Japan: Living our best Ninja lives in Nikko!

Why Japan?

Japan for us was all about the people.

It has always been a favourite destination for Gavin and I, and with a very close friend and teaching colleague from Japan, the boys have been learning about Japanese culture, food, language and ninja’s since they were small. This time we had special friends in three different locations to visit, including an invitation to a 60th birthday party on the Tokyo harbour.

“I will like Japan because I like edamame beans!” – we asked the boys before we left, which country they most wanted to go to…. Oscar’s answer definitely confirmed Japan on our list!

In Japan, we LOVED…

Karaoke on Tokyo Harbour

The Japanese definitely like to have FUN!
We felt privileged to attend the 60th birthday and party for our friend Naoki’s Dad. Harry and Oscar nearly bowled him over running through Shinagawa Station to hug him! We spent the afternoon sharing all kinds of Japanese food and different dishes, doing karaoke (not me; but one of us did…!), and taking in the sights of Tokyo from the water. .We love it how the karaoke starts without any hesitation, and the atmosphere is just happy and excited!

Edo Ninja Wonderland

Literally a theme park based in the Edo Era of Japanese history, which for our Japanese-obsessed and ninja-crazy boys… was like a little Ninja’s dream come true!

The whole park is in costume; from ninjas to samurais, emperors, lords, and geishas.

We tried everything – haunted ninja-houses, a ninja-maze with secret walls and doors, Edo era street food, and ninja target training.

[Edit: Actually also like a dream come true for the slightly older Ninja’s in our group too… Check out their serious aiming techniques for target practice with shuriken ninja tools!]

Trying Takoyaki in Kusatsu

We stayed with friends in Kusatsu, in Shiga Prefacture, and had a brilliant few days! It was a neat feeling to be part of a Japanese family, and a great way to experience life in a small, rural township of Japan. We explored the old temples of Kusatsu, and learnt even more about Japanese food…

It was a highlight to make Takoyaki one evening…

Trying to work out what we are making for dinner!

… beginning with a challenge for the boys to try and guess what we were going to do with the octopus and takoyaki machine!

Mount Inari, Kyoto

It took us three hours, but bribery worked well, and we made it to the top of Mt Inari!

The entire circuit of shrines winds up the hill through 10,000 arched torii gates, all dedicated to the Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

It’s a beautiful walk, with lots of conveniently placed lookouts/rest stops, and getting to the top is worth it… for the tourist-empty trails, and the promised ice cream!

The promised (bribed) ice cream after reaching the top!


I feel like we could be ambassadors for the Japanese food chain, Sukiya!

We are obsessed!

Breakfast option number three…

Suikya is Japan’s biggest Gyudon restaurant chain and we are declaring it a top sight for Japan. The main dish ‘Gyudon’ is like a comfort food in Japan; essentially a steamed rice dish topped with sliced beef and a mild sauce.

Sukiya is easy to navigate, with standard meal deals and sides to add on, all with clear photo menus, and can be found in over 2000 locations in Japan! The kids loved the simple Japanese meals and miso soup. And, if you are feeling brave, don’t forget to add Natto to your breakfast…!

A typical breakfast meal at Sukiya.

One challenge from Japan?

A rapid learning curve for Oscar, when on night one in Tokyo he learnt all he needed to know about the buttons on a Japanese toilet!

Where to stay

  • Tokyo: K’s House Tokyo [Close to metro; nice common space with tea and coffee; shared bathroom; coin laundry; $220 NZD per night for quad room with 4 bunks; close to Sukiya restaurant!].
  • Nikko: AirBnB [Big Japanese style house; bedding for 8 people; easy to find].
  • Kyoto: Rest Inn Kyoto [$91 NZD p/n; good location; small room size; fully self contained including kitchen, bathroom and washing machine].

In Nikko we rented a traditional, Japanese-style AirBnB house on the outskirts of the village.

Getting around

Japan has 45 of the 51 busiest train stations in the world!  You definitely need to concentrate when arriving in a new city, and new station, but it doesn’t take long for it to feel familiar. They have certainly mastered the form of moving human beings efficiently.

Getting to and from airports in Tokyo and Osaka is easy with trains directly to each airport, and straightforward connections on to the different subway and over rail lines.

To visit Nikko we hired a car for 24 hours, and picked it up at the train station there. This was a great way to explore the rural side of Japan and easy for us, coming from NZ, because they drive on the left side of the road!

The Shinkansen and bullet trains are exciting and easy to navigate; and certainly get you there fast! The only downside is that it is expensive and like comparable to the cost of a flight.

In summary, we left feeling even more in love with Japan than before! It’s always the people that make it so special, and we felt lucky to have fitted in all kinds of catch ups with friends old and new, ninjas and otherwise. A reminder that everything is always better shared… even fermented soy beans! .

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