It’s been over four years since we visited Japan, the trip of our dreams, and we can’t stop talking about it. We’ve since been on many other amazing adventures, but we all agree that our visit to Japan was one of the most magical family vacations we’ve ever been on.
We sampled unique foods, slept in a ryokan, did our best to try and speak some Japanese and learned about as many of the local customs and cultural differences that we could. We spent every moment of each day transfixed and fascinated by everything we saw, experienced and tasted. We left knowing that this was a place we’d find our way back to…
I’m not sure if our visit to Japan fell during a sweet spot in the boy’s lives when they were still very open to new experiences and travel with the parents, but we all wholeheartedly embraced every aspect of our visit
The kids are older now and it’s harder to get them excited (at least about traveling with us), but back then we discovered that one way to get them engaged was to bring a “friend” and by friend I mean a Batman Lego figurine I happened to find in my bag while waiting to board the airplane.
On a whim I decided to take a photo of our stow-a-way Batman atop our little one’s Batman suitcase, and from that moment on, he became our constant companion. The boys loved posing him in different situations, costumes and locations and he became the mascot of our trip.
At times we wondered if posing him in certain places might be disrespectful, and we did our best to gauge the situation. We noticed that Hello Kitty was prominently featured everywhere we went, even in places that felt more sacred, and so took our cues from local culture.
Batman Goes to Japan
Thanks to jet lag Batman was up with the sun, and so were we, but with a view this spectacular we were hardly complaining. Our room was on the 43rd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which is located in Shinjuku’s second tallest building.
Like many visitors to Tokyo we made a trip to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We spent the morning exploring all the different offerings, fish of course, but also spices, dried goods, vegetables, flowers, housewares and more.
After seeing all that fresh fish for sale we were eager to try some ourselves. We found a small sushi restaurant within the fish market where we sampled exotic flavors including urchin and roe.
Located in the Asakusa district the Senso-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple. The approach leading up to the entrance of the temple is called Nakamise-dori and it is lined with souvenir shops selling everything you could ever imagine.
The Temple itself is beautiful and surrounded by many other places of interest, but this is a very popular tourist destination and with more than 30 million visitors each year you can expect it to be extremely crowded.
The Meiji Shrine is located adjacent to Yoyogi Park in Shibuya. Built in 1920 the Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
Once you’ve visited the shrine take some time to explore the surrounding gardens, which have many things to see as well including, a tea garden, royal fishing ponds, and the largest Otorii Gate in Japan.
We loved our visit to the food stalls within Ueno Park and with so many unique and delicious options we were hard pressed to decide.
We ate everything from corn on the cob and onigiri to octopus and yakisoba before running out of money. Keep in mind that many places in Japan don’t take debit or credit cards.
The Bentendo Temple is located on an island in Shinobazu pond within Ueno Park and is dedicated to the Goddess of good fortune wealth, music and knowledge.
Also Within Ueno Park is the face of what was once a very large statue of Buddha. This is the second great Buddha to stand in this spot, the first was destroyed in an 1647 earthquake.
In 1923 the second one was also heavily damaged in an earthquake. With the exception of the face the rest of the statue was melted down to make weapons during WWII.
Springtime in Japan is breathtaking. The branches are bursting with millions of fluffy pink and white cherry blossoms.
As many as two million people come to see the blossoms each year. This activity is called Hanami which literally translates to “flower viewing” and is a popular activity both during the day and at night.
Famous for the literally thousands of vermilion torii gates, which line it’s pathways, Fushimi Inari-Taisha, is one of the 80,000 Shinto shrines throughout Japan.
The walk to the top of Inari Mountain takes around two hours and while it is a steady climb it’s not terribly difficult. Along the way there are a few places to stop and get a bite to eat or a drink.
Tofukuji Temple is the oldest and largest Zen temple in Japan and there is a different type of garden represented on each side of the building. I would love to come back one day too see the autumn leaves for which it is so well known for.
It’s no surprise that Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan. Not only is it located in a beautiful setting, but the top two floors of the building are covered in gold leaf.
There are more than 5.5 million vending machines in Japan. That’s one vending machine per every 23 people. Most of them sell drinks, but you can buy just about anything from them, including bread.
As we often do when traveling with the boys we visited the zoo. We had a nice afternoon and saw quite a few animals that we’ve never seen in any western zoos.
Kit Kat bars are the number one candy in Japan. The name Kit Kat sounds very similar to a Japanese saying, “Kitto Katsu” or “Kitto Katto,” which is a good luck term meaning “you will surely win” and it is often said to students before a big exam. The Kit Kat bar is so popular that a Kit Kat shop was opened in the Tokyo department store Seibu.
Batman joined us for all our activities throughout the trip, from getting some shut-eye and doing our laundry to riding the subway, eating traditional foods, drinking sake and swimming in the hotel pool.
What do you do to keep your kids engaged while traveling? Have you ever brought along a “friend?” Let me know in the comments below. If you’re interested in learning more about our adventures in Japan you can read about them in these other posts:
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