My 10-year-old son and I recently spent a four-day weekend in Japan, Neither of us had been there before, and we don’t often get to do a father son weekend away. Tokyo is a 2 hour flight from Seoul, we flew out on the Friday evening from the old Seoul airport Gimpo, It has several advantages over Inchon (the new airport) it is only 30 min from our house by subway and it is small so check in and security reliably take far less time. Once through security I was disappointed to discover that there were no Airline lounges :-(, we had been relying on them for dinner (and in my case a nice cold beer). So we made do and ate in a nondescript airport restaurant, it seemed that in the Gimpo Airport nondescript is all they do, it can be said that they have a great variety of instant raimian noodles (pot noodles, instant noodles for the rest of the world) available, to me this doesn’t constitute h’aute cuisine or for that matter passable food.
No matter, we boarded the plane with a mere 45 min delay, we were flying on ANA, to me it was just another unremarkable plane and unremarkable flight. We arrived at Haneda airport and proceeded through immigration and customs and caught a taxi to our hotel the “Shinagawa Prince”, the taxi trip was one of the most expensive of my life, the trip was less than ½ an hour but cost about $75 US. We could have caught the subway for $2.50 each!! But it was late at night and we were both tired, so in the same circumstances I would probably do the same again.
The Shinagawa Prince is just beside the Shinagawa train station and is a typical 4* hotel, I would not describe it as characterless, but I struggle to remember anything interesting about it. We made it into bed by 11pm and fell straight asleep.
The next morning we were up early for a buffet breakfast, my son was in heaven all these new foods to try, me, I just over eat bacon, and cheese omelets, buffets are just bad for me. After Breakfast we went on a full day tour of Tokyo. The tour was the Dynamic Tokyo tour run by www.jtb-sunrisetours.jp and it started from the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal. It was the first time that I had done a tour like this, overall it felt it was worth doing, parts of it seemed stage-managed and some parts were boring (to me, perhaps some people find driving slowly past a flashy shopping strip riveting but I think I fell asleep) and the interesting bits we seemed to be rushed. We had a lovely Japanese guide who was very knowledgeable and patiently answered all our questions.
Our first stop was Tokyo Tower, Tour Quote “Tokyo Tower, the symbol of Tokyo, offers a great 360 degree panoramic view from its main observatory.”
We traveled up the lift to the observatory deck, and true to its word we had marvelous views of Tokyo, the highlight (for my son) were the glass observation tiles in the floor,
where you could stand and look straight down 150m, E thought it was the coolest thing on the planet.
This was followed by a traditional Japanese tea Ceremony,
the ceremony was interesting but to my and E’s pallets the tea was increadably bitter. The most interesting thing was the Bonsai trees in the garden some of which were over 500 years old.
Lunch was a Japanese-style BBQ which it must be said was much like a Korean BBQ, and I should have not been surprised as the countries have many other things in common.
Lunch was followed by a visit to Nijubashi Bridge in the Imperial Palace Plaza, and then on to Hinode Pier for a Board the Sumida River Cruise. we must have been doing quite a bit as once on the boat I was enjoying the cruise so much I just had to have a power nap. The Cruise ended at the Nakamise Shopping Street which is a bustling nick-nak marker, as usual I struggled to by good nick-naks but I did get a nice tee-shirt and some eyeless dolls for the girls. The eyeless dolls are paper mache and you are meant to paint one eye when you make a wish and the second eye when the wish comes true.
At the end of the street there is the Sensoji Temple, which is reputed to be Tokyo’s oldest temple, there was much incense burning and for a small donation you could get your fortune told. My son insisted in doing the ritual and ended up with a good luck fortune. I suspect that most of the fortunes are some sort of good luck and if you get a bad one you can tie it up in a special way and try again, and repeat until you get good luck.
From there it was back to the hotel, for dinner we had Tepinyaki that was really well cooked and very much enjoyed.
Mt Fuji and Hakone
The next day we departed the hotel for Mt Fuji and Hakone, the bus and tour guide was much like the one form the previous day, we were treated to some useful and some interesting titbits of information which helped pass the time on the 2 hr bus trip. The day was generally overcast and showery but when we reached the 5th station on Mt Fuji, for a glorious few minutes the weather cleared and we got a spectacular view of the top.
The little shop at the 5th station is really cool, you can buy postcards and stamps and post them from the shop. Instead of a normal post mark your post card gets a big stamp in the shape of Mt. Fuji that said posted from Mt Fuji. E thought that it was so good that he wrote post cards to all his grand parents.
From Mt Fuji it was lunch which was once again very similar to a Korean lunch with lots of sides, soup and rice.
After lunch we continued to Lake Ashi for a short cruise to the base of the Mt. Komagatake ropeway. The ropeway turned out to be a cable car, the day was overcast, we caught the cable car to the top and walked out to have a look around, apparently there was a stunning view, however we could see no more than 20m as we were in the cloud. Ah well a fun cable car trip.
That night we stayed at a traditional hotel in Hakone, our beds were on the floor and we had a traditional Spa followed by a traditional Japanese meal. The meal was a multiple course affaire with many Japanese delicacies, the salad was great, as was the sushi and miso soup however the fish balls were not so tasty. Having the meal was interesting, we were wearing traditional Japanese cloths and there were a great variety of people in the dining hall, families, lovers and groups of friends.
Generally I have never particularly enjoyed Saki, so I took the opportunity to taste the recommended Sakis from the restaurant, They were all tasty, but not a tasty that I particularly liked, the one that I prefered was the Tachibana. Chatting with the waiter is was told that the Tachibana was twice the price of the other two, I am glad that my palate is still good enough to tell the better drink, however I will not become a Saki conissioure.
Back to Tokyo
The Fastest and cheapest way back to Tokyo was a bus but E had always wanted to go on the Bullet train (Shinkansen) so we took a local train to the station that the bullet train went from and caught it. It was a great, comfortable and fast ride (it took longer to catch the local train and do the connections than it took to get to get to Tokyo). The train ride is so smooth and tracks well designed that you get very little feeling of speed definitely it does not feel the 300 km/h that you are traveling.
During the trip I almost got the worst father of the year award, we stopped at a 7/11 to get some food and a drink for the trip back to Tokyo, I grabbed a couple of sandwiches, some fish jerky and a bottle of water, E wanted a sweet drink so I let him choose, he returned with a brightly coloured can called “Strong Juice” and a picture of an orange on it. When we sat down on the station bench and started lunch E took a large swig of it then another before saying “Daddy I don’t like this”, he almost got the “you chose it you drink it response” but I thought “we are in Japan I best taste it in case it is some weird Japanese concoction”. When I tasted it I immediately got the impression of strong fruit juice and cheap Vodka, I inspected the can closely and the figure “9%” jumped out a me. I realized that it was a 9% alcopops that I had almost made my son drink OOPS, don’t tell my wife I will never be let out again :-).
On the final evening suddenly E said he had enough of adventurous food and could we have some western food, so we settled for pub grub, and went into the nearest bar. The Bar man spoke almost no English, but there was no problem, the entire place was covered in rugby posters and he understood “Beer”, “Rugby” and “Australia” the rest we could get by with pointing. We had a great dinner of dumplings accompanied by beer and lemonade and the bar man was my buddy by the end of the evening.
The trip home was Haneda airport Tokyo to Gimpo Airport Seoul then Subway home, both air ports are very similar, they are both slightly tired and are the second airports for their respective cities, and once again much to my annoyance Haneda like Gimpo it did not have a lounge….
I have re-read my post and I sound like a grumpy old man, I suppose I just found Japan interesting but there was nothing startling and new. I enjoyed the trip and would think that almost every one would enjoy seeing Tokyo and Mt Fuji, I suppose that it was more like being in a photo of the place and not really getting to know anything local.
Next a Girly weekend in Bejing