Danny Yee >> Travelogues

Four Days in Tokyo

August 2019

We had visited Kyoto back in April 2015, when Helen was only two years and three months old. This time we had four days in Tokyo, again on our way home from Sydney.

Camilla had given me a list of four things she wanted to see, and I had sorted out all the logistics to fit those in. And that went pretty much to plan, with a few things fitted in impromptu in a spare afternoon. Forward planning is helped by the public transport in Tokyo being so good, and everything generally being well organised.

Getting from the train to our hotel was a saga: we were all tired and some of us weren't well, we had too much luggage — Camilla and I had a backpack and two suitcases each, and Helen was pulling a little suitcase herself — and though we found a reasonably direct route to the right exit at Shinjuku — apparently the busiest station in the world, and really a metrostation of stations — it involved going up two flights of stairs... But we got a taxi quickly and were soon at our hotel. I went out and got gourmet fried chicken takeaway for dinner (that was what I found nearby).

Onsen Ryokan Yuen Shinjuku translates as something like "Yuen bathhouse inn Shinjuku", and the 18th floor was a bathhouse (which Camilla and I both used once). We had a double room on the 17th floor, with a view west over Shinjuku. It was rather cramped at first, with an extra bed for Helen on the floor, but after the first night we got them to take that away (she shared our bed) and then it felt quite spacious.
the tower
the entry path

We got away late on our first day (Tuesday) and spent almost all of it visiting the TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum, which took about five hours because we foolishly spent time queueing for unexceptional bits downstairs instead of heading upstairs for the fun interactive area, which also had the activities for children.

photo photo photo

We had had a late breakfast near Shinjuku from a little pseudo-Italian cafe, which tasted pretty good but I suspect largely because we were so hungry. Because we spent so long in the Digital Arts Museum we missed lunch (they only had a "light experience" icecream and tea), so we had an early dinner in the nearby shopping centre food court — basic katsudon and yakitori, but we were so hungry it tasted fantastic.

Camilla and Helen did some shopping here, but the shopping centre, like the entire area, seemed a bit soulless, though it did have a Studio Ghibli shop. (The National Museum of Emerging Science is nearby, but we didn't have time to see that.) On the way back to our ryokan we had our only transport confusion of the trip, when we sat on a train at Osaki station not realising we needed to change from the Rinkai to Saikyo lines. And then we sampled snacks and desserts from the Seven Eleven across the street from our hotel.

On our second day (Wednesday) I got up early and went out for a walk, wandering down to the edge of the Shinjuku Gyoen park (closed) and getting myself a coffee. After I managed to get everyone else up, we had breakfast in the hotel. This was a series of boxes, with grilled mackerel as a main and a variety of other bits and pieces: beef with omlette, tofu, seaweed, vegetable mash, etc. Then we walked to Shinjuku, then got the train to Mitoka and the "Ghibli" bus from there to the Ghibli Museum.

The Ghibli Museum was lovely. We watched the short film that was showing (Boro the Caterpillar), Helen jumped around the catbus room and loved the spiral staircase, the rooftop "Castle in the Sky" garden was pleasant despite the heat, and the exhibitions (despite not having that much translated) were fascinating. There are also lots of little details in the furnishings. Visitor numbers are restricted enough to keep it comfortable.

photo photo photo

Helen's favourite owl
We spent so much time there we didn't manage to fit in the little Inokashira Park Zoo, but on our way back we visited the Fukurusabou Owl cafe in Shinjuku. (Not something we'd repeat: we felt rather sorry for the poor owls.)

Apart from the hotel breakfast, the day's food had again been very ordinary: fun cakes from a bakery at Mitaka station, overpriced fries and hotdogs at the Ghibli Museum, and on our way home we had simple Chinese from a place near our hotel.

Our third day (Friday) involved a mad amount of travelling, spending three and a half hours on trains and an hour on buses. We took the Romancecar from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, then the Hakone-Tozan mountain railway to the Open Air Museum. That was really lovely, with a great balance of "traditional" sculptures scattered around the peaceful gardens, a little Picasso gallery, a crochet art-work-climbing-frame, a foot bath, and at the end a few digital games for children. But then we were done in by the weather and a bit of poor planning on my part. The Ropeway cable car wasn't running, so we took two buses to go down to the ferry port -- only to find the ships weren't running either because of the weather (and the visibility was so poor we could barely see Lake Aoshi, forget about Mt Fuji). By then most of the museums were closing, or too far away, so we just got the bus back to Hakone-Yumoto, where we had a great soba noodle dinner before getting the train back to Shinjuku.

photo photo photo
photo photo photo
photo photo photo

On the plus side, the train trip out in the morning gave us nice views of the southern Kanto, the Hokane Tozan railway was fantastic, rising 400 metres in switchbacks through lush green jungle, and the first of our bus rides, from Chokokunomori on the road past the Pola Museum of Art, was atmospheric, going through tree tunnels in the gloom that felt like something out of My Neighbor Totoro. Also, the weather in the hills was pleasant, maybe 24 degrees or a bit more, but cloudy and with a breeze.

Our first day in Tokyo had been maybe 29, with some light drizzle, not too unpleasant. On our second day the temperatures went up over 30 and it remained unpleasantly humid and sticky for the rest of the trip, except when we were in the mountains.

We had a lazy start to our last day (Saturday) in Tokyo, but managed to fit in four attractions. We began by walking to breakfast, then catching the bus to the Yayoi Kusama Museum, opening at 11am. That was small but lovely, and uncrowded because numbers are tightly controlled. Then we walked to get the subway to Ueno-okachimachi, where we had lunch. In Ueno Park we took a look at a few shrines and had a quick spin around the Zoo, largely to see the pandas. (None of the animals seemed happy in the heat.)

Yayoi Kusama Museum
Ueno Park

It was only a kilometre back to Ueno-okachimachi station, but it was 31 (and "feels like 36" because of the humidity), so it felt like a long way. At this point Helen was very unhappy, wailing "Shinjuku, Shinjuku" because she wanted to go back to the hotel. But we got her to the Edo/Tokyo Museum, sat her down in air-conditioned comfort and fed her chocolate cake, and she perked up completely. This is a great museum, with models and dioramas and some interactive bits as well as objects and art and interpretive posters, and we spent two and a half hours there in the end. (It was open till 7.30pm on a Saturday.)

photo photo
a translation of I Am a Cat is one of the most prominent books on our dining room shelf

back in Oxford, with all the toys acquired on the trip
After that it was back to Shinjuku to the Tokyu Hands store (thanks for the recommendation Matty) and the upstairs food court for tonkatsu dinner. It was 10pm now, and we’d walked 12km and Helen had blisters, so we took a taxi for the 1.5km back to our hotel. We still had to pack for the flight to London, and it was 11.30 before Helen got to sleep.
The hotel breakfast we had one morning was really good. The dinner we had at the soba restaurant in Hakone Yumoto was great. And the dinner on the last night, at a specialist tonkatsu restaurant, was less exciting but was good. Otherwise it was a bit of a disappointing food trip.
Travelogues << Danny Yee