Tokyo: In Search of the Elusive Sakura

Our theme for the week was provided by a bold statement made by Manji, “We’re going everywhere, but we’re not doing anything!” Tokyo is a massive city, but it was much more crowded than we expected.  We’d take about an hours worth of trains (which were on time and impeccably clean) to arrive at our destination along with hoards of other people. Then, we’d decide it was too crowded, walk around for an hour and go home. The sakuras (cherry blossom trees) were expected to bloom the week we were in Tokyo, which presumably was the reason for the crowds.  However, due to the cold weather, hardly any had bloomed.  Everywhere we went throngs of people would gather under the one tree that had bloomed, snapping their Instagram photos. 

Fortunately, the expensive hotel rooms from the crowds caused us to stay in a quiet neighborhood away from the city center.  We had two parks close by.  One was just a few houses down and the other a five-minute walk from our rental.  One day, we had a heavy rainstorm in the morning so we stayed in and did school.  Later, we decided to go explore the town and made it as far as the large park in our neighborhood.  The kids met about ten Japanese kids who were on break from school and they immediately became friends and played for THREE hours!!! Our children learned everyone’s names and the Japanese word for “you’re it!”

We’re so proud of how confident our kids have become throughout this year. They’ve met so many new people and found many ways to connect with others even if there’s a language barrier. Our kids were begging to play again every afternoon, which we couldn’t make happen until our very last evening in Tokyo.  We happened to walk by the park at the end of a long day at Tokyo Disney Sea and the whole group of Japanese kids were still there! Our kids were so happy, and it was the best way to end our time in Tokyo!

Making friends on the playground

We managed to see several temples, including Meiji Jingu Temple. This one proved to be our favorite temple in Tokyo, given its wide open space to explore and the surrounding forests.  We learned that the Emperor and Empress of the time loved writing poetry.  For 100 yen, we purchased one of their poems which told of the importance of preserving nature for years to come.  An important lesson for us all!

Another temple for these kids!

Another highlight of our time in Tokyo was seeing friends, Charles and Andrew.  Charles is a childhood friend of James’ who has lived in Japan for about ten years.  He was kind enough to meet us on Saturday morning and join us for lunch.  While I can’t recall the name of the dish, we enjoyed trying noodles that you then dip in a bowl of broth.  Goose and the adults loved the food, but Manji and Bingo were less than thrilled. 

Lunch with Charles

They’ve been pretty adventurous eaters this whole year so I can’t blame them when sometimes they just need something familiar.  Charles was so kind about it and obliged when we went to Starbucks after to pick up a few muffins for the kids to split.  We loved chatting with Charles about his time in Japan.  He was so patient with the kids and us as we asked him loads of questions!

One of James’ best friends from college, Andrew, was in Tokyo at the same time as us.  He was traveling the country with his cousin and timed his Tokyo stop with our arrival.  It was so fun for us and the kids to catch up with him! We went to Senso-ji temple with a million people! It was difficult to walk since there were so many people.  After our brief stop there, we went to Kita-no-maru Park in hopes of finding some cherry blossoms, but alas, only one tree had bloomed.  We did manage to treat ourselves to some cherry blossom ice cream though, which made up for lack of blooms!

Touring Tokyo with Andrew

Our last ditch effort to see the blossoms was at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.  We had an assigned entry time late afternoon and, while the kids were over it, we helped them rally! Thankfully, this time we saw many more blooms. I can only imagine how beautiful the park is when all of the trees have flowered! There were so many rules in the park including, no alcohol, no running, and no boisterous playing.  You could only sit with your picnics or walk around!  The kids found some grass and moss that had already been pulled up and managed to make fairy houses with it.  But, we saw some of the security guards approaching and quickly made our exit.

We FINALLY found some cherry blossoms!

Our last day in Tokyo we went to Disney Sea! We were excited to do something entirely different from touring temples, castles, and gardens.  We arrived at Disney at 8am and, like everywhere else, a crowd of people surrounded the entry! The kids did an excellent job as we waited patiently until our entry at 9:30am.  Once in, we were able to fastpass our way through the park.  And the more popular rides like Soaring and Journey to the Center of the Earth had separate, faster tickets available.  Between those two methods we were able to ride all day without standing in line. 

A gorgeous day at DisneySea

It was astonishing to see the length of some of the lines that the Japanese were standing in.  Some of the waits were up to three hours! We also tried some Disney treats that Japan is known for, like pepper flavored popcorn, and tiramisu Mickey ice cream sandwiches.  It was the best day and nothing can replace that feeling of Disney magic!

Goodbye, Tokyo!

Our time in Japan and Asia has come to an end. While we are dreading the time change, we are excited to move on to our next adventure in Latin America.  By the end of Japan, we’ve had more than our share of ramen noodles and James is tired of banging his head on the door jams! Although Bingo and I still talk about how we’ll always miss the high-tech, comfort of the Japanese toilets!

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