My kids really help me look on the bright side of life, but sometimes it’s more in retrospect than when something is actually happening. I saw this a lot on our trip to Japan, most notably on our Ueno Park outing. When I was in Tokyo in my 20s I was taken on a whirlwind tour of the city by a family friend, checking out all the major spots in a day. Then I went back and savored a few places that looked really good. I have very fond memories of sitting in the Tokyo National Museum in front of a beautiful golden screen decorated with birds and leaves. It was quiet and I wrote in my journal and enjoyed the art.
I really wanted to take the kids to the same museum and share my appreciation of the art with them. The thing is, they’re hands-on kids, and art museums don’t have much hands-on stuff. If I had thought more carefully about what they might like we would have gone to the science museum instead, or even the zoo. But we always go to science museums, and this was an opportunity to see something different.
Make Plans But Be Flexible
Here was my plan: go to the train station, get our Rail Passes and reserve our seats to Kyoto on the shinkansen for later, go to Ueno Park, check out the shrines and temples there, see the Tokyo National Museum, and grab lunch at a restaurant on the way to the giant Yamashiroya toy store in the area.
Here’s how it went instead: by the time we got our Rail Passes and tickets for Kyoto, the kids were tired and complaining. It was drizzling, which made walking in the park a bit less fun, and after seeing the Bentendo temple for fifteen minutes the two younger boys were wanting to be done and go back to the hotel. We took a brief look at two more shrines as we made our way to the other end of the park where the museum was.
Of course we had to stop and get a quesadilla for everyone to share at the international food stalls in the park because the kids were hungry and ready for something familiar. That perked people up, but nobody else (including my husband) was really all that excited about the museum. It was tedious talking them into it.
Not Savoring the Art
The museum tickets included several buildings but I promised we wouldn’t have to see everything, just one building. I picked the one that seemed most likely to have what I was hoping for and asked at the information desk for things the kids would like. That ended up being a great idea because I never would have found the kid room otherwise. The family zoomed past ancient kimonos and sat in chairs in the stairwell while I took a little more time. They did enjoy seeing the charming netsuke carvings, and then we headed for the kid spot.
Art Appreciation in Their Own Way
If you do make it to the Tokyo National Museum, I recommend the kid room just past the bookshop in the main building. They all enjoyed making postcards with ink stamps of traditional Japanese designs, posing for photos, and checking out the touch table. The table attempted to recreate each room in the museum with representations of one or two items that let everyone feel the textures of things they couldn’t touch otherwise. The museum has a family exhibition coming up in July that looks good, too. Our family also had a good time looking at things in the bookshop, although we didn’t buy anything.
A Change of Plans
Then they were done, and the happy hours I had imagined were not to be. Nobody wanted to walk farther than the train station, so the toyshop I had planned for them was right out. If I had told them a giant toy store was on the itinerary they might have been willing to stay longer, but by that time I was exhausted from herding everyone around and dealing with their complaints. Instead I suggested we ride the train in a loop around the city, sightseeing while sitting down. They liked that idea, so we headed toward the train station.
On the way we passed the National Museum of Nature and Science, which had a life-sized whale sculpture and a steam train outside. It looked amazing, but everyone was too tired. I berated myself because I really do know that science museums are what the kids love. We also found a Rodin sculpture garden, complete with The Thinker (actually named The Poet by Rodin) and the Gates of Hell, in the courtyard of the National Museum of Western Art.
Our rail passes let us ride the train as much as we wanted. The train loop takes about an hour, and it’s fun for people watching and getting a sense of the city, but it’s really not that great for sightseeing unless you’re getting off at different stops to check out specific things. We saw a lot of tall buildings, a lot of billboards, a lot of streets, a lot of train tracks, and a lot of stations. Everyone was ready to be done for the day by the time we got off and walked back to our hotel. The day felt like a let-down for me.
A Change of Perspective
Things often seem better in retrospect, though. My memory of the day was one of frustration and disappointment that my plans were so derailed, but the kids said they loved everything about our trip. They weren’t disappointed about the toy store because they didn’t know we missed it. I am heartened to see that they remember all the cool things they saw and not all the complaining they did. They are instead excited to travel more, and to go again and see the things we missed, and to find new places to see. That was really the biggest goal of our travel to such a culturally different place, to introduce them to the world at large and the possibilities of travel. Mission accomplished!