Saturday, May 09, 2009

Home again.....?

Yes, we've been home for a little over a week! The transition has been complicated by all of us catching an annoying cold (even Charlie, who usually doesn't succumb). I started out with it a week ago, & it's definitely prolonged my usual post-travel, um, dislocation in place & time (that's the only way I can describe it). Brendan was coughing & blowing his nose by Wednesday night (& was up a considerable amount of it) so I kept him home from school Thursday. This certainly didn't help his transition back to normal life. Charlie came home from work Thursday & pulled a box of zinc lozenges out of his bag (purchased on a quick trip between seeing patients), & although he says he's not sure they've worked very well for him, I don't think he had nearly the difficulty sleeping (or breathing while sleeping) that Brendan & I have had, so I think they did work :)

In spite of the mini-epidemic, we have definitely been busy. Brendan- fanfare please- had his braces removed on Monday!!! After 2 years of gum & anything chewylessness, he's a free man (except for retainer, which he's finding a piece of cake). The expected orgy of gum-chewing lasted only about an hour or so, which only goes to show how much of it is habit, I guess. He's also seen nearly al of his regular doctors this past week (whew!) & been trying to adjust back to school. He's got just one week more, then he & Charlie leave on his 5-day class trip to Washington DC. Talk about adventure after adventure...

In between playing "mom's taxi service" I've been napping (thanks to the cold) & wondering what's next. I have been distributing the omiyage, too, & managed to print up some photos to show folks who ask about the trip. (It's made me realise that pictures don't really convey what was the best part of this trip, though, which was the interactions with so many people.) Giving our little presents to folks has been a lot of fun :) Some people are surprised that we were thinking of them while we were away, but I think it's pretty natural to think of home while you're away. It's the comparison between home & away that lets you know you're somewhere else, after all. And though Charlie's very relieved to be where people speak the same language as he does :) I am missing the daily challenge of thinking the way the folks in Japan do :) My first at-home purchase was the Japanese anime series "Aria", which I'd been watching online & absolutely adore. It's a science fiction show, really, since it's about Mars having been terra-formed & made habitable for humans (& very intelligent cats :), but the story is all about gondoliers in Neo-Venezia (on Mars, which is now called "Aqua"), complete with canals & San Marco Square. Since it arrived, Charlie, Brendan & I have been watching one or two episodes after dinner & they are really enjoying it, too. It's quiet, lovely, gentle, & yet the feelings are real & it's a lot of fun too.

One of the great things (I think ) about traveling is that you never completely come home (I also think). Being away took us out of our daily routines & now that we're back, it's impossible to sink back into them without thinking about them. It's really helped me think about how Brendan & I relate- a very timely subject as he teeters on the edge of teen-ager-ness. I've noticed patterns in my behaviour- for example, he tics loudly & I knee-jerk yell at him- & I understand better where these patterns & reactions come from. I've been explaining to Brendan that I'm becoming more aware of my own sensory difficulties, & I've come to understand that his loud tics disturb me because I'm sensitive to loud noises. Now we both understand what's happening, & my hope is that we can work on facing our issues side-by-side, rather than angrily facing-off.

Also, seeing Brendan interact with the big-wide world has helped me see some of the ways that I'm, perhaps, holding him back. It's a delicate thing- there are concepts, ideas, images, & very concrete things that interact with his OCD & autism, resulting in an overwhelmed, extremely distressed person. So how do we protect him from what he can't handle (yet- we see growth in these areas all the time) while not cocooning him from the world? A good example is some anime & manga which have content that would give him nightmares- but that all the other guys are talking about. I don't want him to be perceived as a baby to his peers, but I also want him to be able to sleep at night. I had an epiphany yesterday, after an animated discussion with one of his classmates about the anime "Bleach" (which I adore- although I prefer the manga- & have watched with Charlie). Brendan witnessed the conversation & as I was leaving school I felt unhappy & uncomfortable about how much fun I had talking about Bleach, but Brendan couldn't join in. The thing is, there are some very disturbing things in some of the first few episodes (3-5, to be specific) & Charlie had agreed with me that Brendan shouldn't see them. As I thought about it, though, I realised that we could skip these episodes pretty easily, since they are stand-alone episodes. I remembered that I used to do the same thing with "Inuyasha"- pre-watch & then share the episodes without anything disturbing in them, & he was just fine with that. So that's what I proposed to Brendan after school yesterday (which turned out to be a very difficult day for him, so it was great to be able to give him something to look forward to :). He was really delighted, & it was a lot of fun to watch the first 2 episodes with him. Plus, as we always watch the japanese soundtrack with english subtitles, it really enhances our japanese language learning :) (same goes for Aria- the dvds were released without any distracting dubs, which we really love).

So, we are home... but Japan is a very real presence in us. The best reason, yet, to travel :)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Japan 2009- Tuesday, April 28

When we decided to take a couple days in San Francisco to recuperate on our way back to the east coast of the US, I was worried that I might feel bad about not being HOME YET after all of our travels. As it turns out, it really was a good decision. Not only didn’t we go through customs after being up more than 24 hours, as happened last time (aka: hell), but it all still feels vacationy, in a woozy sort of way.

After worrying about sleeping last night, & waking up at 4:45 am... I fell right back to sleep & slept until 10:00, & Brendan did, too :) Charlie had to get us up so we wouldn’t miss our one day in SF! So after barely making it down to the restaurant while they still served breakfast, we called a taxi & headed into town. Our plan was to visit the Zeum, a wonderful interactive kids’ museum near the Moscone Center that we spent some days at when we were in SF 4 years ago. The taxi driver turned out to be a non-US medical school grad, driving a taxi until he can get into residency here, so he & Charlie discussed programmes on the way in. He dropped us off near the SF Museum of Modern Art- which turned out to be a good thing, because when we got to the Zeum it was closed :( We decided to go back to the art museum & see that instead.

Brendan was really disappointed about the Zeum, so it took him a while to process. I was feeling very woozy from jet lag & was happy to sit with him for a while. He & I ended up in the cafe with delicious soy lattes while Charlie checked things out for us. By the time he came back, we felt much better & were ready to see some neat stuff- including an installation of plastic poodles spray-painted black, in concentric rings around a plastic baby. Whoa, but fun.

We were ready to go back to the hotel afterwards, not feeling hungry enough to find somewhere to eat, so we called our taxi-driver for the ride back to the hotel. Charlie & Brendan went for a swim (after Brendan had a computer session) & I put yesterday’s blog post up. Then we caught a trolley bus that circulates through the hotels & into downtown Burlingame (& is free) to go find dinner. We did end up having Japanese :), which was nostalgic & yummy. We stopped by a candy store that happened to be featuring: Japanese erasers in cute shapes (some of which I have at home, because they really are cute :). We stocked up on sweets for the plane instead, & headed for the trolley stop for the ride back.

Now, I am the only one up, but not for long. We have to be up at 5:00-ish to catch our plane back home. To be honest, after the hop across the Pacific to & from Japan, the flight from SF doesn’t seem so daunting any more :) We’ve had a great trip, but it’s time to go home!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Japan 2009: Monday April 27th

I’m writing this from Japan- we’re hanging around waiting for a taxi to take us to Nishi-Nippori station to catch the Keisei Line train to Narita Airport. This station is exactly where we arrived in Tokyo, so it’ll feel like we’ve come full-circle. Charlie was able to change traveler’s cheques this morning when the banks opened, so we have taxi & train fare :) Brendan & I watched some more NHK tv shows- including a full episode of Pythagoras Switch, which was a real treat. Now they’re working on Brendan’s research- looking at the ways you can distinguish Shinto Shrines from Buddhist Temples. It’s pretty cool. We’re hoping to reach the station to catch the 12:05 train to Narita, so we’ll have time for lunch & some looking around. We’ll take a little walk here in Nakano, too, before we go, to stretch our legs & take a last look around.

Later:
Well- there’s something about leaving someplace on an airplane & arriving at your destination a few hours before you left that can only be described as surreal. But that’s just what happened to us today. We are, happily, back in the US & checked-into our hotel in San Francisco for a couple days, to recover from the jet lag. (Last trip to Japan we tried to makeit home all at once & nearly died halfway from time-compression exhaustion). Everything went just fine, but we’re feeling extremely dragged-out right now, & not sure whether it’s better to stay up as long as possible (we’ve been up for ~23 hours right now, although Brendan managed to sleep for a few hours on the plane) or just give in & go to bed...

...and after a 2 1/2 hours nap, we were ready to get up & find some non-hotel-food dinner. We checked some tourist books in the room & settled on an Italian restaurant in Burlingame, where our hotel is. We got a reservation & a taxi & found it to be a nice place with yummy food. Brendan, who doesn’t like tomato sauce (unless it’s on top of a pizza :) got pasta with just basil, garlic, & fresh tomatoes on top & really liked it. On our way out, we noticed a Japanese resaurant across the street, which is where we may end up tomorrow night, for nostalgia’s sake :)

Now, off to bed- hope our bodies can relax & SLEEP!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Japan 2009: Sunday, April 26th


Brendan & I were sure to be up early today, since our favourite tokusatsu shows were on, but we weren’t sure exactly when, so we turned on the tv at 7:00 am. Our first show- Samurai Sentai Shinkenger- was on at 7:30 & it was a lot of fun to see in real time, on a big tv (at home we usually watch it on a laptop). Kamen Rider Decade was on right after. Luckily, we had only missed one episode of each, so we were able to keep up with the story. It was a lot of fun to watch our shows together in Japan :)

The day was sunny & looked to be a lovely day for a day on the town. I did some last-minute washing & was able to move all the partly-dry clothes from the living room onto the breezeway, too, so that we won’t have trouble packing them for the trip back to the US. Charlie & Brendan did some work on Brendan’s school project, researching Shinto & Buddhism- although we have no internet access they’ve been working from books we brought with us. We left for the train station at 10:15, with the goal of meeting Marion at the Tokyo Edo Museum at 11:00. We got a bit turned around & missed one train as we got to the platform, but we were only 5 minutes late getting there, after one transfer. The museum is a very impressive building, built to look like a traditional Edo home built on stilts, but it’s huge & made of concrete & steel. It’s right next to the main Sumo wrestling venue in Tokyo, so we were on the lookout for Osumo-san as well :)

Marion was waiting for us & it was lovely to see her again- last time we saw her was about a year & a half ago when she visited her family in the US (her father is our next-door neighbour). We took what seemed like an endless escalator to get into the museum (you start your visit on the 6th floor) & the first exhibit is entered by crossing a replica of an Edo-era bridge into the city. There was a koto concert played by a woman in kimono going on while we looked at exhibits showing what homes looked like right before Japan was opened to the rest of the world. There was a palanquin you could sit in for a picture (I barely was able to climb in & out of it :).


As you moved through the museum you moved forward in history as well, post-WWII times. It was pretty neat, & Brendan was particularly interested, since they’ve been studying WWII in social studies.

We found a lovely restaurant right in the museum to have lunch, & they were even able to give Brendan just rice & miso soup for lunch- was he ever happy! Charlie had oyako-don (rice with chicken & egg on top) & Marian & I had tenpura, which was served with rice, soup, 2 kinds of veggies, & pickles.
Absolutely yummy! There was a gorgeous view of Tokyo from the restaurant, too, & we were told that on a really clear day you can see Fuji-san from there.

Over lunch we were talking about other things to do in Tokyo & Marian told us about a toy store called Kiddie Land in Harajuku. Brendan was very excited by the prospect of finding more kamen Rider stuff, so we decided to have a real adventure & head on over together. On the way to the station we passed a poplular restaurant & saw two Osumo-san, wearing yukata, geta, & their particular topknotted hairstyle, waiting in line. So we had our sumo-sighting :)

Harajuku is the part of Tokyo where “youth culture” is particularly celebrated- there are cosplayers in the streets & parks & loads of shops that cater to youth culture. What we didn’t anticipate was that most of Tokyo was enjoying a beautiful day in Harajuku as well... it was absolutely packed with people.

The station at harajuku is really quaint, in a european sort of way- it looks like something out of a Miyazaki movie. There was a large (but narrow) pedestrian bridge over the main intersection where people were lined up for a few meters just waiting to climb the stairs. We walked past a park with some cosplayers, & a group of people with signs that read “free hugs” who were getting giving hugs- it was very cute & cheerful.

We made it over the bridge & walked 2 blocks to Kiddie Land, through some amazing crowds.

Kiddie Land was pretty packed, too, but Brendan found his Kamen Rider stuff & was very happy. I found some more mugen pucchi-pucchi (endless bubblewrap gadgets- Brendan was lost at some point on this trip so I wanted to replace it) so I was happy, too :) The walk back to the station was, if possible, even more overwhelming. Brendan was having an awful time with the crowds, & it was only the prospect of getting to look at his new stuff that helped him keep it together. We finally all got to the platform & onto the train. We were making just a one station hop, while Marian was staying onthe train to transfer at Shinjuku Station, so we made our goodbyes on the crowded train & escaped. I was very impressed by how well Brendan kept it together in the terrible crowds- he was in a lot of distress & it was obvious to us, but he didn’t lose his composure. Pretty impressive. Our train home was much less populated, thank goodness, & Brendan got to take out one of his transforming riders & mess around with it until it was time to get off & walk home. We stopped for dinner food, then were relieved to get home for quiet & rest after our mega-busy day.

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Japan 2009: Saturday, April 25th- a rainy day in Tokyo



And did it ever rain... We weren’t sure how soon the weather would clear, so I decided to do laundry today & give it 2 days to dry inside the apartment. There is quite the contraption the unfolds for hanging the laundry, but it fit the space pretty well & handled all but the pants, which I hung outside on the breezeway in spite of the rain.

After laundry & breakfast we packed up, grabbed the umbrellas kindly provided by the apartment, & went out looking for a place to cash traveler’s cheques, & an internet cafe. Traveler’s tip- even though there is no “Sunday” in the sense that we think of it in the US (church day, government offices closed, etc.), Japan definitely closes-down on the weekends, so we had no luck with the travelers cheques :) We found an indoor mall near the train station & asked at an info desk about an internet cafe, which we found after slogging back out into the rain, down narrow, abandoned-looking streets. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any sort of wireless connexion, you had to buy time on their computers. Since we weren’t interested in that, we went back to the mall to do some looking around.

Charlie found a phone & so we called another friend living in Tokyo that we’d been trying to contact. Yay, Marian was home! We asked if she was busy tomorrow & she was free to get together, so we arranged to meet her at the Tokyo Edo Museum in the morning. I also asked her about the internet cafe thing, & she said that the wireless thing was not as common as in the US, & that our best bet would be a Starbucks, maybe. So, we asked at an info kiosk where the nearest Starbucks was, & actually found it. It was lovely to take a break & have warm beverages on a rainy day, but they didn’t have wireless internet either, so we had to make do with our drinks. On the way home we found a bookstore, where i found some of the mange I’d been hoping to buy here in Japan & Brendan found another Kamen Rider book. Then we trudged home, stopping at the conbini for lunch & dinner food on the way.

During our rainly afternoon Charlie made a trip back to our Ryokan in Ueno, as we had inadvertanly taken our room key with us when we’d left. He was gone about an hour & a half, so Brendan & I played games & then popped the Weird Al Yankovic movie “UHF” into the laptop & settled in for some fun. Charlie came home during the movie. After watching the dvd extras Brendan decided to watch it again with the commentary, which was definitely worth it. Then it was time to cook dinner, & after dinner, watch more silly game shows.

Tomorrow should be a lot more fun- meeting Marian at the Tokyo Edo Museum!

Japan 2009: Thursday & Friday, April 23 & 24



We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up to go to Kyoto Station at 11:00 am, so we made sure we were packed & ready to go early. It was not easy to get everything efficiently in our bags, & we were really glad for our rolling luggage... There was time before leaving to take one last walk around the block, so we did. Charlie & Brendan showed me the temple with the dekkai (huge) bell that they’d visited a couple of days ago- it was really impressive, with the striker as big as a telephone pole.

Our taxi arrived & we made it to the station with no difficulties. There was a waiting room near our platform, so I left Charlie & Brendan there & went in search of eikiben (lunch). It really was a search, too, since there were at least 5 different places selling all sorts of bentou. After making my difficult choice, I went back & waited just about 10 more minutes with the guys until it was time to haul our luggage up the escalator (no small thing) to the platform. I got a picture of the shinkansen pulling in :) -it’s a pretty impressive sight no matter how many times you ride it.

Our 3-hour train ride was pretty uneventful. We had been instructed to call a person from the rental company from Kyoto & also from Tokyo station when we arrived, because they were going to meet us at the Nakano station & take us to the apartment there. We got a bit turned around when it came to finding the platform for the trip to Nakano Station, but a very nice gentleman standing nearby made sure we got on going in the right direction. We were pretty tried by this time, so it was a great relief to find the trip to meet Makoto-san at the station only took 15 minutes. He kindly took over rolling one of our bags, so Brendan found hiimself free of encumbrances at last. The streets in Nakano were just as narrow & twisty as our Ueno neighbourhood, but the area is much newer. Our apartment is over a 7-11 :) with a master bedroom & tatami room with futon for Brendan. The kitchen/dining/living room area is cosy, but comfortable. There’s a small ofuro, but it works :) The biggest disappointment is that the internet connection advertised doesn’t actually work :(. However, the tv does so we’ve been getting our NHK (Japanese equvalent to PBS) fix instead.

Charlie & I headed out to shop for dinner & breakfast (there are loads of conbini & even a fresh veggie market nearby), then hurried home to cook, since we were fading fast. Brendan tried the ofuro after dinner & we wound down to sleep after a long day of trains & stations.

Friday morning Brendan slept longer than Charlie & I did- amazing :) We had a nice breakfast of toast, tea, apple, & a sweet roll. This was the only non-travel day so far that we had to be somewhere on time, so we watched our NHK shows & the clock until it was time to take the train to Kichijoji Station to meet Shizuka & Jon.

We got there a bit early, but there was a lovely panya (bakery) right outside the station, so we stopped in & had second breakfast, just like the hobbits :) Brendan found some fried potato cakes that he really liked, so we decided to come back before taking the train home to get take-out. We found Shizuka & Jon just about the time we’d hope to meet them, then we all headed out for a ~2 km walk to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was so wonderful to see their familiar faces! The walk to the museum was through a lovely park, like something out of a Miyazaki movie, & we had a great time catching up while we walked. I think Brendan was the most relaxed I’d seen him on the trip so far :)

The museum was as amazing as we’d heard. All of the buildings are in the old-fashioned style of a Ghibli movie & gorgeously decorated, from the stained glass in all the windows (featuring characters from the movies) to the gardens all over (& on the roof, with a large robot from Laputa as the centrepiece),
& even to the bathrooms, which were quaintly gorgeous. The exhibits featured different kinds of animation, with some hands-on stuff, & also a replica of Hayao Miyazaki’s studio & study. There was even a 20-minute original film (the ticket for the film contains a couple of cels from one of Miyazaki’s films & it was fun figuring out which ones we had) featuring characters from “My Neighbour Totoro” & was really cute.

After the museum we walked back toward Kichijoji to eat lunch at a restaurant run by a friend of Shizuka & Jon’s, who had also been an exchange student to the US. We were to meet another friend of theirs, Kae-san, who would be spending the afternoon with us. The restaurant featured fresh, mostly veggie, Japanese food, & an interesting assortment of teas. The meals came on wooden trays with a multitude of bowls large & small, & included rice, soup, & pickles along with the main course. Mine was an assortment of dishes, including manju made with cabbage (very soft & mochi-like), sashimi, fresh veggies lightly seasoned, & duck- which I gave to Shizuka :)
Brendan had steamed vegetables & tofu, & Charlie’s was an interesting-looking pork dish (which turned out to be cold). It was all delicious. Dessert was mango sorbet with two, small, exquisitely sweet tomatoes with a tart/sweet sauce on the side, & it was also absolutely delicious. In the middle of lunch another friend of Shizuka & Jon’s from exchange student days, Mami-san, arrived unexpectedly (being also a friend of the restaurant manager’s) & joined in the fun. We had a wonderful time talking & laughing together.

After lunch we all walked over to Yuzawaya, which is a many-floored store selling craft supplies, among other things (including clothes). Shizuka had printed a multi-page advertisement from Yuzawaya from the internet for me a few months ago so I could see what they sell, & I’d been really looking forward to going there ever since! By the time we got there, though, I found that I really had to focus on looking at one or two kinds of things because I was just so exhausted from all the travel (I’ve been finding it a bit hard to think clearly from mid-afternoon on lately, all from being so tired). So I decided to look at the knitting & crochet books (I wanted to find a crochet book for our friend Momoko-san, back at home) & also the fabrics, since I’d seen in the advert they have character fabric from popular tv shows. I’ve been wanting to re-cover Brendan quilt for a while (it’s one I made right after Charlie & I were married & it’s looking really shabby these days...) & I knew he would love it if I used some special fabric from our trip.

The knitting & sewing department took up one whole floor (or so I thought...) & I found a nice crochet book pretty quickly, but didn’t have much luck finding the fabric (although I found a couple small pieces of chirimen fabric for me). We had split up our group & decided to meet every so often, so that’s all I accomplished before our first meeting time. Brendan was happy to have found another Kamen Rider book, so we asked him to look for some small gifts for his friends next, & I looked at bentou boxes on my way back to the knitting department to meet Shizuka & Kae-san. Kae-san decided to go with me to try & find the fabrics, & when we went to the next floor, there it was! There was another whole floor of fabrics, it turned out. We found two different Kamen Rider fabrics & I bought a meter of each. Then we met up with everyone & went downstairs to the bookstore to look around.

Shizuka, Jon & friends walked us back to the train station before saying goodbye. We’d had such fun spending time with them- I think it was the most relaxed I’d felt all this trip & Brendan had obviously had a wonderful time, too. We stopped at the panya for take-home yummies, then found our train & headed back to our apartment in Nakano. We stopped at a conbini for more dinner food, then trudged home, tired, but definitely happy :) When I unwrapped the fabric I’d bought, Brendan was delighted! He spent a lot of time looking at the fabrics & chatting about them :) I was less than delighted to discover that the omiyage I’d packed this morning to give our friends was still in my bag :( I’ll have to get Kae-san’s address & send it to her when I get home! (I can give Shizuka & Jon’s to them when I see them...)

We had a relaxed evening eating dinner & watching goofy Japanese game shows on tv (Brendan loves the “batsu-gamu” part- the penalty when the contestants, usually comedians, get things wrong- they’re really goofy). Tomorrow, we go in search of an internet cafe so I can post this :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Japan 2009: Wednesday, April 22nd

video

Today was our last full day in Kyoto, so it began (rather early) with my doing laundry, of course :) By the time we got our acts together & got out of the house it was after 10:00 am. We were headed back to the Kiyomizudera & surrounding shops, to do a bit more omiyage shopping before leaving Kyoto.

I’ve been thinking about how different so many of our experiences have been this trip to Japan, compared to the first, & it’s mostly due to our speaking & understanding more Japanese... Last time we were here I was intimidated by not being able to read signs or ask about the things I was seeing. I didn’t do much shopping, really, because I couldn’t find the things I really wanted to buy. This time, when I leave our machiya, I don’t feel nearly so much in a cocoon. I can puzzle out so many more of the signs, recognise what the shops are selling, can ask for specific items I’m looking for. I’ve lost track of the times people have asked us if we live in Japan. And really, although we’ve been studying Japanese for nearly 4 years, there is so much more to be learned. I’ve definitely run into my limits, language-wise, more than once (sometimes because I’m just too tired to find the words in my brain) but I have enough peripheral words that I can get by. It’s so much more fun to be here now- as I expected. And we are definitely shopping more- I feel as though we’re bringing back gifts for half our city :)

If we thought that going to the temple on a weekday would make it any less busy, we were mistaken... holy moly, I think there were more people today than last Saturday. We did visit the temple briefly (I took the video of Brendan doing the water purification before entering the temple for his school project) & bought our last omamori there, then decided it was too crowded & headed out. After shopping a bit, we found a lovely sweets shop with a cafe upstairs (blessedly quiet compared to the street level teeming with omiyage-seeking schoolkids). Charlie decided to have oyakudon (rice bowl with chicken & egg), while Brendan & I went the sweets route. My wagashi (traditional sweets served with matcha tea) were fabulous. We got a small box of one type to take to Tokyo with us, they were so good. As we walked farther & farther down the hill toward home the crowds thinned out until we could navigate without fear of being trampled. Brendan & I find crowds particularly stressful, so we were very ready for home & a rest.

I rested for about 45 minutes & then decided to do our dinner grocery shopping. I will really miss this neighbourhood. It’s become very familiar & comfortable while we’ve been here. When I arrived back from shopping a neighbour was leaving her machiya &, in response to my “konnichiwa” (hello) she replied “okaerinasai” (welcome home), which gave me a lovely feeling that I really was home :)

We spent the rest of the day resting, working on Brendan’s blog & school project, & occasionally catching funky anime on tv. We had a “clean the fridge” dinner & then Brendan & I caught an episode of “Detective Conan”, which is a venerable & still very popular anime here. Now Brendan is getting ready for the ofuro (Charlie used it this afternoon), perhaps the time last this trip, since the apartment in Tokyo that we’ll be staying in next may not have the big tub we’ve grown so fond of :) I keep thinking it’s a good thing we’re looking forward to seeing Shizuka & Jon (our Japanese teacher & her husband, who are also on a visit to Japan) in Tokyo on Friday, otherwise I’d be having even more trouble with the idea of leaving Kyoto. Tomorrow- the shinkansen to Tokyo!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Japan 2009: Tuesday, April 21st


As predicted, it was rainy today- it rained so hard last night that we thought we were going to blow away! (There’s an upstairs porch right outside our bedroom, so outside is practically inside...) We decided to take the train into Kyoto Station & do some shopping, since walking around outside was not an option. The station is fairly new & has various malls & stores scattered around inside (like some of the larger airports in the US), including the department store Isetan, which we were told had a toy department. Brendan has had his heart set on buying the Kamen Rider Decade belt since we began watching this year’s installment of Kamen Rider (fansubbed on the internet). Last time we were here he bought that year’s Rider belt (Kamen Rider Den-O, one of the most popular Kamen Rider shows in years) & that was one of the high points of the trip for him :) These belts just don’t sit there & look pretty... they are full of bells & whistles, too. This year’s model allows you to install one of 12 cards, each of which causes a different set of sound effects (corresponding to each of the Kamen Rider series of the past 10 years, plus a couple of others). It’s pretty mind-boggling, but very “kakko-ii” (cool).
After finding the belt (& a few other very cute things- like onigiri cases with Snoopy on them :) we perused the many restaurants (in the “eat paradise” section of the store) & settled on an italian place for lunch. Italian food Japanese-style was very interesting- Brendan’s pizza’s crust was almost like matzoh, Charlie’s lasagna was chock full of Japanese eggplant (which is smaller & more tender than the one’s we ususally find at home) & my pasta was more al dente than I’m used to, but it all tasted very good. Our cokes were served with a slice of lemon in the glass, which tasted really good, too. After conversing with Brendan for a bit (in Japanese), our waitress asked me if we lived in Japan, & when I told her we were just visiting she was amazed (go Brendan! :).

After lunch we found the stationery department & I had a great time looking at the “shi-ru”... what stickers are known as in Japanese. I am a great fan of Japanese stickers. They are much more substantial than what we have in the US & stick to practically anything, which means you can even decorate your cellphone & other 3-D items with them. (I put some really cute shi-ru in our new Prius, around the video panel, because they cheer me up :) I bought some to bring home as gifts, along with some really beautiful origami paper. Our last stop at Isetan was the fresh grocery in the basement, where we found obentou ready-made to take home for dinner. We also found some corrokke (potato croquets), which is Brendan’s favourite Japanese food that I make at home. Then we wended our way back to our train platform, by way of “Mr. Donut” (Charlie has been wanting to try a “Meestah Dohnatsu” so he finally got the chance :), & found the train waiting. Brendan & I were exhausted, so we walked home together (in the drizzling rain) while Charlie stopped by the store for some breakfast food (taking our umbrella with him- sigh). Our afternoon was spent resting- after Brendan assembled his belt & installed the batteries, of course. We refilled the ofuro & took turns showering & soaking, then had yummy obentou & corrokke for dinner. Tomorrow is our last day in Kyoto :( We’ve decided to head back in the direction of our first day’s adventure, the Kiyomizodera, to look around some more & maybe find another yummy sweets shop.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Japan 2009: Monday, April 20


Charlie started his day with an early-morning walk back to the Kiyomizudera, to see more of the temple buildings & visit a sacred waterfall that he’d read about in our guidebook. He came back with a bottle full of water from the falls, which is considered to have healing properties (he was a bit shy about collecting some of the water until he saw someone filling bottle after bottle from the falls, so he figured it would be ok :). We shared some of the water at breakfast- with all of the walking lately, my body can use all the help it can get!

After breakfast we hopped on the train for Uji. The weather was cloudy, but warm, with no rain expected until the afternoon. We transferred trains once & arrived in Uji within half an hour. The first time we were in Uji, nearly 2 years ago, we took a cab to the Ujigami Shrine & then walked to the Byoudoin Temple, stopping at a sweet shop on the way for anmitsu- a combination of odango (a mochi sweet), ice cream, fruit, and anko- red bean paste. This time we decided to start at the Byoudoin & work backward to the Ujigami Shrine. The place where you could arrange to participate in a tea ceremony was near the Byoudoin, so we found a cab at the station (it wasn’t a terribly long distance, but we like to save our energy- neither Brendan nor I have much endurance for long walks) & the driver, whom we got chatting to about Uji, actually got out of the cab & walked us down the path to the visitor’s centre.

When we got there, we discovered that the next seating for tea was full, so we decided that we’d come back later if we had the energy. We had visited the Byoudoin last time we were in Uji, so we decided to concentrate on omiyage shopping & figuring out where we wanted to eat lunch. The shops along the road leading to the temple sell mostly green tea & items made from tea, such as odango, candy, & senbei (rice-based crackers). I recognised some of the shops from our last visit, including one where I’d had my first experience really trying to communicate with people in Japanese (& not doing very well). This time was different. I could ask questions about the teas, how long the sweets would last, respond to questions about where I live, how old Brendan is (many wanted to know if he was on school break, which he is). It definitely felt like a pilgrimage, coming back & actually chatting with the people I’d wanted so badly to speak to last time...

We stopped at the same sweets shop as our last visit- right across the bridge & down the road from the Ujigami. The anmitsu & odango was as lovely as we remembered. I did some shopping for gifts at their shop as well :) Then, reinforced with yummy food, we made our way back to the Ujigami Shrine. Both Ujigami & Byoudoin are the oldest shrines in Japan, being nearly 2000 years old. They are far enough outside Kyoto to have escaped the many fires that have leveled Kyoto over the centuries. Charlie has a special affinity for the Ujigami because it’s dedicated to the moon, & rabbits (the Japanese see a rabbit making mochi on the moon, rather than a man in the moon :), & Charlie’s birth year according to the Chinese zodiac is the year of the rabbit. So he wanted to buy a lot of omamori there for friends at home. Then we crossed back across the Uji river on a smaller, very historic old bridge to head back to the train station, having exhausted ourselves with all the walking around.


Out train trip home was more eventful than we ever could have anticipated. Once we were seated, some ladies sitting nearby asked us where we were from, & when it was obvious that we could converse (at least a little) in Japanese, a lively conversation ensued, with various other passengers joining in. The ladies were charmed by Brendan & wanted him to talk to them, too :) One was fascinated by his nose & he very kindly let her touch it :) We gave them postcards from our home town & they gave us postcards from the Byoudoin. One lady gave Brendan a beautiful, laminated photo of her grandsons in kimono for the “schichi-go-san” holiday (where children 7, 5, & 3 years old dress up & go to shrines to be blessed). I gave them some lip balms I’d made at home, & we all ended up taking photos of each other. One gentleman wanted Charlie’s address & email :) We decided that we must have gotten on the party train, it was so lively & fun! I was completely blitzed by the time we transferred trains & said goodbye to our friends. My brain was fried from simultaneously trying to say things correctly in Japanese & listening & understanding what was said, but it was an amazing experience!!

On the way home from the station we stopped at a store for lunch & dinner food, & have rested, read, & played games the rest of the day. What an amazing day! I can’t believe how much fun it’s been- & how wonderfully people respond to us- when we did our best to speak to them in their own language.

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