Family time in Japan

Family time in Japan
PHOTO: Shutterstock (Pornsak Paewlumfaek)

There was a time in my life when I had the whole Disney repertoire memorized. I got a lot of practice from singing the different Disney songs to a two-year-old toddler in flight.

My daughter, who was often fussy on long-haul plane rides, would only settle down and listen when I would sing her Disney tunes.

I sometimes wonder how we did it back then, practically hauling the whole house along with the children. Today it has become a totally different but even more wonderful experience to travel with them now aged 24 and 16.

When they were younger, I would make them read up on the history of the places we would visit, and have them outline the places they wanted to go to.

Itinerary

It's a practice they have both kept to this day. In fact, on our last trip, my daughter planned the itinerary with inputs from me and her brother, and booked hotels after seeking my approval on budget and accommodation.

It's nice to kick back and hand over some of the responsibilities to an older child who herself finds great joy and wonder in traveling.

When they were smaller, the rule was "Don't bring anything you cannot carry." So, from the age of eight, they were already choosing their clothes and packing their own suitcases. For their hand-carried luggage, they had little backpacks.

On our recent trip to Kyoto, Japan, it was heartwarming to see them now carry their own luggage and still have their backpacks on.

A visit to any Japanese city entails a lot of walking, and it seemed I've never walked so much in my entire life. It was great to have a good friend fluent in the Japanese language to take us around Kyoto and not have to worry about getting lost.

On every trip, we make sure that there is something for everyone to enjoy. For my son, the highlight was Universal Studios in Osaka, where we spent most of the day at Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

For me and my daughter, it was the breathtaking and serene temple and shrines that Kyoto is famous for. But even my teenage son was so fascinated by the structures, he would read up on each temple and shrine's history.

Retail therapy

No trip is complete without some retail therapy and eating to our hearts' delight. Contrary to perception, Japan is no longer as expensive as it used to be. We were so surprised at the good value for money of Japanese brands-Uniqlo, GU (Uniqlo's sister brand), Muji, Royce and the selection of dining places you could go to without breaking the bank.

The days went by so quickly, and even before we boarded the plane home we were already talking about returning. Japan seems to have that effect on its visitors, and because it has much to offer, there is still much to explore.

It's wonderful that the Philippines is only a three-and-a-half-hour flight away. Because plane fares have become competitive, there are also choices on which carrier you wish to take, making it even more accessible and affordable.

The Japanese are a polite, respectful and helpful people. They speak in gentle, hushed tones. As my friend Jeff, who considers Japan his second home, puts it, "Bawal ang maingay dito." And you can feel their reverence for all things.

They are a disciplined people. You can walk the streets at 11 p.m. and feel very safe. The bathrooms are clean wherever you go.

The Philippines, of course, will always be home, and there's still no place like Manila. But hands-down, Japan has become our favourite Asian destination to temporarily forget the stress of life, work and studies.

If you haven't been to Japan, it would be great to have the opportunity to see it. And if you haven't been back in a long time, you must definitely return.

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