Tokyo kicked my butt today.

Today was our second full day in Tokyo, and it is safe to say that the city kicked our butts. While we had a very full and interesting experience, it was also exhausting and overwhelming…and it didn’t let up.

I’ve been to Japan before, but that trip was different on pretty much every level. I didn’t have kids yet, I was traveling by myself, and I was in Kobe, a much smaller city than Tokyo. In other words, I was enjoying a lot of luxuries that I just took for granted at the time. 

My kids are old enough that we’re not lugging around carseats and needing to take nap breaks in the middle of the afternoon, but young enough that they can’t help with complicated directions and decisions. They still surprise us by randomly saying that they are suuupppperr hungry or that they need to go to the bathroom right now. So traveling as a family adds a layer of complexity and an element of surprise to each move we make. My kids are fantastic travelers, but they are still kids, which means that they’re just unpredictable and sometimes mysteriously unreasonable.

Today was one of those days.

Because of my previous experience with Japan in the calm city of Kobe in my life-before-kids, I was spectacularly unprepared for the complete, utterly overwhelming immersion that is Tokyo. And the combination of travel with kids + the city of Tokyo kicked my butt today. Here’s why:

1. The language barrier is large.

It takes a lot of thought and energy to take the metro, figure out what food you are buying, or ask questions if you can’t speak the language. Sure, you can do it, it’s just not automatic at all, and it can be a real challenge…especially if you’ve got a kid who needs to use the bathroom right now.

2. There is a lot of audiovisual stimulation in Tokyo.

Giant video billboards, multiple announcements from all directions in the metro station, every inch of space being filled with interesting new products…all of this combines to create a roaring wave of noise when you can only understand a sprinkle of words here and there.

3. When you have kids, it’s easier to have at least a shred of a plan.

Josh and I kind of like to wander through new cities. We don’t particularly care where we end up. In fact, the more obscure or random, the better. However, our kids do not feel the same way. Wandering aimlessly is boring to them. They like to know where we are going and how long it’s going to take to get there. This takes a lot of planning and mental energy, especially because we don’t speak Japanese.

Today, we wanted to start the day with a visit to the Kanda Myogin Shrine, but we mistakenly ended up at the Yushima Seido Temple instead. 

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We just went with it. It was interesting in its own right. We figured out where to get our temple books stamped, which was a worthwhile feat.

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From there, we walked to Akihabara, which is the center for anime, manga and electronics stores. Talk about overstimulation. This place was a swirling tornado of strident sounds and flashing lights.

IMG_3466We went to Club SEGA – six floors of video games, arcade attractions, photo booths, and more.

IMG_3460My son Bear loved it. He and Josh played some weird shoot-em-up game for what seemed like forever.

IMG_3452My daughter Bird and I took this opportunity to try out the amazing photo booths, which was super fun.

IMG_3866We just couldn’t figure out how to input my email address, so we couldn’t get the digital copies of our photos, which was a bummer. Language barrier.

After Akihabara, we walked to First Avenue Tokyo Station. We grabbed lunch in the basement of the department store Daimaru (department store basements are amazing and fantastic places for food), then tried to find a place to sit and eat it. We were amazed that there weren’t any tables or an organized place to sit. We had to wait for a seat on one of three benches, then balance our food and drinks in our laps. Totally fine, just foreign…and again, hard to figure out. Our lunch was delicious, though.

We kept walking until we got to the “cute zone,” where we spent a couple of hours checking out all the toys and trinkets. Our original plan had been to eat dinner on “Ramen Street,” but by about 4 pm, we were all exhausted. If it had just been Josh and me, we would have found a place to just sit and have a quiet drink…no talking, just relaxing. But you can’t really do that with kids. They were wilting, too, and they needed to swim or just lie on the sofa and watch a movie.

So we bailed. We staggered back to the hotel, where we all kind of collapsed. As in, I could not move for half an hour.

I totally got my butt kicked by Tokyo. But I’m already ready to try again tomorrow.

Has a city ever done you in?

Comments

  1. What an absolutely adorable picture taken in the photobooth! Don’t look too exhausted YET!!!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Sharon – That is the beauty of those photobooths – EVERYONE looks adorable. 😉 Thanks for the compliment, though!

  2. I’m surprised no one complained about how hot and humid it was today. It was pretty oppressive.

    Were you affected at all by the afternoon thunderstorm?

    • Points Pixie says:

      Andrew – My post timing is slightly off, so I think we missed the thunderstorm by a day. We are in Kyoto now, and I made the mistake of wearing a shirt that was synthetic…OMG. Dying.

      • Glad you didn’t get caught in it. Hope the heat isn’t too bad in Kyoto.
        Been pretty oppressive up here.

  3. Tokyo totally kicked my butt, too! Was there with the boyfriend in April and couldn’t get over how hard it was. Sort of like NYC, but with a HUGE language barrier. So glad to have seen it, but honestly, an awful lot of our time there was spent being frustrated and lost.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Denise – YES! That was our experience as well. We loved it, but it was really crazy for us.

  4. audrytec says:

    The thing my kids enjoyed the most in Tokyo was the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka (less than 5 minutes from the JR station). They go all out to make a lasting impression on the kids :). The food is surprisingly good too.

  5. Be sure to set time aside for the Tsukiji fish market and get the hotel’s help as the tours have been increasingly more limited in size. The Peninsula got me a great guide (daughter of one of the vendors), so we had no trouble. The tuna auction and vast array of sea creatures is amazing. Hope you also got the sumo match scheduled.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Bob – We missed the Tsukiji fish market since we weren’t jet lagged at all. I guess that is a silver lining kind of thing. 🙂

      We’re still working on the sumo thing.

  6. chickonmaui says:

    I’m loving following along on your adventure. I’m planning a similar trip with 2 teens for Summer 2015. Thanks for the updates

  7. Tsukiji is a must-see. Make sure you go at the right times.

    I think language is a huge barrier, but with the help of an offline map app + GPS-enabled cell phone or tablet navigating is actually very manageable. The only thing you have to master is the subway system, which I think is very organized and much more easily learned than NYC’s.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Voyaging Doc – I agree about the subway system! We are having some cell phone issues so we’re still having a hard time navigating 🙁

  8. It all sounds quite exciting, though definitely a bit over stimulating and draining as well.

    I think I’d have to do activities in small doses, and take breaks. I wonder how a non fish or meat eater would do there.

  9. Toonces says:

    Summertime in Tokyo is unfortunately not a good time of year. Rainy, muggy, humid. Bit of advice for restrooms. Almost all Family Mart, 7-11 type convenience stores have them. And you can see how ubiquitous they are in Japan. No problem to use without buying anything if you’re in a bind. In that regards so much easier than Europe. Enjoying your blog. Cheers.

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