In December 2015, we were in Japan for the 13th (if I counted correctly) time. Our itinerary is probably not something you would want to follow strictly if you are a first-timer to Japan, because we essentially skipped over places like Tokyo, Hakone, Mount Fuji etc which warrants more days than we allocated. However, in my posts, I will suggest places that you can visit along the 2000+km route if it’s your first time in the region.
Driving in Tokyo & Chiba
I’ll be frank: Travelling with kids by train in Tokyo is tiring. An innocent train transfer within a station can require a 600m walk up and down flights of stairs. Trains are packed like crazy during peak hours and you’ll be cursed at (though the Japanese are probably too polite to do it openly) if you have a stroller. Loud noises (I really have NO idea why Japanese kids are so quiet – but my kids are super loud by Japanese standards) on the trains are shunned upon. If you attempt to keep your kids quiet with a smartphone or tablet, you may get disapproving looks or some stranger may mumble something along the line of ‘Baka’ (true story).
So you may want to consider renting a car and driving in Tokyo. Which frankly, if you are from Singapore is not that difficult. Japan uses right-hand drive which is the same side as Singapore. Tokyo is a crowded city, prone to traffic congestion and endless traffic lights, but we Singaporeans can live with that. In fact, Tokyo drivers are way friendlier than Singapore drivers, so driving in Tokyo is probably easier than driving in Singapore.
The problem is cost. And time. Using the metro is much faster and cheaper. Period. If you don’t mind spending an hour stuck in a traffic jam (in spite having paid a hefty toll fee) and spending more than $10 per hour for parking, go ahead. Drive. In exchange, you get convenience. Comfort. No need to squeeze. No need to worry about our kids disturbing other people. No need to carry the kids around when they fall asleep on the train. Stuff like that. You just got to pay the price for the convenience.
Between the two evils (taking the crowded metro and cost of driving), I would stick to the metro in Tokyo. However if you are planning to take a side-trip to Chiba, that’s when I recommend you get a car. Toll fees are expensive, but taxi rides are just as bad. If you are visiting Tokyo with kids at the end of the year, I recommend you rent a car for a day to take a side-trip to Chiba. Start with a visit to Mother Farm, followed by the illumination at Tokyo German Village in the evening. It’ll be a great day out!
Day 1 (1/12/2015) Narita Airport -> Tokyo German Village
We arrived at Narita Airport at 2.40pm and collected our rental car.
Our first destination was Tokyo German Village for the illumination. We arrived at dusk and already there was a crowd gathered at the vantage point where we could see the entire site. So we joined the crowd and waited for it to get dark.
The illumination at Tokyo German Village is one of Tokyo’s most popular illumination event. It is not very accessible by public transport, hence we made it a point to visit as part of our self-drive trip.
I wasn’t a big fan of crowds but oh well, that was part of the deal. Japan’s festivals and events are generally crowded. In winter, the Japanese love their illuminations. Try to arrive early to avoid traffic congestion and having to park very far away.
Day 2 (2/12/2015) Mother Farm Chiba
We planned to spend the whole day at Mother Farm in Chiba. But luck was not on our side and it RAINED.
Read: Mother Farm Review
We were lucky to get pockets of dry weather between light drizzle in the morning.
But by lunch time, it was pouring. Our initial plan was to stay at Mother Farm till sunset for their illumination. But there wasn’t much we could do at the a farm when it was raining cows and pigs, I mean cats and dogs.
So we decided to go back to Tokyo earlier. We spent the rest of the day shopping at Shinjuku, which thankfully was only drizzling slightly from time to time.
Day 3 (3/12/2015) Tokyo
The rain continued and weather forecast said that it would rain until 1pm that day. We shelved aside our plan for a morning stroll at Shinjuku Gyoen and went to Tokyo Fire Museum instead.
Read: Tokyo Fire Museum Review
By afternoon, the rain finally stopped (Japan’s weather forecast is eerily accurate) and we went for an afternoon stroll at Shinjuku Gyoen.
And I recalled why I had originally planned the garden stroll in the morning. The kids were tired and cranky in the afternoon and the last thing they wanted to do was to stroll in the garden. Trying my best to block out their protests and whining from my ears, we went on with our stroll because I didn’t want to miss out the famous autumn foliage at Shinjuku Gyoen.
Thankfully the kids warmed up after a while and started to appreciate the “beautiful red trees” as much as me.
There was an avenue of trees that reminded me of my favorite Korean drama, Winter Sonata. Though it was disappointingly kind of bare by the time we were there in December. Wait, am I giving away how old I am by mentioning Winter Sonata? Anyway Bae Yong-joon is one of the most handsome Korean actors EVER. But he was coined an ‘auntie-killer’, so I guess that makes me an auntie. Officially.
Next, we visited Jingu Gaien Gingko Festival. Gingko trees turn a gorgeous golden colour in late autumn and there was a row of Ginko trees lining up the road leading to Jingu Gaien.
And no Japan festival is complete without food. There were rows of food stalls with a centralised area for sitting and dining at the festival.
After we filled our tummies, we decided that the kids had a miserable enough time being dragged through garden strolls against their will. We rewarded them with a visit to Thomas Town Shinmisato – which was super out of the way and totally not worth the time and hassle imo, but I’m sure the kids would beg to differ.
The next morning, we left Tokyo and drove to our next destination – Gotemba. (To be continued… Because all good stories are published in parts.. No?)
During our time in Tokyo, we stayed in an apartment at Shinjuku from Homeaway. We chose the apartment because it was near Shinjuku Gyoen station. We found a 3000yen for 24 hours parking near the apartment and left our car there while we walked to Shinjuku station area, Shinjuku Gyoen and Tokyo Fire Museum.
As I mentioned, driving in Tokyo is terribly expensive. Hence, it was a deliberate decision to only spend 1 day in central Tokyo while we rendezvous the rest of the time away at Chiba where parking fee was cheaper. There are many other kids-friendly destinations in Tokyo which you can find in > this post <. You can also read more about visiting Tokyo with kids from our November 2013 trip.
Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes
- Tokyo German Village [Tel: 0438-60-5511 / Map Code: 49 561 209]
- Mother Farm [Tel: 0439-37-3211 / Map Code: 769 292 438]
- Tokyo Fire Museum [Tel: 03-3353-9119 / Map Code: 671 2]
- Shinjuku Gyoen [Tel: 03-3350-0151 / Map Code: 670 170]
- Jingu Gaien Gingko Festival [Map Code: 611 591]
- Lalaport Shinmisato [Tel: 048-950-1515 / Map Code: 3 389 757]
Find your perfect vacation home at Homeaway!
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