands before our flight late afternoon. There are a lot more museums to do in Tokyo which you can refer to our ol' friend google for more info.
8. Get Lost, Shop and Stroll at Harajuku and Shibuya area
Harajuku esp in Takeshita is full of small japanese shops selling ranging items from souvenirs, antique toys, pre-loved or 2nd hand clothes, coats and jackets, and extreme fashion for people from different sub cultures. Then along narrow streets you can also pass by many midrange to luxury shops selling hype items of all sorts, so a sneaker head or someone who likes buying hyped up streetwear and stuff would enjoy a stroll here.
These said narrow streets if continued you can reach the other station, Shibuya, where the famous crossings as well as the famous dog named Hachiko and his statue is found. More retail shops from different popular and latest brands fill the establishments here, and of course lots of choices for food.
* $100 USD = 11,041 + JPYen (as of December 2018)
Accommodation - High End - $1,000 USD+++
Accommodation - Mid - $120 USD ++
Accommodation - Budget - $50
Transport - Taxi Nearby - $10 - $50 +++ depending on how far/long travel time
Transport - Japan (tokyo wide) Rail Pass - $15 for 3 day pass
Transport - Sightseeing Tour Bus - Less than $20 depending on bus stop
Food - Snacks -$5 - $10
Food - Restaurant (set meal for 2) - $40 - $50 per head
Food - Fastfood Meal - $10 - $15
Drinks - Hotel Beer $10 - $15
Drinks - Bottled Water - $1 - $5
Souvenir - T-Shirt -$20 - $30
Souvenir - Magnets / Keychain = $5 - $10
Souvenir - Premium items, Chocolates etc, - $20 - $50
Tickets to Ueno Zoo - 600 yen / 300 yen for kids
Tickets to Tokyo Disneyland - 7,400 JPY / 6,400 JPY for kids
Tickets to Legoland Discovery- 3,000 JPY / 2,400 JPY for kids
Tickets to Gala Yuzawa day pass - 4,000 JPY / 2,300 for Kids
*Note: Different rates for Seniors, and also for toddler
**Protip: book earlier online thru their websites, or thru official booking apps to avoid queue at ticket counter and sometimes even get discounts & better prices just show the barcode/qrcode on your phone, paperless!
Tips - They generally do not accept tips. If you do however really wish to tip, try to put in an envelope and give to the lobby, but don't be offended if they don't accept.
Towing 2 kids, one a toddler, also with a senior, yet we still managed to take a few videos, good thing there is also a nice edit. And of course some times we need to sneak out while kids are asleep so we can video some more. But yeah, a hodgepodge of clips, taken by us, and some by our daughter.
Thanks to OMFG - Ice Cream for the music
and Japan Rail Yamanote Line for their cute music from certain train stations.
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