Archive for June, 2017
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Due to a last minute change in our trip to Nagoya, I ended up with no plans today. I decided to hop on a bicycle to go pick up some souvenirs.
Getting around in “small town” Japan can be challenging; nearly all of the streets are unnamed and filled with buildings that have difficult to read signs. Back in my teaching days I got around using an atlas of local street maps. Today I had the benefit of technology, and got around thanks to the good people at Google Maps. Google had me expertly weaving around streets that were barely wide enough for a car. Without my phone I would have stayed on major routes or gotten completely lost.
My first stop was a toy store, where “Santa” picked up a cool Christmas present for Tiny Dog. I also got some Japanese exclusive Lightning McQueen stuff for my friend’s daughter, a huge fan of Cars. Next I went to Daiso and loaded up on mystery snacks to unleash on my friends at home. I don’t know what “salt tomato” candies are, but I’m going to find out.
Before leaving the shopping center, I stopped in at Mister Donut for a snack. Back in my teaching days I was not a fan of Mister Donut; being a patriotic Canadian, I like my donuts Tim Horton’s style. MD’s recipe must be more suited to Japanese tastes, explaining why The Penpal prefers their donuts to Tim Hortons. We are able to work past our donut differences by agreeing on cheesecake. Mmmm cheesecake!
Since Mister Donut was right next to where I parked my bike, I decided to give them another chance. I went in and chose from a huge assortment of very nice looking donuts, which I supplemented with an ice coffee. The coffee was delicious, the donut did not taste as good as it looked.
After my donut I took a scenic bike ride back home, driving by my old apartment building and stopping in at the 7-11 across the street. This particular 7-11 will always have a warm place in my heard, having provided about 50% of my meals and almost all of the beer I drank at home for the entire time I lived in Numazu. The clerk at the register was the same, and she may have even given me a look of recognition as I entered the store.
Overall I had a fun, easygoing day exploring and shopping. It was one of the most relaxing vacation days I’ve had so far.
Author’s note: Do NOT eat salt tomato candies.
Other than coming to Japan, the most exciting part about our trip is an upcoming visit to Legoland Japan, the newly opened Lego theme park in Nagoya. Tiny Dog has spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of Legoland in Florida. When we found out that a Legoland had opened in Japan, we knew that we had to go (sorry Universal Studios Japan).
There are several hotels in Nagoya that offer a package that includes hotel room, breakfast, and adult tickets to Legoland. Our plan was to take a two day trip to Nagoya, with travel to Nagoya and a visit to the aquarium on the first day, followed by Legoland and returning home on the second day. I booked a hotel package online that had us checking in on Tuesday, June 27 and going to Legoland on Wednesday, June 28. There was no indication on the hotel’s website that these dates might present a problem.
While I was looking up details about getting around in Nagoya, I happened to discover that Legoland is closed every Tuesday and Wednesday. I can’t imagine how miserable it would be to show up at a fun theme park with an excited kid, only to find it was closed; I think it would be on par with finding Santa’s corpse stuck in the chimney on Christmas morning.
The Penpal called the hotel and changed our reservation so we would check in on Wednesday and go to Legoland on Thursday. Thankfully we dodged a huge bullet that would have sucked the fun out of our trip to Nagoya.
Always check the hours of operations before you make plans. ALWAYS.
I have written about medal games before and 10 years later I still don’t understand the appeal. One person who does understand is my son, Tiny Dog. He is absolutely addicted to medal games.
The idea of the game is to buy a bunch of small metallic discs (medals) and feed them into a machine, aiming at a moving tray covered in more medals. The goal is to have your medal push some of the other medals to the lower level. This in turn (hopefully) pushes even more medals off the lower level and out of the machine. The medals you win can then be fed back into the machine in hopes of winning even more. Some machines offer fancy bonuses which will randomly dump more medals into the playing area while lights blink and music plays. It’s total sensory overload.
It’s worth noting that you can’t actually do anything with the medals you win other than play medal games.
TD saw his first medal machine a few days ago in Yokohama. Today we played the game above at Ito Yokado, and also got some time on the medal games in Bivi near the station. In total he probably logged about an hour on the games and I likely spent about $50. If I had kept buying more medals he would have kept playing.
Originally I thought that our medal game experience was a waste of time and money. Looking back I’m happy that TD had fun doing something uniquely Japanese that he couldn’t do in Canada. Also, any quality time I can spend with my kid is a good thing.
Today I got my fist sample of solo travel with a 3 year old. By the end of the day I was exhausted.
Whenever we return to Japan, The Penpal makes some time to check in with her church. The main branch is in Shin-Yokohama, conveniently accessible by shinkansen. We discussed and decided that Tiny Dog likely didn’t have the patience to spend a few hours at church, so we would both take separate trips to Yokohama and meet up for dinner with some of The Penpal’s friends.
The Penpal’s father dropped TD and I off at Mishima station around noon. Before boarding the train, we picked up some ekiben (train station lunch boxes) to eat on the ride to Yokohama. The clerk was surprised that TD thanked him in Japanese. It’s still funny the different reactions people have to TD depending on which parent he is traveling with.
TD munched away on sandwiches and rice balls on the shinkansen ride to Yokohama. His face was pressed against the window, jumping back in delight every time we entered a tunnel. This train ride was a lot more fun than the 15 minute subway ride from Shin-Yokohama to Sakuragicho; with nothing to see out the windows TD got bored quickly. I made a mental note to take above ground trains as much as possible in the future.
From Sakuragicho, we started our long walk towards Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building. The entire area around the tower is fantastic to visit: there are stores, restaurants, rides, games, and endless other fun things to do. Even with all of these distractions, TD was most impressed by the walking escalator that took us towards the tower.
We took the elevator to the observation deck on the 69th floor and were greeted by spectacular views of Yokohama, Kawasaki, and Tokyo. TD was impressed with the view for about 5 minutes, and then decided that it would be more fun to run laps around the building. We compromised and got ice cream near one of the windows while I tried to take as many pictures as possible.
On the way down, TD tried to touch the elevator doors as they closed. The elevator attendant said “yubi wo chui kudasai”, which TD translated into English for me as “Daddy be careful your fingers”. Everyone laughed at the sight of a 3 year old wearing Canadian flags translating for his gaijin father.
Instead of taking you back to the entrance, the elevator down from Landmark tower takes you to the 5th floor of a massive shopping center. As we walked through we found possibly the most exciting store ever for a 3 year old kid: The Tomy store. The entire display window was filled with an elaborate display of purarail (plastic train sets) and Tomy car tracks. We pushed our way into the store and TD spent about half an hour looking and playing with the display along with a mob of other children.
I eventually dragged him out of the Tomy Store and we walked to Cosmo World to play games. We wisely avoided the giant ferris wheel and waterslides, and ended up playing medal games (again). Getting him out of Cosmo World involved crying, bargaining, and eventually me having to carry him all the way back to the station. I should note that the humidity was about 6 million percent, and a fussy child is actually a portable space heater. By the time I got him to the station I had sweated through my shirt.
After some very busy Sunday afternoon trains we met up with The Penpal and some of her friends for dinner in a restaurant that was inexplicably not visible on Google Maps. By the time dinner was done, Tiny Dog and I were ready for sleep, but we still had a long trip back to Numazu.
Our adventures in Yokohama were a lot of fun, and my day was a great learning experience. Also, I have nothing but respect for single parents who try to get anything done.
Tonight I went out for drinks with my old roommate Azeroth, who is now once again living in Numazu.
Azeroth and I lived together from 2004-2006 when I was teaching in the Numazu area. I visited him on my subsequent trips to Japan, including a fun night out a few years ago not too far from the broken nuclear reactor. This time no major travel was required – his new condo is about a 15 minute walk from The Penpal’s house.
We met outside his new condo and caught up on life as we walked towards the Nakamise area south of Numazu station. Nakamise is a covered shopping area which was home to my old NOVA branch. The area is full of stores, restaurants, and more importantly, izakayas. Our first stop was a place known for their good selection of grilled meat on sticks. We were joined by Klaxman and one of our former students, and enjoyed some drinks and izakaya food.
Klaxmax and the student called it a night at a sensible time. Azeroth and I dropped them off at the station, charged up with an energy drink, and then went back in search of another beverage or two.
One of the best parts about being friends with Azeroth is that he takes the time to scout every drinking establishment in the area. As we were walking, he listed off our many options and their merits. Truly he has missed his calling as an alcohol tour guide.
Deciding to avoid any chains, Azeroth led us down a narrow alley that I would have normally passed right by. At the end was a door with a picture of a pig’s head and a sign which read “BooFooWoo”. Unless I am missing something, there is literally nothing about the name and picture on the door that would give you any hint that you’re at a bar.
As soon as we entered, Azeroth was greeted like a regular and we were shown past the narrow pathway between sunken tables towards prime seating at the bar. After placing our order, the bartender brought over the karaoke machine that was being passed around. I did a pretty decent version of Ziggy Stardust while Azeroth busted out the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We both got some cheers and applause from the rest of the bar, and made sure to return the favour when they sang.
BooFooWoo is exactly the right kind of place for some low key drinks and karaoke with friends. We ended up having a few more drinks and performing a duet of Come and Get Your Love before calling it a night.
As I walked (stumbled) the long walk back towards The Penpal’s house I realized how much I missed nights out like tonight from my teaching days. Being a parent cuts down the time to go out with friends and getting older makes recovery the next day even harder. I’m happy I got a chance to get out this evening and hope I get another chance before leaving.
Epilogue: I’m pretty sure the Penpal’s father was still awake when I got home. Not sure if he was was worried that I would get lost or just wanted to see how late I came home.