Tokyo Tower

Robot Park, Tokyo Tower and Stinking Heat

Imagine a day of rain followed by temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius. There’s only one way to describe a day like that – a stinker.

We were well aware of the day ahead of us, but we weren’t prepared to let a little bit of hot weather ruin our plans. On the schedule, playgrounds and Tokyo Tower. And a whole lot of walking. Surely a couple of Australians could handle the heat…

 

Robot Park

First on the agenda was a playground. Hannah had been saint-like in her tolerance for travel over the past few days and she hadn’t had much chance to really stretch her legs. A solid play was well-and-truly needed. As I said in the day 1 post, one of the main reasons I booked an apartment in Roppongi was the playgrounds. I was particularly keen to try out one that was consistently mentioned on travel blogs – Robot (RoboRobo) Park.

Robot Park typifies the Tokyo philosophy towards use of space – cram as much into as little space as possible. Why have one or two slides, when you can have nine? In true Japanese style, the nine slides have been placed neatly in a row and ordered by size. The final slide is a brilliant winding yellow contraption that is about 4 metres off ground level.

 

Robot Park Slides, RoboRobo, Roppongi
Efficient Japanese use of playground space

 

Hannah immediately climbed the small set of steps and surveyed the choices before her. She chose one of the middle slides for her first go. Unfortunately we hadn’t counted on some residual water from all the rain on the slide, so Hannah popped out the bottom with wet and dirty tights.

Not one for worrying about a bit of dirt on her clothes, Hannah continued on her merry way. She decided that all the rest of the slides were for babies and headed straight for the biggest one, right at the end.

I’ll admit to feeling a little nervous as I looked up at my tiny little girl, way up high on the platform. I felt even more terrified as I watched her climb haphazardly onto the slide. Hannah looked for a moment as if she was about to accidentally slide down head-first, but at the last moment she corrected herself and executed a textbook Hannah feet-first belly slide.

Then came the greatest discovery of all. I don’t even have the words to describe the majesty of this wonder, so I’ll just have to let a picture do the taking…

 

Roller Slide, Robot Park (RoboRobo) Roppongi
Hannah’s favourite slide at Robot Park

 

This series of rollers covered about 20 metres. A sign on the side clearly stated that it was designed for children 6 to 12. Fortunately Hannah can’t yet read, so she was totally cool with hopping on and giving it a go.

We did insist that she sit upright on this slide. The sign was also clear about that and it seemed like a sensible safety measure. We showed Hannah how to sit properly, then I went to the bottom (should there be a need to catch her as she came flying off the end), while Emma walked down the hill behind her, holding her steady.

The slide took a little getting used to, but by the fifth or sixth go, Hannah had it nailed. There were very few other children in the park, so Hannah had unfettered access to the contraption.

As the morning went on, the park steadily filled with other children. A group of preschool students appeared, with two English-speaking teachers. Hannah had a great time watching then play and enticing the odd kid into interacting with her.

 

Walking to Tokyo Tower

Surely a mere 30 degree day wouldn’t bother a couple of seasoned Australians? We deal with those kinds of temperatures all summer long!

The difference is the humidity. A dry 30 degree day is no big deal. As long as you drink plenty of water, you can go all day.

An extremely humid 30 degree day, on the other hand, is a punishing experience. By about 5 minutes into the walk, we began to question whether we had made a sensible choice. Hannah appeared to be melting in her stroller seat, her face bright red and he hair dripping wet. Other than that, she didn’t actually seem to mind.

At some point on the long road to the Tower, common sense prevailed when Emma pointed out that the other side of the street had shade. It provided sweet relief, and we continued on our journey in far greater comfort.

 

motorway, shade , Tokyou Japan
Look at all that glorious shade… on the other side of the road…

 

Fruit and Veg Under a Motorway

An unexpected benefit of our walking adventure was the fruit and veg shop that we stumbled across. As it was well off the tourist track, it catered to locals by providing the most rare of things in Tokyo – fruit and veggies at affordable prices! The prices were far more reasonable than most of what we had been able to find in the upmarket supermarkets of Roppongi.

 

fruit and vegetable shop Tokyo - RECARO stroller
I waited outside with Hannah, while Emma stocked up on the good stuff

 

Emma stocked up on tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and shallots. Hannah and I waited outside with the stroller and admired the exotic cars that regularly drove past.

 

Tokyo Tower

Finally, despite the oppressive heat and humidity, we reached our destination of Tokyo Tower. I was impressed by the size of the structure, I had never managed to get close enough to appreciate it during previous visits to Tokyo. Emma was less impressed. She described it as an oversized communications Tower that was a vague rip-off of the Eiffel Tower. I guess she had a point.

 

The base of Tokyo Tower
Finally, we had made it! Only sweated out a couple of kilos

 

Tokyo tower
Tokyo Tower – I thought it was cool.

We spent some time in a small park across the road from the tower. Hannah discovered the joys of chasing pigeons and attempting to jump into ponds. I discovered the terror of having a young, active toddler near a waterway.

Soon though it was time to leave Tokyo Tower and  head home. We braved the heat and humidity once more, and headed back the way we came. We stopped off at a supermarket for some tasty pre-prepared lunch supplies. While we were in the supermarket, Hannah fell fast asleep, so we lowered the RECARO stroller into sleeping position.

 

RECARO stroller, supermarket asleep
Hannah made the most of her reclined position

 

Discoveries of the Toddler – remote controlled lights

The Japanese love gadgets.

Okay, that may be a gross generalisation, but in my experiences of Tokyo so far, the statement rings true. Take, for example, our Airbnb apartment. It’s a pretty simple affair. By Australian standards, it would be considered tiny and basic, yet, take a closer look and you will see all kinds of little features designed to make life slightly more comfortable.

Our toilet has a permanently heated seat, which can be slightly disconcerting the first few times one uses it. It also kindly offers to wash ones anus with a variety of spray types and from different angles.

With the touch of just a couple of buttons, the washing machine in the closet both washes and dries full loads of clothes.

One place we didn’t expect to find a gadget was in the lighting. This was why we were slightly bamboozled by the existence of two remote controls labelled “bedroom”. One was clearly for the air-conditioning, but the other…?

I spent many seconds pondering is use, but as is the way when you are the father of a small child, I never got around to figuring it out. I had scanned the walls, the ceiling, the closets, nothing seemed out of the ordinary or in need of a remote.

Then, just before bed time, Hannah was playing with the remote control. She was holding it to her ear and taking into it, as if it were a mobile phone (yes, she has an excellent role model…).

All of a sudden, the lights turned off. Hannah had solved the mystery of the strange remote. It was for the lights!

I should have known.

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Ramen, Roppongi

Puddles and Ramen – Rainy Days in Roppongi

We had designated our second day in Japan as a rest day. We had planned to stay local and take it easy. The Gods of Weather reaffirmed our decision by providing conditions that ranged from London-style drizzle to full-blown downpour. Even with the less-than-ideal weather conditions, we were still able to have some fun. The highlights included:

The supermarket and the friendly local lady

We began our morning with a walk down the road to yet another local supermarket. We wanted to find the best (cheapest) places to buy fresh food and pre-packaged meals. At some point I will write a whole post dedicated to Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, they are fascinating places to visit.

After some time perusing the shelves and trying to figure out exactly what we were buying, a little old Japanese woman appeared. She had a big smile on her face, and her gaze was fixed on Hannah. Emma did her best to exchange pleasantries with the lady and she seemed thrilled by the effort. She said several things to Hannah that we couldn’t quite understand, but the general impression that we were left with was that she thought Hannah was very cute.

Eventually the kind woman carried on with her shopping and we returned to our attempted food gathering. We had assumed that the old lady had gone home, because we had been taking our sweet time as we tried to understand labels.

While we were trying to work out the intricacies of Japanese sweets, a little head popped out from around a corner with a great big smile spread across its face. It was our new friend, back for one last look at Hannah. Hannah, in her usual was of communicating with everyone and everything (birds, cars, cats, buildings) waved. The lady was thrilled, and she walked right up to us. She held out her hand towards Hannah and asked her to shake hands. Hannah obliged by offering her hands and the two new friends had a lovely moment in which they shook hands and smiled at each other.

Satisfied, the little old lady turned and went on her merry way. Hannah waved her new friend off.

 

Roppongi Hills – raining, cats and dogs

The rain had forced us to seek shelter, so we braved the maze of Roppongi Hills once more in search of some dry-weather fun. We had vaguely seen what looked like a children’s playroom on our day 1 venture into the Roppongi Labyrinth, and we were aiming to find it once again.

I cannot stress how difficult a task that is. Roppongi Hills appears to have been designed to deliberately stop anyone from finding their way from one end to the other. On our first visit, at one point we spent a solid 20 minutes wandering around, only to find ourselves back at the exact point at which we had started.

Nevertheless, we had little option but to venture back in. The rain was pouring down and The Roppongi streets offer little in the way of shelter, which I found slightly surprising for a city which must experience a fair amount of rain.

At least we had some dry space in which Hannah could get out of the stroller and stretch her legs. We wandered along various corridors and took a few rides in lifts, all the while attempting to head in the vague direction of the play area.

It was while we were wandering along one of these corridors that we stumbled upon a place called Joker. Joker called its self a “Dog Hotel”. But it appeared to be a combination of a pet store and a grooming salon. The dog in the window was putting on a brave face as it received the most undignified of blow-dry’s, all of which Hannah found extremely fascinating.

 

Dog grooming Roppongi Hills
Where’s the dignity? Poor pooch

 

We ventured inside the pet store component of Joker and Hannah watched the tiny puppies play with each other. I think she probably could have happily stood there and watched the boisterous little animals play all day long. However, I decided it was time to go when one of the shopkeepers dropped a terrified-looking dachshund puppy in with the rest of the dogs, who was immediately set upon by the most rowdy puppy. It grabbed the dachshund by the ear and pulled hard.

We walked a little further down the path, only to discover that the next shop along was the cat version. This one had a window full of very active cats. Each one had its own little compartment. It didn’t seem like a lot of space, but the cats seemed fairly content with playing around in their own little space. I guess this is Tokyo – some of the human apartments probably aren’t much bigger!

We eventually found the children’s playroom, but by then it was time to find a place to each lunch, so we made a mental note of its location and decided to return later in the afternoon.

 

Discovering puddles

The abundant rain provided Hannah with an opportunity that she had not yet had at home – the opportunity to stomp in puddles.

The first step in a puddle, of course, was an accident. Hannah had simply walked along the path as usual, and happened to step in a pool of water. However, once she had discovered the pure joys of a puddle, there was no stopping her from finding every other puddle on the path.

 

Tokyo Tower, rain, Roppongi Hills
Tokyo Tower in the rain

 

Hannah now had eyes purely for the little pools of water. It didn’t matter if they were in the direction that we were heading, or off on a completely different tangent. It didn’t matter if there was an army of people marching between her and said puddle. Hannah would reach it with a dogged determination that has to be admired in someone who has been with us for a mere year and a half. Each puddle was met with a gleeful stomp as she ran through it. I was pleased that I had purchased her a pair of high top sneakers in the days before we left. They were much more heavy duty than her previous shoes.

Ramen, the food of Gods

We set off in the direction of a local diner that we had passed while walking through Roppongi the day before. As with most restaurants in Tokyo, big pictures on the windows made it obvious what sort of food we would find inside. This diner specialised in ramen noodles, just the ticket for a cold and rainy day.

 

Ramen, Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
It tasted as good as it looks – perfect meal on a rainy day!

 

Up until this point, we had managed to get away with bringing Hannah’s meals with us from home when going to restaurants. We liked to know exactly what she was eating and control access to things like sugar and salt. In Japan, however, we had realised that we would have to let that practice slide. Hannah was finally going to eat what we ate in restaurants.

Immediately, Hannah’s eyes were opened to a whole new world of flavour. She took to it like a duck to water. Hannah slurped down ramen noodles, she demolished gyoza, and she ate half a bowl of fried rice. Hannah was most definitely a fan of the Japanese flavours, especially the salty, umami goodness. We may try to leave soy sauce for a while yet – I have the feeling she will try to drink it with a straw.

 

Gyoza, Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
Gyoza – the best dumplings on earth!

 

We all felt good after a warming bowl of ramen. It was time to head home for a nap. Again, Hannah took to her sleeping arrangements well and she quickly fell asleep.

 

Making friends with the locals

In the afternoon we headed back to the indoor children’s playroom in Roppongi Hills. We found it without any problems, I was beginning to feel like I had the Roppongi Hills maze pretty well mapped.

We parked the stroller in the stroller parking bay (yes, it was clearly marked with white lines in the area outside the playroom) and entered. Hannah walked straight past the 0-2 room and headed in to play with the older kids. There she explored some movable cogs for a while, before quickly making friends with a local girl.

 

Roppongi Hills playroom
Hannah loved that car, so did her mate! You can see the stroller parked in the parking bay outside

 

Together they played in a little wooden car, the local girl drove and Hannah sat in the passenger seat. They made an adorable little pair as they sat and babbled away to each other, each in their toddler versions of their home languages. Yet, somehow they seemed to understand each other perfectly. They had a great time together.

After a thorough play we returned home for a simple meal of smoked salmon, French bread and picked vegetables. Delicious!

 

Chicken on a stick

We followed the usual bed time routine for Hannah, then Emma and I settled onto the couch for an evening of reading. After a little while, Emma declared that she was feeling a bit hungry. I agreed, so I decided to embark on a mission to the local 7/11, to find tasty treats.

As is the way in Tokyo, a convenience store is never more than two minutes away. I managed to communicate my desires by pointing and profusely apologising for my complete lack of basic communication skills. The kind man behind the counter was more than accommodating and he made sure they I got exactly what I wanted.

 

Chicken on a stick
So tasty, so easy to acquire.

 

What I wanted was two sticks of delicious chicken. One was a little spicy, both were excellent. I was home within five minutes flat, which is both impressive and terribly dangerous for my arterial health.

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Roppongi Hills - Tokyo

Day 1 – Tokyo

The flight had gone as well as could be expected, but we were still all exhausted from our travel. Clearing customs had been relatively painless, although it did involve a little standing around in queues, something that Hannah was able to handle even better than some of the frustrated-looking adults around us! Finally, we walked through the exit doors. We were at our destination, we had officially arrived in Tokyo, Japan! Of course, we still had the little obstacle of using public transport in a foreign city to find our Airbnb accommodation, in a private apartment complex located on a tiny backstreet of the notoriously hard to navigate Tokyo suburbs… No worries.

 

Train Ride to Roppongi

Emma speaks a little Japanese (although she was a little worried about how rusty she was with it) and I speak a total of about five words. So we left it up to Emma to secure train tickets while I waited with Hannah. She returned moments later with two little paper stubs and a set of detailed instructions.

“Well done,” I complimented Emma. “You haven’t lost your Japanese after all!”

“She spoke perfect English,” Emma replied.

That’s the beauty of major cities in Japan. English is a fairly common language. At most tourist places there is at least one person who can speak English. Also, a lot of signage is written in English, which makes it easy for even a novice like me to get about.

After purchasing tickets we had a quick look at the large map on the wall, to make sure we knew exactly what we were doing. I had also downloaded an app called Japan Travel, which included a handy map of the Tokyo subway system.

 

Tokyo railway map
How hard could it be?

 

Our journey involved two trains, with a change at Daimon Station. We headed down to the platform and double checked that the train we were about to board was heading in the right direction. Again, we were assisted by an abundance of English signage.

We were concerned that the time spent in customs, then sorting ourselves out at the airport, may have pushed us into Tokyo’s infamous public transport peak crush. Of course, the fact that we had arrived on a Saturday had completely slipped our minds (thank you sleep deprivation). We marvelled at how empty the train and platforms were until we realised our error.

The fact that we had arrived on a Saturday was somewhat obscured by the number of school students travelling on the train in their school uniform. I had forgotten just how different the culture of work is in Japan. Even school kids are expected to put in the long hours.

We found our connecting platform at Daimon Station with ease. An electronic sign declared Roppongi as the train’s destination, leaving us in little doubt that we had found the right place.

Again the train was not crowded. We were able to easily fit our two large suitcases, stroller, carry-on and backpack, without disturbing the locals too much. A couple of stations went by, then it was our turn. We had arrived in Roppongi.

No Internet, No Maps? No Worries!

We had briefly considered purchasing a travel sim at the airport, so that we could have internet access. The main reason for doing so would have been to have Google Maps. However, being the tightarse dad that I am, I elected to skip the travel sim and trust my instincts and self-declared excellent sense of direction. Besides, our Airbnb host had provided us with a comprehensive set of instructions for finding her apartment. I had studied them extensively and knew that all I had do was find exit 1a. From there, I knew the way as if I had walked it a thousand times. Emma seemed a little nervous about that decision, but she decided (was too tired to argue) to trust me.

We headed towards ground level and out through the ticket gates. In front of us were two exit options – exit 7 and exit 8. I briefly considered my choice of swearwords, while Emma set about the far more productive task of locating a map. She found one almost instantly, and after several minutes of trying to regain my bearings, I was once again confident in my ability to lead the way.

As I had mentioned earlier, Japan’s major cities have extensive English signage. The maps are all easy to use and understand, even with zero Japanese language ability.

Sure enough, we were soon walking past the police station and the landmarks from our host’s guide began to come into view. I found our way to our apartment without even needing to stop and look at the guide again, her instructions had been that good.

 

 

Roppongi, Tokyo
The streets of Roppongi

 

Airbnb, the moment of truth

And so it was that we found ourselves standing on the doorstep of a small residential apartment building on a tiny, non-descript alleyway in the heart of Tokyo. The moment of truth had arrived! Had the gamble to try Airbnb for the first time paid off? Or had I managed to completely ruin our holiday before it had even begun…?

I entered the code that our host had provided us into the letterbox padlock and it sprung open. Just as our host had said, the keys were inside.

We located our apartment for the next week. This wasn’t a hard task, as it was the very first one upon entering the building. The keychain came with only two keys, but it took me about five goes to figure out the two locks in my sleep-deprived state. Still, I was extremely thankful that Emma had been able to negotiate morning access to our apartment with our exceptionally kind host, for just 3000 Yen extra (approximately $40 AUD).

I opened the door and we wrestled our belongings inside. By this point, Hannah had fallen asleep in her pram and we weren’t about to wake her. We left the suitcases by the door and had a quick look around. Our apartment was just as it looked in the photos. By Tokyo accommodation standards it was huge! I was immediately happy with our decision to take the risk. We had stayed in a hotel the last time we went to Japan, but back then it was just Emma and I. We barely managed to fit just the two of us in, there is no way that we could have managed with Hannah in tow.

 

Airbnb, Roppongi, Tokyo
The Airbnb was perfect for our needs

 

We left Hannah to sleep in her pram. The decision to bring the awesome RECARO stroller had already paid off, as the reclined position provided Hannah with a comfortable place to sleep. She stayed there for the next three hours!

Emma and I took the opportunity to grab a few much-needed hours’ sleep as well. The idea of asking to check-in to our accommodation early had been inspired, and the small extra fee had been more than worth it. As tight as I may be with money, I wouldn’t even flinch at paying for a whole extra day if it meant being able to check-in in the morning after an all-night flight, now that I have experienced the benefits. I highly recommend you consider this option if arriving in the morning.

Roppongi

When I booked our accommodation I was looking for two things: 1 – proximity to a decent park for Hannah to play in, and 2 – proximity to transport. Roppongi ticked those boxes perfectly. What I had not considered was proximity to bars with dubious reputations, or proximity to strip clubs. Again, Roppongi ticks all those boxes.

A few days before we were due to leave, I checked the Australian Government Smart Traveller website. Kim Jong Un had made the world a little nervous in recent weeks with his penchant for exploding nuclear devices under mountains and for firing Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles over Japan. Naturally I figured a visit to the Smart Traveller website prudent, as I like to think of myself as a smart traveller.

While there was no warning of imminent nuclear war, there was a little note that caught my eye:

“There have been reports of bars and night clubs (particularly in the Roppongi and Kabuki-cho entertainment areas of Tokyo) targeting foreign citizens for overcharging, fraudulent credit card charges, drink spiking, illegal drugs and, in some cases, assault. Some venues use street touts to entice foreigners into their premises. Australians have reported incidents where they have been poured drinks that have a higher percentage of alcohol than would normally be expected. In some cases, victims have woken up in unknown locations and/or discovered exorbitant credit card charges.”

http://smartraveller.gov.au/Countries/asia/north/Pages/japan.aspx

 

I’ll be honest, that made me feel a little worried. I like to think I can look after myself fairly well (I can’t fight, but I can run pretty quickly!), but the thought of bringing my little daughter to the seediest part of Tokyo made my stomach turn. Conducting my own further research didn’t make me feel any better. I discovered that Roppongi has a long history as a hive of scum and villainy. Think the Japanese version of Sydney’s Kings Cross. It apparently has deep Yakuza roots, although I was given some hope by suggestions on a few websites that it had cleaned up its act in recent years.

I genuinely considered changing our booking to a different area of Tokyo. I even went so far as to check Airbnb for other listings. Sure, we would lose some money on the place that we currently had booked, but would that really be important if it meant staying in a safe area?

But I didn’t change. A number of factors led me to keeping our plans as they were. Firstly, the apartment got rave reviews from all who had previously stayed, even those who had travelled with young kids. Secondly, we had the morning check-in in place and I couldn’t be sure that we would be able to negotiate a similar deal elsewhere. Finally, I am a cheap bastard and it turns out that wasting that amount of money would have caused me great pain. Roppongi it would have to be.

Of course, the first thing that greeted us when we exited the train station was a Gentlemen’s Lounge, and a sign that declared that there were Badd Girls inside (I pondered the act that these girls must perform in order to get their Badd reputation, and settled on tax evasion as the most likely possibility). That didn’t do much to boost our hopes for the area that I had booked.

However, as we began our walk to the apartment, things began to look up. There were some huge, shiny new buildings around and the cars that drove past gave a distinct impression of wealthy people living close by. It turns out that while there is still a seedy side to Roppongi, it is now also a place for high-end shops and other rich-people hang-outs.

Exploring Roppongi

After our nap, we ventured onto the mean (really quite tame and enjoyable to stroll along) streets of Roppongi. I enjoyed looking at the architecture, it seems to be a really eclectic mix of styles and there are plenty of unique-looking buildings. Some appear to have been shoehorned into places where buildings shouldn’t be, as is the way in a city where land prices carry such a heavy premium.

Roppongi Streets
The streets of Roppongi turned out to be very pleasant

 

 

We walked down to the Roppongi Hills shopping complex. It is a vast maze of interconnected buildings with a design so bamboozling that even the greatest navigators would surely get lost. Seriously, if Captain James Cook were alive today he would definitely curse the unintuitive positioning of the lifts, the random locations of the food outlets and the inaccessible island of McDonalds. He too may have marooned his stroller as he attempted to push it onto a ridiculously narrow escalator (with a clear warning not to take strollers on it) because he was sick of trying to locate a lift.

 

Wait, You Ate at McDonalds?

DON’T JUDGE ME. Yes, we ate at McDonalds. Yes, it was our first meal in Japan. We were still really tired and very hungry. We didn’t know how long Hannah would be willing to sit still for and we didn’t have the mindset to be able to attempt a Japanese menu, even with all their helpful pictures.

 

McDonalds in Tokyo
I have no shame

 

To make things at least a little interesting, Emma ordered a prawn burger and I had a ginger pork burger. Hannah ate her banana, because we at least still had a little bit of common sense about us. To give the hard-working kids at Roppongi Maccas their due, they make a mean burger! Both tasted really good, despite their unique flavours.

 

 

Ginger Pork Burger
Tasted better than it looked

 

With some food in our belly, we continued onto the next part of our Roppongi adventure – finding a supermarket. We found one that was part of the Roppongi Hills complex and we purchased a few essentials. I won’t go into the details of the curiosity that is a Japanese supermarket here, that is a post for another day.

We headed back into The Roppongi Hills complex and spent a solid 20 minutes trying to navigate our way through, before being spat back out at the exact point at which we had started. We decided that we’d had enough of giant shopping complexes for now, and made our way back to the apartment.

 

The Quest for Bread

Japan doesn’t traditionally do bread. However, there are French bakeries dotted around the place. Some department stores also have vast food courts in which reasonable bread can also be found.

We initially tried a couple of the local supermarkets, but as expected there wasn’t much. After a little searching we found two bakeries with reasonable options for bread within walking distance of our apartment. We purchased a little loaf of wholemeal bread for Hannah’s dinner, and made a mental note to return for the excellent-looking French Loaf later in the week.

We picked up a few interesting-looking pieces of pre-prepared food at a local supermarket and headed home to eat dinner. I also grabbed a can of Asahi beer to drink in celebration of our first night in Tokyo.

Time for bed – First Night in Tokyo

After dinner I gave Hannah a thorough soaking in the deep bath. Then we went through the usual bedtime routine from home, or at least as close to it as we could manage. Emma placed Hannah in her 0.5 tog Grobag, because the room was quite warm, and then into her BabyBjorn travel cot, which she was using for the first time.

 

BabyBrorn Travel Cot Light and Grobag
Sweet dreams were had

 

Thankfully, Hannah was fast asleep within minutes. She was probably extremely tired after two days’ worth of excitement and disruption, but she must also have been very comfortable in the familiarity of a Grobag and the surroundings of the travel cot.

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10 hour flight to Tokyo - luggage

Travelling to Japan With a Toddler – The 10…

 

The day had finally arrived. After a sleepless night, during which I spent 8 hours pondering my own sanity for deciding to embark on such a ludicrous adventure, it was finally time to do the last-minute packing and prepare ourselves to leave. It was time to face our 10 hour flight to Tokyo.

 

The drive to the airport was remarkably quick for a Sydney weekday afternoon. We had given ourselves plenty of time, but with no traffic and an extremely fast check-in and security screening process (we had been warned that this part could take hours!), we found ourselves sitting in the transit lounge with a couple of hours to spare.

We had been told to arrive at the lounge early, as priority boarding would allow us on to the plane first. Perhaps they didn’t mean quite this early…

 

Empty departure lounge, Sydney Airport
Hello? Is anyone here? Are you sure this is the right place?

 

Boarding Time

At 8:30 pm we boarded the flight, a full hour later then Hannah’s usual bedtime.

ANA’s priority boarding policy meant that we were some of the first people aboard. This gave the vastly sleep deprived little girl an opportunity to survey her surroundings. She took in the new setting with surprising grace, especially for someone whose unflappable sleep routine had been so wildly disrupted.

Sleep, What is That?

I was already convinced that Hannah had abandoned the concept of sleep. She had happily made friends with a three year old in the departure lounge. The two of them had been drawn together by some magical force of the universe and they had torn through the departure lounge like two inseparable whirlwinds. At least Hannah would be worn out and ready to sleep on the plane (I told myself in a warm and fuzzy state of delusion).

I could see the worried look on the faces of the other passengers as they began to file on to the plane. An old lady shot a look in Hannah’s direction, then thoroughly examined her ticket, just to make sure she did in fact have the awful luck of a seat across the aisle from an excited-looking toddler. The scan of her ticket revealed the terrible truth, and so she decided upon shooting intermittent, filthy glares in Hannah’s direction as she settled into her seat.

 

Take-off

As the plane began to taxi, we coaxed Hannah up onto her seat and strapped her in ready for take-off. She was fairly happy to comply, so it wasn’t a difficult task. We had been blessed with perhaps the best possible seats in economy – the bulkhead row. On top of that, the most wonderful man in all of ANA had organised for the whole row of three seats to be ours, even though we had only booked two seats (Hannah was supposed to travel on one of our laps).

It was extremely kind of the man to organise this for us, as he had told us that there were only six spare seats on the whole flight.

 

 

Room to spare in bulkhead row on 10 hour flight to Japan
Room to spare, with three seats in the bulkhead row

This, to me was even more valuable than an upgrade to Business Class would have been. Hannah had a whole seat to herself. I really can’t imagine how her travelling on our laps would have played out, although it now sits in the back of my mind that that scenario will likely play out on our return journey.

Hannah handled take-off well, and soon enough she was happily sitting in her seat and listening to Spotify through her Puro Sound Labs headphones. Of course, I was insanely jealous when I eventually got round to putting on my own el-cheapo headphones after the dinner service. As it turn out, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to use them anyway…

 

 

Puro Sound Labs Headphones
Puro Sound Labs headphones and Spotify. A match made in heaven!

 

 

Food

Hannah was served her own special “baby” dinner before the full meal service began. She immediately rejected the miscellaneous pureed vegetable that was placed in front of her, then set about proving how personally affronted she was by its very existence. This was not overly surprising as she had already eaten a full dinner and a mandarin (two days earlier we had been convinced that she disliked mandarin, now it is her favourite fruit).

The adult meals were then served. Hannah’s distain for her own meal was quickly replaced by a burning desire to consume the best bits of her mother’s meal as soon as it arrived. Within seconds Hannah had located a fork and was chowing down on the salmon. She then gave a few longing glances in the direction of my marinara, but I was far more selfish than Emma and I ate all of my meal myself.

 

The Hilarity of a Delirious, Sleep-Deprived Toddler

It must have been 11pm by the time dinner was done, and Hannah was well and truly past it. I don’t blame her at all, I too was feeling like I wished it would all be done with. We placed Hannah in her Grobag, put on her Sleep Spotify playlist and waited for the miracle of sleep.

I too put my headphones on and began perusing the choices of movies. I am so far out of touch with movies these days that I didn’t even recognise most of the “New Release” titles. There were a few Pirates of the Caribbean movies, although my great sense of patriotism means I had to veto the movie due to our national outrage over the star of the movie’s canine shenanigans (not really, I just didn’t want to watch it).

Finally I settled on a Fast and the Furious movie. I had no idea these were still being made! All I can tell you about the movie is that in the first 30 seconds, someone mentions “Ford parts”. That’s it. That’s all I saw of the entire movie. Why..?

 

BECAUSE MIRACLES DON’T HAPPEN.

Hannah was definitely ready for sleep, but a drawback of her military-like sleep routine at home is that she is not accustomed to falling asleep in strange conditions. Hannah likes a nice firm mattress in an enclosed cot. It is what she has had her whole life. She can sleep in a car seat at a stretch, but the thought of sleeping anywhere else is entirely foreign to her.

The sleep playlist had done its job, but the toddler now faced the daunting task of putting sleep into action. She tried so hard to settle in her chair, but it was no good. She quickly squirmed her way out of her seatbelt (that filled me with confidence in its ability as a safety device) and decided instead to try the floor.

That also was too uncomfortable, so she instead decided that playing until she physically passed out was the only option left. However, walking around in a sleep bag is hard work, and so she soon became frustrated and she had one or two falls.

 

 

Grobag in lap
The Grobag is a must-have for helping with sleep on the flight

Eventually, Hannah chose her seat as the best option. After a quick (15 minute) game of The Chair is a Slide (a clever game Hannah made up, in which one uses a Grobag and an aeroplane seat as a makeshift slide) Hannah settled down to sleep. Until she pooped. 15 minutes later.

Emma and I decided that changing a delirious toddler at a slightly turbulent 3000 metres in a tiny capsule of a toilet was a two-person job, so the three of us headed off towards the rear of the airline in search of the change table. Fortunately the change was completed quickly and without further incident, and soon enough we were back in our seats.

By this time Hannah had gone full zombie – her eyes were open but there was nobody home. We zipped her up tight and after a little tossing and turning, she was finally asleep.

Emma and I entered a zone of not-asleep-but-not-really-awake. It is the kind of resting state that leaves you feeling like crap and completely unrested. Occasionally I fully dozed.

At various points during the night, Hannah became restless. She was unable to roll over, so there was a lot of shuffling about as she tried to get comfortable again. I was sure she was going to fully wake up at one point, but thankfully she found a way to get comfortable and settle in for a few more hours sleep. In total, Hannah probably managed about five hours of sleep, which I think is pretty good for a toddler on an overnight flight.

 

Time to land

About an hour out from Tokyo, the flight crew turned up the lights to allow everyone to wake up before landing. Hannah was quick to stir from her slumber, and just as quick to set about ensuring that everyone else on the plane was also awake. Despite the excellent five hours of sleep, Hannah was still less rested than usual, and she was not happy about it. For the first time on the flight she kicked up a loud fuss.

This of course drew a few disapproving looks from the equally grumpy old lady from across the aisle, but I didn’t really care. The poor little bub had kept it together for most of the flight and it was now time to wake up anyway.

Hannah was pretty unhappy right up until the point when we landed. We had strapped her into her seat ready for landing, which she had tolerated fairly well; however, a flight attendant came over and insisted she sit in Emma’s lap for the decent.

I had to wonder whether that was the safest option as I watched Emma desperately try to keep hold of the active toddler who was now trying her best to squirm out of her mother’s arms. A hard landing surprised Hannah into silence, and it gave Emma a chance to fully test her ability to stop a toddler from flying out of her arms and into the wall in front of her. Emma passed the test well!

 

Tokyo!

Finally, we had arrived! The journey was over and it had gone as well as could be expected. We had landed in Tokyo, ready to begin our Japan adventures!

 

Sign at Tokyo Airport
A sign at Tokyo Airport. Note the abundance of English writing

 

The process of clearing customs was fairly painless, although there was probably about another half hour of waiting in queues. Hannah handled that remarkably well too, she sat patiently in my arms and even insisted on being put town to stand patiently in the line at times. I could not be more proud of the way she handled herself.

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Summer Grobags

Summer Grobags and Japan Adventures

How to Not Ruin Sleep on an International Adventure

One of my first thoughts when we began to organise our Japan adventure was how is Hannah going to sleep? At home she is a great sleeper, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that she brought her sleeping A-game with her to The Land of The Rising Sun. Fortunately, two of my favourite companies were quick to throw their hand up and offer a solution – BabyBjorn with their excellent travel cot, and the wonderful Gro Company.

I have written about the value of sleep bags before. For us at least they have been a key factor in a good night’s sleep since shortly after Hannah’s birth. Obviously a Grobag was going to be high on my list of things to take with us. I’d probably forgo clean underpants over a couple of Grobags if it really came down to it (don’t worry, I’m taking clean undies. There’s plenty of room in the suitcase).

 

Grobag label

 

The Land of The (Bloody Hot) Rising Sun

During our time in Japan, we are expecting to face fairly consistent daytime temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius. A quick check of the night-time temperatures shows that we can also expect that it won’t drop below about 22 C.

On top of that, the standard of our accommodation is the great unknown. We have decided to take the plunge and go with Airbnb for the first time ever. While the places look nice in the photos and they claim to have air conditioning, we can’t be too sure about how hot they will be inside.

Of course, those kinds of temperatures are pretty standard for us Australians, so this trip to Japan offered the perfect opportunity to test out the new range of Summer Grobags, before things really heat up Down Under.

To make life comfortable for Hannah during those hot days and nights, The Gro Company sent me a 1.0 tog and a 0.5 tog Grobag. Between these two bags (and by adding or taking away clothes), we should have all of the temperature conditions that we expect to face covered. Emma and I may have to sweat our way through the night under whatever covers our hosts provide, but at least we can be sure Hannah will be comfortable!

 

The Two Grobags

 

Bright Summer Colours and Other Features

I was sent a 1.0 tog Party Animals, and a 0.5 tog Action Stacks Grobag. Both of these sleep bags are designed to be used while travelling, and can accommodate a 5-point harness. This is great for use in car seats, and even in the stroller. As our intention is for Hannah to have some of her daytime naps in her stroller on this trip, it is a feature that we may find very handy to have.

 

The access hole for 5-point Harness - Travel Grobags

 

I was immediately drawn to the bright colours of these new Grobags. They are vibrant and I instantly feel happy when I look at them. They are non-gender specific, which is exactly the way that I like such things to be. These two great Grobags are just a small sample of the wide variety of styles on offer at the Gro Store, so if these particular ones don’t suit your style, there plenty more to choose from.

I particularly like the Party Animals Grobag, because of the whimsical embroidered pictures. These always make me smile and I’m pretty sure Hannah likes them too. They add a great tactile element to the Grobag as well, and Hannah sometimes likes to feel those features of her Grobags as she is winding down before sleep, or first thing when she wakes up.

 

Party Animals Grobag

The Usual High Quality From Gro

Regular readers of Blog of Dad will know that I have featured Gro products several times now. To be honest, I always jump at the chance to work with The Gro Company, because I can be pretty sure that the products they send me will be made to a high standard.

They are a company that appears to be absolutely dedicated to helping babies and toddlers sleep well. As a person who absolutely loves his sleep, I greatly appreciate that! A good night’s sleep for bub means a good night’s sleep for all.

Never will that have been more important to us than on our holiday to Japan. I have read too many horror stories about overseas adventures being ruined by a toddler who refuses to sleep, to risk putting Hannah in anything that I don’t absolutely trust.

 

The Grobags

 

These two Summer Grobags live up to the high standard that I have come to expect from The Gro Company. They are cotton, they feel durable and crucially their zippers feel made to last. I am yet to find a Grobag that has worn out before it has been outgrown.

The Gro Company also provide a great amount of information on their website about how to use the Grobag properly, in order to ensure that your child is most appropriately dressed for the conditions. Again, to me this is an indicator of how seriously they value a good night’s sleep.

 

The Impossible Task

The first real test for these Grobags will be the flight to Japan. We have chosen to fly overnight, with the belief that because Hannah is an excellent sleeper at home, she will just sleep the whole way to Japan… while strapped to my lap… in a strange environment… While surrounded by strangers…

Now, I’m not saying that Grobags are magical, BUT, they may just provide that extra element of familiarity that helps Hannah to get some sleep on the plane (thereby allowing me to get some sleep on the plane). They are not the only trick up our sleeve, we have the sleep playlist on Spotify and the excellent wireless headphones that will also block out most of the background noise. Together these three elements may just combine to achieve the impossible task of a sleep-filled flight. Of course, if all that fails we have an arsenal of backup activities to at least keep Hannah settled.

If there is no sleep on the plane, we have at least arranged with our very kind Airbnb host to have access to the apartment from the moment we arrive in Tokyo. The super easy Grobag, combined with the fast-to-set-up BabyBjorn Travel Cot, means that Hannah can be happily sleeping within minutes of checking in.

 

Ready to Party! Grobags

 

Ready for the Australian Summer

These Grobags won’t just be useful during our overseas adventures. Hannah will sleep in them all summer long. With the temperature in Sydney already reaching 32 degrees Celsius, now is a great time to start thinking about safe and comfortable sleeping arrangements for your child during the Summer heat. Head on over to The Gro Store and check out the fantastic range that they have on offer. While you are there, have a read of their guides to ideal sleeping temperatures to find out how to best use your new Grobags.

 

The Gro Company (Bloom & Grow) sent me two Grobags for on our Japan Adventures. While these products were provided for free, the comments within this post remain entirely my own reflections of my experience with these Gro products, as well as Gro products that I had purchased prior to any relationship with the Gro Company. This dad takes pride in providing honest and useful information to other parents.

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