UNLIKE ’80s BAND THE VAPORS, Tokyo is certainly no one-hit wonder. While we chose our sightseeing itinerary wisely during our recent spring break trip, we would certainly have to return again and again to even crack the surface of the many wonders that make up this dynamic international metropolis.
But perhaps one of the best parts of our hand-picked endeavors was the journey getting to each place – we practically mastered the city’s spotless subway system during our week in Tokyo (with a big nod to Tia Janet, Irene’s sister/ex-pat who provided day-to-day guidance until we spread our wings and went solo on the last few rides!) Following is a breakdown of our subway escapades:
TOKYO METRO TO GINZA: We kicked off our trip with a little shopping in this district, beginning with a stop at a tea house, a look at the Kabuki Theater, and, of course, a visit to the Sanrio store so Miss A could pick up some Hello Kitty items!
TOKYO METRO TO HARAJUKU/ YOYOGI PARK: This metro line let us off right at the entrance to Yoyogi Park, one of Tokyo’s largest city parks with its sprawling, scenic grounds. This was a great place to people-watch and a handful of actual wedding processions in the main temple area made for great photo opps. Adjacent to the park is the popular Harajuku district, where we happened upon another event in progress: the Japanese St. Paddy’s Day Parade on Omote-sando Boulevard (holy culture clash!) After charging up our devices at an Apple store, we had some energy left for one more sight just a short walk down the street: the Nezu Museum, where Xander led us on a follow-the-leader nature walk through the museum’s meandering gardens (see X’s sidebar below for a detailed report!).
TOKYO METRO TO SHIBUYA & JR LINE TO TOKYO STATION: This day saw us tackling two different subway systems as we first took the metro to Shibuya Crossing; rumored to be the world’s busiest, this five-way intersection is famously known as “The Scramble” – a dazzling array of giant video screens and neon, with people coming from all directions at once during every light change while skillfully dodging one another. After that, we hopped on the JR train to the massive Tokyo Station so we could get the boys some souvenirs at an official Pokemon store located in the bustling underground arteries. How we even found the tiny Pokeman stall was an amazing feat in itself so after tracking it down we rewarded ourselves with lunch at Curry House, where the boys and I sat at the counter and had Tonkatsu (pork cutlet with panko breading covered in an umami brown gravy!) while Miss A and Irene dined at a table for two.
TOKYO METRO TO TSUKIJI: This day was easily the highlight of our holiday for me: the Tsukiji Fish Market (pronounced skee-jee). From the very moment we walked through the main entrance and saw the chaotic activity, I shifted into “how-awesome-is-this” mode; being alert is the name of the game here what with the market being a flurry of activity – trucks dropping off their morning deliveries and countless forklifts zipping around. Once inside exploring the aisles of fishmongers busy at their stalls, it was sensory overload (it was overwhelming just deciding where to point the camera next). I could go on and on about this place so I’ll just mention that we purchased a handful of the meatiest oysters I have ever slurped and enjoyed them right there on the spot! (extremely early risers can make a reservation for one of the daily live tuna auctions at 5 a.m.!) Just outside the market, we also tried a variety of street food including fried octopus and other assorted fish on a stick. Back at home base in Roppongi Hills, Irene went to a “sisters” sushi dinner while I took the kiddies to an excellent soba noodle restaurant (more on that in Troy’s sidebar).
OEDO LINE TO SHINJUKU: Nearly veteran subway riders at this point of the trip, the Oedo dropped us off right near the main gate of our destination: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It was a beautiful day to take in these beautiful grounds, complete with massive cherry blossom trees, koi ponds, a traditional teahouse and spectacular greenhouse (see Miss A’s sidebar).
OEDO LINE TO RYGOKU / EDO-TOKYO MUSEUM: The Edo’s permanent exhibition offers an engaging look at the history of Tokyo (known as “Edo” until 1869) via interactive exhibits, scale models and life-size dioramas – perfect entertainment for kids and adults alike. In fact, after Tsukiji, this was probably my second-most favorite sightseeing activity in Tokyo. We sat in actual rickshaws, walked through a mock Japanese house and marveled at models of villages and assorted other Edo-period culture. There was so much to see here that we took a break to have our last Tokyo lunch at the 7th floor restaurant.
Packed with daily commuters, our last subway ride was smooth — a sharp contrast to the ride over to the Edo, when, a couple of stops before the museum, we had an entire subway car to ourselves just before our train was taken out of service and we were asked to switch to a different track.
By Xander, 2nd Grader
So have you ever played Follow the Leader? Well if you haven’t, I will take you through a journey to the Nezu Museum in Tokyo. First I guided my family through a secret pathway. When we were walking, we saw a tiny Japanese lizard. The museum was very different than museums in the U.S. Athena loves to take pictures so she took a nice one of Troy and me when we were walking. We saw koi and when you talked they would come to you. When my dad told me to bring us to a bridge, that’s just what I did. There were also really cool plants. When we were walking, we saw super cool statues. Then we went back inside. I led everyone up some stairs to visit some cool rooms. There were rooms downstairs too. One was very hot. And that was Nezu Museum!
By Troy, 6th Grader
When we walked into the restaurant, there was slurping all around me. I could smell the mouthwatering soba noodles that were being made fresh. As I sat down with my brother, sister and dad, I couldn’t wait to eat! We sat in a booth with a table that was close to the floor, and we knelt on cushions. We also took off our shoes because of the Japanese custom to remove them. We all ordered hot soba: mine came with herring and scallions, Athena’s had a fried egg on top and was the restaurant’s traditional soba, Xander’s had seaweed in it and my dad had a curry soba. We also learned the correct way to eat soba. The dinner was amazing and delicious.
By Athena, 4th Grader
I saw a beautiful cherry blossom tree but the flowers at Shinjuku Garden were just as beautiful. Shinjuku Garden is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo. The garden had gorgeous flowers such as sakura (cherry blossom), yellow flowers with tall green stems and white flowers with some pinkish petals and more. I saw more than 20 varieties of flowers. There were different kinds of gardens: a French Formal garden, an English Landscape garden and a Japanese Traditional garden.
There was a really big grassy area for people to have picnics and to relax. There was a huge temple where people would come to take pictures. It had a very good view of the Shinjuku park. There was also a tea house and many ponds with koi fish in them. At the end of the tour we went into the greenhouse. Inside this glass building were many tropical plants, cactus, a waterfall and a pond with lilypads. It was a very fun experience and I had a historic time!