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5 Things I Did Wrong While Climbing Mount Fuji (and a few things I did right)

Last month, I had the opportunity to climb the majestic and challenging Fuji-San! I actually made the decision to climb it about 30 hours prior to climbing because sometimes I like to live life on the edge. 😉 However, because I had planned to climb Fuji sometime during our Japan stay AND because my husband had climbed it previously – I did feel SOMEWHAT prepared and also had most of the gear already. So here is my story of how I survived Mt. Fuji! *Beware: it’s long. 😉

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My daily view – so of course I HAD to go meet her in person! 🙂

Pre-Fuji Prep 

  • The decision – I decided the day before that I would go with a couple of friends to climb Fuji overnight.  Climbing season is only open from early-July to mid-September, so there is a small window to knock this off any bucket list.  Since it was already September 5th, I realized that my window was closing quickly for this year so I should probably take the leap and tag along with my friends.
  • Kids – Then I had to figure out what to do with my kiddos from Friday evening until Saturday afternoon.  Luckily, my husband was able to get off work on time to stay with the kids.
  • Packing – Now I had to decide what I should actually bring on this trip. I read a few blog posts from others who had done the overnight trip to get an idea of the necessities.  I made a trip to the grocery store for some snacks and water. And then stopped by Mega-Don Quijote (it’s like a Japanese Wal-Mart) for cans of air (and score! They were only 500 yen and Buy 2-Get 1 free!).
  • What to wear – Everything I read and learned from others was to dress in layers.  The biggest challenge of Mount Fuji is that the weather is unpredictable and can change drastically during the climb.  Thankfully the weather said it would be clear with no rain and little wind.  So I wore a moisture-wicking tank, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, moisture-wicking leggings, and beanie to start the hike.  I also already had a hiking stick my husband had gotten on his last Fuji hike, but didn’t get stamped.  This piece of information will be important later on in the story.
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What I wore to start the hike.

The Climb

Okay, here where things start getting real.  So I’m giving you a raw account of my experience!

  • The arrival – We arrived to the parking lot a little before 8pm – just in time to catch the last bus to the 5th station. We got to the 5th station for the Subashiri Trail around 8:30ish and ate some snacks and adjusted to the altitude.  It was important for us to hang out there for about an hour so we could adjust slowly and not get altitude sickness.  We packed our bags, checked our headlamps, and off we went! This brings me to Mistake #1 – My bag was way too heavy!  I was worried about not being prepared, so I definitely overpacked – and paid for it later on in the hike.

Into the forest – From the 5th to about the 7th station, it’s all forest.  And since we were on a less populated trail (Yoshida is the most popular) and it was nighttime, we only saw a handful of hikers in the beginning.  The forest is very thick and SUPER quiet.  There are no leaves rustling or branches swaying to make any white noise.  So needless to say, the first couple of hours were a bit creepy – it felt like the Blair Witch Project out there. Once we cleared the trees near the 7th station, you could see every star in the sky and lights shining in the city.  It was peaceful and beautiful!

Stations – While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Station system.  Stations are little rest areas that begin at the 5th station and go up to the summit – 10th station.  They sell food, water, and overpriced hiking supplies. What I didn’t know was that there are duplicate numbered stations. So I would get excited and see the 6th station only to find out that there are two 6th stations – an “old” and a “new” – and this happened at each station. 😦  Also, you have to pay to use the bathrooms at each station – the average was 200 yen.  You’ll also have to pay around 200 yen or so to get your hiking stick stamped – and yes, after all that hiking you will want some type of reward for your work.

Sunrise – Most people who do the overnight hike will stop at a hut and sleep for a few hours before finishing the journey to the summit.  We didn’t do this and it was probably for the best because it would be hard to get going again after resting for too long.  We decided to rest longer at each station, but not long enough for our bodies to get too cold.  We didn’t quite make it to the summit for the sunrise, but we were close and had a great view nonetheless.  As beautiful as the night sky was, hiking in the dark was starting to get depressing so I was looking forward to seeing some light.  There were a lot of people at this point surrounding us and set up with camera equipment ready to catch the first signs of morning. I couldn’t imagine carrying camera equipment around so more power to those people.

Almost to the top – Joy comes in the morning, y’all!  And viewing an amazing sunrise helped motivate me to keep going to the top.  Now we could lose the headlamps and actually see where we were going.  Our trail also combined with the Yoshida Trail somewhere around the 8.5 station so we saw a significant increase in traffic. I could see several “Caution: Falling Rock” signs along the way which made me uneasy but I tried to focus on the goal and pray – I prayed a lot.

We made it! – Woo hoo!  We made it safely to the summit and it was a joyous occasion.  It’s quite an emotional and exhausting experience to finally reach the summit.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  I did put on a jacket over my hoodie, but never needed by rain jacket or hiking pants (although there were some points where I could have worn them I was just too tired to put them on). We also all wore gloves – which were not just for warmth, but for the areas where you have to pull yourself up on to the rocks.  We spent at least an hour at the top just enjoying the views, eating, and resting.  Some hikers behind us pulled out a grill with bacon and eggs and I wished I had done that too. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it up.  Then we headed over to grab some souvenirs – flags for our hiking sticks and of course the stamp.  The stamp at the top is red (the other ones are black) so everyone knows you made it to the top.

And we got a present! (aka SWAG!) The wooden keychain thing means that all five of the senses have been refreshed and renewed.  Which makes sense since the locals regard the Mt. Fuji climbing experience as something spiritual and sacred.

Above the clouds and the crater –  Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters (12,390 feet) high so it is quite a feeling to be actually standing above the clouds!  We also took a look at the crater because this is an active volcano after all.

The Descent

This is where the story turns.  From my research I learned that going down was much harder than going up.  But I figured, ‘How hard can it be? It can’t really be THAT hard!’ Well, I was wrong.  Wrong, wrong. Just a reminder that we are climbing down loose volcanic rock here, which means it’s VERY slippery.  So combine steep with slippery and it’s a very challenging combination.  This is also where I made the majority of my mistakes.

Here we go – At first I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” But things starting picking up.  Mistake #2 – Not wearing gaiters.  I probably should have worn some gaiters over my boots or at the very least – put my hiking pants on to cover my boots.  My boots kept getting filled with rocks and sand which made the trek much more uncomfortable.  Things started out zig-zag, but then it was just one long, steep descent.  I also didn’t realize that the route down is different than the route up so there aren’t as many stations or places to rest/recharge.

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There are these cool, unique yellow plants that only grow on Mt. Fuji!

  • It’s so dusty – Something else I didn’t take into account was how dusty it would be.  While I did bring a Buff® to cover my face and wore sunglasses, there was much more dust than expected.  More experienced hikers would run down, yes run – which would kick up tons of dust (and feelings of anger) as they passed me.  Also, my legs were shaky from the hike up and I was exhausted.  So my goal at this point was to avoid injury since I have a patella that likes to go its own way sometimes.  Mistake #3 – Not wearing goggles or bringing my glasses!  Okay, this wouldn’t apply to everyone – but more for those who wear contacts.  My eyes were dry from not sleeping and the dust. My vision was blurry and I was getting a headache. I wish I had brought my glasses or wore some goggles.  Because not being able to see definitely slowed me down!

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  • Mental Fatigue – About halfway down the descent I contemplated whether or not I was going to make it.  In addition to there not being as many stations on the way down, there also aren’t very many trail markers.  So we had no idea how many meters we had back to the 5th station.  It really was a motivation killer and tested my will power.  I just wanted to know how much longer to the end.  But nope, just more steep hills and rocks.  And my contacts were now giving me a headache.  I remembered to bring Tylenol so I could at least fix that.

 

  • Homestretch – We finally made it back to the forest which meant we were close to the 5th station.  We also started seeing more happy hikers ascending which meant they had just begun their journey.  They were friendly with their “Hi’s, Hello’s, Konichiwa’s” – however, I was not up for small talk and just wanted to not die on this volcano.  I must have looked stressed because a couple of people asked if I was okay and threw some encouraging words my way.  I wasn’t having it though.

Finish Line – “Is that a Torii gate?” We asked that question a lot on the way down.  Because we knew if we saw the Torii gate, the 5th station was only a few feet away. Then I realized my next mistake – Mistake #4 – I underestimated the importance of the correct socks.  I figured my regular ole socks would work, but it was a costly mistake.  My toes were in pain and I could feel painful blisters.  I definitely should have invested in some hiking socks. Combined with the lack of gaiters, this almost broke me. But alas, after what felt like wandering in the desert for 40 years, we made it to the Promised Land.  Hallelujah!

 

  • The last stamp – We made it back to the 5th station around 4pm, but had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive to take us back to the car.  So we rested, hydrated, and ate some food at the small diner that was there.  The station was closing when we had arrived the night before so we didn’t get our stamps then.  They happily fired up the pit so we could get our final stamp of the journey.  After they started laughing and my friend translated for me, I realized my last mistake. Mistake #5 – My stick was upside down the WHOLE time. Remember in the beginning, my husband gave me his stick?  Yeah, he had the flag at the end that I thought was the top so I didn’t even check. Also, in hindsight hiking poles would have been the better option for this trip anyways.  My sweet friend let me borrow hers for most of the descent and took my stick (and she didn’t realized the stick was upside down either so I don’t feel AS bad, but still – rookie mistake).

 

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My last stamp! #stampmystick

Okay, so what did I do right? Here are a few tips in case you’re thinking of taking the journey yourself!

  • Tissues – Mt. Fuji messes with your sinuses plus the temps fluctuate – pack tissues.
  • Yen – I brought plenty of yen. Bring extra in case you have an emergency!
  • Dressed in layers – I felt like I was dressed appropriately and comfortably.  I also brought a beanie for the cold and a hat for the warmth.  Sunglasses are a must too.  Also bring sunscreen if you burn easily.
  • Water – I brought about 5 liters of water which probably would have been enough if I had paced my hydration better. I could have used another 16 ounces towards the end.
  • Station timing – The stations DO close for a few hours late at night.  I was happy we were at the top to get our stamps.  However, it’s possible that your timing is off and you don’t make it to the top in time for your stamp.
  • September – I think going at the end of the climbing season is a better choice.  July is still rainy, cold, and windy on the mountain – it’s possible that the top could even close due to bad weather. August is blazing hot.  September is starting to cool off again and while a typhoon did come through a couple of days later, it didn’t impact our climb.
  • Air – I brought a can of air, but ended up not needing it.  I’m glad I brought it though because I’ve heard altitude sickness is not pleasant at all.  And yes, I returned the air for a full refund.  Thank you, Mega.
  • Expectations – Before climbing, we all agreed that it was okay if we didn’t summit.  We would just listen to our bodies and be thankful that we could even attempt to climb.  I read in a brochure for a Mt. Fuji group tour that “The mountain doesn’t care – about your goals, your feelings, your health.” And that stuck with meMake sure you go with willpower, but leave your pride on the bus.  Mount Fuji is beautiful and brutal.

Climbing Fuji-San is an enlightening experience, but also a very humble one.  People ask me what kind of shape you need to be in to climb.  And while I recommend you have some type of endurance, stamina, and leg strength, you also need the mental strength and courage to carry on.  We saw elderly folks & kids climbing and people wearing Crocs and jeans.  Could you climb it solo?  Absolutely.  Logically, if something went wrong there are enough other hikers that would help you.  I don’t think you would have to 127 hours- yourself or anything (ya know, cut off your arm with an old knife to survive).  But would you have the emotional and mental strength to get through without the support? That’s the bigger question.

Overall, even though we hiked all night without sleeping, I’m glad I did it.  Would I do it again?  There is a Japanese proverb that says, “A wise man climbs Fuji once, a fool does it twice. And if you don’t climb it you are destined to return to Japan.” So I think once is good enough for me.

Oh one more thing – we went to an Onsen immediately after and it was the best decision.  The hot soak helped my muscles recover much faster.  I highly recommend going to one near Fuji!

What about you?  Is this on your bucket list?!

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On top of the world!

~SM

Kirin Tea Factory Tour

If you’ve ever visited Japan, then chances are you have enjoyed a Kirin beverage.  Whether you ordered an ice cold beer or grabbed a bottle of tea out of a train station vending machine, it was mostly likely manufactured by the Kirin company.  Well I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the Kirin Tea Factory and now I’m here to…spill the tea! 😉

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When we first arrived, we were greeted near the parking lot, given a visitor’s badge, and escorted to the entrance of the facility.  Everyone was super cheerful and made us feel like V.I.P. 🙂

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Then we were taken to a classroom where we could take some fun photos with the tea props while we waited for the whole tour group to arrive.

And yes, selfies are a must! 🙂  #ilovetea

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Once everyone arrived, the facilitator showed us a short video about the Kirin Tea Factory and explained what to expect on the tour.  Then they took our photos (I’ll explain why later) and we had to walk through a sanitation machine that sprayed us with sanitized air.

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My four-year-old hated this thing!

We were then taken to a room where we learned about the history of the Kirin tea leaves and saw how the plastic bottles were made.  The kids really enjoyed watching the bottles getting heated up and shrunk down to size.

Then we were able to see the machines in action, however, no photos are allowed in this area because the process is proprietary and basically all a secret. 😉

We entered a last room where they demonstrated how the label stamping machine worked.  We could use our brochures to slide it through a device that stamped the date.  This was much harder than it looked as you had to slide the paper through at just the right time – not too fast or too slow – or else the date would not be centered.

Remember when we took our photos in the beginning?  Well, it was for our own custom labels!  How cool?! We even got to watch the label machine in action!

But the surprises didn’t end there!  We went back to the classroom and learned how to make a special drink that was super delicious!

Also, in the room was a “magical” vending machine where we were able to choose two free drinks! Yay, Swag! And one of them was the newest available Kirin beverage – Citrus Tea! Yum! And the kids were all given the bottles they saw being shrunk earlier in the tour!  More Swag!

Overall,  I really enjoyed this factory tour!  It was very inexpensive, free parking, warm staff, kid friendly, and just a fun way to spend a couple of hours learning more about Japanese culture.  One thing to note is that the employees speak pretty limited English and will only facilitate group tours if it is hosted by someone who speaks both Japanese and English for translation purposes.

And in true Japanese fashion, there was a souvenir vending machine.  I opted for the adorable tea spoon! 🙂

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Have you tried a Kirin drink before?  Which one is your favorite?

~SM

My Crappy Experience at the Unko Museum

If you are looking for something fun and unique to experience in Japan – you are in luck!  A new pop-up museum exhibit is now open in Yokohama that’s all about – Unko! What is unko, you ask?  Well it’s poop! 🙂  Yes, a whole museum dedicated to poop!  Sound interesting?  Here’s a little bit about my experience so you know what to expect!

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The Unko Museum is located in the Asobuild building, which is about a five minute walk from the Yokohama train station.   The Asobuild building itself is super artsy and also has a few other exhibits to check out.

You have the option of purchasing your tickets online or in person.  If you purchase on the website, you will have to create a membership account (the website is in Japanese so you will have to use a translating browser).  We went during the week in the morning around opening hours and were able to go right in with no wait.  If you go on a weekend or holiday, I would recommend to get tickets ahead of time so you are guaranteed an entry.  Tickets cost between 1600-1700 yen for adults, 900 yen for school-aged kids, and free for small children.  And the fun begins as soon as you walk in!

You are immediately greeted by energetic employees and asked to sit on colorful toilets.  After a flushing sound, you stand up to get your very own colored unko (hello, swag)!  Another person then puts it on a stick for you and you are directed to one of the photo prop areas.

There’s a light up game you can play; another game where you yell “Unko!” as loud as you can; and a couple of other digital type games.

There’s also an “Unko for Lovers” area as well as a “Dessert Unko” table!

Then you can move on to an area where you make your own “Unko Art” and take a look at popular “Poop” products that are sold around the world.

After that, you can hang out at some unko shaped tables and relax while the kids play in the “Unko Ball Pit”.

And don’t miss the “Unko Shower” that happens every few minutes!  The giant Unko will countdown and then explode tiny unko!  You can also learn how to make the Unko sign with your hands!

All of the staff were super friendly and available for taking your photos – or even bombing them if you wish!  They were super silly and helpful and interacted with all the kids!

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Once you’re “pooped out” from all the fun, grab a baggie for unko and head towards the gift shop for some fun unko souvenirs!

Overall thoughts about the museum:

  • It’s pretty small – you can get through the whole thing in about an hour.  So maybe plan something else to do to fill your day unless you’re just passing through.
  • There’s no food or snacks allowed – make sure you eat before or hit up the café in the Asobuild building or some restaurants in the nearby mall.
  • It’s organized – in true Japanese fashion – everything is orderly, methodical, and well-staffed.
  • Lots of photo ops – the whole museum is one big opportunity to take Instagram photos so make sure you are selfie-ready!
  • Kid-friendly – I saw lots of kids, but several adults as well so it’s definitely family-friendly.  My kids LOVED this place and have already asked if we can go back!
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But first…lemme take a selfie 🙂

Sound like fun?  Make sure you plan your trip soon!  This is just a temporary exhibit so the unko will be “flushed away” on July 15th, 2019!  😉

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~SM

7 Things You Will Love About Mount Takao

I really enjoy living near Tokyo because there is always something interesting to see or do, but sometimes it can be a bit chaotic and overwhelming with the constant hustle and bustle.  As much I love spending the day in the city, my soul really belongs in nature.  I recently took a trip to Mount Takao and it was an amazing place that I think everyone should visit!

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Mount Takao is conveniently located about an hour outside of Tokyo (in the Hachioji region) and can be accessed by train or car.  Depending on where you are coming from, both could be viable options.  I carpooled with a few friends and we split the toll/parking fees as well as found parking pretty easily.  There are a several parking lots surrounding the park and fees vary, but start at 1000 yen.  Get there early and shoot for a weekday as this is a very popular hiking destination and can get crowded quickly!  So here are a few highlights from my trip that I think you will like – even if you don’t like nature. 😉

  • You can shop and eat!  Once you arrive at the park and before you set off on your hike, check out the little shops along the main path.  You can stock up on snacks for your hike or you can have a meal at a restaurant.  And even if you aren’t hungry, it’s still fun to look at all of the unique foods and trinkets.
  • There are cable car/chair lift options!  Don’t feel like making the 2 hour trek up the mountain?  No problem.  Mount Takao offers a cable car and a chair lift option for your viewing convenience! Both will take you halfway up the mountain and both cost about 980 yen for round trip.  We took the chair lift (the line is much shorter for the chair lift) and it was an awesome ride!  You get to be closer to nature and enjoy the quiet sounds of the nature as you sit back on your ride.  One thing I will mention is that there are no safety bars on the chair lift, so hold on tight to your kids, dog, backpack, etc.  Also remember to smile – there will be a photographer sitting amongst the trees who will take a souvenir photo for you!  You can purchase your photo for about 800 yen.  But hold on to it!  You will have your photo taken again on the way down and you can trade in your photo if you decide you like the other one better!

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  • Different paths!  There are a few different paths you can take up to the summit so take a look at the map and determine your route before your adventure.  But the other cool part is that you can also take a completely different path down to the bottom too!  Which means double the scenery!  Yay!  There is also a monkey park that is pretty popular, however we didn’t have time to check it out so it will be on my list for the next visit!

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  • Temple (Architecture)!  Along with the nature views, you can also check out the Yakuoin Temple and admire the architecture during your trip.  Temples and shrines all have their own unique designs and details so even if you’ve seen 20 temples you will always find something new to appreciate at the next one. Mount Takao is very sacred to the locals so you may see some religious and cultural practices taking place throughout your hike, but especially around the temple area.
  • View from atop (with beer)!  Once you disembark from the cable car/chair lift it takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit of Mount Takao.  Some paths are a little harder than others but I saw plenty of children, elderly, and people with dogs out on the trails.  One of the paths is paved (but with some steps along the way), so even someone with a wheelchair or stroller could enjoy part of the hike. At the top you will find lots of places to sit and enjoy the view!  On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji!  And bonus: there’s beer!  Yes, that’s right – there is also a café and convenient store at the top that sells food, ice cream, mochi, coffee, and beer!
  • Dango!  You will see many treat options around Mount Takao, but the most popular choice is Dango.  It’s a dumpling on a stick that has a sweet/salty or soy flavor. It will only cost you a few hundred yen and it’s basically the Mt. Takao thing to do. 🙂

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So what did I love most about my Mount Takao experience??

  • The amazing views!  My hike took place around early November so I really enjoyed viewing the fall foliage and crisp air.  Whether I was waiting in line or taking a break along the hike, there was always something beautiful and interesting to look at.  The people we encountered along the way were also very friendly and polite and it was great to see so many people out enjoying nature.

Visiting Mount Takao was an amazing spiritual experience and I can’t wait to go back!  Each season offers a unique perspective of scenery so no two hikes are the same.  I also love that this park is great for people of all ages and abilities! It was fun to do with a group, but it would also be fulfilling to do it solo as well. I guarantee that you will leave here refreshed, restored, and your soul will be filled with joy and gratitude! Please visit if you get the chance!  You won’t regret it! 🙂

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~John Muir

~SM

8 Things to Know Before Visiting the teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum

Right now all the hype in Japan is this museum called the MORI Building Digital Art Museum by EPSON teamLab Borderless. Everyone kept saying how amazing it was, so I decided to check it out to see what the fuss was all about.  Is it hypeworthy?  Read on to find out!

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  • Getting there. First, let’s talk logistics (i.e. tickets, parking, etc.) The museum location is in Odaiba and an easy walk from the train station — although they have an attached parking lot as well. You’ll want to purchase tickets beforehand because they can sell out on the day of – especially on weekends and Japanese holidays.  You can buy tickets online or at 7-11 (because 7-11’s in Japan rock).  I purchased our tickets online and paid about 7400 yen for two adults and one kid (small kids are free).  One thing to know is that these tickets are non-refundable and can only be used on the specific day you choose so make sure you are ready to commit! We opted for the train and went on Saturday after 4pm because the website said it would be less crowded then.
  • Lines.  Even if you have prepaid tickets, you may still have to wait in a few lines once you enter the museum to see different exhibits – so be prepared!  You’ll also spend about 2-3 hours in the museum so make sure you eat beforehand.

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  • There’s no map.  If you are wanting a layout of the museum to follow, you won’t find one.  Just like in the title, the museum is literally borderless.  It’s a giant building that’s kind of set-up like a dark maze with walls that you can walk through.  <—- Yes, pay attention, because some of the walls lift up and take you to another room.

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  • It’s dark.  Again, I just want to emphasize that the museum is pretty much dark and only lit up with the moving digital photography.  I’m mentioning this for those of you with small children because this might cause some anxiety.  If you have children that like to escape, you may want to invest in one of those leash things because this would be a stressful place to lose a child.  The museum also has a policy that there has to be one adult for every two children – and this is for good reason.

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  • Make time for the Athletic Forest.  The Athletic Forest is a cool spot for kids to let out some energy.  There are designated areas for climbing, sliding, and trampoline jumping (although you only get one minute of jump time). My three-year-old spent most of the time in this one spot so I recommend to save some of your time for this area.  Another thing to note: the floors here are slanted but you are not allowed to slide or jump on them.  It’s a little misleading for kids, but there will be staff there to immediately stop you.
  • It’s still a museum.  As fun and interactive this museum looks, remember that it’s still an art museum so there are rules.  In addition to the no floor-jumping/sliding, the LED lights are fun to look at but you can’t touch them (and by you, I mean your children).  Also, the giant balloon/balls are not for playing with, but they make a great Instagram photo backdrop. 🙂
  • Your art can come to life!  One cool thing about this museum is that you can choose a pre-made drawing to color and then watch it come to life!  A staff member will upload your picture and the drawing will then move across the floor and walls.  My five-year-old loved this and it’s a cool way to be a part of the whole art experience!
  • Appreciate your surroundings.  There is so much to see in this museum so try not to get overwhelmed by it all.  Take your time to enjoy the beauty and creativity of the whole experience!  And of course, check out the lantern room (but be prepared for a bit of a wait).

Have fun. Enjoy the day.  Hang on to your kids. 😉

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What do you think?  Would you like to visit a unique museum like this?

I’m off to a new adventure!

~SM

I’m All the Way Up (in the Tokyo Tower)

If you ever come for a visit to Tokyo, one of the most touristy things you can do is visit the Tokyo Tower!  At 1,092 feet high, it’s one of the tallest structures in Japan and a must-see during your next trip.

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On the outside, it just looks like a cool looking communications structure.  But, on the inside there is actually a museum, theme park, restaurants ,and plenty of shops.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Tower twice – once in the evening and once during the day – and both times did not disappoint!

The first time I went, it was during the Illuminations in the winter.  Illuminations are basically Christmas lights multiplied by 100 that last from November-February.  You can find them all over landmarks and popular attractions in Japan during this time period. For the Tokyo Tower, they had an Illuminations area at the base of the tower, where there were tons of orange lights and lots of photo ops.

Did I mention you can get some pretty amazing crepes at the base of the tower, too? Also craft beer!

After the lights and crepes, we headed up to the Main Deck Observatory for some sweet views of Tokyo!

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You can also grab a drink and hit up a smaller souvenir shop on this level.  And you can check out this super adorable sparkly pink version the Tower! 🙂

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And if you visit on the weekend or a holiday, you might even catch the Tokyo Tower mascot (yes, there’s a mascot) – Noppon! My kids thought he was Patrick Star from SpongeBob, but they were excited to see him nonetheless.

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I will say there is something pretty dazzling about the evening views from the Tokyo Tower.  It’s mesmerizing to see Tokyo lit up in beautiful lights!  Also, don’t forget to stroll through historic Shiba Park to take in some more sights!

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My next visit was during the day which provided even more unique views!

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This time, we (my cousin and I) headed all the way up for the “Top Deck Tour” because we are fancy like that.  For the Top Deck Tour, you ride the elevator to the Main Observatory, then go to a secret room for a whole different tour.

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You will be given a special phone and headphones so that you can listen to the presentation and tour in English (or language of your choice) and you also get a cup of lemonade and learn a secret hand signal! 🙂 Then, you go into a much smaller elevator to head up to the Top Deck.  Now, I love heights – I’ve hiked some pretty tall mountains and have even gone skydiving – but this little elevator almost gave me a mild panic attack.  Not only is it small, it’s see-through all the way around and it shakes a little as it gets higher.  But, no worries, the nice elevator controller lady explained that it was “just the safety mechanism kicking in”.  A piece of info that would have been handy before entering the elevator.  Anyways, once you reach the top, you enter into a disco ball.  A literal DISCO BALL! Like I said, things are fancy up here.

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The day was a bit foggy, but the views were still nice.

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There’s also an opportunity to stand on a floor window and look below!

But is there SWAG?  Why yes, there is!  Besides the scenery, cup of lemonade, and secret hand signal, you also get a free small photo (with the option to upgrade to a larger one for a fee).

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Nothing can stop us…we’re all the way up.

And if it’s your birthday, you get an envelope filled with coupons for free and discounted stuff within the Tower.  For instance, a coupon for a free crepe!

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Overall, the Tokyo Tower was a breathtaking experience that I will remember forever!  I highly recommend a visit during your next trip to this gorgeous city!

Day or night, the views do not disappoint!

Have you been to the Tokyo Tower?  What did you love about it?!

~SM

8 Things to Do at the CupNoodles Museum!

In case you weren’t aware, there is a museum in Yokohama, Japan all about CupNoodles.  Yes, like the 25 cent instant noodles you heat up in the microwave. Those noodles. Whole museum.

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So you might be thinking, “What could I possible do at a CupNoodles museum?  What on earth would I learn?!” Well, I’m here to tell you why you should visit this museum during your next trip to Japan!

  • There’s a park inside!  Much like many shopping centers and museums in Japan, there is a place for the kiddos to play.  It’s a giant area that’s made to look like the noodle manufacturing warehouse.  There are slides and climbing and some interactive activities.  It’s 300 yen for 30 minutes of play time and kids have to be at least 3 years old to enter.  You will have to either book your time slot online or as soon as you get there.  They also have lockers to store your items (the instructions to use them are entirely in Japanese) and no photos are allowed inside this particular area (although I saw someone with a legit camcorder) so keep that in mind!
  • Make your own Noodles!  Head over to the factory to make your very own CupNoodles! At first, it looks like an overwhelming cluster of people, but Japan is a very methodical place and there is a system for everything. 🙂

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First, you pay 300 yen for your cup and then you are assigned a table to color your cup. And don’t forget to snag your hat SWAG from the Noodles Park!

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Once you’re done coloring, you can go get your cup filled with noodles and pick your toppings!

Then you take your cup over to be sealed and shrink-wrapped!

Then put your creation in a special bag, fill it with air, and tie some string around it for transportation purposes.  Like I said, there is a system for everything!

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  • Walls of Noodles!  There is whole room within the museum where packages and cups of noodles line the walls.  You can see how the noodles and packaging have changed throughout the years.  It’s surprisingly displayed in a beautiful and artsy way!
  • See a movie! Stop by the theater to watch an animated movie discussing the history of Momofuku Ando (the CupNoodles creator).  The movie is in Japanese, but you will be given a headset that translates the audio into English.  The movie is actually very interesting, so I would not skip this exhibit!

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  • Momofuku’s Shed! – After the movie head out the back door to tour a replica of Momofuku’s very own work shed.  This is where Chicken Ramen, which is the first instant ramen, was created. You won’t believe how small it is!
  • Interactive Art! – Along some of the walls, there is interactive art that further explains Momofuku Ando’s actions and thoughts behind his inventions. This is also great for the kids!

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More fun quotes and art! “Rather than a lone cedar, it is better to nurture a whole forest. No one has a monopoly on ideas.” ~Momofuku Ando

  • Eat Noodles and Shop! After roaming through the art exhibits, you can head up to the Noodles Bazaar and sample noodles from the around the world.  Then, you can check out the museum shop or more photo props on your way out!
  • Get Inspired!  My favorite thing about the CupNoodles Museum was the inspiration!  Momofuku Ando was all about thinking outside the box and sharing ideas with others rather than keeping everything to himself.  He was also very determined and persistent even during rough times.  Coming into this museum, I thought I was just gonna learn about the history of instant noodles, but I left totally inspired and with a different perspective on life!  I definitely recommend checking it out!

Museum logistics:

  1. Parking – There is a small parking garage under the museum, but it’s a little pricey so the train may be a better choice.
  2. Hours/Admission – 10:00-18:00 and 500 yen per person. Check the website for special closings.
  3. Location – The museum is located in Yokohama – close to other tourist attractions like the Landmark Tower and Cosmo World.  You could spend a couple of hours here and then easily hit up some other Yokohoma hot spots!

So next time you are in Yokohama, check out the CupNoodles Museum and score some knowledge and inspiration!

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~SM

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