The Magic of Experiencing Japan Through the Eyes of My Grandson

Phil and his grandson holding swords

Image Credit Phil Baker, PJ Media

(First published on PJ Media)

I’ve traveled for business over the years, trying to balance the time I spent away from my family with the time at home, but not always succeeding. I’ve seen much of the world, particularly Asia, where I’ve worked to develop and manufacture scores of products for companies such as Polaroid and Apple. I’ve had particular affection for Japan with dozens of visits there over the years.

But none of those trips could compare to the one I just took, not for work, but purely for pleasure with my 13-year-old grandson. I half-jokingly commented a few weeks ago that I’d love to go back to Japan, since it’s been more than five years since I was last there. While my wife had no interest in going again, I asked my grandson if he was interested, and he immediately said yes. Fortunately his parents concurred, thinking how great it would it be for someone his age to experience an entirely different culture and people and to better understand the world.

While I expected the trip to be one where I would show him what I knew, it turned out to be completely different, and better than all my previous visits. That’s because I saw Japan through his eyes, as someone never having before left the continent except for Hawaii. Recalling one of my first trips with my parents to Washington, DC., the memories still are etched in my mind. Similarly, this trip would likely be something my grandson would never forget and something that might influence his future.

We planned the visit around what a 13-year-old would like to do. With the help of his parents and my wife, we scoured the Web to compile a list of things to do and places to go. My grandson, like many his age, has interests in anime, films, martial arts, gaming, and food (his father being a chef), so Japan provided a natural place to experience many of these things first hand.

We planned the trip using Google Sheets, the collaborative spreadsheet that he, his parents, my wife and I could all share, edit,  and plan together. We created a calendar for the seven-day trip with five days in Tokyo and two in Kyoto, and began filling in proposed activities. They included a visit to the Ghibli Museum, where anime films were created, an open top bus tour of Tokyo, a trip to Little-Edo, a two-hour Samurai experience, a visit to a Sumo stable to watch morning exercises, a day at the Toei Kyoto Studio Park, and a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market with a sushi breakfast nearby. We selected restaurants with different types of Japanese food each night, based on my recollection from previous trips. We would travel using subways, buses, and trains, including the Shinkansen bullet train.

Phil Baker and his grandson with Samurai swordsImage Credit Phil Baker, PJ Media

As the planning progressed I subconsciously adopted a different attitude than if my wife and I were planning our vacation. The focus was all about maximizing my grandson’s experiences and not worrying about the costs of the activities. While not able to spend a huge amount of money for traveling, this one trip was special, and not thinking first about a budget was liberating (at least until I get my next Amex bill).

I also found that technology made traveling this time much more efficient. We used Google Maps throughout our visit. Not only could we plan our timing and routing, but it showed the specific subways and trains to take to get to our destinations, with every stop along the way listed. Google Maps also showed and rated restaurants near where we were, and was more useful than the sparse reviews on Yelp. TripAdvisor was helpful in not only selecting our hotels, but also in choosing restaurants and specific attractions. A free app, Time Buddy, allowed my grandson to learn about the world’s time zones and figure out when best to call home and text his friends.

While I might have slacked off  if I had been on my own in Japan, traveling with a teenager made me want to pack every minute with experiences for him. As valuable a trip it turned out to be for him, I experienced things I never had before. The samurai experience was one of the most memorable along with all the great meals, including three breakfasts of sushi.

So, my advice is if you can afford it, try visiting a new place and experience it through the eyes of your kids or grandkids. It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences where you can enrich and impact an offspring like nothing else. And it turned out to be one of the most memorable trips of my life, as well.

by Phil Baker