After a whirlwind final couple of weeks in Sydney, we waved our goodbyes to our friends and family and were on our way to the US… via Japan for a quick holiday. It was really sad and surreal saying goodbye – my last day in the Sydney BCG office, farewell to all of our friends (Jacs hosted an amazing Thanksgiving party our last weekend there as well), and of course goodbye to mum and dad / Oma and Dadda as Leo calls them – we’re all going to miss living in ‘Oma Dadda’s house’ and hanging out with them. Leo has such a blast with them.
Sunset view of Mt Fuji from the room
After a relatively uneventful but full overnight flight to Tokyo, we landed at Haneda airport to a cold winter morning at 5.30am and hopped on the metro to Roppongi Hills, where we were staying at the Grand Hyatt (finally using some points!). The hotel was lovely but unfortunately we were too early to get our room, but never fear! We headed up for a lovely breakfast in the lounge over looking the city and then in true Buchanan style, set off on a walk around the area – to see the Tokyo Tower (taller than the Eiffel tower!), a beautiful Buddhist shrine in a park nearby, and then back to the hotel for a relax in our gorgeous room!
Leo the photographer in the imperial gardens
After a bit of a rest, we were back on the subway to see the Imperial Palace gardens (after a quick stop for some Kara-age (fried chicken) for Leo) which were gorgeous, but for some reason were free for the day and absolutely packed with visitors! From there we checked out the architecture of Tokyo station, and walked down and around Ginza to see all of the shops – which were actually less crazy than we were expecting! By that stage Leo had cracked it and we headed back to the hotel to rest up and clean up before cocktail hour began ? Leo loved our evening cocktail break each day as she could grab snacks and a juice. Roppongi Hills (where the hotel was) is a fancy development and for Christmas there were all kinds of cool light displays so we had a stroll around the area before settling in for some yummy Soba noodles followed by an early night – what a first day!
Family Christmas in Roppongi Hills
Leo and Jacs with the Christmas lights
The pace didn’t slow on day two! We were up bright and early with our darling human alarm clock and headed over on the subway to see Tsukiji Market (the huge Fish Market!). We first strolled around the outer market since you can’t get in to the central area until 9am since there is so much activity going on for the actual commercial fish wholesaling. The outer market sells lots of stuff including knifes, other food, other cooking related items, and luckily for us, food for a hungry toddler! Leo demolished two ‘egg on a stick’’s (actually quite yum!) which must have been at least 3-4 eggs. I then of course had to have sushi for breakfast which is a change! A few places like SushiDai (a famous sushi place) had 1-2 hour queues, but we popped in next door and it was delicious, although in Sydney we do get pretty good fish as it is! Then it was time for the main scene – the wholesale area which really is amazing in scale! There are little trucks whizzing around everywhere and everyone is rushing around still hard at work. There are all kinds of strange fish, but I do think the most amazing is seeing the massive tuna getting cut up!
Sushi for breakfast
Egg on a stick!
From there, we walked around a beautiful park called Hama-rikyu before hopping back on the subway over to Asakusa to check out Senso-ji, a huge shrine which was fun – Jacs even received a great fortune… although if you get a bad one, you just hang it on the wire and leave it behind. The journey then continued to Ueno, where we wandered around another beautiful park (Tokyo really has a lot of gorgeous parks and we got lucky as the leaves are still changing so are beautiful reds and yellows), walked past the national museum, and then walked around Yanaka, a cute little area with little temples, narrow streets and old houses. We were pretty exhausted at this point – Leo isn’t as light as she used to be – but squeezed in one more quick stop at Akihabara (‘Akiba’) which is the centre of geek culture and was quite a sight to see. At Electric Town there are flashing lights and gadgets everywhere, as well as lots of ‘maid cafes’ – these strange restaurants where the waitresses are dressed as maids! Phew! What a day!
Daddy and Leo in Asakusa
After a rest back at the hotel, we decided we’d grab a simple dinner and managed to find a cool little Yakitori place nearby called Jomon – we’d read about it in Lonely Planet, but luckily it wasn’t touristy. We actually had to write down its name in Japanese and find those symbols in small writing on a door to find the place! It was the perfect place since Leo could chow down on the food, it was quick, I could have a beer, and of course, everything was cooked which Jacs needs here! Leonora has started learning Japanese and can now proudly say Yakitori and Arigato – or ‘ah-gee-tori’ and ‘gaa-toe’ respectively.
Excited for some Yakitori
After a final brekkie at the lounge, we hopped in to a cab over to Shinjuku for two nights in the luxurious Park Hyatt (made famous by ‘Lost in Translation’) where we had a lovely corner suite, free brekkie in the restaurant and free drinks in the evening (finally getting some pay back for all the travel!). The hotel is really cool – reception is on level 41 of a tall tower, and the rooms go up from there, so there are amazing views of the city, and also Mount Fuji – it was cool going to the gym on level 47 and looking out at that, and made for a fantastic yoga studio for Jacs!
Tantrum 679 at the Park
All settled in to the room
View from the room over Yoyogi Park
After checking in, we set off on another big day – but one that we’d been super excited for. From the hotel, our first stop was just across the street where there was a huge playground so we decided to give Leo a few minutes on the swing and huge slide! We then walked down and through another beautiful park called Yoyogi park which has the Meiji jingu / Meiji shrine in the middle of it which is a gorgeous wooden building that was rebuilt still using old wood so it has the original feel to it. From Meiji jingo, another 10 minute walk got us to Harajuku, where first stop was a stroll down Takeshita-dori, which is the epicentre of teen culture there – there were crazy clothes and stores, and surprisingly a huge number of dessert and crepe stores! It was really cool to see, and definitely made us feel like we were in Tokyo! We continued the walk around Harajuku to see all of the luxury stores (many in cool new buildings with funky futuristic designs) around Ometesando, and the more boutique stores in the lane ways off the main road.
From Harajuku, we walked down a small street called ‘Cat street’ with even more shopping, all the way to Shibuya! Shibuya is where Shibuya crossing is, which is what we often see photos of from Tokyo – it is an incredibly busy crossing surrounded by all the buildings with neon signs and billboards. Quite a sight! We’d worked up quite an appetite so found a little ramen place overlooking the Shibuya centre-gai where we ordered on a vending machine before walking in and then handed the tickets to the waitress – something we’ve never done before but seems to be the standard for ramen here! It was yum – Leo really scoffed it down ? Recharged after the meal, we continued the wander around the area and came across a photo booth place that we’d heard about, where you can edit the photos to airbrush them and put on makeup and decorate them – it was a blast! The result was hilarious, if a little scary!
Next generation sushi train!
And then this… some photo booth fun
Final stop was another quick snack at Uobei Sushi which a friend had told me about – it is the ‘next generation’ of sushi train where you order on a screen at your seat, and the dishes come whizzing out of the kitchen on a track that brings the food to you! It was great fun, and tasty too! After that though it was time to hop on the train back up to Shibuya for an afternoon rest at the hotel (and a quick trip to the gym!) before our evening ‘twilight hour’ cocktails looking out over the city. Leo was a little tired so we just decided to stroll to a nearby restaurant for … another massive meal of ramen ordered on a vending machine. It was delicious again, but we were definitely all noodled out from the day!
Yesterday was our final day in Tokyo, and instead of trying to squeeze in a day trip somewhere, after the pace we’d been moving, we decided to have a relatively relaxing day exploring Shinjuku, the area around the hotel, which is also a really cool part of Tokyo – especially for shopping and nightlife. After a slow morning (Jacs did some Yoga, I took Leo to the park, and we had a nice breakfast at the hotel), we set off on a stroll down past Shibuya station which is the hub of the area (and one of the world’s busiest stations apparently), with a quick look at the massive sky scrapers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices by our hotel. After a rest and a coffee at Starbucks by the station, we started the explore with a walk around the huge Shinjuku gyoen park to let Leo run around a bit. From there we wondered around some Department stores, a Bic Camera (one of the huge electronics shops) and then some more Department stores where we grabbed a bite (including a packaged pork katsu sandwich which Jacs thought was weird but I tried anyway!), squeezed in one more department store visit to Takashimaya, before walking home for a bit of a rest.
Starbucks brekkie Tokyo style
Exploring Shinjuku gyoen
As 5pm approached, we diligently headed to the Peak lounge for our twilight hour drinks (and some nuts and crackers – Leo had a blast feeding us the ‘spicy’ wasabi peas). Before heading out to dinner we decided to go upstairs to the New York bar, which is the set for much of the movie Lost in Translation. Although we couldn’t sit in the actual bar with Leo, we sat in the adjoining Grill restaurant area looking in to the bar and had a cocktail there. The view was awesome from the top of the building and the drinks were pretty tasty too. They even had a delish mocktail for Jacs.
Posing in the lobby
Lost in Translation
It was then time to hop in a cab back to downtown Shinjuku for some Yakitori in a tiny street known as ‘piss alley’ or ‘memory lane’ (Omoide yokocho) lined with heaps of equally tiny yakitori restaurants that you can barely fit in to. That was a fun, quick meal, after which we went for a quick walk around Golden Gai, a series of little lanes filled with tiny bars, many that only sit a handful of people and you need to a regular, however Leo had reached the end of her tether and it had started to drizzle so instead of pushing our luck and sitting down, we hopped in a cab home and had a beer (Jacs was enjoying Asahi ‘Dry Zero’ and ‘Style Free’ alcohol free beers!) in the room to relax after putting Leo to sleep.
Piss Alley or Memory Lane?
We’re now just checking out of the Park Hyatt to head to Tokyo Station for our Shinkansen / bullet train to Kyoto. Overall, Tokyo was awesome and we had a blast – such a great city and we were amazed by all of the parks too. My back could use a break after carrying Leo around everywhere (as could Jacs’ at 6.5 months with BubbaB2), but other than that we’re feeling great and are super excited for Kyoto! We’ll post again in a few days from there!
Ben, Jacs and Leo