Taketomi is a picturesque island that is frequented by international and domestic tourists to Okinawa.
Once you are in Ishigaki your can decide to take a trip to Taketomi the morning of no problem. No need to plan especially far in advance.
If you wake up in the morning and decide you want to go, pack your bag with some extra water, pack a good hat and some sunglasses and head to Ishigaki Port. the trip is less than 20 minutes by ferry. The ferry times at time of posting are in the image below.
If you want to get into the water at Kondoi Beach pack a swimsuit and towel. Note, my family did not bring a swimsuit and we did not regret it, but we are old and were traveling with young children. The beach was just too hot to bear (30C!) and sunbathing isn’t our thing. The water was beautiful though and we did wade in. There were lots of younger people swimming and enjoying the water in their swimsuits and bikinis. Do bring a change of clothes, the locals do not want to see people in swimsuits walking around town.
As soon as you arrive on the island you will see signs for bicycle rental shops. You need one.
The bicycle rental thing is sort of advertised as a nice fun thing to do on Taketomi, but actually it is absolutely necessary. I guess you could walk the island, or some how taxi… but to be honest I don’t think the taxi option is even practical or possible.
Get a bicycle.
Most shops have a few bicycles that are kid sized, and a few that have back or front seats to carry a toddler.
One of the much advertised things to do on Taketomi is to take a ride on a wagon pulled by a water buffalo. We didn’t do this and didn’t regret it, but it’s near seeing them in the village.
There are several places to eat in Taketomi. Google Maps will serve you well. We happened to go to a place and were surprised to learn the 70+ owners were originally from Osaka, having moved to Taketomi about 20 years ago. Like us, they complains about the heat!
If you visit Ishigaki you’ll want to visit one of the other islands, and Taketomi is the closest, but most touristy. It’s still fun, check it out!
We tried the Tokyo Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Promenade (Nakameguro Sakura Tsutsumi) on a Japanese holiday morning that fell in middle of the week. Crowds weren’t that bad, but, we also arrived toke army in the season. Read on for more!
We came about a week too early so the Sakura were not in full bloom. ZANNEN, but that’s fine. You have to miss the timing a few times to fully appreciate the blossoms.
The Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Promenade is famous for its picturesque cherry blossom trees that line the Meguro River. During the cherry blossom season in Japan, which usually takes place in late March to early April (global warming has entered the chat!), the trees along the promenade bloom in beautiful shades of pink and white.
Once you’re done with the Meguro River area you can wander around Nakameguro. It’s known for its trendy cafes, boutiques, and restaurants, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists year-round.
If you’re in Japan during cherry blossom season be sure to stop by Nakameguro! Might be fun!
Sensouji 浅草寺 is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and it is believed to have been built in the year 628 making it more than 1,300 years old. However, the current structure is not the original. Sensouji has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The temple complex as it stands today was largely rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s after being damaged during World War II.
When you visit your senses will be stimulated by the hustle and bustle of tourists and shopkeepers as the crowd slowly moves down the main strip towards the temple. When you get closer you’ll smell burning incense and see the smoke, and you’ll notice many Japanese paying to get their fortunes (mikuji みくじ) from the temple shop. It really is an exciting and unforgettable scene.
Sensouji remains an important spiritual and cultural center and is estimated to receive around 30 million visitors annually. When local Japanese friends from Osaka came to visit in Tokyo, Asakusa was one of the places that we visited. It’s popular with Japanese tourists and foreign tourists alike.
Today, Sensō-ji continues to be an important place of worship for Buddhists and is also a major tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year.
There is a pretty decent free observation deck at Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center across the street from Sensouji that doesn’t get much traffic. It’s open from 9:00 to 22:00 as of writing. Here is the view from the top.
The viewing deck is on the 8th floor, offering panoramic views of the city. From the deck you can see the city skyline and landmarks such as Tokyo Skytree and the Asahi Beer building. You can also get food there, but to be honest, I wouldn’t recommended it as there are much more delicious options down on street level.
To access Asakusa and Sensouji Temple, you can take the Ginza Subway line and get off at Asakusa station.
The journey takes about 15 minutes from Tokyo Station and costs around 170 yen. From Asakusa Station, Sensouji Temple is a 10-minute walk and is extremely easy to spot due to the flow of the tourist traffic and signage. If you can just get to Asakusa Station you can’t miss it.
Don’t forget to also check out Hoppy Street if you get hungry after visiting the temple! It’s a short 10-15 minute walk away, and is lined with Japanese izakaya’s with seating spilling out into the street. It’s a fun environment and somewhat kid friendly. Kid friendly as in, some shops won’t care if you bring kids — that’s about as far as it goes.
Don’t miss a visit to Asakusa Sensouji Temple if you’re in Tokyo! Might be fun!
Another item for your Tokyo visit bucket list, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka! Might be fun? I’m sure this will be fun. Ghibli! You know. Totoro, Nausica, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo. Need I go on?
There are no photos allowed inside of the building, but it is OK to take photos of the building from the outside. So, those are the photos you will see in this post.
The most obvious and largest attraction at the museum is this giant replica of one of the robots from Castle in the Sky Laputa. It really is huge, impressive, and all-around great. I want one in my backyard. There was an orderly line to get photos with the robot, with guests helping each other hit the shutter so folks could get their photos together. It’s too big for a selfie stick.
The robot is on the roof, and you can just barely see him peeking his head out from the outside of the building.
See if you can find the giant robot in the photo below!
Aside from the main event the museum has little Ghibli easter eggs everywhere. From tiny details in the stained glass windows, to more obvious characters in unlikely places, like in the image below.
These little guys are the soot creatures from the 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro.” In Japanese they are called makkuro kurosuke and are are small, black, furry creatures that live in the attic of the house where Satsuki and Mei, live with their father. They are a central part of the movie’s atmosphere — a really great minor major bunch of critters. I don’t even remember seeing them named in the museum, but here they are! They also appear in another area inside of the building that your kids will love if you’re traveling with them.
There is also a mini theater inside of the museum that runs a short exclusive Ghibli film throughout the day. We saw one about a lump of bread dough that comes to life, obviously, and it really was a treat watching it with all the other fans.
The entire complex is not that large, in a three-story building that covers an area of approximately 3,300 square meters / 35,520 sq. ft., but since the inside is so packed with goodness you can easily spend three hours on site. There are also a couple of places to get food and eat outdoors.
If you you are visiting with small children, there is a park just a short distance from the museum, so you can go there to relax while your kids get dangerous on the park equipment. Perfect!
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The museum’s gift shop, called the MAMMA AIUTO! shop, offers a variety of merch. Some of the items that are typically available for sale at the gift shop include:
Toys and figurines of Ghibli characters
Posters, prints, and other wall art featuring Ghibli characters and artwork
Clothing and accessories featuring Ghibli characters and designs
Books and comics
Home goods, such as cups, mugs, and other kitchen items
They even had high-quality figures that cost more than $150 USD when we were there. They even had a replica of the blue pendant that appears in the movie Castle in the Sky that was made by Swarovski. I didn’t buy it.
The selection of merchandise at the gift shop may change depending on timing. They do have a web shop. You can be pretty sure that they’ll have some amazing stuff, so I wouldn’t worry too much about inventory.
Take the JR Yamanote Line from Shibuya Station to Mitaka Station [20 min].
From Mitaka Station, you can walk to the museum. [15 min], or you can take a bus [10 min].
Alternatively, you can take the Keio Inokashira Line from Shibuya Station to Kichijoji Station, which is also located near the museum. From Kichijoji Station, you can walk to the museum [15 min], or you can take a bus.
Get your tickets early
The Ghibli Museum is popular, and not very large. You must purchase tickets in advance. In December 2022, tickets went on sale monthly, and the month completely sold out in one to two days. Tickets can be purchased online or at select locations in Japan, including the Studio Ghibli store in Shibuya.
It is OK and a good idea to bring kids, even if they are under 4. They’ll have a great time.
Try to leave large backpacks in your hotel as it can get crowded, and there are even some pathways designed so that adults have to hunch over to get through. There is a locker cluster on site.
You can have lunch on site, feel free to plan your visit to span lunch hour.
The gift shop is modern and accepts most credit cards.
There is no “route” laid out, so feel free to backtrack and visit sites more than once. You’ll discover something new each time you run through.
Watch as many Ghibli movies as you can before your visit! It will help you recognize things and have more fun.
Check it out! Let me know if there are any questions you have about the museum that I haven’t answered here!
I like games and I travel a lot. While I often have either my Nintendo Switch or 3DS with me, I also enjoy playing games offline whenever I can. You know, analog! It’s more personal. It gets the family together. You can talk to other humans. Have some fun! But great games like Ticket to Ride or Deception: Murder in Hong Kong will never find their way into my travel bag — they are just too large and the boxes might get crushed. So what games do travel well? Here’s my list of games that I recommend for travel. There are many lists like this… but this one is mine.
Note, this post contains links to the games mentioned. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Hive Pocket is frequently mentioned in discussions about games that travel well. Here’s why. It’s so small it can actually fit in a large pocket — a cargo pant pocket if you will. The pieces are bakelite making them near indestructible and easily cleaned. There is no board — the game just uses its pieces. Finally, the game is great and is one of my personal all-time favorites. If you like games that are like chess, i.e., one vs one, no luck, and have pieces that have unique movements, then you’ll probably like Hive.
Yeah but what is the game about?
Expected you to google that! But thanks for sticking with me. The short and skinny of Hive is that each player has the same set of insect tiles. On your turn you will either place a new one, or move one that is already in play. Each type of bug moves differently. Unlike chess, pieces never leave the field once placed. To win the game you must completely surround your opponent’s Queen Bee piece. Hive is a very thinky game that can play as quickly or as slowly as you please. On average, I would say games take about 15-25 minutes.
But Hive can’t beperfect… give me the straight story.
OK fine. Here’s what to watch out for. As Hive is a no-luck game, if you’re playing against the same opponent over and over again eventually one of you will likely emerge as the better player. Being a no-luck game like chess, it will be nearly impossible for the weaker player to win. Some people might not like that, but here are a couple of Hive house rules you can use to adjust the game to fit players of different skill levels.
House Rule Hive to Support Different Skill Levels
Blind draw: Have the stronger player turn all of their pieces upside down except for the Queen Bee. When they choose to place a piece on their turn, instead of picking which piece they want to place, they must instead randomly select one of the face down pieces, look at it, and then place it.
Fewer Ants: Ants are clearly a strong piece in Hive. By default each player has three. To balance the game, give the stronger player fewer ants.
Blind draw and fewer Ants: Combine the previous two house rules! I have used this method to play Hive with my elementary school aged kid to even things out.
Sprawlopolis can be purchased at ButtonShyGames.com and is in their line of 16-card micro games. This is a cooperative city building game that can be played solo or with another player. Basically, you’ll look at your card options and choose a card to add to the city. Cards can overlap as you place them, leading to countless (at least feels like it anyway) possibilities. If you want to actually figure out the optimal place to play each turn, your brain will melt out of your ears. Analysis paralysis to the max. Your goal is to score points in a variety of goal categories that change each time you play. It’s an amazing design accomplishment for such a small package!
Take 5 (AKA 6 Nimmt)
Take 5, which is also known as 6 Nimmt in the original German, is a game placed with a unique deck of cards. I have never had this game fail when introducing it to a group. People understand it quickly, it brings lots of laughs, and everyone will quickly think they have figured out the ultimate strategy only to get blown out of the water when something unexpected happens. Take 5 plays 2-10 players according to the box, and I have found it to be great fun from 2, all the way up to 6-7 players. For this reason it’s a great travel game, as you can pretty easily include any unexpected friends you might make along the way.
Another perfect game huh? Seriously…
Okay, negatives about Take 5 would be that while the game is “just a stack of cards,” it is 104 cards so it’s a fat deck. For reference, a standard deck of playing cards consists of 52 cards. Also, once the number of players exceeds seven or so, Take 5 becomes hard to predict and chaotic — very much not a game of pure skill. It’s still hilarious fun though!
You’ll also find some viable travel game options in print and play games. I have blogged about several, including Ada Lovelace Consulting Detective, and Raging Bulls which would be a great place to start. All you’ll need is a pre-printed piece of paper and a few dice to play these.
This list of travel-ready board games should be a good start for anyone. You’ve got a head-to-head game with endless strategic possibilities (Hive Pocket), a difficult cooperative game (Sprawlopolis), and a zany party game that can play up to 10 but still works reasonably well at two players (Take 5). Maybe I’ll do a part two to introduce more travel-friendly games!
In 2013 I went to the Earth Celebration festival on Sado Island. It was a wonderful experience and I hope I have a chance to do it again.
Attending the the Earth Celebration is a real adventure. It’s a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, a musical treat, and a cultural experience.
The main event at Earth Celebration is always a Taiko Drum performance by Kodo, who always deliver an absolutely earth-shaking show. They perform throughout the year in other locations and I would strongly recommend you catch them if you can. I don’t have photos from Kodo’s performance from Earth Celebration 2013 as they asked for no photography during the show… Plus it was dark and we were far from the stage and I didn’t have a zoom lens…
Before Kodo performs you can enjoy other music performances and a variety of food stalls of the usual Japanese festival fare.
Even though Sado Island is off the beaten path, it’s not difficult to get to as Japan has public transport sorted out. The town itself is quaint, but during the Earth Festival there are plenty fo tourists, so many shops and restaurants are open. The town is small so you can walk around the main drag in a single day no problem.
This is a report from a visit in 2013, I’m sure the festival has changed in some way since then, but I’m sure it’s still great. Has anyone been recently? If so do share your experience!
Looking for something different to do in Japan? Try Tottori Sand Dunes! Might be fun. This isn’t a location I would recommend to someone who is headed to Japan for the first time ever, but if you are already living in Japan and looking for something new to do, check it out.
The Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘 tottori sakyuu) are the only place in Japan where you can see sand dunes. They are indeed natural, and have existed for 100,000 years.
The Tottori Sand Dunes are really the main tourist attraction in Tottori prefecture. Other than the dunes, you can find hot springs and ryokan as you can at most other tourist destinations in Japan.
At the time I went, which was 2006… there were several activities you could do. They had rental boards so you could try sand surfing. You could do paragliding, or ride a camel. There is also a sand museum.
Getting to Tottori Sand Dunes:
Once you’re in Tottori it’s easy to get to the dunes. They are such a major tourist attraction all the signs and anyone you ask will point you there.
From Tokyo: If you’re coming from Tokyo by train, it’s about 5 hours and 10 minutes. The trip will take you to Himeji on the Nozomi bullet train, and then from Himeji to Tottori station on the Super Hakuto train. From Tottori station you can get to the dunes by taxi or bus.
From Osaka: Coming from Osaka the trip is about two hours and 40 minutes on the Super Hakuto train. It’s a straight shot from Osaka to Tottori with no train exchanges. Easy! Then once you’re at Tottori you can get to the dunes by taxi or bus.
There is even a classic song about Tottori Sakyuu that many Japanese know and love. It’s more popular with the older generation, but still a lot of people know it!
For best results, sing in a karaoke shop in Tottori.
If you’re looking for a low-key place to get some nature in the Osaka area you might consider a visit to Kisaichi to hike up to Kurondo Pond. The hike from Kisaichi Station to Kurondo Pond is about 1.5 hours. I hiked it with a seven year old and it took about 2 hours each way.
To get to the place we started at Kisaichi station, you can take the Keihan Line from Hirakata.
Once you get going you’ll find many helpful signs pointing the way to the pond, and others pointing the way back to the station. It’s easy to find your way even if you do not read Japanese. Just in case, Kurondo Pond is written くろんど池。
The hike itself was great. It’s got some hills, some stairs, and you’re often near water. It’s got a bit of gravel road, some dirt paths, and sometimes you’ll be climbing over rocks and stepping around tree roots. To be honest, I did the hike in flat Adidas because that’s all I had, but I saw many Japanese in hiking gear with backpacks and poles. I should add that my seven year old indoor kid made it and only complained four of five times, so it’s not actually that demanding — though you will be tired at the end. If you’re prone to get the munchies, pack a snack and bring some water.
We went in early summer and saw a ton of neat bugs. Caterpillars?
When you finally make it to Kurondo Pond you’ll find a few restaurants, and of course the pond.
You can pay to ride a row boat or one of those pedal-driven swan boats. Many families with kids and couples are often out on the pond enjoying the peaceful waters. You can also buy some fish food and feed the large koi that hang out near the pier.
One protip. One shop near the pond sells honey collected locally from Ikoma in Nara. At time of writing it was 2000 yen per bottle, so it’s not cheap, but it is delicious. You can also buy this Ikoma honey online.
There is actually a very famous suspension bridge called Hoshi no Buranko in the area that is the reason that most people visit Kisaichi. However, when we visited it was still closed due to coronavirus concerns. We’ll have to get there next time! A local helpfully pointed us to Kurondo Pond upon learning that we were disappointed that the bridge was closed.
Get out there and get some fresh air! Might be fun!
Summer 2005, I went to Gion Festival 祇園祭り in Kyoto.
Gion is one of the largest festivals held in Kansai. It is one of the three largest and most important festivals in Japan. Normally held in July, it is a treasured annual event that completely consumes all activity in downtown Kyoto.
Some Japanese phrases to describe Gion Matsuri could be…
人だらけ。 “hito darake” “nothing but freakin people everywhere” 満員電車状態。 “manindensha jyoutai” “freakin’ like a rush-hour train” めっちゃ暑いねん。”meccya atsuinen” “It’s freakin’ hot”
I joke, it’s an amazing experience and if possible, I would recommend everyone at try to attend once if you can manage.
Giant two-story, two-ton floats carrying dozens of people in festival wear are wheeled around the streets — manually dragged by what must be 40 men. At one of the most exciting moments of the festival they heave the float to turn their fixed-axel heavy wooden wheels across the pavement. It is truly a sight to see!
They even float by McDonalds… For an… Ice Cream Float. [joke.]
I finally made it to Sumiyoshi Taisha after years of visiting Osaka. It was never on my radar as it’s a bit out of the way from the city center, but now that I’ve been there I wish I had gone sooner.
A friend of mine recently moved to the Sumiyoshi Taisha neighborhood, which was my excuse for finally visiting.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. On new years and during festivals the shrine attracts huge crowds. I would love to check it out at that time some day.
There is an iconic taiko bashi bridge that is steep and round. Taiko is Japanese for a round Japanese-style drum, and the bridge is shaped like that, hence the name. The bridge is one of the most memorable locations on the grounds. Grab a photo.
The legend behind the good luck omamori here is unique. You try to find power stones yourself from inside of this stone fence. The stones actually have characters written on them in calligraphy ink. Once you have found a set of three stones with the characters 5 五, large 大, and power 力 (godairiki) written on them, you can bring them and purchase the omamori sack to put them in. Then you hang it up for good luck. Finally, you’re supposed to then write characters on stones yourself, and toss them back in for others to find. Pay it forward!
Sumiyoshi Taisha is on the way to Kansai International Airport. Maybe you can swing by as a last stop on a visit to the Kansai area! Enjoy!