Shinkansen bullet train

Shinkansen – The Bullet Train From Tokyo to Kyoto

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 on Shinkansen
Ekiben, or Train bento box. So good.

 

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.

 

Stroller on Shinkansen
So much room!

 

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.

 

Kyoto

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…

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Fujifilm Square Roppongi

Fujifilm Square – Museum and Gallery, Tokyo Midtown

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 Cheapo had 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.

 

Old cameras
…old

 

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.

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car, Gold Rolls Royce

Car Watching in Roppongi

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.

car Mercedes Benz
Gggg ghost car! Oh wait, the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Fancy.

 

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.

 

Tesla Model S
I told Emma I was taking out the camera to take a photo of the inevitable Model S at this intersection. Sure enough…

 

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.

 

Jaguar F-Type
I’m a little bit in love…

 

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.

 

Ferrari
I might be a little old fashioned, but white just isn’t a Ferrari colour in my book.

 

Rosso Corsa Ferrari
Rosso Corsa – the colour of my boyhood dreams

 

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).

 

Poor rich people

 

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…

 

car, Gold Rolls Royce
Gold Rolls Royce, because it didn’t stand out enough already.

 

Rolls Royce
Another day, another Rolls

 

Rolls Royce
… and another…

 

Rolls Royce
…and another…

 

Rolls Royce
…and another…

 

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?

 

Porsche
Everywhere

 

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.

 

Novelty Vehicles

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 would consider becoming a delivery guy in Japan, just to drive one of these

 

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!

 

 

Tiny Truck
So small!

 

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!”

 

Emergency Vehicle
“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).

 

Pikachu
It’s a funny photo, but I would rather have one of Mario Kart

 

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.

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Roppongi Dusk

Roppongi – the best place in Tokyo to stay…

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.

 

Roppongi Rolls Royce

 

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.

 

RoboRobo Park, Roppongi
The slides of “RoboRobo Park”

 

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.

 

Tokyo Midtown Park, Roppongi
Tokyo Midtown Park. This slide was brutal, but the rest of the park was great!

 

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.

 

Roppongi playground
Another small local playground in Roppongi

 

Supermarkets

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.

 

Supermarket food, Roppongi
Supermarket food, Roppongi-style!

 

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.

 

Convenience Stores

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).

 

Chicken on a stick
It takes exactly four minutes to be back home and enjoying this goodness!

 

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.

 

Transport

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.

 

Tokyo Subway ticket machine

 

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.

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Higashi Honganji Temple, Kyoto

My Sunday Photo – Higashi Honganji Temple

My Sunday Photo for this week is Higashi Honganji Temple

I’m back this week for My Sunday Photo, after last week’s absence due to a poor internet connection. For one of the most advanced nations on Earth, Japan sure does have some dodgy wireless networks.

I managed to fill three, 32gb memory cards with photos during our Japan adventure, so choosing just a few for this post was a challenge. Needless to say, I’m sure that My Sunday Photo posts for the next few weeks will feature Japan photos!

I chose to focus on the Higashi Honganji Temple for this week’s photos. It is one of the most imposing temples in Kyoto (although it is almost exactly the same size and layout as its sister temple, Nishi Honganji Temple). Coming across it as we walked to our Airbnb was one of the first wow moments of Kyoto for me.

 

Higashi Honganji Temple, Kyoto

 

It’s hard to truly capture the scale and majesty of the building. It’s also very hard to show the amazing amount of detail in every part of the structure. As with most things in Kyoto, it was reconstructed after a fire, towards the end of the 1800s.

 

Higashi Honganji Temple, Kyoto

One of my favourite things to do in Kyoto was go out at night and try to capture some of the night-time scenes. It was a pretty big challenge, as I only had the point-and-shoot camera, rather than my DSLR and tripod. However, I was fairly happy with the results. Below are some long(ish) exposure photos of the temple gates at night.

Higashi Honganji Temple, Kyoto

 

 

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