Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tokyo Travelogue Part III: Discussion

Now that I've posted a list of pictures of our trip, I get to talk about it.  This was our first ever family vacation with just our family.  We've lived far away from family for 10 of the 12 years we have been married, so when we have the opportunity to travel, we always travel to see our families.  We have vacationed with extended family before - the Outer Banks with Mike's family, Bear Lake with mine - but we have never taken a trip like this with just the four of us.  If it were possible, I would have been happy to give up Tokyo in order to attend my lovely sister-in-law's wedding reception in Utah this summer, but since that really isn't a viable option, I was pretty excited to take this trip with my little family.  Disney Resort was great.  We had a blast.  We stayed at Disneyland until closing time at 10:00 on Wednesday, and then took a couple of different trains to reach the hotel we had booked in Tokyo.  I think it was after 11:00 when we arrived.  Beaver fell asleep in his stroller shortly after leaving Disney, and even Bear fell asleep on the train briefly before we had to wake him to get off at our stop.  They were wiped out.  Bear slept until 10:30 the next morning, which is absolutely unheard of for him.  We took it easy the next morning, but once we were up and about it was off to see the city.

We started with the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  A good overview of the history of Tokyo, and Japan in general. Next was Asakusa and the Sensoji Temple.  Asakusa is said to be the place to go for a feel of older, more traditional Tokyo.  I would say we got a good sense of that, because we arrived at about 5:30, and by 6:00 everything was closed.  Even all the souvenir shops on Nakamise Street.  I was rather disappointed because, really, Asakusa was probably my favorite part of Tokyo.  I would love to go back and spend some time browsing around the shops in the area.  I had read about inexpensive pottery and a vast street of kitchen supplies, but we didn't get to see any of that.  Luckily the restaurants stayed open so we did get to eat.

Friday was Odaiba.  We spent three and a half hours at the Museum of Emerging Science there.  Not because we thought it was so great, but Bear did.  Mike and I eventually got bored and had to convince him to move on.  We visited Toyota MegaWeb, where Mike got to drive a race go-cart and Bear got to assemble and drive a kid-size hybrid go-cart.  After dinner we rode a huge ferris wheel for a night-time view of Tokyo.  I am quite afraid of heights and didn't love that part of the day, but Beaver cheerfully assured me that, "It's not scary, Mama!"

I can't remember what day it was, but at some point we were on a platform waiting for a train when a family with a caucasian mom walked by.  I smiled, but didn't think much of it.  We saw a lot more foreigners in Tokyo than we see in Kobe.  As they passed, she looked at Mike's hat and said, "You went to BYU?  Me too!"  They were getting on the same train, so we got to talk for a minute.  They were from California, visiting the husband's family in Japan.  Small world!

Saturday we walked to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.  Mike and I enjoyed the gardens and seeing the old, historical buildings, but by then Bear was pretty tired of walking, and Beaver fell and scraped up his knee and never quite recovered.  We went back to the hotel for a lunch break and a bath to help Beaver's knee feel better.  After a good rest, we headed back out.  We went for a quick visit to the Tokyo Temple (the LDS one) and visited a foreign foods grocery store nearby to buy some root beer for Mike and Bear.  Then it was off to brave Shibuya.  The peaceful Imperial Gardens are quite a contrast to the energy and chaos of Shibuya.  We crossed the famous intersection and took a stroll down one of the crowded side streets.  Bear couldn't quite understand what the point was.  "What is there to DO here?" he asked.  Nothing, really.  You just come to see it!  After Shibuya we took the train one stop to Harajuku to visit the Meiji Shrine.  We didn't realize that once you go through the gateway, it is a good half mile walk to reach the actual shrine.  Beaver got to ride on Mike's shoulders, but poor Bear was just exhausted.  We gave him piggyback rides as much as possible, and eventually made it there and back.

Now, here's a story for you.  The thing that I was really looking forward to in Tokyo was eating out.  We didn't have much to go on as far as restaurant recommendations, but we tried to do a little research on Wikitravel to get some ideas.  Saturday was our last night, and thus far I had been rather disappointed.  The food I had eaten was good, but nothing memorable.  Now here we were in Harajuku - one of the major hangouts for hip Japanese teenagers - with two hungry, exhausted kids.  We had read about a place called the Kebab Box that sounded good.  We headed down the street through the throngs of people to find it, and when we got there, it was just a street vendor type place - nowhere to sit down.  We were so tired.  We really wanted to find a place to sit down and have a good meal.  It smelled so good, though!  After some discussion, we decided to get one kebab just to try it, and then go back to the hotel and find a sit down restaurant somewhere near there for dinner.  So, Mike got a kebab, which is not a shish-kebab as I was expecting, but more like a gyro sandwich - meat and lettuce in pita bread.  We all had a bite, and it was delicious!  It was so good that I had second thoughts about our plan.  So, instead, we got three more kebabs and found a little alleyway where groups of teenagers were sitting on a curb eating their kebabs.  We went a little farther back in the alley beside a sign telling us we shouldn't be there, sat on the curb, and ate there.  Harajuku is also famous for crepes filled with whipped cream, fruit, and other goodies.  We decided to get one to split between us, just to try it.  We didn't want to get too much because we never know if our kids are going to like things like that.  They did.  And so did I.  It was so good I didn't want to share, but I did anyway.  We ate our crepe on the front steps of some trendy shop.  Who would have thought that my best meal in Tokyo would be eaten on the streets.  If we're ever in Tokyo again, I'm going back to Harajuku.

Sunday we went to Senzoku-ike to attend church.  That is one of the areas where Mike served on his mission.  It was fun to see the area, and we even met a few people that he remembered.  I feel bad because I didn't get any pictures of him there.  We didn't take any on the way because we were very late for church, and then someone offered us a ride to a more direct station after church, which we were happy to accept, but that meant we left in a hurry and I didn't think to at least snap a picture in front of the church.  So, this paragraph is my documentation that we were there.  After church we just went straight to Tokyo Station to wait for the Shinkansen home.  We were too tired to kill time with anymore walking around.

All in all, it was a great trip.  Tokyo was a lot of walking, which was hard on the kids - Bear especially, because he didn't get to ride in a stroller.  I would love to go back with just Mike, but I'm glad we were able to take the kids this time.  I don't know if I would really call it a family vacation, though.  A family trip, yes, but vacation to me indicates relaxing, and Tokyo itself was not exactly that.  When we moved here, people would tell us what a pleasant, quiet city Kobe is, and I couldn't believe it.  Compared to where we came from, Kobe was huge!  Now I've been to Tokyo, and I can tell you that Kobe is indeed a pleasant, quiet city!

Tokyo Travelogue Part II: Into the City

The boys in front of a map of Tokyo's subway system.  Train lines everywhere!  I'm pretty sure this doesn't even include the above ground trains.

Bear fits right in with all the young people on Japan's trains.  Staring at their phones for the whole ride.

Tokyo-Edo Museum

The world sumo wrestling headquarters

Entrance to Nakamise Street leading to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

The Sky Tree in the distance

The boys brandishing their souvenir samurai sword keychains in front of the Sensoji Temple

Bear has made peace with the world, but Beaver still wants to fight.

Traditional Japanese style restaurant - eating tempura and soba on tatami mats.

Odaiba:  a Statue of Liberty Model in the background.

Odaiba is a man-made island only developed in the 80s and 90s.  Pleasant modern city planning with wide streets and lots of pedestrian walkways.

The Odaiba waterfront with a bit of the Rainbow Bridge in the background.

Museum of Emerging Science: A lego model of the Sky Tree.

What lucky person got the job of building Tokyo with Legos?

This is how Mike spent probably half of our trip.  Figuring out which trains to take where on the iphone.

The lovely East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

A stop at the LDS Tokyo Temple


Meiji Shrine

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tokyo Travelogue: Part I

Last Tuesday morning we woke up bright and early.  Our bags were packed, and in spite of the typhoon in the forecast, we grabbed our umbrellas and headed down the hill toward the train station at 5:00 AM.  We had to get to Shin-Kobe station by 6:17 to catch the Shinkansen to Tokyo.  We made it just in time to jump aboard the Nozomi - the fastest train in Japan.  Quite an impressive vehicle, eh?

After a pleasant ride of a little less than three hours, we arrived at Tokyo Station.  First stop: Disney Sea Resort!

We made a quick stop in Venice along the way.

Bear seems to be a bit startled by the submarine coming out of the water.

The Temple of Doom

I have been startled while looking at these pictures to see that Beaver looks like a little kid.  I thought he was still a toddler.

Mermaid Lagoon was probably our favorite place at DisneySea.  There was a little water park for the kids to play in.  I told mine that they could play around a little, but not to get too wet because we hadn't brought a change of clothes.  Within about two minutes they were both soaked to the skin.

Beaver loved this carousel.

Even the train to our hotel was decked out in Disney!

Day two:  Disneyland!

Having some fun in Mike Wazowski's car.

Sometimes I just need to get these guys out of my hair for awhile!

Beaver really liked the parades.

I tell you what, if you are going to go to Tokyo Disney Resort, go when there is a typhoon in the forecast.  It rained on and off all day, but we did not wait in line at all.  We got off of rides and got back on again.  It was great.  Bear's favorite ride was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, same as me when I was a kid.  Beaver liked Pooh's Hunny Hunt and loved the little roller coaster in Toontown.  I love the song and dance performances, except the Disney characters in them kind of ruin it for me.  Too bad they are the whole point!  Ha!  We all loved the Big Band show at Disney Sea.  I wish that I would have taken more pictures, but we were too busy having fun.  Also, Beaver has always been frightened by  costumes, so there was no way he was going near any character to get his picture taken, and Bear was either too shy or too cool.  The only character he would have agreed to meet was Robin Hood, who we saw as soon as we walked into Disneyland, but who then went around a corner and through a door, waving goodbye, before we could get to him.  By the end of the day, I think Beaver was having a change of heart.  He said to me, "I want to talk to one of those big guys.  One of those big scary guys."  The one he wanted to meet was Winnie the Pooh, and although we had seen him earlier in the day, we couldn't find him by the time Beaver decided he was interested.  I may have forced them to take a picture with Mickey, but in spite of the lack of lines for rides, there were lines to meet Mickey, and I didn't want a picture THAT badly.

Final assessment:  Disney was......Disney.  Immaculate, happy, and every detail attended to.  The Pooh's Hunny Hunt ride smelled like honey, the birds on the cliff across the river from Tom Sawyer's island moved their wings, and we were splattered with drops of water and a fruity smell when Donald Duck popped open a bottle of champagne during the 3-D Mickey's Philharmonic movie.  You've got to give them props for forgetting nothing, including things you would never have noticed had they left them out.  We had a fabulous time.  I want to go back every year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Keeping busy

We have been keeping busy with swimming and Japanese lessons.  I feel like I have learned so much at my lessons, but I still can rarely construct a sentence.  It's those pesky particles!  Wa, ga, ni, de.  I don't know which to use when!  My admiration for Mike, William and other missionaries who have learned Japanese has greatly increased.  I can read katakana now.  Katakana is the alphabet the Japanese use to write foreign words.  It is basically all the same sounds as hirigana, the alphabet they use for Japanese words, so why they felt the need for an additional alphabet, I don't know.  It would have been useful to have been able to read katakana a few weeks ago when I accidentally bought drinkable yogurt instead of milk.  Boy, was I surprised when I took my first bite of cereal in the morning.  Bear is also taking lessons.  He can read hirigana, so between the two of us we can get around alright.  Then there is kanji.  I really haven't even attempted that yet.

When we're not occupied with Japanese, we spend a lot of time at the pool.  I told Bear that he couldn't go in the deep end until he could swim across the pool without stopping, thinking that wouldn't happen for awhile.  But, by golly, he did it!  So I had to hold up my end of the deal, even though it makes me a little nervous.  He is doing really well, though, and I'm happy that he can really swim now.  Even Beaver paddles around the pool in his little floating swimming suit.  Pretty much all the other expat families are gone for home leave, so it is pretty much our own private pool right now.  I know, it's a tough life I lead.  Hanging out at the pool, eating at the club, playing bridge on Friday afternoons.  (Just kidding about the bridge.)

Our July 4th celebration in the garage because it was pouring rain outside.

The kids and I took a trip to Oji Zoo last week.  I took the wrong train line and we got rather lost for awhile ("I TOLD you we should have switched trains at Sannomiya!" said Bear).  Thanks to google maps on my iphone (totally worth the money while I am in Japan!) and some texted advice from Mike, we eventually made it to the zoo and had quite a fun day. 

The giant panda was quite a bit smaller than I expected.  I had never seen a real-life panda before.

Bear liked the kangaroos.

I like the red pandas.  Also something I had never seen live before.

They both like the farm/petting zoo area. 

We took a walk around our neighborhood the other night and found a pathway we hadn't explored before.  It led us to a nice view of the ocean.  Bear is pointing to a rainbow that you can't see.

There's the rainbow!  Just a little one.
Kind of makes me wish we had chosen a house with an ocean view.  So pretty!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Up on Rokkosan

This week's Saturday excursion - we went up Rokko Mountain to Rokko Country House.  It was very beautiful.  It's lovely to be living near mountains again.  
The boys showing off their best Pokemon poses.  Except for Bear, who is quite a pill about having his picture taken these days.  (Some friends from church went with us.  That is how we acquired an extra kid.)


Paddle Boats

Creepy koi that swarmed around the boats looking for food.
We went up to the top of a tower in a little shopping complex for a beautiful view of Kobe city.

Even though my eyes are closed in this picture, I still thought it was the best one.  Once again, Bear is being a pill.  Maybe he's getting his teen angst out early, so he'll be an angelic teenager?  Maybe?

Apparently you can ski here (on man-made snow) in the winter.   This hill is about the size and grade of the bunny slope at Alta.  The lift seemed like a bit of overkill.

In not-so-good news:  Remember how right after we arrived in Japan we bought several planters and dirt (or so we thought) and planted a garden?  It turns out we bought fertilizer and planted our veggies in manure.  They all died within a couple of weeks.  So, we tried again.  We weren't as ambitious the second time - just three tomato plants and a bowl of lettuce.  They were all doing great, and a couple of tomatoes were starting to turn red.  Then, yesterday, Luke went outside and announced that the tomatoes were gone.  I rushed outside, and sure enough.  They were completely gone.  Not pecked at or gnawed at - just gone.  I am very sad.