Today I want to give you a summary of our experience and how to enjoy Tokyo with under 2 years old. What we liked most, what we think went really well, and what we would change next time.
The trip we did to Japan when Liam and Santiago were 17 months old was so memorable that I broke it down in several articles to go in the details of the different cities we visited.
Our trip was 17 days long and this was our itinerary:
Tokyo was our starting point and we arrived at Haneda airport.
Our flight arrived perfectly on time at 7:30 in the morning, but hotels in Japan are really rigid with check in time and they will not give you the room before 2pm. If you also have a flight arriving early in the morning, then consider that in Haneda airport (Arrival Lobby, 2nd Floor) there are Shower Rooms that you can use for Y1030 30 min. We didn’t use it because we felt good even after the long flight, but I had the note in my spreadsheet just in case 🙂
At the airport we bought 2 Suica cards (a loadable card similar to the London oyster card, that can be used on public transport in several cities in Japan), there are several automatic machines where you can buy them and you can select English as option for the language so it isn’t difficult, but you must have cash, the machine wouldn’t accept cards. With our brand new Suica card we took the monorail and then the Yamanote line to arrive at our hotel which saved us more than £60 on the return tickets for 2 people.
HOT TIP: if you bought a Japan railpass voucher you need to exchange it once you arrive in Japan. Here I made my first mistake and therefore my suggestion to you. Both airports have an office where you can exchange your voucher and book the train you are planning to take, I really recommend you to do it as soon as you arrive. We didn’t do it because there is also an office inside Tokyo station and our hotel was only 5 minutes from the station so I thought do it there.
…aaahaah wrong decision, for 2 reasons: stations in Japan are as big as small villages and packed with an incredible amount of people, walking from one end of Tokyo station to the other could take you 20 minutes. When we went looking for the office we wasted 1 hour between finding it, queuing and going back!
Second reason is some trains could be fully booked. Most of the trains have unreserved carriages, but not all. We have had to change slightly our plan on the way to Kanazawa because the train I wanted was fully booked…so the earlier you book the better. Any way you can decide the day you want to activate the Japan Rail pass so no need to wait!
WHERE DID WE STAY
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In Tokyo we decided to stay at the Ryumeikan hotel. This was a decision based on many different reflections. I explained in my post about how to make a stress free trip to Japan, my reason to stay at an hotel instead of Airbnb.
The Ryumeikan hotel it is a business hotel, so rooms are reeaaally small, but it had really good reviews and a fantastic position 5 minutes from Tokyo station, where there is the Yamanote line and also where we would catch the train to Nikko on a day trip and to Nagano (for the snow monkey park).
Position for me was important because I know we are a slow family in the morning so being close by the station was key. The other things we had to consider is that many hotels in Japan only allow 1 child in the double room, be careful to always check these details when booking. The Ryumeikan hotel allows 2 children under 6 for free when they use existing bed (if I remember correctly). This for us was a good solution because we were bringing with us our amazing Phil & Teds Traveller v4 Portable Baby Travel Cot anyway. I’m not really sure how 2 adults and 2 kids could sleep in those beds, considering that at the most they are queen size…but anyway!!!
We spent £768 for 6 nights, the room was super tiny and with cots open all floor space was taken, but I still believe for the price and the hotel quality it was the right decision, so I would still recommend it. everything was sparkling clean. They also have a room with washing machine and drier, that was really convenient and we used it a couple of times. There is a lovely restaurant in the hotel that could be useful if you want a nice dinner while the kids are sleeping without leaving the hotel.
Transport in Tokyo was super-efficient, with the Hyperdia website/app I had all our connections planned, and I had the opportunity to see that moving around in Tokyo takes time!
This is even truer when you are going around with a pram, in all stations we found a lift (excluding Shinjujo, where even with detailed notes we managed to get lost and lose half an hour!), but of course it is slower than just going with the flow and using escalators or stairs.
For us there was no question about having the pram with us, but if you can avoid it, then it will makes your movement around quicker!
WHAT TO SEE:
Plenty of guidebooks will inspire you but I just want to share what we did and how we did it with our twins.
The first day we arrived in the morning and even though for us was night time, as soon as we left luggage in the hotel we went out and visited the east garden of the imperial palace.
It was the beginning of November and the weather in Tokyo was amazing, we were around most days with short sleeves, it was sunny and even in the evening just a denim jacket would have been enough
After the Imperial Palace garden, we walked through Marunouchi and Ginza together with Ashlee (we have some friends in Tokyo and we took the opportunity to meet them) and stopped for dinner in a small restaurant where unfortunately they didn’t have high chairs and we didn’t have our foldable seats with us…but we survived.
The second day was really busy, after visiting Asakusa and the Sensoji temple we walked to the kitchen street. If you love buying homewares then find a way to dedicate at least a couple of hours to this street, it is packed with amazing shops selling the most beautiful ceramics, tea pots, and any kind of kitchen accessory. I bought few things including a little ginger grater that I love…but I didn’t have enough time to explore every single shop, as I would have liked, because in the afternoon we were heading to Odaiba and to get there I had booked tickets on a little cruise on the futuristic hotaluna boat.
I thought the cruise would have been a fun way to arrive from Asakusa to Odaiba in a different way along the river. It was nice but less exciting than expected to be honest, we spent £25 in total for 2 tickets. The river is really wide and the buildings along it are not super interesting, we also had 2 toddlers to chase around that doesn’t make the experience really smooth
Odaiba was ok for a bit of shopping, but our main plan was to get to the Ooedo Onsen…if you have already started to get info about Tokyo or Japan I think you will know what I’m talking about and you are probably thinking we were crazy, but let’s start in order. Onsen are public thermal bath, you have to wash yourself deeply and then after you can enter the bath (naked) to relax (they are separated by sex). The Ooedo onsen is a sort of big theme park, but in a positive way. You will not find the mystic atmosphere of an onsen in a small village, but it is absolutely worth it.
95% of the people there were Japanese going there in small groups; in the UK you meet at the pub, in Italy you meet at the restaurant, and in Japan apparently you go naked together for a splash!!! At the beginning I was a bit nervous, even if I researched all the info about onsen etiquette, but once inside I completely relaxed, there were all ages from kids to old people and no-one is actually looking at you.
Before to enter you leave all your stuff and shoes in some lockers, then you pay the entrance and you can choose between 3/4 Yutaka design (light kimono), then you go into the changing areas where there are more lockers and get changed and only wear your underwear under the yutaka.
From the changing area you move into the common space, where there are several stalls to buy food and areas to sit and relax while chatting with friends. When you decide you want to go for a bath, you enter the sex divided areas, you will leave everything in a small locker and you will go in the bath bringing only the small towel they gave you just there. (they gave you also a big towel but you can’t bring it in the bath area)
Inside you first wash yourself thoroughly and then you can enjoy all the different indoor and outdoor baths (amazing!!!!)
Ok…now I made a small review of the place and I think you understood I really liked it…but the question is does it make sense going there with 2 babies…well as usual the answer to this kind of question is always personal but I can tell you that it was difficult. At the end we were happy we did it but I’m not sure if I would do it again with twins of that age when there’s only 2 of you.
My little boys are really energetic and they were just running everywhere, when one of us went for the bath the other had the task to keep them entertained and always under control, at that age they couldn’t stop running everywhere so even 45 minutes was tough!
The third day we had a lovely walk in Nakameguro area and to the Daikan Yama and T-site. This is a less touristic area and we really enjoy to see it but then to compensate we went to see the busiest crossing in the world in Shibuya. We had lunch at the Bondolfi café, a sort of good Italian café, with a nice garden. They had high chairs so it was perfect with the kids
In my list there were 2 places to eat: Ivy place and the Daylight kitchen, but we were with friends so we changed plans for both lunch and dinner. Check them out though because they seemed good options with kids (the Ivy place need to be booked in advance)
Late in the afternoon we also went to see the busiest road crossing in Shibuya, we had a great spot from the windows of the Shibuya station, some great time-lapse video opportunities!!! Shibuya is a busy shopping area too if you fancy it.
HOT TIPS: If your kids need a space where to play for a while in Shibuya you can head to the Muji store on the fifth floor…and even better you can leave your husband there with them and go to the store just opposite called LOFT where you can have half an hour of crazy shopping (I really couldn’t stop myself buying everything in the health and beauty section!!!)
The fourth day was fun! In the morning we went to Harajuko, we visited the Meji shrine, walked through Takashima street (do not miss Daiso a 100Yen shops and kids dressed up) and took a lot of pictures of contemporary architecture walking in Omotesando.
In the afternoon I had a surprise organized for Mark and I was looking forward to see his reaction. I found this place (http://en.hisui-tokyo.com/) that gives courses of some interesting Japanese arts, but they also allow you to pay (a lot) just for a one off lesson. So I booked a batto lesson for him. This is an individual lesson using a real katana (this is not something common to find) while you are also fully dressed like a samurai. Mark loved it!
The fifth day we went on a day trip to Nikko. We activated our Japan Rail pass to start on this day to take advantage of the fast train from Tokyo station to Utsunomiya station (if you don’t have the JRP there are other options that are slower but cheaper than the fast train). Something that wasn’t clear to me was that the JRP is valid also for the regional train from Utsunomiya station to Nikko station, I thought we would have had to buy a separate ticket for that train…great news!!
As I explained in the post with all the suggestions to make the trip to Japan stress free here we contacted a guide to be with us all day in Nikko.
In Tokyo I didn’t contact them because we were meeting some friends living there so we wanted to be more flexible, but for our day trip to Nikko I got in touch with the Utsunomiya group and they found Takase who was free to be with us all day! It was a lovely day! He waited for us at Utsunomiya station and from there we took the regional train together to Nikko and he guided us around the beautiful temple area at our own pace and also helped us with Liam and Santiago many times.
Nikko was beautiful and the Autumn colours were stunning, every tree was a million shades of orange, red and yellow! We may have missed Sakura, but I believe that Autumn time is probably as beautiful as Sakura time! With the pram it wasn’t possible to access everywhere, in some places we managed to leave the pram in safe places, in others we made a quick turn each and on the last temple I went by myself…but all in all it was still a rewarding experience.
HOT TIP: if you take the bus from the station to the temple area be aware that the buses have really tiny corridors, even our compact double pram couldn’t go through, so be prepared to fold it and hold the babies!
On the way back to Tokyo, Takase come with us again until Utsunomiya station and we exchanged a little present, he brought some lovely bookmarks and cards for us and I brought Baci Perugina and Cantucci for him. There is no requirement to bring any present, but reading around the web I found that it was a common way to say thank you! (don’t forget that excluding rare exceptions Japanese people don’t accept tips)
Back in Tokyo we finished the evening in an Izakaya. Izakaya are the sort of equivalent of a pub, where you drink and eat small food portions and where usually people are allowed to smoke, there are some non smoking Izakaya but the major problem I encountered, when I was trying to find info about them, is that the few that had a website only had it in Japanese!
Luckily another friend of Mark’s who has been living in Tokyo for many years suggested to meet in Gonpachi G-zone (if you want, you can google translate to see the website) an Izakaya in Ginza that was really big, nice, kid friendly and smoke free!!!! I was really happy because I thought we wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience an Izakaya. The place has really nice interiors, but is also relaxed, they even had highchairs! I can definitely recommend it! (Mark’s friend, Chris, also speaks fluent Japanese so we were able to try some dishes we wouldn’t have picked out by ourselves too!)
Day six was our last day in Tokyo and it was the day I needed to attend my Ikebana class, I was so excited!!! It was another thing I found by chance when I was looking around for information about Yanaka, the neighborhoods where instead of skyscrapers and technology you can find local shops, temples, and shrines with the feeling of old Japan. When I was collecting info about what to see (the area it isn’t big, but I wanted to be sure to know all the highlights), I came across the small Yanesen tourist info and culture centre. This is where I discovered you can take a 2 hour Ikebana lesson for Y5800 (cash) more or less £40. I looked around more and found several schools in Tokyo, but this was fitting perfectly our schedule so I decided to go for it. We walked in the Yanaka area first and then I left 2 grumpy little boys with Mark and went to the little office, where I met the Japanese teacher with an interpreter and we all went to a lovely little house where I learned about Ikebana.
It was a lovely way to interact with people from such a different culture, and at the end I, of course, also spent a few more pounds to buy the proper metal nail base to do my flower arrangement back in London!!!!
After lunch in a small cafe in the area while L&S finally fell asleep (they were grumpy all morning until Mark found a playground for them, I even recognized their screaming from the tea house when at some point Mark walked under the windows with them), we moved to Shinjuko to go to the viewing platform on Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (by Kenzo Tange) where on the 45th floor there is a free viewing deck in each tower (north tower open 9:30-23 south untill 17:30)
In Shinjuko is the only time we have had issues finding the lift for the tube and we lost a lot of time in the station on the way back.
After Shinjuko we went back to Ginza/Marunouchi and spend a bit of time on the roof top of the Kitte building, this is a great place where to let kids run around safely, and older kids will also be really engaged watching the fast trains you can see just below. It is a little shopping building with also many restaurants and the really great rooftop, I really recommend a stop there! (look at the website to see the exact location).
Our time in Tokyo unfortunately arrived to an end, the next day we were moving to the Snow Monkey Park and as it was only for 1 night we packed the luggage and send it to the next hotel in Kanazawa through the TA-Q-BIN service offer in the hotel (2 big luggage cost us £26, not cheap but super useful), we kept with us only a small bag.
Our Tokyo days were amazing and even if the first few nights we have had to fight jet leg watching Teletubbies in the middle of the night, I think it really worth the effort.
Tokyo is a really big city and of course with 2 babies even in 6 days it wasn’t possible to see everything I would have like to see, I enjoyed so much that I would already like to go back!
Have you ever been to Japan? Is there something I shouldn’t miss on my next visit?