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.

Miso in my sippy cup, tofu in my bowl

The title of this post comes from a board book I grabbed for Maggie on clearance at a yuppie toy shop in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not England) this summer.  My family all but slapped their knees and stomped their feet in laughter and rolled their eyes, but I maintained Maggie would need to know the contents therein.  After all, we eat sushi all the time.  It’d be nice for her to know what everyone’s eating.

Turns out, I was right, although not for the reason I thought.

We’re going on a vacation to Japan.

….

….

I’m back. I fainted, but I’m better now.  Ever since I went to the Japan section of Epcot’s World Showcase as a kid, this has been on my top 5 places to visit.  And we’re going to do it up right: late autumn, Tokyo down to Kyoto-Kansai via a meandering trip through the Japanese Alps at foliage season.  We have good friends who lived in Tokyo for a while en route to Okinawa who have helped us with an itinerary and basic tips for getting around (I just emailed them a message in which I asked the question “What do I do in an onsen?!”) and I am so. freaking. excited.

The biggest drawback that I can see is that Maggie is going to turn eight or nine and be like “You visited all these cool places while I was too young to remember or enjoy them! Jerks!” and welp, yeah. Sorry kid. But you’re still pretty portable so we have to get this trip in while we can and before you’re too heavy to strap to Daddy’s back.  Other minor drawbacks include the massive language barrier, which I think we can pantomime and half-ass our way through, and the thrill of navigating a menu.  Maggie is a pretty enthusiastic eater (we’re waiting for the day when she decides to reject all offers of food in favor of the Toddler Air Diet) so I’m sure she’ll eat just about anything…as long as we supplement with a lot of rice.  I mean, she’s had pork cheeks, so she’s doing better than a lot of adults I know.

[Overheard at a local Hawaiian sushi joint: “Well, I guess I can try the fried fish.” *facepalm*  Just go to Kua’aina Burger, dude.]

Maggie is also doing her part to plan the itinerary, enthusiastically shouting when she sees a particularly pretty or colorful photo in the guidebook.  That’s why we’re not using e-guides on an iPad (also because my iPad fund keeps getting eaten up by necessities, dammit); Maggie loves the photos and pages of the real book.  Tom is taking up the rest of the slack, drafting multipage itineraries and comparison-shopping ryokan in the areas where we can’t take advantage of our hotel points.  I’m doing what I do best, which is coming up with four or five ideas for Tom to research and running with it.  So far I found a free guide service and that there is a yearly geisha performance in Kyoto while we’ll be there, so I did my part.

One destination we decided against was Hiroshima.  Historically Tom and I are both fascinated by the area, but we have a toddler (…a toddler. When did that happen?!) and they are not known for their reverence.  I don’t like taking her to other such grounds for the same reason: a kid just being a kid isn’t always appropriate for every venue.  Someone observing a very solemn moment (like when we went to Pearl Harbor and there were WWII vets on our ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial) doesn’t want to hear my kid being herself.  I don’t think limiting ourselves like this is really detrimental to our travel dreams, but just a necessary part of having kids: know where you can take them, and know when even if you can, you probably shouldn’t.  At any rate, this is going to be a super-packed 12 days.

This is major, guys.  This is a huge check off the life-list.  I am so, so, so excited.