I cannot believe it's been nearly one year since our family trip to Japan. I'm excited to finally write down some notes of our adventure to share with you. Hopefully, you find some helpful tips for your own adventure along the way. Japan has been on our family bucket list even before we were a family, so when we saw cheap flights to go over Christmas break we knew this was our chance to get a taste of ramen and sushi in Japan. I really do mean "a taste" as we had a planned one week in Japan during our family Christmas vacation, and then realized we lost one day in time difference once arriving in Japan, so it was actually six days. Despite this short amount of time, we were for sure going to make the most of it as a family.
Our Japanese experience started out in the Osaka/Kyoto area. We flew in on a late flight from Honolulu (details to come) and couldn't wait to get in our fill of beautiful, traditional Japan that this area has to offer. From all the reviews we read online, Japan has so much to see and experience, but they were all spread out. We also needed to get up to Tokyo for certain activities that required advance appointments like the Studio Ghibli museum, so we were at the mercy of scheduling availability. So like all time-poor individuals, we had to make some hard choices. We honed it down to one and a half-day of exploration in Kyoto, half a day of travel, and four days in Tokyo.
As we arrived in Osaka, we were automatically greeted by super nice Japanese attendants who helped us with my wheelchair transfer, while A.J. took care of the stroller and our carry-on's, and the children ran wild (it was a VERY long flight). We really appreciate great help in these transfers as they're probably the most hectic strips of our trips with so much to keep track of.
We were a bit nervous about the language barrier as neither of us speaks Japanese and the characters are so different from English, that we wouldn't be able to wing it as we have in Europe and South American with our Spanish/Portuguese. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find all of the signs had great romanization and we were able to find people who spoke some English or rely on our Google translator app to help us throughout the whole trip. And we really appreciated how people were so kind and eager to help. And with preparations for the 2020 Olympics, construction for better accessibility and accommodation in public areas throughout the nation were vastly improved, which I was so, so grateful for (this might help us plan our route for future travels. haha).
We were AMAZED by the airport escalator, which was cleared for below! That was the first time in all of our travels that we had seen anything like that! We were in AWE!!!
As we walked around the airport - looking for a restroom - we found some really fun Mario Kart characters painted on the walls. Nothing says, "Welcome to Japan" better than Mario!! It was like our childhood dreams coming to real life.
And then, we found the restrooms... magical restrooms...heated seats, magical relaxing bird tweeting music for relaxation and privacy, and magical buttons that clean your bum...must I say more?? The kids were in AWE. We were in AWE. The first time Boston used one all by himself, he came out of the stall with shirt and pants wet all over. We were so confused, "Boston, what happened?" He said, "I saw these buttons and I was curious so I pressed it and it sprayed me!" We had to go in and see for ourselves, and sure enough, we realized these weren't your typical boring old white porcelain toilets. No, these were really magical toilets taken to the next level. They had buttons for the whole wash cycle! Wash, Rinse, and Dry! They leave your bum feeling all refreshed at the touch of a button. One of the best discoveries for our family was that Japanese toilets really are the BEST! The kids couldn't wait to tell anyone and everyone about their favorite option: "the butt spray." Video to come.
Going through customs was relatively standard. However, wrangling three little antsy children who have been on a plane for 6 hours proved the bigger challenge. The lady at customs was a little grumpy and motioned us to settle them down and keep them behind a line. To our Asian mothers' dismay, my kids are a bit rambunctious for the serene, respectful culture. lol. That was a bit stressful, but only because messing with customs is never a good idea. You either lose something or get detained. We were glad we didn't lose any of the children nor get detained, which is a total win.
After clearing customs, we picked up our suitcase, stuffed our carry-on's in the storage compartment of our stroller, and packed up our kiddos--this was as minimalistic as we could get since having children. (our travel packing has drastically changed since adding kids to the mix). Having done research ahead of time, we knew most places around Japan took cash, not bank cards, so we pulled out as much cash as we could, which was about $300 each time. Exchange rates were in our favor ($1 USD=110 Yen). We pulled out some money from their 7/11 ATM, which was a personal favorite throughout the trip.
Navigating the Train Station
We followed signs to purchase train tickets, which was just a jaunt across a bridge from the airport. There were so many directional lines and drawings on the floor, I really should have studied up on that before the trip. You can find some explanations here. It's fascinating how all of Japan has included so many needs of their population from people with vision impairments, to women only trains, to people in wheelchairs like me. This is so refreshing to see this inclusivity on the other side of the world. I could always find an attendant who could help with entering and exiting the training, they had a portable ramp that allowed me to get on and off with ease. Although, sometimes we cut it close and didn't wait for an attendant to come, so we wouldn't miss our train.
Ticket purchases were a little trickier because it was all Japanese on the screen until we chatted with a ticket attendant and they were able to click a translate button that made English appear on the screen (Although the translation left plenty of room for questioning our own understanding of English). Then, found our way to an elevator, which required a couple of trips, which I usually took Charlotte and Audrey with me, while AJ and Boston manned the stroller and luggage throughout the whole trip. And off we were to Kyoto-- mommy in a wheelchair, a tired daddy, three wild kiddos, and all our luggage in tow. :) The ride from Osaka Kansai into the town of Osaka took about 1 hr 15 mins, and Boston shared some of his snacks with a new Chinese friend on the way :)
Google Maps had some issues so we wandered from the train station around the city for a long while, trying to match up street names and map names to find our hotel at night. Imagine walking around at midnight, in the dark, after an 11-hour (zombie mode) with all of our kids, oh and one of the wheels on the suitcase broke, so we had to haul the suitcase in the stroller, while Martina carried sleepy Audrey and Charlotte on her lap, while Boston walked or rather drunk-walked through random streets in Kyoto.
Getting lost at that time of night, with all our littles and luggage in a foreign country wasn't exactly the most ideal, but the thought kept coming to mind: that this was all part of the adventure, and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone is the norm in our family. With this in mind and our wee ones beside us, I knew this was all going to work out. We kept having to reassure the kiddos that we would get there soon enough an to keep a positive attitude. And at one point, when it was seemed all this wandering would not lead us to where we needed soon enough, we said a family prayer to ask God for guidance and comfort. And amazing enough, the man upstairs worked his magic and we ran into some people who were still awake at that late hour who (spoke English) and were able to help point us in the right direction. A few minutes later we were at our hotel just fine (Hallelujah!). The storm of worry always seems strongest just before the calm, isn't that right?? RELIEF
Check-in was super smooth. We were so ready to get everything up to our room. And Martina was so relieved her wheelchair fit in the elevator as there's never any guarantee that elevators in Asia will fit a wheelchair (curious, right?). Although, this one barely fit the wheelchair and a child in it, so we had to take a couple of trips. By the time we got into our room, we were all SO READY to hit our pillows...in JAPAN!!!
The next day brought in a whole other set of adventures, including *a lost camera*. yikes!
Until next time!
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