The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

on June 24, 2014

I can’t believe I’m almost 40 and this is the first time I’ve been to Japan! The country of kitsch, kitchen gadgets, Banzai and life size Tomica vehicles for #1.

It feels good to be in Japan. A much welcome change from Singapore to be in a country with more open space, buildings that have character and traditions that haven’t fallen away.

Before we had even booked flights for our trip, I have to admit to feeling slightly apprehensive at the thought of travelling to such a reputedly busy city as Tokyo with #1, 2 and 3.

20140627-232939.jpg

Would it actually be much of a holiday with three children aged five and under? The last time we took a city break to Hong Kong was over three years ago with one less child and two pairs of extra hands in the form of Grandma and Gramps. That felt challenging enough finding baby change facilities, places to eat that had high chairs and clambering up and down stairs with the buggy and I speak the language too.

You can read the guide books cover to cover before you get somewhere new but you can’t really tell what it’s going to be like until you’re actually there. When it takes a few days to get your bearings and just as you do it’s time to leave but not before you notice just another street along there was a bigger supermarket and better looking places to eat at. Ah well, there’s always next time.

The first hotel we stayed in was located in Shinjinku, Tokyo. The photos on their website looked fine and was one of few hotels that had a lobby which we thought #1, 2 and 3 could loiter around in to get away from the room at times. More on the loitering later.

Husband and I had to take a room each and divide up the children by favourites. #3 started off the holiday very unwell with all the sides that go with it, so she and I bunked together in a room that a few people I know (such as Big D and Mrs Cake Pops) could stretch out horizontally and be able to touch one side with their fingers and the other with their toes.

We’re definitely in Tokyo I thought. In conjunction with a first foray into the washrooms at the airport after getting off the plane to find the toilet has all sorts of bideting functions that I had only previously seen on Tarrant on TV. Marvellous. #1 and 2 find these facilities absolutely hilarious I can tell you.

20140628-002305.jpg

On this holiday with no three course buffet breakfast to hand, it’s become a real concern for #1, 2 and 3 where food is going to come from, having grown accustomed to meals just appearing at certain times of the day. On occasion by the time we’ve got them all up and out and located a place to eat, they may as well have lunch at the same time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we are in Japan to attend a wedding. Shinjinku is very near to the wedding venue of Meiji Shrine which was a good choice of location in order to ensure we would be at the venue in time for the ceremony. We later learnt from others who are more familiar with Japan that Shinjinku is by far one of the busier suburbs of Tokyo, there’s a lot more local feel to it.

If Shinjinku is one of the busier places to be then the rest of Tokyo should be easier to navigate surely? Tokyo definitely thrives with people but unlike the throngs of London and Hong Kong, it feels manageable rather than overwhelming. There is no elbow barging. There is no harassed commuter dodging around you. There is an effortless flow of movement that seems to work on mutual respect.

A well known example of this is the Shibuya crossing right outside Shibuya station. We got there around 8pm and just watched as crowds gathered at the different crossings. Then the lights turn to green, vehicles stop and people walk in seemingly all directions without anyone bumping into each other or getting rageful. Then the lights turn red, the vehicles move on and crowds start to gather again and the process is repeated.

This flow of movement works so much better when you know where you’re going, can read Japanese and don’t take up half the walkway with five of you, a buggy and two bags of stuff.

The subway network at first looks hugely complicated with its series of complex routes and a myriad of stations all on a very small scale map but once you work it out, it’s quite simple. It makes a refreshing change from the very modern feel of the MRT system in Singapore and better than the hot overcrowded platforms of the London tube.

What I have found amazing is how well things work here. The disability access to public transport is one that ought to be emulated in all places. Of the stations we used there wasn’t one we came across that didn’t have a disabled access route into the station and in and around it. This made it a whole lot easier for us to travel around on the trains and underground with a buggy, especially when taxi fares really are a luxury.

Whilst good disability access to transport may not seem that surprising, it was just as easy to get to temples hundreds of years old. We went to Senso-ji shrine which was packed with visitors even on a Monday. After meandering along the stalls selling fans, food, wind chimes and lucky charms we arrive at the grand wooden entrance. As is custom, we washed our hands and mouths before entering the shrine, took in the smoke that made us more intelligent, shook the sticks for our fortune and burnt incense for our forefathers.

From this ancient shrine a short walk and train ride took us to the new Sky Tree Tower, the tallest building in all of Japan. A tower that stretches 634 metres into the sky with magnificent 360 degrees view of all of Tokyo. The lift took seconds to reach the first observation level at 350 metres and you could feel your ears pop on the way up. There was also a glass floor you could see all the way down to the ground if you dared.

20140628-001641.jpg

Ginza right by Tokyo station, is perhaps the equivalent of Park Lane in London and Orchard Road in Singapore with its luxury shopping malls and hotels. It is glitzy and full of glamour but down a side road you can spot lots of cool little bars and places to eat. One bar could possibly even be the smallest bar in Tokyo but with their ability to do compact so well, it probably isn’t. The bar could stand maybe eight people across and one person deep. It looked like you were walking into a space enough for one person and take a step back and you’d be on the street.

Ginza is very different to Shinjinku besides the high end shopping, it’s less frantic, polished and more spacious and not far from the Imperial Palace, Tokyo. Disappointingly there wasn’t much to see as the Imperial Palace was under restoration and covered in scaffolding.

20140627-232603.jpg

We also went to Roppongi Hills which wasn’t a hill at all but where you can find Mori Tower, another really tall building with an observation deck and art gallery. We gave that a miss considering we’d done the Sky Tree Tower already but what we did find was a free ‘rest’ play area downstairs that #1, 2 and 3 whiled away an hour at whilst Husband and I took it in turns to have a peaceful coffee.

Tokyo is a beautiful, sprawling city. There is an understanding of how things works. Perhaps because the population is still predominantly a home crowd. We met up with friends we had made in Singapore who had recently returned to Japan.

She mentioned a few good manners to us that was expected in Japan. Like keeping things tidy after a meal in a restaurant. Even in McDonalds you are expected to separate your recyclable rubbish into paper and plastic. Children on the whole are still expected to be seen not heard. No public tantrums or unruly behaviour. We were doomed really.

It was quite impossible we found to keep #1, 2 and 3 respectfully quiet. Especially when they were tired from late nights and excited at all the new sights they saw. They operate on a say what you see basis. On the subway, #3 inadvertently kicked a man’s manbag with her shoe and the man gave several disapproving tuts. Of course it made me feel bad and that the children were out of control. They probably were at times. But then the next day I saw two women tutting at each other as one interrupted the other’s flow of walking. It was then I thought, if tutting is as bad as it gets when you’re annoyed then that’s not such a bad thing really.

Meal times were by far the most challenging in restaurants that often were too small to accommodate all of us. Thankfully living in Singapore, #1, 2 and 3 are quite familiar with Japanese food which meant they could always be fed a bowl of udon noodles and gyoza some place. But we found that we had to forgo many places that looked interesting because it was standing room only or only one type of food like sashimi.

20140628-002416.jpg

We’ve barely scratched the surface on this visit to Japan. I’m already thinking about when can we come back. Without #1, 2 and 3 in tow we perhaps could have done twice as much as we have. We could have explored the night life beyond 9pm and sought out the kookier side to Tokyo. But I know #1, 2 and 3 have enjoyed what they’ve seen too. They’ve spent a lot of time outdoors and walking. We’ve asked a lot of them really. It’s been especially funny the amount of times #1 has pointed out vehicles he has the small Tomica models of.

So that was Tokyo for us. Busy at times but mostly because the children are so young. Worth it though. It always is when you go somewhere you’ve never been before.

Next will be about our stay in Kyoto and that was truly spectacular.

20140627-233043.jpg

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: