This is going to be a whingey post and I’m not even going to apologise. Hold onto your potatoes.
First I shall explain the whinginess. I HAVEN’T SLEPT PROPERLY FOR TWO WEEKS. The first week was down to jet lag. The second week… I’m not sure. Possibly change of environment and routine. Possibly THE RAILWAY LINE DIRECTLY BELOW THE APARTMENT. And THE LEVEL CROSSING THAT BEEPS TO WARN THAT THE BARRIER IS CLOSING. Which happens EVERY 30 SECONDS.
Even the ear plugs plunged deep into my skull don’t totally muffle the persistent doing-doing-doing of the alarm, nor the thunder and rumble of trains passing through. I mean, I lived in London for eight years. That was bloody noisy. I wore ear plugs at night there, too… But random drunk shouting, car alarms, revving motorbikes, police helicopters, and the deep bass of R&B beats seemed to melt into nothing as they passed into my sleeping mind.
Not the trains. Oh no. Nor that bloody warning sound.
“Please refrain from loud conversations,” is the request on trains. Please make sure your computer doesn’t annoy fellow passengers, such as the keyboard sound.”1 “Don’t annoy your fellow humans by having fun.”2 HOW IS THIS DESIRE FOR PEACE NOT TRANSLATED TO LEVEL BLOODY CROSSINGS?
In the past three days I have walked hundreds3 of miles to find play parks for my children. The first two days resulted in discovering peaceful, serene, beautiful national parks, where the children couldn’t climb trees or engage in anything amounting to vague anarchy that children need to burn off their energy. I, on the other hand, burned off plenty of energy via paranoid checking of Google Maps just getting them there.
I also seemed to expend a ridiculous amount of energy on shushing and controlling my actually angelic children. Seriously, I know all mums say this. But most mums are blinded by love and an innate refusal to acknowledge that their parenting skills suck. My children are renowned for their charm, politeness and kindness.4 But what kid, having spent all morning shut up in a small apartment, doesn’t have to run, shout, laugh and squabble at some point fairly soon in the day? And what better place to run, shout, laugh and squabble than in a park, among some trees, near people praying at a shrine?
Anyway, it’s tiring, telling them to look where they’re going, and stop shouting, and don’t climb on the temple wall.
Otherwise, the quiet, contemplative park, Yoyogi, was blissfully peaceful. This is a culture that knows how to do zen-like calm in the middle of a tumultuous city. A walkway led through a vast wooded area, centred by the Meiji Shrine to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. Visitors offered their thanks and prayers, bowed and clapped their hands to the deified leader.
We watched in (almost silent) respect, then went for lunch in the restaurant, which was our own temple, really. We are nothing if not worshippers of good food.
The next National Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, wasn’t a shrine to any deified emperors so didn’t really require any overtly respectful doffing of caps, but still there was no play park. A vast, beautiful landscape of trees (which couldn’t be climbed), ducks and fish (which couldn’t be fed), and flowers (which couldn’t be picked). BUT – the children were surprisingly engaged by the greenhouse that was home to exquisitely beautiful exotic plants and flowers, none of which I shall talk about because I’m horticulturally inept.
The size of the carp in the lakes also occupied the wee ones for some time, as did the obligatory ice cream.
Today, hallelujah, within walking distance of the apartment we finally found a play park with actual play equipment – but the biggest, best climbing frame and slide was roped off and barred by ominous-looking yellow tape. A translation of the sign forbidding entry read: “As a result of an inspection, something dangerous was found. As it is dangerous, please do not use.” Son hazarded a guess at what the dangerous thing could be. “A bullet. A splinter.” Daughter burst into tears, and said it wasn’t fair. I agreed with her.
Fortunately, there was the regulation medicinal ice cream, and another awesome, very fast slide, which kept them occupied for the next – I kid you not – two hours. Son ran up and slid down this slide 70 times. He counted. Daughter blistered her hands on the monkey bars. They took turns “praying” (in all sincerity) at the shrine in this park. They genuinely have been observing those around them and are keen to imitate, with an apparent view to assimilate.
Right. Onto Japanese telly, which shall not escape my scathing disdain. I have been hoping upon hope that we might encounter some Wipe Out or Ninja Warrior UK stylee challenges, in which contestants eat giant caterpillars or pour molten lead onto their nipples. No such luck. I mean, Japan is the home, the founder, the father and overseer of such chewing-gum-for-the-brain sado-masochistic TV. Why can’t I find it, then? Why, when I turn on the telly, am I met with stiff old fellas opining on… I don’t know what – politics? The economy? The latest advert for Wella hair products? Or weather reports, which seem to be the speciality: long, drawn-out, colourful, numerically detailed charts and softly spoken lectures on wind direction and snow depth.
Or – and this one is quite the most baffling – a long chain of videos showing, I don’t know, world records, horse races, beauty pageants, various inexplicable miscellanea, with a screen-in-screen shot of a person in a studio watching the same, and then we are also in the studio and the bodiless head becomes a person having to… what? Remember what they’ve seen? Reminisce about the first time it was screened? I have no idea what is going on with this show but it lasts for about two hours and takes place on a bubblegum-coloured set.
And here endeth the whingey post.
1 This was an actual sign on the Shinkansen.
2 This wasn’t on a sign. It is my bitter interpretation of the rules we often encounter.
3 Not hundreds. About 15 at the most.
4 Okay, look, that’s nothing to do with me, genetically or with regards to upbringing. Thank their dad.