Friday, November 8, 2013

Two Kids, No Stroller and Panda Bears, OH MY!

We decided on taking a family day trip so I looked at my JBL (Japan Bucket List), see it here, and decided with the awesome fall weather it was a good time to go check out Ueno Zoo! Ueno Zoo is the oldest Zoo in Tokyo and totally worth the trip.
After reading the site and seeing the zoo has no official parking we decided we would brave the trains with the two kids. Two kids under 3 and no stroller, needless to say I was prepared for misery but was pleasantly surprised how well they both did today! With a heads up of getting there early to see the Panda's awake we left our house around 7:30am. We caught the Commuter Special Rapid train (makes WAY less stops) and got stuck standing until some nice people let Sawyer and I sit, the 60min train ride to Kanda(one stop before Tokyo Station!) was no the most fun thing but we survived- Sawyer was pretty antsy to get off and see animals. 
Not only Bristol's First train ride,
but our first train ride with all four of us!
We had to switch trains and with the packed train to Kanda I was scared our next train would be packed too, but once we got on the line headed to Ueno, there was barely any people on it! We made it to the zoo entrance about 5 min before they opened so I'd say it was perfect timing!
So many school kids on field trips!
No doubt Ueno is an AMAZING place to stroll through Cherry Blossoms in spring, the fall colors were just as gorgeous. The 600Yen (about $6) entrance fee for adults is more than reasonable in my opinion, with kids under 12 being FREE it makes the deal even sweeter. As soon as you walk in you are greeted by tons of panda statues and picture opportunities as the Giant Panda exhibit is the first thing you see to your right. The two Giant Pandas, Ri Ri and Shin Shin, were enjoying a delicious breakfast of bamboo and watching all the crazy people take their picture. Very thankful we went and saw them first because on the way out we peaked into their exhibit and they had their backs to the glass.  
Ri Ri
Shin Shin
While walking through the first part of the Zoo, you almost forget you are pretty much in downtown Tokyo. We got to watch an Elephant drink and splash around, Zack claims it was the first time he had seen an Elephant and Sawyer was in awe and kept making Elephant noises!
I have to give major props to the Lion and Tiger habitats they had created! The tiger had a nice waterfall and little stream. Since we got there at opening a lot of the animals were eating their breakfast and not giving the best picture opportunities but it was fun to watch!
Pretty Tiger Area, Tiger was down over by the feeding area see next picture!
Pacing while waiting for breakfast
You can see many monkeys and gorillas through out the park. Sawyer liked watching him eat his leaves, check out all the kids at the window across from us!
 Pandas aren't the only bears you can see while visiting Ueno! They also have a Hokkaido Brown Bear, Japanese Black Bear, Malayan Sun Bear and a POLAR BEAR! Near the polar bear exhibit was the seals and sea lions which have a water arch you can walk through and they swim above and below you (a lot like the Shark Experience at Six Flags in Vallejo but with seals). Sawyer got a huge kick out of watching the seals and sea lions swim around.  
Polar Bear being cute!
Ueno Zoo is split into two areas you have the East Area (the area that you are in when you enter the main gate) and the West Area. A list of which animals are where can be found on the Ueno Zoo link which I have included above. We opted not to take the monorail and to walk, the view coming over the bridge was awesome, it was a crazy reminder that you are at a Zoo amidst all the skyscrapers.

My favorites in the East Area were the Children's Zoo (aka lots of goats and sheep free roaming you walked around and touched), Hippo, Giraffes and the huge Galapagos Tortoise! I took over 100 pictures so I will upload more to my Facebook but have to share the few of my favorites on here.
Getting eaten by Bristol in front of the Hippo
Look how HUGE this beauty is!
Giraffes with Skyscrapers in the background
Galapagos Tortoise.
Sawyer playing with a goat. He kept getting right in their face talking to them.
The farm animal whisperer! HAHA
If you would of asked me if I thought Sawyer could walk around the whole zoo without throwing fits I would of said No Way and been proved wrong. Both kids did AMAZING! Bristol slept majority of the day and handled being in the carrier like a champ! It took us about 2.5 hours to do the major portions of the Zoo and most of the houses, with Sawyers lack of interest in smaller exhibits and how tired we were after getting up at 4am with Bristol we did miss the one corner of the Zoo which had the five-story pagoda but no animal exhibits. We ate lunch inside the Zoo at one of the small caf├ęs by the lake. I enjoyed some yummy Yakisoba while the boys ate pizza, hot dogs and fries. The food was yummy and not over priced (like most Zoo/Park food is in the States). Before heading back to the train station Zack and I got Starbucks to give us some energy to make the journey back. Sawyer played at the park behind Starbucks while we drank our coffees and Bristol ate. My hope of wearing Sawyer out so he was well behaved on the train back was a major success! We were able to catch a Rapid train from Kanda back where we all got seats, it helped leaving before people were off work and out of school! We were back home by about 3:30pm.
Ueno Zoo is a great day trip. Which you could do and see more than we did, but with it being our first outing without a stroller and our first journey into Tokyo as a family I am more than pleased with what we accomplished today! I'm sure we will go back again before we leave, I now we will be revisiting Ueno Park to go to a few museums.  I'd love to see Ueno Park in the spring with the Cherry Blossoms. Ueno Park has a couple museums which are before/around the Zoo entrance: Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. All of which would be interesting to visit. I also wouldn't mind checking out the Michelangelo exhibit at the National Museum of Western Art (Exhibit Info), but since it is only here until November 17th, I don't see myself making it down there with Zack's crazy work schedule and appointments these next two weeks. I will be keeping an eye on happenings the museums put on from here on out, so I don't miss anything crazy awesome!
Bottom line: If you haven't been to Ueno Zoo and you live here in Japan, GO!
Successful day at the Zoo!!!
Until Next Time

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Every so often I welcome a much needed husband and kid-free trip. Today me and my friend decided to go hike Mount Takao! We enjoyed 8 glorious hours away from base surrounded by fresh air, trees, and awesome food. We arrived at the base of Mt. Takao around noon, but decided we would hike up and take the cable car or lift down, since up is a little easier on the knees. Its a 3.8km hike from the bottom to the top. As we started our climb we realized this was no walk in the park! Even though the path is paved you are walking up the side of a mountain at about a 45* angle!
We saw everything from full official hiking attire to high heels and mini-skirts. There were also people of all ages! Pretty sure there were some 70-80year olds making the climb!

The first flat spot to rest at, you feel like you have hiked a ways until you realize you have only gone about 1km!

Selfie while climbing :)
Just some awesome sites along the way!
 We were both running out of steam and knew we needed food! Getting to the cable car station which is about half way up the mountain was as good as it got before the first "restaurant" called our name! This was one of those vending machine type places which lacked English on the buttons so it was a match the picture of the Japanese to the button. While I succeeded in ordering some delicious curry my friend accidentally ordered cold soba noodles instead of hot. Turned out good but I know she would have much preferred hot noodles to warm her up! Once we were refueled we pushed on and enjoyed a nice glance at Tokyo! Although it would have been way better had it been a clear day we still got a decent view of Tokyo, really would love to head up there on a super clear day to be able to see the bay and Mt. Fuji!
We didn't make it all to far before we came upon the Monkey Park and a Sake tent! Since I have lived here over a year I had yet to try Sake, well I can officially say that I drank Sake out of a wooden square cup while on a hike up a mountain! Although it is not my drink of choice it was still good and it allowed a rest brake to stare at the gorgeous Japanese Maples that were turning red. Then we paid the 400Yen to enter the "Monkey Park". We saw 0 wild monkeys on the journey so I guess paying the yen was worth it to see the crazy little guys.
We still had a ways to go to the Temple grounds and the summit so we pressed on. Now we may have been out in the woods but we were not alone! We decided to catch all shrines and temple grounds after we reached the top. Silly us forgot to grab a map at the bottom so we were relying on signs and maps posted, we were so determined to get to the summit that the one map we looked at that said Top led us down a path less traveled. We got to see a cave with a  shrine and then climb up on a non-paved route.
Gorgeous Fall Colors!
So Close!!!
WE MADE IT!!!! Feels good to say we hiked ALL the way up to 599.03m. 
After enjoying the view, didn't get to see Mt. Fuji, and devouring some ice cream cones we started back down. This time we stayed on the paved route. We even found a peace pole along the trail. We stopped to admire the shrines and temple grounds. Pictures do it no justice. The golds and reds mixed in with the trees and changing color were truly breath-taking. There is such a calm and peaceful feeling too. Its times like this though I wish I knew Japanese and understood more about Shinto and Buddhism. There will be many more pictures (I took over 150!) uploaded onto my Facebook!  
Peace Pole hidden amongst the trees
Takaosan Yakuoin Yukiji Temple
By one of the Shrines
The hills have eyes!
Around 3:30 they started packing away things around the temple so we decided to head back down the mountain. We planned on making a pit stop for another swig of Sake then take the lift down to the base. Well during our Sake break we met some very intoxicated older men, they had obviously been sitting near the Sake tent a little TOOO long... well they gave us some crackers kept trying to talk to us, even though they didn't speak English. We quickly finished our Sake and made tracks to the lift. Well we were soon stopped by the delicious smell of dumplings and chicken on a stick, of course we had to get a snack! We snacked while making our way to the lift only to walk about 3 min down the trail to see a line FOREVER long. We looked at each other and said what the heck lets just hike back down! So with one foot in front of the other we made our way down the mountain. Crazy how much faster going down takes. We walked 7.6km and I managed to escape with only 1 blister! Once we reached the bottom we indulged in yet another ice cream cone, *hey no judging we EARNED it* and made our way back to the trains to journey on home!
See that man being held up by his two buddies?
Those 3 were our intoxicated Sake "friends", well we caught two of them peeing off the trail when I thought I heard monkeys, nope just drunk old men sipping up their pants after peeing in public!!! Totally not something you see everyday here in Japan!!!
All in All it was a great day! When I got home I hugged the kids and although it was so nice to be without them, realized I missed them so much! Sawyer even took our pictures when I got home, here is his shot of me, he didn't let the camera focus:
If you are looking for a nice hike, some yummy food, and awesome views then I suggest Mt. Takao! I will probably go back again before we leave. Just remember the lift& cable car still only get you half way and its still a steep 2km to the top so if you are taking little kids be prepared to carry them. You could use a stroller most of the way but the paved path is not smooth the whole time and near temple there are A LOT of stairs!
Until Next Time