Shrines and Temples in countryside Tokamachi

Isn’t it true, nothing screams “I’ve been to Japan!” than posting a picture of yourself with a shrine or temple in the background, right?

If you happen to visit Japan, don’t miss to include visiting temples and shrines in your itinerary and don’t hesitate because no matter what your religion is, it’s no big deal to visit shrines and temples. The Japanese ‘pray’ at temples and shrines largely out of tradition rather than religion so they won’t mind foreigners inside these premises at all.

To the unfamiliar, shrines and temples can be quite hard to distinguish. The easiest way to tell is often from the Japanese name. The word for shrine is jinja and for temples it is o-tera, and the kanji will be suffixed to the name of the shrine or temple. Temples and shrines are definitely popular sights in Japan. Basically, temples refer to Buddhism and shrines to Shintoism.

There are so many temples and shrines scattered all over Japan with Sensoji Temple in Asakusa (Tokyo), Kiyomizudera (Kyoto) or the Todaiji (Nara) among the most popular.

(A great article explaining the differences between shrines and temples.)

(No, I think I’ll pass…)

These shrines and temples are undeniably attractive. However, if you visit the usual and the popular shrines and temples suggested by big travel agencies and Tripadvisor, you’ll most likely find hundreds of tourists in the same place as you. And they’d be on your left and right, behind you and in front of you when you take photos!

It’s no secret: more and more people are putting Japan high up in their travel bucket lists now more than ever. Statistics show that close to 30 million people visited the country in 2017. And the numbers continue to rise. Kyoto is crowded these days. It takes a lot of planning and effort to have shrines/temples and gardens to yourself.

I’ve been to the major shrines and temples in Japan and they were all beautiful and unique in their own way. But I hate that they are too crowded. I prefer the temples away from the big cities, tucked in the middle of a forest, shrines of small villages.

For sure, highly developed areas may be the top picks of most foreign travelers, but Japan’s rural regions are just as lovely and highly recommended for those who want to take a break from the busy city life. I’ve picked up a few from our new hometown.

1. Jinguji

This ancient temple is said to have been founded during the Heian period (A.D. 794-1185. T)he temple gate and hall dedicated to Kannon, both built during the late-Edo period, and three Buddha statues made during the Fujiwara period are all designated cultural assets of Niigata prefecture.

What I love about visiting shrines and temples is that it’s always a few degrees cooler than any place in town. It’s a great respite in the summer and Jinguji is not an exception!

I’ve been wanting to visit Jinguji since we arrived here in January, however, snow was at least 2 meters high around it! Now that everything is clear, I’m glad I went back to take photos of it. Don’t you think it’s mesmerizing?

2. Chosenji

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find information regarding this temple in the internet. My daughter was the one who told me about this place since it’s near the city’s biggest track and field stadium where her school trains and holds competitions. I may need to ask the monk who is in charge of this temple to know more.

I’ve copied and pasted the kanji characters in Google search but even in Japanese language, there were only very few search results that were relevant enough.

Chosenji is only about 10 minutes by car/taxi from the main station. It’s a little too far to walk, especially when it’s so hot in the summer or when the roads are dangerous in winter. I recommend visiting if you have your own car or else hire a taxi from the station.

3. Mitamafudoson Shrine

This is by far, my favorite among the shrines and temple I’ve visited. The entrance is not that eye catching, however, don’t be deceived. Walk through the shrine gate “torii” – if you love nature, serenity, culture and old traditional buildings, this one hits all the marks.


As soon as passed the shrine gate, we could hear the sound of water. Rushing water. Turbulent sound of water. And then I saw this waterfalls at the side of the shrine!

This is the part where I share a bit of myself. I get really emotional (and OA) seeing things like this. I just stood there, taking it all in. I mean, as if all these green wasn’t enough, there’s a freaking waterfall in the middle of it all! Having lived in the desert (Dubai) for 11 years, things like this make me hyperventilate!

It was getting cold, which was a very happy respite from the recent heat wave that’s going on in Japan this summer. It made me want to build a house right beside this. Can you imagine hearing the sound of water every minute of your waking life?

There’s a spring water that’s said to make you live longer if you drink from it. If you’re reading this and plan to go soon, bring a water bottle! Or else, there’s a nearby shop that give out empty plastic bottles for free so people can get water from here and bring it home or drink it while they hike. The water is free flowing anyway, so why not not share it, right? Very nice.

We climbed up a flight of stairs to see the second temple. Look at ALL. THAT. MOSS.

Just like the other temples and shrines that we’ve visited here, there isn’t much information about Mitama Fudoson in the internet.

These are just a scratch on the surface with regards to the number of shrines and temples in Tokamachi or Echigo-Tsumari region.

There are big ones and then there are many, many random small ones, too. Some can be found randomly in weird places even, like on top of mountains, in the middle of forests, etc.


The best, best thing about visiting these shrines and temples in our hometown? We had them to ourselves!

Mostly, or in our case, we were the only ones there. There wasn’t a single soul even if we were there on a weekend. Why? Because these places aren’t worth visiting? Surely, you don’t think so, right?

The reason why there are no tourists is that many people who visit Japan go to the popular places first. The shrines and temples in Kyoto, Nara or Nikko. Those are worth your travel dollars, yes, but when you’re done with those places, I hope you find the time to leave the well-worn tourist tracks and see a quieter Japan. And take pictures where there are no five hundred sixty two tourists behind you!


I’m available for a few dates from mid-September onwards, till the winter snow starts to accompany travelers who want to experience the beauty and serenity of Japanese shrines and temples for yourself. (And see the lovely countryside along the way). Drop me an email if that’s something you would like to do!

Sand dunes, in Japan?


Oh, in case you’re new here and/or not following me on social media, especially on Instagram, we’ve moved to Japan. It’s been a month since I started sleep talking in Nihongo again. And if you ask me how we’re all doing, thank you, we’re all doing fine (except that – my daughter claims that I have started snoring frequently something that I didn’t do in Dubai…)

We were in Tottori prefecture for ten days last January.

When we decided to leave Dubai and settle in Japan, my husband’s birth place and the place where I spent 10 years before we moved to Dubai in January 2007, we brainstormed where to live and work within Japan. Can we handle densely populated Tokyo where life happens in fast forward or would we be happy in the countryside? The range of choices for place to settle was varied and then there was Tottori prefecture.

Tottori. WHERE THE HECK IS THAT? I bet not many of you have heard of such place.

Tottori is located in the southern part of Japan, along the coast of Sea of Japan. The nearest international airport is Kansai International Airport in Osaka. From Osaka, it’s about 2 hours by bus or car.


Everyone gives me a blank stare when I say we plan to move to Tottori and quickly ask, why? First let me say – people, there’s more to Japan than just Tokyo or Osaka or Kyoto. 🙂

There was a job opportunity for me at Tottori and the city government had a program called “Ijuu taiken” (trial residence) where you can rent a fully furnished house for a maximum of 30 days (based on the availability) for only 1,200 yen per day, including water, electricity and on winter, kerosene for the heaters. That’s merely US$11 or about AED40 per day for a full house furnished with the basic things to function.

house in tottori coll

furnished house

I think it’s a really great program because after all, you’ll never know how you’ll feel about the place and how it is to live there if you don’t try to live there. In those thirty days, the city government provides support with connecting you to employment agencies so you can find work in Tottori and eventually settle there. Why do they do all these?

Tottori prefecture is the least populated prefecture in Japan and they need more people.

To know more about trial residence in Tottori, please check out this link (only in Japanese language though): Trial residence in Tottori


Aside from the possibility of work for me, there is plenty of nature in Tottori. There was a lake just beside the house we stayed. I love that the kids are closer to nature, which was one of the reasons we left Dubai. The house provided for us was located outside of the city proper. It was such a stark contrast from the big city of Dubai. There are no skyscrapers nor bright lights and we loved it.

snow in tottori

lake in tottori 2


ben nature 1
ben nature 2

It was also near to the famous landmark in Tottori, the Tottori sand dunes. We can walk up to the lift station and cross to the sand dunes. Benjamin was so thrilled of all of these new experiences! (Pristine joined a local school so she wasn’t in most of our pictures except if it’s a weekend)


Unfortunately, the possibility of residing and settling in Tottori did not work well with us – this is something you can’t know till you actually live in a place. I am glad and thankful about the trial residence program, it helped us decide things better but mostly, we can’t avail of the national health insurance if we don’t have a permanent place to live and then of course, we can’t commit to rent an apartment if we didn’t have jobs…the job would come eventually but that would take a bit of time, minimum of a month maybe to settle? With kids in tow, we cannot risk not being covered by the national health insurance, especially snow season has started. What if they slip? Or catch a cold or something worse?

Also, I know this sounds strange but I feel something was missing in Tottori. It was a beautiful place and the house we stayed temporarily was near to the sea (my happy place) and there was a lake too. But walking around, I can’t imagine myself living there for a long time.

grace by the sea

lake in tottori

maki and b by the sea

And…then there’s the famous and only sand dunes in Japan!

To be honest, I wanted our move to Tottori to work for a bit of a selfish reason: there a desert there or specifically, sand dunes. The largest in area in all of Japan.

Imagine if we lived here, I then wouldn’t have to change the name of my blog!

ben at the desert


Since we were already there, we wanted to check out the Tottori Sand Dunes and without a car, we’re lucky the house we temporarily lived was near to it.

sand dunes 1

sand dunes 4

It snowed the day before so there’s a layer of snow above the sand, to the delight of the tourists (including my kids).

sand dunes 2

There was a huge and steep hill that Benjamin and Pristine really wanted to climb. It must be the main attraction in the sand dunes area as all of the people did climb. So I had to, if I didn’t like to! However, the view at the top was well worth the sweat! (Please tell me I’m not the only one sweating in winter!)

sand dunes 3

sea of japan glimpse 4

sea of japan glimpse 5

This is the Sea of Japan. The body of water on the other side of Japan, in the Kanto region (Tokyo, etc) is the Pacific Ocean. Places along the coast of the Sea of Japan are know to have really heavy snow fall during winter and Tottori isn’t an exemption.

We left Tottori heading to Niigata prefecture, my husband’s hometown. It was a long travel by bus (!). Tottori to Osaka was 2 hours and then we got on night bus leaving Osaka at 8 pm and arriving in Niigata at 6am the next day!

I would love to visit Tottori again, when it’s warmer season and discover so many off the beaten tracks there. There’s definitely many things to discover. I found this on YouTube:

Our time in Tottori was memorable because it was like a relief from the chaotic move from Dubai to Japan. Now, we are settled in our new ‘home’, with my husband’s folks. I’ll write more about our new life here but do check out my account on Instagram as I post updates there more frequently!

Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum – is it worth it?

tonkotsu ramen image

One of the “must do” things to do on our trip to Japan was to EAT. And oh boy, our list was long! There’s simple eats at the convenient stores to that special soba in Niigata (my husband’s hometown), summer sweets, curry rice, gyoza and of course, RAMEN! My kids are crazy with ramen which is quite understandable because their parents bonded really well during ramen dates years ago.

While Googling to create itinerary for our short stay in Tokyo, I came across the words: Shin Yokohama RAMEN MUSEUM. For a die hard ramen afficionado, including that in the Japan itinerary is a done deal.

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (spelled “Raumen” on the building’s facade) was founded in 1994 as the world’s first food-themed amusement park.

How to get there

The JR Yokohama line is the only way to get to Shin Yokohama station directly from Tokyo. You can also get here via Shinkansen, if you happen to be in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya or other places on the Tokaido line. The ramen museum is only a 10 minutes walk from Shin Yokohama station.

ramen museum shop

The museum spreads to three floors with the ground floor a store then basement 1 and 2. There is a small museum section with the history of ramen and such on the ground floor, plus the official museum shop. You can purchase ramen sets to go here.

A walk down a few flights transports you to 1958 Japan – the era when the first instant ramen was introduced to the Japanese market. The place is complete with cramped alleyways, old neon signs and vintage Japanese movie posters. It’s a delightful treat and a huge contrast to the modern scene outside.

ramen museum 5

ramen museum 1

ramen museum 2

ramen museum 3

Entering the museum was like entering time machine that brought us back to the Japan’s good old days in 1958. There’s a bar at the center, surrounded by ramen shops.

ramen museum 4

We met a policeman from the past, wearing old uniform popular during those days. It’s a very strange yet fascinating feeling.
policeman retro

And after appreciating the trip back in time, we went on to decide which ramen we’d like to eat!

Ramen varies by region in Japan, and there are at least 30 distinctive types hailing from various regions. There are nine ramen shops at the ramen museum from SapporoTokyo, Hakata, Kumamoto and other local areas, and each of them serves their own flavor of ramen such as soy sauce, miso, pork bone broth (tonkotsu) – my favorite.

Each restaurant has a vending machine outside. This is where you order. Deposit your yen, select your meal, grab your tickets (one for each item you order) and give them to your host. The machines are entirely in Japanese but they do have laminated menus in other languages including English.

tonkotsu ramen

kumamoto ramen shop
buying ramen

At 1,100 yen for a bowl of ramen, I thought it was expensive but also realized, you’re just not paying solely for the ramen but the ambiance while eating the ramen. Okay, you already paid 310 yen for the entrance but then again, I still feel it was worth it in the end when I see how my kids loved every nook and corner of ‘old Japan’. It got me in a very natsukashii mood.

retro street 2

retro street 4
retro street 3

retro street 1

Is it worth a visit?

Being transported to an old Japanese village brought the magic for us at the Ramen Museum. And to explore every nook and cranny was such a joy. Despite some reviews at Tripadvisor saying it’s not worth your time and you can actually have all sorts of ramen anywhere in Tokyo anyway (true) but the quirkiness of the place actually appealed to us. This place is not exactly a museum in my opinion, but more of offers a sample of ramen variety.

If you’re coming to Yokohama for the day, I would suggest combining a trip to the museum and then a sidetrip to the very real and vibrant Chinatown and Motomachi area in Yokohama.

Japan's unmanned store

Japan’s unmanned store

Let’s talk about honesty.

I’ve been lucky to experience living in two places where honestly still exists – Japan and Dubai. I dropped my wallet one snowy night on my way home on a bicycle so many winters ago in Japan and received a call from a local policeman telling me he has my wallet in his hands. This was before I knew I even lost my wallet!

In Dubai, I leave my office drawer open (nothing to steal but my precious Lindt chocolate bar or two) and nothing had been missing so far. ATM cards left at the machine? We’re lucky no one has taken advantage of our forgetfulness (yet).

In Japan, honesty is being taken to another level with this.

Japan's unmanned store

This is just one of the “unmanned stores” you can find in Japan, more in the suburbs and little towns, but apparently, there are many in Tokyo. Yes, you read it right, UNMANNED. This is a small store selling stuff without anyone to manage it.

How does it work?

Usually in the summer season, people grow vegetables in their own garden and it becomes too much for them to consume (most households are small). So they sell their harvest to others. Local people would buy vegetables on the way back from a morning walk, so it would all be all gone by noon. If you want to get the best veggies, the early bird gets the worm.

unmanned vegetable store in Japan

We chanced upon this unmanned store near where we lived at 2 pm and it was almost all gone. The things on sale were seasonal vegetables. These are potatoes inside a paper bag, with a remark saying “good for curry or stew”.


Organic spring onion.

Spring onion

This is the price of the vegetables – one plate is 100 yen (US$1). One hundred yen comes in one coin so it’s easy for the buyer since most people carry these loose coins in their wallets.

unmanned store in Japan

Plastic bags according to size for your veggies.

plastic bags at the unmanned store

So this is unmanned – there’s no one to hand over the payment. How will you pay?

Unmanned shop in Japan

There’s this simple can where you’ll put your coins, marked with “thank you”. I took a peek at the can and saw a few coins inside. Business solely based on the honor system – amazing, isn’t it?

Some of you might be wondering how you go about selling vegetables on the street. Well, in Japan you don’t need a special permit to operate a business on your own property. You just need a basic hut in order to provide shelter against the sun, the price tags and a coin box. That’s it.

Do you think these unmanned shops can work in your neighborhood?

* Want to read more stories like this? Read up on my past posts about Japan!

summer is popsicle time

Week three in Japan

* We’re back to Dubai, this is just a recap of our trip to Japan. *

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? We feel that our days in Japan is coming to an end. It’s still hot but that didn’t mean anything for these kids who are overwhelmed with the idea they can actually go outside and play in the summer!

week 3 -1

When we first came here, Pristine was terrified of insects and bugs. It’s amazing she’s come this far to holding one! Pristine caught a dragonfly and gladly posed for a picture. She released it afterwards.

week 3 -2

Benjamin and I continue our strolls around the neighborhood.


week 3 -3




Pristine, who had been going to the elementary school there walks with a friend to school. I will write a separate post about going to school in Japan and why we put her in.

walking to school in Japan

Japanese sake – have you tried it? I am cautious of these things as I had a very unforgettable hangover from this stuff years back. Something I don’t want to repeat! Think of a hangover that don’t want to go away. For days.

Japanese sake

Did I tell you it’s hot? The summer temps rose up to 35-37C but since we don’t have any aircon at home, we looked like this on most days. And lived in front of the electric fan.

week 3 -4

Summer = Popsicles.

week 3 -5

And ice candy.

week 3 -6

Too much cold stuff led to this.

week 3 -7

He had been holding up really well with the heat but near the end of our vacation, I couldn’t ignore Ben’s coughing anymore. This was at a nearby clinic.

Random view from the newly renovated train station. A friend of mine used to live here while we were working for the same company. Brings back so many memories.

Hirooka, Shiojiri City, Nagano, Japan

The foodie tandem. They took a pic of our ramen, I took a pic of them taking a pic of our ramen.

week 3 -8

Week four photos coming next! Here are photos of Week One and Week Two.

cold summer

Week two in Japan

* We’re back to Dubai, this is just a recap of our trip to Japan. *

I actually attempted to publish this post without writing anything. But I can’t help it. I need words. The below photo is taken in Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture in Japan, where we lived before moving to Dubai. What an awesome scene, yes?


The neighborhood coin laundry. I loved that Japan is very convenient and offers a lot to make life easier. We lived in our previous house (the one we rented out but tenant left early this year) and there was nothing in it, only the floor, roof and walls. No appliances too, including a washing machine!

at the coin laundry

e love our daily strolls around the neighborhood. The shrines and temples provided a cool respite at the peak of summer. Benjamin was wearing a light jacket with hood here as it was still a little cool when we arrived in Matsumoto in early July.

Murai jinja

Pristine and Ben in a shrine in Nagaoka City in Niigata.

afternoon stroll

Looking at the wide, wide rice fields in Niigata, Japan.

rice fields

Such a different view from Dubai! We stopped our car so Ben can look outside from the window.

Ben looking out

RAIN. We miss rain and Benjamin didn’t understand that you can’t play outside when it rains. It rained a lot in Japan when we were there. He’s also fascinated with this transparent umbrella.


SUMO! I loved watching Sumo when I lived in Japan. In fact, I must confess that I even have a crush on one of the Sumo wrestlers (who’s from Bulgaria – yes, there are non-Japanese sumo wrestlers). I still dream of watching a sumo match live someday.


Seeing animals around is new for Ben and he is not afraid to touch them! I am always nervous when there’s a dog because he will always go near and give out his hand!


Yeah – I know what you’re thinking. We went to Japan during summer but why the fleece jackets? LOL After living in the desert for almost 7 years, we have all become so sensitive with (cold) temperatures. It was about 20C in Matsumoto that time and with cool winds blowing, we had to wear a jacket!

cold summer

Week three photos coming next! Here are photos of our Week One in Japan.

Pristine at Hamarikyu

Week One in Japan

* We’re back to Dubai, this is just a recap of our trip to Japan. *

The tots are excited as we leave Dubai. The last time Pristine was on a plane was four long years ago, of course she is ecstatic. It’s Benjamin’s first ever plane ride – I don’t know if he knows what’s in store for him this time.

Pristine and Ben at Dubai Airport

We looked out the windows as we approached Narita, Japan. Ben is mega fascinated by the clouds.

Flying to the east

Japan – the land of high technology, miniature gadgets and cars, robots and awesome vending machines in every street corner.

Vending machine craze

The hotel where we stayed had a good view of the train tracks. Here’s the bullet train approaching the station. Benjamin looks out the window every single morning to see the trains.

Bullet train

Pristine and Ben on our first morning in Tokyo.

in the street

Tonkatsu, a popular Japanese dish of breaded and deep fried pork cutlets. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. I miss it already.


It’s summer in Japan and we get to walk a lot outside. Pristine secured her personal umbrella for that.

Pristine in Park

This was in Hama Rikyu Imperial Gardens. Simply beautiful, don’t you think?


We passed by the National Diet Building – this has nothing to do with “diet”, this is a government building. This is the place where both houses of the National Diet (Japan’s bicameral legislature) meet.

Tokyo Parliament

Enjoying the greens

Pristine at Hamarikyu

Takoyaki shop. Only took photos as I don’t eat takoyaki – a ball-shaped Japanese Japanese street snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus.


On our first week in Japan, the husband was working (official business trip) so I had to take over the task of keeping the kids out of our hotel room. There is so much to explore but the big city of Tokyo is unforgiving for those traveling with young children (another post). People lead fast paced lives running here and there, packed in trains during rush hour…nevertheless, we braved the commute and was able to visit a few friends, the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Park and Hamarikyu Imperial Gardens (another post).

See: photos of our Week two in Japan.

Japanese rice

Eating Japanese food for the first time

tempura teishoku

We were out for dinner with a couple of friends in a Japanese restaurant. One of them has not tried Japanese food before and was very intimidated (but very curious and eager to try!). I know in her mind there are a lot of questions:

What will I order?

Will all the food be raw?

How on Earth will I be able to eat with a chopstick?

Why is the rice bowl so small?

First, there is a reason why Japanese cuisine is popular all over the world. There are a lot of options actually ‘edible’ to foreign tongue. For first timers, I won’t recommend jumping into sushi, sashimi or anything raw (unless you’re really that adventurous) – you can stick to global favorites like Chicken Teriyaki, tempura, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), sukiyaki, ramen (egg noodle soup) or curry rice.

Extra reading: 100 Dishes from Japan

See? There are so many food options that is NOT raw. You can also ask for spoon and fork in all restaurants. Nobody will kill you for not using a chopstick.

Our friend is from India – a place so different from Japan, from culture to food to eating customs. The rice they eat look like this (they eat this with their hands):

Photo credit

She was really curious how to eat the rice using chopstick, not knowing that there is a reason: the rice in Japan is sticky, unlike the long grain Basmati variety that tends to ‘scatter’. You can easily pick up clumps of Japanese rice with the chopstick when you eat it. You can never eat Basmati rice with chopsticks otherwise it might take you forever to finish one small bowl!

Japanese rice

Photo credit

That said, the short grain Japanese rice is firm and very filling than the Basmati counterpart (my opinion as well as others who have tried both), our Indian friend couldn’t believe she was already full with only a small bowl of Japanese rice!

All in all, she was delighted with her first taste of Japanese food and said she’ll come again to the restaurant with her family. I think Japan gained another fan.

Do you like Japanese food? What is your favorite?

Region specific Kit Kat

Why the Kitkat is big in Japan

Kit Kat in Japan

Would you believe, Nestle introduced more than 200 KitKat varieties in Japan? Why the fad, you ask?

The term ‘Kit Kat’ has become a part of the Japanese exam-preparation time lexicon. High school and university students across Japan have been buying up the chocolate bar like there’s no tomorrow. The reason? The word ‘Kit-Kat’ in Japanese sounds ‘kitto-katto’, morphed into ‘kitto katsu’, which can be translated as ‘definite win’, or, in classroom lingo, ‘I will pass my exams’.

Kit Kats have thus become edible lucky charms and are very popular during exam season.

Basic flavors include the original chocolate, strawberry, white chocolate and green tea. And then there are these Mind blowing flavors such as  apple cider vinegar, sweet corn, blood orange, soy sauce (!) and wasabi (!!), among others. Actually, there are many different Kit Kat flavors available all across Japan – some are only available for a limited time and each region has their own specialties like Fuji Apple flavor from Nagano Prefecture and purple yam flavor from Okinawa, just to name a few.

Region specific Kit Kat

I thought there’d be shop somewhere in Tokyo that sells these limited regional Kit Kats so I have made it my mission to try and find as many varieties as I can while there. Because yeah, me and my addiction to chocolate + my despicable self-control or the lack of it!

Well, I was surprised to find out that local convenient stores do not stock Kit Kats other than the usual chocolate and I was told in souvenir shop stores around train stations that they are not stocking it because it is summer – when Japan gets too hot and air condition setting is limited due to the Cool Biz Campaign to conserve energy (and more so after the Fukushima Nuclear Plant failure).

I only found 4 varieties at the Duty Free shop at Narita airport: Green tea, Strawberry, Cherry blossom + green tea and Blueberry Cheesecake, a limited edition Kit Kat to celebrate Mt. Fuji being accepted as one of UNESCO’s heritage sites.


Lame, hey if you consider there are more than 200 varieties. I was aiming to get the region-specific ones but alas, it seems I have to travel all over Japan to get it or watch out for that special time when Nestle sells these on a limited time, I bet, during the exam season?

Here’s a Pinterest board dedicated to Japanese Kit Kats

Top Photo Credit


Anyway, I hope you aren’t tired of my travel feature about Japan yet. I still have so many stories to tell! I’ll spend the next few days writing about it since not so much is happening in my life here in Dubai right now except for the usual work and then home and then watching Glee and Dr. Who episodes with the children after dinner. We’re late to jump into the Dr. Who bandwagon but we’re surely glad we found it! Pristine is too excited to watch the next episode after the current one ends.

Also, I’m going to wrap up each week of our stay there with a photos-only post, mostly photos – I know I can’t help but throw in a descriptive line here and there!

iPad entertainment

Flying with a baby or toddler

traveling with the little one

Note: These are all based on our experience flying with our baby and what has worked for us. You know your baby best!

A few weeks ago, I was looking at the ceiling with deep thoughts: long haul international flight with Benjamin, then a few days shy of becoming 20 months old. How will I hold up? How will he hold up?

Actually, it’s not my first time flying with a small companion. I took Pristine to the Philippines when she was 16 months. Our travel back then looked like this: a 3 hour bus ride from Nagano (bus left at 3 am), a 4 hour flight from Narita to Manila, 1 day hotel stay in Manila and finally, an hour and a half flight to the south, where my parents live.

Ben is older this time but why am I very nervous about this trip? It’s because Pristine is a girl and Ben is not. If you have a toddler boy, you know what I’m talking about or what I’m nervous about!

Well, we survived and now here to tell our story! Here are few of my best travel tips for flying with a baby or toddler!

Choose a flight at night so it wouldn’t have to change your baby/toddler’s sleeping routine. For this recent flight, we chose a flight that left Dubai at 10 pm. We had a three hour layover at Doha International Airport (Qatar) before we changed planes for Japan but big sister Pristine as well as little one Benjamin were both asleep, just like when they’re at home…

Layover at Qatar

…err, only a bit uncomfortable and wee too cold! Don’t forget to bring your jackets as some airports (especially in the Middle East…Doha and Dubai at least) are too cold.

Use lots of imagination when you pack. Imagine you’re in a confined area and you are not allowed to go anywhere (that could happen inside the plane during turbulence!). Make sure that all baby essentials is inside the diaper bag, stowed under your seat or the seat in front of you.

Don’t forget to pack extra basic clothing for yourself too! Accidents can happen around little children! Dress strategically.

If you are still breastfeeding, choose a top with easy access to the mobile cafeteria!

Bring your children’s favorite toys – in our case, the iPad.

iPad entertainment

Entertainment only for a limited time – this was before they discovered a whole new world outside of the iPad. Once we arrived in Narita (and during our entire stay in Japan), they could care less about the gadget other than when they are inside the car, strapped in for a long road trip!

Check-in ONLINE as soon as possible. This will will allow you to choose the best seats (even if you’re flying economy) and if you’re flying with your partner, it will guarantee that you’ll be seated together. On our flight to Narita, we didn’t use the online check-in service and ended up having seats away from each other. Good thing, kind passengers gave up their seats so we all can sit together. On the way back to Dubai, we checked in online and chose the first row seats of economy or the bulkhead: better leg room + first to be served meals!


Just a little bit more leg room in the bulkhead seat

Stay off the plane as long as you can! When the boarding gates are open and you’ll hear a friendly shout, “Calling passengers with small children!” – don’t be tempted!

Actually my husband is smart on this and he is right. We stayed behind, near the gate to allow our toddler to run around to expend all his extra energy and boarded the plane last. That way, there’s no reason to entertain your baby in your tiny little space until the plane takes off!

Refreshed just before landing

The smallest in our group woke up very refreshed an hour before landing!

On our flight back, we let him loose in Narita. He ran as much as he wanted and once the plane took off at 10:30 pm, he was fast asleep. He slept for 9 out of the 11 hours flight back to Doha.

Make sure that the diaper bag with all the baby essentials is tucked in safely and within your reach.

Babies and young children do not know how to clear their ears to reduce the pressure during takeoff and landing. Have your child chew on something when the plane takes off. This can reduce pain in their ears due to cabin pressure. Now is the time to feed if you are breastfeeding.

If you are breastfeeding, NEVER CHOOSE AN AISLE SEAT! I know it might be convenient when you want to go to the toilet or when you need to get items from the overhead cabin BUT when the baby’s head is sticking out the aisle when you’re feeding (and you fall asleep) – the flight attendant’s trolley could hit your baby’s head! Ben’s head sticks out when I feed him because he is not a tiny baby anymore so I had to switch places with my husband so I am in the middle and big sister Pristine is on my other side.

The baby bassinet is only useful if your baby can’t sit by himself yet. Beyond that age, it is actually dangerous! There is no strap on the bassinet to hold the baby and though it’s placed in front of you, you could fall asleep, especially on long, red-eye flights and the baby could fall!

The flight attendant on our way back to Dubai offered a baby bassinet with good intentions but I immediately I knew Ben is too old for it. The bassinet is short and true enough, when I placed him in it, his ankles were up and sticking out. I could not sleep while he was in the bassinet because I know he could wake up anytime, sit, look for me in panic and fall. The bassinet is at least a meter off the floor. I am wondering why the bassinet is placed that high!

ADVICE: As per other traveling families’ stories, it would be more convenient to buy your baby/toddler a seat on the plane (if you can afford it – and then bring a car seat!). Then you can use that empty seat as a makeshift bed. You can be more secure catching up on sleep yourself if your child is within your reach AND buckled up!

TIP: Once the plane has taken off, I try to look around for empty seats, at least 2 seats without anyone on it. If I find one, I transfer there with the permission of the flight attendant so I can have extra space for me and the baby. But of course this only works when the plane is not full!

On our way to Japan from Doha, Qatar (our flight was via Doha from Dubai), Benjamin was asleep while we were on our 3 hour layover. I was terrified. What if he will wake up and in turn wake up everyone on the plane when we board that 11 hour flight to Narita? Thankfully, only after an hour mostly spent looking at the small entertainment screen in front of us, he was asleep and only woke up an hour before we landed!

The next time we travel, most probably, Ben is not that small anymore. Say, next year, he will be turning 3 and it would be easier BUT, here’s a list of things that would’ve made our flight better and yours too!

1. Pre-order special baby/child meals – I say ‘special’ because Ben is allergic to some food. I thought he could share with my meal and eat the basic stuff that he is ok with: potatoes, rice or any meat and fruits but small children are served first and the airline people arranged bottled baby food! A 20 month old child is not a baby anymore and has graduated from bottled, pureed baby food! The adult meals come much later.

2. Bring a baby carrier – we brought a light stroller which was convenient until Ben decides he’s got enough of being rolled around and want to walk, walk, walk! Toddlers can be very rebellious. At least when’s he’s in a baby carrier, he can be in my eye level and I can talk to him closer. It’s also easy to walk around with two free hands when your baby is on a carrier. Something that looks like this: Boba Toddler Carrier * It would have been easier too to take around Tokyo’s busy train stations and streets rather than a stroller!

3. Invest on a Sit ‘n’ Stroll – The next time we travel when Ben can have his own seat on the plane, I’d love to have him sit on a car seat that can be expanded into a stroller. It would make my life easier. Period. sit n stroll 4. Take a few photos inside the plane – I was too preoccupied thinking how to survive the long flight (useless thoughts like, what if the baby poops during the time when the fasten seat belt sign is on?) that I wasn’t able to take a photo of him playing on the plane or sleeping. I remember taking photos of Pristine before and she is delighted to see it again when she was older.

If we come to think of it, babies and toddlers are simple creatures. They have basic needs: sleep, food and comfort (security and warmth from mom or dad). However, expect that traveling can’t be always easy even if all their needs are met. The new environment (planes! airports! people!) can excite them and make them go crazy (I’m almost tempted to buy a leash after Ben ran like the Flash and disappeared during our layover in Qatar Airport!).

I read somewhere that parents MUST plan the trip with the youngest traveler in mind.

After all, your happiness will depend on their happiness! If he is not in the best mood, chances are, your mood won’t be as perky! But, relax! It’s better than you imagine it to be. If it’s not, then you have a good survival story to share!

Any travel tips I missed? Do you have one (or more) to share?