Sunday, July 26, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 18: Last Full Day in Japan

Today we got up a bit early to go to the breakfast buffet at our hotel. Unlike 2 weeks ago, when we last did this, we had to set an alarm to get up- there's no jet lag at the end of the trip. Can it really be 2 weeks ago? Good grief!

You could tell it was going to be a scorcher just by looking out the window- the high today is supposed to be 95 degrees.

The plan today was for Momo to come to our hotel so we could look at the photos that were taken at Disney last Thursday by the pros, to see if we wanted any. We had a card with a code to see them online. Then we would meet Hiroko for lunch & afternoon activities. Charlie met Momo & Aoi-chan in the lobby around 10:00 am & brought her up. She brought along a present from her mom, Yoko-san- wagashi!

It's hard to believe, but these are all edible sweets! They are gorgeous, sculpted from mochi with red bean paste filling. They're usually served with matcha green tea. Yum!!

We looked at the laptop while Aoi-chan bounced on the beds :) Then we headed out to meet Hiroko & Nozomu-kun at a nearby entrance to Shinjuku station. The idea was to head toward the nearby Tokyo municipal office buildings where there's a park with water play, swings, & other fun stuff. On the way we would get some lunch. And we would get most of the way by traveling through the maze of train stations under the streets of Shinjuku, to avoid the heat. We met Hiroko as planned, and part of the trip was via a bouncy, moving walkway, which Aoi-chan loved.

Unfortunately, it being Sunday, when all of the office workers are off, a lot of restaurants were closed, so we ended-up at a Subway :) This being Japan, the sandwiches were great! Brendan brought Beanie out while we ate & Aoi-chan had fun high-fiving him.

In the office building near where we had lunch there was a showroom for the Daikin air conditioner company, & they were having a special event for kids. In the middle of the floor was a circular area with projected bubbles, & when the kids stepped on them they popped! Aoi-chan & Nozomu-kun had so much fun with these! The ladies in the showroom laughed so much as the kids charged around & screamed with joy.

Then, we had another mascot close-encounter, when Peechon-kun arrived.

Peechon is the word for a drop of water :)

There were colouring activities & other games. There was also a 3-D movie about air conditioners. Here we are after the movie:

We decided to head outside into the heat to go to the park, & Charlie & Brendan said their good-byes & headed back to the hotel. We walked a few blocks to the park.

The kids moved from the swings to the slides to the water area, but didn't stay long because Momo said the water was more like bath water & not very refreshing. They stayed in long enough for their wading moms to get soaked through, though :)

Then we decided to go find someplace to have something sweet & a cold drink. It didn't take long for Nozomu-kun to fall fast asleep in his carriage. Aoi-chan followed soon after, in spite of the heat (or maybe because of it). We found a cafe & had yummies. I had lemon squash & a cake with black tea leaves baked into it & marmalade on top.

The kids slept through the whole thing.

We weren't far from Shinjuku station at this point, so very soon it was time to say goodbye. It made me very sad. I'll see Momo & Aoi-chan later this week on skype & Brendan plans to skype with Dai-kun to practise Japanese & English, respectively. But these kids will be 4 & 5 years old when I see them next!

I walked back to the hotel & it was a relief to be in air conditioning again. We rested for a bit & then went back out into the heat, to the conbini, to buy dinner. It was kind of like walking into a wall of heat.

Here's dinner:

And Charlie finished up with a lovely Japanese puffy peanut butter sandwich.

We've spent the evening packing, & are waiting to skype one more time with Tomoko & her mom Nobuko-san, who are in the south of Japan, near Fukuoka City. Tomorrow morning Brendan & I plan to play our usual Sunday night RPG through Ravelry, only 13 hours ahead, until we have to truck the luggage over to Shinjuku station to catch the Narita Express. Our plane is scheduled to leave at around 4:30 pm. We change planes in Minneapolis/St. Paul, & hope to be home in Rochester by 10:30 pm the same day. It always amazes me, coming back from Japan, when we land in Minneapolis or Detroit about a half hour before we took off from Narita. Gotta love the international date line...

I am very tired from so much activity, so much heat, so much walking, but I am going to miss my friends here so much! However, I do miss home- I wonder how the tomatoes are doing?

Thanks to all who have followed along with our adventures in Japan! Mata ne!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 17: Shopping

Woke up to another hot, hazy day in Shinjuku. Today is our second-to-last full day in Japan, & since we had traveled to Kyoto earlier int he trip, we didn't do much shopping before. It didn't make sense to haul it all to Kyoto & back. Tomorrow we get to see Momo, Hiroko, & the kids again, so today was shopping day.

After a yummy breakfast of baked goods, Charlie & I headed across the train tracks to Takashimaya Times Square.

We'd decided to do some gift shopping, for friends at home, together, buy some lunch, & then he'd head back while I continued shopping. The building in the photo, known as Takashimaya Times Square, is made up of the Takashimaya department store on the left, Tokyu Hands, which is different from the department store in that it has a whole floor of stationary goods, a floor of games & novelties, a floor of do-it-yourself supplies, and so on. On the 11th floor of Takashimaya is Yuzawaya, which I've described before to be kind of like JoAnn Fabrics, only on steroids. Then the top 2 levels are restaurants & the 2 basement levels are food.

Charlie & I did our collective shopping, & then I spent about an hour & a half more looking for prezzies & stocking up on stationary supplies, like the mechanical pencils that Brendan loves & the stickers & post-it note pads that you can only find in Japan. So cute!!! And then I hit Yuzawaya- usually I find really good crochet books & ignore the yarn, much of which is similar to what I can find in the US. This time it was the reverse. I've been having trouble finding good self-striping sock wool & Yuzawaya had loads. As for books, not so much- but that's okay. Wool is lighter & squishable, so better for hauling home. Here's the morning haul (no spoilers :)

I headed home & was very ready for lunch when I got there. I had found a really lovely bento for lunch when we shopped this morning, & I wish I'd taken a photo but I was so hungry I forgot!

I did take a photo of the omamori & straps I've collected on the trip. Omamori are some of my favourite things to find in Japan. They are beautiful good luck charms that you can buy at shrines & temples, & they work by either deflecting bad luck, or attracting a particular kind of luck to you. They are gorgeous, varied, & usually have small bells on them that make a beautiful chiming sound. They are my favouite souvenirs :)

From left-right: A tiny scented bag with 2 rabbits from the Chion-in temple in Kyoto, a brocade omamori from the Todai-ji in Nara, Minnie & Mickey Mouse wearing yukata from Disneyland, a metal omamori showing painted detailing from the Byoudou-in temple in Uji, the Buddha's feet from the Mimuroto-ji in Uji, and a sheaf of rice made from beautiful cords from Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto.

After lunch Charlie, Brendan, & I went out to get our train tickets for the Narita express train, back to Narita airport on Monday. Afterward, we found the Muji store located in the Lumine 2 department store next to Shinjuku station. Muji is a concept store that we really like. They carry things that are simple, with minimal packaging, often made from recycled materials. They have a line of foods that include simple-to-make puddings, which we really like. I want a Muji store in the US!! MOMA in NYC carries Muji goods in the catalogue, but not the food items :(

They only had mango puddings, so we got a few, then we found some interesting curry mixes that I can make with Quorn tenders & such, so we got some to try. On the way home we picked up some more mango sodas from the nearby specialty shop that sells them, & I hit Starbucks for a soy matcha frappuchino- yum! When we got back to our room they were cleaning, so we sat in the lobby & the guys played cards.

This is the view from the window behind Charlie & Brendan. You can see the train tracks between our hotel & Takashimaya Times Square. 
We had brought some dvd's to watch during down time, so we watched the Incredibles & I knitted on on a mystery adventure knit project from Ravelry. Charlie & I went back to our soba place across the way, in Takashimaya, because I wanted to have the mochi nabe with soba noodles again. Brendan stayed home & had sushi, because he wanted to work on a D&D encounter for Charlie & I to play this evening. We did a bit more gift shopping on the way back to the hotel. I got a picture of the sun as it was setting.

We played D&D for a couple hours, practising with our new characters. Brendan had DM'ed an intergenerational D&D group from the time he was in middle-school until this past year using 4.0 rules. He discovered 5.0 at college this past semester & decided to create a whole new game for our group. So he's spent the summer world-building & doing character creation with everyone who wants to continue in the group, about 5 or 6 of us. He's been doing small encounters with Charlie & me to help us get used to our characters' abilities. We were a bit distracted by 2 different sets of fireworks that we could see from our 24th floor window- beautiful!

Tomorrow we get to see the kids again! A great way to spend our last day in Japan!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 16: Teien Museum and Daien-ji

Charlie had checked-out a different bakery for breakfast yummies, so I had to photograph them, of course.

We had already started eating the delicious fruit muffin, and Charlie & Brendan had chocolate croissants, while Charlie had chosen the very interesting melon pan at the bottom of the photo for me. I couldn't imagine what the white things were... turns out they're sugar cube bits! It was amazing...

Brendan decided to have a quiet day today, & Charlie & I were determined to visit a museum in the Meguro area of Tokyo that we tried to visit 2 years ago, but had been under renovation. Turns out, it was worth the wait.

We hopped a Yamanote line train from Shinjuku station around 11:45 & waited... & waited... & waited... It's very unusual for this to happen because Japanese trains really do run like clockwork. Charlie saw a mention of a delay on the video screen over the door (they sometimes offer English translations) about a "personal injury" delay- yikes! After at least 10 minutes the train got moving, & it was about a 10 minute ride to Meguro station.

It was nearly 12:30 by then, so we looked for a place for lunch. We ended up at a family restaurant-style cafe called "Gusto". It had a non-smoking section-woot! Charlie ordered the beef omurice set (with soup, salad, & beverage) & I ordered the shrimp Doria set, which also included a jelly dessert.

Omurice is rice fried with vegetables & meat, with a soy sauce & ketchup sauce mixed in, that's covered by a thin omelet, & then covered with another sauce. I make a veggie version at home, with Quorn chicken tenders, so Charlie was interested to try the Japanese, meat version. He liked it.

My shrimp Doria (no idea where "Doria" comes from) was saffron rice smothered with a cheesy cream sauce & a few shrimp, served hot in a gratin dish. I took a handful of lactaid tablets & dug in.

I enjoyed it very much! The jelly dessert was peach, but a very different texture from jello. It was gooey bits of yummy floating in yummy juice. Charlie tried to eat some, but was put-off by the texture. I liked it though :)

Then we were off the the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. The museum is housed in an art deco building that was built in the early 1930's by Emperor Hirohito's uncle, Prince Asaka, who had studied in France & become a great fan of the art deco movement. The home was used as a government guest house after WWII, & then turned into a museum in the early 1980's. It was pretty much completely dismantled starting in 2013 (according to a film of the renovations we saw there) and refurbished. It was amazing. Here are some of the highlights:

Absolutely gorgeous! While we were there a thunderstorm blew in. The rain, thunder, & lightning were impressive. We were worried about getting back to the train station, but the rain let up & we were able to proceed with just the one umbrella we'd brought. I was glad we could keep going because there was a Buddhist temple that Charlie had seen in the guidebook that we wanted to visit as well. It was a little beyond the train station, & the maps were kind of confusing, but we found it tucked between high-rise apartment & office buildings.

The Daien-ji is an Edo-era temple that was destroyed in 1772, in one of the 3 great fires of the Edo period. It was rebuilt in the early 1800's as a memorial to the nearly 15,000 people who were killed in the fire, and also houses statues of Buddha's 500 arhats, or followers. It's a tiny place, but very beautiful.

Even in the middle of a workday, people buzzed in and out. It was a very good example of the Japanese way of worship: not a one-day-a-week affair, but any time the spirit moves you, stop by & say a prayer.

We took the train back to Shinjuku & bought tomorrow's breakfast from the same bakery as today's- woot! Then returned to the hotel & rested by reading more of Terry Pratchett's Masquerade before dinner. We went back to the Italian restaurant we visited before going to Kyoto (remember the hood hood bird?) & ate delicious pizza & side dishes. Then back to our room to finish reading Terry & laugh a lot :)

I can't believe we've only got 2 full days left in Japan! Tomorrow I have to finish my omiyage shopping!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 15: Tokyo Disneyland

I was up early today- 6:45 am- before the guys were even up, so I could meet Momo & Aoi-chan at Shinjuku station at 8:00 am for our trip to Disney. Charlie got up & ate breakfast with me, & when Brendan woke up he turned the tv on to NHK (kind of like PBS) to see the kids shows. We love Pitagora Suichie (Pythagoras Switch), with their amazing Rube Goldbergs & Algorithm Marches. Today we saw Asimo, the famous robot (& clones) doing the Algorithm March!

The Japanese says "Do your best Asimo!"

When I met Momo, I found out that Hiroko-san, who was supposed to join us with Nozomu-kun, had caught the cold that her son & husband had had in Kyoto, so they didn't join us after all. She did send some suggestions of things to do at Disneyland, which we appreciated very much.

In general, we have learned to avoid Shinjuku station before 9:00 am like the plague, because this is the busiest train station in the world, & folks are packed into trains like sardines during morning rush hour. But it was going to take nearly an hour & 2 trains to get where we wanted to go, & we wanted an early start. Soooo... we got packed like sardines into our first train! It took about 3 stops before I could get a seat, but the train was so packed I wasn't in danger of falling over (my balance it pretty bad on trains...). Momo finally picked Aoi-chan up because she was getting kind of crowded. By the time we changed trains it was nearly empty- whew! The next train was no big deal. And then, we were there.

It was a shortish walk from the station to the entrance. It was also lightly raining, but if that kept the crowds away, we were up for it.

Just like in the US, there's a bag check before you can enter. They ask you to have all your bags open & ready, but we'd forgotten about Aoi-chan's backpack. The big burly guard addressed Aoi-chan very politely as "Minnie-san" (she was wearing Minnie Mouse ears) & asked to look in her bag. He was so funny that she just laughed & let him. And so the Disney experience began :)

Hiroko suggested we get fast passes to "Pooh-san", the Winnie the Pooh ride, so we did that first, after consulting the map. The passes were for 11:30-12:30, & it was 9:30 when we got them, so we had some time to wait in a few lines, I mean rides :) We went to the "Small World" ride first, which I've been on at Disney World, but instead of being the trite & tacky ride I remembered, it was uplifting. I don't know, maybe it was being there with a little girl who was just so fascinated with it all, & maybe it was because I was seeing it in Japan, where I have discovered just how small (& wonderful) the world really is.

Then we moved on to one of the main events, from Aoi-chan's point of view. We went to meet "Miki", which is what Mickey Mouse is called in Japanese. Aoi-chan has been talking about visiting "Mickey's house with Lisa" since Momo told her we were going to Disneyland, & so we got into the 40-minute-long-wait line to see him. Most of the time was spent inside, with things to do & see.

And then, finally, we were there! You could, of course, have their photographer take a photo of you with Miki, which you could then purchase, but they also allowed 1 photo on your smart phone, so we opted for this.

After the photos were taken, Miki gave me a big hug & gestured to the photographer to take another photo. I told Miki (in Japanese) that I'd come see him again & he hugged me again :) I guess Miki likes me!

We wandered around Toon Town for a bit, visiting Minnie's house (no Minnie, but interactive stuff) & Daisy Duck's boat, & riding the Roger Rabbit car ride, which was very loud & dark at times. It didn't bother Aoi-chan at all. Amazingly, the rain had stopped, the sky was blue, & there was a lovely breeze when we came out.

Then we did Pooh-san''s Honey Hunt. No photos were allowed, sadly (dunno why), but it was cute & fun. At the end there was the smell of honey, I guess we found it!

Then we got in line for lunch at the Red Queen's Banquet (Alice in Wonderland). It was another long wait, but Aoi-chan was really amazing, considering that she was hungry & tired.

When we finally got there, it was a cafeteria with assistants to help you get the food you wanted.

It was lovely to get seated & start eating!

Heart-shaped fish!

After lunch Aoi-chan wanted to ride the carousel. I stayed outside & took pictures.

Then we decided to visit Cinderella's Castle. On the way we had our photo taken by the castle. They had folks stationed around various placed to take your photo for you, on your camera.

There was a line, of course, but it wasn't too long before we were in & looking at the Cinderella story told in illustrations & little dioramas. In the final room you could pose with the glass slipper & on Cinderella's throne.

I had told Momo that I wanted to get a princess dress for Aoi-chan while we were there, since she loves dress-up, so we went looking for a shop. On the way, there was another photo-op, a statue of Donald & Daisy Duck in Japanese matsuri costume.

And then we ran into a small brass band, also in matsuri dress, playing Disney songs. They invited children from the crowd to come up & help them do a dance, & Aoi-chan ran right up to join them. Momo was really surprised, because she's always been shy about this kind of thing before. After a rehearsal of the dance moves, they danced with the band. It was so cute!!

Then back to the dress search. We found the shop, & when we asked Aoi-chan, she said she wanted an Elsa dress, so we found one & she could change into it right there, in a dressing room. Meet Elsa (with Minnie ears :)

Then I did a little omiyage shopping, & we walked back to the train with Princess Elsa :)

Who fell asleep within 10 minutes of boarding the train.

Say what you like about Disney commercialism, but we had a wonderful time there. Aoi-chan & Momo seemed to have a great time & I know I did. I couldn't stop smiling :)

The ride back to Shinjuku was about 45 minutes, & due to some fast train app searching by Momo we only had to take 2 trains again. She & Aoi-chan stayed on the train to get to Ikebukuro, near where Momo's mom lives, & where they're staying for the weekend. The train left me at the exit right by the hotel- win! We are planning to see Momo, Aoi-chan, & Hiroko & her family again on Sunday, our last full day in Japan. Thank goodness!!! It's going to be awfully hard to say goodbye to them!!

Charlie & Brendan had a laid-back day visiting sights nearby in Shinjuku that Charlie found in a guidebook & online. They visited the museum that has Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" which was very cool to see. And they also visited the Shinjuku NS Building, which houses the largest pendulum clock in the world in its courtyard.

It's powered by water!

They very sweetly went out & got dinner to bring back to the hotel, since my feet were kind of sore from all the walking today. Then we read some Terry Pratchett & laughed a lot.

Tomorrow- shopping? Rest? We shall see...