Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Japan Day 12- Ryokan to Mizumaki...

The first order of business this morning was to be up & ready to watch our favourite shows, Gekiranger & Kamen Rider Den-O, on real-time tv (beginning at 7:30 in the morning). We slept very well & were up, dressed, & ready for our shows in plenty of time. Charlie (not one of those interested in watching tv) had a nice soak in the ofuro instead :) It was a hoot to watch our shows, ads & all, on the nice tv (in a traditional japanese ryokan), surrounded by such natural beauty. Breakfast was served right after our shows, but Brendan began feeling ticcy & didn’t want to leave the room. They kindly offered to send a tray with rice, salad, & fruit, so Brendan & I ate in the room together (they had hot water & tea in the room already). It wasn’t exactly the gourmet meal being served in the dining room, but taking the long view, I was probably better off with a light breakfast :) Unfortunately, the tics were just beginning for the day. I think partly he was just getting worn out, & partly the unpredictability of traveling with another family (& not understanding the language well enough to know what was happening next). We did get packed & in the van in a timely manner, but when he heard that we were headed for the Aso volcano museum he got kind of snarly.

The day was the rainiest yet, & the closer we got to the top of Aso-san (Mt. Aso) the harder it rained & the foggier it got. Had the museum been any higher we wouldn’t have made it, the fog was so dense. As it was, you couldn’t see the museum from the parking lot & just had to follow the lines of cars. It was pretty amazing.

Once inside I was ready for a potty stop & had my first close encounter with a japanese, old-style (traditional-style?) toilet. Whoa. They are long, skinny apparatuses set right into the floor that you basically squat over. My need for a toilet was great enough that I did it, in spite of my arthritic knees. Whoa. (Tomoko told me later that arthritis is not as common in Japan as it is in the US.) The museum was pretty neat, from our standpoint, but Brendan was not in the mood & took a lot of diverting. There was a room with a live camera feed from the crater of Aso-san & he messed with that for a bit, but we finally found a stairway back down to the lobby. He had had a tiny cup of coffee at breakfast at the onsen & loved it, so I told him I’d buy a hot coffee in a can from one of the ubiquitous vending machines. First time we’ve ever had a hot beverage in a can- interesting experience :) We shared it & it was pretty good, but it didn’t keep the tics away for long. We talked & walked until the rest of our group came out (we all made trips to the toilet again- I’m so brave :), then it was back to the van & down Aso-san, heading for a trained monkey show (which Brendan decided he’d stay in the van for). After driving for a bit it was decided that we’d never make the show anyway, so we went on to the next stop, a place known for it’s good omiyage (gifts to bring home) called Aso Farm Land. The rain picked up to nearly monsoon levels & I really marvelled at Kazuhiro-san’s driving ability.

After driving around the parking lot for a bit, he dropped us all off at an entrance & went to park. Aso Farm Land looked like something from Wisconsin that landed in the middle of southern Japan. The area around Aso-san is one of the few dairy farming places in Japan, which is not generally known for it’s dairy products. There was a huge section selling all sorts of interesting dairy-including products, cheese of course, but also candy, mochi (with red beans & cream cheese filling), cakes (lots of samples), cookies, breads- it was pretty amazing. There was a whole building selling local sake, an area with all sorts of organic teas & flavoured vinegars (vinegar is considered very healthy in Japan). Our party divided up between those who were hungry & needed diversion (Brendan, with Charlie in tow) & those who wanted to browse first, then eat (the rest of us). We agreed to meet at a certain time & were off to shop. I felt a little guilty leaving Charlie & Brendan, but they found a pizza restaurant & were gone without looking back :) I trailed after Tomoko & she explained alot of the different products to me. We found an area selling paper products & I found not only origami paper, but some traditional japanese cards. Tomoko suggested that we get one for the class we visited last Thursday & picked out a really magnificent one, a large, stiff rectangle of beautiful paper with gold accents. I also picked out cards for Tomoko’s mom & sister’s family, to thank them for hosting us. Our sub-group met for lunch & went to a “healthy foods” buffet restaurant. You took your shoes off before entering (putting them on shelves) & there was an area with low, traditional tables & one with western-type ones (where we settled). Then I trailed Tomoko around again while she told me what all the foods were in the huge buffet. Yum! We met up with Charlie & Brendan after lunch, & after ice cream for the boys, we went back to the entrance while Kazuhiro-san got the van to pick us up. The it was about 3 hours’ drive back to Mizumaki. At first the rain lulled nearly everyone to sleep, but after a rest-area stop Charlie suggested teaching Shin-kun to play Uno. I was sitting with Brendan, helping him keep it together, & then moved over so he could join in with the Uno game if he wanted. Charlie, Tomoko, & Shin-kun played for a while & then Brendan joined in for a hand. He had a nice time, but wore out quickly. Shin-kun really enjoyed it & by the end of the game he was calling out the colours in english & Charlie was able to call them out in japanese :) The rain stopped by the time we got home, around 6:00, so the boys could run around outside for a bit. Kazuhiro-san went to return the rental van & Keiko-san went out to buy some take-out food, to add to the rice & soup Nobuko-san made. We didn’t eat until after 7:00 pm & unfortunately, no matter how many snacks we fed Brendan, he was headed for meltdown no matter what, most likely due to being off his usual schedule. We got him to the smaller room where our duffel bags were stored, but it was obvious to everyone that he was in distress. Charlie & I took turns eating & staying with him, but the intensity of his anxiety, sometimes sadness & sometimes fury, just wouldn’t calm down. Finally, Tomoko’s sister’s family went home & we half-carried him to bed. He lay in bed moaning & crying for about half an hour, while we kept tabs on him (but left him alone at his request), then, miraculously, he appeared & told us he felt better & wanted to eat. He ate a decent meal (it was after 8:00 by then) & Charlie got him into his jammies, brushed teeth, & he was into bed & asleep almost immediately.

We chatted with Tomoko after that, just kind of calming down ourselves. On one hand, it’s nice that this was the first & only time on our trip that he’s been in such extreme distress. We could understand why he was so dysregulated, too. This sort of weekend is not anything we’d ever attempt at home. On the other hand, it was the only way we’d ever have been able to see so much of Japan, from a family’s point of view. It was a precious experience & more than memorable. So the whole thing had a bittersweetness to it. Tomoko, whose field is family therapy & counseling, was a kind & sympathetic listener :) The main thing was that Brendan was safely in bed. We followed suit.

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