July 1, 2017 part 2 – Beer and TV

Tonight was our last night in Japan on this visit. I ate dinner with the family, and after Tiny Dog went to sleep I went off to have a beer with my old roommate Azeroth.

Unlike a few days ago, we decided not to hit the town. Instead we had a night in, similar to many we had while we shared an apartment together. We picked up a variety of beer and snacks from the nearby 7-11, and watched episodes of Drawn Together, Rick and Morty, and Archer while laughing our asses off.

One sign of a good friend is when you can go for a few years without seeing each other and then pick exactly where you left off when you get a chance to meet. My life has changed a lot in the 11 years since I moved back to Canada: I got married, started a career, got a professional designation, and became a father. Even with all of those changes, hanging out while drinking beer and eating mysterious snacks still felt like home.

Happy Canada Day! I hope that I’m not going to be hungover tomorrow for my flight home!

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July 1, 2017 part 1 – Daddy, why is there a foreigner at the playground?

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!

 

 

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June 30, 2017 – Random thoughts about coin laundry

Managing supplies of clean clothes can be a challenge on vacation. My mother in law has been trying her best to take care of everyone’s laundry*, but she is having trouble keeping up with 3 additional people’s clothes in the tiny laundry machine they have in the house. My in-laws, like many Japanese people, don’t own a dryer, so clothes can only be dried by hanging them up outside. With yet another rainy day and packing to return home coming soon, we were developing a laundry crisis.

*Yes, I am more than capable of washing my own clothes. But trying to do household chores at my in-laws house would end up causing more problems than it solved. I once got yelled at by my father in law when he found out that I helped wash dishes in Canada, but that’s a different story.

I suggested that instead of waiting for the rain to stop, that I would be happy to take our laundry to a nearby coin laundry, which would also buy me some quiet time outside of the house. My in-laws agreed and dropped me off, promising to pick me up later.

I expected they would take me to a place where I would largely be left alone, similar to the coin laundry I used to use in my teaching days. This one had a very attentive owner who my mother in-law referred to as “mama-san”. I have only ever heard this term before used in reference to the manager of a small bar or hostess pub, so it was interesting for me to hear it in this situation.

Mama-san looked at my pile of clothing, assessed my needs, and directed me to one of the machines. She explained in rapid fire Japanese how to use the machine while my brain tried to translate as fast as possible. I did catch all of the key points like where to put my clothes and money, which was fairly obvious in retrospect. The machine that mama-san recommended provided its own soap and would both wash and dry my clothes, proving once again that Japanese technology is cool.

I sat quietly on my own for most of the time, taking advantage of the free wifi from nearby 7-11. My mother in-law came in later after finishing grocery shopping, and I showed her some of the pictures from our trip to Nagoya while we waited for my laundry. When the clothes were done, my mother in-law started talking to Mama-san about our visit.

As a proud parent and proud Canadian I took this opportunity to show off pictures of Tiny Dog from Japan and Canada while trying to maintain a conversation in Japanese. My mother in-law seemed proud of the attention her daughter and grandson were getting.

Although doing laundry is not likely to be anyone’s vacation highlight, this was a good chance to see some of the differences between Japan and Canada. Experiencing another culture can involve temples and museums, but it can also be as simple as going to the grocery store or trying to get your clothes clean. I love vacation!

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June 29, 2017 – Legoland Japan!!

Legoland Japan is amazing!

This morning The Penpal, Tiny Dog, and I checked out of our hotel and set off for Legoland Japan. We boarded Aonami line from near our hotel on a train packed with salarymen. The journey to Legoland took us through some of the extensive port areas in Nagoya, passing by rows and rows of new cars ready to be loaded onto a boat for overseas shipping.

After 25 minutes of ports and industry, we arrived at Kinjofuto station, located on a small island which is home to a conference center, restaurants, railway museum, and most importantly, Legoland.

Legoland is a theme park designed for ages 2-12. I could probably write a few thousand words about how amazing Legoland was, and we didn’t even see all of it. Some of the highlights include:

  • Large models of famous Japanese landmarks made from 10.5 million Lego bricks. Even better, there were lots of moving parts that could be activated by pushing buttons
  • A live Ninjago puppet show!
  • A pirate area where people in boats engage in a water battle with people on shore
  • An area where kids could drive Lego cars
  • A motherfreaking Lego submarine with views of real and Lego fish
  • Three different playgrounds
  • So many rides, and none of them too scary for little kids
  • A huge indoor Lego construction area

The one thing that Legoland didn’t have was protection from the insane humidity. By the end of our Lego day we were tired and drenched in sweat. TD managed to fall asleep on the train and not even the noise and activity of Nagoya station, one of the busiest stations in the WORLD could wake him up.

I’m already excited about our next trip to Japan and a return to Legoland.

Asleep in Nagoya station

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June 28, 2017 part 3 – Vacation is very different as a parent

The Penpal and I love traveling together! Our destination highlights include numerous places in Japan, Korea (the nice one, not the crazy one), Jamaica, Banff, Niagara Falls, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, San Francisco, and even Fargo, North Dakota.

There is something about being away from work and home that really makes a person feel, how can I put this delicately, energetic? Our previous vacations have always allowed us freedom to spend some “quality spouse time” together. (Yes, even in Fargo)

This trip to Japan is the first out of town vacation that The Penpal and I have taken since we became parents. We found that while the spirit was willing, the opportunities were severely limited due to the presence of our wonderful child.

On previous trips to Japan, a visit to another city would have been a golden opportunity to really enjoy our vacation. This time we had a tiny person sleeping in our room. Making the problem worse is the fact that Japanese hotels have very small bathrooms which are not at all friendly for extracurricular activities.

Vacation just isn’t the same as it used to be.

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June 28, 2017 part 2 – The poo-splosion

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.

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June 28, 2017 part 1 – Nagoya Aquarium

This morning we left Numazu bound for a two day trip to Nagoya. The main items on our agenda were a visit to Nagoya Aquarium and a day at Legoland Japan.

Getting to Nagoya was easy – The Penpal’s father dropped us off at Mishima station where we boarded the Shinkansen to Nagoya. While traveling I downloaded a GPS speedometer app for my phone. Our train topped out at 268km per hour (173 mph for my American friends). Very cool!

Unlike getting to Nagoya, getting around Nagoya was not so easy. Nagoya has several private railway companies that service most of the city, requiring multiple tickets and transfers. Navigating between lines is a bit confusing for Nagoya newbies like ourselves. We eventually got pointed in the right direction and made it to the Nagoya port area.

The first thing I noticed at the port was a giant boat – the retired antarctic survey ship. The second thing I noticed, before even the interesting design of the aquarium building, was that Nagoya port had a Red Lobster. In all my time in Japan, I had never seen a Red Lobster before – there are tens of thousands of options for seafood, so I never expected that an American seafood chain would have even a single location (in fact they have 24).

The Aquarium itself is huge, with exhibits spread out between two buildings and a large outdoor area for shows. There is a huge selection of marine life from around the world. Highlights include an big room full of penguins, colourful coral reefs, and more jellyfish than I have ever seen in one place before.

And these adorable sea worm things

In addition to exploring the marine life displays, we also watched a dolphin show. Tiny Dog absolutely loved the show, but he kept looking in the wrong place when the dolphins went underwater. The large screen in the background helped. I like dolphin shows, but I was more excited by the fact that I could get a cold beer at the concession stand. Drinking a beer in the middle of the afternoon is totally okay if you are on vacation or watching any kind of performance.

Mmmm beer

I never thought I would ever find an aquarium better than the stunning Osaka Aquarium, but I think I might have to give Nagoya Aquarium the win due to penguins. Totally recommended for guests of all ages, make sure you leave a few hours to see everything.

 

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