Isaac’s Birthday Trip to Japan (3)

After spending some time in Karuizawa and the Izu Peninsula, we were off to Tokyo for the final leg of our trip! In general, Ning and I are not particularly fond of cities — we much prefer more rugged and adventuresome destination (hence our mountain/desert trip to the Middle East later this year!). But since were we were in Japan and had to fly in and out of Tokyo, we thought we should spend a few days there. It helped that the Aman Tokyo had just opened, and I have always heard great reviews of the Aman chain and was eager to try it out.

It was a smooth journey to Tokyo — our luggage had been sent ahead of time and by now we were more familiar with the rail system in Japan. Aman Tokyo was only minutes from Tokyo Station in the Otemachi districit — which was wonderful because Tokyo Station is one of the main interchanges so we could take a direct train almost right to the doorstep of the hotel. Tokyo Station itself can be a bit confusing — with many different lines on many different levels and multiple exits. But we managed to find a map of Tokyo Station earlier and figured out the way.

We took a taxi from Tokyo Station to the hotel just to be sure, but we could easily have walked. Otemachi is part of the financial district so there were plenty of tall, gleaming buildings, wide and well-paved side walks, and it was not nearly as crowded as the shopping districts.

Aman Tokyo takes up the top floors of the Otemachi tower. The lobby is a wonderful expansive space and feels like the inside of a paper lantern.

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Here’s Isaac approaching the water feature with glee — minutes later he would have created a splash to the mortification of his parents. But the hotel staff were very nice and told us it was ok, except that the water was not sterilised so perhaps we would like to wash Isaac’s hands.

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A cot was set up in our room for Isaac — which made us laugh because he wasn’t going to sleep in it! But he had fun playing for a little bit in it anyway. IMG_7055

And we were quite impressed by the fact that they prepared some baby bath things for us =)

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We booked a suite which had views of the Tokyo Sky Tree — but in retrospect the basic room would have sufficed, and would have looked out to what we thought would have a been better view of the Imperial Gardens.

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One of the best things about our trip to Japan is that everywhere we stayed, the bathrooms and showers were all made of wood or stone — so we weren’t worried about Isaac tripping (he had only began to walk for about a month) and could let him have a blast in the water. IMG_7129

The view out of the bath was quite lovely, especially at night when it was all lit up. In pre-Isaac days, I would have enjoyed a glass of wine while reclining in the bath, listening to good music. I think I managed it for about twenty minutes one night before Isaac started whining for me. Oh well! So for the other nights, both Isaac and I enjoyed the bath together! No wine though >.<
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There was also a wonderful gym and a lovely pool from which according to the Aman website, you could see the pink glow around Mount Fuji at sunset when you rose to take a breath. Unfortunately, it was cloudy during our time there so we never caught it.

The hotel was walking distance from the Imperial Gardens. Ning ran there a couple of afternoons — and the most curious thing he cited was that there were plenty of people running there at odd times! We brought Isaac there and unsurprisingly, his chief interest was the gravel.

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We also went to the Meiji Temple which was slightly crowded, but still quite lovely. There we did typical touristy things like getting the bamboo stick of fortune (I’m not sure what it’s actually called. It’s like what you can do at the Chinese temples as well, shake a little container of bamboo sticks, and then get your fortune based on the stick that comes out), bought some Japanese charms. Here’s Isaac looking suave at the temple.

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These were some ceremonial mochi they were making in the temple?

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The leafy path on the way in.

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Barrels of sake on the path in.

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On the way back, we took a walk in Harajuku which was very crowded.

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There was a demonstration going on, with Godzilla joined in. I think they were protesting against nuclear power, among other things (like TPP).

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Apart from these two day trips, we didn’t venture out too much, mostly because the room was too comfortable! We also had convenience stores right below our hotel, great for yummy bentos.

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Ning and I concluded that one of the best parts of the entire trip was really the food. And it wasn’t even just the kaiseki dinners and food at expensive restaurants — even a simple bento from the train station or convenience store was delicious. Our stay in Aman also came with these beautiful, healthy, breakfast with colourful juices and fresh fruits, served in the room.

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Ning and I have had the privilege of staying in really beautiful hotels — but Aman Tokyo is one of those places I can imagine living in. On our last day we splurged on lunch at the Aman restaurant. Here’s Isaac being surprisingly well-behaved.

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Goodbye to the view!

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Because we have such great experience with the train — we decided to take the Narita Express back to the airport, while juggling with our full suite of luggage. But we were well-prepared and made it!

We enjoyed a bit of the ANA lounge where Isaac had a grumpy shower. Here’s the sake bar at the lounge.

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Overall, we really had a wonderful trip! Most excitingly, Aman will be opening a new hotel in Japan next year — Isaac’s second birthday trip!

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Isaac’s Birthday Trip to Japan! (2)

After a peaceful start in Karuizawa, our next destination was a traditional ryokan Ochiairou Murakami in a little town called Yugashima in the Izu Peninsula!

Last shot in Karuizawa!

Last shot in Karuizawa!

Because we were unable to rent a car without an international driving permit, it was quite a hassle for us to struggle with a sometimes fussy Isaac, a stroller, three luggages, one backpack, and one shoulder bag on the train. Luckily, when my younger brother who is a frequent traveller to Japan shared with us the secret to luggage delivery! Most established hotels in Japan are able to help with baggage delivery services — they are happy to help send things off and receive and store them as well! Apparently the main user of this service is Japanese businessmen who play golf around the country and find it hard to lug their unwieldly golfbags around. So we repacked our stuff to fit into one large suitcase, then sent the two smaller ones on to our final destination in Tokyo. So it was a far easier journey for us to Yugashima, especially because it involved a number of transfers.

First, we took the train from Karuizawa back to Tokyo Station (which is one of the main interchanges across lines), and then swapped a line to Mishima. From Mishima, it was another 50 minutes’ taxi ride to Yugashima.

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Isaac running around happily at the Mishima station

One of the main things we wanted to experience on this Japan trip was a stay in a traditional ryokan — old style Japanese guesthouses with beautiful Japanese gardens, kaiseki meals served in rooms, onsens and futon beds. Unfortunately, a number of ryokans do not accept children under 12 — including a beautiful one on the river in Kyoto by the Hoshinoya chain. Happily, we managed to find one which accepted Isaac!

So it was another restful few days!

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Here’s a view of the lounge area. One thing we noticed about Japan is that how visceral their aging population is — once we were out of Tokyo, almost one in two Japanese we met were fairly elderly. Everyone who was working at Ochiairou Murakami were at least in their late 40s, mostly in the late 50s and early 60s. While we were waiting to check in at the lounge, a group of elderly Japanese guests came in and were very excited to see Isaac!

The highlight of any ryokan stay is the elaborate kaiseki meals! Most ryokan stays come with half-board (breakfast and dinner). You can choose when to dine within a time-slot and your meals will be served on the dot! Every meal was multi-course, even the breakfast, and were intricately plated. Each meal also came with a menu — but unfortunately, it was in Japanese but Sachiko our server, would use google translate to write out the English names of the dishes. It was still hard to understand what each item was — because um we don’t know what half the ingredients are to begin with. But each meal was an adventure!

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Everything on this was edible, even the twig like thing! Ning and I are not typically fond of fish and the two little whole fish looked a bit morbid, but we tried it gamely and it was actually quick delicious!IMG_7040

Fresh crab!

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We didn’t recognise any one of these fishes, but they were so fresh and succulent! Of course these are only a sample of what we ate. In fact, the breakfast and dinner were so good that we skipped lunch most days! And everything came with freshly grated wasabi!
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On our second day in Yugashima, we took a taxi to the nearby town of Shuzenji, which was a beautiful little town! There wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was peaceful and we had a good walk with Isaac.

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Pretty little bridge in Shuzenji

Pretty little bridge in Shuzenji

We also visited Shuzenji shrine where we discovered Isaac’s love of gravel!

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He spent a happy afternoon there just playing with the gravel on the ground.

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When we chose to stay in Yugashima, it was because it was a short drive away from a couple of nice attractions in the area and we thought we would have a car. Unfortunately, because we didn’t, the ryokan was really quite a distance from everything else and it wasn’t easy for us to visit other attractions. But we enjoyed a relaxing stay in any case, which included walking around the Japanese garden in our yukatas!

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Too bad there wasn’t one for Isaac here!

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We also went to the onsen twice a day to soak in the all the bubbly mineral goodness!

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While the onsen was not attached to our room, all guests are entitled to one private use per day — because it wasn’t too crowded when we were there, we made use of the onsen twice on some days!

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It was too hot for Isaac to soak in the onsen fully, but we let him dip his legs in it a bit.

After three nights in Yugashima, we were back to Tokyo! After a spell, we discovered that one benefit of travelling on a train was that Isaac didn’t have to be restrained in a carseat, so he was much happier! Next up — our Tokyo leg in a bit!

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Isaac’s Birthday Trip to Japan! (1)

True to our last minute spontaneous selves, we changed our travel destination from Amsterdam to Japan about ten days before departure! While I’m sure the tulips we had wanted to see in Amsterdam are very lovely, we don’t regret the decision one bit! For one, the weather in the various parts of Japan we’ve been was all warm and lovely. And all of us, Isaac especially, have been having a great time!

Compared to our previous trip to Tasmania, I must say that it has gotten easier and more fun traveling with Isaac. He’s still great on flights — no issues with take-offs and landings and sleeps through most of the red-eyes. Now that he’s adept at taking all sorts of solid food, we can feed him bread or crackers when he’s hungry and it’s not convenient for me to nurse. (Of course we are also fairly chill about what he eats while we are traveling as long as it’s not outright poison, makes for a more pleasant experience!) We also let him loose to explore a bit whenever we are in transit in various locations — he enjoys that very much and is kept happy while waiting for flights and trains! And bath time is particularly fun for him in Japan, which I shall explain 🙂

Hoshinoya Karuizawa 

We spent our first two nights in the Japanese countryside at Karuizawa. There was a bit of hiccup initially because we had planned to rent a car for our time outside Tokyo. Unfortunately, it slipped our notice that we needed to get an International Driving Permit to drive in Japan. It’s issued only in Singapore and is a fairly easy process to obtain it, but because we didn’t get it ahead of time, we had to scrap our plan to drive.  Instead, we had to figure out the Japanese rail system — which actually is a truly wonderful one! Except on the first day we had packed one medium and two small suitcases, lugged along a stroller, and was carrying a baby. Basically, not enough hands between Ning and I!  And not all stations had elevators or at least they were in obscure locations, and elevators only served two out of five levels. It was a nightmarish challenge for us to navigate the massive interchanges, escalators and steps.

Eventually, we managed to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station on the Narita Express, and from Tokyo to Karuizawa on a Shinkansen. Unfortunately, we left a bag behind and Ning had to return to Tokyo to retrieve it.  But! Karuizawa was worth it!

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We were very lucky with weather and Karuizawa was a beautiful town in the mountains — not too crowded, plenty of fresh air and places where Isaac could run about safely.

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We stayed at the Hoshinoya Karuizawa resort — it’s a large chain of resorts all over Japan. The Karuizawa resort is one of their three flagship resorts, there are many others, including a few family oriented ones. Check them out here! http://global.hoshinoresort.com/hoshinoya_karuizawa/  (Um and I suppose needless to say — no one would ever sponsor us to such a beautiful place so this is our honest review =)) There were beautiful villas by the river, but they were booked out! So we booked a hilltop villa which was very nice too =)

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On the trip, we also realised that travelling to Japan can be quite baby-friendly for unexpected reasons. For one, many hotels/resorts offer “Japanese style accommodation”, especially in the countryside. This basically means sleeping on futons, which works out very well for us since we co-sleep with Isaac!

Here’s Isaac in the midst of a long nap after a fun day playing outside!

IMG_6659The other reason is that the bathrooms all had furo baths made of wood or stone — so it was very easy to give Isaac a shower without fear of him slipping! And of course, Isaac had a great time playing in the bath. The Karuizawa furo came with little wooden sea creatures, together with a little net you could use to fish them out of the water!

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Karuizawa is a quiet place. There’s an outlet mall at the train station but we mostly spent our time walking around the resort, going to the onsens (at least I did!), drinking tea and walking to nearby attractions.

IMG_6589Within the resort, there is a same strip of restaurants and shops called Harunire terrace with outdoor seating. It was a lovely quaint place for us to have a meal or tea, while Isaac ran around safely. Perfect for chilling!

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We also took a short walk to Stone Church one morning — the top attraction in Karuizawa according to Tripadvisor! It was about 20 minutes walk from the resort, although there’s a bit of a climb at one point. It’s a beautiful stone church (duh!) in modern architecture, set among a very peaceful bit of woods. The interior of the church was very lovely — the pew and benches were set against a large glass window with a view of blue sky and trees, but alas no pictures allowed!

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Isaac had fun running on the paths of the woods. He was a fairly new walker at the point so he fell a bit over the uneven paths and ground. But he was quite the intrepid traveller and never fussed! In fact, we realised at the end of our first day in Karuizawa that he had scrapes and scratches on his knees which we weren’t aware of because he had just gotten up easily after every fall =)

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There’s a beautiful open lobby at the resort where you could have meals — though there were quite expensive. We had one breakfast there, but had room service or at Harunire terrace for most meals because it was easier to manage Isaac. Notice how everyone was in a samue, which was something we found very fun!

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Here’s Isaac in his!

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When we did have breakfast at the main restaurant, they gave Isaac a complimentary bowl of miso soup with rice! Unfortunately, he wasn’t that into soup and rice at the point and ate mostly bread through the trip.

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There is baby-sitting service and a little playroom at the resort. You can bring your child there on your own or drop them off with a baby-sitter. Isaac met a little Japanese girl there!

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And had fun with the toys!

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We spent a total of three restful days at Karuizawa (apart from the initial hassle of navigating an unfamiliar train system) and were quite reluctant to leave! More about our next stop at a ryokan in Izu Peninsula soon!

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