Tokyo - Day 13 back to Vancouver. Friday, December 23, 2016

Kirk:

Our last day in Tokyo. Ramen for lunch at the same place we first ate at on the night we arrived -- 13 days ago . We thought it’d be a nice bookend to our trip. We let the kids have soda, which they don’t get in Vancouver.

It was a great trip. I think it was an optimal number of days too. Our normal Vancouver weekend routine is wake-up, walk somewhere for breakfast, then walk/bus around town all day long and not come back until after dinner. We do the same when we go down to Seattle and Portland. So, our kids’ expectations and routine didn’t even have to change. We covered pretty much everything we wanted to do. And, we left most days pretty much open without scheduling anything, leaving time to wander aimlessly and go wherever we wanted.

Elaine:

Wow, can’t believe it was time to head home. Although it was almost two weeks, and we did so much, it’s like it went by so fast. We totally lucked out on the weather. We only got a very tiny bit of rain, and the temperatures were very warm. Kyle wore shorts a couple of days, and he probably would have every day if we would have let him.

The transit system made it super easy for us to get around. We are lucky that the kids are used to meandering - they don’t necessarily like it, but they are used to us not having a destination when we are out for the day. So when we would say, why don’t we just get out here and see what’s around this station - they would be all for it. We may not have seen a lot of tourist attractions, but we were able to visit a lot of neighbourhoods.

Kirk:

For those that don’t know already, this was my first trip off the continent. I’m one of the least travelled people that I know. I’ve been wanting to go to Tokyo forever. And, with this year, celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary, we really thought about going. It was bucket list trip of a lifetime. It almost didn’t happen though.

As the Christmas break got close, we still hadn’t booked anything. We then thought about doing a trip to Mexico just to get away to somewhere warm and sunny compared to Vancouver’s horribly rainy October and November. And, Mexico was a lot cheaper, closer, and less stress to book. We talked to a travel agent and got some Mayan Riviera package info. But, then since we never had any real desire to go to Mexico other than just wanting to get away from the rain at that point, our heart wasn’t into it, and we weren’t going to go anywhere. Well, except probably Portland again.

But, Elaine put her foot down and just said, “We’re going to Tokyo.” My work has been not nearly as hectic recently, so this was a rare chance to do it. Elaine got everything organized and contacted the travel agent, and we were scheduled to leave two weeks later.

Elaine:

Anyone who knows us knows that we aren’t big planners. Making dinner plans more than two days in advance is painful. That’s why most of our trips have been to Seattle, Portland or Victoria - book accommodations the night before, pack and jump in the car or train, and we are off.

Kirk has only mentioned wanting to visit two places, ever - Tokyo and New York. This was a big year for our family so it was time to go on a real trip. Tokyo it was - we can do New York another time.

Kirk:

Tokyo was a great learning experience. I’ve always had this vision of a futuristic, cyber-punk metropolis with cool toys and gadgets. And, it is all that. But, as someone who often thinks about urban planning and related issues, it was so much more.

Witnessing millions of people cooperatively commuting together on public transportation and bicycles with no where near the level of antagonism that we have here is incredible. The regular train crowd levels are higher than the Vancouver fireworks, but there’s no fights or crowd control police. Everyone just has patience for everyone else.

People ride bikes on the sidewalks, weaving through the pedestrians, and no one has an attitude of entitlement. It’s like bikes are just faster pedestrians. If you’re walking, you let them pass. If you’re riding, you just wait and weave through holes when you can. No one uses a bell either, I assume it’s bad manners. No helmets. No spandex. A lot of electric-assist baby seat-equipped families on bikes.

I add it all up. Little kids go to school and transfer multiple trains by themselves because the city is so safe. People don’t need to lock their bikes. Trains are packed to the brim with commuters with no complaints. Trains are always on time. Tipping is considered an insult (because they themselves expect to provide you with excellent service already without extra incentive). Things made in Japan, even mass produced items, have a feeling of being “crafted” with pride by artisans. Everyone looked so polished, even the ones wearing streetwear. Nobody litters, everywhere is so clean. Firetrucks have a normal siren, but when they get into busy areas with cars and pedestrians, the driver gets on a loudspeaker and politely asks people to allow him to pass. Literacy rate is essentially 100%. Wealth disparity is amongst the lowest in the world. The population conforms to shared rules, yet they still have to the imagination and creativity to inspire incredible works of anime and industrial design. There’s so many other things like that which I wasn’t expecting to hit me so deeply. I was just visiting for the cool toys and electronics.

It’s not without it’s flaws. It’s sexist -- you can tell. People are overworked. Things are done so well, likely not always due to pride, but also excessive guilt and shame if not. The family we met at the tap house told us about the high levels of depression. There’s no ethnic diversity. And, I’m sure there’s a number of other issues that Japan is dealing with. It appears they’re trying to address them. Hopefully, they can overcome them without losing their other attributes.

We took the Skytrain and bus when we landed. At the bus stop under the Cambie St bridge, there was garbage all over the place. Some random guy wasn’t holding on when the bus left the stop. He grumbled, “Fuuuuck.” And, there was a sign by the front warning, “Assaults on our drivers will not be tolerated”. But, then, a woman on the bus asked if we'd like to sit down since we had our big suitcases and we told her it's okay since we were sitting on a plane from Japan for 9 hours. And, a guy on the bus on Boxing Day asked me about my rings -- just random friendly, smalltalk conversations with strangers that I never saw happen in Tokyo.

Elaine:

Kirk gave a pretty thorough summary. Like every community there are positives and negatives. Sometimes it’s hard to see both.

Seeing how independent children are in Tokyo was a real eye opener for Kali and Kyle. They now believe us when we tell them they are much more capable than they think.

It was weird to be surrounded by a group of people who appear to respect other people’s and communal property. Bicycles are left unlocked in public areas, suitcases are left outside of restaurants because there isn’t enough room inside to bring them in, toys won in arcades are left so that the person could go inform an attendant to restock the machine, there are limited garbage cans but there is no litter, the list goes on. You could say I am a bit cynical, so it is hard for me to believe it, but there it was.

There are lots of “rules”. I mean there are like 11 different ways to say thank you! We tried not to offend, but I am sure we made more than a few faux pas during our stay. Our poor kids will remember Tokyo as a place where mom and dad kept telling them to hush, and not be so loud - they will tell you how quiet it was everywhere especially considering how many people were around.

Packaging - wow! Everything is packaged beautifully! I bought a package with two pieces of gummies (ok they were from a specialty candy store, but still) - the gummies were already packaged, but they still put them in a fancy plastic bag for me. Excessive, no? The Hokkaido cheese tarts were packaged in a beautiful two tiered box, so pretty I had to take a photo of the box! No matter how beautiful the packaging, I can’t help but wonder how all the excessive packaging contradicts the sustainability and environmental education that is emphasized by the scientific community.

Everyone in Tokyo was always so put together. At one point Kali mentioned that she saw her first sad woman in Tokyo, everyone up to that point looked happy to her.. Considering the high suicide rate in Japan, makes one think Stepford. Not something I wanted to think about too much at the time, but definitely something to consider when comparing cities.

There is too much to write about. I can’t summarize all that I want to, so I will leave it at that.

Kirk and Elaine:

Thanks to all our friends who gave us such excellent tips and recommendations.

And, thanks everyone for reading! It’s been fun.

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