Our trip to Tokyo had some highs and some lows. Overall, it left us with a complicated feeling about the place, but we had a few great experiences here.
We started off on a bad foot. We had a full travel day, got into Tokyo Narita airport pretty late, then had to make the 1.5 hr 3-train journey to our Airbnb near Tokyo Tower. I got about an hour of sleep before starting work at 1am. The next morning we braved the subway for an hour to get to a highly-heralded art exhibition. We had purchased tickets in advance, but when we arrived there was a line circling a city block (about 3-4 people wide) who all had also purchased tickets in advance. It was a quick (but sad) decision to skip the exhibit because waiting that long with a toddler just isn’t an option. The exhibit itself is clearly very popular and demand for everything in Japan is high right now due to Sakura (the cherry blossoms). We did enjoy the train ride to/from the art exhibit, as it was above ground and gave an amazing view of the city. We saw several buildings with interesting architecture that made us understand what people mean when they say Tokyo feels futuristic. There was also a huge colorful ferris wheel that added to the scenery. We especially liked taking this train because it was mostly along the water. We looked around at the mall nearby and eventually made our way back to the area we were staying. We were all short on patience and high on let down. It was a pretty rough day, and it didn’t end there unfortunately.
We decided to stay out and try to see more of what we wanted to see. After a visit to Shake Shack (iit tasted so good to eat a real burger!) we walked around the mall and bought some warmer clothes. Stella’s favorite of her new clothing items is her Aristocat sweatshirt, she’s worn it almost everyday since. In the same area there is a building with a 360 degree view of Tokyo which we had planned to see. It is called the Tokyo Sky City View Deck in Roppongi Hills, and it was quite amazing! We really needed this moment, no lines, a safe place for Stella to run around freely, and an incredible view for us. We spent at least 30 minutes up there, if not more, because it just felt so relaxing after the kind of morning we had.
We made it back to our apartment and spent time to hang out. We eventually ventured out for dinner, which was a disaster. Later that night, Stella fell off the bed and had a pretty good bonk on her forehead. Finally the end to our rough first day in Tokyo.
Throughout our Tokyo experience we realized that we vastly underestimated the city. It’s huge. We didn’t give it the planning that it deserves and our experience suffered. If you go, I’d spend a lot of time planning your itinerary including a budget for 45min+ to get anywhere on the subway system.
The subway system is expansive. It’s generally well-organized and has a lot of signage in English. But, it’s still VERY intimidating. At any given station there are likely 5 to 15 different entrances/exits. Inside, there is a labyrinth of escalators, tunnels, and platforms connecting the different lines and exits. Google maps does a good job helping you find your path, but it’s still a lot to handle. For us, it was exacerbated by having a stroller since there was typically only one elusive “happy path” that had an elevator to get to your target line. We almost never found that path. Instead, I ended up carrying the stroller up and down tons of stairs. On one especially deep line, we went about 5 stories down, and 5 stories back up again (all carrying the baby and stroller combo). After a day or two of this, we ditched the stroller unless we were sure the path would be stroller friendly.
Ok, enough of the tough stuff. There were some clear highlights of Tokyo.
Ramen. We ate at a delicious Ramen place called Soranoiro. The noodles were clearly made in house — the texture and firmness was perfect. The broth had a rich meat flavor and the eggs felt like a guilty pleasure. I knew this was ramen to remember when Lindsay held up a piece of pork fat and raved about how amazing it tasted (fat isn’t really Lindsay’s thing, usually). Also, there were plenty of noodles! You didn’t eat all the noodles and then start searching for more. There were plenty. They even used real seaweed plant instead dried nori which really added to the authentic feeling.
Sakura. The main reason we added Japan to our itinerary last minute is because were realized that Sakura was happening while were were in Asia. We’re so glad we got to see the cherry blossoms. All around the city we found pockets of trees overflowing with light-pink flowers. It added a mystical and enchanting feeling to our activities. One day Stella took a well-timed nap that allowed up to wait in line for a row boat rental in the moat around the Imperial Palace park. Cherry blossoms lined the shores and created an unmatched ambiance for an afternoon boat ride. We all felt very lucky that day.
Senso-ji Temple. This was on our list of things to do in Tokyo, and we were so surprised! It was obviously touristy, but in all the good ways. The Sakura blooms just added to it all. We donated 100 yen and made a wish and picked our fortune out on the temple grounds. If you pick a bad fortune, you tie it in a knot on a rack nearby and leave it there. We got what I think was a good fortune? It was kind of half and half, but overall we decided it was good and we kept it. The area was full of shops and Japanese treats and Stella loved walking up and down and up and down the stairs to the temple. She also loved chasing the pigeons and whispering to all of the plants and flowers she saw. This was a really really good day!
Tokyo Sky City View Deck in Roppongi Hills. This was something that was a quick 10 minute walk away from where we were staying, so we knew we had to do this! The view from this tower feels like it never ends. It just shows you how expansive Tokyo really is.
The Future. Visiting Japan feels like visiting the future. Everything is smarter. You order food on a touch screen. Cashiers don’t count your money, they just insert it into the till and change pours out. The toilets look like they have a mission-control dashboard on the side allowing you to wash just about anything you can think of. The architecture is fascinating and surreal. It truly feels like the future.
Tokyo was emotion-full, but we walked away with some great memories.
Thanks for reading,