Sometimes, well most times, military families do not get much of a decision when selecting a duty station. The Marine Corps sends my husband where he is needed, and the family just tags along; however, in our particular case, we were asked out of AZ, CA, & Japan, where would we like to go next?
For us, Japan was the obvious choice.
We sometimes get weird reactions when we tell people that, but we were born to travel. We want to see the world and everything it has to offer, and if the government wants to help pay for that, well, why the heck not?
Three weeks into our move, it was time for me to travel. A good friend of mine, Sam, was delivering her baby in Tokyo, so we arranged for me to come visit her for a few days while she waited for her baby to arrive. My husband had to work, so it was just little man and me venturing to Tokyo, and to say it was an experience would be an understatement.
Our plane journey to Tokyo is an entirely different story, so I will save that for another blog, so fast forward to my arrival.
- Train Station-There may have been some watery eyes in this process. I feel I’m a pretty independent person, but when I’m in another country, with a 1 year old, a large suitcase, surrounded by virtually no one who speaks English, and I have to figure out what train to take to make it to my friend, my limits are tested; however, once I figured out the transit option on my Maps app, life became much smoother.
The train system is color coded, which helped tremendously. The app even allowed me to see which train to take, when to transfer, how long I would be on the train, and how many stops it would make. For those who may be used to trains and subways-I’m looking at you NYC- this may be common sense. For the girl who drives everywhere, this ended up being incredibly tough for me, and even after three full days in Tokyo, I still didn’t master it.
I also quickly learned that personal space doesn’t exist. The trains are packed and chairs aren’t offered to women or the elderly like they would be in the States; however, the Japanese are so respectful. I took up so much space with my stroller and suitcase; yet, I received nothing but smiles. As the train doors opened, and there were mad rushes to get on and off before they closed, my luggage was constantly lifted on and off the train for me. I had a few people even escort me to the elevator with it. Sound sketchy? In the States, I would have elbowed someone in the face if they touched by luggage, but Japan-it’s just different. They are genuinely kind people.
The biggest takeaway, be weary of large luggage. Americans definitely stand out. We have big everything-strollers, luggage, and bodies! Even the Japanese who carried luggage only had small carry-ons or backpacks. Strollers were mainly compact umbrella strollers, and I didn’t see any diaper bags (nor families with more than two children). I’ve never thought of myself as an over packer, but my next trip to Tokyo, I will definitely size down in this area. Regardless of the journey, I finally made it to my destination and was excited to begin exploring.
DAY 1: Harajuku & The Fashion District If large crowds give you anxiety, Harajuku is not the place to go. I have never seen so many people at the same place, at the same time. It was both fascinating and exhausting. Harajuku was eccentric to say the least. The fashion is, well, different.: five-inch platform sandals, giant glitter hair bows, rainbow colored crop tops. However, once I was able to get past all the crazy shops of clothing and souvenirs that a part of me wanted to buy, yet knew it was a complete waste of money, we discovered some amazing cafes and restaurants.
We grabbed lunch at Pompompurin Café. Haven’t heard of it? You may soon. Pompompurin is a golden retriever character created by the same company that started Hello Kitty and is growing quickly in popularity throughout Japan.
After finishing lunch, my friend and I headed over to the Latte Art Café Reissue. After climbing up a very steep flight of stairs, were warmly greeted and led to a small table, which we shared with a Japanese mom and daughter. One of our favorite stops throughout the entire trip, we simply showed the waitress a picture of whatever we wanted to have their “café artist” recreate on our drink. Since Sam and I were away from our husbands, we thought this would be a good way to have them join us.
Ten minutes later, a phenomenally looking latte appeared. After a half dozen pictures, we finally made ourselves drink the $10 latte, and it was delicious. The café claims to be able to recreate any picture that is brought to them, including 3-D, and by the amount of pictures being taken all of the customers throughout the quaint café, we were not the only ones impressed.
A street over is the fashion district. This was a nice break from the massive crowds, but any real dreams of shopping were quickly squashed for these two military spouses. The street was aligned with high-end stores such as Gucci, Prada, Celine, Louis Vuitton, etc. We window shopped and dreamed, and an hour later, we decided it was time to head home.
We had to brace the crowd back through Harajuku, which by now had doubled in size. On our way out, we wanted some cotton candy at the Totti Candy Shop. We had passed by this shop earlier, but thought it would be a perfect ending to our day. This is not your typical cotton candy. It’s colorful and massive and even comes with a glove to avoid that annoying stickiness. Unfortunately, everyone else must have thought it was a good time for cotton candy as well because it was a two hour wait! We passed for this trip, but definitely on our list for next time.
- Day 2: Shiba-Koen & Shibuya
We knew today we wanted to see the city: literally. We headed for the highest point: The Tokyo Tower located in the Shiba-koen district. We had been told to get there early to avoid the long lines. While reading up on the Tokyo Tower, articles kept mentioning all the steps we needed to climb. If this were accurate, it definitely would have been a site we wouldn’t have been able to see between a 9 month pregnant woman and a stroller. Fortunatley, it was the complete opposite. We felt more like VIPs. After about a 20 minute wait, we purchsed tickets and were escported to a private eleveator that took us right to the top. The views were spectacular. There was a little café, so we sat to have a bite and some coffee while enjoying the scenery.
After an hour or, we started back down on our private elevator and headed to Shibuya.
This was the most fascinating part of our three day trip. There is a reason Shibuya is known for the world’s largest crosswalk. In only 60 seconds, up to 2,500 people cross the street every time the light signals. I have never seen so many people in such a relatively small space in my entire life. Before crossing, we had to take a moment and just watch (as did MANY other visitors). We finally went, and as cheesy as it may sound, it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Directly across the street is Starbucks. The line was out the door, but we still wanted to see the “Starbucks View.” Hands down, that has to be the quickest Starbucks I have ever been to. There were close to 20 people in line in front of me, and I had my latte in less than 10 minutes. I headed up the stairs and just watched the crossing from a higher viewpoint. (Plus, I was able to grab my Tokyo Starbucks mug). With the exception of a $5 latte, it was one of our favorite spot and completely free.
- Day 5: Kamakura
On our last full day, we decided to head to Kamakura to see The Great Buddha. There was a nice trail leading up to The Great Buddha. There is an option to go inside, but we decided just to purchase the main entrance ticket. We saw many Japanese lighting incense and praying, and it was a really interesting location to just observe. We walked around the site for a bit, learned more about Buddhism, and then ventured into Kamakura.
There were cute shops and restaurants we visited, but after three days, these two gals were exhausted, so we decided to call it an early day and headed back.
Overall, Tokyo is a fascinating city to visit. Although we just touched the surface on sites to see and things to do, we feel that three full days was our max for that trip. Our legs were sore, we were mentally exhausted, and it gave us an excuse to visit again.
What is a must for our next visit? Mario carts!