Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two weeks without running

I brought my running clothes with me to Japan, but did not have a spare moment to put them on and go for a run. With the exceptions of bumping into a 5K / 10K in Osaka and seeing a running club in the Imperial Park on Friday night in Tokyo (I was invited to join the latter group), I didn't miss it.

Throughout the trip I averaged over 20,000 steps a day. One day I had nearly 32,000 steps as we navigated Tokyo. Hoping just keeping active for two weeks won't put too big a dent in my training.

I'm now back in hot and humid New Jersey with sore legs and lack of motivation. The Dumbo Double Dare is coming up two months from tomorrow. I have to find my motivation.

Happy return to reality!

Monday update: I put on my sneakers and slogged out 3.1 miles. The first mile and a half were great. The last half was a struggle. Hoping new sneakers and more time in them cure some of my running issues.

Japan Final Thoughts

It seems whenever we go on vacation we talk about what it would be like to live there. The conversation tends to be a pipe dream, but still fun to think about. We both agreed there is no way we could live in Japan.

Ashley learned enough of the language that when eavesdropping on a conversation taking place in Japanese she knew they were saying something about right hand and left hand (I suspect the woman was giving directions to the man about right hand and left hand turns). Much better than I could do. Don and I were always happy to hear “that nice lady” on the metro repeat the name of the station nice and slow and tell us the station numbers in English.

Food was an issue. We were all willing to try new things, but still wanted the familiar. It is more than that, I wanted variety. At home we eat Chinese, Italian, American, Thai, and Indian food. Just as I don’t eat burgers every day in the US, I’m not fond of eating pig every day in Japan (ham, bacon, pork).
Every meal was a treasure hunt, often a long one. Most restaurants have pictures, or plastic models of the food, but even with the clues we didn’t have it all figured out. One night we went out for pizza and pasta. The picture showed chicken with a teriyaki sauce and some green stuff on top. I thought the green stuff would be basil or spinach. Imagine my surprise when it was dried seaweed! I guess I’d mellowed by that point in the trip because it didn’t bother me much. I miss vegetables – a common issue on vacation.
Despite trying at least 20 new foods (most in Nikko) we did not leave with a favorite fish. I finally tried salmon and tuna, but didn’t love them. I should have tried the shrimp when I had the chance.

We found the mass transportation system highly stressful. When on the bus,

we needed exact change, but didn’t always know what the amount would be until we were getting off. Fortunately I could point to the coins (often 550) and point to the three of us, rather than having 220 ready for Don and I and 110 ready for Ashley. All day transportation cards alleviated that stress for me. When we rode the metro, having to find the correct line (there are two different metro systems in Tokyo, plus the rail line, and they don’t talk to each other), then lining up the map with the name of the station we were stopping at (which might only be in Japanese) before I could then put in the coins with the proper amount as the line behind me grew, was also stressful. Figuring out which direction to take each train (especially when they were loops) was also a challenge. For Japanese friends, picture taking mass transit in Thailand or China.

From what I have seen of my pictures, I am loving the newcamera. It was a last minute purchase when I realized my regular camera was not as crisp as it had once been. Yes, I missed the zoom, but the clarity is stunning! Now that I have a DSLM, I can’t see going back to a regular digital camera. I had fun playing with it. When I came home, I discovered the other one was returned to me from the camera shop. I wonder how much I'll use it now.

We realized we can go in an airplane for a lot of hours and survive. The international flights treat you so much better than the ones in the US. As I type this I am sipping my complimentary wine, so that might have something to do with my feelings. Australia is no longer off of the dream list. We did decide that our next international trip will be to a country where we can at least recognize the letters – which means Spain, Italy, Germany, and Australia are in while China and Thailand are out.

I found I enjoyed wandering more than racing from site to site. While armchair traveling I thought I wanted to see everything, but while in Japan I realized I wanted to sit back and enjoy it. I also enjoyed the challenge of figuring out the transit system, but wished for a little more time to savor the comfort level before moving onto the next city and the next set of rules. We knew it was an ambitious agenda, just didn’t factor in how tired we would be struggling with the language, food and culture.

I normally do not sleep well in new places. I was happy that was not an issue on this trip since we changed hotels so often. I think I was so exhausted from walking that I slept well. Ashley often fell asleep before we made it back to the hotel. Don carried her for the remainder of that day’s adventures. Once we made it to our hotel I spent time gathering electronics to be recharged, checking emails (I know, I said I wouldn’t, but I did), upload pictures (except the last three nights) and write thoughts into a blog. I’m glad I blogged. The blog will help me match pictures to what we did, plus put the scrapbook together. Hope some of you are enjoying reading about our adventures. I look forward to editing the posts and adding pictures over the next couple of months.

The Japanese were friendly. Most tried to help us. We latched onto anyone who spoke English. I wondered how the non-English, non-Japanese speakers were managing.

I missed being able to make small talk with people from shop keepers to waiters. Our conversations were so child-like, and even those were draining. I latched onto times we could chat with Americans. This really stood out to me in the Canadian airport when I realized I could joke with the people as they tried to figure out why Don and I were cleared for customs, but not Ashley. We knew she didn't do anything wrong and that they would figure it out soon. 

Now we can say we’ve been to four out of five (soon six) Disney theme parks. Since we’ve ruled out visiting China because of the language, I suppose our experiences will end with four. After hearing about Tokyo Disney for so many years, I’m glad we went.

Favorite experiences:

Ashley: the Japanese art class at Tokyo Disney, and walking through a cloud at Mount Fuji

Don: seeing the bicycle piano player at Tokyo Disney

Jacquie: taking pictures at the top of the Floating Gardenin Osaka – first chance I had to pull out all the stops with it

Least favorite experiences:

Ashley: using a Japanese toilet, second least favorite was being kicked by a deer in Nara

Don: the flight home and lack of leg room, our flight out was a joy with much more leg room. The flight home was on a 777, hoping to keep that in mind when booking future flights.

Jacquie: being caught in downpours that even umbrellas would not keep us dry

Last Day in Japan

We did something today we probably should have done at least a week ago – we slept in, and boy did it feel good. Tomorrow we hope to sleep in even later since we won’t have to worry about waking up in time for the breakfast buffet or in time to check out of the hotel without incurring any fees.

The breakfast buffet was an odd assortment of American and Japanese food. It included potato salad, but nothing like waffles or pancakes. Of course there was miso soup and an assortment of pickled Japanese foods, and hot dogs and ham. I’m really looking forward to having chicken again. I didn’t realize how hard that would be to find.

Checking out is the usual mad dash to squeezed everything into suitcases.  Since we didn’t buy many souvenirs and we brought gifts for our friends, this was easier than on other trips, and uneventful.

Since we checked out on a weekend, we finally had WiFi in our room.
By this point we had 3 ½ hours before the airport shuttle bus came. We spent the time wandering around the area near the train station. A particular highlight was the 100 YEN store (think Dollar Store). We bought some tiny souvenirs, and some Japanese gadgets. Ashley and I picked up some chopsticks that came with a carrying case so we can bring them with us when do a picnic in the park with Tiger Noodle food. Don finally mastered the skill of using chopsticks, but still prefers using a fork.

Yesterday was the day the big sales started. If it is anything like Europe,
there are 2 week-long huge sales twice a year – in the summer and winter. It was probably a good thing we spent one of those days at Mount Fuji since the dollar dropped from 100 just before our trip to 88 on our last couple of days.

We said our final sad good-byes to Masumi. We added a wish to a wish tree that she wins the green card lottery (which is her wish) so she can live in the United States. We’d be lucky to have her living in our country.

The shuttle bus drive was 2 hours long. I took more pictures of Tokyo. The bus took us past Tokyo Disney, but the not close enough to take any last pictures of it. Speaking of pictures, I know we took a lot of pictures (especially with the new camera), but a final count will have to wait until we get home as I packed the power cord to conned the camera to the tablet in the checked luggage. I brought a card reader, but it doesn’t fit in this computer.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Good thing since the Air Canada computers were down since it was midnight in Canada. C’est la vie!

So far the flight is uneventful. Annoyed that the person in front of me (who has the exit aisle with about 6 feet of leg room to our few inches) decided to lean back into my space the second he had a chance. I lost my space to do crossword puzzles. He slept the entire time, too, which really annoyed me. Fortunately Ashley slept for a good part of the 12-13 hour flight. Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

More pictures of Tokyo

Friday, June 28, 2013

Newest World UNESCO Heritage Site -- Mount Fuji

Last week Mount Fuji was named a World UNESCO Heritage Site. Prior to this trip, I don't remember seeing this phrase. It seems to be all over Japan. Many of the shrines and temples we visited have this designation, and now so does Mount Fuji. There has been a push for years to grant Mount Fuji this designation, but for a number of reasons it didn't happen until last week. (Turns out there are 21 World UNESCO Heritage Sites in the US, including the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall and many National Parks.)

When our planning for this trip began, Ashley insisted one thing she wanted to do was to visit Mount Fuji. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had never really been to a mountain before. Sure we've driven through some on road trips, but not walk through a cloud or feel the change in elevation. Some emails back and forth with Masumi and she found one for one of the few days we were in Tokyo.

What was billed as a "half-day" trip, turned out to be a mistake in translation. Masumi thinks of a day as 24 hours (which is technically correct) so a 12 hour trip is half a day. I think of a day in terms of the hours I am awake, so I was thinking a half day trip would return by 2.

The entire trip was in Japanese -- including what time to return to the bus during the numerous rest stops. Lunch was a Japanese lunch box eaten on the bus (yes, pork). To be fair, the lunch was tastier, healthier, and more plentiful than any box lunch I've gotten on an American bus.

Don and I realized this is the first bus trip we have taken in 14 years since we were in Italy. They are the same. There is the obligatory stops and tourist traps and the working around someone else's schedule. It will probably be a long time before we do another one because we are not fond of spending more time at the tourist trap than at the historic site. For what we wanted to do, though, this was probably the best option as we were certainly not renting a car to drive on roads with road signs we cannot read with thousands of drivers who drive on the wrong side of the road (or so it seems to us). Just not a good combination.

Our tourist stops included at the Kakita River's Spring

a waterfall

a gift shop by the
sponsor of the trip

a shrine to Mount Fuji

two highway rest stops (one coming and one going)

a photo op of one of the five lakes

a group of 8 spring pools

and a stop at the 5th level of Mount Fuji. 

The stop at Mount Fuji was too short. All included opportunities for ice cream and souvenir shopping. I ended up eating ice cream three times that day: peach, strawberry and melon. Looking forward to non-soft serve ice cream back home.

With the exception of Mt. Fuji, my favorite stop was the Fugaku-Fuketsu Lava Cave. It was 0 degrees (32 degrees Fahrenheit to us). We saw ice formations inside. I'm thinking they were stalagmites (from the bottom up). 

The day was cloudy, but not rainy. This would not have been a fun trip in the rain. Unfortunately we were never able to get a good picture of Mt. Fuji as more than half of it was covered in clouds. We just have to trust that we were actually there and that it was not just an elaborate set.

Not sure if this is Mt. Fuji as all of the mountains were covered in clouds

At the end of the trip, we said a teary good-bye to Hiroko by the Tokyo Station.

Tokyo in a Day

When we were mapping out our schedule, I truly thought we had four days planned for Tokyo. Somehow with transfers, and a planned day trip to Mt. Fuji, that has turned into a day and a half. Since yesterday was raining, and we had to leave by 3:30 for a baseball game, that left today to explore Tokyo. By the time we woke up, had breakfast and started our adventures, that left 12 hours. You get the idea. We just did not have a lot of time to fully explore Tokyo, so here are our adventures in a nutshell.

We gave up on the 2-day metro card I was proud of myself for buying at the Tokyo airport. It works on a bunch of lines, none of which were convenient to what we were doing until we broke down and bough the OTHER pass. Suddenly everything we wanted to do was on the first pass. Oy vey!

I designed a quick tour of Tokyo.


This looked like the Central Park of Tokyo – great for walking around, lots of things to do. We kept seeing signs with pandas on them, so we followed them. This led us to the Ueno Zoo. My pre-trip research discouraged me from
going there. Our favorite zoo is the National Zoo where animal have wide open spaces. I was warned the animals would be in tiny cages. Yes, this was true. The cost was much less than anticipated (600 YEN for Don and I ($6.50), and Ashley was free). From the main gate we could see the panda area. The female panda is in seclusion as she is on a baby watch, but her mate was on display. The first time we saw him he was sleeping. We went back a couple of hours ago and he was putting on quite a show chomping on bamboo – stripping off the bad parts first, of course. The zoo also had a very cute red panda who we caught eating dinner, then saw him sleeping in a tree. The human benefit to the smaller cages is that the animals are up close. I’d still rather see them have space. The giraffe was reaching his neck into the okapi space to eat his bushes. Man do they have long necks! We saw a bearded dragon in the reptile area that made us think of Sandy, and other animals we tend to see at the Churchville Nature Center. Ashley found some cute chameleon earrings and a panda i-Pod case. We actually enjoyed it.


As previously stated, we were a bit templed-out by this point. The same feeling would have prevailed about churches in Italy or Paris. So when we stumbled upon this temple, we took a few pictures and kept walking. In hindsight, I should have stopped to visit the Nakamise-dori (street of traditional souvenirs). I love the vivid reds and bright colors. The blue sky (such a rarity on our trip) was a nice treat, too.


We successfully walked down to Asakusa and an area that was not destroyed by earthquakes or WWII. Everything here is much older. Felt soothing. We planned to catch a boat cruise down the river, but our timing was off. Instead we caught a subway to GINZA. We enjoyed a stroll along the river that took us past the
building that looks like it has a turd coming out of it. It has been a lot of fun seeing things in person that before this we only saw in pictures. For Don seeing the landmarks used in the Panasonic camera owners’ manuals has been a treat.


The Ginza district is like the Times Square of Tokyo, plus lots of department stores. Ashley loved the Sony Building. We saw a 200-inch 4K TV set showing images of World Heritage Sites that made you feel as if you were
visiting the sites yourself. We took lots of pictures of the area at dusk. I loved walking through Printemps Department Store and hearing a little bit of French. The price tags were enough to keep me from buying anything.


We wanted to explore Roopongi (where Hard Rock Café is located) when it wasn’t raining. Well, since it was nighttime, that also changed the atmosphere. We found  a cheap Italian place (dinner for the three of us for less than $20) and skeddadled back to the metro. We caught a train back to Shinjuku. This was our first experience with a super crowded train. Can’t say that any of us liked it! This was at 10PM, we dread seeing it at 7 AM tomorrow when we are heading to Mt. Fuji – the newest World Heritage Site.

It might not sound like much, but at the end of the day I had 32,000 steps on my pedometer. One day isn't enough.

Ashley was hoping for an early bedtime. We got her to bed by 11. That’s early, right? She did ask for 3 meals today instead of our usual 2. We managed that successfully. We also nearly made it through the day without ice cream being a meal. If only her lunch at the zoo (pancakes) did not also include a dollop of ice cream and a piece of chocolate shaped like a panda. We’ll do a better job about eating veggies once we get back to NJ. I promise! We’ll also sleep for more than 5 hours a night when we get home. (So far, jet lag has robbed us of that opportunity.)

More pictures of Tokyo

Americana Day in Tokyo

There comes a day on every international trip when we crave all things American. Today was that day.

I’m tired of pork. Tired of the rain. Tired of learning how to navigate a new city. Tired of new rules with a new transportation system. Tired of walking on the right when the rest of the people walk on the left. Tired of not understanding the most basic stuff. And tired of being tired.

Introducing Americana Day!

We slept in a little later and woke up around 8. We could have used more sleep, but we really did not want to miss the breakfast buffet. Once again,
the breakfast buffet was an odd assortment of Western and Japanese foods. Many of the Japanese food items looked good, but they are not what use westerners think of when we think of breakfast – rice, curried chicken, side dishes, green salad, etc. Tomorrow we are trying the Western Breakfast restaurant. We’re all hoping for waffles, pancakes, or (for me) French Toast. We’ll see what we get. (It was the same food, only served to the table rather than buffet-style.)

Being in a new city, and a very large one at that, means everything takes so much longer to navigate. We decided to start our day out on foot with some power shopping. First stop, back to the electronics super store to search for a new (bigger) lens for my new camera. Score one for B&H who works out to about $100 cheaper than the cheap Japanese electronics store for the same model. It is now on my birthday  / Christmas wish list.

We found a 100 Yen Shop (their answer to the Dollar Stores by us), but were almost out of yen, so we had to find an ATM. Next stop was the Disney Store (we forgot to buy souvenirs at Tokyo Disney). Struck out here as most items looked like things we could find back home. The only really unique item was chop sticks, but we are making out fine with the ones we bought from EPCOT a few years ago. In the same mall was a sporting goods store so Don continued the quest for a specific type of kick stand for his bicycle. Still no success.

We then spent a frustratingly long amount of time hunting around the Shinjuku Station for the right subway line to go 4 stops to find Hard Rock Café. It was at this point I was in tears. The Shinjuku Station is enormous. It has several different types of trains and subways coming into it, and each of them has several lines. Each type has their own entrance and their own ticketing system. The signs are mostly in Japanese, with just enough English tossed in to lull us into thinking there is a chance we’ll be able to do this without help.

We successfully made it to the right line going in the right direction. Got off and tried to ask for directions. We found some Americans trying to do the same thing. Somehow we were led to the exact wrong direction. 

Yes, it was still raining. The gentleman at a cell phone store gave us

directions and offered us an umbrella. I spent a year in Belgium without an umbrella, I never use one at home, but this trip is breaking me down to want to join the umbrella group. Tomorrow morning has a chance of rain, then the rest of our trip should be clear -- I hope! I’ve never encountered this much rain, even with living in Belgium.

We finally found Hard Rock Café Tokyo. It felt like a pilgrimage stop. We each enjoyed a nice, juicy burger. 

It was lunch time, so they tossed in a bowl of cream of corn soup. Since it was lunchtime, they were running a burger special – a 6 oz. plain burger for about $10. Ashley was set! We recently learned that Ashley's favorite soup is cream of corn. We didn't even know she liked ANY soup. This will help us with her quest to be a vegetarian.

The peach iced tea with unlimited refills was a whopping $6, but somehow the server forgot to charge us for it. At that point, it really didn’t matter. I wanted the iced tea that much! I was happy it came in a huge, American-sized glass. Don was thrilled to be able to read every word on the menu.

It wouldn’t be a trip for us to an international Hard Rock Café without a trip to the souvenir shop. Ashley left with a t-shirt, I left with a cotton shirt (similar to one I was eyeing up at Kohls a few weeks ago, but with a discreet Hard Rock Café Tokyo on it) and Don picked up a sweatshirt. With the non-stop rain, he left the store wearing the sweatshirt.

We had some time to kill and thought it would be fun to explore Tokyo on foot. How hard could it be? Well, the clerk at Hard Rock Café, who relocated to Tokyo from France, put us in the exact wrong direction. By this time it was 3:30 and we were meeting up with Hiroko at the baseball game at 5:30. What should be an hour-long ride we knew would take us twice as long so we found a station.

We were warned the trip to the baseball stadium would involve three transfers. Since we were not even at our starting location (Shinjuku Station), it would take four transfers. What we had not been told was that each transfer was to a completely different type of train, therefore each one required a different ticket and a different guess as to how much that ticket would cost and what platform to use to catch it. With a lot of help from ticket station guards (they do not have agents in Tokyo train stations) and by showing them our tickets to Seibo Stadium to see the Lions play, we made it to the right station 12 minutes before our agreed upon meeting point.

It was still raining when we got to the end of the line.

Fortunately the Seibo Stadium decided to put a dome across it about 10 years ago. For the most part we were dry. The dome covers the playing field, and the seats, but not the concourse with the food and souvenirs.

Everyone told us just how different Japanese baseball is to American baseball. We were just surprised by the similarities. It reminded us a lot of a Thunder game. The players were announced by position in English as they took the field. The mascot made some appearances. The first pitch was thrown out by a local celebrity (some actress/model). People cheered. Lots of food and souvenirs were for sale. Each player has an individual song that is played when he is at bat.

Some differences: this stadium had a blanket section for cheap seats in the deep outfield. This seemed to be the party section. There was a man in a kimono leading the cheering section, another one in the back beating a 6 foot wide drum, he was accompanied by a couple of other “musicians.” It was very festive. 

Beer was sold until the end of the game
(instead of until the middle of the 7th inning, for you non-baseball fans). The 7th inning stretch was replaced by a 7th inning victory balloon release (hopefully we got a good picture of this).  At one point with two men on, the entire stadium seemed to say a prayer and bow. I didn’t quite catch what was happening. Many people wore Lions shirts over their office clothes. I found that amusing.

The crowd seemed to cheer distractingly loud whenever the situation got the most tense (like when there are two men on base, two outs and a full count). Maybe it’s just me, but this is when I tend to get the quietest. I must go back to a Thunder game to see how others react.

We bumped into someone wearing a Phillies shirt, which led to a conversation. He is stationed with the Air Force in Japan. He keeps asking to be sent to Maguire, but so far he has been sent to London, Seattle and now Japan.

In the bottom of the 8th inning with two outs, the home team hit a home run. The crowd went wild and stayed that way. The Lions won! More blue victory balloons (available for purchase for 200 Yen (=$2) apiece, you supply the air) were released.

I feel like I’m supposed to say more about this experience, but truly it reminded me much more of a Thunder game than I would have expected. So many people told me I have to check out a Japanese baseball game that I feel as if I missed something. It was oddly a great way to spend a rainy night.

We were dreading coming out of the stadium and having to wait around for a train. They had this covered. There were four trains lined up designated as express trains to where we had to go. This eliminated a transfer for us and its terminus was where we had to go anyway. Hiroko’s friend bought us our train tickets (with our money) so he was able to purchase us tickets straight to the Shinjuko Station.

Only one transfer instead of three. There was only one choice of train at the start (many more at the switch, but Hiroko told us the key words to search for). We definitely made it back to the hotel in much less time.
Tomorrow we break out the all-day subway pass and try to explore as much as possible. This should be interesting. The subway pass I was so proud of purchasing at the start of our trip is only valid on some of the lines. I’d love a map that just shows what we CAN do with our pass, and not everything. I’d be just as overwhelmed in NYC, but at least there I can speak the language.

Here is to hoping for a better night’s sleep.

More pictures of Tokyo

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Japanese Hotels

Our trip started at Tokyo Disney with a very nice and clean hotel room with a view of Tokyo Disney. Click on the link above for pictures of that room.

On the fifth day we went to Nikko and stayed a ryokan that was much more elegant than any place I ever imagined staying. Again, click on the link for pictures and more details about that place.

The sixth night we arrived in Tokyo very late and stayed at a high rise hotel for one night. Frankly it was a miserable experience, one I was not looking forward to repeating at the end of our journey. The room was small, even by Japanese standards. We booked a triple, and got to our room at 11 PM only to find two beds, two sets of slippers, two pillows, two towels, well you get the idea. I took a picture of it. They said the futon was suppose to be opened for us. I asked them to make a note for when we return this week and left it at that (really, what could I do at that point?).

We left two suitcases and went to the hotels Masumi booked. She does a much better job picking out hotels than I do. 

Two nights in Osaka. The hotel was attached to the train station. The room was enormous, it even had a table in the center, which came in handy the one night we did take out (which is harder than you can imagine).

Two nights in Kyoto. Again, a beautiful place with a fantastic breakfast buffet that combined Japanese and American foods -- something for everyone, even if many
of the foods were not my definition of breakfast.

Now we are back in Tokyo. Again, checking in at 11 PM, very tired. Bag check looked closed. Oh well. When I went to the reservation desk they retrieved our bags (first sigh of relief), apologized for our last stay and gave us breakfast buffet coupons for the next four mornings. Score! Went up to our room only to find it is non-smoking (score #2) and has three beds (score #3)! They'll be getting high marks from us on The hotel is still nothing to write home about (even if I am), but the service is making up for it.

Sleep well!

Wrapping up Osaka, plus eating in Japan Pillsbury-style

This has been quite the whirlwind of a trip. We only have four more nights left and then we are on the plane home and back to reality.

Mid-day Sunday we arrived at Kyoto Station from Osaka around 11:30 AM. Since Osaka and Kyoto are so close, the trains run a lot more frequently. It was nice not to be on a time crunch. Before catching the train we walked around Osaka, mostly visiting the closest department store so Ashley could visit the shoe department. The Japanese women love to wear fun shoes. That is probably true of women from many different cultures, but I’m such a basic shoe gal with size 10 feet, that I appreciate seeing cute shoes on people with smaller feet.

Ashley had her foot measured. She is a size 3 in NJ, and a size 21 in Japan. Women’s shoes start at size 23. I’m kind of glad, because the shoes she was eyeing up cost nearly $150 – too much in my book for a shoe she is destined to outgrow by the end of summer, and much more than I ever spend for a pair of shoes for myself!

Don showed me the restaurant he ate at the night before with Masumi and Hiroko, and a friend of theirs. The place is owned by a former Hanshin Tigers baseball star, Tetsujin. Evidently the restaurant was filled with Tigers memorabilia. They got back to the hotel around 1 AM with takeout for me (pancake with pork and veggies). The next morning he had fun showing me around where they walked searching for a late dinner.

I had fun walking around the department store. There is just so much to look at! The basement has different foods all nicely displayed. The 8th floor sold kimonos and gifts (the Japanese are very big on gifts, Hiroko bought gifts to give to her co-workers when we returns to work after being away with us). There is just so much to look at. I’m hoping we can relax and look around more department stores in Tokyo.

Food has been a bit of a challenge. Ashley is a relatively fussy eater in the United States. She keeps saying she want to be a vegetarian, but she doesn’t really want to eat any vegetables, mostly pasta and mac-n-cheese. Fortunately she has decided to eat meat on this trip. We are finding lots of pork and bacon, but not much in the way of chicken or beef. There are a gazillion different types of fish, too, but as we don’t eat fish in the US, it is hard for us to figure out what fish to eat in Japan. We have tried a bunch of fish, but none of it stood out as something I would like to have as a main entrée.

Today we searched for a sandwich. We finally found one (of all places) at a
gas station. I ordered Ashley a croque monsieur thinking it would be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Not sure what it was, but it wasn’t that! Don and I had veggie sandwiches with, you guessed it, pork. I’ve overloaded on pork.

Dinner wasn’t any better as we tried to find something in the train station. There are a ton of restaurants, but evidently restaurants don’t do “to go” and we didn’t have enough time to sit down and eat dinner and catch our 8:06 train. With a 2 ½ hour train ride, we have plenty of time to eat, but not many options. Hopefully Tokyo is a city that never sleeps and we’ll find a bite to eat between the train station and the hotel. We are returning to the same hotel we left 4 (or was it 5?) days ago.

We’ve tried lots of Japanese food, but are ready for the familiar.

Our back-up plan for meals for Ashley has been ice cream. I think even Ashley is craving some real food.

More pictures of Osaka

Monday, June 24, 2013

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, etc.

Tonight we tried to rattle off the different forms of transportation we've used since leaving New Jersey. We've come up with:

  • Domestic Airplane Flight
  • International Airplane Flight
  • Shuttle bus (to hotel)
  • Monorail (around Disney area)
  • Disney Shuttle to train station
  • Commuter train to Tokyo
  • Subway to other side of Tokyo
  • Train (to Nikko)
  • Rental Car (with Tom driving)
  • Bullet Train (to Osaka)
  • City Bus
  • Hybrid bus
  • Street car / tram

I'll try to add to it if we have more. So far no boats (unless we can count a ride at Tokyo DisneySea) or taxis or rickshaws.

The payment system for buses and trains / subways is complicated. 

Bus: some are flat fare, others are based on the length of the trip. You take a ticket when you board and match the fare to the board in the front of the bus. Exact change only (of course). Ashley is half price.

Subways / trains: Some have ticket machines in English, others don't. You find the three digit number by your destination. This is the cost of your ticket (again, Ashley's is half price). Fortunately these machines make change.

The easiest is getting the all day pass -- usually pays for itself on the third ride of the day, which is easy to do when sightseeing. 

All this mass transit made me appreciate my car, as well as regret that it is nearly impossible to get around suburbia without one.

It is like a Treasure Hunt

Everyday in a new city is like a giant treasure hunt. When we first get to a new city we have to figure out where our hotel is located. Each city comes with the challenge of figuring out where the tourist highlights are located. Then there is navigating the mass transportation system. Pre-2000, going to Europe also meant a whole new currency to figure out when crossing borders. Everything has a system and to the locals, it is natural. For native speakers it is a challenge. For non-speakers like us, it is a complete mystery.

The upside to a trip like ours is that we are exploring a lot of new cities. The downside, is that each new city brings new challenges -- finding food we all like, finding historic sites before they close, remembering what floor we are on at a new hotel (tonight I pressed the button for the 7th floor, only to be reminded that was the floor our room was on two nights ago, now we are on the 8th floor).

Sometimes (like when my nose starts running and my belly hurts from eating something that disagreed with it) I have troubles keeping the positive attitude. Other times (mostly after I've eaten and had some iced tea) I'm a lot better about it. 

As they sang in Willy Wonka, "Think Positive!"

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kyoto, Japan part 3

We spent the day trying to see everything else in Kyoto. Well, we tried. We got a late start out of the hotel because we had to figure out how to cram it all into our suitcase. The real issue was that some of it was still wet from the downpour we were caught in the day before. I’m sort of dreading what shape the clothes will be in once we get to Tokyo. Fortunately the hotel has a washer/dryer, but I’m still hoping we can hold off until we get home. Who wants to spend time on vacation doing laundry?

Our first stop was a place not in our tour book, but something recommended to Masumi by her travel agent. We went to a bamboo forest. Hearing we were going to go there, Ashley’s stuffed Panda, Bialashu, insisted on joining us in our adventures. We walked all around the area. The bamboo must have been at least 100 feet tall – as tall as any forest of trees we’ve visited in the states. Bamboo regenerates itself every three years, making it a great tree to grow and use. 

According to her agent, this is the perfect time of year to go to a bamboo forest. Who knew they had seasons! 

In the bamboo forest is a shrine to the god of hair. Masumi said it is the only one she knows of.

To get to the bamboo forest, we had to take a tram. So add that to the list of transportation we have now taken on this trip. The tram had two lines, so we also took the other line through the cherry blossoms. This time of year they only look like regular trees, but next time when we hear about the cherry blossoms in season, we’ll be able to picture it. We went up to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion, but we were not able to see it without paying 400 yen, we did not go in. We are seriously tired of shrines and temples. Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for rain and we are calling for a day of sleeping in, shopping, American food and baseball (fortunately the Seibu Dome is covered).

Meanwhile, Masumi and Hiroko took a scenic train ride and we continued to explore Kyoto on our own.

After the temple, we took the express bus to Ginkaku-ji – another temple with a tourist-trap of a street leading up to it. Tried to find lunch, but all the options were Japanese food.

This is the northern end of The Philosopher’s Walk, one of Kyoto’s best-loved spots – the part of the canal lined with cherry blossoms. Again, we were not in cherry blossom season. We thought this would lead us to Kyoto University. Unfortunately this mostly lead us to a desolate area in Kyoto (who knew) and we were starting to stress out about eating dinner before catching our train to Tokyo.

The Philosopher’s Walk is about a mile long. It is very serene. There are a lot of temples along the way. We even passed a couple of used-Kimono shops (no time to pop in). It seemed to take us forever to find a bus stop. Just another adventure! On a less
hungry stomach, and without a hungry kid going through a growth spurt, the walk would have been much more romantic.

We took the bus to Kiyomizu Temple, mostly to explore the nearby marketplace. We shut the place down – noticing a theme about this yet? We saw tourists from all over the world at this temple, and the temple was free. It felt like a mini trip to the United Nations.

Back down the hill to catch a bus to Kyoto Station. By this point it was about 6. We probably should have called it a day and gotten a nice, relaxing dinner. Instead we hopped on the South-5, a bus that only runs twice an hour, to dash up to see the torii gates at the Fushimi Shrine. This a long line of red gate
after red gate after red gate. Well, you get the idea. Very photogenic. Open 24 hours a day. Unfortunately we only had about 10 minutes to enjoy it before dashing down the hill to catch the bus back to Kyoto Station, to meet up with Hiroko (who thoughtfully collected our luggage from the hotel) and forage for food. We failed on the last part of the mission.

We should be in Tokyo in about 30 minutes. I suspect we have to figure out a different train to take us to Shinjuku Station, and then walk 10 minutes with a suitcase, three day bags, and a sound asleep Ashley.

Tomorrow is a planned rest day.

More pictures of Kyoto
Kyoto Part 1
Kyoto Part 2