Miraikan-National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Other than Disneyland Tokyo, what are the popular attractions in Tokyo which your school-age kids will like? If your kids like to explore the  science museums and love to do hands-on experiments, then you will not regret visiting  Miraikan-National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Koto-ku, Tokyo for a day trip.

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photo is from Wikipedia

If you had been in Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Ontario Science Center in Toronto, Canada, you paid average USD 15-22 for an adult ticket and USD 11- 15 for a youth ticket on site. At Miraikan, you pay 620 Yen ( USD 5.50) for an adult and 210 Yen ( USD 2) for 18 years old and under. Even more, youths are free on Saturdays. You pay that price for a cup of coffee at Starbucks but here, with the same amount of money, you get an admission ticket to visit a world-grade science museum. All the exhibitions  are displayed and explained in Japanese and English.

This science museum is located in Odaiba, which is a popular shopping and entertainment area. The easiest and the most affordable way to explore this area is buying a Yurikamome one-day pass for 820 Yen/adult ( USD 7) and 410 Yen/child (USD 3.50). With a one-day pass, you can hop on and off the train and have different arrangements which are best suitable to your family’s interests and schedule.

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photo is from Wikipedia

For my family’s day trip, we bought one-day passes and visited the Seaside Park first. At 11 am, we went to Aqua City to have lunch. The Aqua City is a comprehensive shopping center with many stores, restaurants and entertainment. There are many different food options. Then we went to Miraikan Museum. We spent the whole afternoon in the museum. With a lot of hands-on activities,a robot show, and a huge Geo-Cosmos display,  I really thought that  we should have come earlier or even planned this museum as our first destination that day. All three of my kids wanted to stay longer.

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photo is from Wikipedia

Many people prefer to stay in Odaiba until evening because the night scene there is pretty. However, we left after the museum closed. While we were on the train, my kids glimpsed a playground underneath. Taking advantage of our flexible schedule, we were off the train and tried to find it. About five-minute walking distance, we found the playground. It was nice, clean, and well-maintained. Then, I realized that it was Toyosu Park.  After spending a few hours in the museum, having them play on a playground with various facilities was a pleasant way to finish the day. Educational, entertaining, and fun activities are all included in a day trip in Odaiba area. Kids were not only stretching their minds in the museum, but also on their bodies  on the playground.

 

 

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Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu

Why did I choose the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu for this trip? The first reason was that this hotel was on the Narita Airport Limousine Bus routes so I wouldn’t spend extra money storing luggage at the airport. Second, the room I booked was  a triple room. There were two single beds and one extra bed.

As you know, lodging in big cities, such as Tokyo, is very expensive. With a family of five , it was not easy to find a hotel to accommodate two adults and three kids in one room. Fortunately, Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu had triple rooms. The maximum occupancy was three adults. Plus, children 10 and under using the existing beds were free of charge, according to the hotel policy from the Agoda.com. We paid US $ 930 including tax for the 5 night stay. (7/31/2016 – 8/5/2016) During summer peak travel season, this rate was unbeatable especially when you had a family of five. Some other hotels had better night rates but they considered children ages 5 and above as adult. So make sure you read the hotel policy carefully. For example, at Hotel Monterey Hanzomon , there are triple rooms . However, this hotel considered children ages 6 and above as adults. So, if I would like to book this hotel for my family, I would need to book 2 rooms. We stayed at this hotel in 2014 and the service, facility, and location of this hotel were all superior. I highly recommend this hotel to the families with kids under 6 years old.

Also, the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon was in an area not popular with tourists and the surroundings were very safe. Within 5 minutes walking distance, you can find Family Mart (Convenience Store, like 7-11), restaurants, fruit stands, bento stores (picture below)imageofbentobox, ramen noodle stores and mini drugstores. If just like me, you want to avoid the busy areas, such as  Shinjuku and Shibuya, then you probably would like this hotel with safe environments and convenient location, across the street from a metro station.

Back to Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu, its location was fantastic. The Akasaka-Mitsuke Metro Station was also across the street from the hotel.  From here, it was very convenient to visit popular attractions in Tokyo or to make connections in Shinjuku Station (5 stops away) or Shibuya Station (4 stops away).  Even if you walked on the streets at 9 pm, it was very safe nearby. Plus, there was a Narita airport limousine stop in front of the hotel. When you travel with kids, especially young kids in a stroller, you want to keep everything easy and convenient, don’t you?

There was a 7-11 store on the first floor of the hotel. My kids loved this 7-11 store a lot!! For the nightly rate we paid, it didn’t include breakfasts during our stay. However, I did it on purpose. Why?? Every night, we shopped at this 7-11 buying breakfast for the next morning. All three of my kids liked to try different Japanese food, drinks, and snacks. They tried Japanese triangle rice balls (picture below)imageoftrianglericeball, jello cups, flavored milks, donuts, various breads

familymartbakery, yogurt, desserts etc. Not too surprisingly, everything was so good and yummy. To me, this was another way to experience local cultures and lifestyles. For adults, besides this 7-11, there was also  a coffee shop next door. My kids liked to try something new every day while we traveled. Picking their favorite breakfast items every morning was fun and more affordable, compared to buying breakfast at 4-star hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stopover trip is not the same as a regular trip when you have  a lot of luggage

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Many friends have asked me how did you manage all your luggage when you returned from your home country to the U.S? As a family of 5, we had 6 checked-in suitcases, 3 carry-on bags, and 5 backpacks. It seemed impossible to bring all that luggage while commuting from Narita airport to the hotel by riding on Narita Express , Skyliner  or local trains. Yet, you might say you can store your luggage at the coin-operated lockers in the airport. Sounds pretty good, right? And this was my first thought  for storing all those big-size suitcases. However, after I did a little bit of math calculation, the cost was way much higher than what I expected. Let’s say if I want to store 5 bags in the lockers for 5 days, the cost is 5x5x500 Yen per locker=12500 Yen (about US $110). So, do you want to spend this amount of money for only using 5 lockers for 5 days? To me, it is not a good solution.

Second, the “Hands-free travel” service at Narita airport came to mind.   The idea is you can use this service at any “Hands-free Travel” counter at Narita airport and fill out the forms then your luggage will be delivered to your hotel. The price range is between 1000 – 2000 Yen per piece and it depends on the size of your luggage and the distance to the hotel. For example, if each piece of your luggage is charged 1500 Yen, then 1500×5=7500 Yen. Don’t forget that you have to ship all that  luggage back to Narita on your departure day. So this means 7500×2=15000 Yen. My personal experience is that if you only have 1 or 2 bags and you don’t want to check in to the hotel immediately after you arrive at the airport, then it is worth using  this service. Otherwise, I don’t see any benefit to using this service.

Third, use the Airport Limousine service at Narita airport.  There are many different routes between the airport and hotels in the city of Tokyo. You can search the hotel price of your stay. If the price fits your budget, you can go to the limousine bus website to check if this hotel is on any route of the bus services. Here is the list of the hotels which have a Limousine  bus stop.  For example, the hotel where we stayed was the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu   and it was on the bus route of Akasaka. Therefore, you can carry all of your luggage with you on the bus. The maximum amount of luggage each passenger could bring at that time was 2 big bags and 1 carry-on bag.  You can find the bus stations in both terminals, 1 and 2. Also, you don’t need to reserve the bus tickets in advance. You can buy them when you are ready. It’s so convenient and flexible.

After your bus arrives at the hotel, it will park in front of the hotel and the bus driver will check your luggage receipts and unload your luggage. It’s hassle free and your luggage can be with you during your stay.

Talking about buying Limousine Bus tickets, you can buy one-way tickets, round trip tickets , and limousine & subway passes. I bought the limousine & subway passes together.  This package included a 72-hour subway card. That means you can ride unlimited on the subway in Tokyo within 72 hours and it only costs $1300 Yen. What a great deal!!

Another question arises. Is it possible to have all of your luggage in your hotel room? As you know, basically, the hotel rooms in Japan are not as spacious as the ones in the United States. In my case, I had 6 checked-in bags (sizes between 25″ – 29″) and 3 carry-ons. After I checked in at the reception, I asked the receptionist if the hotel could  store my big  luggage. Normally, hotels provide this kind of service. Then, the hotel porters helped to take our unused luggage to their storage. They gave me a receipt for each bag. On the day we checked out, we just simply gave the receipts to the receptionist and  got all our luggage back. This way, there are no worries about so many big bags occupying your room space. Try the luggage storage service at your hotel for your next trip.

 

 

 

A Stopover trip to Tokyo, Japan

When I booked the air tickets to Taiwan, I was thinking about making a stopover in Tokyo, Japan on our return trip. Normally, you can make this kind of arrangement through the websites, such as, kayak.com, expedia.com, google flights or any other airline websites . Instead of choosing roundtrip air tickets search, you click on the Multi-city link. As long as you link to this site, you can customize your trip. However, you can also contact a travel agent and have him/her search the possibility of a stopover in one or more cities where you connect flights.

For my example, I emailed the travel agent that I used to order air tickets from her. First, I had her quote me the round trip air tickets and then I asked her if it was possible to make a stopover in Tokyo, Japan on our return trip. She found the routes and quoted me with new price for a 6-day stopover itinerary. It was a pretty reasonable price and if I remembered it correctly, the price difference is about $150 USD more.

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This photo taken from pixabay.com

Maybe you are wondering why I chose the return flights as our stopover? Here are some tips from my previous experience. Let’s say you are pretty flexible in your schedule, then you can pick either your departure trip or return trip. However, there is a downside if you pick the departure route as your stopover. It is jetlag. Honestly, after a 12-hour long flight, maybe longer,  and there was a big chance that  you were busy with packing before departure.  You probably wouldn’t  have any energy to enjoy your trip. Waking up at 4 am and feeling sleepy in the afternoon is common. In this kind of situation,  your travel plan will be affected, especially when you travel with young kids. Adjusting jetlag is not easy for adults and even worse for kids. This is the reason why I always choose to make a stopover on my return trip.

Talking about booking a stopover in Tokyo, it is better to arrange your stay between Sunday and Friday. As you know, the lodging in Tokyo is very expensive. Moreover, the weekend rate at hotels is much higher than weekdays. Therefore, if your stopover is less than 6 days, I would  highly recommend you start your stay from Sunday and avoid Friday and Saturday nights.