Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Have Children, Will Travel

So my sister-in-law, Beloved's 'youngest'* got hitched last weekend which involved the joys of migrating two small boys down the length of Japan. Or at least half way down the length.

*The Japanese are a big believer in birth ranks, so even a pair of identical twins like my sisters-in-law are thus ranked, even if they were born on the same day and literally minutes after each other.

Now for a bit of complex reasoning we live in the part of rural Japan that hangs around the middle of the main island (I.e. I was assigned here and we just fell in love with the place). Beloved's family however is from the South/Western end of the main island. Beloved's sister of course got married in the city where she works and until recently lived, Osaka, which is about half-way between where we live and where they live.

The migration of the family unit has undergone a number of stages. During the delightful engagement/early marriage but pre-kid, getting down there was more or less managed via Japan's wonderful rail system. Whatever you may have heard about Japanese trains, the reality is better. While taking the Shinkansen is a pain in the wallet, you can't really fault it. It's fast, (usually) comfortable, and (generally) convenient. Door to door from the middle of Japan to the tail end of the main island took about 6 hours or so, depending on the station layovers and excepting the ride on Shinano, it's generally been a comfortable way to travel. You can eat, read, sleep, and not have to worry about traffic jams or (normally) the weather. And of course, it always arrives on time (Seriously, if the train is more than a minute late, it makes the national news).

Then we had Makoto. The problem with small babies is they tend to operate on their own schedule and like all new parents, Beloved and I were rather apprehensive about travel with a very young baby. The first trip Makoto took to see his Japanese grandparents was made via plane, which of course had its own ups and downs.

Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.

The problem with flying Japan is just that, well, it sucks unless you happen to be living in one of the bigger cities with a nicer airport. Japan is LOADED with airports thanks to political monies being shoveled into the rural airports to get people to vote LDP, but a lot of them don't actually lead anywhere. Getting around by flying, we found, was a bit aggravating, expensive, and (Thanks to me being more than lightly scared of heights), a bit stressful when I found myself in another prop-plane.

Pretty much after the first trip down, we decided to train it back, which worked until Makoto started to be capable of self-movement, that's when problem two arrived. As anyone with a small kid knows, when they want to move, they want to move and they ain't gonna listen to any piddling excuse about how the train is standing room only and it is physically impossible to let them crawl around. Restrained child makes for cranky child and boy does Makoto have a fine set of lungs to let everyone know about this.

So we stopped training and started driving. Now via Shinkansen, the trip takes 6 hours. Via car on Japan's expressway system the drive takes about 14 hours, give or take. Yes, it's a very long drive, but with small kids and the mounds of luggage that kids generate (How two small boys need more in terms of luggage space than their father I have no idea), it's been worth it. While also expensive, the drive allows us to stop at Japan's many rest and service areas to eat, relax, and turn kids loose to run.

In fact, we've done the trip so many times that we have a list of preferred service areas to stop at where the food is good, the places spacious enough to have free range toddlers, the coffee is Starbucks, and the hand towels are oh-so-fluffy!

Going down to the grandparents has also evolved into its own ritual designed to get us up and going in the middle of the night when the traffic is down and hopefully past the bad area before any traffic jams occur while coming up is now being done in two stages as sadly, Daddy is no longer a college age guy who can pull  all-nighters.

But in going down, well, that's pretty settled. I return home, pack, and eat my mac-n-cheese (My treat to myself for the drive) and attempt to crash while Beloved takes the kids out to the local onsen for a bath and to let Daddy sleep! Sometime around 11pm to 12am, I awake and slowly manage to stir up kids, wife, and get everyone and everything shoved off into the Noah and off onto the road of adventure by 1 to 2am. 

Of course, at the start everyone is awake and excited and the kids will be singing in the back until we hit the T +30min mark by which time they will have settled back down to sleep. Beloved, who once again will promise that she will stay awake with me the drive down and keep me company, will join them shortly after. I of course just smile, sip my coffee, and drive on into the night.

But getting back to the wedding, this time we went by train due to the trip being paid for by people other than ourselves and a rather large lack of parking in the area (And to be honest, I was NOT looking forward to being forced to drive through the middle of Osaka). Once again, I fell in love with Japanese trains, the speed, the ability to kick back and relax a bit and care not about idiot drivers, traffic jams, or the like. With Hikaru sound asleep on my lap and Makoto curled up next to Beloved, it was a peaceful trip.

Now if we could just cut down on that luggage issue... maybe we'd have to re-look at this train idea when we can convince Hikaru to sit still.    

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