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Tokyo – some final thoughts

I’ve turned my watch back an hour already. It’s 2030h Singapore time. We should be home in about another 4 hours. Have we had enough of a holiday?

On spending 5.5 days in Tokyo

There’s certainly a lot more of Tokyo we could explore. We haven’t seen the ancient sites, palaces, gardens or even visited the fish market. But we have experienced the pace and people of Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Shibuya. We’ve also successfully navigated the subway, first day hiccups aside, and enjoyed priority seats and queues on their trains, shopping centers and theme parks. LV and I also had a good dose of Hello Kitty – we saw her 3 times, once at Sanrio Puroland and twice at Tobu where she was promoting a valentine’s day cake, and LV had her picture taken with Kitty all 3 times.

But having to carry both our kids (in the case of Darien, a straight 10 hours each day) while walking through the busy streets and stairways of Tokyo’s malls and subway labyrinths had our backs, shoulders and arms aching sufficiently for us to yell “Enough!”

So, while 5.5 days is likely to be no where near enough for a vibrant city like Tokyo, it was for a first time trip with little ones.

On traveling to Tokyo with little ones

LV certainly enjoyed herself lots, despite the cold. Sanrio Puroland had all the simple rides and shows a 3-year-old could enjoy. And DisneySea, oh DisneySea! Where floats really float! She managed to get on enough rides and took pictures with Donald whom she did not get to meet in Hong Kong. One regret though – she was disappointed she did not get to meet Mickey or Minnie.

In his own baby way, we think Li’l D enjoyed himself too. He seems to love the cold and family time in the hotel room each night appeared to be his favourite.

As for meals, we’ve discovered that the bento culture suits young families like ours best. Tired, cranky kids don’t dine well outside. Neither do tired parents with cranky kids. Picking up bentos from the food malls which were just about everywhere in the underground subway network were easy. If ever it was difficult, it was only in choosing which bentos to pick up. We were spoilt for choice and while we were certain the food we ate was not as good as what you might get at a good eatery or restaurant, it was definitely better than any we’ve tasted in Singapore. So yes, do the Japanese thing and bento all the way. If it were less cold, we would’ve probably taken bento lunches in the park too. Something for future consideration.

On shopping in Tokyo

Expensive? Well… I actually don’t think so. Living in Tokyo is expensive, for sure. Accommodation was what really cost us. And food. But then, it’s all perspective. For what we ate each day (considering it daily fare for the Japanese and occasional for us back in Singapore), you can eat (Japanese food) rather well and cheaply. As I mentioned, there were bento boxes aplenty at very reasonable prices, which tastes were comparable if not far better than the Japanese food outlets in Singapore, at lower prices than home, especially when you manage to get dinner bentos at slashed prices before the food malls close for the day at 8pm. And if what you intend to shop for is locally produced stuff – furoshikis, bento boxes and accessories, Hello Kitty knick-knacks, then those are indeed cheaper to get in Japan (naturally) than in Singapore or online. Case in point – a sandwich sealer I was eyeing on J-list was going for USD$12.80, excluding shipping. I got it for SGD$13.10 at TOBU. Happy, happy me.

So while it is not the cheapest place to live in – I’m sure shopping for daily produce would be a very wallet-draining experience on a regular basis – I’m not too sure if Singapore isn’t actually just as expensive or more so these days. But I do enjoy the shopping experience in Tokyo just because

(1) they truly believe in quality. You certainly get what you pay for, and it is good stuff. Even “cheap” things by their standard have good finishes.

(2) everything looks so pretty. As with quality, presentation is wonderful. Everything just looks good there, from regular snacks to furniture and household products. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a standard they’ve achieved and live by. Why can’t it be like that in Singapore too? Dissertation topic… EE anyone? :P

(3) service standards are excellent. And in today’s world, that’s the competitive edge. What would make me return if I have everything I need? You have to make me want it, and want to return to get it. The Japanese do that very well. Singaporeans have a LONG way to go in that regard. And the problem in Singapore that’s not making the service sector improve? People complain, but they return! Businesses do not suffer for the lack of service quality! I reckon in Japan it would not be so.

But all that said, is Tokyo a city I would want to move to, live in and raise a family? Umm… it’s probably too early to say, given that I only spent 5 full days there, but at this point in time, I think the answer is no. While I haven’t totally experienced it yet, I do get a sense that the Japanese culture of formality and careful negotiations could be a tad too tiring to work through on a daily basis. Not that this doesn’t happen in Singapore, but I grew up here and if I need to navigate through layers of cultural expectations, rather do it in one I am already familiar with. Right now, other than all things pretty and cute which I don’t need on a daily basis, I can do all I want here in Singapore still, so, not unless there’s something really attractive for me out there other than the novel, Singapore’s still the best city on earth for me. But yes, I do have another appointment with Tokyo already that I’m planning. *grin*

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Tales of Toilet Travels

And of course, what else could complete my trip but a tale of tummyaches at the wrongest of times in the wrongest of places.

Here I am in the land of electronic gadgets and gizmos, where just about every public toilet is fitted with heated seats and buttons to choose your level of bidet spraying pleasure. Some even come with bum dryers to provide you with that complete experience of paperless toilet going. And I end up having the biggest do of my trip in a toilet, in a bus, on the way to the airport for a flight bound for home. But trust the Japanese to make every toileting experience as pleasant as possible and the bus-toilet was fitted very much like those you find on airplanes, complete with a sink with a small tank full of soap. The door has to be locked too before the toilet light would come on, and it would be this simple bit of wiring genius that would keep me occupied throughout my bumpy ride on the little throne. For each time the bus went “Bump!” the lock would lose contact and the light would go off, and I would have to click it back in in order for the light to come back on. I must’ve done it more than 10 times through it all. Bump-click-bump-click-bump-click. And just when I was done, Darien starts to fuss for milk.

Yes. He was strapped to me all that time. I have the best toilet travel tales to tell.

Tokyo – VI

It’s our final morning here. I finally understand why Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun. The sunrises here are indeed spectacular and I’m waking to my final bright morning greeting here.

Tokyo – V

Today was spent soaking up the city culture. And completing shopping lists (and lusts *grin*). Our last full day in Tokyo found us on the subway to Shinjuku and Shibuya. Impressions? I rather like Shinjuku for its wide(r) streets and vehicular traffic-free Sundays. Walk with no barriers, mental or otherwise! But we didn’t find and buskers the guide book talked about. We *did* find the familiar Isetan shopping centre though, still using the retro yellow, red & green tartan print paper bags. I can see why people would like to stay in Shibuya. Shopping aside, there’s a certain sophistication to the business district that’s quite different from Ikebukuro. Older, bigger and somewhat calmer, the people are also that slightly bit more formal, polite and might I say, cold. If only the people in Shinjuku could be friendlier like those in Ikebukuro who spoke much less English, but for that reason seemed a lot more hospitable.

After our final shopping expedition to Sanrio Giftgate, Shinjuku, we went to Shibuya to check out youth culture in Tokyo. While we did not get to see really extravagant outfits and personalities as I’d hoped we would, we did see how some hairstyles can truly defy gravity and found an aspiring rock band playing music out in the cold for busy passing crowds to enjoy. Truly, no real crowd gathered to watch the band play. I reckon it was too cold even for the locals to stay static for long and really admire the musicians for their commitment to playing their instruments out in the cold, glove-less!

Noisy, crowded and a lot less reverent than Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, I thought Shibuya was interesting and pretty much fit my mental idea of what Tokyo should be like. Did I like it? Well… I’ll admit I’m old and found the energy of the place tiring than invigorating. I was glad to be back in Ikebukuro where I finally got my bento accessory shopping done at Tobu and experienced Japanese Aunty behavior – I got a box of sashimi knocked out if my hands by a lady who wad rushing for some fish at the food market just as the prices were being slashed for the evening. She neither turned her head back nor uttered an apology. So not all Japanese people are polite and Aunty is Aunty wherever you go.

At Sanrio Giftgate in Shinjuku. Not very much bigger than the Giftgate at Ikebukuro.

Tokyo – IV

We spent all day exploring Ikebukuro. Sort of. Much of it was spent mall hopping, mostly because we needed to stay out of the cold. On the agenda was to locate the Sanrio Giftgate shop and to explore Sunshine City – Tokyo’s city within a city. We managed to do both and also went up to the observation deck on the 60th floor of Sunshine 60, one of the buildings within Sunshine City where we had initially opted to stay. The view of Tokyo from up there was rather a sight to behold. I’m not sure how much of Tokyo we actually got to see from the observation deck, but the mess of buildings and roads apparently haphazardly erected and constructed left quite an impression. The city’s huge, crowded and so much more dynamic than Singapore. Not in my opinion pretty, but somehow attractive nevertheless, though I’m still not sure if I actually like it. So like Hong Kong, yet so much more pleasant. So messy, yet very organized.

That evening, we picked up more bento meals for dinner and ate in the comfort of our hotel room. After last night’s bento dinner, we figured we’d not bother with restaurant dinners, especially not with tired little children and aching feet and backs from walking and carrying kids all day.

Tokyo by night. View from the observation deck. The lift zipped us up and down at some 300km/h. Fastest elevator or something.

Tokyo – III

How Disney is able to make a place feel so magical regardless your age is amazing. I can’t say I’m a fan of anything Disney – not now anyway, though once upon a time I really liked Goofy – yet stepping into a Disney theme park for the second time on my life, I have to say it indeed feels like the happiest place on earth. So happy that you just swipe your card without much thought. :P But truly, the excitement it brought out in LV was just priceless. She was dancing and squealing the moment we got to the Disney Resort station and got herself Minnie-ears first thing once within DisneySea. She willingly and happily wore the Minnie-ears hairband almost throughout our stay in the park.

Perhaps we went to DisneySea at the wrong time of the year. It was too cold to spend too much time out in the open, let alone have our hands out of our pockets too long, so not as many photos were taken. Thankfully though, most of the rides LV could go on were within the Mermaid’s Lagoon which was an indoor area within the park, and also where LV really wanted to be – the Little Mermaid’s home! She had been watching lots of Charlie and Lola before our trip and Lola’s frequent talk of mermaids got LV quite keen to meet a mermaid too.

By nightfall, which came quite early enough, I found myself once again reluctant to leave, just as I was at Hong Kong Disneyland a year ago and envying the locals who could make day trips to the park whenever, whatever the occasion. I would so like to be able to tell Lauren “sure!” whenever she asks if we could go to Disneyland tomorrow. How did we get stuck with Universal Studios instead?

Tokyo – II

And thus begins the fun!

We went to Sanrioland today. Truth be told, much of our time was spent understanding the (very complex) Tokyo subway system and travelling from Ikebukuro to Keio-Tama-Center. Must’ve taken us an hour-and-a-half or more to get there and we even over paid our fare by ¥330 each for a lack of understanding of the subway system. By the time we got to Sanrioland, LV was already asleep! She did eventually wake for a Kitty lunch at the cafeteria which served very decent omu rice and teriyaki chicken. Dessert was a very yummy Kitty mochi which was rather too cute to be eaten but well, I ate it anyway. :D Got LV vanilla mousse in a souvenir HK cup. Said it was for LV, but really, I think it’s for me. *grin*

Sanrio Puroland isn’t really much as far as amusement theme parks go. The rides and attractions aren’t remotely exciting. But if you have a toddler who absolutely loves Sanrio characters (and is little enough to go in FOC!) then make the effort to go, cos the joy and excitement in getting to meet Kitty and friends is priceless. Plus, the one ride they have – a boat ride through the amusement park – is kid friendly and rather enjoyable. More so than Hong Kong Disneyland’s Small World boat ride.

LV got to watch stage shows, run through Hello Kitty’s house, take a photo with Kitty, eat Kitty desserts, and play a mini treasure hunt game at Kitty Lab which was on when we went. It had made its way to Singapore 2 years ago for Kitty’s 35th Anniversary but LV was too little then to go. All in all, good fun for mummy and daughter. Not sure daddy had a good time though. There were men in there with families and girlfriends and all looked mildly agonized to be there. KM wonders if Li’l D would be subliminally scarred for the experience. Hahaha…

That evening, we had Rilakumma doughnuts at Kitty’s home town and had a yakitori dinner in Shinjuku before heading back to the hotel. Cold, tired but oh the Kitty loot we hauled back!