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Last time I went back to Japan in the spring time was about 5 years ago when my son was really small. We were really excited to go back in spring again hoping to catch sakura (cherry blossom) blooming while we visit.
After cold winters in Japan, the Japanese look forward to every sign of spring. We have a special fascination toward sakura as they only bloom for several days in a year and we’re lucky if they even last one week. Spring weather is very unpredictable so strong wind or rain could shorten the time of flower viewing. It would be very meaningful for us to see sakura blooming as it’s usually hit or miss when visiting Japan in the spring. This year it was a particularly cold winter in Japan that sakura didn’t start blooming yet even if April had arrived. When we first arrived in Tokyo area, sakura has just started to bloom.
After 10+ hours of flight from San Francisco to Narita (Tokyo), I was home. I lived in Japan until I was 20, so I still consider Japan as my home. The next morning after we arrived, we decided to go to our nearest subway station, which is about 10-minute walk from my home.
As you see from our clothes, it was still cold, much colder than San Francisco. By the way, I usually don’t show my kids pictures on my blog, but I really don’t have many pictures that do not include my kids… so my husband and I have decided to share some pictures of my family. That’s my son who will be 6 next month and my daughter just turned 4 this month.
Here, we have a subway station behind us, and there are a department store and shopping mall on the left. Usually all the office buildings and restaurants are very nearby stations as well. Sometimes the department stores are built directly on top of the stations.
In our neighborhood, we have all kinds of restaurants including my husband’s favorite Yakitori restaurant that we always go to. Not to mention, there is ToysRUs where my kids go crazy for Japanese toys, Starbucks to try out special drinks only available in Japan, Mister Donuts (my husband’s favorite junk food store), Baskin Robins…
Until kids were born, I’ve never realized how convenient my neighborhood was for the family life. I used to go to downtown Yokohama or Tokyo for shopping or meeting with friends. But after having kids, life is pretty comfortable around here. There is no need for us to get on a train and get squashed by the crowd. Not to mention, super crowded city (Yokohama has 3.6 million people) could be quite scary for kids who didn’t grow up in this crowded country. My kids are not used to navigating in the crowd and it probably doesn’t enter their mind that there are millions of people around them and they could be easily lost in the crowds.
Japanese neighborhoods are typically built around the stations, not around the highways like the US. A lot of signs you see for houses on sell or any advertisement always refers to the walking time to the nearest station. Around stations, they are usually surrounded by shopping areas and then residential areas. Below is Japan Railway (JR) map around Tokyo/Yokohama area. Yes, this is just around Tokyo area…
(click here to see details)
Back to my neighborhood, one morning after we check out cool Japanese toys in ToysRUs, we stopped by a Tonkatsu restaurant inside the shopping mall that my husband always needs to go every time we visit. I can make pretty decent Tonkatsu, but 1,200 yen for a Tokatsu set lunch is a pretty good deal. You can also have as much as the cabbage salad with ponzu dressing, rice, and clam miso soup refill as you want.
Between eating and sleeping, we usually take the kids to the park so that they will recover from jet lag quickly. In California, we always drive everywhere. It’s actually really nice to walk around the neighborhood and take in the fresh air.
My home is only about 40-50 minutes away from Tokyo (Shibuya Station) yet we have lots of greens around the neighborhood. There are lots of nicely paved walkways everywhere that kids can safely walk without worrying about cars. It was a great exercise everyday to walk, walk, walk…
Here, instead of going to take lots of pictures of foods and sceneries of Tokyo & Yokohama for my readers, I was in the suburb finding tad poles with my kids. LOL!
If you wonder about the pictures on my travel posts, most of the photos you see during my trip are taken by my husband. I’m usually with the kids, so he takes pictures. I have to mention up front because my husband and I really need to work on our ability to take indoor pictures, especially when it’s dark. Here’s our dinner at Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) restaurant one night.
Obviously the photographer was way too busy eating and I see only first few pictures of 3 kinds of meat, and then it jumps to a dessert (yuzu sorbet) picture… I think you started to worry about my Japan trip pictures! This yakiniku restaurant is another one that we always go to every time we go back home to Japan. The meat just needs to be grilled for about 10-15 seconds on each side and then they just melts in your mouth. Even when we buy the best rib eye from Snake River Farm in the US, there is just no comparison to high end Japanese beef.
Like I mentioned earlier, if your home is in a big city, public transportation is very convenient. One of the great things about life in Japan is that even after a big meal you have to walk, without a choice. It’s very expensive to own a car in Japan. The parking can be one issue as you might need to pay for it. When going out, hourly parking varies between $6-$10 an hour and gas is about $8-9 dollars a gallon. A lot of times it just makes sense to walk and utilize public transportation due to the cost.
The benefit of taking public transportation is not only just eco-friendly and healthy, but also you get to enjoy small pleasures such as seeing sakura at night under the moon.
On the day we left for Kobe to attend my best friend’s wedding, sakura trees near my neighborhood started to bloom more all the sudden.
From Yokohama to Kobe, we took Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train). Both of my kids had been on it many times before, but they still love this fast train. Living in the US, we rarely take trains to go places. Sometimes for fun we would take the train a few stations to get ice cream or snacks in a different town, but the experience is just not the same.
My favorite part of train ride is of course eating lunch box inside the train. Japanese stations have many bento stores providing travelers lots of choices to Japanese style bentos. Some of the train stations carry bentos that have local ingredients. Our picks included: temari sushi bento, Maisen’s tonkatsu sandwich, and classic Japanese bento with salmon and shrimp tempura. All the bento are served at room temperature.
When you are traveling on Shinkansen around Shizuoka area, you may be able to enjoy viewing Mt. Fuji from the window if the weather is permits. Depending on the season and weather, it is sometimes hard to find the mountain. Here, we were unlucky – the clouds covered most of the top.
Next week I’ll be sharing my short trip to Kobe and Osaka. Thank you so much for reading!
Continue reading Vol. 2 of Japan Trip 2012.