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.
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.
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.
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?