5 things you need to know before traveling to Tokyo.

Comments 6 Standard

I’ve been living in Tokyo for a year now and it’s a beautiful and exciting place to visit. I’m often asked a lot of questions from people interested in visiting and I thought I’d put together a few things that I think are important to know before coming to visit.

Here they are…

There are no public trash cans. Or very few, rather. There are bins that collect bottles and cans near vending machines and sometimes outside of conbinis (convenience stores). But don’t bank on these being everywhere. It’s not uncommon to have bags of trash in your book bag because there is nowhere to put it. Sometimes it’s left for days because I forget it’s in there.

Remember: Suica or Pasmo. Tokyo hosts one of the most efficient and reliable mass transit systems in the world. And with 13 million residents, traffic can be insane and frustrating. Therefore it’s best to buy a Suica or Pasmo when you get here. Not only can you use it on the 158 number of trains and regional lines and 41 bus routes, you can also use it at convenience stores to buy food and beer and at some vending machines. You can even use them when you miss the last train and have to take a taxi home. (But I wouldn’t recommend this) It’s a convenient way to reach all corners of the city and cuts down on the hassle of buying tickets and guessing the fare.

Also to note: The trains trains will be crowded. People will squeeze in as much as possible. No way around it during certain times of day. It’s all part of the experience.

Do not take a taxi if you can avoid it. Simply put: Taxis in Tokyo are expensive. The flag rate is 730 yen for the first two kilometers and rapidly increases from there. It’s also important to note that rates increase between 11pm and 5am. This is important to remember if you happen to miss the last train home.

Trains and busses usually stop from midnight to 5am, so if you end up at a random bar in Rippongi and your hotel is in Omotesando, you might end up paying close to 100 bucks to get back to your hotel. Just avoid it if you can. Pay attention to the last train information or plan to make it an all-nighter. It’s Tokyo, so it’s pretty easy to do if you’re a rockstar.

Never leave tips. I know in a lot of parts of the world, tips are considered customary. However here in Japan, they can be interpreted as an insult. Something about pride and whatnot. Just remember, most of the things you pay for not only include the service charge, but also the taxes. Expect to get your change back when paying at a bar or restaurant and remember to take it with you. You will get chased down and they will insist you take it back. And speaking of restaurants…

No, the service is not bad. With restaurants in Japan, you have to flag them down to order. Someone will seat you, bring you water, and even might ask for your drink order. But when it’s time to order, you will need to flag them down with a polite sumimasen and someone will rush over to take your order.

It’s also important to know that they may not come back to check on you unless your plate is empty. Unlike in the States, where they come back every 5-10 minutes to see if everything is okay. I think it might be that they just want you to enjoy your meal without constant pestering and they figure if you wanted them, you will let them know. It took some time for me to get used to this as well. No worries.

Best time to go. For the most part, you can visit Tokyo any time of the year. My recommendation is to come during Sakura season (mid-late March through early April). This is the best time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, participate in a hanami party, and eat all the wonderful food and drinks that are sakura themed and flavored. It’s my favorite time of year here and the weather is really amazing. The summers are horrid and humid and frankly, unbearable. The winters are mild, but makes for really bad sight-seeing if you’re looking for outdoor activities. I would absolutely avoid Tokyo during typhoon season, which is end of August until early October. If it gets really bad, everything closes to avoid damage and injury. Don’t let a typhoon, or even really bad humidity, ruin your vacation. Come during the spring or fall for the best weather.

Plan ahead and do you research. I would never suggest someone coming here and winging it. I can’t even really do weekend activities without some kind of plan. Between navigating the transportation to beating the crowds, you really need to know what you’re doing and where. And also search where things are. Tokyo has a lot of nooks and crannies to discover and although it’s fun getting lost in a new city, getting lost here is a whole nother beast. I would say, make room for impulsivity. You can definitely end up in a random bar in Shibuya and find yourself in a middle of a karaoke battle with locals or smack dab in the middle of a Brazilian festival in Asakusa. It happens. Embrace it, but do plan ahead just in case. You can lose a couple of days if you get lost in Shinjuku station. Seriously.

Tokyo is a vast land of tradition, fashion, food, and entertainment. You can find almost anything under the sun to do and experience while you are here, but it’s not one of those places you can just stumble through. Because of its deep roots in traditions, there are things you should know before coming, to avoid being a stereotypical gaijin or foreigner.

Respect the customs, enjoy the history, and interact with the people. Tokyo is an amazing place and I hope you enjoy your experience if you ever find yourself here.

(and yes, I know those were more than 5 things. I’m a rebel and I do what I want)

 

I have a thing for coffee shops. 

Leave a comment Standard

Seriously. It’s almost an addiction at this point. And I’ve only become a connoisseur of coffee for the last few years, so this has been developing over a short time. Before, I would generally just go for Starbucks, but as they say: once you know better, you do better.

The ambiance, the decor and of course, anything coffee and coffee snack related. The mix of casual and comfort, but each place I go has been able to develop its own autonomy in this buddying culture. But what I have come to love most is the feeling of being in a creative space that I can never imagine curating in my own home. Somehow it just allows me to just flow and be in my element and get things done without the need to make drinks, do dishes, or create a dope ass playlist.

So, while leaving the final concert for the boy’s school we went to lunch at an amazing Indian spot and passed this coffee shop on the way home. The sign was attractive, so we decided to pop in for a moment to see what was up.


Man! We walk in and “After the Love is Gone” by Earth Wind and Fire is playing on the sound system, books are EVERYWHERE and nostalgic memorabilia are in every nook and cranny of this place. From Star Wars to The Beatles to Polaroid cameras. They even have vintage children’s games and books all over the place. The owner is chill and brings us over a menu written on wax paper and serves us animal crackers with our drinks.


The boy and I were in awe for a good 20 minutes before we were even able to enjoy your drinks.

Now I’m sitting here writing this post rocking out to Jimmy Hendrix playing feeling energized and contemplating moving to this side of town just for the possibility to be within proximity of this place.

Listen, if you are ever in Nakameguro, please come check out Under the Mat. This place is dope and all the books are for sale. I will most likely be taking home a few.

The weekend wanderlust.

Leave a comment Standard

A summary of this week’s victories, lessons and roustabouts.

This week was busy and challenging. So, we didn’t go out to the Jamaican Festival in Odaiba like we planned. We didn’t hang out with friends for brunch. We didn’t go to playdates or even go outside for too long. This weekend we engaged in some serious self-care.

For the boy, that meant blowing bubbles on the patio. Me, I took several naps. We went to the school’s graduation today and shortly after it was over, we went home.

Sometimes you just need to love on the ones you love.

The weekend wanderlust.

Leave a comment Standard

A summary of this week’s victories, lessons and roustabouts.

This weekend we met up with a friend from London who was visiting Tokyo for the week. We decided to explore Odaiba and entertain the children for a few hours. After eating lunch, we found ourselves at Lego Land Discovery Center and spent way too much time there. Afterward we went walking on the dock and found hover boards bubbles. My sense of adventure is halted at the risk of losing my balance and breaking my neck, so I didn’t try it. It was a very long and exhausting day chasing a toddler and a pre-teen behaving like one (because he’s jealous of the attention I was giving this adorable little girl).

In our exploring, I discovered there is a shore area where we can play in the sand and take boat rides. We definitely have to go back some other time and do more than explore headache inducing kiddy lands.

The weekend wanderlust.

Leave a comment Standard

A summary of this week’s victories, lessons and roustabouts.

The last few weeks have been busy and I’ve been an uncharacteristically social butterfly.

We’ve gone to barbecues at the Air Force Base, entertained friends traveling through Tokyo, and even met up with local ones and had sleep overs. I’m utterly exhausted.

So, this weekend I planned for us to be lazy and not get out at all. Saturday was amazing. I barely had clothes on and took two of the most glorious naps known to man. It was needed and absolutely welcomed.

However, this bliss was short-lived because on Sunday the boy had a trial session with the British Football Academy to see if he wants to take up soccer again on a more constant basis. He absolutely loved it.


Afterward, we roamed around Roppongi and grabbed some food before heading home. It was a pretty awesome day.


It makes my heart smile to see him find some normalcy in this foreign city in which we have found residency. He was so energetic and excited to get back to something he knows and loves and I was happy to see him in a familiar place again. I feel like we are on our way to finding our pace here in Tokyo, finding more stability and becoming more acclimated with who we are in this space.

It’s nice. And we need a bit more of that in our lives.

What adventures did you get into this weekend? Share in the comments below!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Update on life in Japan.

Comments 6 Standard

I recently wrote an essay for mater mea, the online publication that has featured me to talk about my move to Tokyo. They reached out and asked for a follow up on our life here in Tokyo. It took me a long time to write this, because I was so occupied with adjusting and dealing with things, that I wasn’t able to reflect on all that has happened. That was part of it. The other part was it has taken me this long to actually sit and be still long enough to reflect. I’ve been moving so much and in such an emotional whirlwind, that I hadn’t allowed myself the space to just be still. Partly because I was afraid of what would happen.

So, one day I sat down and wrote this piece. It was published last month, but I wanted to post it here for you, who have been on this journey with me.

***

When I made the decision to move to abroad with my son, I was completely unprepared. Sure I was aware of the culture shock, the challenges I would endure with jet lag and sleep deprivation. I even expected that I would go through extreme withdrawal from Chick-Fil-A. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how moving to this new country would forever alter my relationship with my son.

After being a single mother in the United States for years, being a single mother abroad is an entirely different ball game. You become proficient at making things happen and figuring things out on your own because you have no real choice. But here, not knowing a lick of Japanese, having zero knowledge of the area or the way things work, I was forced to rely on other people to help me with things I was accustomed to doing on my own. I had to learn how to ask for help, and that was hard for me and my ever-so-posturing ego. Being here made me realize that it was okay to do so because I can’t do everything by myself, no matter how much my pride gets in the way.

I’m going to be honest: the last six months have been somewhat of a struggle. I didn’t handle the stress well and it was challenging for both of us to adapt. Because neither of us was ready for what adjusting to Tokyo meant, our relationship took a hit.

To give a little context, Chris went to a progressive school when we lived in Philadelphia. It was a very relaxed environment that nurtured him as an individual and actively sought his feedback to structure his education. The school was pretty aligned to how I have been educating him since birth, so it worked for us both. When we moved to Tokyo, I enrolled him at the school that had a relationship with the school that I would be working. I researched what I could about this school from afar, but it was basically the tuition discount and close proximity that got the vote. But what I didn’t take into account was how the school would fit into our personal pedagogy.

In hindsight, the school couldn’t have been more on the opposite end of the educational spectrum. They were a traditional catholic school, enforced a uniform policy, and had a rigid schedule and homework policy. Some of Chris’ challenges at the school were keeping up with the pace of homework and testing (of which neither of us was a fan), adjusting to wearing a uniform daily, and the school had an issue with his locs. Attempting to abide by the school policy, I braided his hair back to keep it as “neat and kempt” as his then eight-year-old self could maintain on a weekly basis, but it became increasingly clear that there was a personal issue.

In addition to adjusting to this, Chris was showing signs of stress very early on. He was chewing incessantly on anything he could get his hands on, he was wetting the bed, and he was irritable and would basically freak out if anything changed in our schedule without notice. This was challenging – to understand the needs of my child had changed drastically. I’m not so sure I was ready for that. Chris was extremely stressed out, and it took a long time for us to learn how to communicate effectively again and for me to find a way to support him.

After the first week of school, I scheduled a meeting with his teacher to inform her of his challenges and see if we could work collaboratively on a solution. A distressed mother, seeking the help of a fellow parent, I found none. Instead, she took that opportunity to let me know how my child wasn’t measuring up to the “room full of Asians”, as she referred to them. Discussing with me all the educational challenges that I was already aware of, and informed her prior to his arrival, but failed to discuss interventions or solutions. Frustrated, I sought help from the assistant principal and, later, the principal – all with no avail.

After my fifth meeting with the school, it was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to get anywhere and began to feel helpless and frustrated. Despite my appeals, they insisted that he was happy at school and that there was nothing to help, although I saw another child at home. I knew it was just Chris putting on a mask and keeping it together while at school, but then falling apart at home. It wasn’t until I saw how it was beginning to have an effect on his identity that I decided we needed another school.

During a conversation, I asked Chris how he felt about living in Japan. He told me that he liked it here, but he felt that his school wanted to change him. He went on to say that he was okay with the uniform and even how they learn in the school, but he was slowly beginning to feel that the individuality that was celebrated at his previous school was discouraged at this new one. This translated to his eight-year-old brain that he wasn’t liked and accepted for who he is. And as the person who has spent the majority of his life making sure he has a positive self-image despite the messages society sends, this was devastating to hear. I had to make a change.

After months of trial and error, we are on an upswing. I had to transfer him to a new school that could support him better with this transition. The commute to school is longer for him, but he is so much happier and lighter. On the way home from picking him up on his first day, I noticed he was so much more energetic and talkative. It was then I realized that no matter how resilient they can be, no child should have to carry a weight like that. Nor should any of us for that matter.

In all this, I’m learning to change the way I communicate with him. I’m learning to be more patient and remember to breathe when I feel things are out of my control. We are both realizing that this is hard for the both of us, but in Tokyo, we are all we got. So we’re working on being kinder with one another.

Despite the challenges we faced initially, I don’t regret my decision at all. I have realized that moving here, at this stage in his development, was the best decision that I could have made for us. He is living the childhood I always wanted for him. There is a sense of safety in Tokyo that doesn’t exist in the States. We feel no sense of caution when walking home at night or when taking public transit. We don’t flinch or hold our breath when encountering law enforcement. We don’t experience any aggression from the citizens here (maybe the occasional staring contest, but I always win). He has a supportive environment at his school now, and he is freer than he has been in a very long time. As a bonus, because of our location, we can explore Asia significantly cheaper than we could back home. Right now, I am content.

Sure, it is possible that by living here, he is experiencing a false sense of the reality that we may have to face if we go back to the United States. When he is a man, he may never know how to interact with police officers in a way that doesn’t make him seem intimidating or threatening (I don’t know anyone in the States who knows how to do this, actually). He may never learn to keep his hands in plain sight at all times and learn the phrase “If I die in police custody, I did not commit suicide.” I do take all of this into consideration. But you know what? I’m okay with that. Because my only focus as a mother right now is to create an environment where my son can be exactly who he should be at nine years old: a child. And I couldn’t care less on what continent that happens.

We went to a UFC fight this weekend. 

Leave a comment Standard

  
There he is. My boy. All excited after waking up at 5:30 to ride the train to Saitama to see grown ass, muscular, sweaty men pummel each other. It was awesome, actually. Clearly he and I were watching for two different reasons, but we both had a fun time together. I, personally, enjoyed my kid’s commentary the whole day. 

Here are a few highlights:

“If you’re gonna scream like a school girl every time the guy with the beard comes out then you might as well go up there and drink beer. It’s not like you’re gonna date him or anything!”

“Well it’s obvious they are all rooting for the Japanese opponent. Clearly we are going for the brown guys”

“That’s not butterflies and rainbows! That’s torture!!”

“Punch him in the nuts!”

“Wow! At least those dance moves he did in the beginning came in handy”

Boy: His belly sack is definitely giving him an advantage Me: His belly sack? Boy: yea, his belly sack. (Then grabs my stomach) 

“You can hear their fat bellies rubbing together (then proceeds to make a fat belly sound)”

“It shouldn’t be so hard to get him, he’s probably tired at this point anyway”

I love him. I really enjoyed spending the day with him and having fun. This was our first outing since moving here and it was great to relax a bit and have fun. We danced to the opening music. I sang along to someone walking in on “We Are The World” and even got some Japanese dudes to join in swaying their hands from side to side. And in that, successfully embarrassed my son. 

It was a pretty great day.