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.