Land of Temples, Shrines...and did you say Monkeys?!

Part II

Three days after we arrived in Japan, we braved the rail systems ourselves and headed south of Tokyo (about 2.5 hours) to Kyoto; a smaller city with a subway system and street names!!! We spent three amazing days touring the city, taking in all the shrines and temples we could and trekking up the mountain to the Monkey Park! Kyoto was by far one of our favorite places to visit. It was such an incredible experience to just walk around in a culture so drastically different from your own. Grant mastered the transportation while I did all the sightseeing planning. Eli was the best little monkey of all and enjoyed every bit of the hustle and bustle. He loved riding the trains and buses. Together we were quite a successful long as we were all fed!

Speaking of food (and then on to the pictures, I promise) that was our biggest challenge while being on our own. We learned very quickly that we needed to start scoping out places to eat about 2 hours before meal time instead of right at noon or 5ish, when we were all starving. Most restaurants have picture menus or plastic replicas of their food dishes in their windows however, everything looked very similar and it is very hard to distinguish between meats when seen in their plastic form! To our credit we set out every meal time and did actually try local cuisines and different restaurants but then, depending on the portion size or our satisfaction with what we decided on in the end, we would supplement with McDonald's! I know this sounds crazy, but we discovered the Shaka Shaka (breaded chicken breast) on their dollar menu and since it got two thumbs up from Eli, that sealed the deal. At least we always had a fall back in case we couldn't find something to eat. And since there were always lots of Japanese people in McDonald's as well I never felt that bad for eating there.

Good 'ole Macky D's

Nijo Castle

Monkey Park - tons and tons of cute monkeys to feed and watch!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Grounds & Spring blossoms

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavillion) - One of the most impressive sights of Kyoto

Stay Tuned for Hiroshima and our return to Tokyo...

Shuttles, Planes, Buses and a Taxi

...and that was just the first day of our trip!
Summarizing our trip (so you'll actually want to read about it) in one blog seemed too overwhelming so here's the first of three installments.

Part I:

Last year we decided to take a trip to Japan to visit our friends Hiro and Becky. Based on air mileage availability and Eli's age (had to fly before he was 2 so he was still free) we decided to go in March of this year. It was a bit nerve wracking planning to visit a country that we knew very little about, but our adventure in Japan far exceeded our expectations and we had an amazing time.

Our journey started with an overnight stay at an airport hotel (the bathroom was perfect for Eli's pack-n-play) and then a 9:30am flight to Tokyo, connecting through L.A. The flight was far better than we could have imagined with a 2 year old. For starters we had an entire row of seats to ourselves...that's right, 5 seats!!! The individual seat entertainment systems and their remotes were the best "babysitters" around and Eli was having a blast pushing all the buttons, visiting with other passengers and climbing on the seats between us. Lots of snacks, meals and a few naps later, we arrived in Tokyo. We were instantly in awe of the feeling of calm we felt walking through the airport. Everything was extremely efficient and clean! We caught our "airport limo" (aka bus) and headed towards Shibuya to meet Hiro at a hotel in order to then take a taxi to their house.
The first three days we stayed with "Hi-wo & Bepy" (as Eli affectionately named them) and had the best time catching up and seeing the sights of Tokyo. Friday we were on our own and decided to check out the local area. We set out at 9:30am and wandered through the unnamed, non-grid street system (ask us about that sometime!) only to find that shops rarely open before 11am and walking in the rain with a stroller is no fun. So back home we went to thaw out and settled for a morning of hot cocoa and Veggie Tales. That night however, we went to a Korean BBQ restaurant where you BBQ your own food at your table and had a great time. We let Hiro and Becky do the ordering and also let them be our tour guides on the way home. A much better way to go!
Saturday, our first day experiencing Tokyo's rail system, Hiro and Becky took us through the two busiest train stations in the world! Shinjuku - 3.64 million people per day and Ikebukuro - 2.7 million per day. We learned two things that day about Tokyo; it's massive and we had our work cut out for us learning to navigate it! That night we ventured out on the town with our sights set on doing some Karaoke (in our own private room!). It was hilarious!

From the top of the Metropolitan Government Tower (this was just out one of the windows!)

Uncle Hi-wo and Eli performing a big cultural "no no" on the train

Eli playing back up for Daddy a.k.a. Bon Jovi performing "Living on a Prayer"

Sunday we toured the gardens of the Imperial Palace. That afternoon we re-packed our stuff and tried to mentally prepare for spending five days on our own in a new country that uses symbols instead of letters, has super busy train stations and where restaurant menus are a bit difficult to decipher...all with a toddler!

Stay tuned....