We have just wrapped up the second leg of our “Cold Weather” trip having spent the past week exploring Kyoto and Tokyo.
Our arrival into Osaka from Busan and transport to Kyoto was pretty smooth and painless, with the only challenge being the final AirBnB check in under a driving rain. We stayed in a great location on the east side of town near the Gisha district. Our AirBnB was a small “classic” Japanese house that made you feel like you were living inside a tontsu. It had tranditonal pine walls, bamboo matting, and was very small but space efficient. It also smelled old – which wasn’t necessarily positive. After staying in two nice high rise condos with sweeping city views, living in a wood box with no windows below noisy high rises was a pretty big change. The vibe was good but the house was cold given the weather that week. Here’s the kids giving their initial impression of our place.
On the positive side, our house was only a few blocks from all the action and adjacent to the historic Gisha district. Every day on this trip has started and ended late and we tried to break that streak in Kyoto, with marginal success. I was the first up and made my morning trek to get coffee, edit videos and take advantage of fast wifi. In Korea that was Starbucks since they were on every corner there. In Japan it was the other Seattle coffee company: Tully’s. There are a few local coffee shops but none of them had wifi and their offerings rarely catered to the whole family’s needs. After “first coffee” I returned home to gather the family and then we had “second coffee”, which was typically followed by lunch. To put it mildly, this group goes no where fast.
After slow mornings we spent our afternoons touring the nearby shrines. One day we trekked across the city via bus to see the Golden Pavilion and bamboo forest in Arashiyama (at night – pretty cool!). On another we had a wonderful day exploring Fushimi Inari Taisha, and then exploring all of the shopping around the JR Train Station. Interspersed between these activities were good meals of udon, ramen and sushi. We really liked Kyoto, even in December, and the days seemed to slip by quickly.
After three days in Kyoto we took a fast train to Tokyo. We chose to stay in a hotel near Shinjuku station, which is a vibrant part of town filled with electronics stores and small restaurants. Unlike Kyoto, Tokyo is just a big city and not the most photogenic, which is why you haven’t seen a lot of Instagram pictures from here. There are many neighborhoods, museums and areas to discover and we tried our best. The kids were finally starting to plan activities and we found that we were splitting up – with the girls focusing on fashion and the boys going to electronics stores and museums. Ethan and I enjoyed the Tokyo Science Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which focused on the Edo period (1600’s) of shogun rule in historic Tokyo.
The highlight of Tokyo was the Mori Digital Art Museum, and the teamLab Borderless exhibit. We highly recommend it for anyone coming here. The facility is massive at 100,000 sq-ft (10,000 sq-m) and filled with light projectors and what has to be a super computer that generates and projects environments and creatures on the walls and floors. There are sensors so that the graphic displays interact with the audience, which makes the whole exhibit a living world. For example, if you stand in one place flowers will grow from your feet, or butterflies will appear and start flying around the facility and interacting with other people. Projected water will start flowing around you and birds will collide with you. The best way to describe it is being inside the movie Avatar – it’s a truly unique experience. This video attempts to capture some of those environments.
After two weeks of “cold weather”, we are now heading into the “endless summer” portion of our trip. We are leaving Tokyo (mid-40s) and going to the Philippines (mid-80s). As a result we spent part of our time in Tokyo packing up our cold weather clothes and shipping them in our spare suitcase to Seattle. We also stocked up on medication and various necessities. We left Seattle with enough bug repellant, sunscreen and personal hygene products for three months – all stowed away in that spare suitcase. It has now been redistributed and our bags are increadibly full – but we should use it fairly quickly.
Here’s a video log of our Japan adventures:
General Observations and travel tips at this point:
1. Our plan was to use AirBnBs extensively to save money on hotels, cook meals and have common areas for studying. After three weeks and as many AirBnBs, we’ve hardly used the kitchens but enjoy the common space. We will see how the rest of the trip progresses, but so far we’ve had too much fun exploring all of the restuarants and foods!
2. This crowd goes no where fast. With a fluid travel schedule there’s no external forces driving things other than mom and dad’s general nagging. Kids have been in “vacation mode” and we are trying to get them into “global studies mode” and take more ownership over their experience and study obligations. While we want a more disciplined approach and kid “buy in”, there’s been plenty of “life skills” being developed. We’ve been turning over navigation, ordering and the other basic tasks to the kids; and plan to do a lot more of that going forward. As an example, we were leaving Sabouya, one of the busiest metro stops on the planet, we all got separated and the kids wound up taking the train several stops and navigating to the hotel on their own. We weren’t necessarily worried, but were please that they passed the “advanced foreign metro” final exam.
3. Planning a trip of this magnitude by yourself is A LOT of work. The big pieces, like transportation and accommodation, take a lot of time. It’s one thing doing it for a week long vacation. It’s a whole different animal doing it for a 15 week adventure! As a result you spend all your time making sure you have the basics covered and don’t have much time to plan the “sights” and day to day, so we’ve been doing that on the fly. We have no regrets but it means there’s no down time to read a book. I spent a month in Vietnam as a chaperone for the Evergreen School’s eight grade global studies trip and it was great to be told what to do every day. It makes me wish we had Robert or Eli here right about now! We like the flexibility of not having a rigid plan, but doing it all again I would engage a travel agent to help in the planning.
4. We are finding that planning around travel days is important. These are high stress days where you are moving from one culture to another and there’s lots of logistics around relocating and adapting. There’s time required to get new money, buy simm cards for the wifi router, etc. etc. This crew is well traveled but it still takes everyone working together, and a massive amount of patience, to navigate the challenges encountered on these days.
5. We need to slow it down a little more. When we planned this trip we looked more at nights in each city, versus “full days” in each city. We had three non-travel days in Kyoto and it was not enough to settle in and begin to absorb the city. Day one is getting your bearings, finding food and coffee, and maybe seeing a sight or two. Day two is exploring and day three is doing errands before going off to the next city. Four days in a city seems like the minimum to start to absorb it. Further, a fast pace trip works if you are only gone for a week or two, but the fatigue and stress build up if you are on the road week after week.