Mae-Ling took Kyle to Japan for Chinese New Year a few days in advance of Alan, who was still in Singapore for a work meeting. She first went to Nagano for the hot springs and snow monkeys. Kyle loved the snow, especially with his snowball maker. They enjoyed sledding as well. They made it back to Tokyo and checked into the Asia Center of Japan hotel.
Alan flew in the red-eye and met them at the hotel. We figured out the metro system and found our way to the Pokemon Center, which really was just a Pokemon retail store. We then went to Roppongi Hills and ate sushi.
On Saturday, we went to Shibuya. We explored the 4 stories of toys at Kiddy Land, but somehow escaped without buying anything. Mae-Ling shopped for souvenirs and gifts at the Oriental Center, while Alan took Kyle to find a cafe and realized he was next to PayPal’s Tokyo office. We then checked out the latest fashions on Takeshita Street and got too hungry to make it to the Ritz for tea as Mae-Ling had planned; we popped into the food court on Takeshita and gorged on gyros and miso noodles. We then took the metro to the Sony Center, but we didn’t see anything too shocking in its 4 floors of “latest gadgets”. The 3D TVs were pretty cool. We met up with Paul and his kids Macey and Jonathan back at the hotel. All 6 of us then went to Ginza to find another monster toy store. The coolest part was the large electric race car track. Famished and exhausted, we ate dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant on the top floor.
On Valentine’s, we went to the New Otani Hotel and tasted 20 different, beautifully-prepared mini-sandwiches in their famous tea brunch. We briefly toured their gardens before seeing Mae-Ling off to the airport. Then began the “Daddy Adventures!”
We met up with Paul at
Kidzania. Though our tickets were for a 4pm entry, we started lining up at
3. Paul and Alan were hoping to be able to drop the kids off and relax, but
once we were inside, we were amazed at the size and scale. It was essentially
Epcot meets “It’s a Small World,” with each store funded by a corporation. Kids
“worked” for 30-45 minute shifts to earn Kidzania bucks, which they could then
spend on some activity or purchase. The kids first chose a food processing
store – go figure – and made fried rice. It was spicy so Alan ate it – it was
surprisingly tasty! Then the kids split up, and Kyle did the rock / building
climbing (see video).
Afterwards, we watched Macy perform in the
magic show. Stopping only
briefly for some food, the kids then became firemen. Their shift began with
learning some discipline, like standing straight in a line, and stretching.
Finally, the alarm went off and they filed into a mini-firetruck and managed to
drive thru the packed Kidzania streets without running over anyone. The kids
filed out, got in line to count off while the building burned behind them,
before finally getting to stand before their hose and spray out actual water.
When they finished putting out the fire, they proudly posed for the paparazzi
parents. Macey cleared the path back to the firestation, announcing in English
to make way for their truck. We calmed the kids down with a bit of drawing at
the Epson store.
On Monday, we tried to find Sega World at the huge Takashimaya department store at Shinjuku. We were only able to wander around “Tokyo Hands” store before it was time to get on the train to the Ghibli Animation museum. We ate at the train station before catching the bus over to the museum. Too bad it was raining so we couldn’t get any good pictures of the interesting Goudy-like architecture. The inside kind of reminded me of an Alice-in-Wonderland Swiss ski cottage. We watched a cute short film about mice sumo wrestlers. The museum did impress me on how difficult it was to make an animated movie by hand – the dedication to detail is amazing. Back at Shinjuku, we walked around a bit to see the “real Tokyo” with all the neon lights. We enjoyed some sushi and sake while the kids entertained each other.
On Tuesday, Paul left so Alan was on his own with Kyle. We went to the Edo Museum. I learned that Edo was the old name for Tokyo. It was a gorgeous museum with many fabulous miniatures of life in the past. The WWII section was depressing; I learned that Tokyo suffered almost as much damage from the fire bomb raids as Hiroshima and Nagasaki did from the atomic bombs. As one reviewer noted, it’s pretty amazing to see the Japanese government’s WWII surrender document on display. We refreshed ourselves with some soba and udon noodles at the museum restaurant, before navigating through the metro maze to get to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. We were properly amazed, dumbfounded, and piqued for a few hours. Then, I dragged Kyle on a very long walk back to our home station – ok, I got lost for a bit, but I do actually enjoy walking the streets. Japan is so clean and safe, with interesting things to see around every corner. We ended the day with some soul-warming curry noodles.
On Wednesday, we continued our museum trek at the National Museum. Priceless Japanese art, but not very interesting for an 8 year old boy. By the time we got to the National Science Museum, Kyle was quite grumpy, even saying, “After this, I’m not going to complain about going to school anymore!” But he livened up after a quick lunch box at the museum lounge. We explored all the fossils and stuffed animals. Kyle liked the Plesiosaurus fossil the best. We played with the science demonstrations (see video). Though completely exhausted, I tried to get one more museum in, the National Art Center, but we got there after it closed. Despite Kyle’s protests, I marched us to Roppongi Hills for dinner (see Diesel store video) before finally relenting to his pleas to go home.
I was proud of Kyle’s stamina, and inordinately pleased with my ability to (most of the time) figure out the spaghetti-like metro maps. I loved touring world-class museums almost as if they were my own private collections since so few people were in them. I often found the structures themselves more impressive than what they housed, but half the fun was finding something intriguing in a corner. Kyle was so exhausted at the end of every day that he couldn’t remember anything except that we walked a lot. After all the great Japanese food, what did Kyle like the best? Bagels. “Daddy, you travel all the time so you get to eat lots of interesting foods. But I don’t, so I still find bagels interesting.”
I feel guilty with all my work travel, so I’m happy I was able to spend this quality time with Kyle. Mae-Ling and I have different parenting styles, and sometimes we clash when we’re traveling together. I want to push on to pack in as many things as I can; Mae-Ling is happy to do one thing a day, or nothing at all. So this trip, we compromised with Mae-Ling taking Kyle for the first part, us spending time together as a family for a few days, and then me taking Kyle for the last part.
But sometimes the best part of vacations is the anticipation of going home…