It is often said that Japan is among the safest places in the world, as the crime rate in this country is really low. But we just couldn’t take someone’s word for it, we had to check the fact for ourselves. This is what we discovered.
If we had ever bothered to write it down, Japan would definitely top our list of places we one day wanted to visit. The emphasis being on one day. With two young kids, limited financial means as well as time, we never dared to think too seriously about it. But when planning our last trip, I came across low priced airplane tickets to Japan – meaning the flight to Tokyo was cheaper compared to the flight to Halifax. But I had no clue how the two compared when it came down to family friendly travel. After an hour of consulting with Google – claiming Japan to be one of the safest places in the world and a great place to take the kids to – we were all set to go.
There have been plenty of adventures in the four years that we have traveled together as a family: we almost missed a flight back home from Canada, hubbs forgot to get a visa for Indonesia and had to wait two more days in Kuala Lumpur while we proceeded to Bali and in France we lost the keys to the bicycles we had strapped on to our car and had no way of putting them down… That’s why I anticipated an adventure in Japan, I just had no clue it would had to do with our luggage.
We landed at Tokyo Narita Airport excited to have finally made it to Japan along with all of our baggage. I was adamant that because we would be exploring the country of the raising sun by train, we were only bringing one big suitcase. This meant being terribly smart about what goes in. To excite the girls about the trip, I thought a good idea would be to let them pack their own backpacks and be responsible for their favorite toys. That left a backpack for me with essential items such as the documents and money, while hubbs took care of his extensive photo equipment and all the modern day technology with its’ many accessories. In the retrospect all of that along with the stroller made for great many things to keep an eye for.
The worrier in me had a field day when we found our way out of the customs. After staring at the map of Tokyo transit, with its dense network of trains, subways and bus lines I tried to make sense of it. But it all looked like a kids’ labyrinth, just that I couldn’t figure out the beginning nor the end. What I momentarily forgot is that we were in Japan, famous for polite and helpful people. Throughout our trip we were proven over and over again what impeccable manners and patience the Japanese seem to posses. And we were quickly explained that to get to our apartment we only needed to ride one line.
We had to take Tokyo’s most prominent train line – the JR Yamanote Line, which is basically a loop line connecting Tokyo’s multiple city centers. It’s quite something – daily servicing an estimated 3,7 million passengers, with intervals between trains as short as 2,5 minutes during peak periods and four minutes at other times. The complete loop with 29 stations takes around an hour to complete.
In the three days that we spent discovering the most populated city in the world, we came to know this line fairly well. We spent time riding it to plan our next steps, to rest, for the girls to play games on the mobile phone and to learn manners. The girls picked them up in stride and suddenly we too politely waited to board the train at the designated spots, without pushing, shoving or running. It came to me as a huge surprise that we not once saw the Japanese chasing trains.
Three days seemed like nothing in Tokyo, we barely scratched the surface, yet we daily walked till we could barely stand. The girls took turns resting in the stroller and for the few moments it was vacant, we squeezed our backpacks in and straightened our backs. Tokyo is absolutely great for walking, without much traffic and pavements everywhere. But the downside was that the more I played with the map and tried to figure out how we could see just about everything, the more I realized that even if we took full use of the extensive transportation service, we’d never manage to see it all in the time we had.
Too soon we had to say goodbye to Japan’s capital, which was for me all bittersweet – it wasn’t the end of the trip, actually it was the beginning – ahead was a week of exploring other parts of the country. But I had fallen in love with Tokyo and I had a hard time leaving. Apparently the feeling was mutual, it too had a hard time letting us go.
Fully packed once again, we were out the door early, as we had tickets booked from the Tokyo Station to our next destination, Nikko, a town famous for Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine. We pushed the stroller, adorned with both of the girls’ backpack, since they’ve abandoned them midway through our flight (there went my bright idea – now I had two more things to lookout for), along with the suitcase and we both had our backpacks on. Every few minutes I had to double check that I really did have it all – yes my OCD kicking in.
We rushed on to the train – the one to get us to Tokyo would now get us out and placed all our stuff around. It was Sunday morning, so it wasn’t as crowded as it gets, still hubbs thought a good idea would be to put his backpack on the rack above us. I was more comfortable having mine right next to me. Yeah, I still didn’t buy the safety thing, though we were getting more comfortable with leaving the stroller aside, if we there were stairs and we couldn’t push it. It was always untouched.
As our station came, I turned into an octopus holding on to the girls, grabbing the stroller and pushing it to hubbs who was maneuvering the suitcase, helping the girls out. We miraculously made it out all in one piece. Or so I thought. The minute the train left the station and we were waiting for the elevator to take us to the next platform, I noticed hubby wasn’t carrying his backpack. When I asked him about it, he looked so confused it would’ve been so funny, had the situation not been so dire. When he realized he left it on the train, the train that was in perpetual motion his face turned white then green. And I literally got sick. A fellow passenger noticing our meltdown showed us the office of the platform’s manager and we proceeded there while the girls asked hundreds of questions a second. We had no answers.
After 10 minutes of going back and forth about what happened, I started to get a good feeling about it, but the pessimist in me was still going strong. Because we didn’t know what time we had boarded the train nor which was our train car, they couldn’t pinpoint the exact one. They narrowed it down to three possibilities and since in the loop, it would take them around an hour to get back to the station we were on. We agreed it would be best, if hubby was the one to board these trains and go look for his backpack on his own. While he waited, I took the girls downstairs to a bakery and tried to lift their spirits, which was tough, as I felt like I had swallowed a lump. Turning the coffee cup in my hands and the girls quietly nibbling on their bagels, I kept checking the watch and my mobile phone. 15 minutes have passed since the first train was supposed to come back to the station. The waiting was killing me. But luckily I resisted the urge to think of the worst case scenarios, because trust me I can be very creative.
With a ping on Viber, hubby let me know he got the backpack unscratched and was coming to meet us. Now, I was relieved and fairly certain this could only happen in Tokyo. Where you can lose a bag on a train and get it back in under an hour. So, yes Japan is really something else. Throughout our trip we had countless more, but way less stressful situations where we were proven over and over again what a great, safe and family friendly destination this is.