My Sunday Photo for this week is titled Shinjuku Scenes
I’m back this week for My Sunday Photo after completely forgetting to post last week. Blame travel!
Japan is an amazing place, and there have been plenty of shots worthy of this post already, but I have chosen to show a series of photos from one of my favourite parts of Tokyo – Shinjuku.
My Shinjuku Scenes photos aim to capture the energy of the place. Shinjuku is everything you imagine Tokyo to be – neon lights, crowded streets, food everywhere. The streets of Shinjuku are best seen at night, when it really starts to liven up. Unfortunately, with a toddler in tow that wasn’t going to happen on this trip. The advantage of going in the day, however, is the brilliant view from the Tokyo Government Building. This series of photos shows some of the views from the top of the building, and some of the brilliant streetscape.
There’s plenty more where those came from. I’ll be posting about Shinjuku in depth in the coming days, so check back soon to find out all about it!
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Booking flights can be one of the most daunting tasks when you first decide to attempt an overseas adventure. When I first started looking, it all seemed a little overwhelming. There are so many websites, airlines and options to choose from. Each website presents the information in slightly different ways, which further adds to the complexity.
Prices fluctuate wildly, often for no apparent reason (I’m sure there are complex systems behind these fluctuations, but to the end user it can be bamboozling). Sometimes the airline that appears to present the best deal at first glance can end up being al less-than-ideal choice.
However, get it right and you can jet off on your holiday in the knowledge that you are travelling with a reliable airline, and that you are doing so at the best possible price! I know that I would rather spend my hard-earned on sushi and souvenirs than on a seat on a plane.
The following are the tips that I have learnt from booking our tickets to Japan. They worked for us and we ended up saving a decent amount of money. Hopefully they work for you too!
1 – Research – Booking Flights
We began researching as soon as we decided to travel to Japan. The goal was to have as much information as possible, in order to make an informed decision. We found out who the main carriers were and who offered direct flights. We compared total travel times and quickly ruled out any flights with stopovers. Our rationale was that any small savings would be completely nullified by the stress of the extra travel. Keep it simple quickly became our mantra.
Through some of the large booking sites, we found that we had three main options for carriers that fly directly from Sydney to Tokyo – QANTAS, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Each of these carriers are well-respected and, frankly, we would have been happy to travel with any one of them. While there are differences between them (fly into different airports and different times etc.), they were not enough to be the differentiating factor.
The number one criteria that we were interested in, now that we had established that there were three good options, was the price.
A note on research – the more time you give yourself, the more prepared you will be and the better the results you will potentially achieve. This trip had been in the pipeline for months before we decided to pull the trigger and confirm it.
2 – Play the waiting game – Booking Flights
Ah, the waiting game. Frustrating for some, pure anxiety-inducing for others. But for some strange souls (like yours truly), exhilarating! Why? Because finding a good bargain takes me to my happy place. I know the value of my dollar and I know how bloody hard I’ve had to work to earn it. If there’s a dollar to be saved somewhere, you can be sure I’ll be close by, sniffing around.
It became a daily habit to jump online and check the latest airfares. It was really interesting to see just how much prices can change from day to day. Had we rushed in, or needed to book in a hurry, the difference to what we finally paid could have been in the thousands of dollars. That is a significant amount of money – money that could be far better spend on food, accommodation and experiences.
When an attractive price finally appeared, we were ready to jump on it. By midday the same day we had confirmed our leave with our employers and booked our tickets. The price stayed the same for a couple of days after, but soon enough it was on its merry voyage back up. I have continued to watch the price every week or so, just out of interest, and I am yet to see a better price than the one we secured.
It is worth remembering that some credit card companies offer a “price guarantee” policy on their card, which means that you can claim a refund of the difference if you find a lower price, so it may be particularly worthwhile to you to monitor prices after you have purchased your tickets (they have plenty of terms and conditions, so make sure you are aware of these before wasting your time).
…just don’t wait too long. At some point, the prices may start to go up. Even worse, they may sell out completely. If there are only a few months left until you intend to travel, you may be better off just booking whatever is available.
3 – Check carrier websites, as well as the aggregators and online booking agents – Booking Flights
When we first started looking, we spent most of our time on a couple of trusted booking-agent sites. It appeared to be the best use of our time – access to several airlines at the same time and promises of low prices. While those websites certainly are useful (we have booked through them before), they may not always be the best way to get a good deal.
When we visited the ANA website, we realised that it had the option to search for flights in a seven day grid. Straight away we could see that by adjusting our search dates, we could save a fair chink of money. This was not so immediately apparent on the booking website.
We ended up booking our tickets directly through the ANA website. It was easy to do, and a massive rush to realise that we had taken the first massive step of our Japan adventures!
4 – Be flexible with dates – Booking Flights
As I mentioned in the previous point, flexibility with dates can save you a large amount of money. Of course, some people have no choice but to travel on certain dates or within particular windows. If, however, you have a degree of freedom in your travel plans, then I highly recommend thoroughly checking a range of dates and booking accordingly.
The below screenshot provides an example of the savings that can be made by slightly adjusting travel dates (prices based a search for two adults and 1 under-two years old, with the toddler travelling on a parent’s lap). When we booked our tickets, those differences were even greater.
If you can extend your holiday for an extra day or two, or alternatively shift the intended dates of travel, there are most definitely savings to be found. Even if you have to pay for an extra night’s accommodation, it can still end up cheaper, plus you get a whole extra day of holiday – who could argue with that
5 – Cheapest isn’t always best – Booking Flights
In the research phase of our flight booking, we quickly narrowed our choices down to the three mentioned carriers. There are other options out there, and some of them are cheaper. They may be a viable option for you, and if so, great! Just make sure you are aware of all the fine print that can make the difference to your experience. Is checked baggage extra? What about meals? Or entertainment? What is their cancellation policy like? How do they treat their customers when there are delays or cancelled flights? Is the flight direct, or does it involve a few hours of waiting around in a third airport? Can you choose seats to ensure you sit together, or does that cost extra?
All of these things matter. They matter even more once you throw an active toddler into the mix. A flight may initially appear to be more expensive, but once you factor in time spent and inclusions in the ticket price, you may just come out on top (mentally and financially).
These are my five key points to booking flights. If you have had your own experiences, drop them in the comments so that everyone can benefit from them.
Remember, these are the things that worked for me on this particular occasion. There is always an element of luck when it comes to such endeavours, and I may well not be so fortunate next time it comes to booking an airfare. Neither may you. Even though we chose to fly with ANA on this particular occasion, this post does not constitute an endorsement of them over any other carrier. I have no affiliation with any of the airlines mentioned in this post. I will provide my honest recount of our experience with ANA once we have completed our flights. Stay tuned.