Tokyo In Winter with Kids
We were really itching to go traveling one last time before my wife gets too far into her pregnancy to get on a plane. I was so glad that we chose to go to Japan again (we went earlier this year as well) since it’s a relatively short trip from Manila and so easy to navigate around.
Since we knew we would get on and off a lot of trains, we got ourselves a Pasmo card this time. It saves you from the hassle of calculating every trip and amassing coins from the ticket machines. Plus many vending machines and stores like 7-Eleven accept payment through Pasmo so it’s very convenient. You can get one at a ticket machine in a train station. You’ll have to pay a Y500 deposit for the card (which you can refund later on).
One great thing about traveling to Tokyo during the winter is the city’s fascination with Christmas and lights. The whole city lights up and makes it a feast for the eyes (especially if you have little ones). Here are some of the places we enjoyed with nice lights:
1.Roppongi Hills / Keyakizaka St. – The tree-lined street behind Roppongi Hills (Keyakizaka St.) lights up making it festive to do a little shopping.
But even without the shopping, you can walk around Moori Garden in Roppongi Hills and enjoy the lights there too.
A large Christmas tree stands next to the Maman spider sculpture in the Roku Roku Plaza in Roppongi Hills.
2. Snoopy Museum – While you’re in the Roppongi area, drop by Snoopy Museum if you’re a fan. The museum itself is quite stiff and targets more of the older fans (and no photos/videos are allowed inside). If I were to go again, I’d forego the paid museum part, go straight to the Snoopy Store, eat at Cafe Blanket, and wait for the heartwarming light show in front of the museum.
They served this meal in a dog bowl! Hehe.
The men’s restroom sign:
They even have a food truck outside if you want something lighter to munch on like hotdogs and cookies:
The Snoopy store:
3. Tokyo German Village – Illuminated by more than 2 million lights, Tokyo German Village transforms into this at night:
It’s located outside of Tokyo despite its name. It’s about 90 minutes away in Chiba prefecture.
There are some fun “street” food here like this pork bun that’s shaped in a cute pig face.
4. Maach Ecute / Akihabara – Ok, Akihabara is always nice and bright at night. But one little known area near it is the old Manseibashi train station by the Kanda river that has been transformed into a nice complex of stores called Maach Ecute.
A tunnel connects all the stores and restaurants. The stores sell local, artisanal craft.
This is how the old train station looked like:
This is how the area near Kanda river looked. If you crossed the bridge to the right, you would have been walking into Akihabara’s Electric Town.
We tried the restaurant at the end which was pretty great! Always have some veggies:
We tried the Yonezawa beef from the Yamagata prefecture (which is up there with Kobe, quality-wise). It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and slightly sweet. So good.
Maach Ecute is quite small, so you can easily cross the bridge into Akihabara if you still want to look around for things to buy.
For fans of Hello Kitty and the gang, Sanrio Puroland is definitely a place to visit. The nearest station is the Tama Center station and is a quick 10-minute walk away. For some reason, the two times I’ve been to Sanrio Puroland, I’ve gotten lost (the train takes a different route, etc). So just be sure to follow Google Maps’ instructions to the T.
They have a fantastic show in the middle of Sanrio Puroland. This time of the year it was a Christmas themed show with Christmas songs and dancers dressed up like Santa Claus. The finale was when the whole place started to really snow!
They have a couple of simple rides for kids. Our favorite is the boat ride (akin to Disney’s “It’s A Small World”). Before you leave, make sure you check out this My Melody cafe serving up kawaii desserts.
Sanrio Puroland closes quite early at 4pm. But that means you get to see this on the way to Tama Center Station. Quite lovely.
FARMER’S MARKET AT UNU
A great way to introduce farmers to your kids and why they’re important to your kids is at the local farmer’s market. And there’s a great one at the United Nations University near Shibuya and Aoyama that’s open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Farmer’s sell their goods here. So as a tourist, it’s also quite intriguing and immersing to try what they have to offer.
There were food trucks selling all different types of cuisines. This one was specializing in Banh Mi sandwiches.
This truck was selling smoked and roasted pork belly (which was ohhhh so good btw).
Locally made artisanal apple juice with my meal was really good.
Look at the produce! They’re giant!
Of course, there is a lot of great coffee to choose from as well.
It’ll be a great place to just talk to the farmers and taste the fruits of their labors.
Near the Farmer’s Market is Omotesando. And this place has a lot of great architecture to marvel at.
And while you’re in Omotesando already, you might as well pass by Dominique Ansel Bakery. You might already know him as the one who invented the Cronut. This branch was his first venture outside of the United States.
The line was bearable. We were in line less than 10 minutes only!
Some of the pastries are only available in Tokyo. Like this Mr. Roboto pastry.
And this Matcha Nonaka Cookie is also Japan-only:
Ansel’s popular Frozen S’mores is also available here. It’s a frozen vanilla custard with crushed chocolate wafer cookies encased in a cube of marshmallow. It sits on a willow branch and torched in front of you until the outside is quite crisp and inside is gooey (until you reach the center which is the frozen custard).
A DAY IN YOKOHAMA
Yokohama has a plethora of laid back things to do with your kids. We loved starting the day in Akarenga since the restaurant Bills is open quite early at 9am. Although the other shops open later at 11am, you can enjoy the beautiful open space at the port and the park next to it.
Bills is a restaurant by Australian chef Bill Granger. Good brunch fare.
Once you’ve explored Akarenga, you then can take a 5-minute walk up to Cup Noodles Museum. You’ll learn all about the inventor of instant noodles, Momofuku Ando and even get to make your own flavor of cup noodles.
They have a cool mechanical display in the front of the museum that you can watch all day if you only had the time.
The entrance is very minimalist.
You can even visit a replica of Momofuku Ando’s house/workplace where he invented the instant noodle.
Making your own Cup Noodles makes a great souvenir. These people were creatively designing their cups (kids will absolutely have a great time).
Then you choose a soup base (they have chicken, tomato chili, curry, and seafood). Then you choose 4 ingredients.
You must eat it within one month. 🙂
Once you’ve made it through the museum, you can cross the street to the large ferris wheel called the Cosmo Clock. It’s a great time to ride during sunset. But since we rode it a bit earlier (and the day was so clear), we got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji while we were on top.
Not too far from Tokyo, Kamakura will offer you a quieter vibe. It has many temples, a hiking route and many small cafes. Although Kamakura is also a city by the sea, it was too cold for the beach. Maybe in the summer next time.
We got off at Kita-Kamakura station (north of Kamakura). There was a cafe here that I read about that I’ve been meaning to try.
Once you cross the train tracks, you walk down what looks like a residential area.
And by the road you will see a small sign that says “open”. Enter that small road and you will see this house. It is called Minka Cafe (喫茶ミンカ).Minka in Japanese is a traditional house and literally means “house of the people”. In the old times that meant farmers, artisans, and merchants. This minka happens to also be a restaurant, and it feels like you’ve travelled to a different time and place.
They had a charming garden with a satsuma orange tree bearing dozens of fruit.
It was really like entering someone’s home.
Comfy chairs armed with blankets for you in case it was chilly.
They did not have their meals available that day (they served some pasta and curry rice). But they did have piroshkis (Russian meat pies) which were quite filling and so good.
And although it looks the same, this was an apple pie pocket. 🙂
They also served some excellent pudding.
After slowing it down in Minka, you can walk down 2km through the temple routes of Kamakura until you get to Komachi. Or you can do what we did and took the train one station (it’s quite difficult with a pregnant lady and 2 kids in tow). Komachi Street is a shopping street that had many shops selling handmade crafts. I saw reasonably-priced handmade toddler dresses, toys, Japan-made fabrics, and many other shops selling a variety of items.
Studio Ghibli fans will love this store selling everything Totoro!
The street is also lined with kiosks selling food from crepes, soft serve, to this deep fried fishcake with octopus bits. There are also many restaurants if you’d like to finally sit down to eat.
If your kid loves Legos, do not miss Legoland Discovery Center in Tokyo Decks in Odaiba. It’s impressively done and can easily take up half a day.They have 2 rides, a 4-D cinema, a workshop and an active play area (we got stuck here the longest).
The Tokyo skyline was recreated all in Lego with a daytime and nighttime variant.
This is Shibuya Crossing all in Lego.
At the workshop, you’ll receive a packet of Legos and the instructor will teach you how to build something step by step. In our class, we got to build a seaplane.
Odaiba’s quite large and basically a it’s a network of malls with attractions spread out. From Tokyo Decks, you can walk to DiverCity where the famous life-size Gundam stands. Starting 5:30pm, its lights turn on and its chest starts spewing smoke.
After following the itinerary I made for my family, I realized there really will never be enough time to do everything. You’ll always discover something new to do next time. And I think that’s what makes Tokyo great. We’ve just finished our trip, but already we are looking forward to the next one.
P.S. Another thing that made our trip quite smooth was internet. If you’re traveling from the Philippines, try FlytPack. My first time to try it (I usually rent from Softbank at Narita airport), and found it cheaper and somehow more reliable than the local ones. I used the internet a lot for Google Maps for train routes and schedules.