After finishing my India series, I decided to look back a little further in time and create some posts on our 2016 trip to Japan. As of writing this, we have been to Japan three times: once as a couple in 2013 (thanks to my mom and dad for watching the kids!), again as a family in 2016, and briefly in 2018. The food is a highlight for many people for this country, but add in the unique culture, history, and cleanliness and it becomes one of my favorite places to travel, either with kids or as a couple. When you time it with fall leaves or spring cherry blossoms, the landscapes don’t get too much prettier.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
International travel with elementary or older kids has become fairly easy. If you want them to stay awake, you let them watch hours and hours of TV on the plane. Few kids will turn it down, particularly if you don’t let them watch much TV before you travel. If you want them to sleep, you tell them they need to rest with their eyes closed for a certain amount of time until they are allowed to turn it back on. Since we were going to be arriving in the afternoon, a 2-4 hour nap just after the first meal service is ideal. We wanted to be able to be awake enough to be able to get in a few hours of sightseeing in, but not so awake that that we wouldn’t be able to sleep.
Before traveling to Japan, we had ordered an Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass. It can only be ordered 90 days before time of travel, needs to arrive before you travel, and will save you quite a bit of money. On arrival, we found our way to the JR Group office inside the train station and exchanged our voucher for an actual rail pass that would be valid for 7 days and allow us to travel on any of the JR Lines, which in some cases would take longer than other options but the savings was worth it to us.
This whole process, plus the train, took a little longer than we had hoped, but we made it to the lockbox that allowed us entry to our Airbnb rental by early evening. To our surprise, Airbnb was operating in a grey area in Japan (in 2016), and occasionally people are kicked out of their rental for various reasons. Once we learned this, the combination of signs posted all over the building about children not making noise, as well as warnings about this in the welcome packet, concerned us. So, we did our best to ensure that the boys were fairly silent in the apartment. The apartment was nice, with bunkbeds for the boys that were located in what appeared to be a very large closet, a separate bedroom for us, a very tiny kitchen, and a reasonably comfortable living area. The bathroom was a bit odd, with shower head that was only 5 feet tall, but it was manageable.
The kids were quite hungry, but we wanted to wander a bit before getting dinner, so we picked up some mochi and pocky sticks to tide them over. Our apartment was fairly close to the Shinjuku neighborhood, so we decided to soak in the lively nighttime atmosphere.
We found a little noodle shop and decided to get dinner there. This one only served udon noodles and was quite tasty. One observation about Japanese restaurants is that they specialize. One for udon noodles and sometimes soba noodles, another for ramen, plus separate ones for sushi, curry, and grilled fish. Tempura can often be found at restaurants serving noodles or bento boxes. Satisfying a picky family can be challenging, so go into Japanese dining with a sense of adventure.
The boys were exhausted, so we walked back through a lovely section of Shinjuku Station that had trees covered in Christmas lights.
After returning, the boys went to bed, I struggled to stay up a bit longer, and Jeremy went out to wander a bit more.