Yokosuka is best known throughout Japan for having a large American Naval Base. For us, Yokosuka was a place to visit our friends for a wonderful introduction to Japan, where we would be spending the next three weeks.
Day 1 – Friday, April 3, 2015
Our plane landed in Japan around 7:30pm. In the airport we made our way through customs and to the train station. The airport has an express train, and we bought tickets on it all the way to Yokosuka, our destination. The train was very efficient, as we expected it to be in Japan, however the ride still took about 2 hours. Along the way we had to switch trains one time, while keeping in mind that our second train splits in half and you need to make sure you are in the right car. Luckily we had no issues.
At the train station in Yokosuka, we were greeted by our friend Kevin who gave us a ride to his house. Along the way we stopped to buy dinner at a convenience store because most other places were already closed. Surprisingly, most convenient stores in Japan have good quality food and are very cheap. Our friends very graciously gave us their bed for our time in Yokosuka, while they slept in their daughter’s room.
Day 2 – Saturday, April 4, 2015
In the morning we awoke to greet the rest of the Ho household: Kevin’s wife Shirley and their two beautiful children, Emily and Aaron. Additionally, we were excited to see our friend Samrat, who had flown in from DC but was jet lagged when we arrived the previous night. It felt really good to be in a house surrounded by friends.
For our first day in Japan our friends took us on the train to one of their favorite restaurants, Curry House CoCo, for Japanese curry. The curries were really good although I consider them to be more of a gravy served with fried meat cutlets and rice. They are very customizable and come in spices ranging from mild to 8. I had a number 1, which was plenty spicy, while Jon went with a 6, which was verging on too spicy for him. We didn’t know it at the time, but CoCo Curry House would become our go-to food while traveling through the country. It is addicting!!
We were lucky that our trip happened to be during the peak of Cherry Blossom season. April 4th was the exact date predicted to be the peak south of Tokyo, so seeing some blossoms was a priority for us. Kevin and Shirley took us to Shomyoji Temple (称名寺) to see some trees near the Kanazawa-Bunko train station. A path to the temple was lined with flowering trees and paper lanterns. Inside the temple gates was a pond with a bridge. Shirley explained that the Japanese liked to be outside and it was very common for them to go to temples for picnics, which there were a lot of.
We got back on a train and headed to Yokohama. In Yokohama we exited the train through a mall near the Museum of Art. Also nearby was a small, permanent carnival with a ferris wheel and other rides. The street outside the carnival was closed to cars and setup with food stands.
Yokohama is also home to the Cup Noodles Museum (500Y). The museum celebrates creativity as well as Cup Noodles. It features nice modern art and is well laid out. The first floor is has interactive exhibits, which we enjoyed, but we wish there were more. The third floor lets you make your own Cup Noodles by designing the cup and customizing the spices. Unfortunately, they were already sold out of tickets. The forth floor of the museum is a kids play area (for a fee) and a restaurant. The museum was a good way to spend a few hours, but we thought it was a little bit of overkill when the cup of noodles inventor was compared to Thomas Edison, Charles (Charlie) Chaplin, Albert Eisenstein, Helen Keller, and others.
For dinner we went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. In Japan good quality sushi can be cheap, so we ate a lot and enjoyed ourselves.
Day 3 – Sunday, April 5, 2015
We woke up early and packed everyone into the Ho’s car for a three hour drive to Nikko. Nikko is north of Tokyo in the Japanese mountains. To get to Nikko we followed a GPS that took us through a long tunnel running under almost the entire length of Tokyo and kept us underground for what we estimated to be 15 minutes or more.
Along the drive to Nikko we got to enjoy seeing white cherry blossom trees mixed into the green hillsides. We got to Nikko just after 9am when the Edo Wonderland opens. Edo Wonderland (4700Y) is a cultural attraction about the Edo time period in Japanese history and mostly about samurai and ninjas. Jon, Samrat, and I weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we started to get excited after reading the brochure which advertised ninja stage shows and throwing star training among other activities.
When you enter Edo Wonderland, you walk into what was created to look like a Japanese village in the Edo period. The first few buildings we walked by had signs explaining them as mills, police houses, and bakeries. There was also a costume shop where you can rent a costume to wear for the day. Costumes range from townspeople to samurais, ninjas, and geishas.
Our first activity was the Karasu Yashiki Ninja House, an action show. We weren’t sure what to expect and didn’t have high expectations for the 15 minute show. However, this was one of the best activities of the day, and our entire group really enjoyed it (except for Emily who was a bit scared of the the loud noises and darkness). We couldn’t understand the narration at the start of the show, but the premise seemed to be a man protecting a scroll from a ninja intruder. The theater was built so that the audience was in the middle of the man’s house, and the show employed a lot of secret trap doors that the man would use to allude the intruder.
Throughout the day we walked across the whole park. The archery, star throwing, and darts cost 600Y to try, but you won a small prize if you did well and a post card if you did poorly. Some of our other favorites were the Ninja Trick Maze, which was a clever take on a maze, and the Illusion house. We also took strolls through the haunted house and prison themed wax museum. We saw several people dressed as anime characters taking professional photographs in the Edo scenery. I also read that the architecture and costumes in Edo have been used in movies and tv shows. Another highlight for us was watching children challenge employees to sword fighting games. We ate soba noodles for lunch and had some other snacks while walking around.
Before we left we watched the acrobatic ninja show in the Grand Theater and went to the adult ninja training camp. The adult ninja training takes 5 people every 20 minutes. We were given headbands and led through an obstacle course. We weren’t shown the more dangerous looking obstacles, like a climbing wall. Our tasks consisted of stealing a scroll by fishing through a ceiling hole, climbing through a course of ropes without making noise, and throwing stars through holes.
Before leaving the Nikko area, we drove to the Nikkō Tōshō-gū temple (1300Y). Jon and Samrat walked around the temple, including climbing 270 steps to see a tomb and a famous sleeping cat sculpture above a doorway.
Everyone was exhausted by the end of the day so we went back to the Ho’s for dinner. Shirley made us green vegetable curry and chicken drumsticks.
Day 4 – Monday, April 6, 2015
Monday meant that the Ho household was back to their weekday schedule; up early, going to work, and taking the kids to day care. The rest of us slept in, ate french toast Shirley had prepared, and had a lazy morning. When we left the house around noon, we stepped outside to a beautiful, sunny day. The weather definitely put us in a great mood for the day.
Our first stop was to the Navy base which Yokosuka is known for. On the way in we drove past lots of large navy ships. We made quick stops at a gas station and bank, but really took our time in the store deciding which American snacks and candies to buy for the day.
When we left the base we drove to Kamakura. Kamakura was the ancient capital city of Japan and is still known for its history and culture. Our first stop was the bamboo temple, Hōkoku-ji. We really enjoyed Hōkoku-ji and its pretty gardens. After entering through the gate, a path leads up a mossy trail. Tickets to enter are 300Y or 700Y with green tea. Shortly after the ticket window was a bamboo forest. The tall bamboo forest was stunning with the sunlight streaming through it. A footpath of carved stone blocks led through it to the tea room. Benches in the tea room face the bamboo forest and a small fountain, while bowls of frothy green tea and small sugar snacks are served. Shirley had told us small picnics are popular with the green tea, so we ate some of our snacks while in enjoying the forest. On the far side of the forest were some caves and tombs, and small tōrōs (stone lanterns) were scattered throughout.
Next we walked to Jomyoji Temple. The walk to Jomyoji was lined with cherry blossom trees and was very pretty. We looked at the temple from the front steps, but didn’t enter (100Y) because of the time.
Shirley drove us to the main temple in Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. The temple area was very crowded with tourists but very enjoyable. Cherry blossoms and flags surrounded a small pond and the pathways were lined with Japanese gates. We walked to the temple and also were able to explore some smaller shrines around its exterior.
The main street of Kamajura was nice to stroll down, however the cherry blossom promenade was under construction. A parallel street was a mostly pedestrian walking street with shops and restaurants. The soft serve ice cream and honey shops were tempting us, but we decided to eat more substantial food instead. We stopped for a very late lunch at Kamakura Seimen where we had meals with soba noddles. I ordered a chicken and egg dish while Jon picked a more interesting looking dish which came with a raw egg that you cook in a cup of hot broth.
It was late afternoon when we finished eating, so we left Kamakura and went to pick up Emily and Aaron from their day care. For dinner we met Kevin at a mall where the Ho’s had wanted to us to try Tonkatsu, which we got from Tonkatsu Wako. We were still full from lunch, but always want to eat food recommended to us, so we split a meal. After dinner the entire group stopped for crepes at another stand in the mall and split two although it was messy.
Day 5 – Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Tuesday was another cool and rainy day. Kevin and Shirley had work on Tuesday, so we were on our own. We had decided to go back to Kamakura and to the Great Buddha which we hadn’t had time for the previous day. But first, we joined Shirley for a trip to the Navy base commissary and met Kevin for lunch. We ate at a Ramen shop that seemed to be popular with both locals and Americans working at the base.
Shirley dropped us off at the train station and we made our way back to Kamakura. This time we also took the electric line (street car) through Kamakura alleys and neighborhoods to Hasa, the Great Buddha. The Great Buddha was 200Y to see and another 20Y to walk inside of. A few cherry blossoms were still blooming and we spent most of our time there running around trying to take the perfect photo. The inside of the statue had some information about how the Buddha was erected seven centuries ago and some more recent reinforcing.
We took our time walking around Kamakura and doing some souvenir shopping. Kamakura has many boutiques and even more frozen yogurt stands. We stopped in a few stores where Samrat bought throwing stars for souvenirs and where we browsed through numerous chopsticks and anime keychains. We also visited one of the many honey shops for some free samples and an ice cream with honey syrup. A small coffee shop which sold t-shirts also gave us a free sample. Finally before leaving we stopped to try some gelato. Most of the towns ice cream stores sold soft serve ice cream in flavors like green tea and sweet potato. However, we were on a mission to find sakura (cherry blossom) flavored ice cream which we only found in gelato form.
Kevin picked us up at the train station and we went back to Kevin and Shirley’s house where we had a big feast planned. We spent the next few hours cooking. The final meal included ribeye steaks and veggie burgers cooked on the grill, Brussels sprouts, pasta, corn, dumplings, tuna sashimi, and brownies with ice cream.
Day 6 – Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Still full from the night before, we had a casual breakfast at Shirley and Kevin’s house. Our plan for the day was to go to Yokohama’s Chinatown which is the largest chinatown in Japan, but first Shirley had to take Emily to ballet class. When they returned, it was freezing cold and rainy so it was decided that Shirley would keep the kids inside while us and Samrat went to Chinatown.
We took the trains from Yokosuka to Yokohama. We were already freezing when we arrived so we went straight to a Starbucks to warm up. On our way out, we were given free samples of a new frozen fruity latte that Starbucks was offering. Right across the street from Starbucks was a building that peaked our interest which had large signs for Sega all over it. Inside was a two story arcade of Sega games. The first game we walked past was similar to Guitar Hero but with drums, and a video camera on the machine turned the players into anime characters. Other interesting games included one where you flip a table when your waiter brings the wrong order and a game called The Typing Dead for which you type on computer keyboards to escape zombies.
Finally we braved the cold rain and entered Chinatown. Chinatown was very nice and I wish we had had a better weather to explore it more. It was clean, and while it was busy it wasn’t crowded. Instead of cheap junk or Westernized restaurants, Chinatown was full of stores selling dumplings and steamed buns. We walked around for a while and wondered down allies with lanterns hanging over them.
From Chinatown we took a train to the north end of Yokohama and to the Kirin beer factory. We were greeted at the door and whisked into a tour (free) about to start. We were warned that the tour was only in Japanese but that the guide spoke English if we had questions. The tour group only consisted of us and one other family. Although the videos at each stop along the tour were in Japanese, the guide did speak good English and told us which stations we were at. Overall the tour is 50 minutes and we thought it was a good tour. After the tour there is a tasting room where we had 20 minutes to try up to 3 samples of Kirin Ichiban, Kirin Stout, non-alcoholic, or sodas and to shop in the gift shop.
From the Kirin factory we took the train to a mall where Kevin and Shirley met us for dinner at Kobe Motomachi Doria. Doria is a creamy baked rice dish. The restaurant offered several types of doria along with choices to have it with soup, salad, pizza, and other combinations. After dinner we went back to the Ho’s where we spent the night playing board games and doing laundry before heading to Tokyo in the morning.
Visas: Visas are waived for Americans entering Japan for 90 days (or less) for tourism. There is no need to apply for this in advance.
Trains: Japan has an extensive train system. Trains are convenient and relatively easy to ride and figure out, however you may have to switch lines several times. The Japan Railway (JR) system has the most prominent lines throughout the country.
JR rail passes are available, including a tourist pass. The tourist pass offers unlimited travel on JR lines for 7, 14, or 21 days. However, the tourist pass cannot be purchased in Japan. The tourist pass is usually issued by a travel agency in our home country. We purchased ours from a travel agency in Australia.
For local travel, you can buy a single fare paper ticket or a Pasmo card. The Pasmo card is a 500Y deposit for a plastic card which can be loaded with cash and used on many transit systems throughout the country.