One afternoon in September SAH called and asked ‘So, um do you want to go to Japan next month?’.
Turns out SAH was being sent to Tokyo for a fancy packaging conference in October and the opportunity was too good for Little A and I to pass up. So we quickly booked plane tickets as I started scouring AirBNB for the perfect pad to make our home away from home for 10 days. I made contact with a few Tokyo-based designers organising visits to studios, making this work opportunity for me too.
Emails flew fast between my lovely freelance buddy and Japanophile, Shell (Kitty and Buck), while SAH and I excitedly listed the restaurants we’d go to and the shops we’d visit. Oh the time I would spend browsing craft stores and book shops, leaving no stone unturned… I can hear the parents who’ve travelled with their kids laughing from here.
As you can probably guess our romantic visions of cruising around Tokyo with our kid, being hip global travellers was completely deluded and reality was less than perfect. It took us a few days and some monumental melt downs (from all three of us) to find our rhythm and settle in to some understanding of international travel with a three-year-old.
Staying in the bohemian and oh-so-hip neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa – home of Hello Sandwich, dozens and dozens of very well stocked vintage stores, cafes, tiny trendy bars, and cool young persons night life – we faced a daily conflict: do we stay in Shimokita and explore every lane, alley, backstairs and nook; or do we go off and see the rest of Tokyo.
In the end we ventured outside of our neighbourhood most days, only to return in the afternoon and relax in the surrounds, wander, shop, eat and on one excellent afternoon indulge in delicious street food festival.
We learnt the hard way early on that life would be easier for all of us if we included kids activities in the day so one sunny afternoon we made the trek to the ‘local’ park. ‘Local’ because it was a 3.5km walk away with no direct public transport. Still when we arrived at Setagaya park we were rewarded with facilities that made our jaws drop. Free for small children to use and policed only by their very polite parents were peddle cars and an intricate track complete with working traffic lights. Along side this craziness was a small but packed skate park, decommissioned steam train kids were climbing all over and a sign that pointed us in the direction of a miniature steam train one could ride (but as the walk had taken so long we had missed its hours of operation).
I spent a large portion of our time in Tokyo dawdling, staring up at signs, stores, buildings anything that caught my eye, while following SAH as he pushed Little A in our stroller. Such was SAH’s dedication to pushing the stroller, that I jokingly said I was going to make a film entitled: ‘Man pushes stroller’. Turns out I wasn’t joking and in the end I created three videos that document our time in Tokyo and my view for a lot of the trip.
Here is one of them
I’ve come away inspired in more ways than I thought possible.
Travelling with a small child and the restrictions that come with it (no wild nights, solid hours on end of shopping, over crowded tourist spots) we needed to explore the city in different ways and all of it via public transport and on foot.
Slowly walking through the suburbs and we found life away from bright lights and obnoxious trucks playing the latest pop sensation on loud speaker (a way of advertising).Textures and patterns emerged and the realisation that everything has some form of illustration on it. Grimey concrete, sharp lines of repetitive box housing, clever street signs painted on the ground in narrow streets, pops of bright colour cutting through utilitarian hues, traditional sandwiched between the urban. This is the Tokyo we saw and loved.
Next post I will go into more detail on wheres and hows and even add our hard found tips on travelling with kids in Tokyo.