I’m normally an early riser. During the standard working week, I’m usually up at 5am on the dot, 6 days a week. I actually enjoy it, it gives me time to write and time to exercise before the rest of the day begins.
But I’m on Holidays…
While we’ve been in Japan, however, my strict 5am wakeup time has slipped, just a little (a lot). There are several reasons for this, not least of which is that I’m holidays and part of the reason for a good holiday is to have a break from routine.
The other main reason for not getting up at 5am is that I now share a room with a toddler.
DON’T WAKE THE BABY
The last thing I want to do is set my 5am alarm, then wake up Emma and Hannah when it rings. That would in many ways defeat the purpose of my 5am start – the early-morning solitude before the day properly begins. So I haven’t.
Instead, I have used a different type of alarm clock these holidays – a cheerful toddler.
Every morning so far this trip, the start of the day has been decided by Hannah. Some days we have started around 6.30am (Hannah’s usual wake-up time). Some days we have started as late as 8am (that cot must be extremely comfortable, to be able to pull off a 12hr + sleep).
Dare not move
Some mornings I have woken before Hannah, but I have either lay in bed awake, or gone back to sleep. I haven’t dared try and get up, for fear of waking the sleeping toddler. For while Hannah consistently sleeps through the night, she also has the hearing of the greater wax moth.
Nijo Castle may have its famous nightingale floors, but had Hannah been a shogun, she wouldn’t have needed a fancy floor to tell if someone was sneaking around.
Like a Ninja
Our trips is near its end, so I figured it is time to reinstate some basic parts of my routine. That way, returning to work doesn’t hit me like a sledgehammer to the face.
I didn’t set the 5am alarm, but I did decide that I would get up as soon as I was awake. This morning that was about 6 o’clock. Of course, I still had the issue of the toddler asleep at the foot of my bed.
No worries, I thought. I’m in The Land of The Rising Sun after all. The home of the ninja! Surely I can channel something of the famous shinobi (the sneaking bit… not the dishonourable mercenary bit…).
I lay in bed, wide awake and listening intently. I could hear the steady breathing of the infant, which let me know that she was fast asleep. There was no fussing, no rolling about to indicate that she was ready to stir from her slumber.
Emma rolled over. Her thick doona rustled loudly, yet still Hannah slept peacefully.
Now was my opportunity. I slipped out of bed silently. My feet touched the floor with as much noise as a solitary feather. I was a ninja in Japan and it felt bloody good!
I took a step. The floorboard creaked. I panicked and ran for the door.
I woke the baby
The cry was loud, and it was specific. Hannah called me out as a ninja fraud almost immediately.
I had made it out the door, but at what cost? Hannah was now yelling my name at the top of her lungs. Not only has she heard me try to sneak, but she had also been 100% sure it was me who was trying to pull of the feat, and not her mum.
I stood and listened. I was convinced that I had ruined sleep for everyone. However, Hannah began to settle. The loud dad-siren had dulled to a quiet babble. Perhaps she would just go back to sleep and forget about the whole ordeal? Surely Emma was also awake (and alert to my failed attempt at ninja-ing), but perhaps she too would be able to get a little more sleep…
It is now 45 minutes since I tried to emulate the bygone days of the shinobi. Hannah is still in her portable cot, but she isn’t asleep. She has spent that time happily entertaining herself through a mixture of babbles and singing. It’s delightful, but not in any way conducive to Emma’s sleep. She has now begun yelling “MUMMA” at the top of her voice.
So far on our Japan adventure, the stroller has been invaluable. It’s served as toddler transport, luggage mule, eating station and bed. It’s fair to say that it has been integral to the success of our adventures so far. But, no matter how good a stroller is, there’s one situation it can’t deal well with… stairs.
Fushimi Inari Shrine – so many stairs
Emma and I visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine on our last visit to Kyoto, so we weren’t going into the experience blind. The main buildings of the shrine sit at the bottom of a sacred mountain, and they are certainly interesting to look at. Massive Torii gates mark the entrance, and if you’re really unsure of where to go, just follow the throng of tourists. A large, orange-coloured shrine has a row of large bells – one or two of which were being used for prayer, and the rest by tourists in the usual “I don’t really understand this but I’m going to do it anyway because it makes for a good photo” manner.
As impressive as the shrine is, the true attraction in the thousands of Torii gates that line the paths on the way up the mountain. It’s the reason so many people visit, and the reason we were there too. Of course, a path up a mountain means plenty of one thing – stairs. Hundreds and hundreds of stairs.
Wearing a Toddler
Naturally, we had left the stroller at home. However, we still needed a way to transport Hannah when she needed a break from walking/climbing. So it was that we dusted off the baby carrier that we hadn’t used since she was a tiny tot.
Hannah showed some interest in the carrier as I strapped the contraption on. She was a little reluctant to go in at first, but I distracted her with a frog bath-toy that she had dug out of the bottom of a suitcase earlier that morning. Emma worked from behind and wrangled the distracted toddler aboard. In no time at all we were off, Hannah slightly bemused by her new travel arrangements, strapped to my back.
Toddlers are heavy
We travelled that way for the 15 minute walk to Kyoto station and the two-stop ride to the shrine. With a toddler strapped to my back I had no opportunity to sit down. Hannah had become a little restless, so she was squirming quite a bit. I was definitely feeling the weight in my back by the time we arrived.
As soon as we stepped through the first giant Torii gate, I asked Emma to set Hannah free. It was sweet relief when she was lifted out! Still, I was glad we had the carrier. It would have been much harder to hold Hannah in my arms for that time.
Which one is the tourist attraction – the shrine or the toddler?
There are plenty of western tourists in Japan, so the sight of fair skin and light hair is not that uncommon. However, that combination on a smiling, engaging toddler seems to be magnetic. Hannah had quickly become accustomed to having kind Japanese faces peer at her and exclaim “kawaii” (the Japanese word for “cute”).
Hannah is so used to this happening that she now walks down the street smiling at everyone and waving to them. Of course, this only increases the regularity with which she hears the phrase “kawaii”! It’s not even just the little old ladies that she engages with either – businessmen, teen-agers, drunks on street corners…
We are all now accustomed to the attention that Hannah gets on the streets of Japan, but that is nothing compared to the attention she gets at tourist attractions. The Fushimi Inari Shrine was no different.
At one set of stairs, a Japanese tourist took great pleasure in watching Hannah conquer each and every step. She walked up next to her, patiently waiting as Hannah negotiated each one and encouraging her each time. When Hannah took a step, her new best friend took a step. In that way they walked, right to the top. The Japanese tourist tried to coax a hand-shake out of her new toddler friend upon completion of the task, but while Hannah is a big fan of engaging with random people, she is not so keen on physical contact. She ran away.
I followed Hannah as she ran through the forest of Torii gates. The word “kawaii” echoed all around us as we went.
Running, climbing and waving is hard work
Before long, Hannah was absolutely worn out. The adventure of the Fushimi Inari Torii gates, combined with the heat, had made her reach the point of exhaustion far earlier than normal. She began to get irritable, as toddlers do.
I bent down to Hannah’s level to offer some comfort. As I did so, she made it pretty obvious what she wanted. She practically climbed onto my back.
Emma helped Hannah on and strapped her in tightly. Immediately she was calm. We carried on walking up the stairs. With each step the little toddler on my back grew drowsier and drowsier. Eventually she fell fast asleep. We made our way to a spot with excellent views out over Kyoto, then exhaustion got the better of me too. We turned around and headed for the bottom of the mountain.
Photos of tourists – tips for Fushimi Inari Shrine
1- if you want hundreds of excellent photos of tourists taking photos of things, the best place is at the start of the Torii gates. We could barely get through the masses, because so many people seemed hell-bent on snapping a photo of other people taking photos of Torii gates. I can just imagine the riveting slide shows that their poor relatives are in for when they get home.
2- if you want some decent photos, take a little walk. I walked half way up this mountain with a toddler strapped to my back. It was hard work, but not that hard. The further up you get, the less tourists there are. At some point, the crowds actually thin out so much that you can take photos without random people in them.
3 – take water with you, or prepare to get hosed (not a photo tip, but worth knowing). It may be a sacred mountain, but the proprietors of the vending machines sure do know how to stiff a desperate pilgrim. The higher up you get, the more expensive it becomes. I did find it funny that there’s a sign about a third of the way informing people that they are at the last toilet, due to the mountain being sacred, yet you can purchase an ice-cold bottle of Pocari Sweat from a vending machine next to a statue of a religious icon three-quarters of the way up. I guess gods get thirsty too…
4 – take the road less travelled. The Torii gates are the main attraction, bet there is also plenty to see along the way. Keep your eye out for little detours and shrines off to the side. There are some amazing things to see, and barely any other tourists. You also have the advantage of seeing the Torii gate from the outside, which provides a different (and equally interesting) perspective for your photographs. When returning down the mountain, there is a path that takes you right away from the Torii gates. Take it. You’ve seen the gates already and there are some amazing shrines and statues to see. There are also far fewer people, the water is cheaper and there are some interesting houses that remind me of Shenmue.
5 – if you have a fair-skinned, fair-haired toddler, she will become the tourist attraction. Luckily, you’re in the prime position to snap photos of her! Remember to take plenty of photos of the family enjoying themselves at the shrine and in the Torii gates. After all, chances are there are plenty of great shots of the gates all over the internet, but these memories of your little one are priceless!
Toddler Wearing – The Verdict?
Wearing a toddler is hard work, it doesn’t matter how good your carrier is. Sometimes, however, it is the best way to cart your toddler around, especially if they decide it’s nap time. We have seen a lot of Japanese people wearing babies and toddlers while we have been here, so the local consensus seems to be that it is the easiest way to get around.
If I have the option of a carrier or a stroller, I’ll take the stroller every time. If I know that I’m going somewhere that is not stroller friendly, I’ll happily strap Hannah to my back.
Fushimi Inari Shrine – the Verdict?
Fushimi Inari is well worth the visit. Spend a small amount of time at the shrine down the bottom, then head on up the hill until the tourists thin out. Once you reach the point where you are no longer fighting others for footpath space, take the camera out. Be prepared to take on loads of stairs, and take plenty of water.
Our goal for our Japan adventure was to travel light, as light as possible. Thanks to a few key pieces of equipment, we have been able to manage that very well.
Packing light has allowed us to travel across the country easily, using nothing but public transport. In total, we have just five components to carry when moving from one place to the next – the perfect amount for to of us to manage.
Our Luggage – Travel Light
We took two suitcases, one carry-on case, a backpack and the all-important stroller. When we moved from one place to the next, one of us wheeled a big suitcase and the carry-on case, the other wheeled the pram and second case. I usually wore the backpack, but that’s no problem because there isn’t anything heavy in it.
Antler provided me with a suitcase to road test on our Japan adventure. The full review of that suitcase is coming, but I can tell you now that it is a worthwhile investment, if you are in the market.
The Antler suitcase is lightweight. It is extremely easy to wheel around, whether it is behind, next to, or pushed in front of you. The wheels have been able to handle all of the quirks of the streets of Tokyo and Kyoto with ease.
The contrast is our other suitcase. It can only be dragged behind us, which is fine most of the time. However, it is extremely inconvenient a small amount of the time. It is also heavier to begin with, and the way in which it rolls on just two wheels means it places more stress on the wrist during long walks. It does the job, but the Antler suitcase does it a hell of a lot better. On more than one occasion I found myself wishing for a second Antler.
What about the portable cot?
Those of you who have been following the Travelling to Japan With a Toddler feature know that BabyBjorn gave us their excellent Travel Cot Light to review during our Japan adventures (spoiler alert, we haven’t had disrupted a night’s sleep).
“Surely,” I can hear you cry, “you must have to carry that around…”
And I did!
The thing is, it fits perfectly into a suitcase. Originally, we were going to carry it in the Antler case. However, because the portable cot is so light, it made sense to pack it into the heavier suitcase. That way we could fill the Antler case with heavy things, and still be under the weight limit.
I cannot stress how valuable it is to have a portable cot that fits into a suitcase – I still have nightmares of lugging our old portable cot around on our trip to Brisbane. I cannot imagine bringing that one with us to Japan. It just would not have worked. The BabyBjorn cot has been a revelation, and invaluable in my quest to travel light.
Washing Machines – Travel Light
Airbnb was a gamble, but it appears to have paid off. Not only do we have a huge amount of space compared to what we would have in a hotel room, we also have in-house washing machines.
This has allowed us to pack just four days’ worth of clothes each. We probably could have gotten away with less. I had some clothes in the suitcase that I did not use.
You may think regular washing of clothes is a chore you would rather do without on holidays, but the Japanese have made life easy for us. The first Airbnb included a washer/dryer combo – just turn it on and forget about it. The second and third only had a washing machine, but the bathroom converted into a clothes drying room – just hang the clothes out at night and use hot air to have them thoroughly dry by the morning.
The RECARO stroller – Travel Light
Many of the Japanese locals that I have seen favour the lightweight umbrella strollers. However, most of them are just traveling from point a to point b in the city.
The RECARO has allowed us to travel light by doing the hard work for us as we walk the city. It carries everything I would normally lug around in a backpack in the massive storage basket.
On a couple of occasions I have had to carry it up stairs. It is perfectly manageable in such situations. The handy one-piece fold has also been useful several times. Just be aware that it cannot fold with a full load in the storage basket, so be prepared to easily remove your goodies from below if you plan on folding it during a day trip.
I highly recommend traveling as light as possible if you venture overseas with a toddler. It can be done, even on a long trip (we have proven it). As always, spending a little bit of money on the right. quality equipment can go a long way to saving you a lot of pain on your journey, so do the research first and get the right gear.
Disclosure – The products mentioned in this post were provided to Blog Of Dad free of charge, for the purpose of review during our Japan adventure. The views expressed in this post are entirely my own views, based on my experiences. For further information, please visit my disclosure page.
The day had come for our Tokyo adventure to end. It was now time to make our way to the glorious city of Kyoto. There is really only one way to do this trip – the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen is Japan’s famous bullet train!
Purchasing Tickets – The Shinkansen
Buying tickets isn’t hard, it can be done from machines at some JR stations. If you would rather buy your ticket from an actual human being, there is a Shinkansen ticket office at Tokyo Station. If you are planning on using the Shinkansen for extensive travel around Japan, make sure you plan ahead and order a JR Rail Pass. They are a good way to save some money, but they must be purchased before you leave for Japan.
We decided to buy our ticket from the ticket office, on the day of our trip. Tickets can be purchased in advance, but we weren’t exactly sure of our timing on the day. We knew we had to be out of our Roppongi apartment by 11 am, but we had no idea how long it would take to get to Tokyo station.
I recommend you give yourself at least 25 minutes between purchasing your ticket at Tokyo station and boarding the train. This is especially important if you are lugging lots of luggage or herding young children.
Ekiben – Shinkansen Food
We gave ourselves 20 minutes, and we only had about a minute left between finding the platform and the train arriving. That meant that Emma had to buy our ekiben at lightning speed. She wasn’t even sure what she had purchased, fortunately she came up trumps with two delicious pork cutlet boxes.
Ekiben is one of the simple pleasures of travelling on the Shinkansen. We would have been devastated to have missed out, and you would be too. MAKE SURE YOU GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME FOR EKIBEN.
Unable to Work the Gates
Beware of the intricacies of Shinkansen ticket gates. Like all gates to platforms in metropolitan Tokyo, the gates work by inserting your ticket in one end, then retrieving it at the other. Except, the Shinkansen gates didn’t open for us, they just flashed an incomprehensible warning and refused to let us through.
Uncharacteristically for Japan, we weren’t able to get immediate help. The attendant was inundated with tourists asking her questions. Eventually, we were able to get to her and communicate our issue. She seemed very suspicious, but eventually accepted our story and let us through her gate. I still have no idea what the problem was.
Room For a Stroller on the Shinkansen
The seat arrangement on the Shinkansen is three on one side, two on the other. When travelling with a toddler, you only need to book tickets for the adults.
We were given two seats on the left side of the train. Initially we were disappointed that we weren’t on the Fuji side, but we soon realised the benefit of our position. We had two of the three seats in our row booked, and no-one had the third. Therefore, we essentially had three seats all to ourselves.
The brilliant thing about the seats on the Shinkansen is that there was enough space for us to wheel the stroller right in! That was extremely fortunate, because Hannah had fallen asleep right before we bought our tickets (just after eating a massive lunch of sandwiches). She was still asleep when we boarded the train, and she was still asleep after about half an hour of travel.
It wasn’t a huge nap, but it was enough for Hannah to be a little refreshed for the rest of the journey. It also gave Emma and me a chance to consume our Ekiben in peace.
Also, as is usually the way, it was too cloudy to see Fuji, so we didn’t miss out on anything by sitting in the wrong side of the train. If you are travelling with a toddler and a stroller, seriously consider booking tickets on the row-of-three side.
Toddlers and Tunnels
You may already know this, but I’m going to remind you once more. Tunnels are the most amazing thing in the world! Just ask any toddler, and they will tell you right away.
The tunnels were a new experience for Hannah. At first they were a little confusing – the sudden change from light to dark. Soon, however, Hannah had the hang of them, and she took pure delight in their existence. She let out an excited squeal every time we entered one, and she craned her neck to try and see when the exit was coming.
The rest of the train trip was fairly uneventful. Hannah made friends with the travellers in the row behind us, and she managed to engage them in an extended game of peek-a-boo. Eventually she got bored of sitting and wanted to explore, but her options were limited and she became a little cranky towards the end of the journey.
Thankfully, we were not far out from Kyoto station. About 2 and a half hours after we had left Tokyo, we had arrived in Kyoto, ready to start the next leg of our adventure. The first task? Locate our Airbnb…
I have already written at great length about the inspired choice to stay in Roppongi. It is an absolute treasure trove of parks, shops, food, temples and easy access to tourist attractions. Staying in Roppongi has allowed us to have a few very relaxed days (no train rides), but still see something interesting on that day.
The Tokyo Cheapo Website
Tokyo Cheapohad become our bible for our stay in the city. It is a fantastic website full of useful information about attractions and food places that are family friendly and cheap – two of my favourite things! While we had consulted the website extensively for our day trips to Ginza and Shinjuku, we hadn’t thought to look at what it had to say about Roppongi.
On our last full day in Tokyo we had decided to have a fairly relaxed day. We thought it best to be refreshed for the adventures of catching a Shinkansen (bullet train) and finding our next Airbnb the following day. Emma had the great idea of checking out the Tokyo Cheapo website for local attractions, and I’m glad she did.
The website had a whole list of attractions that we didn’t know about (some terribly gruesome), but the one that piqued my interest was Fujifilm Square – gallery and museum.
Exhibitions – Fujifilm Square
From what I can tell, the gallery regularly cycles through exhibitions. The exhibition on show while I was there was all about the Amazon rainforest. There were some fascinating animals, some of which I had never seen before.
Other exhibitions included a series of photos of cities from around the world. A photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge filled me with warm, fuzzy feelings of home, but not enough to make me wish I was back there. There was also an interesting series of photos by a prominent Japanese photographer.
The Museum – Fujifilm Square
I found the museum fascinating. Anyone with an interest in photography would be interested in the wide range of historic equipment on show. Cameras dating back to the 1860s, some with sample photos attached, were displayed. I wonder what those early pioneers of photography would have thought about our smartphones and selfie sticks…
Looking at the display, I found two things paradoxically interesting. One is how long photography has been around. The second is how far we have come in such a short time. It was really interesting to look at the early digital cameras and compare them to the point-and-shoot that I had sitting in my pocket.
Toys – Fujifilm Square
Naturally, a place like the Fujifilm Square wouldn’t be complete without an opportunity to play with some fancy new toys. At a counter towards the rear of the shop was a vast array of current Fujifilm cameras.
I sidled up to the counter and hung around like a bad smell as I worked up the courage to ask for a play. In lieu of any actual Japanese language skills, I pointed and asked loudly and slowly in English for a go. The polished lady behind the counter seemed unperturbed by my awkwardness, and she invited me to have a go. She demonstrated some of the features and even changed the menu on the camera to English for me.
I was impressed by what I saw in the few minutes of playtime that I had with the mirrorless X-T2. The settings were simple and easy to use, and the results looked fairly sharp. It was enough to make me wonder whether it offered a decent compromise between a point-and-shoot, and a heavy DSLR.
It’s probably not worth going out of your way for, but if you find yourself in Roppongi and you have an interest in photography, then head on over and check it out. An hour should be more than enough time to wander through the exhibits and play with the toys.
If you have read my day 1 in Japan post, you will know that I had some concerns with staying in Roppongi after I found out about its dubious reputation. You may then be surprised to learn that it is the fancy car capital of the world (this is perhaps a slight exaggeration)!
There is some serious cash driving around on the streets of Roppongi, and as a car admirer from way back, I can’t help but feel my neck crane automatically whenever I hear more than 8 cylinders idling at a set of traffic lights.
Emma, whose interest in cars ends at the point at which she is no longer inside one, quickly became bored of my constant pointing out of exotic rides. Because Emma wouldn’t indulge me, you, the people of the internet, will have to put up with my schoolboy levels of car excitement instead.
Were I to list every exotic automobile that I spotted during my time in Roppongi, I would run out of internet. Below are the ones I found most interesting:
Mercedes-Benz – The Cars of Roppongi
Driven by those residents of Roppongi that lack any imagination or ability for original thought. I say this because EVERY SECOND CAR was a Mercedes-Benz.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about your run of the mill C-class sedans. AMG-tuned S-class appeared to pass for entry-level rides, while G-class SUVs were also an extremely common site. The most spectacular of all was the GT-S Coupe, and even that wasn’t a one-off. Mercedes-Benz were everywhere in Roppongi.
For extra Kudos (apparently), the steering wheel should be located on the wrong side of the car. I assume that shows off just how imported it is.
Tesla – The Cars of Roppongi
I’ve mentioned before about the time that I went for a ride in a Tesla Model S. It was the most exhilarating automotive experience of my life. Since that ride, a Tesla has been way up high on my most coveted cars list.
I see the occasional Model S on Sydney roads, but nothing compared to the sheer volume of the electric vehicles that can be found in Roppongi.
I think I am yet to walk past Roppongi Hills without seeing one. In fact, there is one intersection that Emma has dubbed “Tesla intersection”. Not that she cares even slightly when a Tesla drives past, it’s just that every time we have stood at that intersection she has heard the words “ooh, Tesla” escape my mouth.
They aren’t just Model S ones either. The occasional Model X makes me even more excited.
Jaguar – The Cars of Roppongi
F-Types. F-Types everywhere.
Ferrari – The Cars of Roppongi
In my boyhood days I was a Prancing Horse fan through and through. If you had asked the ten-year-old me what I would drive when I grew up, he undoubtedly would have replied a Ferrari F40.
That ten year old would be disgusted that I now drive a Camry, but he sure would be delighted with the sheer amount of Ferraris in the Roppongi area. I have spotted several each day, either driving past or parked in carparks. White seems to be a surprisingly popular choice, but I have seen the occasional Rosso Corsa beauty.
Maserati – – The Cars of Roppongi
What the poor, rich people of Roppongi drive. As common as Corollas in Sydney (way more common than Corollas in Roppongi).
Rolls Royce – The Cars of Roppongi
I think I could count the number of Rolls Royces that I have seen in Sydney on one hand. Here in Roppongi, it’s at least one a day. I think it’s probably to do with Roppongi’s proximity to the embassy district. Then again, I’m not sure this gold Rolls Royce is Embassy standard issue…
Add to those the slightly-less-impressive-but-still-bloody-expensive Bentleys, and the place is littered with classy limousines.
Porsche – The Cars of Roppongi
The 911 GT3 was common enough to make me yawn whenever one went past. Seriously, don’t the wealthy elite of Tokyo have any imagination when it comes to spending money on cars?
Nissan GTR – The Cars of Roppongi
I have seen exactly one of these. You’d think they would be on every street corner, given that they are perhaps the finest home-grown machine Japan has ever produced. But no. Apparently those with money in Nippon believe that European imports carry the status. I think that’s a shame, the rich Japanese folk should be proud of their home-town hero.
These don’t carry the same hefty price tag as the exotic imports, but they are just as good at turning my head. In fact, some of them must be the cheapest vehicles on Tokyo’s streets. I never get tired of the little three-wheeled motorbikes, for example. They are just downright practical, which is why they are the favoured mode of transport for food and small package delivery.
I also get a kick out of the tiny trucks and vans. They mustn’t be able to carry very much at all, yet they are so prevalent that they must play a significant part in the everyday running of Tokyo. One time I saw a tiny van with a tiny step ladder strapped to the roof. It blew my tiny mind!
I continually find myself stopping to watch the emergency vehicles go past. Some of them look like 1990s mini vans with lights attached to the top. On our first day in Japan we saw a sedan with a blue light slapped on the roof, just like something out of a 90s detective film. My favourite feature of the emergency vehicles is the attached loudspeaker. It is operated relentlessly by the officer inside, who is constantly shouting what I can only assume is the Japanese for “get out of the way!”
The strangest novelty vehicle of all, however, is one that left me wondering if I had consumed to much vending machine beer, and was now seeing things… Mario kart. I promise I’m not making this up, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine it, because I’ve seen it twice. Both times I was too slow to photograph it (one of the times was because I was too distracted by a guy with bright yellow hair and a Pikachu tail… Yes, I got a photo of him… Yes, you can see it).
I’m taking about three go-karts, driving in a row, down the main streets of Roppongi. One of the drivers has definitely been dressed in a Mario suit, I’m a little hazy in who the other two were. The first time I saw them, they were followed immediately by a blue Ferrari. What a crazy town!
The fancy cars are not strictly a Roppongi indulgence. I have seen Ferraris in Shinjuku, Lamborghinis in Nihonbashi and an incredible 1930s Rolls Royce Wraith in Ginza. It seems that wherever we go in Tokyo, there are people with money who like to show it off.
Is Roppongi the best place to stay in Tokyo with young children? This dad thinks so.
Roppongi’s Dubious Past
Search “Roppongi” on Google and you will find an endless supply of articles describing the area as having a vibrant nightlife. Add to that the Smart Traveller warning specifically about the dangers to tourists in the Roppongi area, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it is the last place in Japan that you would want to bring small children.
There’s no doubt that one needs to be cautious when looking to stay in Roppongi. I can’t imagine it would be too pleasant to say next door to a Yakuza-run strip club or bar, for example. But, find the right accommodation in the right part of Roppongi and you have the perfect base for a family vacation in the heart of Japan’s Capital.
Parks and Playgrounds
At the top of our list for accommodation was proximity to playgrounds. They didn’t have to be fancy, just a space with some age-appropriate equipment for Hannah to enjoy and burn it some energy in the mornings and afternoons.
Traveling overseas with a toddler is a fine balance between fitting in all the touristy things that you want to do (i.e., mind-numbingly boring for a toddler), and giving her the opportunity to run around and be a kid. For this reason, a good playground close by is vital. A solid play first thing in the morning can be enough to convince a toddler to spend the next few hours resting comfortably inside her stroller while the adults explore yet another temple.
Roppongi offers playgrounds in abundance. This is extremely rare in a city like Tokyo. During our week in the area, we found four outdoor playgrounds, an indoor playroom and several parklands with ponds and grass. No other part of Tokyo that I could find offered such diversity of choice for places to play. Stay tuned for the detailed review of the parks of Roppongi.
If you are like us, then a supermarket will be high on your list of easy to access amenities when traveling with a toddler. This is especially the case if you have decided to brave Airbnb and found accommodation with kitchen facilities.
Staples like fresh milk, bread, fruit and veg and easy-to-prepare meals are must-haves when traveling for any length of time. If they can be found within a kilometre of your accommodation, even better!
Roppongi has an abundance of supermarkets. Just be aware, not all supermarkets are created equal. Parts of Roppongi have an extremely wealthy clientele, and the prices in some supermarkets reflect this.
Granted, they carry some of the most perfect-looking fruit and vegetables that men has ever gazed upon, but consider whether you really need to have each of your grapes individually wrapped if it means spending the same as you would on a small car to acquire them.
Our most excellent Airbnb host was kind enough to point us in the direction of a small supermarket tucked away in the back streets – the kind of supermarket that the locals use to do their regular for shopping. The difference in price for some items was significant.
One small note on supermarkets – be aware that they are not at all like the Coles-type supermarkets that we have in Australia. They are much closer to the all-but-extinct corner stores that we used to have. Still, they carry all the essentials. Like beer. And coffee in a can.
You remember the last time you were out late in the city, and you’d had a few too many drinks? Remember going into that convenience store and thinking that the sausage roll in the warmer “didn’t look so bad”. Remember the regret and self-loathing that followed the next day?
Japanese convenience stores are nothing like that. They carry a huge range of entirely edible (tasty, even) hot and cold foods. Feeling a bit peckish late at night after you’ve put the kids to bed? No worries, head down to the corner store and pick up a karaage chicken on a stick for the equivalent of $1.50 AUD (I actually genuinely stopped writing that mid-sentence to run down and buy some. I was back in exactly four minutes).
Roppongi is similar to much of urban Tokyo, in that you are never more than about 200 metres away from a convenience store. They are usually a cheap way to buy a snack or even a full meal. They also sell alcoholic beverages.
As I mentioned in my Day 1 post, Roppongi is very easy to travel to via subway from Haneda airport. It is also has great access to the rest of Tokyo. Roppongi station covers two underground lines. There are plenty of entrances to the station, but most of them have steps. Elevator access is available, but you do have to go looking for it. There are some large, helpful maps on street level to make the task easier.
The main Tokyo Station (from which you can catch a Shinkansen) is about 20 minutes away, with one change. Tourist places like Ginza, Yoyogi and Shinjuku are on the same line as Roppongi, and Shibuya is about 15 minutes away (with 1 change). Basically, you can access most of the places you would want to go from Roppongi.
We had a fantastic time staying in Roppongi. The location was ideal for us, with a little toddler. As always, it’s worth doing your research when you book something, but if I were to return tomorrow, Roppongi would be the first place I would start looking.