Today is our last day in Japan. We have some family coming to visit in the afternoon, but I wanted to get Tiny Dog out for some fun during the day. The Penpal’s father dropped off TD and I at a nearby playground.
The playground was near a large park, and had a big fun play structure that was full of kids. TD had been here before, and quickly started climbing and playing among the other kids. He kept trying to talk to the other kids in English, so I had to keep reminding him to speak Japanese.
At the playground there was one little girl who kept staring at me every time she walked by. Eventually her curiosity got the better of her, and she asked her father loudly in Japanese “Daddy, why is there a foreigner at the playground?”. Her father, embarrassed, tried to shush the little girl as I tried not to laugh. A few minutes later after I said something in Japanese to TD, she went back to her father and excitedly told him “Daddy! The foreigner is speaking Japanese!”, again followed by her father trying to get her to be quiet.
I find that in Japan, TD does a pretty good job of blending in with Japanese people. He has some Asian features to his face, although his hair is brown instead of black. When he speaks Japanese he sounds like almost any other 3 year old speaking Japanese. He doesn’t look completely Japanese, but he looks much more Japanese than I do. I have wavy blond hair, a large nose, a goatee (not common in Japan), and am usually wearing at least one item of clothing with Canadian flags on it. I am easy to notice in a crowd of Japanese people.
In my 3 years of teaching English in Japan, I got used to people staring at me because I was different. Adults would try to sneak a look, but kids, having no filters at all, would be happy to stare or say something to friends or family. This happens much more often the further you get away from major cities and into the smaller towns where it’s less common to see gaijins.
The whole experience was a funny reminder of my previous time in Japan. I’m curious to see how people react to TD and I as he grows up!
As you may guess from the title, this story contains poop. Don’t worry – there is not a single picture to be found.
When traveling, it’s not unusual to have some issues with your digestive system. Diarrhea is the most common illness for travelers, however our 3 year old son Tiny Dog just had to be different and had the exact opposite problem. The poor kid was just not regular.
Tired kids are fussy and irratable. Adding constipation into the mix magnifies the problem and has the potential to create one miserable child. For the past few days my in laws have been giving TD some probiotics which they claimed would help, but we hadn’t had any success in the past few days.
After a full day of travel and exploring Nagoya Aquarium, we returned to Nagoya station to find some dinner and then check into our hotel. TD loves Japanese curry, which is not something he got to eat much at the in-laws house. The Penpal and I promised him curry on our Nagoya visit, so we stopped in at a nearby Coco Ichibanya, a national chain restaurant that has a great kids meal and multilingual menus.
TD demolished his kids meal of curry rice, sausage, chicken nuggets, corn, and jello. We were finishing our dinner when suddenly he got quiet. And then he got the look on his face.
The poopoo look.
All parents are able to recognize that look in their kids. It’s the look that tells you that you are too late, things are happening, and there’s going to be some cleanup required.
The Penpal took TD out of the restaurant while I settled up the bill. According to the good people at Google Maps, we had about an 850 meter walk to our hotel. We put our increasingly stinky child into his stroller, and set out through the busy streets of central Nagoya.
Most big hotels in Japan have staff that handle the check-in process in English. However, we knew that we were in a hurry so I let The Penpal handle things in Japanese. As TD sat in the lobby, I started to smell something nasty. I started pushing the stroller around to spread out the smell, hoping that it would be harder for other people to notice.
The Japanese service industry is famous for speed and efficiency. Usually a hotel check-in with a prior reservation should only take a few minutes. However, The Penpal was dealing with an employee in training who was having trouble processing the check in, foreign credit card payment, Legoland one day passes, and breakfast vouchers that were part of our reservation.
As we approached the 15 minute mark of our check-in, I noticed that the smell coming from TD was getting worse. I discovered the reason when he leaned forward slightly: his diaper was not able to contain the several day buildup, and thanks to the stroller the poop had escaped in the easiest direction:
Straight. Up. His. Back.
This wasn’t just a little bit – it was a full on level 5 poo-splosion. Doing laps around the lobby was not going to help much longer, we needed to get him cleaned up ASAP.
Just as I was starting to panic internally, The Penpal finally got our room keys. We raced to the elevator and down the hall to our room, where we spent the next 20 minutes washing clothes carefully.
I generally try to be a “silver lining” kid of person and realize that as bad as things are, they could always be worse. TD could have unleashed his intestinal fury on the 20 minute train ride from the aquarium to Nagoya station, although I am pretty sure that the curry had something to do with the situation.
Kids are disgusting.
Today I met up with Klaxman, one of my old roommates for lunch. He is a retired game programmer turned English teacher who moved to Japan in 2006 and has been there ever since.
We went for lunch at an Italian restaurant that had taken over what used to be Cats Cafe. They didn’t serve ridiculously oversized desserts like their predecessors, but they did have some pretty good octopus spaghetti. Klaxman caught me up on all of the changes that NOVA has made over the past 10 years since their bankruptcy, and told me about an open source portable game system called Arduboy that he was making a game for.
After lunch we played a few games at the nearby game center before joining some of Klaxman’s friends at Radio City karaoke. I was happy to see that “Suck My Kiss” by Red Hot Chili Peppers was available to sing, but the crowd in the room was a little more Beatles so I decided to hold off on songs with rampant use of the word “motherfucker”. Karaoke is not a rock concert – some times you need to adjust your song choice for the audience.
It was fun to catch up and break my long karaoke dry spell.
Today the Penpal had lunch plans with one of her friends and the freind’s daughter. Instead of tagging along, I decided to go off and have my own adventure.
It was a rainy day, but I stayed mostly dry thanks to some expert use of my umbrella. I’m only mentioning this because I live in Winnipeg where many people don’t own a single umbrella, and the usual response to rain is to stay inside or run while outside in hopes of not getting too wet. I felt a sense of accomplishment in being able to get to the station mostly dry in the rain.
I took a short ride to Numazu station, and walked towards the Bivi building on the north side. Bivi was built during my last year of teaching in Japan, and houses a movie theatre, internet / comic cafe, Game Center, and a bunch of restaurants. Many of the restaurants had changed since the last time I was in Numazu, but everything looked good. After making a quick loop around I was drawn in by the delicious smells coming from Ohsama No Curry.
A Canadian walks into an Indian restaurant in Japan sounds like the start to a bad joke, but it was actually the story of a good lunch. The lunch special had curry, a choice of nan bread or rice, salad, and a drink for just under 1000 yen. SOOOO GOOOD!
After lunch I made a visit to the Game Center and played whatever the newest version of Guitar Freaks is called before shooting some zombies and checking out the claw games. Most of the machines have cute anime characters as prizes, but one of them had something a bit different for “ladies day”.
I’m assuming by the picture in the background that these were actually hand massagers, which would be very useful after playing too many video games. It is possible that they may have some other uses as well.
No, I didn’t play this machine. If I want a “hand massager” I’ll buy it from a specialty shop instead of trying to win one in front of random strangers in a place frequented by teenagers.
I returned to Numazu station and took the Gotemba line towards Gotemba station at the foot of Mt. Fuji in the hopes of getting some pictures. Unfortunately the rain kept getting worse as the train climbed the mountain. By the time I reached Gotemba it was a total downpour. I managed to snap a few rainy pics from the station, but didn’t trust my prairie boy umbrella skills in rain that the Japanese people were avoiding.
My ride back down the mountain was delayed by 15 minutes due to weather. Delaying a train in Japan is NOT something taken lightly, so the weather must have been really bad. Instead of being lined up on the windy, rainy platform, everyone was politely lined up in the enclosed stairway leading to the platform. For the record, politely is the default way to line up anywhere in Japan.
I ended up getting home about the same time as The Penpal. We both went out for lunch, but had very different experiences. I may be biased, but I think mine was better. When you are on vacation, even a quick bite to eat and a train ride can be an adventure.
I know you’re not supposed to give kids too much screen time, but sometimes it’s the only way to get anything done around the house. We let Tiny Dog use the YouTube Kids app, and he has a few favourite types of videos that he likes to watch: playgrounds, marble runs, and cool toys. One of the coolest toys that he likes to watch is plastic rail sets, known in Japan as purarail.
The Japanese language doesn’t have the same sounds as English. Turning English words into Japanese sounds is similar to a lossy compression on audio files – it can make things sound wrong.
The word “plastic” comes out as “pu-ra-su-ti-ku” and rail is “re-ru”. As if this wasn’t weird enough, this is sometimes written in letters as “Plarail”. Regardless of what you call it, purarail is pretty cool. You build a train track with interlocking plastic track pieces, and then put a battery powered, motorized train on the tracks. Most of the trains look like actual trains that you can find in Japan.
Like any toy / hobby, there are people who take this to the extreme, creating whole model towns with buildings, landscaping, and elaborate multi level track designs.
Since Tiny Dog was having a rough day with all of his mosquito bites, I picked up a starter set at Ito Yokado that had three suggested track layouts and came with a model of Doctor Yellow, the Shinkansen used to test tracks at high speed.
He absolutely loved it.
The rest of our evening was spent building tunnels for the little plastic train as it circled the tracks over and over. Watching my 76 year old father in law on the floor playing trains with my son was definitely a highlight of my vacation so far.
Japanese mosquitoes are vicious little bastards.
Yesterday we all woke up with mosquito bites that we had gotten while sleeping the previous night. Tiny Dog got the worst of everyone, with several bites to his legs and one side of his face. We all assumed that it was a one time problem. We assumed wrong.
I woke up around 2:00 am to the annoying sound of a mosquito buzzing around my head. After swatting blindly for a while, I turned on the lights to find that I didn’t have one persistent mosquito, I had a small battalion who had all been taking turns. Each one that I squished released a splatter of my blood.
In the morning I found that Tiny Dog, a heavy sleeper, had fared much worse than The Penpal or I. He had almost 20 bites on his face alone, looking like he had come down with a case of chicken pox.
The Penpal’s father discovered the problem: The Penpal and I had no idea how to operate the complicated assortment of sliding windows, screens, and storm shutters in our rooms. We thought everything was closed, but the stupid mosquitoes had a clear path inside to feast on us while we slept. Looking at TD’s red, swollen bites made me feel like a terrible parent.
The bites were bothering him so much that we took him to a pediatrician in the late afternoon. Fortunately there were no allergic reactions, just the discomfort of a whole lot of mosquito bites. The doctor prescribed ointment to help heal and medicine to reduce the itch.
In the evening before we put TD to sleep I hunted every last mosquito that was in the house, leaving some of their squished corpses on the wall as a warning to the others: nobody gets away with eating my kid!!
Japan is a fascinating country to visit, with simply too many things to see and do. Most people who come to Japan for a short period of time will see the most popular sites – the bustling urban jungle of Tokyo and the wonderful temples and shrines of Kyoto. While those are both well worth the visit they don’t accurately represent much of the rest of the country.
The drive along the Numazu coast towards Izu Mito Sea Paradise is a good example of something that exists for the people who live there, not for the benefit of visitors. Numazu is famous for it’s fishing industry. The narrow road along the coast is lined with marinas, fishing supply shops, and warehouses. Trucks speed by taking the day’s catch towards local markets or even to the big cities. Fishing boats are docked along the shoreline next to fishermen with dark tans who are casting into the nearby waters.
There are no skyscrapers. There are no salarymen. There are no temples. There are just hardworking people whose lives are based around the ocean.
As we drove back towards our house, my father in law pointed out some spots where he and his older brothers went fishing for their dinner in the hard years after World War II had ended. These were likely the same spots where people had been fishing for hundreds of years before.
I really enjoyed the drive today – it was cool to get a little taste of non-tourist Japan.