Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kamakura Great Buddha, Fujisawa Beach, and Enoshima

Yesterday, we drove down to the coastal areas of Kamakura, Fujisawa, and Enoshima.  I've been wanting to see the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, in Kamakura since we arrived in Japan, and so yesterday we made it happen!  It was so cool.  And huge!  

We walked the grounds, took lots of selfies, and then the kids ate their bentos on benches near the Buddha.  It was freezing though, so we hurried them along :)

After hanging out with the big buddha for a while, we made our way down to check out the shore.  Fujisawa doesn't have the prettiest beaches I've ever seen, but on a clear day, Mt. Fuji can be seen straight across the bay, which makes up for EVERYTHING else.  Sadly, it was quite overcast yesterday, so Fujisan was hidden by clouds, but we'll back to enjoy the views again!  

Even though it was so, so cold, there were tons of surfers and stand up paddle boarders out in the water.  It made Peter and me excited to try and surf sometime this summer or next.  And, despite the fact that their fingers were freezing, the kids had tons of fun searching for shells on the beach.  Will said it was his favorite part of the day :)

Also, right at the top of the stairs from the underground parking lot, and across the street from the beach was a cute little playground.  We let the kids run around for a minute before heading off to the next spot.  It's little things like shell collecting and playgrounds that make sight-seeing with kids possible!

After checking out the beach and scoping out places to take my parents and brother when they come, we drove out to the little island just off the shore, Enoshima.  Enoshima is a little touristy spot built on the island, which is kind of like a giant rock.  It's full of vendors selling seafood (lots of mollusks and octopus!) and souvenir shops.  After walking through to the top of the little village is the entrance to several shrines, an observation tower, caves, a garden, and more.

The views from the top were incredible!

Driving down was pretty easy!  It's only an hour and a half away, although we got stuck in traffic coming home, which made the trip quite a bit longer.  Otherwise, it was great.  And there are plenty of parking lots (not cheap though . . . ) around all of these sites.

GPS Coordinates for the Great Buddha: 35. 317085, 139.535757

The beach we went to was literally straight down the road from the Buddha.  Once you hit the T in the road, turn left and it will lead you right onto the 134 coastal highway.  And, then Enoshima is just about 15 minutes west on that same highway.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Last week, the Japanese ward that we share our church building with, invited us to join them for mochitsuki!  Mochitsuki is the pounding of rice until it turns into mochi, and  it's done at the beginning of every year.  It was really fun to participate in such a classic Japanese tradition!  We had a chance to pound the rice into mochi--which was surprisingly tough!  And then Peter and Will helped to roll the mochi into individual sized balls.  

Once all of the mochi was pounded and formed into balls, we were able to eat it!  The cute kids from the other ward were there to serve us; they offered chocolate pieces, peanut butter powder, nori (seaweed), lima bean powder (I have to admit that I didn't try that one . . . ), and an (sweetened red bean paste).  It was all so delicious!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ueno Park (With the Zoo! and Toshogu Shrine!)

A couple weekends ago, we ventured out to Ueno Park.  Ueno Park is a huge park in Tokyo that has a zoo and many shrines and museums.  You could really spend a few days there exploring everything that the park has to offer.  When we went though, we decided to have a picnic at the park and then check out the zoo and the Toshogu Shrine.

The Ueno Zoo was so much fun!!!  It's Japan's oldest zoo and it's awesome, and so affordable!  It's only ¥600 for adults, and kids 12 and under are free!  The zoo's big attraction are their two panda bears, and we had so much fun seeing them--they were so cute!

Inside the zoo is also a pagoda that used to be part of an ancient temple.  

The polar bears were also a huge hit--they other visitors to the zoo were freaking out over this guy!  He was pretty fun to watch though :)

And, then there was Peter's favorite of the day, the secretary bird.  This thing is so creepy!

They had tons of animals, and we actually didn't even make it through the entire zoo!  We'll be going back for sure.  After we left the zoo, we walked over through to the Toshogu Shrine, which was really beautiful with its stone lanterns leading up to it and gold-plated architecture.

Next time we go back to Ueno Park, I want to be sure to visit the National Science Museum and let the kids take a few ¥100 rides at the small amusement park outside the gates to the zoo!  Oh, and in April to see the cherry blossoms!  There will be definitely be an Ueno Park follow-up post in the next few months :)

Ueno Park is super easy to get to by train--just get off at the JR Ueno Station!  But, if you're driving the GPS Coordinates are:
35.714396, 139.772613

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hakone: The Fujiya Hotel

On our short trip to Hakone, we stayed at the old Fujiya Hotel.  It's a beautiful old building that has been around for a long time.  Built in 1878, it has hosted tons of famous people over the years.  Staying there really feels like you're stepping back in time.  The Fujiya gets a lot of hype, and it is a really really cool building, but it is old.  Many things about the hotel have not been updated, so if you're staying there, it's best not to expect nice, new rooms or amenities!  In fact, I was a touch disappointed with the quality of the actual room given the price, even though the hotel itself was really pretty.

The exterior of the hotel and the grounds are beautiful though!  They have a large, multilevel garden in the back, complete with a koi pond, pagodas, gazebos, and bonsai trees.  We had fun wandering through and admiring the natural beauty.  And, I am sure that in the spring and summer the gardens are even more beautiful!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hakone: Open Air Museum

After visiting Owakudani, we made our way over to The Hakone Open Air Museum, which is just what it sounds like: an outdoor museum.  There are sculptures and exhibits scattered beautifully throughout the museum's fields and gardens.  The artwork was really wonderful, and worth seeing; they even have an entire indoor Picasso exhibit!  But, the real reason we went, was for the giant play sculpture nets!  These nets were layered and the kids had to climb through holes to reach the top.  They had a blast climbing, swinging, and playing around!  Next time we go, we'll spend more time on the grounds, exploring and letting the kids run around, but it was a bit cold this time.  

Right near the nets was a giant maze-garden thing.  It was really fun, and I can only imagine it would be even more beautiful in the spring when the plants are all in bloom.  Will and Clara had a great time chasing Peter around and trying to find him as he'd hide.  Can you spot him in the picture below???

And lastly, this sculpture was a giant, metallic, reflective ball that was hung above the walkway.  And there we are, just looking right up at it!