Men Bakaichida cooking ramen
Japan the Warrior Way
Rich in tradition, ninjas and Hello Kitty, Aleney De Winter
finds out first-hand why kids fall hard for Japan.
Imagine a child so completely obsessed
with Japan that he has saved every cent of
his meagre pocket money for two years to
get there. A child so fixated that, at the age
of seven, he is well versed in the history of
feudal Japan, attempts to create DIY samurai
armour from paper plates and egg cartons,
has his heart set on a career as a ninja, and is
even partial to haiku.
A child so fanatical that he
stalks our local sushi chef and swears he has
ramen broth running through his veins.
Now imagine the look on said child’s face
when his dream comes true on a two-week
family adventure in Japan.
The way of the warrior in Kyoto
The samurai way of life was about much
more than swords and battles; indeed it
was to observe and do what is right. While
Japanese values are still based on the spirit
of bushido, luckily they’ve swapped their
horses for the faster and more comfortable
shinkansen bullet train that we take to Kyoto.
Given my son Rafferty’s obvious
preoccupations, the search for all things ninja
and samurai begins as soon as we arrive at
our hotel, the family-friendly Hyatt Regency.
Ideally located in the historic area of
Higashiyama Shichijo, in the heart of Kyoto,
the hotel is sandwiched between stunning
temples and the amazing Kyoto National
Museum which is brimming with
antiquities dating back centuries.
Soon my little shogun is
following in the steps
of samurais and
of Gion and at the many shrines, including the
spectacular Shinto shrine of Fushimi Inari,
with its thousands of vermilion torii gates.
At Ninja Kyoto we come face to face with
our first live-action ninjas while we dine on
edible shuriken and escargot ‘bombs’. Men
Bakaichidai is a must for wannabe chefs; its
famous Fire Ramen, blackened by pouring
flaming onion oil into a bowl of waiting broth, is
an explosive spectacle. Here Rafferty also
becomes a graduate of its brand-new Ramen
University after learning to make perfect
ramen with the chef.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park, a working
TV and movie set that doubles as a
theme park, is a little kitsch but to a
seven-year-old the mock Edo-era
town holds massive appeal. Live ninja
performances, extravagant swordfights and
samurai battles await around every corner and
Rafferty is soon starring in a live-action
samurai battle sequence.
Then there’s samurai training, in full
costume, at the more intimate Samurai
Kembu Theater, where Raff learns how to
use a Japanese sword along with samurai
etiquette in an hour-long one-on-one class
with a kembu master.
He even sleeps like a samurai in a ryokan,
a traditional-style inn that originated in the Edo
period, where he dons a yukata and dreams
of epic battles from his mattress on the
We take a break from Raffles’ Japanese
fight club the following day at Arashiyama
Monkey Park Iwateyama where he and his
little sister, Marlo, delight in the antics of the
resident monkeys and we soak up the views.
Teio Movie Park
Osaka casts a spell
In Osaka there’s a distinct lack of ninja, which
may be due to the wizards zapping them away.
You see, Hogwarts is just down the road, much
to the delight of my wee Muggles. From its
cobblestone roads to the slanted buildings
coated in snow, The Wizarding World of Harry
Potter at Universal Studios Japan, which
we reach by following a winding path past
the wreck of the Weasleys’ Flying Ford Anglia,
feels real. We sip on Butterbeer (imagine
liquid butterscotch) and stock up on wands
at Ollivander’s in Hogsmeade before visiting
the spires of Hogwarts and the family-friendly
Flight of the Hippogriff mini coaster.
Marlo is equally thrilled with the rest
of Universal’s incredible offerings and is
particularly excited to stumble across Hello
Kitty, Snoopy and the cast of Sesame Street.
InterContinental Osaka is the place for
budding wizards to stay. The luxurious hotel is
conveniently located a short undercover walk
from Osaka Station with two-bedroom serviced
residences perfect for families. A massive pool
is a hotel standout, as are the traditional
Japanese baths and extensive spa area where
the highly skilled therapists work their own
brand of magic on mummy’s tired muscles.
Samurai Kembu Theatre
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Of course our four-year-old daughter’s desires
weren’t forgotten on this adventure and, though
she enjoys a little ninja action, she prefers
things of a cuter nature. Enter the Preferred
Hotel Group’s Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo that
quite literally lays out the ‘welcome cat’ for
our daughter with a stay in a Hello Kitty room.
Imagine an outrageous Pop Art explosion of
Hello Kitty in a room where everything from the
carpet up is an ode to the popular character.
From take-home Hello Kitty water bottles,
cuddlies and stationery, to special touches like
a Hello Kitty mocktail, Marlo was in heaven!
The massive Keio Plaza complex is just five
minutes from the neon-lit chaos of Shinjuku
with its streets of great food and eccentric
entertainment. Along with 20 incredible
restaurants and bars plus shops and galleries,
there’s a raft of family-friendly accommodation,
sky pool, in-house medical clinic and child
care. There’s even a nursing room in the lobby.
We find more Hello Kitty squirrelled among
the seven floors of toys at Kiddy Land in
neighbouring Harajuku, better known for
its candy-haired cosplay kids. Thankfully for
this overwhelmed mum, it’s right alongside
the serene Meiji Shrine, allowing a little Zen
respite from the kids’ manic shopping frenzy.
The rest of the family enjoyed a break from
all that retina-searing Hello Kitty pinkness
over steaming bowls of ramen in Tokyo’s
aptly named Ramen Street and at the
enormous and fascinating Tsukiji Market,
where Rafferty is awed by the ‘fish ninjas’ –
fishmongers slicing massive tuna with great
precision, with what look like samurai swords.
No trip to Tokyo would be complete without
donning a pair of mouse ears. Keio Plaza is
a partner of Tokyo Disneyland so it’s a
no-brainer for us to take its free shuttle service
to the theme park to end our Japanese
adventure in dazzling Disney style.
Mickey, Minnie and the gang may speak
Japanese but fun needs no translation at
Tokyo Disneyland as the kids lose themselves
in the fantasy of Disney favourites like Splash
Mountain and It’s A Small World between
gobfuls of incredible flavoured popcorn –
try the soy sauce and butter, it’s great!
My indefatigable kids even wait it out for
the Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade
Dreamlights where they spot all their favourite
characters in an extravaganza of more than a
million sparkling lights and fireworks, making a
perfect finale to our perfect holiday in Japan.