japan travel

travel Thursdays: hello Tokyo!

As promised, I’ve finally sorted through our photos from our November trip to Japan – let the recaps commence! This post covers our itinerary for three days in Tokyo; I’ll also share separate posts on Kyoto, Koya-san, and Kobe. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for an interactive map of our favorite spots in Tokyo. Enjoy!


DAYS 1 – 3

Our 15-day Japanese adventure began with 3 days in Tokyo. We rented a home in Shimokita-zawa via Airbnb. The host was a bit unresponsive, but the neighborhood was terrific.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Shimokitazawa Airbnb

Defying all odds, Baby K managed to avoid poking a hole through the paper window coverings. He was probably distracted by the cool antique furniture throughout the home.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Shimokitazawa Airbnb

photo credit: Airbnb

Before we embarked on our trip, we rented a “pocket Wi-fi” (portable Wi-fi unit) through Global Advanced Comm. This provided us with unlimited Internet access for our entire 15-day trip – hooray! It’s difficult to navigate Japanese cities without Google Maps, so I highly recommend this to any foreign travelers. (Side note – why doesn’t every country offer pocket Wi-fi?!?)

For dinner our first night, after 19 hours of plane travel with a baby, we mustered the strength to walk a few blocks to the nearest 7-11 and raided the instant ramen section.  Per a friend’s recommendation, we also grabbed a bag of green tea Kit Kats. (Verdict: YUM.)

The next morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn (thanks jetlag!) and mapped out public transportation to Daikanyama, where we feasted on fluffy pancakes, coffee, and fresh OJ at Ivy Place. The staff were very accommodating to our squirrelly little man, offering us a baby plate and spoon, scrambled eggs, and lots of smiles.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Daikanyama

The restaurant is nestled amongst several boutiques, including a beautiful bookstore, called Tsutaya. If you’re in the area, drop in and allow yourself a bit of time to browse around – there’s endless books, art prints, textiles, and odds and ends that make far better souvenirs than the cheap crap hawked near the main tourist attractions.

After breakfast, we made a beeline for the Tsukiji Fish Market, the famed wholesale fish market where Jiro and his compadres closely inspect and bid on the finest tuna and seafood. The opening hours for the tuna auction are 3:30 – 6:00 AM, and only 120 visitors are permitted entry, so you can probably guess that we did not partake in that particular activity. But when we arrived later in the morning, there was still plenty of action.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Tsukiji market

I was struck by how large, crowded, and bustling the market was – I’ve been to Seattle’s Pike Place Market many times, but this one was massive, and a true working market – if you didn’t step out of the way, you’d be run over by a power shovel or forklift zooming through the narrow aisles.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Tsukiji market

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Tsukiji market

By early afternoon, we were a bit claustrophobic from the swarming crowds. We sought refuge at nearby Hama-rikyu Garden, a large landscape garden along Tokyo Bay (and the perfect backdrop for our Christmas cards! 😉 . It’s hard to believe that the well-maintained park has been around since the Edo Period (1603 – 1867).

We opted for tea service inside the teahouse overlooking a large pond. For less than $10 USD, we sipped frothy matcha tea and sampled the elegant mochi (rice pastries).

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Hamarikyu matcha

The peaceful gardens, with soaring high rises as a backdrop, were the cure for our nagging jet lag.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Hama-rikyu autumn

Later that afternoon, we took a quick subway ride to Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in Japan (and maybe the world!). It was NUTS. After watching everyone else do it 4-5 times, we stepped out gingerly when the light turned green. When everyone is walking in different directions, I’m not even sure where to go – thankfully the stroller paved a little path for us.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Shibuya Crossing

Baby K was a great sport all day, so we tracked down the Muji department store’s play area (with the amazing wood toys I mentioned in my previous post) for him to let loose.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Muji

We wrapped up our first full day in Tokyo at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. The observation decks offer staggering 360-degree views of the city from above.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Mori

The city was blanketed in a peaceful, cozy fog, and we spent a good, long hour gazing out in each direction as the sun set. 13.62 million people dwell in this megapolis. The sky scrapers and high rises go on as far as your eye can see.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Mori

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Mori

DAY 2

Caffeine is never more appreciated than on the second day of an international trip in a starkly different timezone. We started our day at a cafe on the rooftop of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando. The “patio” was really code for “awesome playground.”

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Omotesando

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Omotesando

The views of surrounding Omotesando didn’t suck, either.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Omotesando

After 20 oz of coffee Once I was human again, we hit the streets and ventured into nearby Harajuku (mecca of Japanese youth fashion, and made infamous by Gwen Stefani). Months ago, I spotted the world’s coolest cotton candy on Instagram, so we made a pilgrimage to Totti Candy Factory.


three days in Tokyo with a toddler Totti cotton candy

We were too shy to photograph the flamboyant costumes that abounded throughout the neighborhood, but trust me – if you’re Tokyo bound, don’t miss Harajuku.

From there, we crossed a large street and entered Yoyogi Park through this beautiful wooden torii. (Japanese toriis are gates at the entrances to Shinto shrines; they symbolize the transition from the profane to the sacred.)

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Meiji

On the path to the Meiji Jingu shrine is a long display of sake barrels (kazaridaru); these are donated by sake brewers across Japan as an offering to the enshrined deities. (They would also make the coolest ottomans, amiright?)

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Meiji

Near the shrine’s entrance is a purification fountain. Visitors fill a ladle with fresh water to cleanse their hands and mouth.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Meiji

The shrine is nestled in a lush evergreen forest in the heart of Tokyo, a green oasis in the world’s 9th largest city. It’s filled with a peacefulness that is tangible.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Meiji

For a small fee, you can write a wish or prayer on a placard. I’m anything if nosy, and greatly enjoyed reading the English-language placards.

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Meiji

We spent our last fleeting hours in Tokyo exploring our neighborhood, Shimokita-zawa. Gothamist labeled it Tokyo’s “hipster paradise,” and the people-watching and window shopping didn’t disappoint. Unlike modern Shibuya and Harajuku, where Tokyo’s large hotels are concentrated, Shimokita is made up of an eclectic hodgepodge of 2-3 story buildings that house thrift stores, divey bars and restaurants, antique booths, rabbit cafes, arcades, and impossibly cool coffee shops (including Darwin Room, a taxidermist’s paradise).

I was enchanted by the verdant produce displays outside the tiny shops – excuse me but where can I find an 18-inch eggplant in Houston?

three days in Tokyo with a toddler Shimokita

All in all, Tokyo ranked among my favorite cities we’ve visited around the world. The fashion, architecture, endless ways to amuse oneself, top-notch transportation system, and culture were unforgettable. Three days in Tokyo were hardly enough.

I’ve mapped out our favorite spots below – have a look, and feel free to comment below or drop me an email if you have any questions!

Up next, a recap of our week in Kyoto!

 

 

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Aubrie
    January 15, 2017 at 12:54 am

    I had so much fun in Tokyo and I definitely got one of those cotton candys too!

    • Reply
      liz
      January 15, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      Aren’t they amazing? I wish I could find cotton candy like that here stateside!

      • Reply
        Aubrie
        January 19, 2017 at 8:36 pm

        Yes me too and the cute little donuts! I guess they do in LA, but I don’t live there sadly!

  • Reply
    Alice Cardy
    January 18, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    I was in Tokyo in November too and I loved it. It looks like you had a great time too, you’ve done stuff I haven’t done yet (I’ve been 2 times) so I’m putting them on the list! I love the picture of baby K in Muji, kawaii!

  • Reply
    Viviane Feeney
    January 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Man I loved Tokyo so much when I went there as only a child. Concrete jungle paradise for all ages I think! So, there is no surprise when you said that Tokyo was your favourite place with endless ways to be amused! It is a really cute thing when parents take their babies traveling, may I add.
    Happy traveling & blogging in the days & years to come!

    • Reply
      liz
      January 24, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Isn’t November the best time of year to be in Japan? I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply
    Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke
    January 18, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    What a grand adventure! I love that family selfie on the street, so happy!

  • Reply
    Gemma
    January 19, 2017 at 12:57 am

    Great photos! Especially the one of you crossing the road! So cute

  • Reply
    Ro from The Travel Captain
    January 19, 2017 at 2:13 am

    gorgeous photos! just came back last week from a 15 day Japanese adventure myself. Completely agree about the pocket wi-fi, was invaluable especially because of needing google maps which was a total life saver!

  • Reply
    jessica
    January 19, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Our son was just a bit older than your baby when we first went to Tokyo. That brings back memories! We’re heading back in about two weeks. Did you find the wifi rental really necessary? Last time we didn’t get it and found that there was free wifi in hotels, coffee shops, etc but many people have been recommending it. How much did it end up costing total?

    • Reply
      liz
      January 24, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Yes, the wifi rental was 100% necessary for us. I suppose it would be easier to get around if you speak Japanese, but many of the streets don’t have names, so mapping our destinations was critical. It was around $100 for 14 days of unlimited wi-fi (we rented a super high-speed router to ensure we’d have good service even on the trains and in rural areas, since we went a bit off the beaten path after Tokyo).

  • Reply
    Ioanna
    January 19, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Hi!
    What a great post! I’ve never been to Japan and your photos are just awesome! They are not the typical touristy kind I see. You really made me want to see Japan one day 🙂
    oh, and I love your style of writing! Will come back with pleasure 🙂
    Have a great day!
    Ioanna (A Woman Afoot)

    • Reply
      liz
      January 24, 2017 at 9:10 am

      You’re too sweet, thank you! If you have the chance, I highly recommend making a trip to Japan, it was enlightening and we enjoyed every minute.

  • Reply
    Shannalyn
    January 19, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    What an amazing trip! I’m definitely going to pin this for future travel. I’ve never been to Japan but am hoping to go soon as many of the accounts that my husbands family sells fish two are located in Japan. I don’t think I could survive without google maps. Great idea. Also agree with pocket wifi. Must have!!!

    • Reply
      liz
      January 24, 2017 at 9:15 am

      Definitely explore Japan, I can’t recommend it enough!

  • Reply
    Theresa
    January 21, 2017 at 3:29 am

    Wow, this looks like a fantastic visit., I’ve never been, but your photos are make it look beautiful (and totally doable with small kids).

  • Reply
    Elaine
    January 22, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Fab round up! We spent some time in Japan during the summer and totally agree with your fave city comment! Love that you did all this with an 11 month old as well, looks like he took it all in his stride!

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