In Winnipeg, our 3 year old son TD (Tiny Dog) usually wakes up around 7:30 am and goes to sleep around 9:00pm. After an early morning followed by flights and train rides in a time zone 14 hours in the future, we didn’t really know what to expect for the morning.
He woke up at 4;45am dammit.
The Penpal and I have been back and forth between Japan and Canada several times, so we know what jetlag feels like and how to deal with it. This is not something that you can just explain to a kid. The Penpal stayed up for an hour with TD, and then tagged me in for the next hour so she could sleep longer.
Thankfully he was happy to watch marble run videos on YouTube while we sat around like overtired zombies.
The Penpal, TD, and I were happy to be off the plane and on the ground at Tokyo Haneda airport. Our next goals were to get through immigration and customs, get luggage delivery, and travel to The Penpal’s parents’ house in Numazu.
Unlike Canada, Japan is not an immigration friendly country. They do not allow dual citizenship, although they allow children of Japanese / non-Japanese parents to carry two passports until they reach their 20th birthday. We still haven’t gotten TD his Japanese passport, so he was traveling on his Canadian one.
When arriving in Japan, there are two immigration lines – one for Japanese passport holders and one for foreign passports. The Penpal took off to the short, quick Japanese passport line while I dragged TD through the gaijin line wearing my backpack with the heavy car seat slung over my shoulder.
Nobody likes waiting in lines, especially an overtired 3 year old who has just been sitting for almost 12 hours. He did his best to try to escape my grip while I held on and attempted to navigate the queue. I used to make fun of parents who took their kids out in public on a leash – I would have paid cash money for one while in line.
After what seemed like 3 hours (but was probably only 15 minutes), we met up with The Penpal at the luggage carousel. We took our bags through customs and got directions to the luggage delivery counter.
Luggage delivery is amazing. Japanese trains are fast and convenient, but they aren’t built for passengers with large suitcases. After changing out of my dorky shorts into a clean pair of jeans, we arranged for our two large suitcases to be delivered to The Penpal’s parents’ house the next morning. This cost just under 4000 yen (about $40) for both bags, which is a great deal.
Free of our biggest bags, we took the kid, car seat, stroller, and 3 backpacks onto Keikyu line bound for Shinagawa. I asked TD what he thought of his first ever train ride. “It’s like a bus” he answered, totally underwhelmed.
At Shinagawa, The Penpal bought tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Mishima. Since we were now in the Friday evening rush hour, we booked reserved seats to ensure we could all sit together. There were three problems with our seats:
- We were on a train leaving in less than 10 minutes
- Our seats were in car 16 at the very end of the train
- Car 16 is a smoking car. Yes, you can still smoke cigarettes in some select cars on the Shinkansen.
We hauled collective asses to the platform and got there just as the train was arriving. With no time to walk to the end of the platform, we boarded in car 8 and started our long walk to the end of the train. I was carrying the car seat in front of me, doing my best not to smash elbows or mow down people who were standing. The Penpal was carrying TD, doing her best not to hit his head on the doorways while we walked along the moving train. Fortunately it only happened once.
If anyone ever tells you that it’s a good idea to bring your car seat with you on a plane, chances are good that they don’t like you. I’m sure its great for shorter flights, but carrying it around airports is awful. Your so called friends are likely sitting around somewhere laughing at you.
It was a great relief to finally arrive at Mishima station and be greeted by The Penpal’s father, who was happy to see his grandson in person for the first time. He took us to his house where TD got to meet his Japanese grandmother for the first time. After that we took care of the essentials; hugs, food, and connecting all of our devices to the wifi network. It was good to be back in our Japanese home.
Learning from our barfy first flight, we carefully dosed TD with Gravol just before takeoff. The good news is that this helped create an incident free flight from Toronto to Tokyo. The bad news was that the flight was really, really long.
I have flown back and forth to Japan several times before. The one thing I have learned on all of these flights is that after about 8 hours, I really want to get off the plane. Our flight from Toronto was just over 12 hours long. This is a long time for an adult to sit in one place, never mind an active 3 year old.
We spent most of the flight watching the Lego Batman movie. This is not an exeraggation – we watched the full movie at least 4 times. It is a fun movie with a lot happening, but you really don’t get much more out of it after the third consecutive viewing.
Sleeping was a challenge – we brought TD’s airplane approved car seat to help him be more comfortable during the flight. He was comfortable sitting, but not at all comfortable when he tried to sleep. I watched jealously as the young children in the row ahead of us simply curled up in their seats while I tried to turn myself into a bed diagonally with one leg draped over the front of the car seat with TD resting on me. We managed about 3 hours of awkward sleep in two attempts.
There were three highlights from our flight:
- The Penpal ordered the vegetarian meal in an attempt to get passable airplane food. This has worked in the past, but today she was served some unrecognizable goo. Much like watching bad movies makes every other movie seem good by comparison, my food seemed much more delicious than usual.
- We flew over the Arctic circle, which was pretty cool.
- Nobody barfed.
After a long but incident free flight, we were all happy to be on the ground in Tokyo.
My sister dropped The Penpal, TD, and I off at Winnipeg’s James Richardson international airport bright and early. We checked our two large suitcases and I slung the airplane approved car seat over my shoulder in its travel friendly carrying case. With the carrying case it was just over 10kg, and I instantly noticed the weight.
Usually when The Penpal and I fly from Winnipeg to Japan, our fastest and cheapest option is Winnipeg – Vancouver – Tokyo Narita. This time the cheapest flight was Winnipeg – Toronto – Tokyo Haneda. We would spend two extra hours in the air, but would save some time getting from the airport to Numazu after landing.
After clearing security we had about 45 minutes before boarding. The Penpal and TD spent most of this time in the children’s play area that should be standard in every airport. I spent most of the time in the slowest Tim Hortons line in the entire country. We ended up carrying muffins and bagels for breakfast onto the flight.
On our flight to Toronto, I was seated next to TD on one side of the aisle, with The Penpal just across the aisle. Right before takeoff I tried to insert the earplanes to help TD’s ears adjust to the pressure changes during takeoff and landing. This is something we hadn’t practiced at home. He managed to remove and lose one of the earplugs just before takeoff.
Takeoff itself was uneventful – all the long hours of playing “airplane” at home had prepared TD for the sudden acceleration and lift off. He was actually really enjoying takeoff while I had him sipping on apple juice.
Spoiler alert: For anyone who has problems reading about kids puking, I would recommend skipping to the next blog entry.
As we neared our cruising altitude, TD started to look uncomfortable. When I asked he told me that his ears hurt. I pulled out our secret weapon – a purple lollipop to suck on which would hopefully help his ears. After a few slurps on the popsicle he suddenly coughed and barfed all over his Ipad before bursting into tears.
I passed off the Ipad to The Penpal and took TD to the tiny airplane bathroom to assess the damage; there was only a little purple barf on his shirt, The Ipad had taken most of the blast. We got cleaned up and headed back to our seat where I kept him in my lap.
The crying had helped his ears and TD was now just looking a bit nauseous instead of in pain. We started watching the now clean Ipad again just as I started to feel pretty good about how things were going. Surely the worst was over and we could enjoy the remainder of our 2 hour flight.
Without warning a purple geyser erupted from TD all over the Ipad (again). I turned him towards me just as the second wave came, coating both of our matching Winnipeg Jets shirts and hitting giraffy the giraffe. I picked him up and rushed him to the bathroom, but the show was already over. I was covered in purple barf from my neck to my crotch.
As The Penpal cleaned up the car seat and Ipad (again), I did my best to clean up TD and myself. Despite my efforts, there is only so much a person can do in an airplane bathroom when covered in barf.
The Penpal came to check on us and asked if we wanted to change our clothes. Not knowing if a third wave of purple awfulness was yet to come, I declined, not wanting to use up our only change of clothes until necessary. We dosed TD with children’s Gravol (which we should have done BEFORE takeoff) and returned to our seats.
The rest of the flight was incident free, however by the end I became aware that even with my cleanup, we didn’t smell very good. We were seated in the middle of a group of junior high school kids from Brandon on their way to the maritimes. After landing, as we were waiting for our turn to deplane, the kids started asking each other what the horrible smell was in our area.
That, my young friends, is the smell of parenthood. Pay attention in your sex ed classes, it could happen to you.
The time is finally here – we are ready to leave for our 3 year old son’s first trip to Japan to meet the The Penpal’s side of the family.
For those who haven’t been reading the whole mixed up, out of order story, here’s a quick recap: I taught English in Japan from 2003-2006 and returned to Canada with a fiancee who I have referred to in my blog as The Penpal. In the years between 2006 and 2017 we got married and have visited to Japan several times. Our most recent visit was in summer 2013, which some readers might notice is about 9 months before the birth of our son.
Everyone in this blog gets a nickname to protect / obscure their identity. For this story he will be known as TD, the short form of “Tiny Dog” from the Secret Life of Pets, one of his favourite movies.
The Penpal’s parents have not visited Canada since the birth of our son, but we have talked to them every week on a Skype video chat. They are looking forward to meeting their grandson in person for the first time, and we are looking forward to a vacation.
A two week long international trip with a 3 year old is an intimidating idea, but we have several friends from Japan who have done the same trip and survived. We decided to learn as much as possible from them before leaving, and to prepare for every possible scenario.
For the flight we are bringing a change of clothes for everyone, an airplane approved car seat, an Ipad loaded with kids movies, volume limiting headphones, TD’s favourite stuffed animal giraffy, toys, games, colouring books, earplanes (pressure adjusting earplugs), snacks, diapers, wipes, and children’s gravol.
Leading up to the flight we made sure to play “airplane” at home with TD. This is a game I invented where I turn our laundry basket into an airplane and simulate takeoff and landing to get him prepared for the idea. We also watched the Peppa Pig vacation episode about 4 times in a row.
We did everything possible to prepare for our trip, and we have high hopes for everything after the flight. With all of the prep, what could possibly go wrong?
The Penpal, TD and I had survived our first flight, although TD and I had been on the receiving end of purple barf and needed a change of clothes.
We began our long walk from the domestic terminal to the international. We had brought a folding stroller for just such an occasion, but TD was so excited by the conveyor belt escalators that he wanted to walk the entire way. He refused to wear his backpack, so The Penpal carried it, along with the travel bag, her backpack, the stroller, and a purple stained giraffe toy which we stealthily disposed of at the first opportunity. I was wearing my backpack and carrying the car seat over my left shoulder while holding on to TD with my right hand and thanking myself for getting a gym membership.
We found our gate, and The Penpal took TD off to change his clothes. When they returned, I went to change my clothes. I was disappointed to find that I had packed myself a new T-shirt, socks, underwear, but instead of jeans I had brought my workout shorts. These are the kind of shorts that look fine at the gym or a pick up basketball game, but look fairly stupid in almost any other situation.
After swallowing my pride and putting on my shorts, I decided to rinse as much of the barf out of my jeans as possible in the bathroom sink. My plan was to clean them up, dry them, and put them on right before we boarded our flight to Tokyo. After giving them a very thorough washing, I discovered that the bathroom I was in did not have any hot air dryers, it only had a towel dispenser.
Thinking that this must be some mistake, I dried my jeans as well as I could and carried them to all of the other bathrooms in the international departure area. There was not a single hot air dryer.
Other than the unhelpful bathrooms, the international departure lounge was also home to several stores which sold the usual last minute souvenirs, snacks, and duty free goods. Surely one of these stores must sell pants, sweatpants, or at least a less dorky pair of shorts.
I understand that the souvenir T-shirt is ubiquitous, but I found it hard to believe that nobody had thought to sell souvenir pants of some kind. In addition to T-shirts, I could have bought jackets, hoodies, hats, or designer bags. None of these helped my situation.
After searching every store carefully, I decided to try my last option; asking for help. I waited in line at the Air Canada customer service desk. When it was my turn I approached the CSR who looked like she had just received an entire shift of abuse from tired, stressed out passengers. I’m going to call her Agnes. I mustered up my friendliest smile and told Agnes that I had a question somewhat related to my recent Air Canada flight.
“My son barfed all over me on my last flight. Do you know if there is a bathroom around here with a hot air dryer, or alternatively a store that sells pants?”
Agnes had not been expecting this. When she realized that I was asking a serious question, she did her best to think, then tapped at her computer before realizing that there was going to be no information about pants or dryers to be found. Agnes gave me a sympathetic look and said “I’m sorry, I really was not prepared for this question!”
Having tried everything, I resigned myself to wearing dorky workout shorts on our 12 hour flight to Tokyo. It was still an improvement over damp, slightly smelly jeans.
To the entrepreneurs out there I offer these two can’t miss business ideas: souvenir pants and departure lounge laundry services. I will accept royalty payments in beer.
At the time this entry is posted, I will be en route to Japan with my wonderful wife (aka The Penpal for those who have been reading a while) and our 3 year old son. This is his first time to visit Japan, and his first time to meet his Japanese grandparents in person. It’s also the first time that The Penpal’s parents have had a 3 year old in their house since The Penpal was a child. Overall it should present some good blog material.
Blogging about my trip as it happens will put my overall story out of order (again), but you can always refer to the chronological list of all of my posts here.
For those who are sitting next to us on our long flight – my apologies in advance. We’re going to do our best to keep the little guy entertained. I will accept donations of sympathy beer once we land.