Archive for category Western 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.
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.
I woke up around 9:30 with an evil EVIL hangover after seriously overindulging last night. In Canada this wouldn’t be a problem, but Japanese hotel checkout times are notoriously early; we had to be out of our room at 10:00am. Thanks to traveling light and a bit of luck, both Super Dave and I managed to get ourselves together and checked out on time. We ventured out into the bright, noisy, spinning center of Osaka.
The subway ride to Osaka station was extremely unpleasant, and I asked Super Dave for a few minutes to sit down and rehydrate before we continued on to Kyoto. I was actually starting to worry that I wouldn’t survive our day of sightseeing, but after a lot of water and fresh air, we braved the hour long train ride to Kyoto.
Our first stop in Kyoto was Ryoan-ji, which is home to a large zen rock garden. A quiet place of reflection was a great idea given the state of my brain. My only problem was looking at the rocks, which started moving around in my vision making me feel dizzy. Hungover or not, Ryoan-ji is a very peaceful place and highly recommended.
We also went to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion. This was a first visit for Super Dave and a second visit for me.
You could literally throw darts at a tourist map of Kyoto and come up with a fantastic place to visit – there are no wrong choices. We did discover one problem: there were a severe lack of accessible bank machines. Carrying cash is a must in Japan, so it’s confusing why we had no luck finding bank machines in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia.
By late afternoon we were both feeling like humans again. Before we took the shinkansen back towards Shizuoka we stopped by a large import store in Kyoto station. They carried such luxuries as spicy salsa, instant oatmeal, and root beer. By the time we left the store, I was overburdened with import goods and my shopping from Osaka, which included a bilingual English / Japanese version of Monopoly that I couldn’t resist buying.
When traveling in Japan, I don’t recommend getting so hungover that you wish for death. But if you do, make sure that you have minimal travel the next day, and head for a nice quiet outdoor temple or zen garden.
Super Dave and I enjoyed a morning of sightseeing and shopping in Osaka before returning to the hotel to recharge and get ready for an evening out.
We set out for Dotonbori, the always exciting nightlife area. The sun was down, all of the city lights were on, and the streets were full of people. We started with a drink (or two) at Hub Pub, a popular English pub chain. From there we found our way to Suntory Old Bar, which unsurprisingly served Suntory Whiskey.
Neither Super Dave or I are whiskey drinkers, but when in a Suntory whiskey bar you can’t just order a beer. We both ordered double whiskey on the rocks. Old Bar had a long, narrow bar with stools and some tables. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived, but I did notice two Japanese women sitting further down the bar. I told Super Dave that he should practice his Japanese skills by talking to the women and asking them to recommend a good place for us to go next. He was nervous about approaching the women, but I kept trying – telling him that he would likely never see them again, so there would be no problem if his Japanese bombed. We practiced some possible phrases and I just about had him convinced, but he changed his mind at the last minute.
Encouraged by the whiskey, I decided to show David that I wasn’t going to ask a friend to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself. I told Super Dave to follow me, and I approached the women at the end of the bar. I apologized for interrupting, and then introduced us as English teachers from Shizuoka who were visiting Osaka for the first time. I said that we didn’t know the city well, and asked for a recommendation on a good place to go. One of the women called over the bartender; as someone who doesn’t often approach women in bars, I was half expecting her to complain about us. Instead she asked for a pen and paper, and proceeded to draw us a map to a cool sounding bar called Rock Rock.
I thanked them for the help and offered to buy them a drink. They politely declined, so we finished our drinks and went on our way. Having a conversation like this would have been extremely difficult (or impossible) when I first arrived in Japan, so I felt proud of myself as we followed our hand drawn map to the next venue. Thank you Japanese lessons and alcohol!
Rock Rock was a bit of a dive, but with its own style. It wasn’t very busy when we went in, and one of the other customers appeared to be passed out in a booth. Despite this, they impressed us with their music choices; Alice in Chains was playing when we arrived and it only got better from there. Also, Rock Rock served us beer metal goblets! We had a few goblets (not a phrase I ever expected to type), before deciding to find somewhere different.
When we hit the night air outside of Rock Rock I realized just how drunk I was. Super Dave was feeling no pain, but I was really hammered. We wandered the area until we found ourselves in an area with narrow streets and lots of tiny pubs. I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I needed a bathroom break. Just when I had started to give up hope and consider finding a dark alley, a beacon of light hit us: a sign with Merseybeat Mojo on it and an outdoor speaker playing The Beatles.
We rushed inside, I made good use of the bathroom, and we moved over to the bar at the end of the narrow room. The bartender was friendly and spoke English fluently. We ordered drinks, and I finally noticed that despite playing Beatles on the speaker outside, they were playing the Blues Brothers soundtrack inside. When I was a kid, the two movies I watched the most were Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters, likely over 25 times each. I mentioned this to the bartender, his face lit up, and he searched through his rack of CDs to find the Ghostbusters soundtrack.
We were joined at the bar by two Korean women who were out on a pub crawl as well. They were also well into their evening, and the bunch of us attempted to have drunken conversations in Korean, Japanese, and English.
Details after this point are a bit fuzzy – we did leave the bar at some point and flagged down a taxi. The driver had no idea where our hotel was, but thankfully we had brought a brochure from the hotel that included a map – this is a highly recommended travel tip, especially when alcohol is involved. I don’t remember getting back to our room, but I do have some memories of spending much of the night next to the toilet in our bathroom. Sorry Super Dave!
During the day, Super Dave and I went to Osaka Castle. The castle itself is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the random English interaction we got before and after the castle.
As we were buying tickets to get into Osaka castle we were approached by a Japanese woman. She greeted us in English and then asked if we were American. We informed her that we were Canadian and Australian, and she thanked us. She then reached out as if to shake my hand, but at the last second grabbed my forearm with both hands, similar to when I used to receive “Indian burns” as a kid. She pushed her hands together, squeezing the skin on my forearm and then released it, looking very impressed. While I was trying to figure out what just happened, she did the same thing to Super Dave. We both stood there, speechless and confused. She grabbed my arm one more time while thanking us over and over, and then she walked away. To this day I have no idea what she was doing, and I half expect that I was featured on some kind of candid camera type comedy show.
After exploring Osaka Castle (my second time, Super Dave’s first), we walked out into the castle grounds where we were greeted by a middle aged Japanese man. He asked us if we were native English speakers. When we answered yes, he asked us to explain the meaning of the word “pledge”. We did our best impression of English teachers and got him to understand. He thanked us, and then told us that he studies English by memorizing famous speeches. He asked if we would listen to him, and then recited the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech by John F Kennedy. The whole thing. Nearly flawlessly.
If the start of our day in Osaka is any indication of how the rest of the day will go, we are in for a very interesting evening.
Today I woke up really early and met Super Dave at the train station to start our west Japan vacation. On the way to Osaka and Kyoto we will be stopping at the famous Ninja Museum in Iga city.
Getting from Numazu to Osaka can be done fairly quickly on the shinkansen. Traveling to Iga requires getting off the shinkansen in Nagoya and then taking some smaller lines to Iga. The final route to Iga-Ueno station is on a narrow train line that feels like it’s cutting through people’s yards! It took us about 5 hours to get to our destination, but the museum was totally worth every minute of that travel.
Simply put – go see the ninja museum. Do it. They have an extensive collection of everything ninja, and have some impressive demos of techniques and weapons. Also, you can throw shuriken at a target, which is WAY harder than it would seem.
Super Dave and I got to see only about 2/3 of the museum – somewhere after the weapons demonstration we started talking to another English teacher from Canada who was traveling solo. We ended up chatting with him for a while while we were walking around the museum grounds. When we parted ways, Super Dave and I realized that we had walked right out of the museum grounds. Getting back in would have required explaining our error to the front gate staff in Japanese. Neither one of us trusted our language ability enough to try this, and we both felt pretty dumb for accidentally walking out of the museum, so we decided to cut our losses and get lunch instead.
After some delicious cold soba noodles, we visited the nearby Iga Castle, another underrated gem. The original castle dates back to 1585, but the current structure was rebuilt in 1935. The museum inside the castle wasn’t as extensive as Himeji Castle or Osaka Castle, but it was still impressive and is definitely worth going out of the way to visit.
Also in Iga, you can visit Basho’s house, if you like haiku.
Super Dave and I returned to the train station and started our 2 hour trek to Osaka. We checked in at the hotel and spent our evening exploring the area around Osaka station. We found a lot of small mahjong places hidden away off the back streets, and ended up shooting pool in a tiny billiards bar. We both suck at pool. Looking forward to an eventful day tomorrow!
In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and found ourselves in the lobby with several youth baseball teams from Australia. I didn’t know that anyone even played baseball in Australia! After a brief chat with the Aussies, we set out for Kyoto.
My parents had visited Kyoto in 2004 on their first trip to Japan, but we were only there for a day which is nowhere near long enough to see all of the interesting things in Kyoto. Our plan was to hit two or three of the popular places that we hadn’t seen the first time and then return to Numazu in the evening. Unfortunately the crappy weather had other plans for us. It was cold, windy, and damp when we arrived. We decided to visit Kiyomizu Dera, one of the places that my students had been continuously recommending, and then see what else the weather would allow.
Kiyomizu Dera is a breathtaking temple built on the side of a hill in Kyoto. The current buildings date back to 1668, and not a single nail was used in construction. The temple is built around a waterfall which provides for some amazing pictures. I’d like to come back when all of the trees are green and flowers are blooming.
One of the interesting things at the temple is two “love stones” which are 18 meters apart. If a single person walks with their eyes closed from one stone to the other, they are supposed to find love. Couples can also try this to test their relationship. It was cute to see my parents, married for 33 years, attempting this. My dad closed his eyes and my mom calmly gave him directions so he could safely reach the other stone while navigating the crowds. Their teamwork paid off, and he successfully reached the other stone without opening his eyes. My parents have been together 33 years but they actually still like each other!
After a long visit to the temple and taking endless pictures, we returned to Kyoto station for lunch and to kill some time waiting for the weather to change. Instead of getting better, it started snowing so we decided that one temple was going to be our limit for the day. We did enjoy exploring the massive Kyoto station complex, and found a cool import food store. I happily bought root beer and Quaker instant oatmeal, neither of which I had seen anywhere else.
It was unfortunate that our day was cut short, but we still enjoyed our time in Kyoto, and would recommend Kiyomizu Dera highly to anyone visiting the city.
(Author’s note) My original plan was to repost my experiences exactly 10 years after they occurred. However, real life got in the way this year, and I am finishing the rewritten post in August 2016. I am happy to report that a few days ago, my parents just celebrated their 44th anniversary! Maybe there is something to those love stones after all 🙂
After getting rained out in Nara, my parents and I decided to return to Osaka and find some indoor activities. The first thing that popped into my head was a visit to the Umeda Sky building, yet another thing I had done on my solo trip to Osaka last year. The building features a giant glass elevator, a glass walled escalator, and spectacular views of Osaka. It was still raining, so we didn’t get too much of the city view. We did enjoy some of the cool models they had depicting life in old Osaka.
The Sky Building concluded a full day of walking and sightseeing, so we decided to call it a night and return to the hotel. Getting back would involve a walk to Umeda station, two subway trains, and a search for our hotel. My dad decided that he wasn’t interested in any more walking, so he suggested that we take a taxi. I told him that taxis were expensive in Japan, but he said that he was on vacation and didn’t care, so we left the building and found a nearby taxi stand.
Taxis in Japan are very different from taxis in Canada. Japanese taxis have automatic doors and drivers in uniforms with white gloves. Canadian taxis absolutely do not have either of these things. We got in and I asked the driver to take us to Park Hotel Rinkai.
This was the first time my parents had been in a taxi in Japan, so they were understandably excited. As soon as we started moving my dad started talking to the driver. The driver nervously responded with “Sorry, no English”. I explained to the driver in Japanese that my dad keeps forgetting that not everyone in Japan can speak English. When my dad saw that I was able to communicate with the cab driver, he asked me to translate for him. I fumbled my way through such questions as:
- What kind of car is this?
- Do all taxi drivers wear white gloves?
- In Canada the taxi drivers are mostly immigrants. How about in Japan?
- Is the day shift in Osaka busy?
- Do you like your job?
My dad is a friendly person by nature who loves talking to people, so this is just normal for him. Even though my Japanese had improved immensely since moving to the country two year ago, I had trouble keeping up with the back and forth communication. There were times when my vocabulary wasn’t good enough to either say or understanding something, so I filled in the gaps with some educated guesses. It was a good challenge of my Japanese abilities, but I was mentally exhausted by the time we reached the hotel!
I have nothing but respect for people who can professionally translate a conversation for a living. It’s not easy at all!
Other than some very old shrines and temples, Nara is famous for the deer in Nara Park. The deer roaming the park are considered sacred by the local shrines, and they are allowed full reign over the park.
The deer are generally tame, and will completely ignore you until you walk up to one of the many vendors in the area and buy deer crackers. As soon as you pay your 150 yen for the small package of crackers, you will instantly find yourself surrounded by hungry, insistent deer who will all gently headbutt you when you aren’t feeding them. As soon as the crackers are gone, the deer will return to ignoring you.
The whole experience is a bit intimidating at first. We did see a few parents laughing after handing a stack of deer crackers to their unsuspecting children, which I personally thought was hilarious!
Because the deer are wild animals, there are some helpful warning signs around the park that remind you of deer safety. Helpful that is, if you can read Japanese.
I could read just enough to understand that the deer are not pets, and there are certain times of the year when the deer may be aggressive. I personally don’t need a sign to tell me not to piss off wild animals that are used to getting their own way, but I understand that this may be important for some. Fortunately for me, the worst thing that happened in my interaction with Nara’s deer was getting some deer snot on my jacket.
We would have spent more time in Nara, but the day was cold and it started raining. Since most of the sightseeing places involved walking outside, we decided to head back to Osaka for some indoor exploration.
Feeding the deer in Nara should be on everyone’s western Japan to-do list. It was a really cool experience!
Today my parents and I visited Nara, which was another city on my “must see before I leave Japan” list. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 – 794, and is home to some very old and very impressive buildings from Japan’s past. Conveniently, Nara is just slightly west of Osaka and almost directly south of Kyoto. The greater Tokyo area has lots of fantastic places to visit, but you can’t beat the Osaka / Nara / Kyoto triangle for history.
Todaiji is one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, despite the current construction being 30% smaller than the previous version. It was originally finished in 751 AD, and nearly bankrupted the country due to the high cost of construction. The current building dates back to 1709, which is still pretty freaking old by Canadian standards.
When you see Todaiji from a distance it’s hard to get a sense of how immense it truly is, until you focus on how small people look right in front of the entrance. The inside of the building features the largest bronze Buddha statue, along with other very impressive artifacts that you’d find in a 1000+ year old temple.
After Todaiji we visited Kasuga Taisha, Shinto Shrine from the time that Nara was the capital of Japan. The shrine itself was good, but the treasure room inside was really interesting. We happened to be there on the last day of a display of 1000 year old Japanese picture scrolls. We also saw giant ceremonial drums that were over 900 years old.
I always enjoy thinking about the stories behind some of these very old artifacts. How many different people have seen them or touched them over the years? How did they survive wars, fires, storms, earthquakes? For me it’s easier to really connect with something a few hundred years old than millions of years old. We only saw a few of the highlights in Nara, but they were all fascinating for me and I wish I had more time to see everything.