It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that exactly 1000 days ago, I moved myself and my young son to Japan to join my husband here. In the almost 3 years that we have lived here, we have not left except for a quick trip to Singapore and Thailand. We will leave in a few months and I know that Japan will hold a large part of my heart forever.
I gave birth to my second son while living in Japan, so my entire time here has been as the mama to young boys. I have enjoyed a bit of Tokyo's nightlife, but have mostly enjoyed the city and it's surroundings with two little boys in tow. If you had told me years ago that most of my experiences as a new mama would have been in the most densely populated city in the world, I would have been shocked, but now Tokyo feels like home. This is an incredible city and country to experience with even very little children.
If you are moving to or visiting Tokyo with young kids, there are a few things that you should know:
1. Japan is safe. Prior to moving here, I didn’t realize how safe my children would be living here. Here, you reserve your table in the food court by leaving your purse at the table. I never give a second thought to leaving my stroller and our belongings to run around with my children at a playground. If you accidentally drop something in a train station - a pack of tissues, a receipt, or your wallet - someone will come running up to you to return it. I am grateful that my children’s earliest memories are marked by such freedom and security.
2. Wi-fi is key when traveling around Japan. Rent a device at the airport or get a Japanese cell phone ASAP. The train system is complicated and daunting, but efficient and wonderful. English is everywhere, but so is Kanji. I can’t imagine our years here without Google Translate and Google Maps.
3. 7-11 and all other convenience stores (konbini) are the best. They do not have Slurpees, but every day OTHER than July 11th, we don’t even notice. Our konbini favorites:
My husband loves the egg salad sandwiches. My children love karage (fried chicken), edamame, and onigiri (rice ball) with “tuna mayonnaise.” I love the many beverage and coffee options (current favorite: Craft Boss Brown) and the fact that I can get my family a well-rounded meal when we are on the go.
4. The currency in Japan is Yen. The exchange rate fluctuates slightly, but for easy math, you can assume that 100 yen is roughly equivalent to 1 US dollar. Many stores and restaurants don’t accept credit cards, so it’s good to have yen on you. 7-Eleven is a secure and reliable spot to find an ATM.
5. Japan is clean. Public trash cans are incredibly rare and yet the city stays incredibly clean. Keep a bag in your purse to hold your trash until you get home. Also, carry a towel. You can bring your own or buy a fancy one as a Japanese souvenir. Japanese women carry at least one towel with them every day.
Whether you are in Japan for a week or a year, here are a few of our favorite places that we recommend you visit:
1. Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park
2. The Imperial Palace gardens
3. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea
4. Senso-ji Temple
5. Harajuku for people watching and kawaii (cute) treats
Seasonal bonus: Have a hanami (flower viewing) picnic during cherry blossom season.
If you can get to Yokohama, do it. The city is so modern and cool. Cosmo World and Cup of Noodles are must-do amusements and there’s a pie place by the Red Brick Warehouse that shouldn’t be missed if you share my love of pie
If you have the time for something a little fancy, go to high tea at the Park Hyatt or Ritz Carlton. The tea and food are delicious, but the views are more than worth the price of admission.
Our bucket list is dwindling, the temperatures are cooling, and our time here in Japan is quickly running out. As sad as we will be to leave Japan, home is tugging at our heart strings. After 3 years away from my family, dear friends, and Target, we’re eager to get home. I find comfort in knowing that this is not sayonara, but rather mata ne (see you later). I am confident that the friendships we have forged here will last a lifetime. We already talk about returning to Japan to show our youngest son the place where he was born, but likely won’t remember. We’ll be watching the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to spot places we recognize. Although, we will leave a piece of our heart here, we will take with us 1000 beautiful memories. Thank you for everything, Japan. Mata ne!