My mum once said to me (in a slightly disappointed tone), “why don’t you buy a house in Skanör and settle here like the other daughters?!” I just stared incomprehensibly at her and responded: “how can you show me the world and then expect me to stay here forever!” It’s true, my parents were (and still are) passionate travellers. Already at the age of 5, I had seen more old ruins and temples than I could count (or care for). I had climbed the pyramids and swam in the Dead Sea. At the age of 12 I saw bicyclists in worker uniforms scuttle down the streets of Beijing. And in 1981 I visited Japan for the first time.

Already in 1981 Tokyo was a buzzing, neonlit dragon of a city. For a foreigner it was hardcore. Nobody spoke English, apart from staff in hotels catering for the few foreign businessmen who braved coming, and there wasn’t a single understandable streetsign. People still lived fairly traditionally behind the glitzy modern facades and you could still see one or two geishas. The Tokyo of 2016 was very much different. People now speak very good English, are friendly, outgoing and helpful.

Befriending the Japanese
English is very widely spoken and gone is the Japanese shyness of the past

As a preparation for the Olympics in 2020 all the street names are written with latin characters, helpful information boards are everywhere and the metro personnel have been trained to help lost foreigners. Travelling Japan in 2016 with two kids was certainly much less of an adventure than in 1981 but no less enjoyable!

Train notice board
In 1981 my Dad had the hotel write a note with our train information. We found our way by sticking the note up people’s noses and hoping for signs in the right direction. Now it’s all clearly signposted in English.

Tokyo Tower, which must have been the hight of sophistication in the 50’s when it was built, now looks small and insignificant among the high-rises of Tokyo skyline. Although there in 1981, many of the luxury hotels, office buildings and designer government buildings, weren’t. Just like in many other metropoles of the world, Tokyo now has it’s own ultra-modern artificial island. Odaiba was newly developed in the 90’s, and is a fantastic showcase of Japanese architecture, from Miraikan (Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) and the Fuji television building designed by Kenzo Tange, to the beautiful Rainbow bridge connecting the island with Tokyo.

What I remember of downtown Tokyo, however, still feels unchanged. The neon signs were just as bright in 1981 as in 2016 and the plastic food looked just as inviting.

You can still see girls dressed up in beautiful kimonos, worshipping at the shrine. But now they capture themselves with selfies first….!

Kimono girls
The old way….
Japanese selfie
…and the new!

Following my parents’ 1981 footsteps, the Breadbasket family went to The Five Lakes to experience mystical Mount Fuji up close. Kawagushi was originally formed as a settlement for Mount Fuji guides. The volcano is still climbed but you have to be pretty fit to manage the two-day hike, unfortunately impossible with the kids. A shame but we settled for a bicycle ride around the lake. On electro-powered bikes!

Fuji in late afternoon
Fuji-san in the late afternoon
Cycling in Kawaguchi
Daniel and I would have liked to see the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji but we settled for a kids-friendly bike ride around the lake. The joy of parenthood…

Going to Japan, I was very keen on a fully Japanese and traditional ryokan. The experience was, not surprisingly, totally different than in 1981. Back then I remember hating it. The water in the onzen was far too hot, I was too old for the children’s meal and just got nasty raw fish while my (smirking) brother got lots of delicious fruit. To make matters worse, the whole thing was just so booooring (I mean, what’s the big deal with cherry-blossoming trees?). The only fun thing was dressing up in the hotel cotton kimonos and larking about. Japan then and now; some things are different but some are just same same!

Kimono family.jpg
The little Japanese girl in the room above us made big eyes when she saw the blond Breadbaskets in kimonos