Another day in Tokyo

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As we were getting ready to leave for the day on Monday, Clarissa and I decided to hang out on the balcony only to discover that it was raining. We put on our rain jackets, grabbed Clarissa’s new umbrella, and headed down the hill to McDonald’s. Thankfully the rain stopped by the time we finished breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was Tokyo Station for Tokyo Character Street. Clarissa was very excited to find some Yokai medals. We also found some fun things in the Studio Ghibli Store and the Lego Store.

Next we headed to Yurakucho for the Muji Flagship Store. It was three stories and wonderful. It reminded me a little of Bed Bath and Beyond. It would have been more exciting if we lived in Japan because a lot of the cool things were too big for my suitcase. But if you live in Japan, I would definitely visit.

Tim wanted to check BIC Camera since it was across the street. Then we headed to The Little Bird Cafe. Tim was reading about this cute little gluten-free cafe in the suburbs. We found it, went up to the third floor, and discovered that it was closed for the week! Oops. Thankfully across the street from the station was a fun little cafe called Freshness Burger since it was 2pm and we were getting hangry. The food was great. They had several different kinds of burgers, fries, and smoothies reasonably priced. Bring yen because they don’t take credit cards.

We headed back to Shinjuku to visit our favorite bookstore. Kinokuniya has an entire floor of English books. We found several that we liked and bought a few. A lot of books were about double the price that Amazon charges so if we could find it in Amazon cheaper, we put it back. It was helpful to be able to flip through the books since we don’t have many English bookstores with new books at home.

Hungry, we headed to Shibuya for dinner for some yakiniku. We found Han No Daidokoro Kadochika without a problem (right past the Shibuya 109). We read online that if you don’t have a reservation you should come right when they open or it will be too busy. We were there right at 5 and they weren’t quite ready for us. The place was still pretty empty when we left about 615 so that isn’t accurate on a Monday night. There were several different options to choose from. We chose a more expensive option with drinks and plenty of meat. It was delicious! It even came with seaweed and rice for Clarissa.

Satisfied, we headed to the wolf shrine (Miyamasu Mitake) we were looking for the previous day and found it in the middle of a city block, up several steps. Before one of our previous trips, Tim had a dream about the Shibuya wolf and I think this is it.

On our way back, we stumbled upon a Hedgehog Cafe. It was on the second floor, very clean, and the staff was very friendly. We paid for 30 minutes and they assigned us two hedgehogs to pet and feed. We had to wear gloves and were given specific instructions on how to hold the hedgehog. Clarissa loved it! It was about 7 pm so the hedgehogs were sleepy. We were going to leave before our 30 minutes was up, so the staff spent some time teaching us about hedgehogs and letting us hold another. The hedgehogs rotate every other day so they get a break from playing with customers. I think this was one of the highlights of Clarissa’s trip.

The last item on our list was the Haiyo Miazakyi clock in Shimbashi. The GPS was a little off with wifi so we had a hard time finding it. We eventually took a taxi. It looked great. I bet it looks better during the day or during the special times each day that it moves (we missed it by 10 minutes). We discussed taking a Ghibli vacation one day.

30,000 Steps without the Stroller

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When we decided to leave the stroller at home for this vacation, I had my reservations. Clarissa is not quite 5 and we walk a ton on vacation. But she did really well. We only had to carry her for a few minutes here and there.

She woke up an hour before my alarm on Sunday, so we had plenty of time for a McDonald’s breakfast before heading to the Ueno Zoo before they opened at 930.

The baby panda turned one last month and apparently is still quite popular. By the time we got to the zoo entrance, the line to see the baby panda was over two hours long! Thankfully, Clarissa understood that we had other things to do today and would not be waiting in that line. We did see everything else in the zoo, however and spent 3.5 hours there.

We all really enjoyed the zoo. There are several different species of animals with large monkey and bird sections. Clarissa was especially excited about the polar bears, penguins, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and zebras. There was a window viewing area for the polar bear that she was especially excited about because she said she called him and he came right up to her.

We headed to Odaiba for Diver City mall next. We started outside with the new Gundam Statue. Tim needed pictures and Clarissa thought it was very cool but wondered why it was such a large statue.

The original plan was to eat lunch but the lines for all of the food were rediculously long so we found a corner to eat the protein bars we brought and headed to the Gundam Base on the 7th floor. It was very different from our last visit. Last time it was set up like a museum with things you could buy. This time it was definitely more of a shopping experience but they did have several limited edition items.

We headed downstairs for the Hello Kitty Cafe for some ice cream to hold us over. We went to a few stores including a virtual reality store were we bought some astronaut food and a rainbow umbrella. At one point we went to the bathroom and had to wait in line and Clarissa said, “Why do we have to wait in line for everything in this town?” We quickly decided that we needed real food and headed to Shibuya.

Our wifi Hotspot wasn’t working so we couldn’t find our planned restaurant, but we found a Coco Ichybanya instead (Tim’s favorite Japanese curry restaurant). Then we found the Mitake Shrine.

We actually took a taxi (our first ever in Tokyo) to Kippy’s for some ice cream. They are vegan so most of their ice cream and juice choices are made from coconut water and some kind of fruit. They also use either dates or raw honey and organic ingredients. The prices weren’t bad either. If you are looking for a sweet treat, I recommend finding it in Harajuku. It is in a quieter part of town and we enjoyed the walk back to the station.

Mother Daughter Day at the Aquarium 

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One of the main reasons we came back to Japan this fall was for Tim to attend Tokyo Game Show today.  We loved Japan at Christmas and wanted to see more.  But it had to be this week for Tim. 

Tim had a great day with some friends.  One friend he met at PAXEast in Boston when I was pregnant with Clarissa.  Another he used to work with in Korea.  He made a few friends today as well. 

I was so proud of myself for making a plan for today that I thought Clarissa would enjoy and figuring out how to get there myself since Tim is usually the navigator. The original plan was Shinagawa Aquarium,  Tokyo Fire Museum,  and Tokyo Toy Museum.  

The first leg of the trip was more complicated than I thought.  We have mostly been using the JR lines,  which have plenty of English.  We needed the Keikyu line,  which does not.  I got on a rapid train by mistake that passed my stop,  but I figured it out eventually. 

From Shinagawa station,  you have to take the local train to the Omori kaigan station.  It is a very small station.  When you exit,  there is a sign that tells you which direction to go for Shinagawa Aquarium.  Cross the pedestrian bridge (there is a elevator) to the other side of the road.  Walk until you get to the big dolphin statues and turn right.  

Walk through the park and turn right at the aquarium sign.  You can see the aquarium from there.  It sounds complicated,  but it was only a five minute walk. 

On our way,  there was a small parade.  I have no idea what it was for.  Maybe it was a drum school because it was mostly kids?  Whatever the reason,  Clarissa and I enjoyed our private parade. 

There was stroller parking at the aquarium,  but I saw families with their strollers inside as well.  The price was great,  1350 yen (like $13)  for adults and kids 3 and under are free. And you can reenter the aquarium all day. 

It is not the biggest aquarium that I have been to.  But it was a great value for the price,  and stroller friendly with ramps and elevators. Clarissa and I both really enjoyed seeing all of the animals.  There were fish,  turtles,  penguins,  sharks,  sea lions,  and dolphins among other things. 

We spent about an hour at the aquarium before we went to see the sea lion show.  Clarissa loved it!  I thought it was great as well.  

The dolphins were swimming in a nearby tank and she kept asking if she could swim with them.  I told her that one day when she is older and knows how to swim we can take a cruise or something and she will get to swim with dolphins then.  

Since we had seen everything at the aquarium,  I was ready to eat lunch and then head to the Tokyo Fire Museum. But Clarissa wasn’t finished. I told her it was lunch time and she had a choice.  We could leave and go to the Fire Museum and the Toy Museum or we could’ve come back to the aquarium after lunch.  She chose the aquarium. 

There is a sit down restaurant and a hot dog/ice cream stand outside the aquarium.  The restaurant had a 30 minute wait so we opted for the hot dog stand.  Clarissa said she wanted ice cream instead of the French fries so I ordered her ice cream and got hot dogs and French fries for myself.  She started eating her ice cream before my food was ready.  Once my food came out she told me that I could have the rest of her ice cream and confiscated my French fries…

We finished lunch in time to get a seat for the dolphin show,  which was wonderful.  They did all kinds of fun tricks!  They could hula hoop and flip and jump high. Clarissa really enjoyed it. 

After the show,  we did another walk through the aquarium before there was an underwater show.  This one was looking through a tank and we were almost late so Clarissa had to sit on my shoulders.  She didn’t mind.  

Then,  we did a photo booth.  The English button didn’t work,  but for 500 yen  ($5), we got two good pictures.  I think Clarissa would have stayed at the aquarium all day if I let her,  but after four hours,  I was ready for something else.  We stopped at the gift shop on th way out.  She found a wind up clown fish to go in the tub like her Dory.  I got a cool multi color pen. 

We walked around the park before we headed back.  No parade this time. 

Back at the hotel room,  Clarissa immediately started to fill the tub so she could play with her new toy.  She kept saying things like “the show will start in 5 minutes”  and “watch this truck.” We had a snack and did some of her school sticker books while we waited for Tim to get back from Tokyo Game Show. 

We went out to dinner before her real bathtime where she continued to “watch a show.”  At bedtime,  she asked me if I could watch the sea lion show with her.  I have a feeling that we will be watching a lot of youtube videos this week… 

Disney Sea and Dinosaurs 

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We thought Thursday would be the least crowded day to head to Disney Sea.  So we took two different trains to the resort.  Then,  there is a special Disney train that takes you the rest of the way (you do have to pay,  but it’s only 260 yen and you can even use your subway card).

We stayed up late Wednesday so we slept in on Thursday and didn’t arrive until lunchtime.  We ate in Mediterranean Harbor.  We ordered the tomato and mozzarella pizza for Clarissa,  chicken and olive pizza for me,  and Tim ordered both kinds of pasta.  I should not have ordered anything for Clarissa.  Though delicious,  she refused to try her pizza.  Three year olds… Also I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of the park food.  Everything was reasonably priced and tasted great.

Over lunch,  we planned our route. Clarissa did not seem cooperative but we decided to start walking and figured she would get excited as we passed things.

She did like the Ariel things in Mermaids Lagoon.  Not enough to ride anything.  But she did enjoy looking at the different rides and statues.

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In Arabia,  there was a camel statue that you could sit on to take pictures.  She wanted to do that.  But when you sit on the camel,  apparently it makes noises so she got scared.

Then we tried Sinbad’s Storybook ride.  It was pretty cool.  You ride a boat and go through some of the stories from the Arabian Nights.  Clarissa covered her eyes for the giant.  Tim was holding her and said she was shaking.  But at the end,  she said it was awesome and wanted to go on more rides.

In the Lost Delta,  there was a place to meet characters.  Clarissa wanted to meet Minnie Mouse.  The sign said it would take 40 minutes.  After we had been there a few minutes,  a cast member came by and changed the sign to 50 minutes.  Need to say,  we were all ready to meet Minnie.  They let you take one photo with your camera or you can buy their pictures.  Minnie hugged and kissed all three of us at the beginning and end.  Clarissa was thrilled.  I took a picture of it at the end and they scolded me because I already had my one picture,  even though it was the staged family picture and not the Minnie mouse is kissing my three year old picture.

After meeting Minnie,  we were on a mission to find Nemo.  We actually found Dory and Hank.  But the Nemo ride isn’t finished yet so we never found Nemo. There was a ride with Crush.  But the kind lady who worked there said it was just talking and all in Japanese so we didn’t bother.

We did however,  find Woody.  But the line for his ride was two hours.  So we just hung out in Toyville and looked at the character toys and statues.  Clarissa took pictures on both Bullseye and Ham.  Apparently,  we cut the line,  but I really didn’t notice there was one.  Oops.

On the way to dinner,  we passed by a show. The speaking was in Japanese so we kept walking.  But the songs were in English and Clarissa liked the costumes so Clarissa wanted to watch it.  We ended up finding a spot and watching the rest of it.

We at dinner in the Cape Cod Cook Off.  We tried their Halloween season special burger which was beef with pumpkin and bacon.  It was actually very good.

We weren’t thrilled with the souvioneers in the shops.  Clarissa was devastated that at the end of the day,  we had still not found Nemo.  But Tim saw Nemo toys at the toy store in Akihabara the night before so he thought we should take her there.  Day made.

She picked out a baby Dory toy.  We also found a used bookstore with an English section.  I didn’t find anything for me,  but Clarissa got three books.

All things considered,  it was a great day.  Tim would like to take Clarissa back to Disney Sea next spring when the Nemo ride opens. The Studio Ghibli museum tickets were sold out for our trip again this time so we may need to do a weekend in Tokyo next year for those two things.

We noticed that Disney Sea was geared towards older kids. Clarissa was afraid of some things.  Next year she may enjoy it more.  But the teens and adults love it.

Friday,  we headed to Ueno for the National Museum of Nature and Science.  There were six floors of exhibits.  Clarissa especially liked the animals and the dinosaur bones.  Those were all labeled in both English and Japanese.

Some of the other floors had interesting interactive exhibits.  Tim’s favorite was a heat sensor. We all had fun playing with that one.

There were video screens you could press for information in English.  The teaching videos were all in Japanese though.

I think most families would enjoy the museum.  The price is very reasonable.  620 yen for adults.  Everyone else is free.  The special exhibit was an additional 980 for adults and 600 for children so we skipped it.

After the museum,  we headed down the road to the Toshogu Shrine.  The rain was starting to pick up so we put on our raincoats.  I am glad we did because after I took the first picture,  it started pouring.

This shrine is the oldest in Tokyo,  built before the Edo period.  The architecture and design reminds me very much of the two castles we visited earlier this week,  especially Nijo jo in Kyoto.

There was one more electronics shop to check out in Shibuya.  Tim was unsuccessful in that area.  But his feet have been bothering him since the monkey park,  so when we passed an Adidas store,  we decided it was time for new sneakers.  Problem solved.

The best English bookstore is in Shinjuku,  so we decided to head there.  Kinokuniya actually had a great selection.  They had mostly hardback books so they were a little expensive.  Their kid’s section was awesome.

After our day of shopping and exploring,  we realized that we never ate lunch.  So we decided to splurge on Outback for dinner.  My steak was great.  Tim had some pasta.

Shinkansen and Akihabara 

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This morning,  we checked out of our Kyoto hotel and took the shuttle to Kyoto station to catch our Shinkansen train (bullet train) to Tokyo. 

Clarissa wanted to ride on top of a suitcase instead of the stroller.  She and Tim had a great time together. 

The Shinkansen has some similarities to the KTX trains.  They are both very long and have sections with assigned seats.  The shinkansen also has a few cars with unassigned seats. KTX from Daegu to Seoul is about two hours.  Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo is the same but the distance is almost double. Both trains have toilets and overhead storage for luggage. 

The KTX has an area at the back of each car for larger luggage.  We didn’t see that on our Shinkansen train so we stored our two large suitcases and stroller overhead. 

The Shinkansen train was slightly larger inside.  KTX is two seats,  an aisle,  and two seats.  Shinkansen is two seats,  a larger aisle,  and three seats.  There is also more leg room on a Shinkansen train.  The ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo also costs about 1/3 more than a ticket from Daegu to Seoul,  but again the distance is almost double.  

We really enjoyed our train ride this afternoon.  The train was on time.  There were only 3 stops.  Clarissa enjoyed the space.  She made herself comfortable on the floor for a bit.  She had plenty of room between the seat,  my bookbag,  and my legs.  The rest of the time,  she sat in my lap so we didn’t have to pay for her ticket. Clarissa even peed in the toilet while the train was moving.  I was impressed. 

We stayed in Shinagawa at Christmas and loved that part of the city.  We chose a different hotel this time,  slightly closer to the subway station. 

Since we arrived early afternoon,  we decided to explore after we settled in.  We headed to Akihabara to see if Tim could find the rest of his wishlist.  The funny part is that he didn’t find anything in Electronic Town,  but Clarissa and I did.  I lost my sunglasses yesterday and found some cute new ones today.  Clarissa found a few things.  She and Tim built a model of Dory tonight and now have a remote control submarine for the bathtub. 

“Look mom.  A robot.  Take my picture!” We actually have a small version of this guy at home that we bought at the Gundam Storefront  in December.  

…And we’re back

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When we were with Tim’s friend on Saturday, we aquired subway cards that are similar to our Daegu Toppass in that they can do any train or bus and you can recharge them easily in a subway station. The difference is that in Daegu, there is a flat rate to ride a train or bus and in in Tokyo, you pay based on how far you travel.

With our new pasmo passes, we decided that we would be adventurous and check out some different train lines and go out of the city a little bit.

We only went one town over to Mitaka, but still. We took the JR Yamonote line to the JR chuo line to the metro Marunochi line. Then, we got off at the train and took a bus to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum.

We had to walk through a park to get there. It was a nice park with trees and grass and families playing. There was even a big train. It was behind a fence though, so Clarissa was disappointed that she couldn’t get super close to it.

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I was really excited to see what the houses and buildings looked like in Japan in the past. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed. We planned the trip to go home on December 28 because we read that a lot of things close for New Years the last 2-3 days of the year. Apparently, this museum closed on December 26. Oops.

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All was not lost though. We walked back to the train station instead of taking the bus so that we could see what a normal (not in the big city) neighborhood would look like in Japan. There were houses and duplexes. A few villas, but not tall apartment buildings like in the big city. We did see a shrine on the way. I think most neighborhoods have their own shrine.

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Also, I thought it was funny that they had 7-11 in Japan, but most of them had this sign…

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We took the train back to Nakano, which is supposed to be the most crowded neighborhood in Tokyo. Tim’s friend told us about a shopping area there that Tim should check out for video game, anime, and gundam model stuff. So we headed to Nakano Broadway, as it was on the same train line.

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We were hungry so we went to Lotteria for lunch. They have them in Korea too, but the sandwich choices were way different. I got a teryaki burger with egg and Tim got the Kobe burger. Clarissa, of course, ate french fries. We ended up sitting next to a mom and her little girl. Clarissa made a new friend. They had a great time playing together, even though they didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Japanese. The little girl was three.

Then we headed to Mandrake. There were several different stores in the four story shopping mall. Tim found a Gundam model he has been looking for for a long time. Clarissa found a Ponyo doll. We also bought a Totoro puzzle to do together. It was a very successful trip.

We thought we would head back to Shibuya for dinner. We went to Shibuya Hikarie becasue it is supposed to have several shops and places to eat. It did. But most were overpriced. We decided on a Chinese restaraunt, but the service was terrible, and they wouldn’t let us order a bowl of rice for Clarissa. So we left. The trip wasn’t a total waste though because the views from the 11th floor were pretty cool.

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We went back to Shinagawa and ended up at Royal Host. It was actually a nice little restaraunt. They had a special menu for kids and brought Clarissa a bib with a bee that she actually wanted to wear. Tim ordered pancakes, french toast, and sausage. I ordered a steak burger with fries. Clarissa wanted fries, but surprised me and actually ate some of my burger after she finished her fries.

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The cool thing about the pasmo card is that you can return it and get a refund of the cost of the card (500 yen, about $5) and whatever amount you have left on the card. So we returned our cards on our walk back to the hotel.

We headed home on Monday. We took the airport limosine bus back to the airport and were pleasantly surprised that there was a special line for families. Most people had to wait in a long line, but we only had to wait about five minutes before it was our turn.

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They also asked us if we wanted to use their stroller while we were in the airport. The check-in girl was confused because we were headed back to Busan on our American passport. She wasn’t familiar with the special visa that we have. Tim had been warned to bring his letter of employment, and that was exactly what we needed to get through.

The flight went well. Clarissa enjoyed watching part of the Minions movie as well as some Mickey Mouse. They let her pick out a present again. This time she chose an airplane.
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The food was great, yet again. Japan Airlines really feeds you well.

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The flight attendants were very nice and even walked by to tell us we could see Mt Fuji out the airplane window. Tim got a couple of really cool shots.

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We got through immigration in Busan without a problem. We were able to catch the next bus back to Daegu. That was totally a God thing because we only had to wait 20 minutes and ended up with the last two seats on the bus.

Saturday wanderings

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Tim has a friend who lives right outside of Tokyo.  He met him at Pax East in 2013 and has kept in contact online.  The plan was to spend the day with him.

We had two things on our list before we met up with him.  I wanted to see the view from the Caretta building and the Tsukiji fish market.  Both were closed when we arrived so we wandered around Ginza until we got to our meeting place : the Sony Building.

Tim was very disappointed in the Sony Building.  He had read that they had displays of the new technology as well as video games. It was basically four floors of showroom and things to buy.  Nothing super interesting or new.  We didn’t last long there.

We then hopped on the train to Shinjuku to see the Square Enix Artnia building.  It was a little cafe with a store to buy Final Fantasy and other video game items. The art was neat and Clarissa really enjoyed the different stuffed animals. She was upset that I would not buy her one.

Along the way we passed the Hanazono shrine and decided to check it out.

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We had sushi for lunch.  I usually get a California roll,  but they don’t really sell that here.  So I was adventurous and tried a few things.  I actually ate raw shrimp,  salmon,  and tuna.  I was rather proud of myself.

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Tim and his friend were right at home with the plethora of options.

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The cashier gave Clarissa a lollipop that looked like sushi!

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After lunch we rode the Tokyo metro for the first time to Asakusa. Clarissa actually fell asleep on the way and slept in her stroller for an hour.  I was super impressed because she fell asleep on me and stayed asleep when we transferred her to the stroller.  I also don’t ever remember her sleeping in her stroller.

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We went to see Sensoji Temple.  The temple was built in 628 and is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

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There were so many people there! Apparently around the New Year holiday,  it will be much worse,  so many people you can barely move.

There were many shops and stalls selling things.  I actually bought a small tapestry for my wall and Tim wanted me to try some pastries.  The pastries were fish shaped with red bean paste in the middle.  Even Clarissa enjoyed them.  We also tasted fried octopus,  which is very popular.  I wasn’t a huge fan.  It didn’t taste awful,  but I definitely only ate one.

On the way back to the metro,  we saw a sign for a special Star Wars exhibit at Sky Tree.  We decided to check it out and headed to Sky Tree Town.  After dinner,  we finally found it but discovered that it was at the top of the tower and cost 2850 yen each to go up so we decided to pass.  We had pumpkin ice cream from Coldstone and started the trek back to the hotel.

Clarissa was super disappointed when we left Tim’s friend.  She asked for him four different times on the way home.

Shopping in Tokyo

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One thing on Tim’s bucket list for Tokyo was the Gundam storefront at Diver City so we decided to spend Christmas Eve in Odaiba by the waterfront.

We took our normal train from Shinagawa to Shimbashi and then switched to the Yurikamome line and got off at Daiba Street.

The first thing we saw when we got off the elevator was a display of toys from one of Clarissa’s favorite shows, Chuggington. She spent a long time deciding but finally ended up with her Koko train. She was so excited about her new train that she didn’t care about the Hello Kitty store or the Disney Store.

We walked through each of the seven floors of the mall before lunch. Clarissa had been asking for pizza all morning so we got a pizza for take out and Tim got subway and we ate together in the food court.

After lunch we headed to the Gundam store. They had a museum for 1200 yen with a movie. They also had hundreds of different Gundam models built. Tim thought it was great to walk around and took pictures of everything.

They had a special where you could color in a box and get a model to build. Clarissa and I each colored our box. Tim will enjoy putting his model together. I think Clarissa will too when she gets a little older.

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We then went outside to see the massive Gundam statue outside. It was several stories high.

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After Diver City, we walked around Aqua City. Clarissa’s favorite was the display of kittens and also the puppies at the pet store. I was excited to find my name written in Japanese on a stamp.

We spent some time in the Decks building. They have another mall there as well as an amusement park, a wax museum, and Legoland. We decided on Legoland. Tim and I cost 2200 yen and Clarissa was free. She was too short for the two rides. But she had a great time in the play area.

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We enjoyed the model of different sections of Tokyo. Clarissa also really enjoyed building with Legos. She made a giraffe. Clarissa enjoyed her time, but I honestly expected more from Legoland for the price.

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We took some pictures of the waterfront and the lights before heading back to Diver City for dinner.

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We ended up at a burger and steak place called Hiro. The food was good. My favorite part was the warmer. If your steak wasn’t done enough, you could put a piece on the warmer and it would sizzle a bit until it was the way you like it. I thought it was genius because if the chef over cooks your steak, it gets dried out. But this way, I could make every bite perfect.

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We tried the Hello Kitty cafe for dessert. Clarissa was excited about the Hello Kitty shaped pancakes. Tim liked the green tea ice cream. Mine was milk flavor. I guess I expected it to taste like vanilla so I was disappointed.

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We thought that it might be fun to take Clarissa to Disney for Christmas. She loves Minnie Mouse, but she is not tall enough for the rides and probably won’t remember much about this trip when she is older. We read that Ikspiari was the Japanese equivalent of Downtown Disney so we thought that would be a good compromise.

Clarissa got to “see” Minnie Mouse because there was a small Disney Store, so she was thrilled. But Tim and I were very disappointed. There were only three stores in the whole mall that even carried Disney merchandise. It was basically a mall with three floors. No characters whatsoever. We were there less than an hour.

We hopped back on our train and headed back to Akihabara for lunch. Tim found a list of anime and retro gaming stores that looked promising so we decided to check them out. The only one worth mentioning is Super Potato. They had some really cool games and accessories for atari and the original Nintendo among other things. The other store that Tim likes is Sofmap. It is like Fry’s but better.

We then made our way to two different shrines. The first was easy to miss. Kyobu Inari was very small and between buildings under construction.

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The other was the Kanda Myojin, the oldest shrine in Japan built in 730. It is actually a collective shrine for 108 neighborhoods in Tokyo and so it is very popular to visit.

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I learned a lot today. There were several people there taking pictures and a few praying. One woman in particular kept being where I wanted to take pictures. But she was praying and I wanted to be respectful so I didn’t take pictures while she was praying. She explained the process to me, mostly in Japanese.

Before you enter a gate, you bow once. Then when you get up to the shrine itself you bow, clap twice, then bow again, thanking god. Some shrines you put coins in. You must do so gently. Then when you leave you must bow again, hold your hand over your heart and then bow with your hands in front like you are praying and thank god again. It was interesting. When I bowed, I thanked God for Jesus and Christmas.

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We went back to Shinagawa for dinner and had TGIFridays. It is interesting to see which parts of a kids meal Clarissa will actually eat. Usually it is just the french fries or rice. But I am hoping that one day she will surprise me.

Today was the earliest we came back to our hotel. For our first Christmas together, we were on our honeymoon and NOTHING was open. So we did 17 mile drive and then watched Jingle all the Way. Every Christmas since, we have watched a Christmas movie. Christmas in Japan NOTHING was closed but we kept the tradition alive and introduced Clarissa to Home Alone . She loved it!

Another busy day in Tokyo

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We started a little earlier on Wednesday.  Before 10 AM,  the shuttle goes to Shinagawa instead of Meguro.  Not a problem though because both stations are on the same line.  We knew we had several stops to make so we decided on an all day JR pass.  That way,  we could hop on any JR train we wanted all day.

We started in Shibuya.  Before we moved Tim had a dream about being the Shibuya wolf.  I thought it would be interesting to go there and see if he got any interesting feelings. He didn’t.

We did see the famous dog statue. His name is Hachiko and he would meet his owner after work at the train station every day. He continued to visit the train station, even after his owner died. There was quite a line of people trying to take pictures with the statue.

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The local busses even have a picture of the dog on them.

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We also saw Shibuya Crossing. The crosswalks flash from five different directions and hundreds of people cross the street at once. It was pretty cool to watch. I even took a video of it.

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The crossing reminds me of Time Square in New York city with all of the video screens on the buildings.

After we finished in Shibuya, we hopped back on our train to Harajuku to see the Meji Jingu shrine. Wednesday happened to be December 23, which is the emperor’s birthday. This is the only day all year that the Imperial Palace is open to the public. What I didn’t know is that it also made it a religious holiday.

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There were a lot of people in and out visiting the shrine. But by late morning, it wasn’t as packed as I would expect on a religious holiday.

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People were there to receive blessings and prayers. You could pay to have your prayers put on a tree or to get on the list for a prayer of blessing. How wonderful that I can talk directly to Jesus and don’t need someone else to do it for me! It was still interesting to see a different culture though. Some of the buildings reminded me of the old Gyungbukdong palace in Korea, just less ornate.

After the shrine, we headed to McDonald’s for lunch. There was a sign from the train station so we knew it was close. Interesting fact, fast food is actually fast in Japan. McDonald’s and other similar restaurants take about 20 minutes to get your food in Korea. In Japan it is like in the US.

We were ahead of schedule so we decided to head to Ikebukuro for the Sunshine Aquarium. It took us a while to get there, but there were several signs along the way.

It was actually a decent aquarium. Tickets were 2,000 yen ($20) for adults and Clarissa was free. Clarissa enjoyed watching the seals and birds. Her favorite was definitely the fish.

There was a large tank that she kept running, trying to keep up with this shark.

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She also kept saying that she wanted to find Nemo. Towards the end, we found both Nemo and Dory.

On our way out, we caught the end of the penguin feeding. There was a cute little penguin that was out walking around. Clarissa enjoyed watching him.

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We then headed to Shinjuku for Tim to check out some electronics markets. He did actually find something he had been looking for.

We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a free city view. It was raining so we couldn’t see the whole city, but we could see enough. I guess I am spoiled by our travels because it didn’t look that different than Seoul to me.

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We decided to go back to Shinagawa. On our morning shuttle bus ride we saw several interesting restaurants. It was hard to choose but we ended up with Mango Tree (Thai) for dinner. Tim had curry, I had pad Thai, we shared spring rolls, and Clarissa had some rice. It was very good.

After returning to Meguro station we decided to walk back to the hotel. Baskin Robbins is on the way and there were several flavors left to try. This round Clarissa had twinkle tree, I had raspberry holiday cheesecake, and Tim had matcha (Japanese green tea).

Akihabara and Ueno

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When we booked our hotel, we basically went on hotels.com and found the cheapest room that would sleep three. We are very confident in how to use the Korean subway system.  We figured Tokyo’s subway system would be pretty easy with our English map so as long as we were in Tokyo, location wasn’t a huge deal.

What we didn’t know until we were ready to walk to the subway, is that our hotel has a shuttle that goes to a train station every fifteen minutes.  The train system here is interesting in that there are several lines that interconnect and they are not all subway. Taking the shuttle made life easier and the bus driver helped us figure out where to go.

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The Meguro station is on the JR line and not the subway.  We bought tickets from Meguro to Akihabara. Tim found an app that lets tourists have free WiFi in Japan for up to two weeks called Navitime.  But it is by GPS so you have to download it before you arrive in Japan.  If you wait until you arrive,  you have to go to an information stand,  show them your passport to prove that you are a tourist,  and they will give you a username and password to get your free WiFi. That was our first stop of the day.

From the Akihabara station, we went to the UDX building.Tim thought that the stand was in the nttc docomo store (cellphone store). But it was actually above it on the second floor at Aki-info. We almost missed it but went back because we saw Totoro in the window of an anime store.

We could see a Sega building from there so we walked around the technology stores. Tim liked looking at all of the gadgets available. We went into a collectibles store that sold items for StarWars, Marvel, and Studio Ghibli.

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That was probably my favorite part of that section. We had planned to visit the Studio Ghibli museum this trip, but tickets are sold out this week. So God let us see some cool Studio Ghibli stuff anyway. Clarissa had a hard time choosing her favorite toy but ended up with the catbus from Totoro.

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We had McDonald’s for lunch. Then we went back to Akihabara station and bought tickets for Ueno and our return trip to Meguro.

Our afternoon plan was Ueno Zoo. The Ueno Zoo is Japan’s oldest zoo, built in 1882. We got a discount for showing our hotel guidebook, so adult tickets were 600 yen (about $6) and children under 12 are always free.

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The tourist guidebook said that the zoo had 500 different species of animals. It took us over three hours to see everything! We all enjoyed it. There were so many things to see. Any time an animal was in a cage alone Clarissa wanted to know where it’s babies were. After the first few, she started to get upset. Thankfully there were three gorillas and one was a baby so she got to see “Mom, dad, and baby.” She seemed satisfied after that.

She thoroughly enjoyed the “reindeer” and wanted to know where Christmas was. She kept saying “Merry Christmas” and it would respond with a noise. She was so happy!

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On our way out, there was a section for coin operated rides. Clarissa wanted to ride Thomas.

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After we went back to Meguro station, we decided to walk back to the hotel. We wanted to check out our dinner options along the way. We couldn’t decide before we got back to the hotel, so we went up to the room to change into our warmer jackets and then took the shuttle back to the station.

We ended up at a place called Ikinari Steak. You choose the size and cut of your meat and then you stand at your table to eat it. Thankfully Clarissa was contained in her stroller. The food was great. Our meat (Angus sirloin) was 7 yen per gram (so a 7 ounce steak is about $20). You pay extra for sides like rice and salad, but we both had a steak dinner for under $50.

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We passed a Baskin Robbins and stopped for dessert. They have Baskin Robbins in Korea too, but don’t have nearly as many flavors. Though it probably isn’t fair to compare Daegu to Tokyo since Tokyo is such a larger city? Clarissa got cookies and cream. Tim ordered pumpkin pudding and twinkle tree. I ate white chocolate macadamia. We decided to walk back after our delicious evening out.

I don’t know if we just choose well or if the people Tim works with have expensive taste but the prices in Tokyo are not as bad as we were warned. I think we will stay within our budget.

This travel day was all about the food

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We had a very long travel day for our two hour flight.

We were ready to leave the house by 9. I wanted to be sure that we had time to take the bus if there wasn’t a taxi available. I don’t know why the AAFES taxis have such small trunks.  One suitcase fit in the trunk.  The other suitcase squished in the backseat with the three of us.  The stroller sat up front.

Because of the taxi,  we had about an hour to kill at Dondaegu express bus terminal.  Clarissa had a great time going up and down the stairs and trying to open all of the lockers.

I forgot that the bus terminals usually only have squatties.  I didn’t really want to attempt that with my two year old audience.  so we waited for the handicapped bathroom.  I was glad that I packed toilet paper for our trip because there wasn’t any available.

The bus was really nice.  We had more legroom than on KTX.  It was about 10,000 won ($9 USD) to take a bus directly to Gimhae Airport in Busan. It only took about 70 minutes.  Clarissa enjoyed looking out the window.

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The airport wasn’t as big as I expected.  The check in line was long.  But,  in classic Korean fashion,  they opened a new line just for families of small children so we didn’t wait long.

There were only two food court options.  We decided on bulgogi bibimbap and some spring rolls.  The spring rolls were ready first.  Clarissa confiscated them.  She immediately said “mine”  and dragged them in front of her.  I was thrilled because she rarely gets excited about adult food.  She actually ate several of them and was reluctant to share.

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The bibimbap was delicious.  There were a few appetizers that I didn’t recognize.  The hollow sand dollar looking thing was actually pretty tasty.  The yellow rectangles ended up being eggs.

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Our flight from Busan to Tokyo was from 2-4 in the afternoon so I wasn’t really expecting a meal on the plane.  They served a traditional Japanese lunch with shrimp,  egg,  mushrooms,  and rice.  Our favorite part was probably the rice cakes.  They were two different flavors,  each with a fruity filling in the middle.  I bet you can guess which part of the meal Clarissa actually ate.

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Japan has the most efficient immigration process I have ever seen.  We only waited in line about five minutes.  They asked a couple of questions,  fingerprinted us (of course mine don’t scan correctly in any country),  took our picture and sent us on our way.  At first,  we could not find the baggage claim for our flight. I eventually saw our flight number third on a list and assumed it was because our bags were not out yet.

I knew we would still have another bus ride before the hotel so Clarissa and I ran laps around the baggage claim.  Yes.  I am THAT mom.  After about fifteen minutes or so,  our flight came off the list and Tim went to ask the baggage information people about it.  Our suitcases and stroller were ready for us on a cart.  Oops. Like I said,  marvelously efficient.

We exchanged our money and then went to find the limousine bus to our hotel.  Apparently it comes once per hour and we had missed the last one by 5 minutes.  The taxi from the airport to our hotel would be about an hour and cost 25,000 yen which is like $250. The bus for the three of us was 6,000 yen which is closer to $50. So we waited.  Grabbed some snacks at the convenience store because there wasn’t another option.

The bus ride was very pleasant. The seats were comfortable. I think we would have enjoyed it more during the day. It was dark and we were tired. But we did get to see some neat lights around Tokyo during our 90 minute bus ride.

When we checked in to the hotel, they gave Clarissa a present. Really it was a bag of toiletries for kids. She got a kid sized toothbrush, slippers, and a washcloth. All have bears. She was thrilled!

She decided to wear her new slippers to dinner. They will probably still fit her when we move back to the US in 2018. They fell off about every three steps that she ran. It took a while to get to dinner.

There are four restaurants at our hotel. We had been warned about prices in Tokyo, but there was definitely some sticker shock while looking at the menus.

We decided on the Bamboo Lounge near the lobby. It was the cheapest. They seated us near the Christmas tree fountain.

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I ordered an “American sandwich” with french fries for Clarissa. I was gluten-free the ten years before we moved to Korea, so I have never really been big into sandwiches. But this was the best sandwich I have ever eaten. No offense to anyone who has ever made me a sandwich… It had chunks of chicken breast, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. There was also a sauce of some kind. It looked like ketchup and mayonnaise but tasted way better. Clarissa ate most of the fries, but they were good too.

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Tim got a raw tuna rice bowl. It came with miso soup.

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He also got green tea. They make it way different in Japan than Korean. The green tea started as a mound of green ice cubes. Then the server added cold milk. Finally there was a liquid green tea sugar.

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By the time we returned to the room it was about 9:30. We were definitely ready for some sleep after our long day.

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