Lord. Japan is far, far away from Auckland, New Zealand.
And I mean far.
But that is what makes it so amazing.
After two great Jetstar Flights (thanks Jason for the attention you gave the boys on the long Gold Coast – Narita leg!), we landed on Saturday night at 6.30pm at Narita Airport. It felt heaps later of course as it was fully dark (mid-winter) and we’d been awake for like, days by that point lol. This is where my planning came into full effect. There are 3 terminals at Narita Airport and we flew into #3. There is no train station there so we really enjoyed our walk to terminal 2. I’m not joking either, despite how awesome the Jetstar crew were, after 8 hours on a full plane with a kid with Hirschsprung’s the fresh air and being able to stretch our legs was luxury.
The walk between terminal 3 and 2 is just over half a km, there is a shuttle bus you can take if you cbf walking.
I had pre-purchased our Japan Rail passes in Auckland from www.traveljapan.co.nz (who were totally awesome, I highly recommend dealing with them). This was quite an investment, $1737 NZD for 3 adult passes (under 6’s ride free) but we are travelling extensively within Tokyo, using the Shinkansen (bullet train to Kyoto), day trips to Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, ferry to Miyajima, then north to Nagano and back to Tokyo via Shinkansen so it’s absolutely worth the money. JR passes are exclusively for foreigners so you are issued with a voucher in NZ and have to exchange this for your actual JR pass upon arrival in Japan.
The JR information centre is on the station level in Terminal 2 at Narita and located in a great spot right by a 7-11 for snacks, a Foreign Exchange kiosk and a Pocket WiFi rental shop. I picked up our passes, Dave rented our WiFi gadget ($99 for 2 weeks, unlimited data and up to 10 devices!) and we settled down to a cold Asahi while we waited for the Narita Express into Tokyo.
Like Auckland Airport, Narita is a good haul out of the main city, almost an hour into Tokyo Station where the train split, literally. The first 6 cars went on one line and the rest went through to Shibuya Station which is where we transferred to Ikebukuro. This was probably the trickiest part of our commute as we had to use a local line to get to our AirBnB, which meant we had to buy tickets and generally figure things out as the line is owned by a company other than JR. Super cheap though, $1.70 per ride and probably even cheaper if we buy multi-trip passes which we will over the next couple of days.
Booking our accommodation was by far the most difficult part of planning our trip to Japan. The cities are so huge, I had to figure out which parts were quiet and suitable for a family, what we could afford, where homes were in relation to the trains and our to-do list. I would have spent at least 5 hours researching each of the 3 properties I ended up booking.
Here’s where we are staying in Ikebukuro > https://www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/10222084 and it’s absolutely perfect, bigger than it looks, sparkling clean and about 50 steps from the train station. We arrived at around 11.30pm on Saturday night, the neighbourhood was silent with no one around, despite a couple of sake bars on the street. It felt so safe. After picking up some pastries for breakfast from the bakery on the way to the train station this morning we were utterly convinced that this property and it’s location are an absolute win for us. If you like a sleep in the trains might bother you as they start running from around 6am I think, but Nix is such an early riser this doesn’t bother us at all.
Day 1 – Tokyo
The most difficult part of trip planning is scheduling in your itinerary in my opinion. So I really try not to do too much of that. Speaking frankly, kids hate being rushed around from here to there, trying to meet trains/deadlines/expectations so, we just don’t travel like that. I have ‘region goals’ I’d like to hit while we are in Japan, but little else cemented in. You get a better feel for what you want to do more of, see, once you’re on the ground I reckon.
So today we rose early, headed out at 9am after some cuddles and showers, hit the local bakery for the MOST amazing croissants, apple pies and cream cheese and blueberry pastries and hopped on the Tobu Toju line back to Shibuya Station.
We coffee’d at Starbucks and found the incredible Shibuya Crossing, probably quite quiet as it was Sunday morning lol but still totally awesome. What we noticed immediately was that Japanese locals walk like they are driving ie they stay in their lane! Big contrast to our family where the boys are constantly running, backtracking, stopping in the middle of the footpath………we are very conspicuously the square pegs here!
So we did a little shopping, not much to be honest and just had a really great time wandering around. At lunchtime, we charged a local eatery which, as it turns out specialized in pork Sta Don bowls. Dave nailed the kiosk ordering system and we had a delicious meal of fried rice, gyoza and the pork/rice bowls. I’m not a huge pork fan but the meat was shaved and thin it looked like bacon but was brown rather than pink. We were quite proud of ourselves after that!
Ethan had done some research and wanted to visit a store called Mandrake which was 4 floors underground in Shibuya. Specializing in all things Japanese anime, this is a collectors paradise. We saw one Pokemon card with a $1550 NZD price tag! E is on the hunt for Dragon Ball Z merch while we are here so this was a perfect starting point.
Always walking, we headed away from Shibuya and found ourselves gawking at the uber-trendy fashion hub that is Cat Street, Harajuku. Our destination was actually Kiddyland which was just around the corner, a large toy store dedicated entirely to character toys. Think Miffy, Hello Kitty, Star Wars, Marvel, Pokemon, Peanuts, Trolls………super fun, very cute, also very crowded and hot.
Everyone was slightly frazzled after Kiddyland so we stopped for a snack (and cocktail hour!) before diving into Takeshita Street which was seriously amazing. A mix of huge international stores and small independent market-style shops, wandering along as night fell, stopping for crepes and enjoying people watching – this is Harajuku after all – was so, so fun. The crowd is INTENSE, however, but Japanese people are so incredibly lovely, quiet, well mannered and patient, even with my nutty family, you never really felt affected by the masses of people.
After that, we were well and truly done for the day so we hit the trains and headed back home. We had realised throughout the day that Nix was not going to be able to hang with the amount of walking we’ll be doing on this trip, so Dave found a Babies ‘R Us and set off again to bring home an umbrella stroller and some dinner. The footpaths here are clean as a whistle, super flat and perfectly maintained so pushing the stroller is no problem and everyone seems to be accommodating regarding leaving the stroller to enter stores and restaurants.
Day 1 was so awesome! Everything has fallen into place and we are just in LOVE with Japan, so excited for what the rest of the trip will bring.