Wednesday, April 08, 2009

They weren't kidding

When folks told us there wasn't much English in Japan they weren't kidding. NOT. KIDDING. ONE. BIT. Luckily with the yin and yang of Nate and I and the sheer will to survive we kept each other cool calm and collected and were able to navigate rather well across 200 miles of southwestern Japan.

I was beginning to wonder if we were meant to go to Japan. In the beginning we struggled to even book the tickets. Between the airline and the bank not communicating over international credit cards that was a three day process. Followed by the joy of finding hotels that were either sold out or $480 a night. Just to give you an idea, in the five nights we spent in Japan we laid our heads in four different establishments all about the size of my closet. On the day of our departure the computer systems went down and we were in the check-in line for two hours and I stood there thinking, really maybe these are all signs. Our plane left in typical "Manila time" but at least it left and the rest of the trip seemed like smooth sailing in comparison. Knowing we would be shuffling around I packed light which is near impossible for me, and by light I mean clothing for our family of four all fit in this pack:

We landed in Osaka checked in, ate and hit the sack about midnight. The next morning bright and early we were up and ready to explore. The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament was in full swing so we were on the look-out for men the size of small planets. After we saw one they just came out of the woodwork.

We shopped around a bit and enjoyed the "look" of Japan. Each country seems to have its own style and Japan clearly has good style.
We had lunch at a ramen house with no English menu where ordering for Holden (plain noodles with no spice) proved to be a small challenge. This is also the first time I realized just how many strange looks we were getting by even considering bringing two small children into a restaurant. There were lots of businessmen out for lunch and they didn't seem too thrilled. One of the many pros of Manila is that it is very child friendly. No one would even blink an eye if you walked into the nicest joint in town with a brood of children in tow. Upon returning to the hotel to pick up our bags, Finnley launched into his first (of many) tirades on the trip. Screaming bloody murder only begins to describe it as we disrupted the entire lobby of the rather upscale hotel. Taking our cue we were off on the shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima.

The train was amazing. Fast and efficient, just like everything else in Japan, we were swept across the countryside. Past cities and villages through mountains and across valleys we flew. It was amazing to see Japan from the vantage and it was, as everything else we experienced, not what we expected.
Each hotel we checked into got smaller and smaller but each had the same endearing amenities of in-room pajamas, called yukatas, and warmed toilet seats! Just a little tip of Japanese toilets, don't push the buttons, unless you are up for a little adventure. We checked into our hotel and were off on the trolley to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and what is known as the A-bomb dome.
The nuclear bomb detonated almost directly above this building and it amazingly is still standing and a symbol for peace. We happened to get to the memorial right before sunset which made it even more moving in the light. After we wandered around the park for a bit we headed back towards our hotel shopping among the many night markets.

Thanks to kids who no longer sleep in, every day we were up and at it early. Day 3 found us taking a ferry and heading to the small island of Miyajima home of the Itsukushima Shrine and the giant torii gate which floats during high tide.

There were dozens of small deer on the island that were almost too comfortable with the crowds of people.
We spent the day sightseeing doing a little shopping and trying new foods like momiji manju, a maple leaf shaped bun filled with custard. This is also where Holden got his Hachimaki (headband) which he wore the rest of the trip.

The same day we braved the rail again and headed into Kyoto which was Japan's capital from 794 to 1868. Our 3rd hotel which happened to be a traditional Japanese guest house called a ryoken. Ryoken's usually have communal bathrooms and showers and slippers are worn inside instead of shoes. While it would have been great to pass the buck to Nate in all the bathing duties of the boys, lucky for us, we had the one room with it's own private bath and shower. While in Hiroshima I caught a bug, apparently from the one person in Japan NOT wearing a doctor's mask and that night in Kyoto found me sick sick sick! After venturing out for some hot tea at starbucks it was clear I was not heading on to dinner. Nate and Holden tucked Finn and I into the room with the heat turned up to a warm 30 degrees Celsius to fight off the chills and headed out for what they called "guys night" and as Holden said, "It's guys night dad, we can do whatever we want." I am not sure what they did but clearly it was a good time as "guys night" has become a weekly request around these parts.

The next morning we took it slow and easy and headed out to the Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds to enjoy the cherry blossoms which were just barely coming out. There were plenty of tripods and cameras set up apparently to catch the very moment it happened!

As we were looking around the ever-curious Holden showing us his ever-present super skills, jumped across a small moat separating the garden from the palace and low and behold off went the alarms. Loud alarms. Saying things in Japanese. Which, of course, we couldn't understand. I am assuming we aren't on a watch list as they did allow us out of the country a few days later.
After exploring the Nijo Castle, it's gorgeous gardens and its floors that squeak when you walk on them to warn of intruders we were off to check into our next hotel.

It is at this point we are on the search for diapers as well. I was packing light remember? We found ourselves into a drug store where, go figure, everything was in Japanese. Explaining the need for ibuprofen was easy, thanks to the ever-handy lonely planet guide and then the clerk read the box and tried to explain how many tablets to take per day. Ah! That would be a good thing to know. I understood 2 tabs and then from there on out it was all Greek to me! We bought what we assumed were diapers. Once we got settled into the hotel we realized rather than diapers it was eight boxes on wipes instead. Oops. I was still feeling sick at this point and so Nate went off on his own to find an ATM and diapers. A little info on ATMs in Japan; there are lots of Japanese. There are few in English. Imagine just pushing a few buttons hoping cash comes out. Nope! There were only 3 in the entire city that were in English. Nate didn't find one of the three but diapers came home with him. In size medium. When I first saw the bag I thought, ah well, better to be too big than too small. UNTIL I OPENED THEM to find pull-ups. Pull-ups that are made for babies 10 kilos and up. On tiny 10 lb Finnley they certainly would not work. Off Nate went again and a few hours and 20 stores later he came back not with smaller diapers but with tape instead. In the many variety of stores he went to, from grocery to convenient, no one carried small diapers. So tape would have to do...that was fun!

The next day I was sicker than before and Holden and Nate went off on their own for more castles and shrines. This was the one hotel we stayed at for two nights and I was so glad that as sick as I was, I could just stay in bed. Holden voiced his disappointment as he was enjoying the adventure of a new "home" each day.
After lunch, the boys returned and Finnley and I ventured out with them to Gion. Gion is the geisha district of Kyoto. The streets are lined with preserved merchant houses that are shops, restaurants and teahouses. We didn't see any maiko, but there were many people in traditional Japanese clothing milling about and it was a beautiful experience all the same.

Shopping was on the mind afterwards and we found a few pieces of traditional Japanese woodblock art and writing to bring home and a traditional outfit for each of the boys. That night we tried to go out for sushi but Finnley made it clear he preferred to be home, so once again we left the older boys to it and little devil and I headed to the hotel room. Ah, once again we were reminded that he is certainly his own strong-willed spirit and NOT the clone of his brother.

Our final morning had us heading to one last castle, with all four of us now fighting the sickness that had spread. We decided, with Holden's help, to go to the Kinkakuji, the Golden pavilion which is covered in gold leaf.
It was over the top, but beautiful and the day was sunny and gorgeous as well. Here we tried cherry blossom ice cream. It tasted exactly how I would imagine cherry blossoms to taste. Strange, I know.

A little more shopping along the way for things to bring home to the staff and we were off on the train once again headed to the airport. Everything went smoothly and on-time and we while we had a great time, we were cold and fighting the sick and had never been more ready to be in warm humid Manila!

1 comment:

Team AC said...

wow, sounds like you had a great time... hope you get better soon!