You might not have known it, but Japan is a country with five seasons: Summer, fall, winter, spring, and the rainy season. And when it rains during the rainy season, from beginning of June to the beginning of July, it literally pours. You might easily believe you are in Bangkok in the middle of monsoon season. Except that it is a little cooler than Bangkok.
When the rainy season ends, summer starts and with it the typhoon season. A typhoon is a storm that is strengthened by the earths rotation as it builds up over a shallow baisin of water. In the Eastern hemisphere (actually northeastern quadrant) they are known as typhoons, which is the anglification of the Japanese taifun. In America they are known as hurricanes, but they are the same thing. Strong winds combine with rain brought by the mixing of cold Northern air with moist, hot Southern air. The rain is actually worse in the outer bands of the typhoon, so the center does not have to pass overhead for the rain to pour down.
And of course, it rains other times of year too. The longest dry spells are in fall and spring, but it is a rare two weeks that see no rain at all in Tokyo.
So it is raining. No going to the park, no walks in the stroller. The ground is wet and even with a raincover your babies get all sweaty and wet. What can you do?
Luckily, Tokyo has underground shopping malls galore. And in many cases, the walk to the nearest museum is very short. Even if it is not possible to get out of the rain entirely, you can minimize the distance in the rain.
1. Tokyo Station Character Street
Tokyo Station is not the biggest station in Tokyo - that honor goes to Shinjuku, which sees more people pass through than the population of Norway.
But Tokyo Station has been extensively remodelled in the last few years, and that remodelling extends not just above the ground, but several levels below the ground. The former boring passage between the Maronouch and Yaesu sides have been turned into a multilevel shopping mall, with restaurants, shops, and speciality stores.
And while the shopping mall itself may not be particularly interesting, there are two streets that are more interesting for foreign tourists on rainy days than anything else. They are the Character Street and Ramen streets. And there is also a Snack Street.
The Character Street is full of shops themed with Japanese anime characters, mascots, and other dolls, figures, and chomic characters that represent a business. But you will not just find Little Rascal, Heidi, Ultraman and similar Japanese characters here. There is a Lego shop too.
The Snack Street is full if stores selling snacks made by Japanese companies like cows-to-candy dairy giant Meiji, and potato chip maker Calbee. Freshly made potato chips is not a bad idea, actually.
2. Tokyo Station Itself
Tokyo Station was originally built in 1914, more than 40 years after the railway first came to Japan. For many years, trains from the south terminated at Shimbashi station (the original station building is now a restaurant), and trains from the north terminated at Ueno. The station quickly became a symbol for the continued modernization of Japan, with two of the four platforms dedicated to electric trains. It was also the official gateway to Japan, opening as it did directly into the Imperial gardens.
Different from the Imperial Palace, however, it suffered horribly from the firebombings during the second world war. For the American military, it was a strategic target. It was quickly rebuilt but the rebuilt version was a quick fix. Fire damage and heavy wear did not help as the station continued to grow to the sides and downwards, as trains were put in tunnels during the remarkable expansion of the Japanese economy, from a bombed-out shell after WW II to the second biggest economy in the world.
Tokyo Station today continues to be rebuilt as it serves millions of travelers every day. You often see areas shuttered off or behind heavy plastic sheeting - that means new stores, elevators, or even train tracks may be coming.
But the most impressive thing is the renovated station building. The original domes are back, the old bricks are polished, and the building is literally beautiful. It has an art gallery and there are regular exhibitions of the art from the latest anime films. And you do not need a train ticket to see most of it, either.
3. Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi
Few businesses can claim both to use the same 400 year old business model and be so iconic that they have given their names to thei subway stations, but Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi is one. And on top of it, the business has been in roughly the same place during its entire existence.
The department store was invented in Japan in the 17th century, and again in England and separately in the US in the 19th. Mitsukoshi was actually founded in 1673. When the modern world invaded Japan, the Japanese were familiar with the department store idea - so they built one with all the modern trappings. Mitsukoshi had it all: Elevators, flushing toilets, an organ in the central staircase.
Now, almost 200 years later, the organ is still there, and there is a concert every Sunday. The elevators have been modernized, although they still have elevator attendants. Your kids will appreciate the childrens menu at the family restaurant on the fifth floor in the annex building. It is the only place we have come across so far that allows you to eat from a choo-choo train while it is actually puffing (thanks to creatively applied dry ice).
The driverless Yurikamome train that runs through the futuristic Odaiba neighborhood is not only convenient, it is also conveniently accessible from the Shimbashi railway station at one end, and the Toyosu subway station at the other. You can manage without getting wet (although at the Toyosu end you may be challenged by getting into the elevator).
That there is no driver (the train is entirely run by computers) means you have an uninterrupted view both backwards and forwards. Since there are several cars, your kids will become massively impopular if they try to run back and forth comparing the view. Better to stick them in the front, since that is the most exciting direction anyway.
The Yurikamome runs past the Shiodome highrise area and then makes a turn, scaling the Rainbow Bridge in a series of impressive loops, and then goes through the futuristic buildings and shopping centers of Odaiba. This area is actually landfill, although it was built up by connecting several smaller islands, one of which contained a fort during the feudal times that was supposed to defend Tokyo from foreign ships, like the black ships of admiral Perry. It was never used - the government realized how seriously undergunned they were long before they could start thinking about firing. But it is still there, and on a day when it does not rain, it is a great walk with the stroller.
Today, Odaiba has residential and office blocks, as well as several huge shopping malls. You can not see it from the train, but the life-sized replica of the Gundam fighting robot sits next to the Diver City shopping center, which has made the restaurants in that part of the complex unproportionally popular. But since it is raining, you are probably not in the mood to ride Ferris wheels or enjoy the beer park, but will continue on past the Toyosu fish market, which is intended to replace the Tsukiji fish market (famous for the tuna auctions) as soon as it has been sanitized. There has been several scandals regarding the buildings, which were constructed during the previous governement of Tokyo.
5. Tokyo City Office Towers
Tokyo does not have a traditional city government; it is a province as well as a city, and it is directly ruled by the governor. Other cities around Japan have a mayor and a city assembly, and then there is the province assembly and the governor, which report to the national government. But not in Tokyo. All governors are directly elected (different from the prime minister, who is appointed based on parlimentary majority). Why is this important? Because if you take the moving walkway from Shinjuku station under the skyskrapers to the Tokyo city government buildings, you will be going to the office of the governor as well as the city assembly. The Japanese government is not given to huge demonstrations of its own self-worth (local administration offices around Japan are probably the most unassuming you can find), but the Tokyo government buildings are an exception. They were build to showcase the importance of Tokyo as a capital city.
That is important to you because inside the cavernous entrance hall, there are two elevators which will take you all the way to the top of either of the two towers that characterize the Tokyo government buildings. The elevator, and the observation platform on top,, are both free. There is a cafe in the south tower, and there is a returant with a bar in the north.
6. Mori Tower Observatory in Roppongi Hills
The Roppongi Hills complex turned what was a rather seedy neighborhood into a posh destination. The office tower, built on land which formerly housed the Swedish embassy, is the Most prestigeous office address in Tokyo, housing the Japanese offices of companies like Google and Nokia.
But the Mori group also believes in giving back to the public, and from the spider sculpture straddling the entrance (sure to scare your children) to the changing exhibitions in the top two floors of the tower which house the Mori art museum. It is not particularly child-friendly but the views are amazing - looking down at Tokyo Tower and spotting the planes taking off and landing at Haneda Airport will keep them busy for a couple of hours, and there is no lack of lunch and dining options in the shopping center at the bottom of the tower when you get tired of the view. Or the art.
The Shiodome area was built on the old railway tracks (the old station house is now a restaurant), so there was space to build big buildings. And build big buildings they did. The area rivals the Shinjuku highrise area for tall skyscrapers, but here the buildings are either offices, hotels, or entertainment complexes. Several of them have restaurants on the top floors, but if you want to pay for the view you are welcome. Have lunch in the basement restaurants close to the station.
The most amazing sight in Shiodome is not a building, but the walking castle clock at the Nippon Television building. Your toddlers will love it, regardless of whether they have seen the film or not (it is more than a little scary in parts).
Based on the Hayao Miyazaki animated Studio Ghibli film Howls Magic Castle, the clock is a miracle of electronics and mechanics. Try to get there at 12 noon, but beware: The clock is not easy to view from anywhere under a roof.
These are seven attractions you can reach almost dry, or even completely dry if you are staying in a hotel which has an exit into the vast underground malls that crisscross the major station areas - and that connect to the subway and train stations through their underground exits.
Every city has them, even down to the smallest villages: the local festival, or matsuri.
Like in Germany, where the Schuetzenfest changes the city and engages the village elders in the planning for a year in advance, if not longer, the local people participate in the organization. It is often the biggest local event in the neigborhood and the biggest party of the year.
Normally the matsuri is held on a weekend, starting on Friday evening, with the main festivities on Saturday, because traditionally celebration in Japan, of whatever kind, involves a great deal of drinking. So a few days before, either in the shrine or a bearby public place, the mikoshi comes out and with it a stand showing off the neigborhood donations.
Mikoshi is usually translated as "portable altar", but it is not really an altar in the Western religious sense, it is the home of the god - spirit may be a better translation - who actually moves into the little shrine and is carried among the street of the neigborhood, to bring its blessings to the people who live there.
oneThe matsuri is usually a benefit for the local shrine, although buddhist temples have also been holding them of late - with a more educational twist, featuring their flower or formal gardens, or outdoor cinema (bring insect repellent), or concerts by Indonesian Gamelan orchestras. But it is not unusual for the matsuri procession carrying the mikoshi to end at the nearby Buddhist temple, one reason being that the Buddhist sects in Japan have an active group of volunteers helping out, serving the men (usually they are men) drinks after the sweaty work of carrying the heavy mikoshi.
As a benefit, it is of course dependent on donations. Next to the portable shrine (the mikoshi) there is a booth to recieve collections, and to show them off. The donations are either money, in-kind donations (like the local dry cleaner taking care of the jackets that festival participants wear), or they are food and drink - Japanese spirits, whether they are spirits of the dead or spirits of a mountain, like their food and especially drink.
One detail worth pointing out is the mirror in the middle of the display. It comes from the shrine, and it is the centerpiece of the display on the altar there too. Look into it, and you will see the face of a god.
The local shrine is where the festival takes place. Usually the shrines and their surrounding gardens, oreven forest, is a serene and contemplative place. The spirits that inhibit Japanese shrines are nature spirits and they appreciate growing things surrounding them. Perhaps that is why they often double as the playground of children from nearby daycare and kindergarten, although that sort of degrades the serenity of the place.
But it not only means the shrines have a small park attached to them, it also means they have open space available. Which is why the shrine grounds are usually where the festival takes place. Or at least the corporeal part of it.
Apart from the spiritual part of a matsuri, where the mikoshi is carried around the neigborhood, there is a part much more aimed at the body than the spirit. Temporary stands are set up in the grounds of the shrine, featuring traditional Japanese comfort foods and traditional activities.
when the Friday evening comes, it is time for the matsuri to start. It is not just about the marketplace and the mikoshi, it is also about the local community participation. In this picture, the priest of the local shinto shrine blesses the participants of the festival. It may be hard to tell from the picture, but the people are all local businessmen and business leaders, investing their time and the company resources to bring the local community together.
But while the mikoshi is a huge thing, requiring quite a bit of brawn to carry around, there is also a childrens version. The childrens mikoshi is a scaled-down version of the adults', with the same ornamentation but less than a third of the size but weighing a lot less. That does not mean it is a toy, though. It is carried around the city with the same solemnity and calls of "wa-shoi, wa-shoi!" accompanied by the same fllute-and-drum music. Almost the same distance, if a different path, than the adult version.
The smaller children do not have the body strength as their brothers (and, best to add, sisters) who carry the mikoshi, but they get to pull the taiko drum that acvompanies the flute music. This is the drum you may have seen in TV shows featuring Japanese drumming, and it has a really deep and booming tone - but can be stroked to call out that tone in an almost whispering voice.
Not that the children do. They are more about maximizing the booming, not always rythmically, so perhaps the homeowners along the route are happy that the childrens mikoshi and the taiko drum are processioned during daytime.
The arrival of the mkoshi at the shrine the first night marks the start of the matsuri that most people will care about - because this is when the celebrations will start. The market stands open and even if there is a long line of people at the doors of the shrine, praying is not what the matsuri is about.
A matsuri is about eating, drinking, and making merry. Especially drinking and eating. Festivals today are the only places where you can find traditional Japanese food like grilled aji.
But festival foods also include traditional Japanese comfort foods like takoyaki (fried dough balls with a small piece of octopus meat inside), and okonomiyaki, which usually contains cabbage, but literally means "what you like fried", a dish that has entered haute cuisine and is served in upscale restaurants, but had its origins during the meagre years after WW II, when there were few things to eat and even fewer things to fry.
The merry-making part is not just relegated to providing lots of (actually very expensive) alcohol. Many festivals provide entertainment, often local talents performing songs and dances.
A festival also means a chance to dress up in the traditional summer costume, the yukata, and show it off to friends and other festival goers.
But a lot of the entertainment is provided by traditional activities. Fishing for goldfish with a paper sieve that is designed to break after a few minutes is one. A shooting gallery with cork guns may be another. There will be several lotteries, even if the prizes may be more aimed at children than grownups, however merry they may be.
Whether you plan to take the train a couple of stations, or if you are thinking about a day trip to places like Kamakura, Nikko, or Hakone, you will need to plan ahead. You may think that your day would be a pleasant outing, but spend the first two hours squeezed so tightly that people frequently break their ribs in the throng, and you will not enjoy it any more.
You have seen the pictures of people being squeezed into the train by attendants in white gloves. You may have read different things into them, but there are two things you should know: Japanese people wear this type of gloves when they do rough work; and if the attendant can not make it in time, people squeeze themselves onto the train.
Once you go to Japan, and experience it yourself, you find out that your preconceptions go out the window. One thing you discover is that the attendants are not there to push as many people onto the train, as you might have believed (and as would be the case in other countries); they are there to help people keep their briefcases, purses, umbrellas, arms and legs (and sometimes heads) into the trains before the train leaves.
Daddy works late
Japanese are known as hard workers, and this is not just a label reserved for the “salarymen”, the breadwinners of families slaving away in the bellies of Japanese megacorporations. Everyone works hard, and they enjoy it. But it also means families do not see more than glimpses of their fathers during the weeks, as he leaves home early for a long commute, and comes back late. Mothers, according to the traditional view, should be at home with the children, although in modern Japanese families it is rare to find more than one child.
Mommy works too
Today, mothers work too, which means more children go to daycare. The mothers contribute to the crowds of people squeezing into the trains between 0730 and 1000 AM. Most offices open officially at 10, which means you have to be at work on or before that time. If you have a long commute, it means starting it earlier. As trains get closer to the destinations of the travelers, catching the trains becomes more important if you do not want to be late in the office. Children in private schools typically do not travel more than four or five stations, and as they start their school day at 08:30, they will contribute to filling up the trains early. The real pressure starts with the salarymen coming after them. This is when they start squeezing themselves onto the train, and people try to accommodate them. Train staff will push any limbs or luggage sticking out into the train so the doors can be closed.
For visitors, it means that during the working week, it is useless to try to get on the train before 10:00 AM. Especially if you are bringing a stroller. The commuters who have to be in the office will not care that someone brought their children on the train, even if they could see it.
The disappearing morning crowd
As stores open and the office hours start, the crowd magically disperses. Trains which were crowded to the point of bursting suddenly have seats for all. This is a much better time to travel, but it means you will be sleeping late every day. Grocery stores, especially smaller ones, will often open earlier, and convenience stores are open all day round.
Japanese people normally eat lunch around 12, so restaurants will be really busy at that time. Since they open at 11, and lunch service closes at 14 in most restaurants, it is better to be early or late to escape the rush. Popular restaurants have a line of chairs where you are supposed to sit and wait, and a list where you write your name and the number of persons in your party. If you are more than two, it can take a while to get seated.
Resting places with coffee
Crowds disappear again from stores and cafes as the lunchtime ends, and around 3 PM it is possible to get a seat in most Starbucks. Even if your children do not drink coffee Starbucks is a good place for a snack (especially if you brought it yourself) or feeding your children while you relax with a cup of coffee. Different from many other Japanese restaurants all stores in the chain are smoke-free (most other cafes either have a smoking room, or do not care that people smoke). While the govenor of Tokyo has promised to make all restaurants in the Japanese capital smoke-free by the Tokyo olympic games, nobody believes that particular promise more than any other promise by a politician.
School day also ends at 3 PM, which means streets fill up with school children going home – or to cram school. Most children in Japan go to some kind of cram school, not because education is bad but because they want an edge and want to pass the entrance exams to the most prestigeous universities. Restaurant workers also start to prepare for the night.
Housewives ferrying meals
The housewives, still a big part of Japanese everyday life, and their retired counterparts (an even bigger part of Japanese life) normally shop for the days dinner between 2 and 4, filling the supermarkets and ferrying home the produce and other necessities they bought for the meal. Preparing meals is still the domain of the housewife, and she will also prepare a snack for her child, if the grandmother (who may be living with her children, a common arrangement) does not do it. Construction workers, a very visible part of Tokyo daily life in a city which continues to reconstruct itself, go home around 5 PM, followed by store clerks, and gradually, dripping out of the office from 6'ish onwards, the office workers slowly making their way home. There is no rush hour in the evening, although from 5 PM to about 7, the trains are much more full than during the day.
Family dinner at 8
Families have dinner at 8, if they do have dinner. In most families, the mother and children eat on their own, and leave food for the father to take when he gets home, which may be when the children have gone to bed. Many people go out for dinner or drinks, or only drinks, during the week so restaurants may be full of customers already from 7 PM. And then, the restaurants close already at 10 PM, although there are many drinking places open later.
Premium Friday happy hour
Recently, the governement designated the last Friday every month as “Premium Friday”. So far the takeup has been limited, because the idea is that companies should close already at 3 PM, enabling fathers to spend time with their families, couples to date, and other social activities which might increase the public health among Japanese, famous for being overworked and stressed out. Mostly, Premium Friday has become a way for restaurants to extend their happy hours. But it will affect your ability to have dinner with your kids, so make sure to take note of when it happens.
Weekends see a different rhythm, when families try to spend time together. Saturday is normally when the father tries to do activities with his children, like ball games or the ever-popular insect catching in summer. And mothers go to the hairdresser. Sundays is the outing day, when families go to museums, or aquariums, or other places. But mostly, weekends is when families try to do things, which means places that were empty during the week fill up. Something to leverage as a visitor, and do activities which families do not do during weekends.
Flying with infants is different from flying with a toddler. The infant is much less demanding - but can be much louder for a longer time than a toddler, who at least is willing to listen to promises of candy and icecream, even in the middle of a tantrum.
Babies are who keep other passengers awake when they are trying to get whatever little sleep the airline environment can afford. Even if most people bring a surprising level of expectation with them when it comes to the comfort level on board, and this of course disrupts their experience. If you believed you would be served caviar and champagne by beautiful smiling stewardesses in crisp uniforms, you will experience cognitive dissonance of Mont Fujiesque proportions when you discover your knees are pressed into your neighbors back and your hips are going to be permanently molded into armrest shape. Some airlines still pretend to offer service in first class, but they make you pay for it. Others have given up any pretensions of service and define their business as moving you from point A to point B. They also know that in Europé and Asia flights that last less than three hours have already been outcompeted by trains, and it is only a matter of time until it happens in the US. Or the Hyperloop becomes reality.
The cognitive dissonance would be smaller if the other passengers did not believe they would be able to do work during the flight. But many people seem to suffer from this illusion, despite the time when you could open a laptop even in business class belonging to the time of ancient sagas. At least low-cost carriers are honest, since they do not pretend that there is any space or comfort. You get what you pay for.
It may be understandable that there is some cognitive distance on long distances flights since this used to be somewhat more comfortable. But that was before the latest generation of airplanes. When the Dreamliner and the Airbus 380 came, they established a new standard not only for fuel economy, but for packing in people as well.
So other people come on board already primed to have a bad experience. Add to that a screaming baby, and you can see why they are not overjoyed and ready to scream at the flight attendants. If not at the baby too, then at least at the parents. If airlines could only stop advertising flights as something exotic and pleasant, and explain that the only reason they do not switch business is that different from sheep, passengers require less cleanup, and their feed is cheaper.
10 hours of feeding bottles
if you fly direct, the longest flight that an airplane can manage is 14 hours. There are several flights that long, from Tokyo to Boston, or Los Angeles to Sydney. If you are going to Japan or Korea, the shortest flight to the EU or continental US is 10 hours. Most long-distance flights fall in that realm.
As you probably already know, preparing feeding bottles for 14 hours is no small chore. And you will need enough bottles for all the feedings, since you can not wash and sterilize them onboard the airplane.
The easiest thing is to measure out the amount of formula to be used in advance, and use graded bottles so it becomes easy to fill them. Ask the flight attendants to let you do it in the pantry. They will do it for you but they will also be busy, so if you can fit your preparation into times when they can let you do it, it works better. Remember to keep a couple of bottles for water during takeoff and landing.
You do not have to worry that you are not allowed to take as much as you plan to bring. The TSA in the US say you are allowed to bring "a reasonable amount" of formula, frozen breast milk, juice, etc. They may have a high-tech gadget which you place the bottle into and it then sniffs for drugs and explosives. Or, in other places, the security guards simply sniff the bottles. Do not worry about baby medications either. And do not worry about the water in-flight. But be careful even with bottled water in the airport in India and some other Asian countries. Better bring your own.
14 hours of screaming
For a small baby, an airplane must be a really scary environment. Suddenly they are lifted out of their comfortable stroller, and not into their beloved baby bed, but dumped in a strange place full of weird noises and smells, with a bunch of people they have never met before. And if they are in the least uncomfortable, they will ask their parents to fix it in the only way they know how: By screaming their lungs out until either the unpleasantness goes away or they get so exhausted that they fall asleep.
You may believe that a baby can not scream for 14 hours straight and that the people claiming to have experienced are telling tall tales, but our own experience with colic is that they can scream uninterrupted for a month, so I would not discount it as travelers tales. If they only would sleep part of the time, then maybe other passengers may be happier.
Ear drum trouble
Small children do not know that when the pressure changes as the plane gains altitude, they need to swallow so that the air pressure in their inner ear gets equal in pressure to the air outside.
You can trick a toddler to swallow very easily (just give them a lollipop), but infants is much harder. A sippy cup with water can work, or feeding them. This means you will be very busy feeding them during start and landing. And if their stomachs are full, they will not want to eat. Or drink.
Making them laugh might work. But that is extremely hard if they are screaming from pain. The paper cup trick might work - take two ordinary paper cups, fill them with tissue, pour scalding hot water on the tissue - and put it over their ears. The hot water causes the air in the ear canal to expand and makes the air in their inner ear (which is what hurts) expand through the ear canal and equalize the pressure.
At least, that is the theory. Or it may be that the warm air is comfortable. Or uncomfortable. The solution is to swallow. Which is exactly what you wanted. And then it stops hurting and they can go to sleep.
Drugging your children
You can prevent a lot the screaming by providing a comfortable environment. Changing and feeding your baby of course, but also redefining comfortable. If your child is not so uncomfortable on board that they feel the need to protest vigorously, they will coo cutely and fall asleep. Provided the flight happened during their nap or sleep time.
For new parents, timing the travel to the sleeping patterns of the baby may seem like some kind of black belt yoga magic. It would be easier to drug them. After all, they will become drowsy by drinking cough medicine, so allergy medication or motion sickness medicine would conk the baby out cold and keep them quiet for the duration of the flight.
Apart from the possible side effects or after effects of drugs in infants, it is a bad idea to give drugs to infants. You never quite know how they will react. They might become hyperactive instead of sleepy. Which was what you wanted.
Stand up after feeding
But it is possible to adapt flights to your babies sleeping times (not the other way around) so they stay quiet from start to destination. Here are a few tips that have worked for us.
The first tip is the simplest: Make sure you are flying on a sleep-friendly time. If you take your baby long-distance traveling, make sure it is a night flight. The best is if the flight overlaps the normal sleeping times, so that they have been asleep for a couple of hours and then start the flight. With a couple of breaks for diaper change and feeding, you can fit those entire ten hours in a normal nights sleep.
Second tip: Maximize the comfort level. Put her in a pajamas and give her a blanket from home, new diapers and feed her during takeoff. If she is a lap child having her in a carrier and sleeping on your (or hubbys) stomach will help keeping her asleep even as you pass the normal wakeup time, as long as it is dark and there are no sudden sounds.
And keeping small babies strapped to your chest while flying. Pull up the sun hood, wrap a towel around them and yourself if the airplane is too cold, and they will sleep like babies as long as you keep them fed and changed.
If they are small enough, keeping them strapped on during the flight does create a comfortable environment - for them, at least. Small children do not only remember the womb, they want to get back into the uncomplicated and safe environment where they lay is a comfortably heated fluid, their ears full of the safe sound of the beating of their mothers hearts. And no worries about sleepingtime or feedingtime either. This is why swaddling works so well.
Tip number three: Stand up and walk around with your child in the carrier. This will normally soothe her to sleep, especially after feeding.
Never enough towels
Tip number four: Bring quiet entertainment. As long as it is dark on board when your baby wakes up the chances that she will fall asleep again increases, otherwise bring something to play with to keep her entertained. Something familiar from home that they have played with before works best, but small kids can be entertained for hours by a paper cup. It is very personal. And have a feeding bottle with water to suck on
And keeping small babies strapped to your chest while flying. Pull up the sun hood, wrap a towel around them and yourself if the airplane is too cold, and they will sleep like babies as long as you keep them fed and changed.
When they grow older, flying becomes more problematic. Once your kids outgrow their carriers and start sitting in a stroller, it may be time to give your kids a travel timeout. For a couple of months. And then they are toddlers, but I have a different blog post for flying after that.
Oh, and a few more things: Towels. You can never have enough towels. Ready for those moments when she spits up on the suited man in front of you, or overfills her diapers so that…well. Do not forget to bring change for her, yourself, and at least five more diapers than you planned in your carry-on.
The Japanese are great travelers. You find them all over the big tourist destinations at certain times of year. But while they used to go abroad at the first available chance, they now stay in Japan. If they travel at all. The pressure to make money and provide for their families has become greater since the depression, which hit Japan as well. Many families now stay at home or go to a destination in Japan - to save money.
If they can, they take a short trip inside Japan with their kids. Typically, that happens during the school holidays, in July/August, March/April, and over New Year. Each school determines its own holidays, so there may be some variation. But since the holidays are also vacations for the teachers, and the school year officially starts in April, schools try to spread the vacations to save the teachers sanity.
Hot spring new year
Japan has a normal calendar year like the rest of the world, and the Japanese new year happens at the same time as new year in the rest of the world. But it is not the huge public celebration it can be in other places, it is a time for reflection and to reconnect with family. It is more like Thanksgiving in the US or Christmas in northern Europé than it is new year.
In the old Buddhist calendar, the new year was also a time for restarting and taking stock of your life. And your business, and everything else. Today, all businesses (except convenience stores and hotels) are closed. Banks close their ATMs. Even though the business year for most companies runs from April 1 to March 31.
It is only for a few days but it still means that nothing happens as families go home to eat the traditional new years cooking and soba noodles in the new year.
Hotels used to make roaring business as families went for a few days relaxation at one of the ubiquitous hot spring resorts that dot the Japanese countryside. Now the visitor streams have diminished to a trickle. Which of course opens opportunities for foreign visitors, even if most of the ski resorts around Japan have not yet started the season yet.
Five days vacation
When stores and banks open again there are still a few days of vacation left, and most stores offer a "secret bag" (fukubukuro) to first-come, first-served customers. You pay a certain sum but you do not know what is in the bag. Yo may be lucky and get something more valuable than what you paid for.
People travel to different department stores and shops to get the best bargains, and fill up the local trains during those few days. They end with the coming-of-age celebrations when the people who turned 20 (the age of maturity in Japan), when they dress up in their best kimonos and go to be saluted by the major of the city.
And then it is back to work. The Japanese work more than people in other countries, and the government has even tried to mandate that people must use at least five vacation days per year, in addition to the public holidays which have been spread out over the Japanese calendar to give people at least an occasional long weekend.
Three legit weeks
People do not travel much until the school vacations in March, when families try to go on trips together - these days more often to their grandparents than to Europe, Hawaii or Australia, which used to be the favorite destinations of Japanese travelers.
Since they would have to take a vacation, the Japanese corporate employees, usually known as salarymen, may not participate in the activities of their children. They may be saving their money and time until the first week of May, which actually starts with a holiday in April. This week, which usually has three holidays in a row, is known as "Golden Week" and is one of the three weeks in the year when "salarymen" feel it is legitimate to take a vacation (the other two being New Year and the Obon vacation in August). So of course they want to take families on a trip, if they can afford it.
Mountains or sea
Trying to go somewhere between the last few days in April and the second week in May is like traveling in treacle. But then suddenly they disappear and roads and trains are back to normal. Which is crowded but survivable. You and your children will even get seats without asking.
Then the rainy season starts and the retirees stay home. Now foreigners start showing up, filling up the trains to popular destinations after the commuters have gone. Even as the rains increase and there are at least a rainshower every day, the sprinkling of tourists increases as the sweltering of summer turns hotter and hotter as the typhoon season starts. The japanese go either to the sea or the mountains over the two long weekends in July and August - the holidays are appropriately named Montain Day and Sea Day, and whether to go to one or the other is what Japanese families argue about.
August starts with a holiday and continues with the traditional week of dancing and caring for the graves of close relatives known as obon.
Not a legal holiday
Legally speaking, obon is not a holiday. Separation between state and religion is stringently enforced. But that does not stop people from going away. Even if they do not go very far. Those who reasonably can take a week off to go to their ancestral homes, going back again to Tokyo a couple of days later in what is known as the U-turn. Roads and railways, and to a lesser extent airports, get crowded. The Japanese do not usually profess to a religion, but during Obon week they all become Buddhist.
The Obon week also losely coincides with school vacations. The weeks before and especially after is when Japanese schools, and even kindergartens, go on field trips in various places across the country. With the amazing train network that Japan has, it is easy to make day trips. If they are old enough to stay overnight, there are hostels which will accommodate them. Staying in dormitories has a long tradition in Japan, and in a country with paper walls, privacy has always been scant.
New year fresh start
Obon week over, the Japanese again return to their normal rut until September, when a collection of several holidays during one week, known as Silver Week, is intended to drive consumption. When the yen was expensive and travel was cheap for the Japanese, it actually worked. But after the crisis hit, the Japanese cut back on their travelling. Including Silver Week.
When those who traveled return, they go back to work. And they work hard, until December comes around. While Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, the Emperors Birthday on December 23 is a vacation day, but the following days people are busy wrapping up the year and closing everything, so they can make a fresh start in the new year.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.