We went to Tokyo for a short trip a couple of days ago. I suppose that most people go to Tokyo to see the subway/Tokyo Skytree/Tokyo Tower/Shibuya street crossing etc, and yes we saw most of those famous sights, but the ‘sight’ that our children and I really wanted to see was the Moomin café which we had read about in the paper back in the UK. It sounded so Japanese: having a Moomin themed café aimed at adult customers, in which solitary diners share a table with one metre high stuffed Moomin soft toys. Many (adult) Europeans would find it slightly awkward to sit in a public place next to a stuffed children’s toy, but not the Japanese! I guess they like the fact that no small talk is required, but that you don’t feel like you are having your meal on your own. Whilst living in Japan we want to learn about Japan, its people and culture and what better way than to experience this slightly peculiar coffee session.
The day didn’t turn out quite like we wanted; for some unexplained reason, it seems our days never do (perhaps the fact that we have two kids explains a lot)!
The misfortunes started already on the lift on our way to breakfast in our hotel. Both our daughter and son ran for a stool in the corner of the lift to sit on. In the process, our daughter tripped over and banged her head against the lift wall. Tears were inevitable.
After breakfast we headed to the Skytree, the tallest building in Japan (and second tallest in the World) (see photos below).
On the way there, we saw the Asahi beer headquarters and our son appropriately asked why there was a big (golden) poo on top of the building. I leave it to you to form your own opinion as to whether the piece of art on the Asahi building looks like a flame (which is how it is marketed) or, in fact, a big golden poo (see photo below).
The kids were rather badly behaved, possibly because city breaks do not generally allow for young children to let out steam and because they find many citybreak sights as interesting as an astrophysicist would find small talk. While in the Skytree, our daughter ignored our advice about monkeying around, and hung off of a railing and banged her bottom lip on a perspex screen. Luckily (a) she didn’t hurt herself too badly and (b) the Japanese had made the screen strong enough that she didn’t plunge 600m to the ground. Tears were (again) inevitable.
The journey from the Skytree to the Moomin Café was long and painful, partly because our unfamiliarity with the Tokyo subway (tube) meant we at some points ended up practically walking to our destination. I mean, you get off at a station to change for the next line to find that there is a sign directing you back on the street for a 950 m hike to the next station (this is particularly annoying when Google maps estimates that there is about 1000 m walk to your destination). And partly because our kids carried on with their inappropriate chimp-like behaviour.
In addition to their overall behavior, we have a particular problem with our kids touching every surface they encounter! The dirtier the surface, the better! So, at one point we found our daughter with her fingers knuckle deep in a drain and 15 minutes later on her knees, sticking her hands behind a row of chairs on a tube platform. Her hands (and knees) were black with God knows what (see photo below). Our son’s expression says it all.
When we finally, after an hour and a half journey, got to the Moomin café, my husband and I were hoping that the café also had a licence to sell wine (or Valium) so that we could reward ourselves for surviving the trip there. But luck was not on our side. Not in terms of the wine or indeed the Valium. And actually not in terms of the coffee and cake either. You see, when we got there, we were told that the café was closing in 10 minutes for a private party and that we would not be able come in for even that 10 minutes and drink our coffee (or wine) in one gulp.
You can imagine, we were nearly as disappointed as Kanye West at the MTV music awards when Taylor Swift won the best female video, although we didn’t go and have a rant at the people who had booked the restaurant shouting that we should have been served, because we had had the hardest journey there ever. I think the biggest reasons for our relatively placid response to the fact that we were not to sit and dine with the stuffed Moomin characters was that (a) the waiter was ever so apologetic and even followed us outside to give us some complimentary Moomin sweets, and (b) adjacent to the café, there was a Moomin bakery, which meant that we didn’t have to leave the Moomin valley completely empty-handed. Instead of fulfilling our original plan of having a cup of coffee and some Stinky and Snorkmaden chocolate buns and Hattifatten sausage rolls we bought some pastries for us to sample when we got back to our hotel.
Before we went back, we decided to go for some Korean food. We really like Korean food although the food in this place was pretty average. I think my husband liked it better than I did – I can’t say that ice cubes in my noodles is my favourite thing. Speaking of ice cubes, our daughter continued to behave like a baboon and managed to fall backwards off of her chair and drop a glass full of ice on the floor. I bet the staff and our fellow diners were as happy to share the space with us as they would have been sharing the space with a pack of farting Dalmatians and their nervous owners just before they go on stage at Crufts. Having said that, Korean people would probably salivate at the thought of Crufts more than a Saint Bernard would when offered a Hattifatten sausage roll.
The day of misfortune was complete when we got back to the hotel and my husband went to get a bottle of wine that we had left in the fridge (to finally reward us for surviving a full citybreak day with two kids) and we realized that we had accidentally placed it in the freezer compartment. We could but drool over the block of frozen wine in the bottle. So near, yet so far.
If you try and tell me that you actually enjoy city breaks more with small children than without I think there is something wrong with you.