About three months ago, we decided to splurge and take our first international trip since Max was born. As soon as we bought the tickets and booked the hotel, we were SO excited. We even made a countdown poster that Squish and I would tick off every morning when we woke up. We were heading to Osaka, Japan! (Max would say “‘Pan!” every time we marked the poster).
Japan has a special place in our hearts because we initially intended to go before we were going to seriously try for a baby (initially scheduled during the second half of 2016). But we were advised by many to get off birth control 6 months before trying to give your body time to recalibrate. My first birth control free month was December 2015 and I found out I was pregnant by January 7, 2016. We were shocked and so happy, but we knew that Japan would have to be shelved.
But now that Max was a little older and has gone on two domestic airplane trips, it was the perfect time to un-shelve Japan. We chose Osaka because we were worried that Tokyo would be too fast-paced for the newbie parents and toddler. It seemed like there was more than enough in Osaka (and the nearby Nara and Kyoto) to fill our week.
We decided early on that this trip wouldn’t be Max-centric. Soon, the little boy will have words to clearly express his preferences and we’ll have to seriously take them into consideration. We completely took advantage of his one- to two-word sentence limit. Hahaha.
Unsurprisingly though, the initial drafts of the itinerary I drew up included many activities that Max would enjoy as much as we would. I guess this is one of the benefits of having really childish parents. (It makes me wonder about how equipped we would be to handle teenaged Max, but that’s for future Char to worry about.)
For two months, I watched every vlog, read every article, downloaded every possible helpful app, made estimates on excel sheets, and bothered way too many friends (Hello, Darm, Ram, and Ronna!) for advice.
Our final itinerary looked nothing like the itineraries I used to plan. I used to pack in as much as I could each day, but we needed to consider Max, his attention span, and his energy management needs. Our formula was to have one scheduled “must-do” activity for the day and a list of suggested activities. But basically, we left a lot of room for flexibility and exploring and rest. It didn’t make sense to pack in as many activities at the expense of our enjoyment and sanity.
We chose a centrally located hotel that was, admittedly, pricier than many of the other options. We used to scrimp on accommodations, but since we’re travelling to a new place with Max, I told Mikey that it would make sense to get a hotel that (1) had an English-speaking staff (so they could easily help out in case of an emergency) and (2) was located near many of the things we wanted to see (so that if Max needed to rest in the hotel, one of us could easily explore without being too far away). Mikey agreed and we booked 7 nights at Hotel the Flag Shinshaibashi. It was probably the best decision we made for the trip, but more on this later on.
We were busting with excitement for weeks and that all came crashing down a few days before were scheduled to leave. We were scheduled to leave on a Friday, and the Monday of that week, Max got his first-ever fever. At it’s highest, he hit 39.9. We even missed the wedding because we were waiting for results in the emergency room. The fever lasted for about a day, and the day after his fever broke (Wednesday), he developed a rash. His pediatrician believes that it was Roseola. And even if the rash looked bothersome (it wasn’t though), it was a great sign because that meant he was OK. I only allowed myself to start thinking of Japan when his pediatrician gave us the go-signal Wednesday night. And because we had been so focused on Max’s health, Thursday was all about last minute errands for the trip. When we finally got Max to sleep Thursday night, Mikey and I shared a quiet squeal: we were going to Japan! Ok, it was Mikey squealing because I was still on edge about everything. I was half expecting Max’s fever to come back and having to give up the trip altogether.
Day 0 (Friday)
Our flight was at 3:30 PM, so we needed to be at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Terminal 3) by 12 noon at the earliest. But we were ready to go by 10 AM. My mom lent us her car and driver to take us to the airport, so we had help in loading and unloading our bags. Max wasn’t completely himself yet. He was on his 4th(out of 5) day of the decongestant, so he was still a little clingy and fussy. And because we allowed him unlimited screen time when he was sick, he had a lot of pent up energy to spare.
I’m never relaxed on travel day. I can only relax after immigration. So, I made Mikey skip all the yummy restaurants you can only access before immigration. I made all of us go straight through immigration after we got our boarding passes. We ended up eating so-so food for lunch. There was a National Bookstore inside and we found him a Finding Dory busy book on sale. We thought it would be perfect for the plane. On our way to the gate, we found a small play area so we let him go wild until it was our turn to get on the plane.
Looking back, I think the plane ride would’ve been perfect, but the flight was delayed and we spent an extra 45 minutes taxiing. So, even though Max fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane, he woke up halfway through the ride and there was a period of boredom/fussiness. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t full and the man sharing our row moved to another row at the beginning of the flight. Max ended up having a seat all to himself and he watched a few videos while seated. But he really wanted to run up and down the aisle, so we placated him by taking him to the bathroom and letting him push all the buttons in there. At some point, he fell asleep again and when we woke him up, we were in Osaka.
We landed at the Kansai International Airport passed 8:00 PM Osaka time (about 1 hour ahead of Manila). Mikey put him in his front facing carrier so that we could get through immigration, get our bags, our sim card for internet, and an MRT card. We got through everything pretty well, we even had dinner at a small fast food Udon restaurant. Max only acted up when we finally got to the train. When we got to the train, he wanted to breastfeed right away. I read that breastfeeding isn’t normally done in public in Japan, so I resisted. I offered him videos and I tried distracting him with the view (but it was dark). Eventually, I caved, and it was calm again. The walk to our hotel seemed long that night, but it’s probably because we had no idea where we would end up.
Seeing the hotel for the first time was like seeing an oasis in the dessert. We were sweaty and tired from the trip and in desperate need of comfort. The fancy faux wooden hotel doors opened automatically (sideways!) and we were welcomed by the staff on the 2ndfloor lobby. The hotel was fancier than we imagined. There was a quaint library, a nice coffee machine (free! FREE COFFEE 24/7!), a fireplace surrounded by leather chairs and couches, and an ornamental giant stone that Max freaked out over (“stone” is one of his words).
Our room was small, but not in the claustrophobic kind of way (at least not on the first night)—it was very cozy. The bed was so inviting. I was worried about the beds in Japan because most rooms for two only offered a double bed. Our hotel had what they called an extra large double bed and it was very comfortable. Max fell asleep pretty quickly, and Mikey took a stroll to the nearest konbini to get us some water and pick up a snack. I unpacked, took a hot shower (Shiseido amenities!), put on PJs, and got into bed with Max. We were in Japan. We survived our first international flight and our first MRT ride. Now I was squealing. What a day. We made it.