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Posted on: Sunday, August 3, 2003

Tokyo's entertainment scene is a family affair
• Look at bentos for cheap eats • Get good deals on diapers, formula
By Peter Erikson Advertiser Staff Writer

TOKYO, Japan — Including the giant crows that dive-bomb pedestrians, I've got a special affinity for all things Japanese. It's the birthplace of my wife, dual homeland for my two children and a place where bentos beat burgers. We visited Tokyo and its environs for 2 1/2 weeks in May. My wife's father got to meet his grandson, and I returned to the country I lived and worked in for almost four years.

Harajuku Station in Tokyo helps connect Japan through a train system that's quick and fun to ride. Photos by Peter Erikson • The Honolulu Advertiser

Not much has changed. Tokyo remains an easy place to get around, even if you've got small RESOURCES children. Buses, trains and Discussion board subways run on time, and people Traffic hotspots are quick to help you find your Hawaiian station or point you in the right

Shinobazu no Ike is a renowned pond at Ueno Zoo filled with lotus blossoms and migratory birds perched on stumps. Swaying weeping willows line the pond.

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Tokyo's entertainment scene is a family affair - The Honolulu Advertise...

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direction. Here are a few ideas for families on where to stay, what to do, which eateries to patronize and how to get around. And it doesn't have to be expensive, if you follow a few rules: Don't rent a car unless you're sharing the cost — there are no freeways, only toll roads, and the fees are steep. Don't shop in "international" grocery stores, whose jet-set clienteles can afford to pay $10 for a can of tuna. Eat like the natives — ignore American joints such as Anna Miller's, where a pie costs as much as Russian caviar, and try, say, a kaitenzushi (revolving sushi) restaurant, which serve plates of the best raw fish you've ever tasted for a fraction of what you pay here. You can also bark an order to one of the chefs: "Maguro o kudasai!" ("Tuna, please!"). The wonders of Ueno A decaying city of grimy buildings surrounds some of Japan's finest cultural treasures in the historic railway hub of Ueno on the northern edge of Tokyo. But the contrast between blight and divine sight is less jarring when you see the country's premier zoo, world-class museums and a park where cherry blossoms bloom in spring and magicians entertain crowds. Ueno Zoological Gardens is a five-minute walk from the train station, making it easy to lug along children — even if one is in a clunky stroller and the other is harnessed to your chest in a Baby Bjorn, as was the case with us. The big draw is one aging superstar: Ling Ling, a giant, rare panda born at Beijing Zoo and given to

The elevated Yebisu Skywalk connects Ebisu Station to Yebisu Garden Place, which is the former home of Yebisu Brewery. On the Web: For details, visit the Japan National Tourist Organization Web site: Also of interest, the English language site of the Japan Travel Bureau, the country's largest travel agency:

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Ueno in 1992. Pygmy hippopotamuses, giant anteaters, gorillas, polar bears and thousands of other animals are also featured. This might sound rather ordinary — but how many zoos have a shrine and other centuries-old landmarks? Toshogu Shrine, built about 1650, is dedicated to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who in 1603 established the Tokugawa, or Edo, period, a military dictatorship that lasted until 1867. Nearby is a five-story pagoda and military commander Todo Takatora's Tea Ceremony House, used for the reception of visiting shoguns. Takatora, who served under Tokugawa, helped invade Korea and was considered one of the finest castle architects of his time. The zoo is also known for Shinobazu no Ike (Pond), filled with lotus flowers and islands where migratory birds perch on tree stumps. Swaying weeping willows line the pond, and Aleutian Canada geese and red-crowned cranes rest in mini sanctuaries protected by bamboo fences that look like works of art. Elsewhere, you can take a ride in a cart pulled by a llama; you'll receive a colorful, laminated certificate as a souvenir. A Disneyland-like monorail takes visitors from the east side of the zoo to the west for a small fee. How to get there: Take the Yamanote Line from Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo or Shinagawa; you'll pay less than $2 each way, per person. The zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost is 600 yen (about $5) for those ages 15 to 64, 300 yen ($2.50) for seniors and 200 yen ($1.67) for youths 12-14. Keep an eye on your children — hundreds get lost at the zoo each year. A place to play If you have small kids, a visit to Tokyo-To Jido Kaikan (Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall) is a must. This multistory wonderland was established under the Child Welfare Act of 1964 in a city where "the play environment for children worsens each year," according to the city. The facility hugs the choked streets of Shibuya but provides plenty of space to stimulate children. You can visit the scientific craft corner or the Human Body Maze playground, work on computers, check out

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library books or create art in Origami Land. For teens there's a wireless-communications room and sound studio. How to get there: Take the Yamanote, Saikyo, Inokashira, Toyoko or Denen Toshi train lines, or the Ginza or Hanzoumon subway lines, to Shibuya Station, seven minutes from the Children's Hall. The facility is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except holidays and until 6 p.m. in June and July. Write to Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall, 1-18-24 Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0002. Or call (03) 3409-6361 or (03) 3407-8364 (fax). A day with the emperors Another great place to bring the family is Meiji Jingu Shrine, where visitors walk lush grounds and learn about Japan's emperors. Take either the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station, or the subway's Chiyoda Line to Meijijingumae Station. Meiji Jingu, which holds the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken, was completed in 1920 and rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II. Nearby is Harajuku and sprawling Yoyogi Koen (Park); Tsukiji market, an enormous barn-like structure where merchants hold morning fish auctions and slice giant sea creatures into sashimi; and Yebisu Garden Place, former home of Yebisu Brewery, connected by an elevated, moving "Skywalk" to Ebisu Station. Where to stay An excellent choice is Kodomo no Shiro (National Children's Castle) in Aoyama, which combines a hotel with whole floors of play areas. There's no fee to use the facilities if you stay at the Tokyo hotel; otherwise it's 500 yen ($2.50) for adults and 400 yen ($3.35) for kids. Our room price, including tax and fees, was $123 per night, a bargain in any big city. Our daughter loved the roof-garden play areas, fine-arts studio and a wooden jungle gym that took up half of one floor. There's also a well-child clinic, music lobby, childcare area, restaurants, a pool and a gym. The down side: Hallways smell of cigarette smoke, and the nearest laundry is a half-mile away. How to get to there: National Children's Castle is about

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a10-minute walk from Omotesando or Shibuya station; take the JR Yamanote, Saikyo, Toyoko, Inokashira or Denentoshi lines, or the Ginza, Hanzomon or Chiyoda subway lines. From Shibuya Station, walk up Miyamasuzaka street, past the Shibuya post office, toward Aoyama Dori (Street) and Aoyama Gakuin (University). The Castle will be on your left. You can also take a bus toward Shinbashi Kitaguchi Station; get out at Aoyama University. From Omotesando Station, take the B2 exit, walk past the Kinokuniya grocery store, toward Shibuya along Aoyama Dori. The castle will be on your right. To get to the hotel from Narita Airport, take the 90-minute Limousine Bus ride to Excel Hotel Tokyu in Shibuya; it's about $30 per person. Then tell a cabbie, "Aoyama no Kodomo no Shiro, onigaishimasu" (Please take me to National Children's Castle on Aoyama Street). You'll pay about 1,000 yen total (about $8.35) for the 15-minute ride. National Children's Castle: 5-53-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0001. Call (03) 3797-5666. Check or send an inquiry to

Look at bentos for cheap eats You may have to pay about $7 for a small beer or soft drink or $8 for a morsel of a sandwich at a Tokyo cafe, but bentos remain cheap and delicious. A particularly good place to pick up a bento is the food area next to Shibuya Station. You'll find tempura, sushi, sashimi, chicken katsu, grilled salmon and countless kinds of tsukemono (Japanese pickles). One place sells nothing but onigiri (clumps of rice shaped like triangles and wrapped with nori, or dried seaweed — what we would call musubi) with such things as shrimp tempura inside. Perhaps the best place in Tokyo for ramen, gyoza and fried rice is Darumaya, in an alleyway off Aoyama Dori. The best ramen dishes are the Takana Soba, which comes with a plate of takana, a leafy vegetable particular to Japan; and the Daruma Soba, with its side of barbecued pork, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and strips of nori. The price: about $6. You'll want to try

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the gyoza, which come steaming and juicy, or the fried rice, made in huge woks over high flames, the familiar bonk-bonk of wooden Chinese ladles banging against the pan keeping a steady beat. The salad is also great. Darumaya is at 5-9-5 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Open 11a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. Phone: 03-3499-6295. If you're in the mood for sushi or sashimi, try Sushiwazen Takumi Tokyo for lunch. The restaurant, near the massive United Nations University, is at the bottom of a flight of stairs, next to a patio and a McDonald's visible from street level. We paid just $95 for six people. The prawn-sized ama ebi (sweet shrimp, served raw) was excellent. Another excellent place to eat at is Roy Yamaguchi's restaurant in Aoyama. Call (03) 5474-8181. — Peter Erikson ••• Get good deals on diapers, formula Japan's wizardry in creating things extends beyond electronics and automobiles. It's also got a handle on disposable diapers and formula. I'd assumed that because both items cost so much in America, they must be prohibitively expensive in Japan. But I needn't have worried. In Japan, the main brands — including Pampers — are far cheaper and made of better material. In America, a kind of premium has been placed on pull-up, or "training," diapers. Buy a box of 20 to 30 in a grocery or drug store and you'll pay $13 or more. At the Toys 'R' Us in Sagamihara city, a box of 66 pull-up diapers from Unicharm was about $15. You won't even do that well at Costco. Formula, meanwhile, comes only in large containers at decent prices. Could it be that Japanese refuse to be ripped off for items that will be glowing in the dark 500 years from now and cost very little to make? Up in smoke: Tokyo still reeks of cigarette smoke. The taxi we took to our hotel kept us gasping for air, and the Man-Boo! Internet Comic Cafe in Shibuya, while

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inexpensive and convenient, will make you gag. Even Ueno Zoo has a special bench for smokers next to Shinobazu Pond — and exotic birds. Money: It can be difficult to change dollars because you won't find familiar names such as Cirrus or Star or Maestro at ATMs. You also won't find many English menus. Instead, look for one of the many Citibank ATMs in Tokyo. Some restaurants and stores take credit cards, but many don't. — Peter Erikson

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