May 31, 2014
After a long flight (8 hrs) from Honolulu, we safely arrived at Narita Airport. It took us about 1.5 hrs to get to Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku where we will be staying for 2 nights.
The hotel is conveniently located in a major shopping, dinning, entertainment area, and is about 5 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station. Although it is close to the station, the area surrounding the hotel is very quiet.
Shinjuku Station is said to be the World’s busiest transportation hub, used by an average of 3.64 million people per day (2007 statistics). As a matter of fact, it is registered in the Guinness World Records! There are several train lines come into Shinjuku Station such as JR, Odakyu, Narita Expree, Chuo, etc. it is a great location to explore many interesting sites of Tokyo.
June 1, 2014
A bi-lingual guide, Yukiko Akashi, joined us today to show us around the major tourist sites. It was a full day tour of Tokyo. The weather was really hot, almost 86 degrees!
Tokyo Tower was opened in 1958 and has been used as a telecommunication tower. It is now the second tallest tower (1,093 ft) in Tokyo, surpassed by the newly built Tokyo Skytree (2,080 ft).
We cruised Sumida River from Hamarikyu near Tokyo Tower to Asakusa, a heart of Downtown Tokyo. It was about 40 minutes boat ride but was very relaxing. We could clearly see Tokyo Skytree from the boat.
Asakusa is known for Sensoji temple and Nakamise, one of the oldest shopping streets, in Japan. There are 89 small shops on the main Nakamise Dori (street). You can find many traditional Japanese souvenirs here. Sensoji is an ancient Buddhist temple and it is the oldest temple in Tokyo. We had about 2 hrs for shopping and eating lunch. As usual, Nakamise was packed with people from all over the world.
We drove through Akihabara, known as “electric town”, with many electronics shops. If you like new technological gadgets, you can find them here. Since “Yodobashi Camara”, one of the biggest shops in Akihabara, has a sister store in Shinjuku near our hotel, we decided to visit the sister store in stead of getting off the bus for a short period of time at Akihabara.
Our final destination was Harajuku known for a center of youth culture and fashion. The focal point of youth culture is Takeshita Dori. It was packed with young people wearing eccentric costumes to resemble “anime” characters. Omotesando, a main street is referred as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées, is lined with famous brand name shops.
We left for Hakone, near Mt. Fuji, after a sumptuous buffet breakfast at the hotel. The bus ride took us about 2.5 hrs from Shinjuku to Hakone Kowakien Hotel. The traffic was very smooth. We have been very lucky to have a great weather in Tokyo. On the way to Hakone, we could see Mt Fuji!!
A hot spring water park called Yunessans was located across from the hotel. It had 2 major zones and 25 different kinds of spa related activities, such as green tea, coffee, wine, Japanese Sake spas, etc. Unlike traditional Japanese spa, we could use swimware to enjoy most of the spas. Of course they had a traditional onsen zone called Mori No Yu. They had rental swimwares for people who forgot to bring their own. After lunch, we spent most of the day at Yunessans and everyone enjoyed the spa experiences. Dr. Fish bath (fish will clean your dead skin) was one of the popular ones. Food at the Hakone Kowakien Hotel was also good.
June 3, 2014
Our destination today was Hakone Owakudani and Fuji Safari Park before going back to Shinjuku, Tokyo. Owakudani is an active volcanic zone where you can see and smell sulfurous fumes. A short walking trail lead to one of the sources of hot springs where eggs were boiled inside. Eggs were called “Kuro tamago”. Believe to be a sales pitch but you could extend your life for 7 years by eating one Kuro tamago. Nobody challenged to eat more than one.
We could see Mt Fuji again from Owakudani. We were very lucky! We must have been doing right because it is not easy to see Mt. Fuji around this time of the year.
After riding a bus for about 1.5 hrs, we arrived at Fuji Safari Park. It was located at the beginning of one of the roads leading to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji. There were 2 major zones, “Safari” and “Pet”. Within the pet zone, there were two distinct areas. People could actually pet friendly animals such as kangaroos, pony, etc. in one area. The other area was a walk-through animal village. For Safari zone, we road a jungle bus with elephant face on it. It took us about 50 minutes to see animals roam freely inside the zone. We could also feed lions, bears, and Camel. It was really fun. Everybody took turns to feed them.
The bus ride to Shinjuku was very fast (about 2 hrs.). Thanks to the smooth traffic. On the way, we stopped at Ebina rest station. It was full of shops selling mouth watering foods. Too bad that we could’t buy them all.
Some of us went to a seafood restaurant, Tsuribune Jaya Zauo, near our hotel for dinner. It was a fun place to dine because we could catch our own fish to eat. We also went to the observation floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office to see the skylights of Tokyo. It was an action packed day!
June 4, 2014
Today was a “free” day. Two families went to Disney Sea themselves to have fun with their children. Another family of five went to Yokohama and Odaiba, Tokyo. We took Shonan Shinjuku line to Yokohama (about 40 minutes ride) from Shinjuku Station, but took the Shinkansen, a bullet train, back to Shinagawa from Shin Yokohama which took us less than 10 minutes. Something people in Hawaii could not experience so they were very excited about riding on the bullet train. Most of our day was spent hopping on and off many different train lines from Shinjuku to Yokohama, then to Daiba and back to Shinjuku. We took a total of 6 different train lines including subways!
Yokohama is a port city and is the second largest city in Japan. There are many interesting places to visit such as Minato Mirai, Motomachi, China Town, Ramen Museum, etc. The Red Shoes Bus that departs from Sakuragi Cho Station goes abound key sightseeing spots in Yokohama. It costs 100 yen, about $1 per ride.
Visiting the Cup Noodle Museum was really interesting. The very first instant noodle was developed in 1958. It was amazing to see the variety of instant cup noodles available in Japan.
Daiba is a relatively newly developed man-made island. There are various shopping malls, entertainment centers, museums, and restaurants. It is a popular spot even among Japanese.
Kids enjoyed the rides at the Tokyo Joy Polis (entertainment center). We took a free shuttle bus from Aqua City to Palette Town and Mega Web later on. Although kids without a driver’s license could test drive cars at Toyota Mega Web, kids who could not speak Japanese were not allowed to do so due to safety issues.
It was another action packed day!
June 5, 2014
We had about 5 hrs before leaving to Narita Airport for our return flight to Honolulu. We went to see Tsukiji Fish Market. It was easy to get to the market from our hotel by using Oedo Subway line. It took about 30 minutes to get there with no transfers.
Tsukiji Fish Market is known for one of the world’s largest fish markets. The market handles the distribution of fish but also fruits and vegetables. It is also a very popular tourist attraction not only for foreigners but also for Japanese. We had to watch out for scooters and cars driving all over the market. We looked around the fish section only but there were so many shops selling all kinds of fresh and dried fish and seaweed products. It was very interesting. It seems that it is expected to move to a new site in Toyosu by spring 2016.
The rainy season in Tokyo has started from today. Since today was our last day of our tour, we didn’t mind the rain at all. We left our hotel at 2:50 pm to catch our flight scheduled to depart at 8:10 pm. We safely arrived in Honolulu at 8:40 am.
Posted by Harumi Karel
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