Now, let’s get one thing straight… Tokyo is not simply another iconic city. Tokyo is a city of cities. It’s huge. Enornmous. It is, in fact, the biggest city on earth. And it really, really feels like it!!!
It is also, ironically, very very small. With so many people living in the Greater Tokyo area, space is a commodity in very short supply. That’s just the first oddity about this fascinating city.
The second thing I notice is that – given the size and population of the place – it is unbelievably quiet. There are honking horns or sirens blaring. It is disarmingly peaceful and respectful. I had done a reasonable amount of research into Japanese etiquette, but nothing had prepared me to just how quiet we’d actually need to be. It’s fair to say, that at times, we struggled with it!!
The third thing – almost certainly the most important – is the sheer number of rules there are. Ironically, it was one of the first signs we saw when we landed at Narita Airport “welcome to Japan. Please respect the rules” but it’s significance was lost on me until we actually got to the city. There are rules everywhere. For everything. And they are religiously respected.
It’s actually not at all difficult to follow the rules… Japanese etiquette is easy to follow – if for no other reason – than the rules are being adhered to by EVERYONE but also because there are helpful (and often rather comical!) diagrams to help any unsuspecting tourist! The rules are what makes Tokyo tick.
It’s reasonable to assume that all of this would be overwhelming to an autistic child, but in fact, quite the opposite was true. J had an absolutely fabulous time!!!! In many ways, he found the cultural differences easier to deal with than G.
I believe that this is because J does not primarily communicate through language…. He didn’t speak at all until he was 4, and was closer to 6 before he held conversations (and even now, these are only held at his discretion!!!) so his dozen or so phrases in Japanese was more than enough to get by! And when he miscommunicated something, everyone was more than happy to explain it to him… One particular lovely incident occurred when J asked to use a bathroom… He proudly asked ‘Toire O’kudasai’ which wasn’t factually incorrect, but wasn’t right either.. and the lovely waiter came over and explained ‘Toire wa dōdesu ka?’ until J had mastered it. Such a lovely gesture!
Then there are those funny little pictures. J often struggles with rules and it’s easy to assume that he’s being naughty when he’s told NOT to do something but the repeatedly does it… but Tokyo proved that not to be the case. Presented with simple, amusing diagrams of the correct way to do something, and J had no trouble at all at following the instructions 🙂
And J is quite used to walking into a supermarket and staring at shelf after shelf of foods that are alien to him… the fact that we were all on the same level as him was quite pleasing for him!!!
So, our top tips for visiting Japan with kids:
- Learn some Japanese! Most Japanese people DO speak some English, but many are reserved about doing so. If you try, then so will they… and they’ll be more than happy to give you some advice which will help you going forward.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by the subway! It’s a must… Taxis are hideously expensive and even if you had an unlimited budget, just aren’t cost effective. We picked a line (the Yamanote line… which is circular and therefore less easy to get lost on!!) and largely stuck to it.
- Stay a little further out of the city. We stayed in Meguro for most of the time which was cheaper and provided much more spacious rooms...As well as being a little less busy – perfect for families.
in the next few days, I’ll write up what we did and where we went… but that’s our first take on Toyko. It’s a place we’ll almost certainly go back to. we need to finish off all the stamps the stations have 🙂