Top 10 Reasons To Not Take A Newborn To Japan
- People tell you you can’t travel with a baby
- People tell you not to
- People tell you it’s impossible to travel with babies
- The baby might cry or something
- You might make total strangers on a plane upset or whatever
- People tell you that you can’t do it
- “Isn’t she a bit young to leave the house?”
- Cat cafes won’t let you in with a baby, and this is actually true
- Uh….People are stupid, take your newborn to Japan because it rules!
Traveling with a newborn was rad. Don’t listen to people who naysay. If we can do Japan, you can do anywhere. MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE BABY GEAR SECTION TO SEE THE AMAZING BABY STUFF WE TOOK!
“YOUR TRAVELING DAYS ARE OVER”
So yeah, we had a baby. A perfect, adorable, amazing, gorgeous, beautiful baby girl. She’s dope. But I can’t count how many times people said something along the lines of, “Enjoy traveling while you can, once you have a baby it’s over for you.” And so forth. So yeah, strictly out of spite, I made a mental note that I would take my baby everywhere as soon as possible.
In fact, when I first held her, I said “I love you” and then I didn’t know what else to say so I told her all the cool places we’d go and things we’d do together. I’m not a liar, so I knew I had to get a move on it. And quick. So, as soon as doctor said we were good to go, we took baby to Japan.
DOCTOR SAYS: TRAVEL WHENEVER
At our baby’s first or second appointment with our pediatrician, when she was just a few days old, I asked the doctor when we could travel. He asked where we’d be going, and why. I told him I have no idea but I’m a wanderer and that’s why. He loved it. He said it’s generally recommended that you don’t fly until baby has her 2-month shots, but said even before that should be fine.
Caitlin, being a medical professional, and I, being a very adult person, decided we wouldn’t take her on a plane until her vaccinations were done. So that meant shots at the end of November for baby, international travel at the beginning of December for baby. Win!
YEAH, BABIES NEED PASSPORTS…AND THEY HAVE TO OPEN THEIR EYES FOR THE PHOTO
One of the first times we took baby out was, sadly, to one of the seven levels of hell listed in Dante’s Inferno…the United States Post Office.
I think she was like 10 days old or something, and honestly we didn’t even realize she needed a passport (thanks Google) while we looked at trips. When we found out, we booked the appointment and the fateful day came.
Luckily, the (normally grouchy) USPS people were happy to see an adorable newborn. Unluckily, they hadn’t really worked with a newborn and, being brand new parents, neither had we. We didn’t realize baby needed to have her eyes open and, being a newborn, that never happens. We tried all sorts of things and it didn’t work. The post office lady suggested we come back some other day, to which I gave a hearty “Shuvvvvvvvvv no,” and we kept trying. Eventually, other people had appointments and we grew desperate. I absolutely did not want to come back, especially because I figured it would be the same result.
So what did we do? Duh, we stripped baby down to her diaper, which (kinda) woke her up just enough to open her eyes for a hilarious passport photo. You have to take some documents that you need to print beforehand, but the process was pretty painless aside from the open eyes thing. We expedited the passport (just in case we found something crazy) and within a couple weeks, baby was ready to fly.
I LOVE YOU DELTA SKYMILES
Look, I’m 34 and I sell onesies. It’s not like I have a ton going for me. Travel is all I have. And we could probably do it with straight cash money, but it’s so much easier and cheaper with SkyMiles. I mean freak, our trip to Japan was like $150 total after using miles.
So yeah, here’s a couple links. Our business card is amazing. We get triple points on shipping, which we do heaps of. Then we use those for miles. And we travel cheap. Just do it.
Sadly, miles had been 40,000 round-trip from SLC to Tokyo but we kinda hesitated. We went through some new parent anxiety and missed the deal, so we ended up spending 60,000 points apiece, which is still good. For baby, we had to pay something like $12. Amazing!
CALL AS SOON AS YOU BOOK TO PUT BABY ON TICKET AND BASSINET REQUEST
We couldn’t put baby on the original reservation, but since we were booking her as a child-in-arms rather than as an actual seat, it was easy to get that done and pay the $12. We were also able to request a bassinet for the flights, but sadly, they told us it was just that: a request, and we wouldn’t know until we got to the gate and requested it again.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LEHI UTAH
We are first time parents. All of you who have been there know how insane that is, right? I was terrified. I AM terrified. Every day is scary and weird and surreal and fun and exciting and crazy.
So yeah, taking our kid to a foreign nation on a crazy long flight was not a reckless decision or something we took lightly. We chose Tokyo because it’s extremely safe and pretty much disease-free. We were super scared and debated going or not going pretty much every day. Then we decided we wouldn’t let fear dictate our decisions. We chose to be smart and well-informed but not scared. So Tokyo, here we come.
YES DELTA, BASSINETS ARE A THING
We made sure to arrive relatively early for our flight so as to be able to re-request the bassinet. The Delta woman at the airport legitimately told us she had never heard of a bassinet and that she’s “pretty sure” Delta doesn’t do that. Seriously. I mean, even I have heard of a bassinet! So we were a bit nervous, but the next person was much more helpful and told us they didn’t have one on our first leg (SLC to Seattle) but that we would need to check at the gate in Seattle. So off we went to the great northwest.
BUT REALLY DELTA WAS AWESOME AND BABY WAS SO GOOD TO SEATTLE
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: Delta was awesome. Aside from our flights to and from Seattle to Salt Lake, the flights weren’t full, so they gave us a seat for baby’s car seat/stroller (more on this later). That was so nice to have so we didn’t have to hold her for the entire flight. And they did it for us both ways to and from Tokyo. Seriously Delta, thank you.
And on our way to Seattle, we had to hold baby and she was amazing. She slept the whole way, only waking up to eat and then right back to sleep. We’d heard that babies get sore ears at takeoff and landing, so we made sure to give her a binky at those times (doc said it helps) and she was great.
Caitlin, being brilliant, just lined all of our bags with diapers. We took 2 backpacks and a carry on, and every bag was filled with diapers, then we filled the empty space in our bags with more. We actually had too many on the trip, which surprised me, but it was easy to pack them and not take up heaps of room.
SEATTLE PRIORITY PASS WAS NICE AND GOOD
After having so many close calls at airports (Ok really only like 2, but still), we made sure to book sufficient time in Seattle to lay over. Since we had a few hours, we made use of our amazing Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which comes with Priority Pass, which got us into the lounge. It wasn’t the most life changing one (still Cambodia, in my book) but it was nice to get out of the busy airport and into a quiet and more private place. The food was decent (not great, but decent) and we were just happy to have gotten there incident-free. Baby was good, we were good, and we were ready to head to Narita.
THE FLIGHT WAS BLOODY LONG BUT FINE
The flight from Seattle to Tokyo was long. Like, really long. Baby was amazing, without even a peep, but she did. Not. Freakin. Sleep. At. All. And since she didn’t sleep, Caitlin and I felt like we couldn’t either. So we were all 3 awake for 12 straight hours. Not ideal.
The only incident that happened was pretty bizarre. I took baby to the bathroom for a diaper change (she needed like 5-6 changes on the flight which was…good, I guess, since it means her digestive system is working?). The bathrooms have baby changing tables which is great, and I changed her several times without a problem. This time, though, as I had her outfit off and was removing the diaper, she peed a LOT. Soaked the changing table and, of course, her outfit. “Whatever,” I thought, “I’ll just take her back to our seat in the diaper and we’ll dress her there”, since we’d brought several easily-accessible outfits.
But wouldn’t you know, I had no diaper somehow. And as I go halfway out the bathroom door with a naked baby, I’m whisper-yelling to my wife to try and get a diaper and/or new outfit. (Yes, I cleaned up her pee with paper towels AND disinfectant wipes). But weirdly enough, there was a long line formed for the bathroom I was hogging. Turns out the other bathroom’s door handle had literally broken off and was no longer usable. Sigh.
Luckily people were cool, I got baby changed, and all was well. Looking back, it’s funny. At the time, it was stressful.
HOLY FREAK TOKYO YOU RULE
The flight was long but not unbearable. Customs were so quick and baby finally started to cry about that time so we took her and changed her and fed her while I figured out where the heck we were going. All I knew was our apartment was near Shinjuku station, so I went to get tickets while Caitlin took care of baby.
Like everything in Japan, finding the train was easy. Buying tickets was easy. Getting on was easy. Everything was so incredibly organized and simple. Having such an easy time navigating and stuff made it heaps easier to focus on baby, so that was nice.
JR RAIL PASS IS ESSENTIAL
I’ll go into this later, but you need the JR Pass. Full stop. We could have used it to get to our first apartment, but the one we got was only able to be used for 7 full days. Since we were there for 8.5, we figured it out (OK, Caitlin did) and saw it made more sense to not activate it yet, so we bought tickets from the airport to Shinjuku Station. They were expensive but we had no other option, so whatever. The train was so quiet and even though it was a long trip (1.5 hours), we got some nice rest and I worked because the train had decent Wi-Fi.
SHINJUKU, YOU CRAZY
When we finally arrived at our station, it was exactly like I expected it would be: Absolutely crazy. Huge billboards, neon signs everywhere, super crowded but very organized…it was amazing. I’m a big fan of those first impressions you get when you see something for the first time, and this did not disappoint. It was so cool to step out into the Japanese night. Shinjuku station is so insanely busy (some say the busiest in the world) but in Japan, the chaos has order. It’s hard to explain but if you’ve been, you know.
So yeah, it was amazing seeing Japan for the first time. I think baby may have loved it even more than we did, or maybe she was just overstimulated. She was taking in all the sights and sounds as much as we were, and it was fun to see. (Also, I almost cried when she got her first passport stamp).
THE APARTMENT: TINY AND JUST WHAT WE NEED WITH NOTHING MORE
I ended up not realizing there were closer stations to our apartment than Shinjuku, they just would have required a transfer, so we got off and had to walk about 20 minutes. As you can tell, it wasn’t the worst thing, but yeah we were bloody tired.
We ended up just getting dinner at 7-11, which is a lot less disgusting than it sounds. The stores over there (we called them dairies in New Zealand, dunno why, but they’re like gas stations that don’t sell gas) are really nice. The cashiers greet you when you come in and they sell lots of nice foods, along with a small selection of groceries. So yeah, we got 7-11 dinner and it was fine. Ok, mine was gross because it was SOOOOO fishy (and I hate fish) like everything else in Japan, but Caitlin loved her dumplings and tempura veggies. Good stuff.
Now, back to the apartment: (By the way, use my Airbnb code here and we’ll both get free money on Airbnb) It was a tiny studio on a nice quiet street. It wasn’t glamourous, but we didn’t need it to be. We were there to eat, sleep, and possibly build a little fort. And that was it. The beds were on the ground, which was not ideal for someone as old and sore and creaky as me, but it was good. From the time we left Lehi to the time we got to our apartment, it was 19 hours…not awesome…but not too horrible. We all slept like babies, especially our baby. And weirdly enough, we didn’t get super jet lagged. We woke up the next morning and just cruised.
POCKET WIFI IS VERY IMPORTANT
So Caitlin and I are on T-Mobile, which is awesome because they don’t charge for international data and texts. I cannot stress how amazing that is and how much less we’ve been lost because of it. However, in Japan, although we have T-Mobile, you’ll spend lots of times in subway and train stations where phone data internet might be next to zilch. Hence, pocket Wi-Fi rules. It’s just a little hotspot you carry, and our Airbnb included it which was super nice. When we got to Kyoto we didn’t have it, and it wasn’t a super big deal but it would have been nice. I know you can rent pocket Wi-Fi at airports and train stations, so if you don’t have phone data you will absolutely need it.
DAY 2: DANG SHINJUKU YOU REALLY CRAZY…STARTING WITH BREAKFAST
Our next morning started, as so many travel mornings do for us, with me roaming the streets of a strange city looking for my obsession: grocery stores. I found a little one called Aeon which was pretty lame since it didn’t have much of anything, but there’s a chain called Family Mart all around Japan (and Thailand, BTW) and it was great. They have tiny Red Bulls, which was the greatest thing to ever happen to me, as well as so many amazing cakes and pastries and yogurts and candy and chips and I just want to cry thinking about it all… I ate about 1,000 of these steamed egg buns that are custard flavored which are basically really thick heavy vanilla cakes, they were so bloody good. And lots of delicious cream filled donuts and stuff, which is weird, because everyone in Japan is so skinny but all the food I found was not skinny person food. Still, it ruled…HOWEVER
COKE SELLS LAXATIVE COKE IN JAPAN! REPEAT, COKE SELLS LAXATIVE COKE IN JAPAN
As part of my victorious grocery haul, I bought a Diet Coke with a white label, it was called Coke Plus. I didn’t know what it was, just that it was new, so I bought it and drank it BEFORE looking it up. Big mistake. Coke Plus is freakin laxative Coke. Seriously. Only in Japan, man. Crazy stuff.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE: EXCHANGING CURRENCY IN A VENDING MACHINE
We ended up just roaming the Shinjuku area (the station is nuts, by the way) looking for a place to exchange some USD into ¥ but really I just wanted to roam. It was a beautiful day in the mid 50s, insanely crowded everywhere we walked, and I wanted to just feel Japan for a minute. Finally, Caitlin got sick of feeling Japan out because my minute turned into 2 hours and we looked up some exchange places. Weirdly enough, there was a vending machine currency exchange in the front of this gross smoky shop and I thought for sure it would be a huge ripoff so we only did $100. The crazy part is it ended up being the best rate we got in all of Japan. Later I went to a person and we got a full $10 less. And in Kyoto, now that I had learned my lesson, we found another vending machine and got another really good rate. Welcome to the future.
JAPANESE TRAINS ARE LIKE MUSEUMS OR FUNERALS
For someone loud and obnoxious like me, Japanese trains are…difficult. It’s crazy how quiet they are. Like, really really crazy considering they’re packed to the gills. It is so quiet on the trains, usually nobody is conversing or if so it’s only a couple people and really low volume. So needless to say when our baby cried or something on the train or bus it sounded like a scream echoing through eternity, but luckily Japanese people are super polite and love babies so it was all good.
PRIORITY SEATING IS AMAZING
Another amazing thing about Japanese transportation is you have these painted lines on the train platform where people line up to wait for the train. It’s always very orderly and nobody forces ahead or pushes, but the front of the train is priority and means old people, wheelchair people, and people with babies should get to sit there first. And the people actually obey these rules! Caitlin almost always got a seat with baby and was able to nurse baby with the help of a nursing cover. Plus, since the trains are so quiet like I mentioned above, baby loved it and ate really well.
UENO PARK IS PHENOMENAL
Our first stop was Ueno Park and it was, as some may say, dope. It’s just a massive park with a couple fountains and lots of areas to lounge and people were out, old and young, in throngs since it was a nice day. And yes, the gaggle of schoolgirls I saw watching my baby will always remain a fond memory, but even more so the one girl who dared to come up to us and in broken-ish English say, “Your baby…so cute!” while all the other girls nodded and smiled and ooohed in approval with thumbs in the air. Yes, that is one reason I love Ueno Park, but really it’s just a fun place to stroll around and people watch. Lots of school kids out with their classes which was fun to see, and the atmosphere was enjoyable. We also walked around Toshogu Shrine which was very pretty and kinda just marveled that we were in Japan with a newborn who was doing awesome. Take that, haterzzz! (Side note: We did not see the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park since it wasn’t blossom season, but that’s just one more reason to go back).
TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM IS…MEH
Yeah I know I’m a diva, so sue me. I was super stoked for the Tokyo National Museum because I wanted to learn all about ninjas and samurai and kabuki and geishas and all the cool Japanese history. In the end it was…not that.
It’s not that there’s not some cool stuff, there surely is. We saw a cool samurai sword and learned a few cool historical things and such. But it wasn’t exciting and Caitlin and I were both surprised how boring it seemed. The grounds are really pretty, and there’s a big pond on the way in, and there’s some cool art and stuff, but I would have been fine if we’d have skipped this. There were several other buildings and exhibits that we could have gone to but our time was getting short so we decided to cut our losses there and move on. Luckily, it was only $6.50 per person so whatever.
DINNER AT SHABUSAI: ONE OF THE BEST MEALS OF MY LIFE
Luckily, I knew some people who had lived in Japan, and something I was told I could not miss was eating Shabu Shabu food. Best advice ever. Shabu Shabu is basically a hotpot, where the restaurant has little stoves at your table and you have boiling broth and boil your own meats and veggies in it. And, uh, dear reader (hi mom), allow me to say this: It ruled.
We got a teriyaki broth as well as a tad bit spicy garlic broth, and both were awesome. The server, who was super cool and friendly, brought us these really thin strips of beef and pork as well as chicken meatballs, all raw, which we boiled. They soak up the broth and the flavor is just insane. Plus, they had a whole buffet-style bar of fresh veggies. In fact, there was a woman there cutting the veggies and she did not stop for the entire 2 hours we were there.
The watercress! The cabbage! The…whatever other green stuff I ate! It was actually better than the meat. I tried some tofu which was decent but not amazing, but the veggies just ruled. Plus they had tons of different noodles and it was all you can eat. By the time we got there, it had gotten a bit chilly so the hot meal was absolutely perfect and seriously was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. They also give you raw egg with your meal and you’re supposed to dip your hot food in the egg and I tried it a tiny bit but decided I couldn’t risk getting sick on our first real day in Japan so I skipped the egg. Maybe some other time. It also came with soft serve ice cream and a soda fountain and was only $15 each, so yeah, it was amazing and totally worth it. Sadly, we made the mistake of wanting to try a different place later in our trip and it sucked, so we only went once. Regrets. Which reminds me…
REPEAT AFTER ME: JAPAN IS NOT THAT EXPENSIVE…
I’d always heard that Japan was so bloody expensive that it made travel there difficult. Like, I was expecting to have to mortgage my house and/or sell part of my liver or spleen to make this trip happen. And yeah, our apartment in Tokyo was fairly expensive for being so tiny, and the trains weren’t cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised how affordable it seemed. We could get a good bowl of ramen or something for $5, and I feel like even in Europe you can’t really get a decent anything for that price. Groceries seemed similar to the USA, maybe a tad more expensive, but not too crazy, and restaurants, if you choose wisely, were actually quite reasonable. Don’t let that stereotype of expensiveness keep you from planning a trip to Japan.
ENDING OUR NIGHT AT SENSO-JI TEMPLE
Luckily Caitlin had also talked to people who had visited Japan and those people happened to love food as much as we do, so this next part was a no-brainer. We heard that in lots of the touristy areas there were pancake goldfish and we needed to eat many of them. Naturally, we complied. We went towards Senso-ji and the area had many goldfish vendors.
Basically, it’s like a pancake in the shape of a goldfish and they stuff it with different fillings. We got one stuffed with custard, which was just vanilla pudding, and one with maple and butter, which made it like an actual pancake. They were $2 each so we naturally ate 12,000. So bloody good.
And the area around Senso-ji is just fun. It’s very touristy with heaps of souvenir shops and little food stands, but also really busy and bustling for being 7 or 8 at night and pitch dark. We had fun looking at all the shops and the temple itself is pretty darn impressive at night.
The temple itself is very ornate and just looks amazing at night all bright against the darkness. There’s also a five story pagoda on the grounds, which I think looked even cooler than the temple itself. There’s a massive lantern hanging on the temple which everyone stops to get photos with, but just being in the area and appreciating the beauty was fun and a perfect end to an amazing day. We headed to the flat and slept like dogs or logs or whatever sleeps well in Japan.
DAY 3: EXCHANGING JR RAIL PASS AND YES, YOU NEED NEED NEED THE JR RAIL PASS
Before I say anything else…TAKE YOUR BLOODY PASSPORT WHEN IT’S TIME TO EXCHANGE YOUR JR RAIL PASS! I think we saw someone get turned away for not having their passport, which sucks.
Anyways, I mentioned that the JR pass is necessary, and I stand by that statement. Between every train and bus we took, we probably saved heaps of money. Plus, it’s amazing to not have to worry about paying or whatever. There’s a bunch of train and metro lines in Japan and the JR Pass is only good for the JR company lines, but in our 7 days using it we probably had an issue with that maybe twice.
So yeah, the pass is almost $300 each, and it shipped in from Spain (get them in advance) and it’s kinda bulky, but once you get it, you can activate it at any main station and then it’s good for 7 consecutive days. Luckily Caitlin had figured it out for us and it was cheaper to pay for our own trains for the first couple days and then activate the pass for the rest of our trip. That way, we got to take the bullet train to Kyoto as well as the train back to the airport, all covered on the pass.
BOOK YOUR TICKETS ON THE RAIL IN ADVANCE IF POSSIBLE
I think I’ve mentioned this like 8 times, but Japanese trains are insaneeeeee, and so it’s good to book your seat on trains in advance. The trains just around the city aren’t bookable (just use priority seating if you can for baby), but the bullet trains and airport trains are able to be reserved as soon as your pass is active. The train to the airport wasn’t crazy crowded, and I’m pretty sure you can probably get on without a reservation, but man…the Kyoto bullet train was totally full, like to the gills, as most trains in Japan are. If we didn’t have reservations on that one, I’m not sure if we would have gotten on. The JR agents are super helpful but you do have to save these tiny tickets for days, so make sure you have your own personal Caitlin who doesn’t lose stuff.
DANG SHIBUYA CROSSING, YOU CRAZY CRAZY
And now, my entire reason for going to Japan: The Shibuya scramble!
Seriously, when we booked Japan, I basically told Caitlin I wanted to go to Shibuya and just people watch and chill, and that was pretty much my only plan. I had heard it was nuts and that it was the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world (no idea where I hear these things, or if they’re true, but I believe everything everyone tells me all the time). And yeah, it’s nuts.
Now I must say, it was slightly less busy than I’d hoped. I was hoping it would be so crowded that nobody would be able to move and we would all meld together and become human mush, but sadly that didn’t happen. It was crazy though, because I think there’s 8 different crossings and they all go at the same time and except for me nearly mowing people down with the stroller, it feels so organized in all its chaos. And it’s crazy that every time the light changes, waves and waves and waves of people come every bloody time. It’s pretty impressive to see and the surrounding area is really fun so it’s an absolute must in Tokyo.
SHIBUYA STARBUCKS IS VERY GOOD
And to make Shibuya Crossing even better, there’s a massive Starbucks inside this even massive-r tall building right across the street. Did we order anything at Starbucks? Of course not. Were all the good seats taken at Starbucks? Of course. There’s a huge window on the second floor which has a perfect view of the crossing, and it’s a big tourist attraction. It seems like most people get those seats and never leave, but I’m always scheming, so we stood behind the good seats (not too close, we’re not monsters) and I pulled out our cute baby. Wouldn’t you know it, within a few minutes people offered Caitlin their seat to sit with baby. Hence another reason to take a baby to Tokyo.
DOLLAR STORE LETDOWN BUT GOOD CURRY
After feeding and changing baby whilst marveling at the nutsiness of Shibuya Crossing, I was getting a bit antsy to explore. Like all other cool touristy areas in Tokyo, Shibuya has so many cool neon billboards and so much to see so I was absolutely ready to see it all. I had heard about this big dollar store in the area, so I was stoked to get there and buy all sorts of bizarre stuff. Sadly, ‘twas not to be.
The store was called Daiso, and it is definitely big. And pretty cheap. But for one, not everything is a dollar (or, as they say in Japan, ¥100). So that was deceiving. But really, it just wasn’t that cool. I mean, it was ok, but nothing special. Later in Kyoto I found a REAL ¥100 shop and it freakin ruled. So Daiso was ok, but not as amazing as I’d hoped. I bought a bunch of candy and drinks and went back out to hit the town.
Caitlin had heard about some gross and lame and bad sushi place (see below, it was her version of heaven), so me and baby took off to find some eats that didn’t come from the sea. I ended up at a place that was pretty highly rated on Yelp called JR Curry (not the same JR as the train people, don’t worry) and they were super crowded but cool enough to find me a place that fit our stroller. I had some good butter chicken and went back out to attack the day yet again.
CAITLIN’S PARADISE: CONVEYOR BELT SUSHI
Now, as I said, Caitlin loves to eat things that shouldn’t be eaten, such as all seafood (unless heavily battered and served with chips, IMHO). She had dreamed of the day when she could eat conveyor belt sushi, where you just push a button on a screen and your sushi comes out on a conveyor belt. Next to simply having fish leap into her mouth directly from the ocean, this is about as perfect a thing as Caitlin could ever imagine.
And did she love it? Yes. Has she talked about it every day since? Yes. And crazy enough, it wasn’t even very expensive. Each sushi piece was between $1-3, so she even got crazy and tried stuff like sea urchin (which she hated), and was able to eat more sushi for less money than ever possible in America. The best part? I wasn’t there so I didn’t even have to smell it! Win win!
HARAJUKU: YOU THE CRAZIEST OF ALL
If I have one regret, it’s that we didn’t spend as much time in Harajuku as I would have liked. There was just too much bloody stuff to do! But yes, Harajuku, you the craziest. From the second you get off the train and see Takeshita Street (seriously that’s the real name), you know you’re in for a treat.
It’s just, like so much else of Japan, totally organized chaos. It’s got neon lights and signs galore as well as so many touristy shops and restaurants and animal cafes and is just so much fun to stroll. The whole section of Harajuku seemed really cool, but particularly the area around Takeshita.
OUR BABY RUINED MY DREAM OF A CAT CAFÉ
Speaking of animal cafes…and I am shaking and crying hysterically as I write this…
Our baby. Prevented. Us. From. My lifelong. Dream. Of entering. A cat café. Or a pig café. Or a hedgehog café. Or an owl café. Or a random animal café that somehow included an otter. Or a Shiba inu café.
Yes, all of those are real and yes, all of those denied us entrance because of our infant. We had a car seat/stroller cover which would have protected baby from any animal that got too curious (plus Caitlin is a total mama bear), but I understand why they wouldn’t let us in. Still, I was legitimately bummed. I wanted to go in the micro pig café the most, but they all looked cool. We sadly gazed into the windows of every one we passed, and if you want to do an animal café, Harajuku seems to be the place with most of them. (As you’ll see when we went to Nara, I guess wild animals do like to try and eat babies).
CREPES AND FRIED CHEESE = <3
One of the hardest, Sophie’s Choice like parts of Harajuku was deciding which of the many delicious looking (and realllllllllly unhealthy) food options to try. Luckily, I’m fat, so I had room for lots, starting with gourmet crepes.
There was a surprising number of crepe places in the touristy parts of Japan, and they were bloody amazing. I got one with caramel, sweetened condensed milk, and whipped cream (ordering this in English, and the girl who took the order got it perfect) and Caitlin got a banana and cookie butter one or something. *Chef’s kiss*
Then, as if I wasn’t happy with the 12 pounds I’d already gained from the crepes and everything else bad I’d eaten, we happened upon a place called JBox which was kinda like Hot Dog on a Stick if you’ve been there in the USA. Take a corndog, but instead of filling it with reconstituted hog anus or whatever hotdog meat is, you fill it with melty cheese so it’s a big melty cheese dog. Absolutely bloody life-changing. They had these delicious sauces you could load up on and basically I probably took 5 years off my life in one night but it was worth it.
We also passed by the cool mirrored entrance to Tokyo Plaza Omotesando a few times and it is pretty mind-bendingly-cool, just lots of mirrors reflecting everyone and everything around making for a trippy experience even just in passing by.
JAPAN IS SO BABY FRIENDLY IT’S AMAZING
I just wanted to note that in addition to learning the word “kawaii” very quickly in Japan (it means cute, and every schoolgirl and old lady we passed said it about our baby, not to brag) and seeing how much Japanese people love babies, we loved how baby-friendly Japan was. It seemed like in almost every train station as well as most tourist attractions and on many trains, there were family bathrooms with baby changing tables. That made it sooooooo much easier traveling with a newborn. Caitlin could duck in there and feed baby quickly if needed and I was a diaper changing machine. Japan, you rule.
FINISHING THE NIGHT AT HARAJUKU GYOZA LOU
As I’ve mentioned like 800 times, we got lots of good tips from people who had both lived in and just visited Japan, and we’re glad we did. Someone had told Caitlin about Harajuku Gyoza Lou, and since we were close we figured we’d give it a try for a late-night snack. We’d read online that it gets crazy crowded and has long wait times, but whatever, we decided to go anyways. And, uh, mmmmmmmmm!
Gyoza is basically just a potsticker, but like 1,000 times better. At Harajuku Gyoza Lou, they have either fried or steamed, and both are awesome. I can’t really explain why, but they were really freakin good. The sauce was good, the filling was good, and the atmosphere is fun. It’s kinda just a small dingy restaurant but fun. The food was super cheap, and apparently the cucumber salad is amazing. Caitlin loved it. I only like cucumbers if they’re soaked in brine and vinegar or whatever makes them pickles, but apparently if you go you have to try it. So go.
A BRIEF NOTE ON THE INSANITY OF JAPANESE TRAINS
Getting home that night was nuts. Luckily, there are trains pretty much everywhere every few minutes, and luckily, they always run exactly on time. But holy x it gets crazy. That night, going back to our flat from Harajuku was absolute insanity. We had to skip the first 2 trains because they were so crowded, and by the third we realized it wasn’t going to change, so we shoved our way on (nicely and politely) with our stroller and basically prayed to not get trampled. It was so packed we didn’t even have to hold onto anything. Aside from the one guy who tripped over our stroller on the way out and gave me an angry look, nobody seemed to care that we had a bulky stroller. Everyone was chill. Funny enough, the whole trip, the only people I heard complain about us having a kid with a stroller on the train was some Australian guy saying to his friend that we “shouldn’t have that pram on a busy train,” or whatever, mate. Japanese people are too polite and chill to tell us, even if they may have thought it.
DAY 4: HOW IS THE TOKYO METROPOLIS BUILDING OBSERVATION DECK FREE?!?!
The next day, the weather wasn’t ideal. It was probably about 45° and gloomy and sprinkling, but not super hard. We had our ponchos and were completely dry most of the day. We walked 12 minutes from our apartment to one of the coolest views I’ve ever seen…
At the Tokyo Metropolis building, on the 45th floor, there’s these huge and massive and large and big windows and the view of Tokyo you get there is just insane. It’s like Saint Paul’s in London or the Duomo in Florence but it’s…FREE?!?
TAKASHIMAYA TIMES SQUARE: BEAUTIFUL CHAOS
If you’ve been to NYC Times Square, you probably already know this, but for some reason Japan’s Time Square in Takashimaya just seems crazier. Maybe it’s all the neon signs in Japanese, I don’t know, but we had heaps of fun just roaming the area and wandering through stores and malls and looking for delicious food. Which reminds me…
VENDING MACHINE RESTAURANTS ARE COMMON. THIS ONE WAS MEH
We wanted to try a vending machine restaurant since they’re so common in Japan. No, it’s not just like a vending machine, it’s only kinda like a vending machine. You look at the menu outside (or sometimes right inside the door) and place your order and pay on the kiosk, then find a seat and they bring you the food you ordered. Or something.
This place we ate at was so nondescript I didn’t even get the name of it, but that’s OK because it was pretty blah. I got a ton of tempura veggies, which was good (especially the tempura pumpkin, that’s phenomenal) but everything else was meh. Even Caitlin, the world’s biggest seafood lover, didn’t love her seafood, so you know something was wrong. Plus, they would call out orders in Japanese (shocking, I know) so I basically took our ticket up every time they called a number and asked if it was ours. Finally it was, but it was pretty lame food. The concept of a kiosk restaurant is pretty sweet though and that aspect was fun.
BICQLO…MAN YOU CRAY CRAY CRAZY
This is one place you should definitely stop if you’re in the area. What is Bicqlo, you ask? Well, Uniqlo is clothing and Bic Camera is electronics and if you stuff them together you get a ridiculously large building full of freakin everything. Literally almost everything.
Like, eight massive floors worth of stuff. So many electronics and accessories, clothes, bikes, scooters, and probably a trillion other things. It just feels Japanese, if that makes sense. It is so big that it’s very overwhelming, especially if you have absolutely no game plan besides “let’s just look at stuff,” like us. I guess if you’re in the USA, imagine Best Buy with clothing and times it by 10. Just nuts and awesome and super bright and clean, just like everywhere else in Japan.
ENDING THE NIGHT AT AKIHABARA TIMES SQUARE
After our big day out, we blamed our baby for needing a nap and we all went and slept soundly like the old people we are. Caitlin was tuckered out but I had heard how crazy Akihabara was and I could not skip it, so off I went.
Annnnnnd….meh. I got off the train and headed for the exit called “Electric Town.” I was ready to be blinded by all the neon and craziness I heard was there and then…not much. There was a giant Sega billboard which was cool, and lots of cool game and figurine shops and a bunch of casinos or something, but it wasn’t as cool as I’d heard. Granted, December is probably not peak tourist season, but I heard it was all anime and cosplay (both things I know nothing about) and I wanted to see some weird people and weird stuff and there wasn’t much. In fact, it was probably one of the least crowded places I went, so in the end I pretty much roamed, saw that there wasn’t much to see, and headed home.
MORRISSEY SERVES ME DONER KEBABS
As I stumbled home, I was brutally hungry and realized nothing sounded good. Remembering my amazing kebab experience in Germany, I was thrilled when I saw a place called Hisar Restaurant and was stoked it was still open, since it seemed like things closed early on such a dark and gloomy (and still slightly rainy) night. To my everlasting joy, the guy running the place had a slight resemblance to a Turkish version of Morrissey, although I didn’t ask for Suedehead or Bigmouth, sadly. The place had good reviews and wasn’t crazy expensive, but in the end it was kind of like a “Del Taco” version of Turkish food. Like, Del Taco claims to be Mexican food, but it only bears a slight resemblance to real Mexican food, right? And Hisar had the elements of a doner wrap, but he put this sweet sauce on it that made it feel more like eating a hot dog or something. I dunno. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t great. Still, thanks non-vegan-Morrissey-lookalike guy.
DAY 5: SHINKANSEN, BABY!
I woke up stoked on day 5 because I knew I was about to fulfill another childhood dream…the bullet train! I remember being a little kid and hearing that Japan had these cool bullet trains (shinkansen) that go up to 200 miles per hour. I knew I’d never go on a rocket ship (probably), so I figured this would be the closest I’d ever get. Fast forward like 30 years and here I was!
We had to head to Shingawa Station to get on the shinkansen, which was about 40 minutes for us, but no biggie. Finding the bullet train was super easy and the train is wayyyyyy long. Caitlin and I watched it come in and it just kept going and going. The nose of the train is cool looking, almost like a shark. Needless to say I was uber stoked to get on and experience it.
…And yeah, it ruled. It goes super fast and yet is so smooth and quiet that it doesn’t feel like you’re going that fast. Since we had reserved seats, there was no line to get on, but like I said earlier, reserve your bloody seat ahead of time! Every seat in our section was taken, and I know you can go to non-reserved but that section looked crazy to me. Just do it.
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