Japan – What to expect!


Originally Published on Urbandesis.com

Kawaii was the only Japanese word I learnt during our 2-week-long trip to Japan. Our twins managed to draw a crowd (well, almost) anyplace we went and we were frequently greeted with sounds of “Kawaii, Kawaii”, which means cute, by the way.

Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that you hardly see kids out and about in Japan (especially in Tokyo), let alone twins. In fact, most of the people we came across seemed to be surprised that twins are not just a fairy tale, they really exist.

Considering Japan as a possible destination for your next vacation? Read on for some of the memories that I brought back from our first vacation with kids, and know what to expect from the country and its people. Of course, there is a chance that your impression of Japan was completely different from mine – that’s what I love about travel, so much of it is about perspectives. So if you’ve been to Japan, read on and relive your own experiences or give a thought to how they were different. And if you haven’t been, consider a trip to this beautiful, welcoming nation for your next vacation.

The People

  • Ever heard that the Japanese people are wary of foreigners? This is about as true as the belief that Indians break out in song and dance anyplace anytime. The Japanese are amongst the friendliest and most helpful people that I’ve ever met.
  • The Japanese are also exceedingly polite and kind. Our first thought that the politeness might be a front was shattered by the kindness we saw numerous times – strangers running to help us carry our double stroller up the stairs; an 80+ gentleman rushing to push a stranger’s wheelchair up a ramp; people walking with us to show us the way when we got lost; the list goes on….
  • The Japanese seem to be, well, mostly grown-ups. We hardly saw any kids around or even pregnant women for that matter, especially in Tokyo.

The Language

  • Don’t let the thought of language-problems discourage you. Most Japanese were able to understand us and talk to us in English. As long as you know some English and can use sign language, you’ll be able to more than get by.
  • Before you go, you should probably at least learn how to say ‘Thank You’ in Japanese – Arigatou or the more formal Arigatou Gozaimasu. If you have cute kids, remember Kawaii too.

The Food

  • If you’re non-vegetarian and like Japanese food, great! If you’re vegetarian and fussy (or accompanied by fussy kids), be prepared to eat a lot of pasta. My kids and I pretty much survived on pasta the 2 weeks that we were there. The good news is that “Italian Restaurants” are around every corner, the bad news is the carbs-overload.
  • Before entering a restaurant, know that high-chairs are practically unheard of in Japan. And let’s face it, Indian kids are just not quiet and docile, so if you have a portable child harness (like the totseat), it might be a good idea to carry it along.
  • While in Japan, be sure to pop into an Izakaya. Now don’t get any naughty ideas, Izakayas are casual drinking establishments that also serve food. You won’t get the aforementioned pasta, but a few shots of Sake can make plain rice taste better than the best biryani. Warning: If you’re travelling with kids, go easy on that potent stuff.
  • For food on the go, hit a convenience store – most have a huge selections of boxed meals, both Japanese and Western.
  • Tip: If you’ve been blessed with one of those fussy toddlers, flavoured yogurt and crackers can make for a great breakfast (or lunch, as long as mum-in-law isn’t watching). The flavoured yogurts in Japan tasted way better than those we get here.

The Public Transport

  • Taxis are expensive, so use the subway. Once you’ve figured out how to read the extremely complex Tokyo Metro subway map, you can get anywhere with relative ease.
  • Be warned though that Tokyo’s subway stations are not for the weak hearted (parents). They are old and exceedingly complex. For the first few days, we carried our double stroller up and down the stairs but we soon realized that most stations do have elevators, you just have to ask around and walk a lot to find them. There are trains running between all major cities. We stayed in Tokyo and Kyoto the entire time and took day trips to nearby touristy sites.

The Fashion

  • 6:00 P.M. outside a subway station in Tokyo looks like a scene right out of the Matrix – a sea of Agents Smith walking out towards you. I actually looked behind my shoulder a couple of times, half expecting Neo to appear. Japanese men must be buying those black suits like bananas – by the dozen!
  • Japanese women aren’t that different from Japanese men when it comes to colours. Almost everyone seemed to be dressed up in dark, neutral and earthy colours, especially during the day. Jeans, it appeared, were banned.
  • Tip: Need to keep your toddler(s) quiet on a subway ride? Play a game where they can’t talk till they find someone wearing red or yellow!

The Cleanliness

  • Ok, so I have to mention this. I could not figure out how they manage to keep Tokyo clean (and it is clean). Dustbins are few and far between, and when you do find them, good luck trying to figure out which container your trash belongs to. There were 12 different types of trash bins at UENO Park, go and count for yourself if you don’t believe me.
  • Public toilets are mostly spotlessly clean and bigger than the matchbox sized cubicles usually found in Singapore. The baby changing room at the Tokyo airport was bigger than my master bedroom.
  • Warning: All those buttons behind the WCs will definitely make you want to give your bottom a good pampering, just make sure you don’t press the wrong one.

Above all, expect to be surprised! Japan is a beautiful country and in the small area that we covered between Tokyo and Kyoto, we saw skyscrapers, bustling marketplaces, temples and shrines, parks, the snow-caped Mt. Fuji, and were even lucky enough to catch the end of the cherry blossom season.

Don’t forget, the Japanese are a warm and welcoming people, respect their rules and traditions, even if you don’t understand them. Don’t eat or drink while walking and don’t whip out your phones in the metro.

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