Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Japan 2013: The Trip Home

We are home! It's been a little over a day since we landed back in Rochester, & although life is starting to resemble pre-Japan life, we are still very, very tired.

We got up by 7:00 am Monday morning so we'd have time to go to Starbucks for one last soy matcha latte (okay, 2- 1 for me & 1 for Brendan. Charlie had a chat teal latte :) Then we packed, packed, zipped, looked around, & checked-out about 9:45. The luggage closed!!! Our Narita Express train was due to leave at 10:40 & we wanted to be prudent. Actually, you could see the track & platform for the NEX train from our hotel window:
The middle platform, to the left of the bridge is where we were headed. I was in a fog of tiredness & sadness, as I always am when we leave Japan.

We didn't have to cross the street into Shinjuku Station proper, because the platform could be reached by the still-under-construction New South Terrace station.
We got there about 10:00 am, & sadly, there was nowhere to sit! Still under construction... So we camped out on our luggage until the train arrived.
It was a very comfortable ride to Narita- a little over an hour, with just 3 stops. The bus would have taken at least an hour & a half, & the tickets were barely more expensive than the bus tickets, so this was the way to go!
Once at Narita, there was a series of escalators (about 6 of them) to get us to the proper level, then a series of customs/immigration stops, then checking-in & checking the luggage. Then security. Whew! No shoe removal in Japan though, which is nice.

Then we just had to find our gate & find some lunch.
We enjoyed a final Japanese meal, & Beanie had a coke :)

I checked-out the bookshop & found the newest Yotsuba& manga & the first volume of CLAMP's re-started Gouhou Doragu manga- score!!!

I also found some Japanese sweets that I knew would taste very nice when we got home :)

Then we waited until boarding for Detroit, around 2:15.
And then we were on the plane. We had our own row of 3, with usb plugs to keep us in juice (woot!) & a toddler in the seats directly in front. She was occasionally fussy, but really awfully good for such a long flight. The only glitch was that our vegetarian meals never registered (yikes!!) but the steward & stewardess took it to heart & made sure Brendan in particular had enough to eat. Whew!!!

The flight was amazingly easy, Brendan actually slept some, & it really didn't feel like we were regaining 13 hours... until we landed in Detroit about an hour before we took off from Narita. This is where travel becomes magic, in my opinion. Detroit was amazingly easy. We hit immigration, picked up our bags, hit customs, rechecked the bags, walked through the psychedelic tunnel (which looked particularly psychedelic after being awake for many hours at that point...  & found our gate. We barely had time for potty stops before the plane to Rochester started boarding. An hour later we landed, & our lovely neighbour Evelyn, who had dropped us off nearly 3 weeks ago, picked us up.

Our neighbours on the other side had put a welcome-home sign on the back door :) The tomatoes were HUGE!!! The house smelled musty, but we were home! A few hours later, after a load of laundry & too much running around unpacking, I made some yummy Japanese tea & had some of the sweets I bought in Narita too long ago:

Thanks for following our trip to Japan! It was awesome, wasn't it! I can't wait to return :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Japan 2013: Last Day in Japan

One of my least favourite days for sure :(  But we are tired & pretty much ready to go home after a lovely time :)

We had our usual breakfast at Starbucks- it was cool enough to sit outside & eat! And then we went back to clean up & bit & wait for a visit- from Aoi-chan & family! Momo & Hiroshi actually came up from Atsugi-shi (it probably takes them a good 2 hours to get to Tokyo from home, taking bus & train) yesterday & stayed overnight with Momo's mom again, just so they could see us before we leave. They did some research & found a nice izakaya restaurant near our hotel, so they made a reservation there.

I had also been hoping to meet a member of my Nerd Wars team who teaches English in Gifu Prefecture (about 5 hours away by car) who was climbing Mt. Fuji on Saturday, but it was just too far for her to make it to Tokyo & back, then get back home by car. Maybe we'll meet her another time here, though :)

Momo & the gang got to our hotel around 11:00 am, so we got to visit a bit before heading out to the izakaya. It was so much fun to see them again! The izakaya was on the 7th floor of a building just a few blocks away. There's so much here, & this reminds me of how little we've really seen of Shinjuku, even though we've stayed her 3 times!

The restaurant had little rooms with western-style tables, which was really convenient with the stroller, especially as Aoi-chan had obliged by falling asleep on the walk over. We parked her in the corner & ordered all sorts of yummy foods, including buttered baked potatoes, edamame, ramen salad, & other dishes that we all shared. Izakaya works so well for Brendan because there are no set meals, you just order ala carte & a lot can be vegetable dishes. Aoi-chan woke-up a bit frazzled just as we were finished eating.

She was too fussy to eat then, but when we put her shoes on (& it took a few of us to do it :) she was happier walking around, so we went back to the hotel to find a place to give her lunch. Our room was being made-up, so we just landed somewhere & she ate all of her baby bentou!
Then it was time to say goodbye.
Even though we skype every week, I feel say knowing that she'll be 3 1/2 when I see her next.

We hung out at the hotel for a bit, then Charlie & I decided to go for a walk. The entrance to Shinjuku Koen (Shinjuku Park) is somewhere behind the Takashimaya department store, & the park is huge (it's a big chunk of what we see from our hotel window), but finding it from the ground is trickier. We did actually see the park, but didn't find the entrance.
On the way back I decided to go back to Tokyo Hands & Yuzawaya one more time- very mindful that our luggage is awfully full.

And then we got a call from our dinner visitor- our friend Marian!

Marian is our next door neighbour's daughter, who's been living in Japan for over 20 years. She teaches English in a high school in Tokyo that specializes in preparing students for study abroad for college. She really loves living her, & is about 3 courses away from getting her Masters degree in teaching as well.

Marian had done some research & found a restaurant with a lot of tofu-based dishes, right across from our lunch place! So we walked over there & had a lovely evening chatting & eating very lovely food.
Tomorrow we have to be up early to get breakfast (Starbucks of course) & pack & catch the Narita Express at Shinjuku Station (the platform can be seen from our hotel window, so it's not in the heart of the station,m thank goodness!) at 10:20.

It's been an amazing visit to Japan! See you back in Rochester!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Japan 2013: Afternoon in Ueno

It really feels like the end of the trip, sigh. We're all getting tired & sleeping later (which isn't a bad thing). I am happy that I don't seem to be losing my Japanese from exhaustion, which often happens. It's really good to be back to a familiar place, though.

We went back to Starbucks for breakfast- can't get enough of those soy matcha lattes! Neither can Beanie :)

Then we watched a little tv while Brendan showered:
The adverts really are a hoot! All the folks in the background are wearing "I Love Vietnam" t-shirts... why? The new Miyazaki movie, Kaze Tachinu, was released today, so there were all sorts of ads & specials. & last evening we caught the last half of "The Cat Returns" on tv!

After consulting & planning with friends here, the plan was to visit the Museum of Modern Art in Ueno (part of Tokyo) this afternoon. Tomorrow will be devoted to visiting & saying farewells. The art museum has a special exhibit of Mediterranean artifacts & artworks dating from 2000 years ago to the 1800's right now, all borrowed from the Louvre (translated into Japanese as "Roo-broo") in Paris.

While we were in Shinjuku Station we bought our tickets for the Narita Express Monday morning, for the trip back home. Then we hopped the Yamanote line to Ueno (the final day for our JR passes- I can hardly believe 2 weeks have passed!).

It was Saturday in Ueno Park & it was mobbed! There are loads of museums & a zoo here, so it wasn't surprising.
There were a few scattered folks (men & women) wearing kimono, which was cool to see.

The modern art museum had some cool modern sculpture outside as well:

The exhibit was really nice. It took 3 floors of space & walked you through history. The only weirdness for us was that, except for the big intros of each section, none of the exhibits were labeled in English. Just Japanese & French. I was able to piece things together, using my college French as an assist, but it was trickier that anticipated. We enjoyed it, though.

Sadly, the rest of the trip to Ueno was not as much fun. We had planned to have lunch there in one of the museum cafe's, but none of them (anywhere!) had anything resembling vegetarian food :( We bought some Mitsuya Ciders for the train to hold us over, then had to ride 20 minuted back to Shinjuku, then brave the Saturday crowds at Takashimaya to find lunch food. It was past 2:00 by the time we got back to the hotel & could eat.

Leaving Brendan to recover, Charlie & I braved the crowds once again to do some last-minute omiyage shopping. The escalators at Takashimaya were so crowded that folks were lining-up to get on them! But we were pleased with our shopping trip, & the day was much cooler than it's been in Tokyo the whole trip, so it was pleasant to be outside, too.

I had done some research & we thought it would be fun to walk a few blocks to the Isetan department store for dinner. There was what appeared to be a veggie-based restaurant there called Hatake (which is the word for a vegetable field).

The  other thing we had forgotten, was that this was not only Saturday evening, but the evening before a big election in Japan! The sidewalks were crowded, but also there were politicians in their vans circling the area in increasing numbers. There were also folks in kimono out on the streets of Shinjuku:
Here's the quite old (by Tokyo standards) Isetan store:
It turned out to be nigh impossible to find the darn restaurant! The store was a maze, & after wandering around a bit, I asked directions & they directed me to the right set of escalators to get to the B2 level,where the restaurant was. Everything looked fine, & they even had an English menu. So we didn't bother to ask about meat in anything... & there was meat in everything :( Brendan couldn't eat his spaghetti at all. We did have fun with the water glasses though- can you find Beanie in this picture?
So we went to the basement of Isetan & found Brendan some inarizushi, then hiked back to our hotel so he could finally eat. On the way there were some impressive political rallies. The biggest was for Suzuki Kan:
 There were police on hand & everything.

Ms. Momoyo's was smaller, but no less fervent :) (I couldn't find her on wikipedia).

We surfed the tv for more Miyazaki content, but nothing to be found, so we headed to bed.

Tomorrow, visiting friends!!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Japan 2013: From Matsuyama to Tokyo

Today we packed it all up & for the return to Tokyo. But first, soy milk doughnuts from Mujirushi  & local mikan juice for breakfast!

I nearly had a nervous breakdown zipping my suitcase... but I did it. Our bags can be unzipped to pop out a bit more for more room, but it doesn't work to do that when riding trains, since the space allotted for baggage is so tiny. One thing I won't miss about the Patio Dogo Hotel (alright, one thing after the tininess of the room) is the wonky slippers:

The hotel called a taxi for us & we checked-out around 9:15 & chatted with the very friendly driver on the way to Matsuyama Station. We learned that Matsuyama is a sister city with Sacramento, California!

When we got to the station the first order of business was to buy ekiben, then we showed our passes to the gate guys & went to wait for the local express to Okayama, where we'd change trains for Tokyo.

While there a train arrived with a group of shogakkusei- elementary school children, all in yellow hats & identical outfits. You couldn't tell the boys from girls! They were probably going to the zoo in Matsuyama.

Our train arrived & Charlie squeezed out luggage into the available space, which required hauling it on top of a table set into the wall of the train. On the way down this was acceptable, but shortly into the trip a conductor came by & instructed us to put it all in the front seats.
You can see it just peeking over the top here:

We spent 3 hours on the limited express to Okayama. The weather was so much better than when we came down & you could really see the islands on the Inland Sea.

There were fields & fields of renkon (water lily tuber- a delicious vegetable) alongside the rice fields, since they also need to be submerged to grow.

The train change was also much smoother this time, since it wasn't bucketing rain. However, I got my car numbers & seat numbers switched & headed off like a rocket for car 9 when we were really in car 13, row 9... Charlie & Brendan finally caught up to me & we got on the proper car before the doors closed. It was 4 hours from Okayama to Tokyo.
Charlie had thought that getting off at Shinagawa, a station before Tokyo Station, might make sense because it would be so much less crowded than Tokyo Station. However, this was the scene when we got there:
It was Friday at 5:30 pm! There was a street fair going on outside & we couldn't even see the taxi stand. We had to ask a policeman where to catch the taxi, & did find a very nice taxi driver who seemed to know where we wanted to go :) Our drive back to the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku seemed to be a trip back through our previous visits to Tokyo. We went by the neighbourhood where we stayed 2 years ago, near Tokyo Tower, then skirted Roppongi, where we stayed 6 years ago, crossed Aoyama (& a huge graveyard on top of the hill) & then went through Harajuku, which we'd visited 4 years ago. After more than an hour, the driver (rather apologetically) deposited us on the doorstep of our hotel. Whew!! I was starving!!! The group consensus was, never get off at Shinagawa again!

We checked-in & then it was nearly 7:00 pm, too late to find dinner in Takashimaya's basement, so we went to the 13th floor to our favourite soba restaurant instead. It was great!
Then we walked home in the very pleasant evening. It had cooled-off considerably & the outdoor patio restaurants were filling up with customers.

Then to bed after a very tiring day of travel. Tomorrow we hope to meet a friend from Rochester who lives in Tokyo!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japan 2013: Last Day in Matsuyama

After our wonderful, full day of adventures yesterday, it's no wonder we all slept in today! After our usual breakfast of pastries from the conbini with juice or cold green tea, we were ready to meet Tomoko & Nobuko-san for a morning of shopping & another lunch adventure.

We took the trolley back to our usual place near the ropeway, but headed to the shopping arcade across the street first. I wanted to find some arm-covers, which are ubiquitous among (mostly older) Japanese women in the summer, along with higasa. They are long, fingerless gloves that protect your arms from the sun & they seem very practical to me. Tomoko had found hers at Mujirushi, so we went there first.

Mujirushi is a rather unique store, selling only their own Muji line of goods, many of them recycled or streamlined & very basic. They have everything from clothes to housewares, furniture to food. I found a pair of arm-covers in cotton & a pair in silk on sale- woot! Charlie & Brendan really enjoyed looking at the food section. There were the usual beverages like iced tea, but then they had an assortment of interesting sodas- Brendan & I both tried the sumomo plum flavoured one. They had everything from preserved squid & octopus in packages, to candy, soy milk doughnuts, & a whole line of do-it-yourself packaged foods, like puddings, spaghetti sauces, curry sauces, & baked goods mixes. We bought a few to bring home, & some soy milk doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow :)

We ad a little time till lunch, so we headed to the big Mitsukoshi department store across the way. Tomoko told us that the flagship store is in the Ginza in Tokyo, & it was one of the first big, successful department stores in Japan.
This is the entry lobby of the Matsuyama Mitsukoshi. If felt like a hotel!

We were kind of wandering around there when I spotted some ties on sale, so we went to look (Charlie is always looking for ties for work :). He found a couple that would match some of his shirts (including a purple one with white polka-dots!), & then he saw they had spring-type tie clips. He has an awful time finding these in the states, so he was delighted to see some on sale here. He got one for himself & then suggested Brendan pick one out, since he is entering his time of interviewing for school & jobs, etc. We felt like we'd scored quite the booty here at Mitsukoshi :)

It was time to find our lunch place, so we headed back to the ropeway to find it. Yuka-san had suggested that we try one of the few vegetarian restaurants in Matsuyama, & with a name like "Charlie's Vegetable" how could we resist?
It was a "bi-king" (Japanese for Viking) style restaurant, what we call a smorgasbord. There were all sorts of salads, veggies, soups, breads, cute little desserts & it all looked yummy! We were seated on the second floor, up a cool spiral staircase,  & the food was on the first floor. It was good we got there early because it was a very popular place! Many of the veggies were labeled with the farm they had come from, & they were gorgeous.
Lisa's bi-king lunch
Since this was our last day with Tomoko & Nobuko-san, it was fun to linger over lunch & visit some.

Brendan's t-shirt (there's a Tardis under Beanie) sparked a conversation about Dr. Who & Nyan Cat, which led to Brendan finding the YouTube video of Nyan Cat on my phone to show them. Internet memes (& sci fi) are a bit removed from Nobuko-san's world, so it was a fun & lively conversation :)

The after-lunch plan was that Charlie would join Tomoko & her mom, who were going to meet Tomoko's Matsuyama aunts (her father's sisters) & then all go to see Matsuyama-jo, the castle on the top of the mountain in the middle of Matsuyama. After reading about it, the castle seemed a bit difficult for me to navigate (you'll see why later) so Brendan & I planned to go back to the hotel & rest a bit.

Since there was some time until everyone was meeting, we headed to Starbucks for dessert :) We promised to meet again when we come back in two years & then Brendan & I said goodbye to Nobuko-san & Tomoko & got on a trolley back to the hotel. It was hard to say goodbye!!!

While we rested, Charlie had quite the adventure, on a few levels. He was the only guy meeting some (elderly) Japanese ladies he'd never met before, & fortunately Tomoko could translate for him. Also, the castle is only accessible by many, many stairs or a cable car- they chose cable car:
He said the hike to get to the castle proper was pretty ardurous, because there were many fortified out-buildings to pass through. The view was spectacular, though:

At one point they all had to take their shoes off & put rubber slippers on to navigate the castle, & then there were the stairs:
It was quite a lot for the ladies to navigate & Charlie marveled at their stamina:
At the end of it, they bought him a kakigori (shaved ice) that looks like Mt. Fuji (with a flag, of course :)
Then he said his good-byes to Tomoko & her mom & took the trolley back to the hotel.

We got it together to go find dinner after this. There was a little temple I wanted to visit before it closed,  that Charlie had seen & told me about, so we headed over to the Enmanji Buddhist shrine before dinner. It's tiny, & right in the middle of a parking lot, but it has some beautiful statues & cute omamori.

The little pouchy-things hanging there are available as omamori. There was no one in attendance, but there was a sign explaining how to make a donation to buy them, so we did :) Unfortunately there's no info anywhere (on the internet at least) to explain their significance. They are unlike any other omamori I've ever seen, so I would like to know someday...
Enmanji omamori & friends :)
Then we went back to the Italian restaurant we'd gone to our first evening here for dinner. The wood-fired pizza is so yummy!

Then we did a tiny bit more omiyage shopping (the little fluffy guy in the omamori picture had to come home with me! His name is Bari-san & he's the mascot for the Imabari region :). And went to the conbini to buy breakfast.

Then we unpacked & repacked our luggage (arrrrrgh!!!) to try to make everything fit. Tomorrow we make the long journey (~7 hours) by train back to Tokyo.