Follow the adventure: The Tokyo Toddler
Not only was Kyoto bloody chilly, we’d realized that Connor’s fleece jacket had somehow never made it to the Portland airport with us. But maybe a new jacket was just a 5-minute walk away.
After surviving the tantrum on the train and arriving in Kyoto, we had a couple of hours to kill before meeting our homestay host. We stowed our bags in a coin locker at the train station, then started wandering toward a major shrine in the area. Visible from the station and marked on the map we’d procured from the Tourist Information Office in the station, we soon learned a vital truth about the Japanese: their walking times and distances are great big lies.
In Japan, you can walk anywhere in five minutes—as long as you are very flexible about your definition of time.
From what we understand, the Japanese simply walk fast—and much faster than we do. What they may consider a 5-minute walk is likely a few kilometers away, and a much longer choof for the 3 of us.
For starters, in this part of Kyoto the city blocks are massive. Multiple lanes of traffic noisily rushed by, so loud we could barely talk with one another. Plus, as we wandered we realized there was simply nothing about this shrine that could be so staggeringly amazing that we wanted to see it right now. It was easily a few kilometers away still—and we would still need to make our way back to the station later to catch the subway to meet our host.
Sometimes in travel, knowing what you’re willing to miss is just as important as knowing what you have to see.
We nixed the shrine, and instead made a decision that surprised us: we went into a Babies R Us. Not a place we normally frequent even in the U.S., but we were so surprised to see one in a large Kyoto mall that we had to check it out. This wasn’t just curiosity at work; we also had a practical reason: we needed to find a new warm jacket for Connor. At home, we don’t buy much new for Connor, especially things like clothes; we aren’t into paying top dollar for clothes that will fit him for sometimes only a few weeks. And the Babies R Us, while very similar to the same at home, didn’t have any jacket that quite worked for what we wanted—plus they all cost more than we wanted to pay. But we figured we’d be all right; Connor was layered and warm, and we’d keep looking. Something would turn up.
Wandering calmer neighborhood streets back to the station, we relaxed, chatted, and took in the comforting sights of a neighborhood hiding behind busy streets and large buildings. Small front gardens made us smile, and wee shops held baskets of goods or foods that piqued curiosity. By the time we returned to the station, we were more than ready to meet our host for a new couchsurfing adventure.
Like many couchsurfers, S. met us at the subway stop nearest his home. It’s a smart strategy: both parties get to feel each other out and make sure they think this is going to work out okay. Plus, since it’s not easy to navigate Japanese cities to specific locations, it’s a much easier way for a guest to learn how to get to where they’re staying. Luckily, we approved of S. and he approved of us, so off we went on another 5-minute walk to his home, a flat in a nice building tucked away in downtown Kyoto.
Japan’s back streets are some of the most intriguing in the world. Dotted with shrines and flats, eateries and wee shops, S. pointed out lots of fascinating places, all the while wandering quickly down the narrow side street. Cars and scooters edged by; at an intersection, a police officer directed rush hour traffic.
Once settled in to the flat, we met S.’s wife and 2 boys, one of whom was about 5 months older than Connor. Despite differences in language and age, the boys took no time at all to play together. The boys showed Connor their toys, and also demonstrated their climbing abilities on the wee jungle gym in their living room. After a tasty dinner of Japanese curry rice, and side salads of lettuce and shredded cabbage, we all chatted over tea and watched the boys play.
Connor clearly felt right at home. We could talk shop with fellow parents—helpful too, since we also needed to find a good place to stock up on diapers. At the end of the night, showered and refreshed, our hosts prepared our room for us. From one corner of the overall living room they pulled retractable walls from two sides, closing off an area for privacy. We rolled out futons onto the tatami mats, and laid out blankets and comforters onto a wee couch.
Soon Jodie, Connor and I were relaxing in a wee space of our own. Our host family was nice, and we were warming up to each other. It had been a long day, packed with not a few toddler and travel difficulties. But we had made it. We were in Kyoto, we were safe and sound, and we were fed, clean and snug in a comfy flat.
Now it was time to rest up for our first full day in Kyoto.