Tag: travel

Fushimi Inari Shrine fox Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

Toddler Wearing at Fushimi Inari Shrine

So far on our Japan adventure, the stroller has been invaluable. It’s served as toddler transport, luggage mule, eating station and bed. It’s fair to say that it has been integral to the success of our adventures so far. But, no matter how good a stroller is, there’s one situation it can’t deal well with… stairs.


Fushimi Inari Shrine – so many stairs

Emma and I visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine on our last visit to Kyoto, so we weren’t going into the experience blind. The main buildings of the shrine sit at the bottom of a sacred mountain, and they are certainly interesting to look at. Massive Torii gates mark the entrance, and if you’re really unsure of where to go, just follow the throng of tourists. A large, orange-coloured shrine has a row of large bells – one or two of which were being used for prayer, and the rest by tourists in the usual “I don’t really understand this but I’m going to do it anyway because it makes for a good photo” manner.


Fushimi Inari Shrine


As impressive as the shrine is, the true attraction in the thousands of Torii gates that line the paths on the way up the mountain. It’s the reason so many people visit, and the reason we were there too. Of course, a path up a mountain means plenty of one thing – stairs. Hundreds and hundreds of stairs.


Wearing a Toddler

Naturally, we had left the stroller at home. However, we still needed a way to transport Hannah when she needed a break from walking/climbing. So it was that we dusted off the baby carrier that we hadn’t used since she was a tiny tot.

Hannah showed some interest in the carrier as I strapped the contraption on. She was a little reluctant to go in at first, but I distracted her with a frog bath-toy that she had dug out of the bottom of a suitcase earlier that morning. Emma worked from behind and wrangled the distracted toddler aboard. In no time at all we were off, Hannah slightly bemused by her new travel arrangements, strapped to my back.


stone crocodile


Toddlers are heavy

We travelled that way for the 15 minute walk to Kyoto station and the two-stop ride to the shrine. With a toddler strapped to my back I had no opportunity to sit down. Hannah had become a little restless, so she was squirming quite a bit. I was definitely feeling the weight in my back by the time we arrived.

As soon as we stepped through the first giant Torii gate, I asked Emma to set Hannah free. It was sweet relief when she was lifted out! Still, I was glad we had the carrier. It would have been much harder to hold Hannah in my arms for that time.


Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii gates


Which one is the tourist attraction – the shrine or the toddler?

There are plenty of western tourists in Japan, so the sight of fair skin and light hair is not that uncommon. However, that combination on a smiling, engaging toddler seems to be magnetic. Hannah had quickly become accustomed to having kind Japanese faces peer at her and exclaim “kawaii” (the Japanese word for “cute”).

Hannah is so used to this happening that she now walks down the street smiling at everyone and waving to them. Of course, this only increases the regularity with which she hears the phrase “kawaii”! It’s not even just the little old ladies that she engages with either – businessmen, teen-agers, drunks on street corners…

We are all now accustomed to the attention that Hannah gets on the streets of Japan, but that is nothing compared to the attention she gets at tourist attractions. The Fushimi Inari Shrine was no different.

At one set of stairs, a Japanese tourist took great pleasure in watching Hannah conquer each and every step. She walked up next to her, patiently waiting as Hannah negotiated each one and encouraging her each time. When Hannah took a step, her new best friend took a step. In that way they walked, right to the top. The Japanese tourist tried to coax a hand-shake out of her new toddler friend upon completion of the task, but while Hannah is a big fan of engaging with random people, she is not so keen on physical contact. She ran away.

I followed Hannah as she ran through the forest of Torii gates. The word “kawaii” echoed all around us as we went.


Fushimi Inari Shrine torii gates


Running, climbing and waving is hard work

Before long, Hannah was absolutely worn out. The adventure of the Fushimi Inari Torii gates, combined with the heat, had made her reach the point of exhaustion far earlier than normal. She began to get irritable, as toddlers do.

I bent down to Hannah’s level to offer some comfort. As I did so, she made it pretty obvious what she wanted. She practically climbed onto my back.

Emma helped Hannah on and strapped her in tightly. Immediately she was calm. We carried on walking up the stairs. With each step the little toddler on my back grew drowsier and drowsier. Eventually she fell fast asleep. We made our way to a spot with excellent views out over Kyoto, then exhaustion got the better of me too. We turned around and headed for the bottom of the mountain.


Kyoto from Fushimi Inari Shrine


Photos of tourists – tips for Fushimi Inari Shrine

1- if you want hundreds of excellent photos of tourists taking photos of things, the best place is at the start of the Torii gates. We could barely get through the masses, because so many people seemed hell-bent on snapping a photo of other people taking photos of Torii gates. I can just imagine the riveting slide shows that their poor relatives are in for when they get home.


Tourists at torii gates
I’m just a tourist taking photos of tourists taking photos of tourists taking selfies in front of torii gates


2- if you want some decent photos, take a little walk. I walked half way up this mountain with a toddler strapped to my back. It was hard work, but not that hard. The further up you get, the less tourists there are. At some point, the crowds actually thin out so much that you can take photos without random people in them.


Fushimi Inari Shrine torii gates
It is possible to get a photo without other people in it, you just have to walk a bit.


3 – take water with you, or prepare to get hosed (not a photo tip, but worth knowing). It may be a sacred mountain, but the proprietors of the vending machines sure do know how to stiff a desperate pilgrim. The higher up you get, the more expensive it becomes. I did find it funny that there’s a sign about a third of the way informing people that they are at the last toilet, due to the mountain being sacred, yet you can purchase an ice-cold bottle of Pocari Sweat from a vending machine next to a statue of a religious icon three-quarters of the way up. I guess gods get thirsty too…


Vending machine at shrine
Even deities need an ice-cold beverage every now and then


4 – take the road less travelled. The Torii gates are the main attraction, bet there is also plenty to see along the way. Keep your eye out for little detours and shrines off to the side. There are some amazing things to see, and barely any other tourists. You also have the advantage of seeing the Torii gate from the outside, which provides a different (and equally interesting) perspective for your photographs. When returning down the mountain, there is a path that takes you right away from the Torii gates. Take it. You’ve seen the gates already and there are some amazing shrines and statues to see. There are also far fewer people, the water is cheaper and there are some interesting houses that remind me of Shenmue.


Back road at Fushimi Inari
I had the overwhelming urge to start asking people about that day


5 – if you have a fair-skinned, fair-haired toddler, she will become the tourist attraction. Luckily, you’re in the prime position to snap photos of her! Remember to take plenty of photos of the family enjoying themselves at the shrine and in the Torii gates. After all, chances are there are plenty of great shots of the gates all over the internet, but these memories of your little one are priceless!


Toddler Wearing – The Verdict?

Wearing a toddler is hard work, it doesn’t matter how good your carrier is. Sometimes, however, it is the best way to cart your toddler around, especially if they decide it’s nap time. We have seen a lot of Japanese people wearing babies and toddlers while we have been here, so the local consensus seems to be that it is the easiest way to get around.

If I have the option of a carrier or a stroller, I’ll take the stroller every time. If I know that I’m going somewhere that is not stroller friendly, I’ll happily strap Hannah to my back.


Fushimi Inari Shrine – the Verdict?

Fushimi Inari is well worth the visit. Spend a small amount of time at the shrine down the bottom, then head on up the hill until the tourists thin out. Once you reach the point where you are no longer fighting others for footpath space, take the camera out. Be prepared to take on loads of stairs, and take plenty of water.

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Shinkansen bullet train Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

Shinkansen – The Bullet Train From Tokyo to Kyoto

The day had come for our Tokyo adventure to end. It was now time to make our way to the glorious city of Kyoto. There is really only one way to do this trip – the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen is Japan’s famous bullet train!


Purchasing Tickets – The Shinkansen

Buying tickets isn’t hard, it can be done from machines at some JR stations. If you would rather buy your ticket from an actual human being, there is a Shinkansen ticket office at Tokyo Station. If you are planning on using the Shinkansen for extensive travel around Japan, make sure you plan ahead and order a JR Rail Pass. They are a good way to save some money, but they must be purchased before you leave for Japan.

We decided to buy our ticket from the ticket office, on the day of our trip. Tickets can be purchased in advance, but we weren’t exactly sure of our timing on the day. We knew we had to be out of our Roppongi apartment by 11 am, but we had no idea how long it would take to get to Tokyo station.

I recommend you give yourself at least 25 minutes between purchasing your ticket at Tokyo station and boarding the train. This is especially important if you are lugging lots of luggage or herding young children.


Ekiben – Shinkansen Food

We gave ourselves 20 minutes, and we only had about a minute left between finding the platform and the train arriving. That meant that Emma had to buy our ekiben at lightning speed. She wasn’t even sure what she had purchased, fortunately she came up trumps with two delicious pork cutlet boxes.


Ekiben on Shinkansen
Ekiben, or Train bento box. So good.


Ekiben is one of the simple pleasures of travelling on the Shinkansen. We would have been devastated to have missed out, and you would be too. MAKE SURE YOU GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME FOR EKIBEN.


Unable to Work the Gates

Beware of the intricacies of Shinkansen ticket gates. Like all gates to platforms in metropolitan Tokyo, the gates work by inserting your ticket in one end, then retrieving it at the other. Except, the Shinkansen gates didn’t open for us, they just flashed an incomprehensible warning and refused to let us through.

Uncharacteristically for Japan, we weren’t able to get immediate help. The attendant was inundated with tourists asking her questions. Eventually, we were able to get to her and communicate our issue. She seemed very suspicious, but eventually accepted our story and let us through her gate. I still have no idea what the problem was.


Room For a Stroller on the Shinkansen

The seat arrangement on the Shinkansen is three on one side, two on the other. When travelling with a toddler, you only need to book tickets for the adults.

We were given two seats on the left side of the train. Initially we were disappointed that we weren’t on the Fuji side, but we soon realised the benefit of our position. We had two of the three seats in our row booked, and no-one had the third. Therefore, we essentially had three seats all to ourselves.

The brilliant thing about the seats on the Shinkansen is that there was enough space for us to wheel the stroller right in! That was extremely fortunate, because Hannah had fallen asleep right before we bought our tickets (just after eating a massive lunch of sandwiches). She was still asleep when we boarded the train, and she was still asleep after about half an hour of travel.


Stroller on Shinkansen
So much room!


It wasn’t a huge nap, but it was enough for Hannah to be a little refreshed for the rest of the journey. It also gave Emma and me a chance to consume our Ekiben in peace.

Also, as is usually the way, it was too cloudy to see Fuji, so we didn’t miss out on anything by sitting in the wrong side of the train. If you are travelling with a toddler and a stroller, seriously consider booking tickets on the row-of-three side.


Toddlers and Tunnels

You may already know this, but I’m going to remind you once more. Tunnels are the most amazing thing in the world! Just ask any toddler, and they will tell you right away.

The tunnels were a new experience for Hannah. At first they were a little confusing – the sudden change from light to dark. Soon, however, Hannah had the hang of them, and she took pure delight in their existence. She let out an excited squeal every time we entered one, and she craned her neck to try and see when the exit was coming.



The rest of the train trip was fairly uneventful. Hannah made friends with the travellers in the row behind us, and she managed to engage them in an extended game of peek-a-boo. Eventually she got bored of sitting and wanted to explore, but her options were limited and she became a little cranky towards the end of the journey.

Thankfully, we were not far out from Kyoto station. About 2 and a half hours after we had left Tokyo, we had arrived in Kyoto, ready to start the next leg of our adventure. The first task? Locate our Airbnb…

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Shinjuku - My Spiritual home in Japan Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

Shinjuku – My Spiritual Home in Japan

Trains and no idea – My Spiritual Home

On the train ride from Roppongi to Shinjuku, I declared my love of the precinct to Emma. “These are my people,” I stated. “Shinjuku is my spiritual home in Japan,” I added.
The universe has a wry sense of humour, so naturally two things were destined to happen after such a declaration: 1 – the first person we saw was a homeless man (my people indeed), and 2 – I got us lost almost immediately.


Trian to Shinjuku

I had been to Shinjuku twice before, so I was aware of the significant homeless population around the park.
Nevertheless, having spent the past few days watching Ferraris, Teslas and Rolls Royce drive past on the streets of Roppongi, I had forgotten that there were such significant issues in parts of the city. I guess I had just assumed that all of Tokyo had somehow become filthy rich.
Getting lost was a little more embarrassing, especially in this day and age of GPS-enabled smart phones. We had emerged from the Metro on an unfamiliar street. I had immediately consulted Google maps and quickly gathered my bearings. The map informed me that we were just a short walk away from the main park of Shinjuku station – a landmark I know well (thanks in part to countless hours spent playing Metropolis Street Racer (WEY HEY!)).
I put my phone back in my pocket and set off confidently in the direction that I knew was correct. The only problem was that I assumed the subway had spat us out on the other side of the street. I was now walking in the completely wrong direction.

Level Crossings – Tokyo Style

We reached a level crossing (yes, an actual level crossing for trains in one of the busiest parts of the busiest city in the world). The boom gates had lowered just before we arrived and we watched the train full of commuters roll past.

It was interesting to see, and even more interesting when another train came from the opposite direction.
Both trains completed the their crossing and we waited patiently for the boom gates to rise.



level crossing, Shinjuku
Oh look, a level crossing. How novel!

They didn’t. Instead, they stayed lowered, with warning bells ringing, for about 20 seconds, before another train appeared. Then another. Then another. We stood at that level crossing for a full ten minutes.

In total, twelve trains came and went. Hannah didn’t seem to mind, she was sitting comfortably in her RECARO stroller. She just watched on with interest as the trains went past. For Emma and I, however, it quickly became tedious. Seen one train? Seen ’em all.


Train at level crossing, Shinjuku
They kept coming…
Train at level crossing, Shinjuku
…and coming…
Train at level crossing, Shinjuku
…and coming…
Train at level crossing, Shinjuku
…and coming…
These people look as happy about all the trains as I felt

I joked with Emma that we were actually going to wrong way, and that we would shortly have to turn around and go back across the level crossing, thereby wasting another ten minutes of our lives

The Truth Hurts

Finally the barrier lifted and we were once again on our way. We walked along happily, taking in the sights and sounds. Then an alarm went off in the back of my mind. We were walking past Yoyogi station – a station that we had gone through on our journey into Shinjuku.
I consulted Google maps. Something definitely wasn’t right. I stopped walking and Emma asked what was wrong.
“There’s something wrong with the maps,” I replied, lamely. “I think they are playing up.”
At times I can be stubborn, and the reality of the situation was slow to dawn. I was reluctant to admit that I had got it so wrong in the place that I had declared “my spiritual home in Japan” just minutes earlier. But the truth of the situation couldn’t be ignored, and soon enough I had to face up to the fact that the maps weren’t the problem – I was.
With great embarrassment, I informed Emma that I had in fact stuffed up. We need to walk back the way we came, and worse, we need to face the level crossing once more.
We trudged back up the road. Thankfully, the boom gates remained upright and we were able to get through without any further delays.
In no time at all we found ourselves in the heart of Shinjuku. Neon lights, skyscrapers, electronics stores…


Shinjuku Scenes

I was home.

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Shinjuku Scenes Blog

My Sunday Photo – Shinjuku Scenes

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!


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Ramen, Roppongi Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

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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10 hour flight to Tokyo - luggage Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

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.



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!




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..?



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!



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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Spotify Premium Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

Spotify Premium: because music soothes even the savage toddler

Disclosure – Spotify provided Blog Of Dad with a Premium Spotify subscription for the purpose of review during our Japan adventure. The views expressed in this post are entirely my own views, based on my experiences with Spotify Premium.


First things first. Please excuse the paraphrase in the title, of The Offspring’s lyrics from Time to Relax. Of course, that in its self is a misquote of William Congreve, who coined the far more elegant phrase:


Music has charms to soothe the savage breast


Breast, beast or toddler, the point remains. Music has the capacity to soothe. The right music at the right time can make all the difference between the calm and the raging storm. A playlist of soft, slow lullabies can coax a stubborn toddler to a state of relaxation, even eventual sleep. A playlist of happy, upbeat nursery rhymes can entertain an awake toddler for precious tens-of-minutes at a time.

Yes, music is important, and never has it been so important for our little family as it will be during the ten hours on a plane between Sydney and Tokyo.


Spotify Premium

Enter Spotify Premium.

The music streaming services of Spotify have been well used in our house for many years. After all, Spotify is a class act – all of my favourite music available in one spot, to listen to on demand and in whatever way I please. The trade-off? An advertisement every now and then, and the need for a constant internet connection. It seems pretty fair to me.

However great the standard Spotify service has been, we needed something more for our Japan adventures. This is because of two main reasons: 1 – We need to be able to play music without an internet connection, 2 – Hannah dislikes ads.


Offline Play – Spotify Premium

One of the greatest assets of a Spotify Premium account is the ability to play music offline. It means that we don’t have to rely on stable internet connections to provide Hannah with a constant source of her favourite tunes at any time throughout the trip.

We simply make a playlist before we go and download it onto one of our phones or the tablet. Downloading is ridiculously easy, just make the playlist, then flick the Download button and wait for the process to complete. Easy!


Spotify playlist


I plan to make at least four playlists before we go. The two vital ones – music for Hannah to listen to while awake and music to help her sleep. On top of that, I’m curating a list of my absolute favourite songs. Emma is doing the same (because we deserve some luxury too!).



One thing to remember is that downloaded tunes take up storage space on your device. For that reason I think the download function of Spotify Premium is most desirable during travel, when internet access can be patchy, or downright unavailable.

The good news is that if your phone or tablet has expandable storage, a micro sd card can provide you with more than enough space for all your playlists. I picked up a 64gb micro SD card for under $30 (AUD), so it’s not expensive to gain that extra space.


No Advertisements – Spotify Premium

I really don’t have too much against advertising. As long as it isn’t too obtrusive, I can handle the fact that I have access to free music or shows or content, in exchange for a few seconds of my time. It’s a model that has worked successfully on television for years.

One of the things that I have truly loved about my standard Spotify account over the years has been the access to the vast catalogue of music, due to these ads. I have been able to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want. I have rediscovered old favourites and found new tunes – neither of which I would have done without the ad-supported account (Liam Gallagher still makes music – who knew?).

Having said that, there is one person in our family who DOES NOT like the ads – Hannah. She sees the interruption to her listening pleasure as a personal affront. When her regular soundtrack is cut through by an unfamiliar voice spruiking a product she has never heard of (that is most products, she’s 18 months old after all), she throws her hands up and makes a sound that could easily be mistaken for “what gives?”

Hannah doesn’t understand advertisements. She doesn’t care for the mutually beneficial arrangement between consumer and content provider. It’s been that way since she was mere weeks old. I still have distinct memories of singing my way through the entire Presidents of The United States of America first album, with her in my arms. Every few songs we were interrupted by the most annoying of ads (one that relentlessly declared that prices are down, for any Australians playing along at home). This made Hannah mad. Every time. Fortunately, Back Porch would then come on and I could lull her back to calmness with my excellent singing…

If we have managed with advertisements to this point, why is ad-free listening so important now?

Picture a toddler, on a plane, happily bopping along to the tunes on her headphones. Picture a loud complaint from said toddler, every five minutes when an ad comes on. I’m sure those in the seats surrounding ours will be extremely pleased that we have Spotify Premium for this trip.

I will admit that since we have had Spotify Premium for little over a week, I’ve quickly grown accustomed to the smooth, add-free transition from one song to the next. While the ads never really bothered me before, I don’t know that I would be willing to go back. I have been spoilt and I love it!


High Quality Streaming – Spotify Premium

Hannah is highly unlikely to appreciate this part of Spotify Premium at all. But I do.

Premium sounds great over my living room and computer room speakers. When I tried it over Hannah’s Puro Sound Labs headphones, I fell in love. If it wasn’t so critical for Hannah’s enjoyment of the long flight, I would be tempted to claim her headphones as my own. (who am I kidding, there’s no way she would let me get away with that!)

The standard version of Spotify is perfectly acceptable, easy to use and thoroughly enjoyable. But, once one has been spoilt by the higher quality sound of Premium, one may find it hard to go back.


Now I need your help…

Tell me what songs need to be on my playlists (Hannah’s or mine). I’ve found loads of great tracks so far, but there are always plenty of gems hidden away in the depths of Spotify’s vast catalogues. What songs would you include on your essential travel playlists?

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