Thursday was a terrible travel day. We had got up early to get our 9.15am flight. When we got to the departure gate we saw that the flight was delayed, with no reason or estimated departure time. After waiting for 90 minutes at this gate, a gate change was announced (the opposite end of the airport!) so we hurried over with the assumption that we would be boarding. However, it was another case of “hurry up and wait” with no announcements and no information. It was incredibly frustrating to not know if we were going to be delayed another 30 minutes or 6 hours! I knew we were in for a longer wait when they started serving lunch at the boarding area…..
We eventually made it on to the plane at 1.30 and even this was drama driven. As we had had an equipment change, they were assigning new seats and hand writing on the new seat numbers. I could not read the numbers on our boarding cards, and was getting pushed from behind to move onto the bus. The gate agent shouted 32A to me and so I assumed that we would all be sitting in the same row. However, when we actually got on the plane, I discovered that Oliver’s seat assignment was 71H and Isabelle’s was 34C! I sat us all down together and then refused to move. It worked because they then had to move everyone else around us!! We then sat on the tarmac for another 90 minutes before finally taking off.
We landed in Tokyo at 6.30pm (a whole day wasted!) and I was immediately struck by the air – I could actually see clear blue sky. We found the Narita Express train station easily and then boarded very clean and comfortable train for the hour ride to Tokyo down town. When we arrived at Tokyo Station, it was a little confusing as the station is HUGE and there are many different lines and many different exits. I had stopped to check my phone for the details on which exit to head for when a local asked if I needed help. When I told her which exit I was looking for, she said, “follow me and I will take you there”. I was amazed – this was so helpful and not what I was used after 2 years in China! Our friends Earoel and Graham met us at the exit to walk us to the hotel we were all staying at (they had already been in Tokyo for 4 days). The Marriott Courtyard at Tokyo Station is in a great central location and proved to be a great base for the 4 days that we spent in Tokyo.
We quickly checked in, dumped our bags and then immediately headed out for dinner. We walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant called Charcoal which was a Japanese BBQ. The tables had small grills in them where you cook your own food. We ordered a selection of meats and seafood and then had fun cooking it all. The kids enjoyed this and managed to act as Chef’s for us all! We were joined by a couple of colleagues from the Japanese office of my company which proved a good chance to learn a little more about Japanese customs as well as learn the words for; please, thank you and hello. It is always good to know those words in any language!!
After this lovely dinner, we walked back to the hotel, it was a lovely evening and I hoped that the weather would be as nice for the entire weekend (it was!) After settling the kids into bed – out like lights, we then planned the following day. We had decided to brave the queues/lines and visit Disney! We figured that it was a school day and not a holiday in Japan so it should be less busy (ha, ha, ha, ha!!)
We rushed through breakfast so we could get on the train to Disney (15 minutes away from Tokyo Station). We arrived about an hour after opening time and it was already packed!! The day had dawned with clear blue skies and the sun was already beating down. Although I had thought to bring sunscreen and had covered us all, the kids did not have sunglasses so our first stop was to the Disney store to buy sunglasses for Isabelle and a baseball cap for Oliver. These were obviously hits with the kids as they then wore them for the entire trip! We then saw our first show – the Disney orchestra playing some well known songs from the movies.
Graham had not been to Disney before and wanted to “experience the experience”. Isabelle and Oliver had been to Disney in Florida (September 2011) and their memories were of 10 minutes of queuing (timed it perfectly for FL!!) even for the very popular rides back then. We could not believe our luck at how many rides we got to go on. Tokyo was another story – the wait times were already at 120+ minutes and once we had done a fast pass for Thunder Mountain we were then told that we could not apply for another fast pass until 1.30pm. Both kids wanted to go on Splash Mountain, so we headed over there to find that the wait time was 140 minutes – cue Mummy as Fast Pass! Earoel and Graham were happy to take the kids on some other rides while I waited in line at Splash Mountain. This was an incredibly boring 90 minutes for me!!! However, knowing that they kids got to go on the Cars ride and the Carousel so it kept them happy, made me happy. Splash Mountain did not disappoint and we all got wet!
After this it was time for lunch. Kids had picked a burger place in Toon Town and so we walked over to that area of the park only to be told that it was shut! So, back to Tomorrowland for Burgers there! While we were eating, we noticed that the queue time for the Rocket Ship ride was only 25 minutes, so we jumped in line for that.
I was a little bit disappointed to see that all the Disney Princess characters were Westerners, but when I did a little research after, I learned that the Asian culture actually want to have photos taken with the Disney characters as they look in the movies and not the Asian version.
We went back to Toontown for a couple more rides and then, as it was now getting later in the day, decided to head back to the hotel before dinner.
It was a quick change time at the hotel before going to Andy’s Seafood restaurant for dinner. An old colleague from my days working in America is COO of the Japanese office and he had arranged this dinner at his favourite place in Tokyo. It did not disappoint! It was a large, lively table. We started the meal with crab and we were served the biggest legs and claws I had ever seen – yummy delicious. The ladies at the table were making local cocktails (???) with freshly squeezed grapefruit (aka – do it yourself at the table!). Isabelle had an alcohol free version and loved it. Oliver made fast friends with another colleague over his camera and was busy taking lots of photos of us all.
I love taking my kids out and getting compliments on them. We had practised the correct way to introduce themselves (handshake, eye contact, clear articulation!) and I was thrilled when EVERYBODY at the table commented on the confidence and firm handshake of both Isabelle and Oliver! (Proud Mum moment!)
Andy’s was a fabulous meal – great company, great food and great drinks. It was lovely to catch up with Tim (from my Atlanta days). Wish I had more time to discover Japan through his eyes!! This was a late night for the kids as we didn’t leave the restaurant until 9.30 (tried to make myself feel better by telling myself that it was only 8.30pm Shanghai time!!) However, they had been so well behaved and so engaged that it did not seem to matter! We all crashed fairly quickly after getting back to the hotel room! It is definitely a fact that a whole day at Disney followed by a dinner out is guaranteed for immediate sleep…..
We did not set the alarm for Saturday morning as we had a fluid agenda. Just as well, as no-one woke up until 9.00!! We headed down for breakfast and decided on our itinerary for the day – off to Tokyo Tower, followed by Hibiya Park.
Tokyo Tower used to be the tallest tower in Tokyo (until the completion of the Skytower in 2013).
While we were waiting for the upper level elevators, we saw this board where people could post good luck messages.
The afternoon was a lovely walk around Hibiya Park. I was amazed that in a city of 34 million people, we bumped into the only people that I know in Tokyo – sometimes it is a small world!!
We went to a Tempura restaurant in the evening and had a fantastic meal. We had walked down the busy main street (equivalent to Times Square) and saw the bright lights that light up the City at night.
On Sunday we decided to do a Red Bus City Tour in the morning, prior to our trip back to the airport in the afternoon. The weather was clear blue skies and very sunny, but it was a bit breezy on the open top and we were all a little chilly when the bus picked up speed. This was great way to see much of Tokyo and listen to the commentator tell us about the history, culture and interesting facts.
After the city tour, we enjoyed a lazy lunch and then headed back to the Metro to get the train back to the airport. Again, I must comment on the kindness of Japanese strangers. I was completely lost once we had our tickets (the Tokyo Station is HUGE!), but not only did someone stop to see if we were ok, but they also walked us to our platform (which was out of their way as they were on their way out!!) No delays for the return journey. We flew Japan Airlines for the first time. This was a good experience – excellent plane food and the kids got to watch the new Lego Movie!