Noodly

Our first full day in Tokyo began around 3:30am, when vile jet lag gripped us and shook us awake. In the whole trip except for the last day in Osaka, I don’t think we ever slept past seven, and that was sleeping in. We also rarely retired for the day past 8pm, and Tom and I collapsed long before Maggie finally cooled it for the night.  Breakfast was a delight, as were the pastries I grabbed to take us through the day.  We began with our friend Mandy’s walking tour of the Asakusa neighborhood, which was such an incredibly thorough piece of work that it was almost as if we had a personal tour guide along with us.

This is Asakusa, which was a fantastically grand way to begin our trip to Tokyo. Given the time we woke up, we considered going straight to the Tsukiji fish market for the tuna auctions but I’m so glad we saved that. I think it would have been too intense for the baby (not to mention her tired parents). Asakusa was a much smoother introduction. We arrived in Asakusa in time to see the school trips, but before the shoppers came out in full force.  We lit a bit of incense and added ours to the pot.  I had forgotten that the swastika symbol is a Buddhist symbol that was perverted by the Nazis; while it has a totally benign meaning in Asia I never quite got over seeing them all over the place.

We went through the old red light district (where I am sad to say that an older gentleman admiring some sidewalk porn noticed me noticing him and I didn’t get a perfectly framed shot), snacking as we went and hearing the shouts of “Kawaii! Kawaii!” for Maggie. Maggie, for her part, remained cool:

We also got our fortunes.  Once I parsed the broken English, mine said that I will not make much money but I will work hard, and if I do, in time the money would come. For a part-time freelancer, that’s a pretty damn good fortune.

Tom’s was not so auspicious; it warned against travel and any big decisions (see the end of the post) so in the traditional custom, he tied his bad fortune to the rail for the wind to carry away.

Next up was the incredible Tokyo Museum and Ueno Park, where Maggie met her first little friend of the trip.  I was examining these:

Tom was watching Maggie and reported that a little girl about Maggie’s age ran up to her, peered at Maggie closely, and gave a brief little bow in greeting.  Tom nearly keeled over from the cute.  I wish I had seen that instead of the cranes, but Maggie made a LOT of friends on this trip and each interaction was precious.  Children open up a world of conversations in travel, especially in terms of their unhesitating interactions with others.  Even if all we saw was Maggie offering waves, kisses and laughs to the Japanese children she encountered, that would have been worth the cost of the trip.

Actually, that’s a lie.  That plus the foliage would have made it all worthwhile.

I could hardly believe this was a part of Tokyo. Depending on the source–mine are Lonely Planet and a children’s atlas published in 2003–the population varies between 12-35 million people.  I would like to know what parameters they use; is that the city proper? The metropolitan area? The area defined by the commuter lines? What? But any way you count them, there’s still a ton of people in Tokyo and  Koishikawa Koraku Garden was a total joy–quiet and serene, even with the overcast sky.

Dinner was not worth mentioning: we discovered a tapas restaurant called Casa de Fujim We thought it would be fascinating to see how Japan does tapas, particularly their spin on the seafood dishes, but they didn’t allow children and we were turned away at the door.  Exhausted and with an increasingly crabby baby, we went stumbling back to the mall area in hopes of some nice hot noodles and a savory broth.  We we were excited to get our shivery cold hands on something warm but realized too late that we had ordered cold soba noodles.  It all worked out, though–our wildest udon and soba fantasies would be fulfilled later.

**So, regarding those big life changes and travel…we’re trading the stars ‘n stripes for a Union Jack and moving to the U.K.!!  As of this spring we’ll be living in the county of North Yorkshire. I will miss Hawaii terribly, but we knew this was coming and we could not be more pleased at the bit of fortune we’ve been dealt.  Living in the United Kingdom will afford us so many grand travel opportunities. We are so very lucky.

Toddlin’ Tokyo

I have a few posts on the trip as a whole, but I have to dedicate an entire one to our first half-day in Tokyo.  Originally we had planned to have this be a strictly-backpacks-only trip, carrying the barest of essentials.  Alas, I realized in the course of packing that we were going to be on a plane for 8 hours with a toddler who is extremely sensitive to overstimulation and the odds of her sleeping were about the same as me voting for Sarah Palin.  The things that are in the purple bag are items we brought to entertain her on the plane and outnumbered and outweighed things we needed for the actual trip. So this was our final haul:

Take note–this is the only time that the stroller will ever come in handy, when it is being used as a luggage dolly.  Even so, carrying Maggie in a Beco and hauling the rest, we thought we had done well.

Le Tired and Le Maniacal

Our flight got into Narita at 1pm and we got off the plane about half an hour later, and I giddily took pictures and such until we had to begin the long slog through immigration and customs.  After that we had a bit of money to change to yen and a train ticket package to purchase so we could actually get IN to Tokyo because god forbid Japan put an airport within an hour of the actual city (one of my only real complaints, and one surely based upon the fact that the city borders far predate aviation).

And so it was that we disembarked at the main Tokyo Station, all gear in hand, baby wilting from the aftermath of an 8 hour flight, reeling from exhaustion…smack in the middle of rush hour in a city with about 12 million residents.

Sheeeeeeeeeyit.

Thus it was that we hid behind a pillar until we figured out where the hell we were supposed to go and packed onto a train loaded with ads and some very severely-dressed businesspeople.  We did make it to the correct stop for our hotel, only to realize we had an insufficient map and it had begun to pour rain.

Double sheeeeeeeyit.

We did make it to the hotel, a lovely establishment, and here’s where I’ll diverge for a moment to say that despite the fact that the rooms were free (this was not a sponsored trip, I would say so if it was, we just had Starwood points to use) I was hesitant about staying here.  Despite the push-button bidets and the Japanese characters on the keyboards in the business center, this was very much a westernized hotel.  It just didn’t quite have the authenticity that I craved, even though I knew we were going to stay in traditional ryokans later in the trip.

This troubled my mind for a few minutes until Tom, bless his business-traveling heart, pulled a Ryan Bingham and threw down his Starwood Platinum Member card at check-in.  The clerk promptly handed us our special upgrade cards, good for dining free at their breakfast buffet (which if we had indulged–we wouldn’t have at this price–would have cost us $105 for three people).  Delving a bit deeper, we also learned that these upgrade cards entitled us to free Happy Hour cocktails in the plush, stately Bamboo Lobby Lounge.  Free unlimited cocktails.

*Blink* *Blink*

In the immortal words of Ron White, “…That’s some good news.

Sure, it maybe wasn’t the most authentic Japanese experience, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that when the universe hands you free beer and a breakfast appetizer of Brie on toast points, you don’t say no.  You wrap the Brie in prosciutto and get an extra helping of smoked salmon and bring a Tupperware to the buffet to stock up on pastries for the baby’s snacking needs, and then when you come home you order three or four draft Kirins.  It wasn’t a capsule hotel, but it was great. And it was free.

Maggie liked it.

More later about the adorableness of EVERYTHING in Japan, traveling with a toddler, and Maggie’s newfound rockstar status.  Apparently not too many blonde-hair babies make it to Japan.

The World of Japan According to Maggie

Japan was, without a doubt, the most intense and rewarding and fun and emotionally exhausting trip of my entire life.  It was the experience of a lifetime for us.  But before I begin posting about our twelve days on the road, I would like to bring you a smaller person’s take on Japan.  Without further ado, Japan According To Maggie:

“I like crackers. I only get them as a special treat at home but Mommy says that all of vacation is special and also that they keep me from screaming on trains when I am in the carrier and that’s why she found room for a dozen packages of crackers in her backpack instead of more underwear.  I don’t like the carrier OR the stroller because then I can’t run around and jump in the road and the gutters and I like the road and gutters.  Daddy says because I like the gutters I’m going to be a civil engineer and Mommy says it’s just my Irish coming out and then he calls her a Crom-weeelian tart and I don’t know what that means but I like gutters.  I like pigeons too and there are LOTS of pigeons in Japan and I get to chase all of them through the shee-rines.  Everyone at the shee-rines likes me but they think my name is “Kawaii” and then when they say “Kawaii” Mommy and Daddy ask me to say “arrigato” instead of telling them I am a MAGGIE and then they want to take my picture and touch me and I would rather chase my pigeons and make noise.  I like noise.  I especially like noise at night when Mommy and Daddy say it’s goodnight time. That’s when I get to say “Goodnight! Goodnight! Kisses!” and give Mommy and Daddy lots of kisses and fall over on their heads until they say “Lie down and go to bed, Margaret” and I don’t know who Margaret is but they really want her to go to sleep.  My favorite place to sleep is on the fooo-ton next to Daddy but Mommy wants to sleep next to him too so I have to kick her away to her side. Then she says “I guess that’s one way to make sure you don’t get any siblings” but I don’t know what a sibling is.  Do they eat crackers?  I have lots of questions like that, especially about the guy that they keep calling “Buddha” but I keep calling him “Daddy” and I want to know why Mommy thinks that’s so funny and calls me her hilwarious angel.  I guess it’s okay as long as I can keep drinking juice and making noises on the train and getting to read Hop on Pop again and again and again.

PIGEONS!”