Our trip to Japan, summer 2017

in ikebukuro 2

It’s currently summer vacation for all of the kids in the UAE.  It’s actually over a month already since most of the schools have closed for the school year 2017. Since classes will start on September 10, that’s about 12 weeks long of holidays!

Japan 2013

When I planned where to take the kids in summer and though our family budget is tight, I couldn’t let them just stay at home for 12 long weeks and wait for the weekends for me to take them outside. I work full time so yeah, I can only take them out on weekends because this mom is lazy to take out people and drive after work, except maybe for groceries.

The peak of UAE’s summer is these months of June-September so playing outside isn’t really an option. This is actually the challenge for families staying in the country during these months. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of entertainment options, indoors usually inside a mall but if given a choice, I would love the kids to be outside than in the malls.

Anyway, I managed to find fairly inexpensive airfare for the three of us from Dubai-Narita via Singapore on Singapore Airlines last March. It’s been four years since our last visit to Japan and it got me really excited!

The last time we traveled to Japan, Benjamin was less than two years old. Pristine was nine. This was them when we landed in Narita in 2013.

And this was them in the same spot in 2017!

p and b in japan again

I couldn’t remember their original pose but know that Pristine was carrying her little brother so we tried to replicate the shot. What difference four years make!

We took Singapore Airways and I don’t know, I felt our flight was really long this time. Seven hours from Dubai to Singapore, a couple of hours layover at the wonderful Changi Airport (probably my favorite airport in the whole world, after Dubai International) and again another seven hours from Singapore to Narita.

stormy narita

The kids were really great during the flight, as they’ve always been. No fuss even with the disturbing turbulence as we approached Narita. The captain announced bad weather and we’d have a bumpy ride. There were many kids on the flight and I heard a few vomiting sounds…I was scared Benjamin, who is prone to motion sickness would follow too but thankfully, he didn’t!

KOMBINI!

The first thing we did when we got out security? Go attack the first convenience store (kombini in Japanese colloquial) inside the airport! It was a small store but it already got our spirits high!

combini 2
combini 3

combini 1

Who buys 2,000/3,000 yen worth of stuff from convenience stores?! Us, obviously. We have a love affair with with Japan’s kombini. Located on every block in urban areas, the Japanese convenience store is much more than a ubiquitous repository of junk food. Konbini food, believe it or not, is actually pretty decent. They’re more than the microwavable chimichangas you’ll find in other country’s convenience stores, konbini food is delicious and always kept fresh.

It sells the ever handy cure for mild hunger: onigiri, bento, seasonal dishes and sweets, sushi and soba, manga and medicine, alcohol and many, many more you can think of!

It was late when we arrived at the station near our Airbnb so we bought food stuff in case the kids (and I!) get hungry later in the night. Nah, we were just really excited to buy the stuffs we missed!

OUR FIRST MORNING IN JAPAN

in ikebukuro

IMG_20170622_125755_333

We arrived around 10 pm after a long flight from Dubai and Singapore and I learned a valuable lesson: our morning after itinerary should have been: SLEEP ALL DAY.

Because anyway, we had our kombini food already in case we get hungry, we don’t need to go out really. The kids were heavily jet lagged or just plain tired and showed no signs of rousing from their sleep even if it was already 10 or 11 am or even 12 noon!

(It might be because our modest Airbnb was so nice and comfy – it deserves a special blog post soon!)

Our time in Japan is very limited and I didn’t want to waste it so I had to wake them up just before 1 pm. Fair enough, no? They were fully rested and ready to tackle the day.

We were in Tokyo on the last week of June and OMG, the weather was really nice!

Japan is still in that tsuyu season (rainy season just before summer). The temps were already warm enough for the locals but coming from a place with 45C temperature in Dubai, 27C in Tokyo was HEAVEN. We were walking and would stop on the side of the road to just close our eyes and feel the cool breeze whenever it comes.

Our first order of the day? LUNCH!

I have listed the restaurants to go and food to eat while in Tokyo months back before our trip. Our every meal has been planned already, well, except for the random kombini visits where we buy snacks while we are on the move. We went to Coco Ichibanya because we missed the Japanese curry!

curry

EATING OUT IN JAPAN ON BUDGET

If you think eating out in Japan is expensive (Tokyo has this notorious reputation of being expensive generally), take note that there are several food shops where you can have a great inexpensive meal. Some of our favorite go to’s are: Coco Ichibanya and also C & C Curry (located at most train stations), and on most streets in Tokyo: Sukiya, Matsuya and Yoshinoya.

oranges

When we finished our hearty lunch, the weather was really warming up. It’s supposed to be rainy season but we were lucky enough not to get wet – it was sunny and nice in Tokyo (although we were ok to get rained on or perhaps buy the transparent umbrella from the kombini!).

We could feel the early pangs of summer heat as we got out of the basement restaurant.

japan summer
japan summer 2
 Our very important itinerary for that day was a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka at 4pm. I’ll write a separate blog post about that but do any of you reading this post know about Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful animes? If you haven’t, I encourage you to start watching them. You can start with Spirited Away or Totoro or even Howl’s Moving Castle.

p and b in ikebukuro

shinjuku at night 1
shinjuku at night 2

We had yakiniku dinner with friends on our first night at Shinjuku. Some of you might have seen my Instastories on Instagram and asked, “you make your own dinner at the restaurant table?”

Yes, yakiniku – from Wikipedia: yakiniku refers to a Japanese style of cooking bite-size meat and vegetables on gridirons or griddles over flame of wood charcoals carbonized by dry distillation or gas/electric grill. At yakiniku restaurants, the meat grillers are on your table and yes, you cook your own meal (which is fun). We had 90 minutes of yakiniku tabehodai (eat all you can, including rice, salads) for 1,980 yen (US$18) per person.

It’s eat all you can for 90 minutes. Can you still say Japan is expensive?

yakiniku

We went home late tired but very satisfied with our first full day in Japan. I am so happy to be able to roam around Tokyo with my kids, now both of them walking really well (no more baby carriers! no more strollers and diaper bags to lug around!). They are also both aware now which is really nice because I get to tell them stories of the time I was a student in Japan roaming in these familiar streets. And they actually listen AND ask questions which throws me back to memory lane time and time again. Ah, those were the days!

Never in my imagination that years after that point in my life that I’d walk around Tokyo with my own kids!

It seems that our travel to Japan is following a pattern: every 4 years. The last time we flew to Japan was 4 years ago in 2013 and before that was also 4 years ago in 2009. I hope it won’t take another 4 years before we go there again.

4 thoughts on “Our trip to Japan, summer 2017

  1. I’m amazed and how much the children have grown. It seems like only yesterday when you were posting picture of Pristine when she was just a few years old!

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