Meet Marya, our latest Foreign Correspondent who traveled with her family through Japan this past spring. Here, she shares a personal story of their experience and how they all fell in love with Japan again, on their second trip there as a family.
Falling head over heels in love with Japan three years ago, we always knew we’d return in the future, but never expected buying tickets within 30 days of departure. There was concern of too high expectations, potential disappointment, and lack of planning, however, we dove head first into this to experience it for what it would be. Traveling with children to us means experiencing the now for all it has to offer, even if that meant enjoying our peaceful and minimalist hotel room overlooking a cemetery with the periodic cacophony of a train rattling by. With our seven year old’s concerns about the amount of walking assuaged, we packed our carry-on bags and prepared to head back to a country that feels like home to us all the way across the Pacific Ocean.We chose to focus on Tokyo, Kyoto, and day trips that were deemed doable based on our girls’ level of exhaustion. One of these excursions took us to Nara, where we were transported to a magical forest densely populated by deer that would bow their heads for a nibble at a cracker and occasionally give you a nudge demanding more. On the streets of Kyoto, I watched my daughter in awe as she picked up a cho cho (butterfly in Japanese) and walked several blocks with it firmly planted on her. Our ears were filled with the joyous laughter and squeals of our daughters as a group of strangers set out to entertain them with laser pointers at a bustling flea market. My heart was happy as I watched my daughter hand out handmade crafts to those she felt a connection with. I was filled with gratitude and rendered speechless by the generous gift of a gorgeous temari ball by an elderly shopkeeper. I saw luck strike my husband as a falling cherry blossom petal found its resting place in his palm. We couldn’t have planned these experiences had we tried.
The highlight of our time in Japan is interacting with locals, especially at local markets. Kyoto boasts several incredible markets held at shrines that feature local artisans and craftsmen, and a large variety of goods from clothing, bags, kimonos, antiques, ceramics, fabric, food, and so much more. Despite speaking limited Japanese, my daughter and I would head off in the morning, stopping to take a picture of our reflection in a window in the alley on our walk to the bus stop (a ritual we quickly established), navigate our way through the Kyoto bus system, and explore the offerings of these markets.
We would engage in limited English and Japanese, communicate via sign language and gestures, and share laughs at our attempts to connect. Three years ago, we had a memorable encounter with a family selling fabric out of a packed van, and we were thrilled to be able to reconnect with them at the Toji temple market. We experienced the extent of the generosity of locals in the form of gifts that ranged from packs of candy, post cards, purses, and most appreciated, a dry towel on an especially rainy day when our hair was glued to our foreheads, sending a stream of water down our faces. It’s these everyday moments and memories that are etched in my mind.
When our hopeful plans to visit the Ghibli museum were shattered one morning, a quick Google search sent us on our way to explore the Meiji temple. I will admit to my inner Tea nerd being excited about visiting a temple whose inspiration led to the creation of a favourite Tea dress. In the middle of this crowded city, we found serenity and calm in the densely forested paths of this shrine. We found personal meaning and clarity in poems written by the late Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken serendipitously selected by the jiggling of a box until a numbered skewer dropped.
We ended our days each evening by stopping at our local grocery stores, ensuring we sampled all the local vegetables, deciphering what milk we could drink with the help of our daughter who learned the symbol for “cow”, then returning home and cooking our Asian inspired dinner. Our days would come to a close keeping warm and recounting all the incredible things that we were so fortunate enough to experience, from a random conversation on a train, to bringing a smile to someone’s face.
We thoroughly enjoyed experiencing magical and peaceful moments, as well as fully immersing ourselves in Japanese culture with our daughters. Granting ourselves the ability to slow down and explore with them has been priceless.