My son and I sat quietly for several minutes on one of the several hundred stone steps we’d climbed to reach the Shinto shrine at Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site northeast of Tokyo. His sisters and mom were putting their shoes back on somewhere behind us. A mountain stream could be heard nearby. We were surrounded by trees, several times older than the two of us combined. Not a person was in sight.
Me: “Where, do you think, is the most peaceful place we’ve ever been?” I asked him.
Him: “I think–the Grand Canyon, at night, under the stars!”
Me: “I agree…that was very peaceful. I think where we are now, however, is the most peaceful man-made place I’ve ever been.”
When I started this blog in 2014, it was right after the Dad 2.0 Summit; that year, there had been a speaker who’d taken his son for a bike tour of Japan. It sounded like the most exotic, out-of-reach father-son experience I could imagine at the time. I own no Lycra, and I lack the quads for a long biking excursion, but this felt like I’d arrived at exactly where I wanted to be as a dad; it was the day after my 43rd birthday.
Before we climbed to this remote spot at Nikko, we were surrounded by hundreds (maybe thousands) of school kids on field trips; each group wore its own color of matching hat.
We saw tall pagodas and the famous “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” monkeys carved into the wooden side of a sacred Shogun horse stable of all places.
After climbing up to multiple shrines, temples, and pagodas, we walked along the river to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss to see the 100 or so little Jizo statues in red knit caps and scarves that line the path. Supposedly, a ghost Jizo dwells among them, which is why one can never reach the same number if trying to count them all twice (my children each counted, and their conclusions differed, so there’s clearly a ghost Jizo).
That evening, we took the subway to Meiji Jingu stadium (built in 1926–oldest in the city) for a Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball game. We loved it. The locals all seemed to have a Swallows jersey in their bags or briefcases that they put on as the game started (over whatever they’d worn to work). There were cheerleaders before the game to get the crowd excited, and during the game, women with little pony kegs on their backs sell draft beer to the crowd–it was awesome!
I felt the spectacle and convenience merited at least 3 beers. During the 7th inning “stretch,” the crowd pulled out umbrellas and did a song and dance that’s way better than singing “take me out to the ballgame” at home.
The Swallows lost, but we had an awesome time; I even bought a jersey to wear the rest of the evening.
After the game, we took advantage of the Tokyo Tower’s policy of allowing free admittance to the top on one’s birthday (for 24 hours, so I was good on June 8 as well) and looked out over nearly 40 million people from above.
I got a special birthday bookmark from the tower and a keepsake envelope!
Such concluded my 2nd “American birthday” on June 8, and we returned to our AirBnB in Ginza for the night at like 10:30pm. And if going to a time zone 13 hours ahead of Atlanta’s is all we need to do for me to celebrate back-to-back birthdays, I’ll happily make it an annual tradition.