Sunday, July 12, 2009

Our Trip to Japan

So we’ve officially been back over a week and I’m struggling to pull myself together. I still feel like sleeping until lunchtime with my jet lag. Maybe part of my problem is that I’m currently obsessed with Jennifer McGuire’s “Thinking Inking” class (more sharing to come) that she’s teaching on 2Peas so I’m staying up too late with that and having trouble making time to finish the last of my unpacking and catching up online. Anyhow, I’m finally getting it together a bit. So are you ready for a novel??? I decided if I’m going to take the time to tell about our trip, I might as well go into enough detail that I can cut and paste the stories right into future scrapbook layouts. Feel free to skim it. LOL.

Day 1- Travel Day(s)–We lost almost an entire day due to the time difference
Sunday, June 21, 2009 & Monday, June 22, 2009

It turns out that I had built up the anticipation and horror of traveling to Japan alone with the girls to be way worse than it actually turned out to be. I had gone a bit overboard in making sure we had plenty to keep us busy with activity books, coloring books, actual books, magazines, videos with spare batteries, snacks, iPod, etc., etc. I think we could have spent twice as long on there (but I thank God that wasn’t the case). During our flight we reached a patch of turbulence that was the worst I have experienced to date. The girls got their special kids meals earlier than everyone else and they had just been served when the plane started bouncing all over creation. We all were doing our best to hold the trays together, but we still managed to dump syrup all over the place. At one point I actually started to fear for my life as the flight attendants dropped everything and got buckled into their seats and I felt the need to pray out loud. Maybe it’s was a bit melodramatic, but I kept having visions of what the last minutes of other doomed flights must have been like. Luckily after about 20 minutes everything calmed and I could sigh a sense of relief. Yoshi was there to greet us after we left immigration and customs! More relief!

When we got there I was unbearably hot. My hair was seriously flipping out from the humidity (I finally really understood the Friends episode with Monica’s hair in the Bahamas). It was also somewhat shocking to see it get pitch dark by 8pm at night in the summer. Because we arrived in the evening we didn’t suffer from jet lag too badly-We were able to travel the 2 hours from the airport to our Hilton Hotel on the Disney property in Tokyo and go to bed at a halfway decent hour. Personally it was my first stay at a Hilton Hotel, but I’m guessing it’s not one of their top properties. It was OK, but Yoshi had just had the pleasure of staying in a 5-star hotel in Shanghai that he got for the same price so he said it paled in comparison which wasn’t hard to imagine.

Day 2- Tokyo Disneyland
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For the most part this park is like any other Disneyland so I will just talk about a few of the differences. First off, one huge visual difference is as you enter Main Street you are covered by this huge glass enclosure and it’s 100% indoors. I don’t know if it’s because it rains a lot or it provides shade during the hot summers or what. They also don’t have a railroad like the other parks which we found ourselves missing.

One awesome difference is in their Winnie the Pooh ride. The queuing area is way more interesting with giant pages from “Pooh’s Honey Tree” torn out and forming dividers for the line that wraps around (luckily Japanese kids were still in school so it was considered off season touring with short lines for everything). Anyway, the first time you get on you think it’s going to be the same cutesy (boring) ride found at the other parks, but it is SO much better. The cars spin around fast in this large dizzy room with Humfalumps during Pooh’s dream and then you’re whisked off to a room with Tigger where your cars literally bounce along, then they have a hologram image of pooh spinning in a dark starry room as you’re coming back to reality. Anyway, I am in love with the creativity of it all and it makes the US versions seem pretty disappointing.

A photo spot outside the Dumbo ride...

One annoying aspect of Japanese Disney parks are their characters. Tokyo Disneyland has this strange idea that people shouldn’t form any kind of line to take pictures with them so just when you think you’re up next to meet them, their handler tells the characters to mix it up and move to another nearby location where you end up to the end of the line again. We have experienced this every time we go so Yoshi finally asked them why they do it and they told him it was so that everyone could enjoy time with the character which makes zero sense to us ‘cause we found ourselves wasting enormous chunks of time trying to get just one picture. I seriously started to get so frustrated by it that I considered writing corporate a letter. Maybe I still will...

This was the only character photo we managed to get (probably because all seven of them were there which was pretty cool):

One more complaint and then I will move onto happier topics. Japan has this annoying way of adding a whole new layer of un-necessary rules that they are fanatical about. I’m a play by the rules kind of gal and I have never been scolded or corrected so many times in my life (although maybe I attracted unwanted attention since I was one of the only white people there). I don’t know if Yoshi is more American than Japanese at this point, but even he started to get ticked by it. One time they scolded me for allowing Hayley to standing on my lap during an outdoor performance despite the fact that I saw about 5 other Mom’s doing it (and we were almost in the back row). Another time they told me I needed to close my umbrella while we were seated for another outdoor show even though we still had another 5 minutes before it started. And more commonly even though the park was dead and we were sometimes the only people on the attraction they always insisted that we get off, walk around and get back on. Come on now!!! Are you kidding me???

These were our views of the castle as we were headed back to the hotel (I never get tired of this):

Day 3- Disney Sea
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This is the most unique of all the Disney Parks in the world. Almost every attraction you will find here is one of a kind and the creativity that went into creating this Park is amazing. From a design standpoint I am in awe... All the “Lands” have to do with different water themes and rather than the typical Disney parades down Main Street, they have 3 separate shows / parades around the central sea hub. One of the lands looks exactly like Venice and you can take Gondola rides through the canals. Another land is whimsical and all themed around The Little Mermaid.

Anyway, being that June is raining season for Japan it poured cats and dogs for our first 4 hours we were there, but then it was really nice out and we had a great time. Here we are tolerating the rain in the Little Mermaid Land...

The view inside King Triton's underwater area where they have the rides, play areas and theater:

Then they have a land that is dedicated to Aladdin (although I fail to see the water connection here). They have a super cool 2 story carrousel where you can ride the Genie, camels, elephants, etc. instead of horses.

They actually formed a line for people to take their picture with Minnie dressed like Jasmine! WooHoo!

One of our favorite Disney Sea attractions in concept was one based on the old movie 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The first time you get on it you have no idea what you’re in store for. Outside they have this big body of water and you board onto these old submarine looking contraptions and it looks like you are diving under water. Then they activate search lights that you can control and explore the ocean floor. In reality you’re on dry land the entire time and they have water and bubbles between two sheets of glass, but our girls were completely fooled. We think to really get the effect, they need to spray the exteriors with dripping water so they seem wet coming and going. The first time I rode it I immediately thought the concept would translate perfectly with a brightly colored Finding Nemo ride so when I heard they heard the California Disneyland had a new Finding Nemo ride I was ecstatic, but I think it didn’t turn out to be anything nearly as impressive.

We had lunch over in an American Themed Cape Cod area and we ran into Mickey and Minnie over there. Love their outfits! :)

This park is gigantic and very spread out. They made it so you have to walk back to the central hub in order to visit the next land and then they were always having shows or something that required us to backtrack too so we did a ton of walking this day– I want to say 6 or 7 miles, maybe more. Sydney was a real trooper and never complained. I was thinking with all the walking we did over the course of the week that I definitely lost a couple pounds, but my pants feel as tight as ever (darn it)!

Here are some photos from a show that circled around the central sea and then stopped and set up individual shows at 4 or 5 different spots along the edge. I was in awe of the costumes!

Day 4- Travel Day from Tokyo to Nara
Thursday, June 25, 2009

We took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and then another train to Nara City to see Yoshi’s Mom (it took about 4 hours with all our suitcases in tow). The day was spent just getting settled, hitting the grocery store to stock up on basics for my meals like imported cheddar & mozzarella cheese, rare low-fat milk, etc. Suzuyo had bought each girl a bunch of treats and had purchased each of them a brand new pair of hello kitty slippers sitting by her door waiting for them to slip into after removing their shoes at her door. So sweet! We were pooped and it felt good to take it easy.

Day 5- Visiting Nara Park
Friday, June 26, 2009

This is a little covered market right outside the Nara Park Train Station (just a short trip from Yoshi's Mother's house). We stopped here to grab McDonald's for lunch on our way to the Park.

Eating Lunch on the outskirts of the Park (we ate here because we didn't want to share our meal with the Park creatures). :)

Nara Park is famous for the tame deer that roam free throughout the area. They are believed to be messengers of God so they are treated as sacred inhabitants. Parts of the park are right in the middle of the city, but there is a huge fine for hitting a deer with you car. They sell these deer "cookies" for 150 yen, but Yoshi and I have learned for that price we can get 2 loaves of day old bread and have way more time and fun feeding the deer. Once they know you have food they follow you quite agressively...

It cracked me up that deer just hang out right there near the sidewalk shops...

Sydney formed a bond with this particular deer and they walked with each other for awhile before parting ways...

They had many young deer that were born in the spring, but this was one of the smallest ones we found. Little Bambi...

Yoshi, Suzuyo and Sydney outside the Todai-ji Temple (752 AD) housing Japan's largest Bronze Buddha statue. I had seen it before so we didn't pay to go past the gates this time.

We were so hot, sweaty and tired afterwards so we just went home and crashed. I felt a little weird, but Yoshi's Mom was hollering over to me to take this picture of her with the girls in the tub that night. They were having a grand time with Grandma...

Day 6- Our Visit to Miyajima & Hiroshima
Saturday, June 27, 2009

At first when Yoshi asked me where I wanted to visit using our 1-week bullet train pass, I said I wanted to go back to Tokyo to see the Tokyo Tower before they tear it down. We had tried to work it so we could visit there while at Disneyland, but it was nowhere near there and we had all our suitcases with us which made it nearly impossible, but then when we finally got to his Mom's and I realized how long it would take to go back to Tokyo (and then back to his Mom's again) I decided I would like to visit the Iconic Red gate at Miyajima (island) and see nearby Hiroshima where the atomic bomb was dropped instead.

Even though it was a bit hazy out, it was such a gorgeous, scenic area! I can see why this famous red gate and padoda are photographed over and over again. It turns out Suzuyo had never been to either spot before (and Yoshi had only been there once as a kid on a fieldtrip) so it was a fun trip for all of us.

Mount Misen

The Famous Floating Torii--said by the Japanese to be one of the countries most scenic views. During high tide it appears to float on water, while during low tide it is on dry ground and you can walk right up to it.

I was reading that this island was sacred to the Shinto religion. There are no maternity wards or cemeteries because no one is allowed to be born or to die here. And even though it is surrounded by forests, falling trees are also forbidden. Back in the day no one was allowed to approach this island on foot. They had pass under Torii on the water to enter the island.

It just so happens they had deer roaming around here too...

The Itsukushima Shrine, founded in 593, is built on stilts over a cove.

A five-story padoda built in 1407

Hiroshima's A-Bomb Dome is all that remains of the old bombed city...

This area brought a tear to my eye. These glass cases circle around a statue of a little girl reaching for a crane. There was a little girl dying from radiation that believed if she could just create 1000 paper cranes (cranes are the Japanese symbol of longevity and happiness) that she would recover from her illness. She died before having the chance to create her 1000 cranes so every year schools across the country create exactly 1000 cranes for her to be displayed here. Yoshi said he did it when he was in grade school too. Some of them were amazing! Some schools had creatively spelled out words or pictures by arranging them behind glass.

The Cenotaph at Peace Memorial Park, erected in the memory of the victims of the bombing. Notice how the arch perfectly frames the only remaining building...

Over 10,000 people were killed instantly, but the death toll rose to over 200,000 in the years following the attack as the after-effects of radiation and cancer took hold. We went to a very touching museum there. Many children were left without parents and I can't help think of my own little half-Japanese kids when I see pictures of their faces in the midst of the devastation... They had a Flame of Peace which will only be extinguished when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated from the earth. A portion of their museum was dedicated to countries who are currently testing nuclear weapons and it discussed North Korea. I feel we seriously need to pray that this tradegy is never repeated.

Day 7- Spent at “Home” with Yoshi’s Family
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Suzuyo called these poor family members at 7am that same day to ask them if they wanted to come visit us from Osaka. Most of them had to travel a decent distance on their one day off, but they were sweet and came for lunch. It was fun getting to see them again and I was so happy to have an air-conditioned day where we weren't walking all over creation.

Day 8- Universal Studios Osaka
Monday, June 29, 2009

They had several shows involving Hello Kitty (that they ended up canceling), but we were happy to catch her for a picture during one dry moment.

One of their most popular lands is themed around the Peanuts. They have several rides, the characters (which they make you pay 1200 yen to take pictures with so we passed) and an interactive indoor play area. I had trouble getting photos with the lighting, but here's one of Hayley near the entry sign.

They had an entire land dedicated to the Wizard of Oz--They even had a 30-minute production of Wicked which wasn't too bad, but because it was short it cut out major plot points and skimmed the surface which bothered me. Also Glinda was a japanese girl wearing a blonde wig and she sang Popular with an accent so it became "Popula" (Most Japanese can't say the "ur" sound). Elphaba was played by an amazing American though so all things considered it was pretty good for an off broadway version.

This Spiderman ride was hands down our favorite attraction there--We all loved it! It was a ride where you wore 3D glasses and it utilized all the tricks with water splashing, intense heat for one of the flaming vilians, the illusion that you were climbing 100 stories up a building with spiderman, etc. I don't know if the US has this ride, but it was pure genius! :)

It poured down rain the ENTIRE day (show after show was canceled) and we were almost the only diehard tourists to stick around after dark so there were no lines for the rides... I thought the quiet rainy streets were beautiful when the lights came on (almost like a monet painting).

Day 9- Shopping & Packing
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not much to say about this day. Just picked up gifts and stocked up on Yoshi's favorite Japanese snacks and candies to take home with us. Then we packed! Packed! And packed some more! It was supposed to rain the next morning which would have been a nightmare walking 15 minutes to the train station with 3 suitcases, backpacks, trying to hold umbrellas, etc., but God spared us. I'm so thankful!

Day 10- Traveling to Tokyo, Flying Home & Picking up our Car!
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We had to wake up very early and take a train to Kyoto and then the bullet train to Tokyo. It was a long tiring trip and I was thankful we were able to stop over in Disneyland on the way to his Mom's. I think we would have been really grouchy trying to take that trip right after flying 12 hours!

I flew home in Business class while Yoshi took his turn sitting in coach with the girls. Very nice! Unfortunately I forgot the trip home is short with the tail winds so I was just finishing up my last movie and settling back in my fully reclined chair when I realized I only had 1-1/2 hours left to sleep! Darn it! Maybe that's why I'm having so much trouble adjusting--I missed a very nice opportunity that I probably won't experience for quite some time (at least Internationally).

When we got home we pretty much went straight to bed, then dragged our dead little bodies to the Toyota dealership at 5pm for our scheduled appointment to sign papers! We're having so much fun with it! Love all the displays keeping track of your gas mileage by the minute and the feedback screens telling ya when you're charging the battery. We went online to get all the secrets to maximizing gas mileage and we found a 100 miles per gallon club that has a contest/race each year! It was so fun going to Independence and back on about 4 gallons of gas! It definitely requires a new way of driving with all the coasting, gliding, etc that's suggested. Yoshi is so protective that he now parks a mile away in the parking garage, just him and a fancy BMW. LOL. I wonder how long that will last... It's just a matter of time before somebody dings it with their door, but until then we're enjoy it's shiny red color and treating it like our new baby. :)

As we were traveling around Japan I started to make a mental tally of all the things I love (and don’t particularly love about Japan). Actually in honesty it started out as a list of things I don’t like, but that’s not really being fair. Anyway, I thought it would make a great scrapbook layout someday so I’ll go ahead finish off my blog entry with it too. :)

My Top 10 Things I love about Japan...
1. The deer of Nara Park–Were else can you walk right up and feed and pet a deer?
2. Heated Toilet Seats- Although a bit shocking at first
3. The plastic food displays outside most restaurants- Particularly important for this picky eater!
4. Public Sinks just Hayley’s Size- No Kidding.
5. Their cute Stationery- I still can’t resist Hello Kitty
6. Their amazing electronic gadgets (that are still light years before the US).
7. Their cartoons–I’m talking like the great works of Hayao Miyazaki. He has this AMAZING ability to capture modern, everyday life in Japan.
8. Their wonderful showers–They have a standard for their average shower that seems like luxury by US standards. All homes have a removable shower head of course, but the best part is they always have a separate knob for temperature control so when you turn it off and on it's always set right where you left it!
9. Their pastries–They pride themselves in copying the best from each country and their baked goods are comparable to France (except for when they hide bean paste in the middle of a croissant–Yucky).
10. I’m having trouble coming up with one more, but I must say I love their cars!

10 Things I won’t miss too much about Japan...
1. The Food! (although I must admit I packed so much American food with us that I don’t recall having to eat it much this past trip).
2. Hanging my clothes to dry–I love my soft, warm clothes fresh from my dryer.
3. Walking 15 minutes to get “home” from the nearest train station.
4. Their hot, HUMID summers.
5. Squatting Toilets- enough said.
6. Washing dishes by hand.
7. Their long list of inflexible rules everywhere you go.
8. Sleeping on a futon with no real pillows–My back was constantly sore (Man I’m getting old!)
9. Sinks at home just Hayley's size (about finished off my back washing dishes).
10. Public Smoking (Everywhere)

Phew! I can't believe I wrote all that out. Thanks for allowing me to share our trip with you! :)

1 comment:

  1. So glad to finally read about your trip. I think the deers are awesome. It's like a fairy tale...


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