Hello, Osaka.

After 6 days in the majestic city of Kyoto we are now in Osaka for an evening, awaiting our flight tomorrow to Okinawa – the vacation within a vacation which should offer us a chance to relax and refuel before our final week. This evening we’re in the Mitsui Garden Hotel Premier, which is relatively affordable but offers both a quiet lounge area for “superior” room guests, and a penthouse spa/onsen which Lucy is currently enjoying as I tap away at my keyboard.

Osaka is more charming than expected. The hotel is a couple of stops away from the main station and we had a short walk from the metro station to the hotel along the river. We enjoyed the afternoon autumn sun filtering between the browning leaves of the riverside trees against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers and the homogenous mass of business-people in black suits returning from lunch. Several city workers were quietly chatting around us in the restaurant we hastily selected for lunch – a soba restaurant serving a traditional plate of cold noodles with dipping sauce, some tempura and a selection of cold meat and vegetable varieties which was rather nice, although neither Lucy nor I quite have the taste for cold noodles yet. Several patrons around us chose to smoke – a strange fact about Japan is that whilst many parks and public spaces force smokers into tiny glass boxes to light up, most restaurants allow smoking, which is not something we miss in the UK or Denmark.

We’re two weeks in to our travels, and for my part at least I’m struggling with the intensity of 24/7 parenting and the frequent cycle of packing and moving, hauling around our cases and managing the not insignificant demands of two kids (one in particular). We’ve learned some considerable lessons along the way of course. Top of the list is to not move around too much. The kids respond well to routine and consistency, and these are impossible to establish if we’re never in a place for more than two nights. We’ve done some rebooking for Okinawa and the following week to act on this insight and are really, really hoping it helps.

Lucy and I love hotels, and had a good mix of hotels and home rentals on our itinerary, but lesson number 2 must relate to the spaces required for four beings to get a good night’s sleep and for the adults in that configuration to be able to relax and debrief in the few child-less evening hours available. In a hotel it is very difficult to book an affordable two room set-up, and so our time in hotels has resulted in disturbed nights and hushed conversations in the bathroom when unreliable hotel WiFi conspires to undermine the otherwise superb baby monitor app we use. So in future we’ll pay the extra for two rooms or stick to AirBNB homes – there may be no onsen or room service, but at least we’ll be able to have a conversation.

Asakusa

The day started lazily, albeit early. Magnus woke at 7.30 and took himself off to the bathroom, quietly peeing and disposing of his “night-time pants” in the correct bin of the three available. There is a near incomprehensible waste system here, to do with whether or not waste is combustible or not, and whether recyclables are clean or not, but Magnus seem to have mastered it.

We fell short of an early departure, and left after midday. The transit time from Tama to central Tokyo is both a good gauge for the sheer size of this metropolis, and a crazy endeavour with two young kids. But we got to Asakusa as planned, albeit late, and after a little wander around, enquired in one of the many karaoke establishments – tired kids, confined space, loud music, what could go wrong?! It was just what we (adults) needed to shake off the long journey. We belted out Wonderwall, some Aretha (RIP) and some Lynyrd Skynyrd, before setting off for a rather more majestic cultural experience – the famous Sensō-ji Buddhist temple with its dazzlingly illuminated pagoda and huge lanterns. The surrounding shopping streets are touristic but enjoyable to peruse, and big M was so proud of himself when we bought him a little kimono-style outfit to wear for the temple trip.

Currently we’re sitting in Gon Pachi, a laid back little joint in Asasuka, which seems to be much more touristic than our previous area. Jazz is playing, which it seems to across a lot of Tokyo. The chef is busily preparing sticks of meat and fish on an open grill while the waiter fixes Lucy a homemade ginger highball (recommended by several reviewers of the restaurant).

Update: the restaurant is incredible. Highly recommended. The beef sticks in particular are mouth watering to even think about days later, and the tempura was crisp and succulent. Magnus loved his rice and chicken dish. The ambiance is a perfect balance of culinary energy and peaceful sanctuary. The waiting staff are incredibly attentive and understood the needs of our kids very well, with special cutlery and drinks served without our asking. And the price is right for the quality of food and service.