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A Family Trip to Japan

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By Sharon Whitley Larsen

As I strolled down Chuo-Dori -- the main street in Tokyo's Ginza district -- on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it was magical to see pedestrians holding colorful umbrellas reflected in the damp pavement. This ritzy area with high-end designer shops is closed to traffic each weekend afternoon. And what a great outing for my husband, Carl, and me to stretch our legs, see the sights and recover from jet lag.

We had flown into Tokyo's Narita International Airport the evening before from San Diego with my brother, Mark, sister-in-law, Betiana, and my niece Kalea, 12. Since there were five of us with luggage, we opted to book a private van to take us for the 90-minute ride into the Ginza area of Tokyo to our hotel. It cost $260 total but was well worth it for the personalized convenience.

I had surprised Kalea several months earlier on her birthday with a 12-day trip to Japan for her and her folks. I'll never forget her excited thank-you yelp -- "Arigato!" -- when she read my personalized invitation. She had been intrigued with Japanese culture and language (which she was teaching herself) and had been dying to visit.

The Japanese people are so friendly and helpful, and the country is clean with relatively little crime. Some people think of Japan as expensive, but we thought the prices were fair and even visited several free sightseeing areas. And the hotel and restaurant staffs and other workers don't expect tips.

The bonus for this trip was that my friend since fourth grade, Karen Smith Takizawa, has lived in Japan for 50 years and was thrilled to be our tour guide for five days. Carl and I had visited Japan in 2017 and were anxious to introduce the Japanese lifestyle to Kalea. And, although some signs were in English, it helped having Karen negotiate buying tickets in the subway and train stations and contribute great suggestions for our itinerary.

 

We all met at our Ginza hotel each morning at 10, setting off with Karen for that day's adventure. First on Kalea's wish list was a subway ride to Akihabara, a popular shopping area for youth pop culture, anime, electronics and fashion. One day we visited the beautiful Hama-rikyu Gardens. At the Tea House, as is the custom, we removed our shoes and sat down for an inexpensive cup of matcha served in a traditional tea bowl, and sampled dorayaki (a special pancake).

We had lunch another day at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center with great views from its eighth-floor cafe and free observation deck. Afterward we checked out the popular, crowded seventh-century Senso-ji Buddhist Temple, Tokyo's oldest, and the interesting outdoor craft and souvenir shops.

A highlight was visiting Karen and her husband, Kenzo, at their home in Fuchu, a suburb of Tokyo, where we had a delicious homecooked meal on their veranda. Another was a 90-minute train ride to Kamakura to see the 800-year-old Great Buddha and the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine -- other popular tourist draws. We loved the breathtaking city views from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, also free.

In the Shibuya area, we viewed the famous Akita dog statue of Hachiko, a tribute to his loving devotion. For nearly 10 years Hachiko waited by the train station for his beloved late owner to arrive. Today, a long line of patient fans wait to pose by Hachiko's statue for a photo.

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