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Monday, March 14, 2016

The Yangs go to Tokyo (9 - 13 November 2015)

Before I started work with my new employer in March 2015, I actually brought Mummy Cher and Aiden to Tokyo for a long awaited holiday. We thought Ava was too young to travel with us then (she was 16 months old), going by Aiden’s travel experience. He doesn’t remember his first Hong Kong trip at 3 months old at all, but has some memories of his adventures in Hong Kong at 23 months old, particularly in Disneyland. And since we decided not to bring any proper camera with us to Tokyo in March, all we had were random and limited pictures taken on our mobile phones.

For our Tokyo trip in November, I made sure Ava would join us and brought my DSLR along! Here’s how it went.

Travelling on Singapore Airlines Business Class

We weren’t sure how Ava would handle the 7.5 hour flight from Singapore to Tokyo, and being conscious that Ava’s ticket will be heavily discounted as a "lap child”, I decided that we should try the Singapore Airlines Business Class on the Airbus A380.

Being a “lap child” means that the child would have to share the seat with an adult. However, the child must be less than 2 years old in order to qualify. The special thing about a lap child is that the ticket only costs 10% of the adult fare. In comparison, Aiden’s ticket is 75% of the adult fare as a child between 2 and 11 years old. Ouch!

In SQ Economy Class, having a lap child on medium/long haul flights is not advisable, as the bassinet (even if available) is not the most comfortable place to be in. It is about 76cm long and only supports up to 14kg. Also, it cannot be used every time the seatbelt sign goes on, and during take off and landing. Instead, you would have to secure the child with special seat belts while he/she is sitting on your lap. Imagine finally coaxing the baby to sleep in the bassinet and then you are forced to bring her our due to turbulence!

The SQ Business Class seats in the Airbus A380 are not the newest (which are found in selected Boeing 777-300ER flights) but are the widest in the world at 34 inches (or 86cm) and you can sit beside your child in comfort. Another advantage of the Airbus A380 that flies to Tokyo is that the entire upper deck is dedicated to the Business Class. It is more likely that the seats would not be fully taken up. Typically, the air stewardess would offer the empty seats to people travelling with kids. In our case, we were given 2 extra seats on the flight to Tokyo and 1 extra seat on the flight back! 

In a 1-2-1 seat configuration on the Airbus A380, most business travellers would prefer the window seats and avoid the middle aisle seats or change the seat if they see that there is someone sitting beside them. They would also choose the seats in the front rows first. A tip would be to focus on the back section of the plane and choose just one of the middle aisle seats on separate rows. That should give you a good chance of scoring extra seats!

Day 1 - Ginza / Yurakucho

We arrived at Narita Airport in pretty good spirits at around 5.30pm and were already thinking about our first yummy meal in Tokyo. Aiden however paid the price of watching too many movies and not getting much sleep on the plane. He dozed off on the Narita Express train which conveniently connects Narita Airport to Tokyo city.

We stayed in the very new Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel right smack in Ginza and we were not disappointed. It is situated right above a subway station so getting around with children in tow is no problem at all.

First stop was skewers for dinner at the Yurakucho area, a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Located underneath a bridge are various restaurants, mostly selling skewers. Pretty cheap and quite affordable and frequented by many locals, the best part is the trains rumbling above us as we tuck into the food.

Day 2 - Ginza / Odaiba

In the morning, after breakfast in the Ginza area and some window shopping, I left Cheryl and the kids for lunch with some colleagues who are based in Tokyo. I know I shouldn't have but I'm glad I did, as they treated me to amazing BBQ beef, or Yakiniku.

I rejoined them after their own lunch date with Cheryl's local friend, and proceeded to Odaiba. Although it wasn't far away, there were a few train connections to make and luckily the kids were up for it. Maybe they were looking forward to the toy shops and attractions that we mentioned.

Unfortunately, we arrived 5 minutes past the last admission time for Legoland and were denied entry. Pretty bummed I must say as the place was going to remain open for the another 2 hours or so! I guess the tip is to research and plan properly when it comes to attractions and not go with the flow like what we tried to do.

Day 3 - Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is a must go if you are visiting Tokyo with kids. However, I wouldn't recommend staying in one of the hotels next to it as it would be quite inconvenient to go elsewhere, like Shibuya or Shinjuku. Amazingly, Tokyo Disneyland is actually cheaper than the Universal Studios in Singapore. Restaurants served proper food at reasonable prices and everything else was wallet friendly. I know I had to say "That's too expensive. Why don't we buy something else?" many times when we visited USS, but never in Tokyo Disneyland.

If you have older kids (maybe above 12), you might want to visit Disneysea as well. "Duffy" the Disney Bear is exclusively sold inside Disneysea and we were so tempted to go. However, the rides and characters would not be as kid friendly. I've been told that you hardly see Mickey Mouse in there! It would be tough for me to explain who on earth is Indiana Jones, so no Duffy bear for us yet again.

Back to Disneyland. A common problem of such themeparks is the insane queues, especially when you have young children with you. Two tips would be to get as many Fast Passes as you can, and to take more rides after the fireworks display.

Unlike in USS, Fast Passes in Tokyo Disneyland do not cost anything. You just have to be at the machines to get them, and return for the ride at the stipulated time. It works on a quota, first come first serve system, so the later you take the Fast Pass, the later the given timeslot. Also, once you get a Fast Pass, you can't get another one until an hour or so later. So an efficient way is to have one person go around collecting Fast Passes for everyone while the rest queue for the faster moving rides the normal way.

Secondly, if possible, try to stay beyond the fireworks display which is around 8.30pm. The park closes at around 10pm. Many visitors are Japanese on annual passes and they would start to leave around dinner time. That's when the queues start to shorten.

Oh, maybe this doesn't count as a tip as it would be obvious to Singaporeans, but do get your tickets online to avoid queues. You can buy first and decide on the actual day which park to visit, land or sea.

The kids had so much fun hunting down their favourite Disney characters and trying the rides. The Disney magic is real!

Day 4 - Tsukiji / Chiyoda / Asakusa / Oshiage

Many people would wake up early to witness the Tsukiji fish market auction but not the Yang family, especially after a long day in Disneyland. In my defence, we would have to arrive at 3am and wait 3 hours for the auction to start at around 6am. That sounds crazy for even myself to sit through, let alone the kids! So, we arrived at the outer market area at around 10.30am to check out the various shops selling super fresh seafood and delicacies. There are a few famous ones in the inner market with long queues and higher prices. As we have eaten there before years ago, we decided to try the restaurants in the outer market instead. No regrets, with shorter queues, lower prices and uncompromised quality!

After filling out stomachs with various seafood and street snacks, we headed to the Imperial Palace, followed by the Senso-ji temple at Asakusa. We had a great time people watching and stuffing our mouths with Japanese snacks. So many samples to try!

After dinner (I'm surprised we could eat some more!), we made our way to the newest observation tower nearby, the Tokyo Skytree. It is even taller at 634m than the Tokyo Tower at only 333m. The best thing about the Skytree is that it sits on top of a train station and a shopping mall that has many quirky shops. Some would say it is a tourist trap but we love it this way. We are such typical Singaporeans haha!

Day 5 - Aoyama / Harajuku

It's the last day of our holiday already! After checking out of our room, we headed to Aoyama for some window shopping, before walking to Harajuku to buy some toys at Kiddyland. After a mandatory meal at our favourite ramen place (Jangara Ramen), we explored the famous Takeshita Street and had even more snacks.

We rounded off Ava's first overseas experience by visiting the Honda showroom (with the Asimo demonstration) and some last minute shopping back in Ginza.

Even though we only had limited time in Tokyo, I'm glad we didn't pack the schedule. We took our time at the various attractions, took many coffee/snack breaks and didn't set out to see everything that was penciled down in the itinerary. We ended up with many beautiful memories of the time spent together, and that is just priceless.

The kids still remember the trip fondly and are looking forward to the next family trip!

View the video of our trip here (watch in HD!):


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