YUMI STYNES

Wran­gling four kids (two of them un­der two!) on a Ja­panese hol­i­day is no easy thing, even when your Tokyo-born mum is with you to pro­vide the in­sider low­down, and abun­dant smiles for her ‘mis­be­hav­ing’ grand­chil­dren.

Out & About with Kids - - CONTENTS -

Yumi, her hubby, four chil­dren, and Tokyo-born and raised mum, savour a fab­u­lous hol­i­day to­gether in Japan - fac­ing up to the chal­lenges of trav­el­ling with two chil­dren un­der two years with pa­tience, and plenty of smiles.

Iam stand­ing in a Rop­pongi, Tokyo con­ve­nience store look­ing for nap­pies. They have every­thing for sale – from sushi to shirts, squid to saké; they even have squeezy tubes filled with sher­bet-flavoured ice-cream - but I’m look­ing and look­ing, and there aren’t any nap­pies. Next door there’s a mega-phar­macy, three sto­ries high sell­ing ev­ery kind of beauty prod­uct imag­in­able but I can­not find the in­fant sec­tion. I shout over loud dance mu­sic to the phar­ma­cist, “Do you sell nap­pies?” He shakes his head. “Where can I buy nap­pies around here?” “I don’t know,” he shouts back, and makes a ‘fur­ther away’ ges­ture. You know that say­ing about how the minute you find out you’re preg­nant, you start see­ing preg­nant women ev­ery­where? Well, in Tokyo, strug­gling with two ba­bies, I start look­ing for other ba­bies and I don’t see them ANY­WHERE. The de­clin­ing birth rate is cause of some con­ster­na­tion in Japan. A gov­ern­ment coau­thored re­port pre­dicts that by the year 22060, there will be 40 mil­lion fewer peo­ple in Japan than there are now. There are few pub­lic parks, pram ac­cess can be tricky, high­chairs in restau­rants are few and far be­tween, and baby change rooms are rare. Our in­abil­ity to con­ve­niently find these baby-friendly ameni­ties is not for lack of lo­cal knowl­edge, ei­ther. We’ve brought along my mother, who iis Ja­panese-born-and-raised in Tokyo. It’s not un­til we catch up with lo­cal friends that things start to be­come clear. The have two young daugh­ters and con­fess that they are yet to take ei­ther child onto the sub­way. In fact, they’d bought a car just so they could avoid it. Why? (In Japan ev­ery­one takes the sub­way.) Be­cause of germs, I won­dered? No, be­cause the kids can’t yet be trusted to be­have them­selves on the train.

I thought about this a lot, espe­cially while rid­ing the sub­way watch­ing my 22-month old run about shout­ing, drop­ping rub­bish, ac­cost­ing strangers, drib­bling, throw­ing food and gen­er­ally be­ing an iras­ci­ble for­eigner. In japan, a cer­tain level of deco­rum is ex­pected from chil­dren, and if they can’t be­have, there’s judge­ment lev­elled at the par­ent, (and by par­ent, I mean mother). They are kept out of sight at home.

Maybe it’s just that a 6-month old baby and a tod­dler are too much for an over­seas hol­i­day? I re­alise this when we’re in a Hara­jaku ra­men shop crammed full of men in suits hunched over bowls. Our two big girls (aged 14 and 12) need to re­fuel for more shop­ping and the de­li­cious smelling broth has lured us in. With all the mod­esty I can muster, I’m eat­ing while breastfeeding my son. My hus­band tries to eat while wrestling with our irate baby girl who has reached plat­inum tantrum sta­tus. She screams and slaps the spoon away from poor Marty’s mouth, noo­dles shower down upon the floor, and the rest of the shop po­litely pre­tends we do not ex­ist.

Luck­ily, my mother doesn’t ex­pect per­fect man­ners from her grand­chil­dren and a par­tic­u­larly be­atific smile set­tles over her face when they’re mis­be­hav­ing in pub­lic. (Some­times I think she’s more Aussie than Ja­panese.)

A cou­ple of days be­fore we are due to ship out, I get around to read­ing the Lo­cal­ity Guide pro­vided by our ac­com­mo­da­tion. It men­tions that there’s a rather large su­per­mar­ket just three min­utes’ walk up the road and, of course, there’s an abun­dance of nap­pies and ev­ery other hu­man need in store!

You may as well do karaoke!

Mercy makes friends on the sub­way

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