Let’s Go to Tokorozawa

When we were on our way to Totoro’s Forest, we happened to pass by Tokorozawa. Looking into it, we found that there is a small aviation museum tucked away in the area. So we decided to take one day to go out and visit the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum.

At the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum
At the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum

The Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is based in Saitama and was the center of Japanese aviation in the early 1900’s. Now it is a museum dedicated to the history of aviation in Japan. It is not a big museum with the displays cramped together in the main hall. But it is a well thought out place. A majority in Japanese, it is a good thing that most of the staff are quite versed in English. The aircraft on display include small planes and helicopters, both civilian and military. You can even hop in on some of these crafts and fiddle around with the controls. You can close your eyes and pretend that you can actually fly one of these, but there is more to it than just imagination.

Let's fly
Let’s fly

There are interactive installations further inside the museum that illustrates fundamentals of flight and aerodynamics. Matthew, being in a secondary school now that prides itself in aviation, had found a place that he can explore to his heart’s content. There are also informative videos and historical dioramas showcasing Tokorozawa and the evolution of aviation in Japan. They were in Japanese and that made it a bit difficult for us to fully immerse ourselves in it. But visually, it tells a lot. There are also flight simulators where you can “fly” a small plane and land it safely on a runway. There is also a gravity simulator that makes you feel the differences in gravitational pull on other planets (and the moon). Up on deck, an air traffic control facility is also present. And while you don’t get to send planes up in the air, the feel of it is really cool. Maybe technology has evolved that most of the equipment shown at the museum is already obsolete, but it is a reminder that we wouldn’t be where we are now if we didn’t start out with simpler things.

Aircraft galore!
Aircraft galore!

Of course, no trip to a museum would be complete without a visit to the museum shop. And the museum shop in Tokorozawa is unique in that it really focuses on aviation stuff. We managed to get a propeller plane powered by a rubber band and a flapping contraption also powered by a rubber band. The flapping contraption flew quite well and we really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I had misinterpreted the salesperson and thought that she gave us a built one for free and that we had bought an un-built one as well. It wasn’t the case and we ended up giving away the only flapping contraption to some school kids who were on a trip. At least it went to a good cause.

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The Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is a nice place to visit because it is small, out of the way and far from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can relax and quietly stare at the aircraft or outside in the field with the trees and wide grassy field. It is definitely a place to visit with or without kids.

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Let’s Go to Totoro’s Forest

We already went to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. So we thought we would go the extra mile and get lost in Totoro Forest as well.

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Totoro Forest is actually a nature reserve under the care of the Foundation of Totoro no Furusato. As far as the name goes, it has been used by Hayao Miyazaki used this forest as the model of the forest used for the animated film My Neighbour Totoro. The thing is, this forest is situated in Sayama Hills in Saitama.

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It was a long walk getting up to Totoro’s Forest. And that was just getting to the forest itself. You wouldn’t even know that you were actually inside Totoro Forest until you see some of the signs. Navigating the forest also proved difficult for us since the signs are in Japanese. Needless to say, when we say we got lost in Totoro Forest, we literally got lost inside Totoro Forest. It would have been fine though as inside the forest was cool and actually quite pleasant. It was nice to stay there, but we weren’t actually geared up for camping, so getting lost and not being able to come out of the forest would mean big trouble for us. We also wanted to reach Kurosaki’s house, which is a recreation of the Kurosaki house from Totoro as well. What we didn’t know was that the house was not actually inside Totoro Forest. And following the directions from Google Maps and the one blog with decent directions proved to be futile as we ended up getting even more lost.

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We got to Kurosaki’s house, eventually. And it was closed. Yes, for the life of me, I did not bother looking at the details of the house. I only knew that it would be the house would be perfect for any Totoro fan worth his salt. And because I had been too excited and frustrated getting to the house, I didn’t get to check that the house actually had days that it was closed. For a house that was in the middle of nowhere, I think that made sense. It didn’t make sense that I did not see that though. By the time we reached the house, we were already tired. Our only consolation was the maccha house that sat beside Kurosaki’s house.

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The lady who owns the cafĂ© was very nice and friendly. And the mochi and maccha is just superb. It is a very tasty treat and almost made us forget that we got lost and found out that the Kurosaki house was closed. Almost. Still, the maccha was refreshing and the mochi was really, really good. Probably the best maccha mochi that I have ever tried. And it turns out that they grow their own tea. In fact, they have their own school all about making tea. It was really a blessing that we made it there. The old lady even called up a taxi for us (because the place is, quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere). We weren’t able to see the Kurosaki house but we enjoyed our time in the forest and we really enjoyed the maccha. Not a bad day at all.

Let’s Go to Asakusa

Asakusa is in our itinerary for this trip. What we didn’t expect, was rain. It was raining for almost the whole day that we were scheduled to go to Asakusa. But you can’t tell the heavens to keep the rain up while you travel. So it was wet.

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As usual, we started the trip getting lost as we got off at Asakusa Station. Obviously, the rain did not help. Part of travelling is being lost, and hungry. While we did have some hits and misses on this trip with our meals, the lunch we had near Asakusa was definitely a miss. You see, we decided to try local and have lunch at a small eatery where a couple of secondary school kids came out from. I mean, if kids eat there, it must be cheap and good, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was decent, but not good and definitely not cheap. But enough of that.

Nakamise
Nakamise

When we got our bearings straight, we managed to make our way to Nakamise. A shopping street (of all things). According to travel websites, Nakamise has been around for centuries providing temple visitors with traditional snacks, sweets and tourist souvenirs. I’m not really sure if this is still the atmosphere of old Tokyo, but the shops are entertaining in their own right. There are tons of things to buy here. There are T-shirts, keychains, umbrellas, toys, kimonos, snacks and all kinds of knick knacks. The rain didn’t stop us this time around though. Nakamise isn’t that long, but the amount of people and the rain made the trip a bit longer. Nakamise will bring you to Sensoji Temple which is one of Japan’s oldest temples. On the other end of Nakamise is the Kaminarimon, which is essentially a giant Kaminari Gate and is also the symbol of Asakusa. Considering that we travelled from the temple to the gate, it just shows how bad my sense of direction was that day. And no, it does not happen regularly.

Since it was still raining, we managed to sidestep into Shin-Nakamise street. Basically, it is a street running perpendicular to Nakamise street. While it is also a shopping street, it is covered and makes window shopping a little bit more convenient. Add to that the fact that it is surprisingly less crowded than Nakamise and you can have a decent time walking about and taking in the atmosphere.

We must be at Orange Street
We must be at Orange Street

While walking, we also managed to find Orange Street. Another famous street in Asakusa which is, no surprise, painted orange. If it wasn’t raining, we probably would have ended up walking over and looking for historic stores that are supposed to line the street leading up to the old Public Hall. We were about to end our day because, well, the rain doesn’t really help. And then we stumbled across yet another Don Quijote. By far, the most rambunctious one I have seen. And this is where we spent the rest of the day. It had been fun and shopping on the cheap is no longer cheap if you buy too much. Just a thought.