Updated: Nov 23, 2017
The worlds most beatiful gardens and no less than 18 World Heritage Sites. Award winning fashion, technology and design and a world renowned cuisine. But when you go to Japan, you discover that, when given the choice, the locals actually spend their pasttime playing. Not bad, when you're a child travelling there, because Japan is also a big playground! Welcome to Philip's guide to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara!
Told by Philip Juul Nyegaard / Written by Mathlide Moyell Juul
Clean toilets and karaoke
If you know anything about Japan, you might know that they are very famous for their very manicured parks, temples and houses with little furniture and VERY clean toilets! So perhaps it’s not so strange that many Japanese feel like hiding into another world whether it’s dressing up as a "manga" cartoon character, singing karaoke or visiting games' rooms or “theme cafes". And whether you find this strange or not, it's still amazing to see all these contrasts, and preferably in the colorful spring days of the cherry blossom.
BRIGHT LIGHTS AND useful TOYS
Our first experience with colorful was in the area in Tokyo we had chosen to stay, Shibuya. It holds one of the world’s most famous traffic crossings and you’ll see game rooms half-full from 10am already. I was only 5 and Sienna 3 at the time, so to see so many people in a rush, look up and watch all these bright signs while hearing Japanese talk from speakers everywhere, was very overwhelming. But, we liked it actually, because it was like being in a kids cartoon and it didn’t make it any less so, when the 4 floor Disney store palace appeared and Sienna was mesmerized by a stand selling her Frozen hand gel wrapped in glitter and Elsa drawings. Cleanliness and cartoon in one, must be a best-selling product in Japan!
We’ve only spent 4 hours in Tokyo and we’re bombarded with impressions, but mum, dad and grandma have managed to get around despite the fact that Japanese speak very little English. But, when we went down to the underground train and looked at the map, we were a little lost….!
CHERRIES AND POINTED FINGERS
With help from an English-speaking station-assistant, we made it to Tokyo station, and got our first proper view (of what would be many!) of the cherry blossom trees at the Imperial Palace. The place is very impressive, but bikes, scooters and runners are not allowed in the park, and dad had to take Sienna off his shoulders - that didn’t agree with the palace guard!.
LUNCH IN BUNNY EARS
So it was a relief to arrive in Akihabara - a little less neat! It’s an area that is known for it’s cheap electronics, but also the many ‘maid-theme’-cafés. I don’t think mum and dad really knew what the @home café really was, they’d just read that it was a must-see. The café was on 4 different floors and as we entered the main one, we noticed a lot of men in the queue. We were welcomed by Alluka, who like her colleagues had big round eyes (like in the manga cartoons), pigtails and dressed in old fashioned maids costume. With a very hight pitched giggly voice, she set us to our table and presented us to two menus, one for food and one for girls!! We could chose which waitress we wanted from a menu card that we’d also get a picture with and pay extra if we wanted to play a game with them for 3 minutes. Me and Sienna thought this place was so funny - mum had a curry-dish with a dog face on and Sienna a pasta dish with a smiley. And after a while, my name was called up, and I had a photo taken with Alluka wearing bunny ears and paws!!
ABBA ON THE MIC
If our lunch was a bit weird, our evening back in Shibuya, wasn’t any less funny. Mum and dad had seen a film called “Lost in Translation” and apparently the people in the film go this karaoke place where you can go to a small room and sing a song of choice into a microphone while you read the lyrics on the TV. “Karaoke-Kan” had 14 floors of singing-rooms and on each floor it was possible to peak in and see groups of guys, couples or families like us singing away! We sang along to ABBA and of course Frozen, Sienna’s favourite at the time. See my mum’s great talents here: https://youtu.be/vpJs3gGwbeY
ROBOTS AND GIGAGLOBES
If you’ve just seen the video, you would also have seen a pretty impressive moonwalk. Not by my mum, dad or me (although I’m actually quite good!), but a robot! The Science Center in Tokyo is amazing, especially for someone like me who loooooves robots and anything technical. We could have spent an entire day in there - it has so many fun things to do and you got a chance to see some of the latest technology and if there’s a country that is good at technology, it’s Japan!
Now we didn’t only do kids friendly stuff, in Tokyo we also saw the Meji Shrine and went to Hama-Rikyo Park, but where we learned a lot about Japanese culture, especially as we saw people dressed up in "manga", saw a Japanese wedding (it looked a little too formal if you ask me) as well as a Japanese tv-crew who were filming some famous Japanese guy dancing around with people in fluffy costumes!
And then we also went shopping. Boring yes. Until we saw and walked into the shops at Ginza & Omotosando! We were almost treated as royals and when the “Mitsokushi” store opened at 10am, she did a long welcome speech along to music and as we walked in, al the staff bowed their heads!! Also, some stores had their own houses of about 5 floors! My mum’s jaw dropped as you can imagine.
SUSHI FOR BREAKFAST
One thing I always I now can’t believe I actually did in Tokyo, was to eat raw fish for breakfast! We got up at 6 to go to the Tsujiki fish market and as we arrived at 7, there were already queues for the the small restaurants serving morning sushi. The fish was caught that same morning and was prepared right in front of us. Sienna is a bit more of a sushi-lover than me, so she loved it - but I must admit, that it did taste pretty good. Afterwards we zig-zagged inbetween trucks with fish boxes and entered the orgy of fish - 400 different types were there and still, it didn’t smell. Of course, we were in Japan where everything is fresh and clean.
FAST-TRAIN AND SNOW
Japan is famous for their fish, but also their very fast trains! We went by 320 km an hour with Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and despite the speed we managed to see the famous and snowcapped moutain, Mount Fuji, from a distance! (also on video: https://youtu.be/vpJs3gGwbeY)
Shinkansen transports 150 mio. people a year and is a very fast way to get to Japan’s former capital Kyoto.
SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR AND BATHING OUTSIDE
When we arrived to Kyoto, we went straight onto another, but small train, to another famous pasttime for the Japanese. “Onsens". There are about 2000 of these hot baths in Japan, and they are mostly outside and you have to bathe naked. Women and men are separated, so dad and I went in with some other Japanese men that of course spent long, cleaning themselves before.
After our trip to Kurama, we had one night in a hotel on top of Kyoto station and the next 2 nights in something called a “ryokan”. Sienna and I were slightly surprised when we realized that we were staying in a private house where all of us had to sleep on the floor on mats in the same room. A “ryokan” is a private house in traditional Japanese style and every morning we were woken up by Mrs. Kikokusu’s fragile voice saying “goooood mooooorning…bathroom ready”. We didn’t always understand what she said, but she was very nice and as we were sharing bathrooms she informed us + we’d have our Japanese breakfast at a certain time so to accommodate everyone. Thankfully mum had ordered fruit, egg and bread for Sienna and I, so we didn’t have to eat fish every morning.
NINJA BY DAY
When I was 5, I was probably the biggest LEGO ninjago fan you could find. So going to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, where real ninja films are being made, was a dream come true. This was one of the highlights for me, we saw ninja films being recorded on the filmset, but there were also a ton of ninja activities, like ninja school, a haunted house and fun and play there. We spent an afternoon there, but could easily have spent a day if were to do the whole thing.
BAMBOO FOREST AND TEMPLES GALORE
Being a ninja couldn’t go on forever, and as Kyoto is very famous for its temples and gardens, there nothing we could do, than to walk, talk and get the best out of it. Thankfully, the temples in Kyoto are all very different and because it was cherry blossom all the time were there, the gardens and parks looked very amazing. The best day was when we got a small train to Arishayma station and spent a day there walking around Arishyama Park and the Bamboo grove and Okochi Sanso (belongs to a famous ninja actor!).
Also going to Kinkaju-ji - the golden pavilion and Fushimi Inara Shrine was quite amazing, the pavillion is covered in gold leafs and the shrine goes on for miles with their red ports - that we couldn’t actually complete the circle, it was too long for small legs.
We also spent half a day with a guide seeing Kodai-ji Zen Temple and Kiyomizudera Temple which wasn’t that fun for kids - but the little shopping street at the end had fun things we could look at + green softice!
We did spend many days at the temples and gardens, but also a lot of time in the small streets of the old part of Kyoto - “Gion”. A lot of Japanese dress up for the day in classical Japanese dress and often you will see the “Maiko’s”, the “Geisha-students”, who are practicing to one day become a real geisha. The real “geisha’s” have trained for many years to host guests with singing and dancing in small houses in Gion, and you hardly every see around on the streets, so we went to see a show, where they sang and danced (also on https://youtu.be/vpJs3gGwbeY) .
DEER AND BUDDHA’s
From Kyoto, we took a train for one hour to the little town Nara. We spent 24 hours walking around the entire town and my grandmother said that her step counter said 18.000 steps, so imagine how many steps Sienna and my small feet took?? In Nara we saw the Isui-garden, the Todai-Ji temple with the world’s greatest bronze buddha and walked up the mountain before Kasuga Taisha to see the pink view over the small town. On our way we met a lot of tame deer who walked around the ruins as was it there home.
After the very long day of walking, we were rewarded with our own private dining experience at Steak Ciel Bleu, where only our family and two other couples sat around the chef and the hot plates to see 5 courses of japanese dishes being served - of course also the amazing meet, that Japan is so famous for.
MICKEY AND CINDERELLA
Mum and dad were actually impressed. We had done a lot of fun kids stuff, but we had also walked a lot and seen a lot of temples. So without us knowing, they had changed their plans to go to Mount Fuji and instead, take us back to Tokyo and spend a day in Disneyland!! Sienna and I had one of the best days of our lives probably. I tried the Buzz Lightyear and Monsters Inc ride, Sienna hugged Mickey Mouse and walked around Cinderella’s castle. We had Mickey waffles, saw Daisy Duck and Balloo, 4 shows and the nightparade with all the characters with fireworks (see https://youtu.be/vpJs3gGwbeY). 12 hours we spent there, and although we would have been happy to try out the neighboring DisneySea, chilling out the next (rainy) day before heading to the airport wasn’t so bad either.
We spent 10 days in Japan, the 10 lucky Easter days that the cherry blossom flowered that year. We did a lot, we walked a lot, but we still always talk about Japan, because it is the most different trip we have been on and so magical, beautiful and funny at the same time! And as you can hear, many places for kids to go - also places you don’t necessarily think are for kids!
TRANSPORT: Flight from Singapore - Tokyo return.
REASON: A big one on the bucket list!
ITINEARY: Tokyo 3 nights, - train to Kyoto, 3 nights, - train to Nara, 1 night - train back to Kyoto and back up to Tokyo, 2 nights.
PRICERANGE: Japan is expensive, and because we booked this trip late, it is probably one of the most expensive trips we have done. And don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the ryokan’s - they are more expensive than the hotels! You can go cheap, like we did in Nara, but you get what you pay for.
STRETCH: 9 nights, March-April 2015
PHILIP: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (could still be less walks)
MATHILDE: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ⭐️
Cerulean Tower, Shibuya, Tokyo: www.ceruleantower-hotel.com/en/
Hotel Granvia, Kyoto: www.granvia-kyoto.co.jp
Kikokusu Ryokan, Kyoto: http://www.yado-web.com/kikokuso/
Super Hotel Lohas, Nara: www.superhoteljapan.com/en/s-hotels/nara-lohas
Hilton Tokyo Bay: www.hilton.com/tokyo
Did you miss out on the video?
Are you Danish and would like to read Mathilde's Japan article from Børsen?: http://borsen.dk/nyheder/avisen/artikel/11/131644/artikel.html