Japan part 2: getting there and Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo on a Thursday at 8 am after a long journey from our home in Oslo. We had left home with plenty of time to spare, having in mind that we needed to send off our stroller as special luggage, and planned a stop at the chemist before going through security, even though we had already checked in online and only really needed to drop off our bags. But as it turned out, we had to stand in a queue for maybe an hour, because Finnair… well, I don’t really know why. But we arrived at the airport over two hours before our flight and ended up not even having time to go to the toilets before boarding. Our plan had been for Maya to skip her nap, as she usually did in weekends, but as soon as we boarded the flight to Helsinki she snoozed, and didn’t wake up until we landed an hour and a half later. After a short connection in Helsinki we were on our way to Tokyo.

This was the first trip that Maya had her own seat and her own meals, and it was fabulous! The flight from Helsinki was at around 5pm, so after dinner and couple of episodes of Peppa Pig, she fell asleep on my lap. We had hung up the Fly LegsUp right before the meal was served, so I was able to but her down onto her seat with her legs fully stretched out. The flight was only a little over 9 hours long, and having to wake her up a bit before landing, so she was seated with her seatbelt on, meant that she only slept for about three or four hours. She was not happy about this, obviously.

Because of the time difference between Oslo and Tokyo, of seven hours, we arrived there in the morning. We were exhausted and elated at the same time, and because of this we probably just forgot that we needed to know where our hotel was and how to get there. We knew it was in Shinjuku, but that was about it. So we got on the JR Narita Express, which was the easiest way of getting to Shinjuku, but when we got to the station we were dumbfounded to discover that each and every exit at Shinjuku will take you to very different places, and we had absolutely no idea which exit to take. After some time looking at maps we decided that the south side would be our best bet, and right we were. We got ourselves in the right direction, but being exhausted and hot in the humid Tokyo air and not knowing the rest of the way we started bickering at each other. Maya had fallen asleep again and we were carrying all of our luggage and her. We somehow ended up at the right place in a moderate amount of time, and after check-in we napped happily in our tiny Tokyo hotel room (they’re a bit like New York City hotel rooms, for reference).

Having only allowed ourselves one and a half hours of sleep (yes, we were going to kick jet lag in only one day – little did we know that small children don’t allow that), we went out for our first meal in Japan; a late lunch at an infamous ramen shop close by – the Nagi Golden Gai. This was a memorable experience, not only because it was our first ramen in Japan, but because of the flavour of the broth, the texture of the ramen, and the fun little shop we had it in. The restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall kind of place, like many in Tokyo, up the stairs and only seats about ten people. They have dried sardines hanging from the ceiling and a very fishy smell inside, which comes from the fishy broth. The ramen was perfectly thick and gummy (although I definitely ordered too much) and the meat and eggs couldn’t have been any better. Definitely recommend!

After that we sort of wandered about for a bit, bought ourselves toothbrushes and toothpastes not knowing if they were soft like we like them or the flavour of the toothpaste. Actually, the next few days are a bit of a blur, as what happened at night was this: we would put Maya to bed in the evening, typically around nine or ten, and the she would wake up a few hours later and stay awake for around three hours. There was no way to stop this, it seemed, so we played along a little. We would read a couple of books for her, eat or take her to the toilet when she needed to, but mainly just chill in bed, as us adults were very sleepy.

That also meant that for the next few days we got up very late. We started day two at eleven, and went straight out for lunch. We found ourselves in a huge office complex in eastern Shinjuku and went for the restaurant with one of the longest and fastest moving queue. Now, Japanese people like to queue, it seems. If there’s a queue, you can bet other people will join and make it even longer. But it also means the end has something good to it. The restaurant specialised in o-nigiri, which are these Japanese rice balls (or triangles, like the emoji), usually filled with something good inside. The signs were all in Japanese and the staff didn’t speak English – actually surprisingly few people in Japan do – so we chose our o-nigiri based on what we imagined them to be like. We watched the people before us order, and it seemed that a bowl of soup and to o-nigiri was the way to go, so we got two different soups and four different o-nigiri. Felipe thought his soup was disgusting, but mine was fine, so we shared that. The o-nigiri weren’t what we thought they would be, but they were nice! And Maya didn’t want to eat, so we left with a plain o-nigiri in a take-away box, which I have no idea how we managed to get.

Despite starting late day two was filled with new and exciting experiences! I had a clear latte (it looks like water and tastes like café latte, but I have no idea what it actually is!), we went to Shibuya and Felipe won a stuffed toy in a game center. Then we went to Kodokan, the birth place of judo, and Felipe was so excited to train judo in Japan for the first time, but it turned out that there was a tournament going on and he was not able to participate. So we went back to Shinjuku and had another lovely bowl of ramen – this time at a chain restaurant called Ichiran (which also happened to have a long queue).

The next day was grey and rainy, so we decided to go and see the view of Tokyo from the Government building. I know, not the best idea, right? Well, we didn’t see much, but we had a nice time anyway. After that we went to Shinjukus memory lane; Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, for a yakitori lunch. Yakitori is things grilled on a stick, and the place we ate at was very small and rustic. I liked some of the yakitori we got, but others weren’t quite my cup of tea, like the gristle and skin yakitori. Interesting, though. Later on we moved from our Shinjuku hotel to an AirBnb in Ginza, and that evening Felipe got to train judo and he was happy!

The fourth day was Mayas birthday. We woke up late, as usual, and presented her with cake (which she didn’t eat). We strolled down to the Tsukiji Fish Market (or the outer parts of it) and looked around for a bit before deciding to stand in a queue at the Sushizaiman, a long-established chain restaurant that specializes in sushi. We were not disappointed, and neither was Maya. Once again she proved that raw salmon on rice is one of her favourite dishes, eating a whole ten pieces! After ice creams and a nap that went on for a whole walk through the Royal Palace Gardens, we found a playground by Kodokan, so that Felipe could get in one more practice that week. In the evening we headed back to Ginza for dinner, and found yet another chain restaurant, this one called Ikinari Steak (and guess what they served). Felipe ordered about 600 grams for us to share, and Maya proved how much she enjoys steak by eating more than me!

The fifth day started off badly. On our way out Maya fell and hit her lip so hard that her teeth broke through her lip, and we ended up going to hospital instead of having breakfast. I’m not going to relay the whole story here, as I prefer keeping a light tone on my blog, but long story short, she got a stitch inside her mouth and was grumpy for about a day. After that we met up with a family, friends of a friend of Felipe’s, and they showed us around Asakusa and Odaiba before taking us to a very fun restaurant which also served very good food. The day ended up being a very good one and the restaurant experience was one on my highlights from our Japan trip, something I recommend everyone to do if you go to Tokyo. The place is called Gonpachi, and is the restaurant that inspired Quentin Tarantino to do Kill Bill (or at least parts of the movie). It’s a big restaurant that is very tourist friendly in that they speak English and treat foreigners  well (something you won’t experience everywhere). Some would call the place pricey, but we had a lot of food and drinks and paid less than we would in a standard Norwegian restaurant, so I wasn’t put off by the prices. Maya loved this place, especially when the drum show started – she went crazy, and almost forgot about her split lip. All in all a very fun place for everyone.

We liked the Tsukiji Fish Market so much that we returned on the sixth day. This time we tried a little bit of everything; fried things, omelettes and ice cream. After that we spent a good few hours at the Toy Park in Ginza, a huge toy store that has everything you can dream of for children of all ages, grown up children included! We also had a bowl of ramen in the famous Ramen Street under Tokyo Station, and ended our afternoon walking through Takeshita-dori in Harajuku (the place where all the people dressed up in funny anime clothing are) before we ended our day at Ikinari Steak again. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, no?

On our last day in Tokyo we went to Ueno to check out the park. It had become very very hot so Maya was sweating like crazy, but still running around like mad kid. We ended up stopping her and going in to Tokyo National Museum so she could take her nap there. That was a good idea, as it is air conditioned, and actually not a bad museum (says the person that never likes museums). We took a short ride on a pedal boat on the Ueno park lake, but Maya had a mini tantrum and didn’t seem to enjoy it, so that was 700 yen well spent. In the evening Felipe went to train judo again, this time in a different location, but was disappointed by getting a small injury to his foot that cut his training short. After having left the club earlier that planned we had sushi in a little smokey place close by (this was in Chiyoda).

The next day we got up and went straight to the hospital to remove Maya’s stitch. It was quick and painless, and after that we went to Tokyo station for some food before the train ride to Kyoto. I have no idea where we ate, but we had one of those bowls with rice in the bottom and seafood on top, and it was very very nice. Mine was with minced tuna, snow crab and salmon roe.

Stay tuned for more about our Japan trip!

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