What I know about motherhood (and it rhymes with smothing)

By May 16, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

Photo by Anthony Quintano

It was my first Mother’s Day and we had already been to the ER.

Landon had been developing a cough for a few days, then it suddenly got worse. Nothing serious. He didn’t have a fever, he was eating fine, he wasn’t fussy at all. But the wheezing sounded bad, so, on the recommendation of a phone-a-nurse, we took him to the hospital.

It made me think about what I know — or, more like, don’t know — about being a mom.

Nothing prepares you for raising a human life form. I thought my years helping take care of my little sister — she’s 12 years younger than me — would have given me some sort of headstart on motherhood. Not really. I mean, sure, I knew how to change diapers and sterilize bottles, but that’s about it. I wasn’t prepared for inconsolable crying, pee everywhere and, when an infant gets sick, there isn’t much you can do about it.

I spent the last few days listening to my son’s raspy breathing, worrying about him while he slept, and reading about homeopathic remedies online. And I still don’t have the answers.

Motherhood is a crapshoot, isn’t it? The only thing I’ve really learned from this experience (so far) is that there are infinite ways to do it, and who cares as long as the child is safe and healthy.

If you had asked me what I had learned two months ago, I likely would have said that pacifiers are a lifesaver, swaddling is a must, and that I couldn’t live without the Fisher-Price Newborn Rock ‘N Play Sleeper.

But now, Landon prefers his thumbs to pacifiers, he can’t sleep in his swaddle anymore, and the sleeper bores him. It all changed so fast! (And I have so many pacifiers and swaddles!)

I have pregnant girlfriends or new moms who ask me for advice. While I’m more than happy to share everything I’ve learned, I’ve quickly realized what works for me doesn’t always work for others. And my way of doing things — from swearing by Pampers Swaddlers to our decision to use glass bottles instead of plastic ones — isn’t for everyone. I completely stopped breastfeeding at three months (I totally dried up). We’ve put Landon in his crib for bedtime since he was three weeks old. I started feeding him bananas and poi at five months. I take him hiking and to the beach. I’ve slathered on sunscreen before he’s old enough (six months) to actually use it. I let my dogs lick him. It’s just what I do.

It’s very easy to judge other moms. I totally get it. I’ve been judged, I’ve judged, we’ve all done it. But I’ve learned that, unless they’re overtly abusing their kids, it’s really none of my business.

I’ve asked for help and advice, and I’ve taken bits and pieces from everyone. My calabash cousin Cathy taught me about sleep training and I’ve stuck with it. My girlfriend Leilani reminded me about the benefits of having a dishwasher. My other girlfriend Lezlie helped me figure out how to travel to Japan with a newborn. My mom showed me how to give Landon a bath and feed him solid food without getting it everywhere.

And I’ve definitely doled out advice, too. Lots of it.

Here’s the thing: Kids are different. Mothers are different. Dads are different. Situations are different. Homes, lifestyles, philosophies — all different. But we all want the same thing: happy, healthy kids. There are just numerous ways to get there.

I’ve always thought I’d be a mom like my own mom. But it turns out, we’re two completely different people. She would never take us and three dogs hiking. (She wouldn’t have three dogs to begin with.) And, not a big fan of the beach, she had no plans to take us surfing. She loved staying home with us; I can’t wait to get out and explore. She loves this infant stage; I need him to walk and make his own breakfast. We’re just different. And while I completely value her advice — and use most of it — we both know I’m going to forge my own mothering path.

Motherhood isn’t some magical existence. It’s not what you see on Instagram, all these happy (skinny) moms with happy (adorable) babies, all who seem to relish every single waking and sleeping moment of life. I asked a friend about it once — she’s one of those moms whose life seems idyllic and perfect on social media — and she told me just before she snapped this one pic of her smiling daughter, she (the mom) was covered in poop. A lot of poop. Not so idyllic anymore.

Social media shows a version of the truth. The good version. The pretty version. It doesn’t show you walking around the house like a zombie because your baby kept you up all night, crying and feeding and crying some more. It doesn’t show that pooch you can’t get rid of, no matter how much you breastfeed. It doesn’t show the disaster your house is in now because you don’t have time to clean it and you’re too broke to hire a housekeeper. It doesn’t show your pain, your despair, your frustration. But it’s all true.

But maybe it shows the best part, the reason why we love being moms. It shows our love, our sheer happiness, that feeling you get when your baby first smiles at you. Or laughs. Or squeals in delight. Or looks confused when you dance in front of him. These are the moments that make all the other ones — sleepless nights, your hair falling out, working in the middle of the night because that’s the only free time you have — worthwhile.

So what have I learned? That’s you just keep on learning.

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A word about dogs and leashes

By May 10, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Dog Dish

The other day we were walking our three dogs and pushing our 5-month-old in a stroller around our neighborhood when a jogger stopped us.

“Have I talked to you before?” she asked.

“No,” I said. She looked upset — and not from the run.

She stopped, caught her breath, and told me something that’s kept me up at night ever since.

She was walking her Italian greyhound on a leash in an adjacent neighborhood when a Rhodesian ridgeback approached her — unleashed, unsupervised — and literally tore her dog in half. The dog was violently killed right in front of her.

I don’t know the rest of the story except that yes, the Hawaiian Humane Society was called, and yes, she filed a police report. But the other questions — Was the owner there? What did they do? Is she going to press charges? — I don’t know. All of my journalistic training disappeared as I imagined what this poor woman had to endure.

As you know, one of my greatest fears is losing my dogs. So watching them die like that would undoubtedly top my list of things I never, ever, ever want to witness.

Here’s the thing: It could have been prevented.

This wasn’t the first time this ridgeback was wandering the neighborhood. Allegedly, he’s attacked two dogs prior to killing the greyhound.

I know sometimes dogs get loose, escape from yards, jump fences. I get that. But all too often I’ve seen owners let their dogs walk, run and play without leashes, and it has to stop.

Just about everyone I encounter with an unleashed dog walking a neighborhood or hiking on trails say the same things: My dog is great off-leash. She never attacks. He’s so sweet. She’s a scaredy dog. She would never hurt anything. Oh, I’ve heard it all. And honestly, I don’t care. Leashing your dog is the law (except at off-leash parks). (Read about it here.) And it’s a law for a reason.

I, too, used to let my dogs roam Mariner’s Ridge without leashes. (My dogs are also small and, if one of them decided to bite your ankle, they wouldn’t do much damage.) But after my dogs had been attacked — and me, too — I decided I needed to lead by example. My dogs are on leashes; so should yours.

I really don’t understand why people don’t leash their dogs while walking in public areas, like in parks or along sidewalks. There are cars, cats, other dogs, mongooses — lots of distractions and reasons to send any dog, even the best behaved ones, running. I’ve seen too many times dogs that “would never attack” do just that.

A friend of mine brought his 19-month-old daughter to Kailua Beach and she was bitten by an unleashed Labrador Retriever — not known to attack like that — sending her to the hospital for a week.

And even your own dog can attack. This week a family dog — pit bull-terrier mix — in Las Vegas suddenly began biting a 6-month-old baby, killing the child.

This is no joke.

I’ve always been nervous about a dog attack, especially when I’m hiking on trails where hunting dogs roam. I think about what I’m going to do in that situation, I carry pepper spray and sometimes a stick, I always keep my phone close. But now, I have a baby, too. My fear suddenly multiplied exponentially.

So please, if you own a dog and you’re walking around your neighborhood or hiking a public trail, leash her. You’re keeping our dogs — and my baby — safe.


If you want to read about more city, state and federal laws related to dogs, check out this resource compiled by the Hawaiian Humane Society.

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My greatest fear

By May 4, 2017 Musings, The Dog Dish

Yesterday, as I was trying to leash Sunny, she yelped.

I thought, at first, I had accidentally pinched her skin with the leash clasp. But, when I tried it again, she cried and started shivering, her tail tucked between her back legs. She wouldn’t let me come near her.

I didn’t know what to do.

Sunny has always had health issues. Her kneecaps slip, her stomach is sensitive, and her anal sacks would fill so often we finally had them surgically removed. In fact, we had just taken her to the vet three weeks ago because she had been vomiting for 24 hours.

She turns nine years old today. I thought about that on the drive to the vet’s office in Kailua. Eight. That’s 62 in human years, if the math is right. She’s almost old enough to retire and collect Medicare, the age when everything is starting to hurt or slow down.

I got Sunny because no one wanted her. She was already four months old when my friend called me about her, a puppy that couldn’t be sold at a pet store. She wasn’t conventionally cute, with pointy ears that were almost as long as her body. But she had an irresistible face, with that black muzzle, and as soon as she licked my nose it was over. She was my dog.

Sunny, around four months sold, soon after I brought her home.

For the next few years, spent a lot of time together. We went to Hawai‘i Kai Dog Park every afternoon, even on weekends. We hiked Mariner’s Ridge weekly. We went to the beach. We ate at KFC. We watched sappy chick flicks on Friday nights. She was, in every way possible, my favorite companion.

Then, we added Indy, a rambunctious silky terrier-Shih Tzu, to the family. (She wasn’t happy about that.) Then, I met my husband, who had his own dog, Opae. (She wasn’t happy about that, either.) Now, our pack has grown to three, but Sunny will always be my first, quite possibly my favorite. (Don’t tell the others.)

The #ratterpack on our afternoon walk.

I’ve seen her spritely behavior wane a little over the years. She doesn’t run around the yard as much or hike as quickly as she used to. She doesn’t cuddle with me at night anymore, preferring to sleep in her own bed next to mine. She rarely plays with toys.

She’s getting older, and every day now, I worry about the end.

Because my greatest fear is also the most inevitable: she won’t live forever. She will, as with my other dogs and rabbits and guinea pigs and chickens and fish, die. And, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

I thought about a video my friend, Melissa, posted on my Facebook wall a few days ago. It’s a short film called “If I Could Talk” about what dogs are thinking, how much they love and appreciate us, even at the end.

It’s a horrible movie if you love dogs. I cried so hard, I thought I wasn’t going to stop.

It’s made me think about the end. Not that I want to, but I should. I should prepare myself. You never know when it will happen, and I want to be sure every moment my dogs are alive are going to be the best, that every night, when they drift off to sleep, they’re thinking, “Man, I sure lucked out! This was the BEST DAY EVER!”

I almost wish I never had dogs. We almost always outlive them. I can’t bear to watch the three of them get old, get sick, pass away. I hate thinking about it, but I know I should. I want to remember, as painful as it may be, that while life is short, theirs is even shorter.

Dogs — and pets, in general — do so much to enhance our lives, just by existing. They love us unconditionally. They can’t wait for us to get home. They think we’re the best even when we’re not. They don’t care if we gain weight, lose our hair, lose our job, have zero fashion sense, didn’t shave, didn’t bathe, forgot to brush our teeth, forgot to wear a bra. They just don’t care. Their love is real and genuine and forgiving. If only humans could love like this.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve these dogs, like I can’t give them enough attention, treats and adventures. I have to work, I have to take care of a baby now, I need to sleep. I wish I had more time with them.

Sunny is fine. (That’s her at the vet in the first photo.) She has some disc problems in her back that requires rest and pain medication. Her days of running and jumping and wrestling with Indy are likely over. The vet said she shouldn’t even walk up and down our stairs anymore. She’s getting old and, like with us, her body is wearing down.

I drove home with Sunny in the passenger seat next to me, like old times. I rubbed her head at red lights and told her she would always be my favorite dog. Because it’s true. She’s the best — and I hope she knows it.

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#CatTravels: Tips for traveling with a baby

By April 4, 2017 #BabyFox, #CatTravels

I’m not going to lie: the idea of traveling with my 4-month-old son was borderline terrifying.

But my husband was flying to Japan for work for the last time and we figured this would be a great chance to tag along. His trip would be paid for, our son would was under 2 and could fly free, and I was still on maternity leave. The plan was to fly up my mom — she hadn’t been to Japan before — to help with the baby. It was the perfect scenario.

Well, except for the “traveling with a baby” part.

I have friends who have taken their newborns everywhere — to Disneyland, to ski resorts, to Paris — so I knew it wasn’t impossible.

But I’ve also been on many flights where I’ve witnessed well-intended parents struggling with crying, inconsolable babies. It’s not pretty. For anyone.

And I was terrified I’d be that mom.

So I asked all of my friends for help. I read every blog I could find. And then I did a trial run — a day trip to Maui — to test some of these techniques and figure out what works with my kid. (Because every kid is different.)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Plan But Stay Flexible. I’m not one of those over-planners when it comes to trips; I prefer flexible itineraries that leave room for wandering and random discoveries. But with a baby — and a mom who’s never been to Japan — it was necessary to have a solid plan in place. I researched kid-friendly hotels in Tokyo and mapped out routes to various destinations in the city. I needed to know how, exactly, we’d get from the airport to the hotel, and whether the hotel was located near convenience stores that would carry baby essentials such as diapers and wipes. I came up with a schedule of what we were going to do every day we were there — but I kept it flexible. We didn’t know how the baby would be, so we didn’t book a three-hour train ride to Kyoto. But we kept that option open. (Turned out, we didn’t make the trek to Kyoto and took an hourlong train to Kamakura instead.)

Know the Weather. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how much weather can affect a trip with a baby. Not only will you have to pack different clothing, you’ll have to bring different gear, too. It was in the 40s (Fahrenheit) while we were in Tokyo, and we figured we’d buy whatever we needed there. But what we couldn’t buy — and we were so glad we brought with us — was a rain guard for the stroller. Though it didn’t rain, the clear cover kept the baby cozy and warm.

Car Seats, Taxis and Public Transportation. Before you even start packing, you’ll have to answer this basic question: are you planning to rent a car or use public transportation? If you’re going to rent a car, I’d recommend bringing your own car seat (and preferably one that snaps right into your stroller, like the Britax B-Agile/B-Safe Travel System). Most car rental companies offer car seats — for around $15 a day — which is a great option, but as we found out on Maui, these car seats aren’t always a good fit for your child. The one we got with our rental car was too big for our newborn, and we had to stuff swaddles and burp cloths into the seat just to keep him secure. Not the safest, but there wasn’t anything else we could do at that point.

If you choose to use public transportation — which is what we did in Japan — you’ll have to figure out what that will be like. In Tokyo, for example, you can’t take strollers onto the subways. (Though we did see mothers sneak in with their strollers if the cars weren’t that full.) That meant we would have to quickly pack up the stroller and lug it onto the train with us. So the stroller we were planning to bring mattered. Instead of something big and bulky, we borrowed a Babyzen YOYO+ stroller, which collapses into something small enough to fit in overhead compartments on airplanes. (And yes, borrow when possible.)

In Japan — as in many countries — there are no rules about car seats in taxis. And you won’t find them. There is, though, a chauffeur service in Tokyo called Cocoro Taxi, which is run by women, that caters to families with babies and the elderly. These cars are outfitted with car seats and booster seats, making traveling safer and easier. Look for options like that wherever you’re traveling.

Stroller or Baby Carrier? We did both. A friend of mine who travels to Japan with her three kids a few times a year explained that the stroller is really for all the bags you won’t be able to hold if you’re wearing your baby. And it’s true. It was too hard to wear my baby and carry the diaper bag. A stroller also enabled us to nap him — make sure it reclines! — and change him without having to find a public restroom (which isn’t the easiest to do in Tokyo). Since we were bringing a new stroller, we made sure to use it for a couple of weeks before the trip, just to get the baby used to it.

Seats Matter. We flew to Japan on Hawaiian Airlines. Though I made the reservations online, I called customer service to secure bulkhead seats, which gave us extra leg room and space. It cost $150 per seat extra, but it was so worth it. This gave us more space to spread out, to stand and stretch out. It made a huge difference. (You can’t sit in the exit aisle if you have a baby. Passengers need to be adults and able to assist others in the event of an emergency.)

Bassinets Onboard. Some airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, have bassinets on board. You have to reserve them ahead of time, and sometimes there are limits and restrictions. For example, the bassinet on this airline can only accommodate a baby weighing less than 25 pounds. (Our baby was about 20.) And if we wanted to use it, we would have had to change seats because the bassinet couldn’t work in the bulkhead aisle. Some airlines, such as Japan Airlines, are equipped with formula and diapers. It pays to do a little research and pay more for a better flight experience.

Strollers at the Airport? Some parents say baby carriers are better in airports, but I’d have to disagree. While carriers take up far less room, it limits you on what you can do with your baby. Since mine was too young to walk, I’d have to carry him. And since we were flying internationally, we would be at the airport for at least two hours. There was no way I was going to carry him for that long. Having the stroller — and one that reclines! — saved us. Our baby could nap comfortably and we didn’t have to physically carry him the whole time. We gate-checked the stroller on our way to Tokyo (it was waiting for us once we deplaned) and took it on board as a carry-on on the return flight.

Pack Smart. The carry-on diaper bag is important. You have to prepare for the unexpected — like getting stuck on the tarmac for two hours (which has happened to me) or delays to your flight (which has happened more often than I can count). We brought enough diapers, formula, wipes and change of clothes for two days, just in case. We made sure to have plastic bags (for trash, poopy diapers, wet clothing) and medicines for both baby and us. Pacifiers were key, too, since that was the easiest way to get him to nap during the flight. (Be sure to attach them to clips like this one from Matimati Baby, so you don’t lose them.) I also downloaded apps on my iPhone to distract him while he was awake. There are tons of checklists online; bring what you need — and then some. There are no convenience stores onboard! (If you decide to bring breastmilk and/or liquid formula on the plane, put them in a separate bag and ready to pull out for TSA. You’ll need to let the TSA officer know that you’re carrying liquids for your baby in excess of the 3.4-ounce rule. Read more about that here.)

Board First or Last? This is entirely up to you. Ideally, you would have someone else — husband, traveling partner — board with the carry-ons to secure the overhead space, while you stay back with the baby. But that’s not always possible. Since we had bulkhead seats with lots of space, we didn’t mind boarding early. We wanted to nab the overhead space since we would need to have quick and easy access to baby essentials. (Turns out, there was enough room in front of us for all of our carry-ons, so we didn’t need the overhead space.)

Feed, Nurse, Pacify at Takeoff and Landing. This is tried-and-true advice. Babies need something to suck on in order to clear their ears during the altitude change. We timed it so it would be his feeding time right around takeoff. He took the bottle and didn’t fuss at all.

Expect the Worst. I know that sounds very pessimistic, but it’s helpful advice. If you expect the worst — a baby who screams for the entire 10-hour plane ride — you can plan accordingly. You’ll pack what you need. You’ll be patient and apologetic to your fellow passengers. I’ve even seen some parents pass out bags filled with candy and a note of apology, just in case their kid cried during the flight. It’s always better to be prepared than not.

Choose Your Hotel Wisely: That same girlfriend who recommended bringing a stroller also sent me a list of kid-friendly hotels in Tokyo. We chose the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku for several reasons. The Airport Limousine bus had a stop right at the hotel, making the trek from Haneda Airport quick and easy. (And it only cost around $12 per person.) It was located just a couple of blocks from the busiest train station in the world; meaning we could get anywhere from this one station. There were lots of convenience stores and restaurants nearby, so getting food and essentials wouldn’t be that hard. The rooms were slightly larger than the typical hotel rooms in Japan; more space for baby and me. The hotel also had cribs guests could borrow. (We ended up not using it, but we did get a guard rail for our bed, which was perfect for us.) And the best part? The hotel had coin-operated washers and dryers on every floor. That meant we could wash our clothes and not have to pack as much. It was great!

Consider a Travel Bassinet. I’ve had friends who used a portable bassinet — like this one from BRICA — that works well in small spaces (like Japanese hotel rooms). If you plan on doing this, be sure to get it well ahead of your trip and use it. You want your baby to be used to the way it feels.

Buy, Don’t Bring. If you’re traveling within the U.S., consider ordering diapers, formula and wipes — all the bulky stuff — from Amazon or Target and have it delivered to your hotel. It saves you a lot time, energy and money. In our case, it would cost too much to have those items delivered to our hotel in Shinjuku, so we did the next best thing: buy everything there. (You’re going to throw away the diapers, wipes and formula anyway. Why bring that stuff with you?) We did a lot of research on the baby formula in Japan. Since we weren’t sure if our baby would take to the new formula, we brought some of his powdered formula in Ziploc bags — that was easier to pack than the canister — and a bunch of ready-to-feed liquid bottles, just in case. I also changed his formula at home, just to see how he would react to something new. Since he was quick to adjust to a different formula here, I figured he would have no problem with the formula in Japan. And I was right; he transitioned easily.

Swaddles are Awesome. I’ve long been a fan of swaddles, especially those soft, muslin ones. But I never loved them more than while traveling. They are so versatile. I used them as nursing covers, stroller covers, changing pads, blankets. They’re great. Bring several.

Plan Feedings and Naps. This was probably the most difficult task: planning where and when I would fed and nap the little guy. I didn’t want to have to return to the hotel room every three hours to feed him, so I knew I had to find a place to do this while on the go. And it wasn’t easy. There aren’t a lot of public places to nurse/feed your newborn in Tokyo — and the cold weather didn’t help. The best place, we found, was Starbucks. These coffee shops are set up for people to sit and linger for hours. And they almost always have restrooms. We weren’t the only mothers holing up in Starbucks, feeding babies and sipping on much-needed lattes!

Stick to the Same Routine. As much as possible, do what you normally do at home. We bathed the baby at around the same time, read his favorite books, and swaddled him before bedtime. We tried to keep the routine similar so he would know what to expect.

No Matter What You Do, It May Not Work. We were really lucky. Our kid never fussed, he slept well in the hotel room and napped in the stroller, he had no problem with the new formula. He was the easiest travel companion. But, that said, it was still hard to travel with a baby. We had twice the amount of luggage. We were constantly worrying about him. We couldn’t eat at restaurants, mostly because many of the eateries in Tokyo don’t accommodate strollers and babies. And we were back at the hotel by 6 p.m. so the baby could sleep. It was an entirely different trip from the ones I had been on. We couldn’t do the same things — no onsens, no late-night karaoke, no stops at izakaya — and we had to always find places to sit and rest. IT WAS HARD. And not everything went according to plan. We were planning to walk to Enoshima, a small island off Kamakura. But it was too cold and the walk a little too long, so we headed right back to the train station and back to Shinjuku. And that’s OK. I had no expectations that this was going to be easy or that I would get to do everything on my bucket list. There were just a few things we wanted to do and see — namely, eat a mochi donut from Mister Donut and shop at Tokyu Hands — and we got to do that. And that was enough.

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#CatTravels: Five days in Tokyo

By March 15, 2017 #BabyFox, #CatTravels, Food

The idea of traveling with a newborn had never sounded appealing.

I imagined having to walk up and down the narrow airplane aisles, cradling a screaming baby and apologizing to a very annoyed coach class.

But my husband was going to Japan to speak at FoodEx, a huge trade show for the food and beverage industry, and invited me to tag along.

With the baby.


Landon would be almost four months old. We’d be there in March, when the temperatures would hover around the 40s. I would be back at work part time.

Did I mention I’d be traveling with an infant?

It had been four years since I’d been to Japan. And this might be my last international trip for awhile, until Landon gets a little older and can actually appreciate it.

So I said yes. Sure. Why not.

The deal was, though, I’d take my mom with me. I needed someone to help while my husband worked. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) travel with Landon alone.

Traveling with a baby wasn’t going to be easy. (I’ll blog about this later.) We already knew this. So we planned on just five days in Tokyo, with the option — maybe — of spending the day somewhere outside of the city. Maybe Kyoto. Maybe Kamakura. We’d just see how it went.

I’m not going to lie: it was challenging, even with a perfectly behaved baby. (Which he was.) We were back at our hotel in the afternoon and rarely ventured out at night. Still, we managed to pack in a lot of great experiences — it was my mom’s first time to Japan — in less than a week.

Here are some of the highlights:

Staying in Shinjuku

On the recommendation of a friend who travels to Tokyo several times a year, we booked a room at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, which is just a couple of blocks away from Shinjuku Station, the busiest transportation hub in the world used by more than 3 million people a day. (It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true.) I liked the convenient location, the proximity to restaurants and a big shopping complex, and the fact that every floor had coin-operated laundry facilities. This is huge if you’re trying to pack light.

Shinjuku, itself, isn’t the most attractive ward of Tokyo. It’s busy, crowded and, in some parts, dirty. It’s the administrative seat for the government of Tokyo — but it also boasts Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red-light district. The Don Quijote there is practically a sex shop!

The basement floor of Takashimaya Department Store boasts a variety of food items, including this vendor selling all sorts of ume.

It’s always fun to see the expensive fruits sold at these department stores.

Takashimaya Times Squares has a Tokyu Hands, my favorite lifestyle store in Japan.

You can spend an entire day at Shinjuku Station — and not go anywhere! A new shopping mall called NEWoMan opened recently, with a mix of boutiques, restaurants, cafés and bakeries. And near the station’s south exit is Takashimaya Times Square, a combination of the famous Takashimaya Department Store and a mall. Takashimaya has 15 floors, including the popular food basement common to all Japanese department stores. We found — and ate — ume, waffles, tempura, chocolates, even dessert vinegar. (Yes, flavored vinegar you sip.)

There’s even a Tokyu Hands here, my all-time favorite shop in Tokyo. This chain focuses on hobbies, home improvement and lifestyle products. I could spend all day browsing the interesting kitchen utensils and mechanical pencils. Seriously.

Mister Donut

You can’t visit Tokyo without visiting a Mister Donut.

Trust me. You’ll go once — and you’ll make a point to go back every single time you’re in Japan. Maybe every single day you’re there. (I’ve actually done that.)

Mister Donut is a donut chain that started in the United States in 1956 and is now headquartered in Japan, where it has more than 1,300 stores. The signature doughnut here is the pon de ringu, a ring-shaped mochi doughnut that’s super soft and topped with a sugary glaze. (Some are creme-filled, too.) But honestly, the plain glazed yeast and old-fashioned doughnuts are incredible.

We walked a mile from our hotel in 45-degree weather just for a doughnut. OK, six of them.

Quick Stop at Joshuya

Inside Joshuya, a fishing store in Shibuya

We had a couple of hours to kill before my husband had to go to a meeting in Ginza, so we caught the metro to Shibuya to browse Joshuya, a three-story fishing shop. If you love fishing — saltwater, fly fishing, freshwater — you’ll love this store, which sells everything from rods to crab traps to lures to fishing vests. I mean, whatever you need — or never thought you needed — you can find here.

Sensō-ji and Nakamise-dori

I’m not a huge fan of temples, personally, but I do love the shops that lead up to many of the temples in Tokyo.

For example, Asakusa is home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensō-ji, and it’s a quick 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku. (As opposed to a three-hour trip on the shinkansen to Kyoto.) The temple grounds are beautiful and picturesque. But I love the lively Nakamise-dori that approaches the temple. The 80-plus shops here sell everything from furoshiki (traditional Japanese cloth wrap) to freshly made senbei.

Agemanju is the specialty here.

Inside an agemanju.

The speciality here, though, is the agemanju, or deep-fried manju. Manju are small, round, steamed cakes with a sweet filling, often anko (red bean paste). The cakes here are coated in a tempura batter and deep-fried, giving it a nice, crunchy texture. While anko is the most common (and popular) filling, you can get these filled with seseame, matcha, kabocha pumpkin, sweet potato and custard. They cost about 100 to 150 yen (or around $1.25 each).

Ginza on Sunday

Sunday morning in Ginza.

If you’re in Tokyo on a Sunday, this is the day you should hit the shopping district of Ginza.

The main street — Chuo — is closed to vehicles on Sundays, turning the street into one big sidewalk for shoppers. We leisurely strolled down the main drag, wandering into some of the area’s popular shops including Mitsukoshi Department Store and UNIQLO. Though it was crowded, it didn’t feel that way because of all walking space. I wouldn’t venture here on any other day.


Halfway between Ueno and Asakusa is Kappabashi-dori, or Kitchen Town. This area is populated with shops that supply Tokyo’s restaurant trade, selling knives, kitchen utensils, rice bowls, furniture, ovens and the plastic display food you see in nearly every restaurant window.

Plastic food FTW!

What you won’t find? Tourists.

Ueno’s Ameya Yokocho

It’s fun to walk around the market streets in Tokyo, particularly Ameya Yokocho (or Ameyoko) right outside Ueno Station. It runs about half a mile along the tracks of the Yamanote Line, the former site of a black market for American goods. Today, there are stalls — and hawkers — selling backpacks, perfume, running shoes, watches, toys, fresh fruit, spices and candy. There are restaurants here, too.

I love fresh fruit on sticks!

These special manju filled with lima bean paste are only found here.

My mom enjoyed browsing the shops here, buying dried scallops from a vendor who reduced the price by $10 USD. He said he had just harvested the scallops the day before. Right. And dried them in a day. OK. Sure. (She bought a bag, anyway.)

See the Sakura

Cherry blossom trees bloom starting from the end or March through early May in Japan. I didn’t think we’d see any — until we walked through the 133-acre Ueno Park and saw some early-blooming trees! We really lucked out.

In Japan, there’s a traditional custom called hanami, the viewing of the transient beauty of the sakura flowers. In modern times, this custom is celebrated by having an outdoor party or picnic beneath the cherry blossom trees. Paper lanterns are hung at this park during the height of the sakura season. These picnics involve eating, drinking and playing music. It was too cold for us to even sit for longer than 10 minutes here. We admired the trees, then prompted hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel.

Eat Monjayaki

My husband spent the last year traveling to Japan for work. And every time he’s been there, he’s had monjayaki.

Monjayaki — or monja — is a type of Japanese pan-fried batter very similar to okonomiyaki. Various chopped ingredients — onions, seafood, cabbage, carrots, chicken — are fried on a grill then mixed with a kind of gravy and often topped with cheese. You eat directly from the grill using small spatulas. The best parts are the crispy bits that caramelize. It’s a very interactive way to eat.


It was too hard lugging around a stroller, wearing a 20-pound infant and trying to find warm places to feed him that we decided to ditch plans to travel to Kyoto and spend the day in the charming coastal town of Kamakura.

Kamakura, in Kanagawa Prefecture, is about an hour train ride from Shinjuku. It was the former de facto capital of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate and the Regency during the Kamakura Period. It boasts a lot of beautiful and important temples — but that’s not why we were there.

I wanted to take my mom to Komachi-dori, a street that runs from Kamakura Station to Kamakura Hachiman-gu. This street market is lined with more than 250 restaurants, boutiques, cafés and stores selling souvenirs.

We ate everything on this street, from croquettes (shown here) to meat pies.

Beautifully packaged dried fruits.

Tsukiji Fish Market

The iconic Tsukiji Fish Market was supposed to move in 2016 to Toyosu in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics. But so far, it’s still in its original location, walking distance from Ginza. (The surrounding retail market, though, is supposed to stay.) The market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, believe it or not, and the public is welcome to view the early-morning auction (limited attendance) or browse the market itself (opens after 10 a.m.).

My mom wasn’t that interested in the actual fish market, but she really enjoyed the shops and restaurants that surround it. There were stalls selling knives, dried seafood, spices, teas, fresh produce and hot foods.

Fresh wasabi — something you can’t find in Hawai‘i.

There are sushi restaurants serving the freshest seafood — with lines in the early morning!

This stand sells freshly made ramen.


The highlight for me was eating at my favorite tachigui, or stand-up ramen shop, here. I love the bright and light dashi, house-made noodles and meaty char siu.

Plus, it was cold. So a hot bowl of ramen really hit the spot.

It wasn’t the easiest trip, with lugging diapers and formula and a stroller strapped to my shoulder. The city is full of stairs and narrow alleys, making it challenging to get around. But still, despite all that, we managed to pack in a lot of fun experiences in just a few days.

Too bad Landon won’t remember any of it.

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