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.

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.


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

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.


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.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Japan2009: Sunday, April 19th

We seem to have turned the bend on the jet-lag thing :) Brendan woke up at 5:00 am and was happy to read quietly until Charlie & I got up at 6:00. After breakfast I did my first load of wash in a Muji washer- very water & energy efficient. Made me really wish I had one at home in the US! It was a warm, sunny day- perfect for hanging the clothes out to dry in the breezeway on the 2nd floor, right off the bedrooms. In Japan, clothes dryers are pretty uncommon & all homes & apartments, large & small, have breezeways for hanging laundry & airing bedding, as well as neat little gadgets for hanging things up.

Today’s adventure (post-laundry :) began around 9:00 am, with a trip to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, a Shinto shrine located in the south of Kyoto. It’s famous for it’s 4 kilometers of pathways lined with bright, orange-red torii gates, all of which were given to the shrine over more than 1500 years, as offerings to the patron goddess of the shrine. The offerings helped to ensure good fortune in rice farming & in business. The messengers of Inari are fox-gods called kitsune, which are also associated with the fried tofu used in making- you guessed it- inari sushi :) Our trip to the shrine was pretty quick- 2 stops on a local train & then just 2 more on a JR train which stopped practically at the bottom of the steps to the shrine.

It was an amazing place... & we weren’t there for long before it became obvious that something special was happening today. There were groups of men in white happi coats & trousers wandering around, lots of shrine personnel in all sorts of ceremonial clothes, & lots of dignified people being seated in special areas. When we went up to see the paths of torii gates, we heard taiko drumming, & when we followed the sound of the drums, we found a gorgeous dance being performed by miko (shrine maidens) on a stage. We wandered into one of the shops (lots of little shops surrounded the shrine, selling omamori, little figurines, candles, & foods of all sorts) & asked the lady there what was going on (in Japanese). She explained that there would be a matsuri (festival) at 2:00 in the afternoon where portable shrines would be carried around the town. The guys dressed in white would be carrying the shrines, which were made of wood & brass & extremely heavy. Charlie got a nice sequence of photos of one group lifting a shrine & carrying it to the flatbed of a truck (to be taken into town).

It was absolutely incredible to experience- & this wasn’t even the actual festival, just the preparations.

We did some omiyage (presents to take home) shopping & bought some inari sushi & tamago senbei (sweet crackers) to take home, but didn’t have the staying power to hang around until the matsuri proper (& the crowds were really filling the place up, which isn’t comfortable for either Brendan or me), so we headed back to the train station. We stopped at a conbini to buy some onigiri to round out lunch & walked home to eat & rest.

We did some more exploring of the neighbourhood in the afternoon- Charlie & Brendan visited a nearby temple with an absolutely huge bell, & Charlie & I went looking around the ceramics shops nearby. I did some more laundry, since it was still really warm & sunny, & the weather is heading toward rainy as the week progresses. Since tomorrow looks nice still, we’ll probably go to Uji, a town a little farther south than the Inari shrine, which is famous for it’s tea. We visited Uji last time we were here & really liked it- the two oldest shrines in Japan are in Uji, & Charlie read about a place where we could participate in an informal tea ceremony, which even Brendan thought would be interesting. Mata ashita! (See you tomorrow!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Japan 2009: Kyoto Day 1

Well, today began at 3:30 am instead of 1:30, a great improvement! Brendan read & watched Inuyasha on the laptop until we joined him at 6:00 am for breakfast. He had his favourite ramen brand from home, although he found the flavour was distinctly different, even though the only outward difference was the writing in the package being in Japanese rather than English... Charlie & I had a sweet roll from the conbini (I had green tea, too) & we all had the delicious Japanese orange juice. We decided to make an early trip to the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (& then Brendan could shower & have a soak when we got home), so we headed out around 7:00.

Everything was very quiet & it was cool, but sunny & perfect for walking. We crossed the wide main street (Gojodori) & headed to the next neighbourhood over, made up of narrow, hilly roads that twisted up to the temple. We passed lots of shops selling ceramics (as promised) & some sweets shops as well, but none were open yet. The road ended at the bottom of the steps to the Kiyomizu-Dera (“-dera” means “temple”), which was founded in the 600’s & whose oldest present buildings date from the 16oo’s. It was still quiet there, just a group of older Japanese visitors & a few families. We wandered around, finding all sorts of treasures: a beautiful sakura still in bloom; beautifully-painted buildings, some surrounded with silky banners; temple buildings small & large; & beautiful views. Brendan & Charlie paid their respects at some of the little temples, placing money in the boxes, ringing the bell, & saying a prayer. I bought an assortment of omamori- they were kindly labelled in English, too, & I chose some general good luck ones (small & round), a happiness one (square white) & a completely gorgeous blue, pentagonal one for “victory” (all are made from brocade fabrics, with the name of the temple woven into them).

About the time we were getting ready to leave, the tourists started to arrive... and arrive... and arrive. It was amazing to watch busloads & busloads of schoolkids in full seifuku walking in groups (led by uniformed ladies with flags) up the narrow streets to the temple. I was fascinated by all the different uniforms. We stopped at the bottom of the hill (where the buses were all parked) & Brendan & I bought hot coffee in cans to refresh ourselves, while Charlie looked around the omiyage (gift) shop that was conveniently situated to serve the bus visitors. On our way back down to our main street (& home) we passed more sweets & ceramics shops, just beginning their business day, so I think we’ll just have to go back!

It was just another 10 minutes to home, then Brendan had a computer session, a shower, & I filled the big ofuro for him to soak in- he said it was heavenly :) (The Japanese way of bathing is to shower first, sitting on a little bench next to the tub & using a hand-held type shower head that hangs halfway down the wall. Then, once you’re clean, you hop in the big tub for a soak. When you’re done in the ofuro, you cover it up & save the water for the next person. You can even reheat the water later on, which we’ll be doing...).

After ofuro time, we went out exploring again, this time in search of lunch of some sort. We went in a new direction & found a couple more conbini, a supermarket, a couple of wagashi (tradition sweets served with tea) shops, & a take-out sushi shop. The take-out sushi was irresistable- Brendan charged right up & asked the owner (in Japanese) if there was any avocado sushi (Brendan’s favourite), but there wasn’t... Charlie & I found some yummy cucumber rolls & chirashi (a combination of delicious items scattered over seasoned rice) sushi, which we bought. We found some of Brendan’s preferred bowl noodle, among other things, at one of the conbini, so we headed home with our lunch-makings. The bowl noodle proved a bit problematic- the flavour Brendan likes only comes in the “dekkai” (“huge”) size, & he wasn’t feeling “dekkai” hungry, so we decided to break it up into 2 servings, which worked better than expected (the rest is in the fridge, waiting for his next yen for noodles :).

We all rested after lunch, in an attempt to push our bed-times later into the evening, so that we’ll sleep longer into the morning. Brendan did fall asleep, which was a plus :) We woke him up in time to head back out to the grocery store at about 3:00, to get food for supper & breakfast. I hit the wagashi shop first & the lady there was lovely- she gave us samples of sakura senbei- crackers with sakura flowers & other sweet flavours in them- & fresh mochi with sweet fillings. Charlie, who is notoriously dislikes mochi (a special sticky rice that’s been pounded to a sticky, chewy paste), actually liked the fresh ones we sampled there. Then we went to the market, where Charlie found fresh strawberries to add to our dinner. They were particularly delicious...

After dinner Brendan & I worked on his next blog post, but he was self-destructing rapidly from jet-lag, so we encouraged him to read for a bit, to keep him up for as long as possible. He lasted until about 7:10, then ran upstairs, put his jammies on, & fell into bed. He was asleep literally in minutes & didn’t even move when the phone rang...

The phone call was from our landlords, a Japanese and American couple, who were helping us figure out how to use the television. They’d only just installed a new tv system last month & didn’t have the instructions in the house manual yet. We are not uaually that interested in tv (although it’s fun to watch the Japanese shows, especially kids’ programming & comedy shows), but Brendan & I are hoping very much to watch our Kamen Rider & Super Sentai shows tomorrow morning from 7:00-8:00. We usually watch them with English subs on the internet some time during the week after they’re shown in Japan, but it does give us a thrill to see them in real-time in Japan. We managed to catch them last visit & hope we can do so tomorrow. After some fiddling around with remotes & menus, Charlie & I got the cable tv working & watched a rerun episode of Bleach together, just for fun (I translated as much as possible for him).

So, the ofuro has reheated (it talks to you when you press the reheat button & plays a little tune when it’s done- not unlike my rice cooker at home :). Guess I’ll head into the shower & then soak a bit. Tomorrow looks to be cooler & maybe rainy, so we’ll see what happens, then decide what adventures to undertake. Oyasuminasai! (Good night!)


Friday, April 17, 2009

Japan 2009: to Kyoto

Well, today began rather early, when Brendan woke up for good at 2:00 am local time. He read, restlessly, for a while & finally Charlie & I were as awake as he was... so we decided to have a tea party at 3:00 am :) I made tea & got out the candies we’d bought yesterday, & we put one of our favourite Miyazaki films (the only one we brought this trip) “The Cat Returns” into the laptop & we settled-in to watch & pass the bags of candy around (& sip tea). It’s a lovely movie, quiet & sweet, with just enough action. Whenever we watch our Japanese movies with English subs, Brendan & I retranslate some of the subs for Charlie (we don’t always agree with the translations :) & so we passed a very nice hour & a half. Brendan then resumed reading by flashlight (& Charlie & I dozed) until a little after 5:00, when they got up & Brendan had a shower & then got into the ofuro for a bit.

I suggested to Brendan that I type the rest of his memories of yesterday for him, so he won’t get too far ahead of himself & forget the details of our travels. He’d started his first travelling blog post yesterday but didn’t get much past our arrival at the ryokan. I really would like him to do as much of the typing (& therefore, composing) of his blog posts by himself, but he’s only just becoming independant at school with typing his schoolwork (he’s had scribing assistance for as long as I can remember), & I really don’t want him to lose his thoughts about our trip, so I’ve decided to assist as necessary. (The main reason I have mixed feelings about scribing for him is that it’s really hard to make it purely his work- we bounce back & forth about how things are worded, or he loses his train of thought & I have to prompt, & things get lost as I try to catch up with his voice...)

After typing the rest of his day, Brendan & Charlie decided to go out & hit the local “conbini” (convenience store) for some food for the train. I am the only one of us who absolutely adores “eikiben”, or train bentou (Charlie finds them full of greyish-looking food that may or may not taste good, & Brendan only eats what he can obviously identify- usually rice- but I just love it all, no matter if I know what it is or not), so I am the only one who knows for sure where her next meal is coming from :) Today is cooler & cloudy, & the weather report shows rain is likely, although no rain yet this morning. (Yesterday was gorgeous- sunny & mid-70’s :) Today looks good for spending 3 hours on a train, at least. The guys came back from the store with, among other things, bowl noodle & ice cream, & both are being consumed as I type (Charlie, the ice cream & Brendan the bowl noodle). Brendan has been “natsukashii” (nostalgic) about the bowl noodle he had last time we were in Japan (so many more types to choose from than in the US), so I think he found this an equivalent experience to my finding sakura trees yesterday :) He also brought us 2 mitsuya ciders (my favourite soda) so I’m having that- it’s not quite 8:00 am right now (& breakfast is at 8:30), but we have been up since 2:00-ish...

In Kyoto: It’s a good thing today was a travel day, since 3 hours on a train is a much better way to cope with jet-lag than trying to sight-see. We packed up after breakfast & the innkeeper called a taxi for us to arrive at 10:15. We thanked our host & hostess profusely for a lovely stay & were transferred to the care of an equally attentive taxi-driver for the trip to Tokyo station. The traffic became denser & denser as we progressed through town, & it was interesting to see different parts of Tokyo, at least in passing. Once we got to the station we puzzled out the signs to the office to pick up the JR Rail passes we’d bought while still in the US (advantages: less expensive fares, unlimited use of the JR system trains while the pass is active, & no hassles with using credit cards to pay, since they’re already paid-for). It took about half an hour to get them, which tried Brendan’s patience, but we were finally on our way to a place to sit & wait (just another half hour) until we could make our way to the platform for the 12:03 Hikari (one of the shinkansen lines) to Kyoto. I found some likely-looking eikiben (train-station bentou lunches) & bought 2 different ones for us to pass around. Charlie came up with some pastries to add to lunch, & Brendan bought us drinks with his spending money (we’ve decided to give him 1000 en daily- which is about $10.00 US- to use or save as he wishes- more lessons in financial planning :). We boarded & found our seats, stowed the big bags, & settled in for lunch & 3 hours to rest. Charlie was the only one who dozed, though. Brendan spent a lot of time trying to snap pictures & take little videos out the train window. I was starving, so I worked my way through the bentou- Charlie & Brendan were forced to join me in defense of their own lunches :) Charlie actually liked a lot of what he saw & ate, too. Then the guys played cards & I finished reading my newly-purchased Bleach Volume 38 & looked at one of the Kyoto books. Next thing we knew we were at Kyoto Station & looking for another taxi...

...Which led us to what I’m beginning to think is a Kyoto phenomenon: the taxi driver who doesn’t know how to get you where you want to go. This happened to us the last time we were here, too. We had an older (male) driver & we even had the instructions written in Japanese (to a place that was pretty well known), but he had to ask a few other drivers for advice to find the place. In his defense, the Japanese system for indentifying buildings is very complicated & the streets are numerous & extremely narrow- but I do remember thinking last time, “This guy drives a taxi & he can’t read a map?” I found myself thinking the same thing today. We had another older man driving us, & he puzzled mightily over the map & instructions printed in Japanese, & even had his cell phone out to call one of the numbers on the directions we had, when we spotted a younger man (a shuttle-bus driver) grinning at our scenario through a window. We nodded him over & he consulted with our stone-faced driver & convinced him that he could do it, I guess, because our guy put the phone away & drove off (I mouthed “arigatou” to our rescuer) & in less than 10 minutes we were there. Such a fuss..,

Fortunately, we were in raptures over our Kyoto home-away-from-home & the hurry-up-&-wait couldn’t really put a damper on our enthusiasm once we were there. We are staying in a remodeled, “machiya” (old-fashioned Kyoto-style) house. It is gorgeous! It’s one of a row of homes reached by an alley with a gate, off a narrow, one-way street. It’s two-storey (very steep stairs) with 2 bedrooms & the breezeway for hanging clothes to dry upstairs, & the kitchen, dining area, washer room, ofuro, & bathroom (separate rooms, as is traditional here) downstairs. Small, but comfortable. Brendan’s first priority was to get some online time to make up for the last few days offline, so I pulled out the timer (he gets 40 minute “sessions” of computer time at home, so why not keep things consistent here?) & figured out the wireless set-up for him. Charlie & I read the book of instructions for everything in the house & then made a shopping list. The nearest supermarket was much farther than the nearest conbini (on the map in the instruction book), so we decided to do the conbini thing until we got our bearings. I showed Brendan how to download pictures from our 3 cameras- his job between computer sessions- & Charlie & I left him to go get food.

The conbini (a 7-11) was about a large city block away, just across the large street where our little street ends, which was a relief. We were back before Brendan had even finished his session, which was a good thing because the poor kid quietly self-destructed as soon as the laptop closed. It was about 5:00 pm, & he’d been up since 2:00 am-ish, so it’s no wonder. I was able to get his evening medicine into him (with some grape soda :) & he did manage a few chips for dinner (sigh). Although Charlie coaxed him to change into jammies, he planted himself on his futon fully clothed & fell right to sleep.

Charlie & I had a more leisurely dinner of onigiri, chips & salad, then I watched an anime online while Charlie began sorting out his bed & bedding & ended-up falling asleep (I wondered why he was so quiet...). He came back down half & hour later & we giggled a bit over his nap, then we looked at books & got some ideas for what to do tomorrow, which looks like it’s going to be beautiful. Brendan & his jet-lag will be a factor, but the books say that most temples & jinjas (temple= Buddhist, jinja= Shinto) are open early- yay! The area we’re staying in was the historic centre for ceramics in Kyoto, & there’s a temple & a street of ceramics shops within a ten-minute walk of our machiya- seems like a good place to start!


Japan 2009: The start!

Well, we made it to Tokyo without any hitches! We got on our first plane at 9:00 am, 14-April, which took us to Detroit in about an hour. There was a considerable layover in Detroit, with our next plane taking off at 3:00 pm-ish, so we found a nice internet cafe & got Brendan online for a bit while we ate & relaxed. We were not prepared for the 3:00 plane to begin boarding at 2:00, so last-minute potty stops were nerve-wrackingly last-minute :( But all three of us got on board the enormous plane for our 12-hour trans-pacific flight in time. (A note about the length of the flight... I’d been under the impression that flying from Detroit would take an hour off the 11-hours from Chicago, but was mistaken... although it didn’t hit me until we got to Japan, so at least I was dumb & happy on the way here :)

And it was a long flight, but Brendan, at least, managed to sleep for about 3 1/2 hours of it. Charlie was armed with a mild sedative to help him sleep, but it didn’t do much for sleeping. However, it did seem to help with the restless legs problem he had last time we flew to & from Japan, so that was a relief. I was armed with knitting, a puzzle book, & an electronic sudoku game, none of which did anyhing for sleeping, but it passed the time :)

And the next thing we knew, we landed at Narita at what our bodies thought was 3:00 am (& was, locally, 4:00 pm). Customs & immigration was easy, as it was last time (although Charlie & I were photographed & electronically fingerprinted- a first for us), & we found our train & bought tickets (first time we needed to speak Japanese!) with no trouble. We were pretty spacey, though, & didn’t quite get that we had reserved seat tickets, so it took some time (& traversing 4 train cars) to get us & our luggage settled in the same place. Luckily it was about 50 minutes from the airport to Ueno, where our ryokan (traditional-style Japanese inn) was located, so we had time. We weren’t sure if the station we debarked from was big enough for a taxi stand, but lucked-out to see a taxi stand just as we exited. We found the address tucked away in our bags = & the taxi driver actually phoned from the taxi for directions, all of which took no more that 15 minutes. Yay!!

The gentleman at the ryokan was all ready to send us out again for dinner, but we were exhausted rather than hungry & ready for showers & bed. Our room is pretty small, with all 3 futons taking up 3/4 of the floor space, but we have a private bathroom, a hot pot for tea, the floor is covered with tatami matting (very elegant) & breakfast is offered on site. The futons are really confortable (we discovered this morning that they have foam mattresses underneath them) & we all slept well- but, of course, everyone was wide-awake by 4:30 am (5:30 pm home-time). Brendan read by flashlight while I dozed & Charlie shaved & filled the ofuro (big bathtub) for Brendan to have a soak.

We were scheduled to have breakfast at 8:15, so we went out at 7:00 for a walk around the neighbourhood. And what a neighbourhood it is! It’s called Shitamatchi (which means “lower town”) & is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Tokyo, having escaped fire-bombing during WWII. Last time we were in Tokyo we stayed in Roppongi, which is where the non-Japanese living in Tokyo tend to settle (our apartment was next to the Russian embassy) & it was difficult to even find a Japanese grocery store, so we wanted a different experience this time. We succeeded! The streets are narrow & crowded with buildings, trees, flowers, & bicycles. At 7:00 am we saw mostly older folks out for a walk & schoolkids on their was to school. It was neat to see the students in their “seifuku” school uniforms (“seifuku” is japanglish for “sailor suit”, & many of the girls’ uniforms still have sailor suit collars & scarves, while the boys’ are channelling Prussian dress uniform). None of the businesses were open & everything was quiet. We were following a map from the ryokan, but couldn’t figure out how to indentify the streets at first, so we got lost, retraced our steps, & found where we wanted to be. Brendan counted vending machines & Charlie found our first sakura tree- sadly, they’re at the very end of their blooming, so are very sparse. But, hey, we have seen sakura blooming in Japan & that was one of our wishes, already granted!

Back to the ryokan for a light breakfast (delicious orange juice, tea, & 2 big slices of toast with jam) & practiced our Japanese on the lady who brought us our breakfast- she seemed charmed, especially by Brendan speaking to her :) The plan afterward was to walk back to the station (which turns out to be a less-than 10-minute walk, but who knew last night...) & take the train one stop to Ueno Park, to see the sights & go to the science museum there. A nice lady at the ticket booths helped us to remember how to buy regular train tickets from a machine (unlike the reserved-seat train we took yesterday) & it was a quick trip to the park. We picked up a follower on our way out of the station- another nice lady who had sat across from us on the train, took a shine to Brendan & told us about her 16-year-old grandson in high school. I told her that Brendan was a 13-year-old middle-school student & wished madly I could have understood her better & said more. Sigh...
These are strings of origami cranes hanging next to a statue in Ueno Park.

We walked through Ueno Park to the museum, & it was obvious that this is a popular place for school trips. We lost count of the groups of schoolkids of all ages roaming around. The science museum was particularly popular. There was fun stuff to do: the physics-type hands-on exibits were neat, & we walked through halls of dinosaur fossils & stuffed animals (I don’t think Brendan realised they were the real thing because my animal-loving kid had nary a reaction except “my feet are beginning to hurt”). We did think the exhibit showing a cow’s entire digestive system spread out & under glass ( absolutely huge) was poorly placed on the way to the food area, though.

We had nice onigiri (rice balls) & obentou (lunch box) at the museum, then wandered back to the station through the park, stopping at a Buddhist temple, where I bought a couple of omamori good luck charms (this may become my souvenir of choice... friends be duly warned :) & Charlie found the best sakura tree of the day (see the top picture). Here is Brendan at the Kannon-Do Temple:
There was also a huge group of grade-school children in identical yellow baseball caps, all eating identical box lunches, which made for a striking sight. Charlie said they looked like a field of daffodils... :)
The train trip back to the ryokan was easy & the difference in the streets was noticeable. Everything was open for business, & we found some yummy melonpan (a roll with cookie dough baked on top), a sweets shop (Brendan bought conpeito- the star-ish candy from “Spirited Away” & I found candies made from green tea & honey), & a book store (Brendan spotted the Samurai Shinkenger magazine first, then I found Bleach volume 38- banzai!!!). Then, back to nap, read, rest- as I type this, my computer clock says it’s 1:20 am home-time. My body is trying not to believe it...

In the evening: I actually slept this afternoon, according to Charlie. Brendan was feeling restless so they went out while I was resting (Charlie rested while I was typing earlier) & found a convenience store & paper store. We got our acts together by 5:30 & headed out to find a tempura restaurant for dinner. Our Japanese teacher, Shizuka, told us the Ueno is known for its tempura, so we convinced Brendan to try it. Wonderfully, he was up for it & so we found a tiny place (seated 12 at 3 tatami tables & maybe 6 more at the counter) & were warmly welcomed in by the owner/chef & seated at one of the tatami tables, which was a real challenge for our knees... .
He had a map of the world on the wall with little stickers on all of the cities he’s had customers from, so we added our town in northeastern USA to the map :) He spoke some english, but seemed very pleased that we could speak to him in Japanese, & his wife told us we were “jyozu”, which means really good at it (the customary response is to deny it, which I did :). We ordered 3 vegetarian tempura meals, & he started us with some delicious ocha (not even a close relative of the restaurant green tea we get at home) & boiled vegetables with dipping sauce. Absolutely delicious. Brendan actually tried a bite of most of them :) His patience & endurance were wearing thin, after strenuous travels & body being off by half a day, but we were able to distract him until the very end of the meal & had a really fun time. He took loads of pictures & then showed us the ones he’d taken during the day (many of which will be posted in his blog, so look forward to it- he found some wild stuff :). The tempura was amazing & Brendan managed to eat some rice & miso soup, but he was really running out of steam by then & getting harder to distract from OCD “fleas”. We paid & said “gochisosama deshita” (“it was a feast”- the traditional thanks for a meal) & got out right before things got too intense, & got back to the ryokan in record time. I fooled with the computer in the lobby (managed a quick post but no luck getting into my hotmail) while Charlie put Brendan to bed. The kid was asleep by the time I got upstairs. I think I’ll follow suit :) We’re riding the shinkansen to Kyoto tomorrow, then on to the next adventure!!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Made it!

Just a note to let everyone know we have arrived safely in Japan! I'm writing this painstakingly on the japanese-keyboard computer in the lobby of our ryokan (traditional inn) in Tokyo (there's no wireless to connect the laptop to). The trip was long, but we made it without any hitches :) We are exhausted still, but had a fun day looking around our little neighbourhood in Tokyo. Tomorrow we head for Kyoto by shinkansen (bullet train),where we'll have internet access & can put up pictures. So stay tuned!!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Getting ready to return to Japan!

Konnichiwa! Ohisashiburi desu ne?

Hello- long time no see :) Sorry it's been nearly a year since my last update. Many, many things have redirected my attention from blogging, not the least of which has been a change in how I've been feeling about sharing the story of our daily lives as an autism family. As Brendan's been growing (he's 13 as of last week! & nearly finished with 7th grade) it's been getting clearer that his own voice is an essential part of this story. I've felt caught between continuing to blog without his perspective & Brendan's not quite being ready to jump into the online world- so I've been silent, online at least :)

The silence is about to change, for both of us, though. Our family is leaving for our second trip to Japan next Tuesday, April 14th, & since he'll be missing about 8 days of school, we decided as a group, (parents, teachers & Brendan) that he'd write a travel blog as part of his school work abroad. We set up his blog, "Year of the Rat" a couple of days ago (check out the links for his first post, detailing the itinerary for the trip :) and, armed with his own camera, he's prepared to share his own view of Japan with the world. (Hooray!!!) I'll be updating this blog on a daily basis as well, so look for our posts from Japan beginning some time mid-next-week.

We're very much looking forward to experiencing Japan with nearly 2 more years of language lessons under our belts. I can also read more kanji & fluently read both phonetic alphabets this time, which bodes well for shopping (at the very least), since last time I couldn't figure out what shops were selling what from the signs posted outside.... We're also staying in japanese-style accomodations for the whole trip this time (no hotels!!), so we'll be able to cook in or eat out as we wish, & won't be nearly as dependent on convenience stores for our meals. We'll be meeting our present Japanese teacher, Shizuka, & her husband in Tokyo during the 2nd half of the trip, & plan to visit the Studio Ghibli museum with them, which will feel very much like a pilgrimage, since Brendan's interest in Japan & learning japanese was sparked by watching the movie "My Neighbour Totoro" when he was 4 :) We're also going to visit one of the largest craft stores in Tokyo, which makes me dizzy every time I think about it (wheeee!).

So, we're in "pre-packing" phase (preparing everything short of putting them in suitcases) & Charlie's adding american comfort foods to the shopping list (he's the one in the family who hasn't fully adopted japanese food as soul food... :). Brendan used his birthday gift cards to buy a load of books to amuse him on the trip & I've figured put which knitting projects are going with me. Next time you hear from us, we'll be there!

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!