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.
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