Except don't pay for the flight (literally and mentally), don't book a miniscule hotel room, don't get a passport and don't worry about learning to say "Help, my baby has terrible diarreha" in Japanese. Instead, come down to Little Tokyo in downtwon Los Angeles and let your kid enjoy new and exciting foods (and sights and sounds and smells). BUT, please, please, please-do this own your own as a family and DON'T sign up for my food tour...
My weekend job is as a tour guide for SIX TASTE, Los Angeles' fastest growing food tour company. We give tours in Little Tokyo, Downtown Financial District, Thai Town, Santa Monica, Hollywood and "New" Chinatown (Arcadia and San Gabriel). I lead the LT (little Tokyo) and Santa Monica tours on a regular basis, for the past 2 1/2 years now. This past weekend I had this really cool young couple from North Carolina on my Sunday tour, who bravely brought their 10 month old along for the 3 hour "ride"- straight through his nap time, mind you. Now, I'm not gonna say that it was horrible (for them or for me), but I will say it was extremely inconvenient. As new parents go, they handled the whole situation pretty darn well: they came prepared with lots of food and drinks, new when to pick that kid up and walk away (as to not disturb the other people on the tour) and even managed the curbs, traffic and crowds with a (huge) stroller. They mentioned that they had travelled with their son quite a bit already and knew the deal, but what I kept thinking to myslef was "how can this be at all fun for you??" However, I also reminded myself that I traveled all over Italy for two months last summer with an 8 month old and I managed to have a good time...I wonder if all the Italians we met along the way were thinking of me the same way I thought of this couple? in any case, parents, baby and tour guide all made it through the three hour tour, and I was generously tipped for my patience an understanding throughout the afternoon. But I certainly don't hope to see any infants on my tour this coming weekend:)
Now this little baby was too young to eat any of the delish food that Little Tokyo has to offer, but kids that are eating real food have a bunch a cool options in this neighborhood that I would love to point out to other parents. Remember, exposing kids to a variety of foods is important in shaping them as future foodies! Not to mention making your children aware of cultural diversity and molding them into global citizens. Here are some things you must not miss in LT when you take your family for a mini-Japanese vacation (without leaving LA):
Imagawayaki at Mitsuru Cafe (in the Japanese Village Plaza). This traditional Japanese street food is like a pancake batter pockets filled with sweet red bean in the middle. Its definitely a dessert, but your kid will be eating beans at the same time! Also, they make these right in the front window and kids love watching them being made. They only cost $1.25 each, but lines can get long. Also, they come out HOT so watch this with little ones.
Mochi Ice Cream at Mikawaya (in the Japanese Village Plaza). You may have had the box version of Mochi Ice Cream (made by them same brand, Mikawaya) from Trader Joes, but the store version is soooooo much better. The mochi (glutenous rice candy) is so fresh and chewy and they have an incredible variety of flavors at this flagship. you can also get a mochi-lato--which is the same as mochi ice cream except with gelato in the middle. My faves are the toasted almond, chocolate hazelnut and kona coffee, but they have tons of kid-friendly options as well (see vanilla, chocolate and strawberry:)
Tan Tan Men Ramen at Chin Ma Ya (in Weller Court Mall) There's lots of great ramen in LT (the best at Diakokuya, but thats another blog) but I think the most kid friendly version is at Chin Ma ya on the second floor of the Weller Court outdoor mall. Not too spicy and with a mild flavor, it suits a little person's palatte. The noodles and ground pork are easy to eat and you can get it with a little chicken skewer (think popcorn chicken on a stick) for a sure fire hit with your kids. The con is that this place is teeny, leave your stroller outside.
There are so many more places to talk about in LT, but this should get you started. Go down for the afternoon and enjoy the food, listen to my friend, Arthur Nakane (LT's resident) one man band, and do a little shopping (if your kid love Domo or Hello Kitty, he or she will be in heaven). Try the real Japan when your kids are grown (and can pay for it themselves).