Dad, Let’s Help Tokyo Wake Up

Maybe I was sleepier than I thought…

Follow the adventure: The Tokyo Toddler

Sunrise in Noborito’s Neighborhoods

“Dad, I want to go exploring,” Connor said.

At least, that’s what Connor would have said if he could speak like that yet. The meaning was clear enough though.

After a good night’s sleep till 4:30 a.m., then an hour of tossing and turning while Jodie and I tried to get him back to sleep, Connor was tired of being in bed. A toddler can be like a puppy in this way: up early to play, he needs outside, he plays hard, then he crashes out later that morning.

Eugene has lots of bicycles, but it’s nothing compared to this small Tokyo suburb. By mid-day, this lot was packed full of scooters and bicycles, ridden in by people catching the train.

As Connor’s frustration grew, so did his noise. We didn’t want to wake up our host or fellow couchsurfers, but there was nothing we could do to get this time zone-befuddled wee guy to go back to sleep. So finally, at about 5:30 in the morning, I shook my head, smiled at Jodie and said, “I’m taking Connor for a walk.” By a little before 6 a.m., a groggy dad pushed a wide-eyed wee boy in a stroller out into the streets of Noborito.

Granted, this was not exactly how I wanted to spend my first morning in Tokyo. I’d hoped we would stay asleep at least a couple more hours to shake off the remnants of jetlag. Thinking only of coffee, I aimed us first toward Noborito Station. Instinct steered me into a 24-hour Family Mart store instead.

Time for my first-ever vending machine coffee. At 120 yen, or about $1.28, it was pretty darn good. And yes, it was hot.

I picked up a carton of grape juice and 2 musubis, triangular snacks of rice pressed around a filling and wrapped in nori, or dried seaweed. At about $1 a pop, musubis fast became one of our favorite snacks—cheap, healthy and filling. Plus, Connor loves them.

Things were slow at Noborito Station. The supermarket and bakery weren’t open yet—no ridiculously good coffee for Anthony at 6 in the morning. Nope. Connor and I hunkered down, had our snacks and watched commuters wander by.

Not only were the food and walking helping me feel more human, they were helping me shift my attitude too. As I sat with my son, Connor looked at me with an excitement in his eyes. Here we were, in another country on the other side of the world. It was just him and me, dad and lad, and he was so excited to be up and about. And that clicked something over for me. As with travel, so too with parenting: your challenge and your responsibility is to find your opportunity in the moment. I realized that Connor being up at this early hour gave us a chance to do something really cool: watch part of Tokyo wake up.

“Son,” I said as I strollered us to the elevator, “let’s take a walk.”

Empty sake barrels outside a bar

“Walk down me,” said the small street near Noborito Station. “I’m narrow.”

Our wander began by walking beneath the station, out into a narrow, windy street packed with small shops, bars and eateries. At this hour they were all shuttered, from the wee noodle shop with a display of plastic food out front, to the Indian restaurant flying the green, white and orange flag. The occasional scooter buzzed by, passing us and the smattering of suited salarymen off to a day at the office.

What I love about Asia is its coexistence. Where something can be, something is. Such as an English-style pub sitting above a noodle shop:

Sadly, it was too early in the morning for me to test their claim of “Best English Pub”

Coming out from this wee street, we crossed into a neighborhood. Noborito is a small residential area. This isn’t the neon-and-glass-skyscraper Tokyo. This is the Tokyo of small front patio gardens and wee shops. You can walk down the middle of neighborhood streets. (Though there are still vending machines packed with hot and cold beverages. I am quickly becoming addicted to Japan’s vending machines.) As Connor and I strolled along Noborito’s quiet streets, I began to realize that on our trip I really wanted to try to see things from Connor’s perspective. Which given what a short-arse I am, it could be argued that’s already very easy for me to do.

Want to play in the gravel and the driveway? Cool. You’re happy? Win-win.

We walked by amazing gardens, and we smiled and said “konnichiwa,” or “hello,” to people passing by on bicycles and scooters. Connor laughed and smiled, and pointed at things that fascinated him. Once we’d walked into the neighborhood a wee ways, I let him out of the stroller so he could explore at his own pace. We looked at this part of the world together, just him and his dad, and we were both the happier for the wandering.

Amidst the houses and apartment buildings of Noborito, you can also find the Hickory Pizza House.

What began as a nuisance—a jetlagged toddler waking up at an ungodly hour—quickly became one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Connor and I were just hanging out, father and son. We had no schedule to keep, no goal to achieve. We were just two guys out for a stroll on a pleasant morning in a country that was far from home, but felt like home.

I loved it. It was an amazing morning. But I’m also glad that since then, Connor has been sleeping much, much later.

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