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Tuesday, March 20

The Week in Review

Tears are still being shed over the emptiness of our home from my cousin’s presence but I am trying hard to get back to my usual self. It was me that chose this life so far away from my family and friends so I don’t feel that I have the right to be sad because of it. However, I do ask for forgiveness and understanding when I am struck with these snags of depression over how much I miss my life back home and those that I love so much. Chris, Erika and I really did make memories to last a lifetime over the past week. I will always have those to cherish forever.

Fortunately, Chris and Erika have as much energy as I do and I was able to fill their days as best as I could with as much as I could. If you are thinking of visiting me, and this itinerary seems a bit to hectic to handle, let me know ahead of time. I will only slow down when forced to and guests will have to be that force. I warn you now… this is a long post. I write this for any family member who wonders what we did and what I might possibly do to you if you dare make this trip.

Day 1
Arriving at the airport to pick them up on Sunday evening, we headed straight home to get them settled and to give them a little treat I had put together… a bag with things that you need in Japan. This included a purse-sized umbrella because you never know when it will rain, tissues because you never know when the bathroom will have no TP, decorative towel because you never know when you will become drenched in sweat, slippers because there are no shoes inside the house and your trickies will get very cold, yen purse because you will hate having to constantly dig through your American coins to find the yen, and candy because no one can live without sugar. Once they unpacked, the rest of the night was spent catching up with one another.

Day 2
We all awoke pretty early on Monday morning, showered ourselves, breakfasted and headed out to the trains by 9:30 am. The day’s adventures took us to Kamakura which I have explored many times. Starting with the Hachiman Shrine, we explored the grounds and hiked the many stairs to the shrine. Back down again to the surrounding gardens and then back out onto the main street to the train station. There we caught another train and headed to the area where the Great Buddha sits. On the way there, we stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Knowing that I had guests who weren’t used to chopsticks, I had packed plastic forks into my purse. Both Chris and Erika attempted their first meal with chopsticks. After much frustration, they switched to the forks but not until after some helpful man sitting nearby indicated that the restaurant had spoons to use as he watched Chris’s sweet and sour dish be dropped out of the awkward sticks over and over again. On to the Great Buddha after lunch where we even paid our 20 yen to go inside. Erika had wanted to rub Buddha’s belly which we had indicated was impossible because of his size. However, from this inside angle, she was actually able to do so. Quite a strange feeling rubbing the bronze belly of the Buddha from inside his dark body. Knowing there were Japanese toilets there, we all headed off for another first. Chris went for it although she said she almost fell over. Erika ducked in and out of a stall until she finally decided she could just hold it for now. Realizing that all of this lifestyle was new to an eight-year-old, we accepted that and moved on. Down the street we stopped for the not-to-be-missed purple and green, sweet potato and green tea ice cream. It was a hit! Not to be missed were the sweet potato chips offered there either. Filled on Kamakura’s special junk food, we moved on to Hase Dera Temple which I had talked about before. Still one of my favorites, we took a long time to explore all of the gardens and caves offered here as well as the beautiful hillside view of Kamakura and its beach. Completing our tour here, we made our way back to the train station and on to a new temple, Gokurakuji. We were a bit too early in the season for this one. It is supposed to be filled with cherry blossom trees but our visit there was about three weeks to early for blooming. Still it was beautiful and filled with glorious old architecture. After the train ride home and the walk back to the house, we switched to car travel and headed in to meet Kimono Hubby after his work day for dinner at our favorite Thai place. As spicy as usual, but also as brilliantly fresh as usual, we were stuffed and ready for PJs and relaxing. So came the end of our first full and very busy day.

Day 3
Waking again in the early hours, we were able to leave the house early again. Traveling by car this time, we headed to Tokyo for a little souvenir shopping. Our first stop was China Pete’s which is filled with traditional blue and white pottery. Somehow I refrained from making any purchases although we made sure that Chris and Erika loaded up with goods for themselves and loved ones at home. From there, we drove to Machida which is the location of the five story 100 Yen store, filled with shocking good deals for those like me on a more frugal budget. Even I couldn’t walk out empty handed here. While wandering the area, we came across an Italian eatery which Erika almost got down on her knees and begged for. It seems her first day of very ethnic food left her wanting for something comforting. We obliged and enjoyed a good old fashioned Japanese pizza while Erika gorged on one of many spaghettis that week. Back in the car, we went to spend the rest of the afternoon touring Yokosuka Naval Base. We met with Kimono Hubby who gave one grand tour and even taught me some things I hadn’t previously known. For dinner, we went to the Officers Club for Mongolian Barbeque night… one of my favorites and about the only time we eat on base besides fast food. Stuffed to the gills again, we were forced to call it a day.

Day 4
It was apparent by this day that neither Chris nor Erika had any concerns with jet lag. I can’t tell you how envious I am of this but that is neither here nor there to the story. Up at the crack of dawn again, we were back to the trains again for a trip to Yokohama and the famous Landmark Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Japan. Taking the fastest elevator I have ever been on, we made it to the 69th floor in only forty seconds, ears exploding in pops the whole way. This top floor is called the Sky Garden and has the most amazing views of the city of Yokohama. From here, we could see the next stop on our list, the Cosmo Clock Tower which is the world’s largest Ferris wheel. I have talked about this area before as it is in Minato Mirai 21 and I had shopped with a friend there. Since then, I have dreamed of riding this Ferris wheel and I finally had my chance. After some initial shakiness when first getting in to our little enclosed cart, Erika loved the ride as much as I did. By the end, we were all moving around inside to take pictures at various angles (which apparently was a no-no but English instructions followed the Japanese so it wasn’t until halfway into the ride that we discovered we weren’t supposed to be moving inside… oops). Completing our arial tour of Yokohama, we found ourselves another lunch-worthy Italian eatery for my spaghetti-loving friend and Japanese seafood pizza for Chris and myself. Then back to the trains to Ueno Park and Zoo in Tokyo. The day turned rather chilly on us as the sun lowered which caused us to see only half of the zoo but what we saw was amazing. If you are a bird lover, this zoo has some of the most interesting and varied bird species I have ever seen and many I never knew to exist. It is a large zoo in Tokyo, probably one of the largest, so there was pretty much every kind of animal there. A must see if I ever knew one. As I mentioned the chill and lateness of the day caused us to make our way back to the crowded trains. We got there a bit ahead of the severely crowded times but there were moments we had to protect Erika from getting squished into corners. Back to home base, Kimono Hubby met up with us to head to our favorite neighborhood eatery, a mix of Japanese and Chinese. Once again, we eat too much and I become keenly aware that I will likely gain a few pounds in this week with all this eating out.

Back on Valentine’s day I mentioned the holiday White day, if you recall. It was all about the guys now giving presents to the girls who bought them something on Valentine’s day. Well, Day 4 was White Day and Kimono Hubby earned some major points this very day. Waiting at home was a White Day present of not only a box of my favorite Godiva’s but also a pair of pearl earrings for me. But that isn’t where he earned the points… there were also two boxes of Godiva’s for both Chris and Erika. Happy White Day to all of us! And sugar coated hugs and kisses to Kimono Hubby for his thoughtfulness.

Day 5
Striking out early again, this time we made are way to Hakone, a resort area at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Sadly, the day was gray and obscured Mt. Fuji but the trip was not a disappointment. In fact, it was a heck of an adventure. We took the train to Hakone which brought up and through the mountains. At one point, the small train we were on stopped and started going backwards. Chris and I gave each other odd looks but we guessed that it was to let another train pass us. Others on the train also show concern but after a speech by a conductor, they all seemed satisfied. Of course, his little speech did nothing for us as it was in Japanese and we didn’t understand a single word. But if the others were satisfied, so were we. It took as some time, but we seemed to figure out that the train was zig-zagging up the side of the mountain. Every once in awhile we would get to an end and turn around in another direction but never passing what we had previously seen. No one ever said we were the sharpest crayons… After this crazy train ride, we found ourselves in a small town in the mountains where the only choice for lunch were VERY traditional restaurants. Fearing Erika’s reaction but left with no choice, we took seats around a table and began to decipher a menu. Erika surprised both of us by heartily plowing through both Chris and my plates of food. Chopsticks were still not an option to eat with for Erika although she was practicing and improving with them, but I did have plastic forks and she was happy to indulge in all dishes on the table. Warm, full and ready for the next leg of our journey, we bought tickets for the train-like cable car that ran up further towards the top of the mountain. This leg was slow but was past before we knew it bringing us to what we had been looking forward to, the ropeway. The ropeway is just as it sounds… a cart hangs from a rope and takes you another leg up to the top of the mountain… not for the fear-of-heights faint of heart. Over trees and looking out at the surrounding mountains on the climb, you begin to notice an odor. It wasn’t until we passed over the peak until we realized what it was… sulfuric gases coming out of the ground. This is what makes the area great for all of the famous hot springs but rather rough on the nose. Finally at the top, now was the next leg of the trip. However, there was one problem at this point. It seems that somewhere prior to the last mode of transportation, I had lost the directions. Before even thinking about it for a second, I blurt this out to Chris only to realize she might freak out. This was an area that I had never traveled before and I lost our only English map. We had a Japanese one which helped some but was ultimately nothing like the piece I had brought with me that even included prices that I had determined for each part of the trip. Points would surely be taken away from me by Chris on this one. As amazing as the person she is, she remained completely calm and just said “we’ll figure it out.” God love her for that calmness. And figure it out we did. After only small struggles, we determined the correct bus that brought us back down the mountain and to the ship that would help us cross Lake Ashi. Somewhere in the back of my head, I managed to pull out the name of the correct dock for the boat that would get us to the correct bus that would take us to the correct train that would take us home. While we didn’t really do much more than travel on this day, as Chris said, the fun was definitely in the entire adventure. Finally at home, we changed yet to one more mode of transportation and got into my car to meet Kimono Hubby for dinner. This time, our beloved yakitori stand in Yokosuka were we indulged in healthy vegetables wrapped in less than healthy bacon. And another full day completed.

Day 6
Chris and Erika were still going strong although we were a bit slower to leave the house on this morning. Therefore our first stop was Denny’s for lunch which is nothing like Denny’s at home but quite tasty and simply fun for the experience. Then off to Yokohama towards Sea Paradise, a large aquarium and amusement park. It was a bit too cold for the amusement rides but the aquarium was worth the admission price. As we walked to the entrance, we noticed on the large movie screen there in the center of the park that there were images of ourselves walking down the stairs and the camera seemed to be following us. Moments later, as all of us were in sight, the image froze with us on screen. All week long, Chris and Erika had noted that eyes seemed to follow us everywhere. Three blonds wandering in Japan… I guess they would. I have never gotten entirely comfortable with it but I know that it isn’t rudeness but merely curiosity that causes this. The big screen image of us only reminds me of what a hot commodity we blonds are here in Japan. At the aquarium, the first thing we saw was a show filled with the most beautiful sea creatures… seals, sea lions, whales and even walruses. Even with it being performed in Japanese, I think this was the highlight of my week’s sights. I was just in awe at some of these creatures and we took a good long time perusing here. For dinner, the girls had not yet experienced yakiniku where you cook your food on a grill built into the table yourself so we headed to the mall where not only was there a good restaurant for this, but also there was shopping. Saving room at the meal, we made our way out to window shop on our way to the crepe shop. Crepes were something that couldn’t be missed on the “try these foods” list and we even went the following night as well because they are just so darn good.

Day 7
The final touring day had arrived. As it was a Saturday, Kimono Hubby finally had off and could join us for the day’s tour. We choose a place that KH had been looking for us to go to so it would be new for all, the Imperial Palace. You can only actually see the Imperial Palace on two specific days of the year and this was not one of them. But there are places where you can catch a glimpse of it, like when you visit the White House. So these were the places that we walked to. The East Garden was also open to tour which we did. However, again being early in spring, there was not much in the way of garden to see beyond pine trees and the towering rock walls that protect the palace grounds. Over the loud speaker, an announcement came asking all to leave for the closing of the gardens so our time was cut a bit short here. We caught our first cab of the week and headed to Ginza, an area in Tokyo famous for being the ritzy-ist of the city of Tokyo. Wandering in and out of shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s, we didn’t even try to fit in and simply gawked at the flagrant indulgence that surrounded us. Not daring to find a restaurant on the main drag, we headed off the beaten path for our last dinner together, a Japanese beer hall with a menu filled with curries and fried foods. In retrospect, a good choice as it was St. Patrick’s Day although this didn’t occur to any of us at the time as far as I know. And so our touring fun together came to an end with the train ride back home.

Day 8
Time to say goodbye. I hadn’t made a meal all week and was feeling rather guilty about this, plus I wanted Chris and Erika to be filled up on American food before the long flight that was bound to be dotted with Japanese noodles at every meal, so I made waffles for breakfast. We took those last few hours just enjoying each other’s company. The ride to the airport was a rather quiet one, with each lost in their own thoughts. As I said, I was so incredibly sad to see them go. Only later did I find out that the same sad feelings were inside them too.

We do have our memories. And there will always be more to make. It was a grand adventure and I’m so glad I shared it with you, Chris and Erika. My love to you both for helping me get out there and see so much newness in Japan with you! Glad you are home safely. We shall see each other again soon. Very soon if I can do anything about it.

Plenty of pictures over in the Flickr link in case you are interested!


Heather Meadows said...

That looks like a phenomenal visit! You seem to be a great hostess :) Sounds like all three of you had a great time!

Mike S said...

Sounds like a GREAT visit. I'd forgotten how many places my son's bright blonde, sun-bleached hair got us star treatment over there. Especially true of the more remote villages. Great reading & photos:)