Archive for category Return to Japan

July 2, 2017 – A very long day

Today we left Japan to return home after 2 eventful weeks of vacation. Our route was from Tokyo Narita to Calgary, and then on to Winnipeg. We woke up at 7:30am on Sunday in Japan, which was still 5:30pm Saturday evening in Winnipeg. It was a very long day.

We somehow managed to get 4 adults, 1 kid, two large suitcases, and three backpacks into a Toyota Vitz (the Japanese version of the Echo) to get to Mishima station. The Penpal’s parents got platform tickets which allowed them to wait with us on the shinkansen platform. They looked a bit sad as we boarded the train, although I’m sure they will appreciate peace and quiet returning to their house after 2 weeks with an active, jetlagged 3 year old running around. As our train pulled away, Tiny Dog alternated between waving out the window and playing with the tray on the seat in front of us.

We took the shinkansen to Tokyo and then caught the Narita Express to the airport. We all enjoyed watching Tokyo fly by through the window. When we arrived at the airport, I briefly considered buying a cream puff beverage from a vending machine, before reminding myself that I was about to be in flight for a few hours and that might not be the best idea.

We checked our bags and the giant, horrible car seat of doom, then killed time in the airport looking at some of the cool stores. I got a new toy for Tiny Dog and managed to distract him long enough for The Penpal to get some clothes at Uniqlo. She hadn’t had any time for shopping on our entire vacation. We went through security without incident, and then learned that our departure was delayed. TD and I rode the walking escalators and played with his Ipad until we were finally able to board, almost 2 hours late.

The flight to Calgary went reasonably well – we watched Lego Batman about 4 more times, but I only managed about an hour of sleep. Tiny Dog and I both looked down as we flew over the majestic Canadian Rockies. Looks like I’m going to have to fight him for the window seat as he gets older.

When possible I prefer flying home through Calgary instead of Vancouver – its a smaller airport and a shorter trip, although depending on scheduling the layover could be longer. Our layover was supposed to be over 5 hours, but due to our delayed takeoff we “only” had 4 hours on the ground. After an hour The Penpal and I were both struggling to stay awake while TD wanted to run around and explore the entire airport. We took shifts, alternating napping and keeping the kid occupied.

Our flight to Winnipeg was short, uneventful, and totally vomit free, all of which are excellent features of a flight. My parents met us at the airport and returned us home. Before picking us up they had stocked up our fridge, because my parents are pretty great. We all crashed hard after they left.

This was my 4th trip to Japan since my English teaching days, but it was the first time traveling with our son. It was very different than our previous visits, but still a great experience. We are already talking about a return in 2019 to visit again, or waiting until 2020 and trying to catch the Tokyo Olympics. If we do that, I have already warned The Penpal that I will be wearing a Canadian flag as a cape for the entire time. We still have about 3 years to argue about which flag(s) Tiny Dog will be wearing.

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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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