Archive for category Visitors

March 30, 2006 part 2 – Izakaya with my dad

Thanks to crappy weather, my parents and I returned to Numazu a few hours early after 4 days and 3 nights in western Japan. One of the things that surprises visitors to Japan is the amount of walking that they end up doing while sightseeing. In the past few days my parents and I had walked around two castles, an aquarium, temples, shrines, and deer filled parks, not to mention around several very large train stations. By the time that we returned to Numazu, they were understandably tired.

We got a quick bite to eat, and my mom decided that she was ready to call it an evening. My dad was still interested in exploring, but my mom couldn’t be convinced. It was then that I had a fantastic idea: beer! I asked my dad if he would like to go for a beer at an izakaya with me. He was very excited by the idea, so we dropped off my mom at the hotel and set out for the nearby Ryoba.

Ryoba has become the regular izakaya of choice for English teachers. If we are going for a drink after work, usually we got to the branch south of Numazu station, which is conveniently close to NOVA. There is also a branch north of Numazu station, which is conveniently close to Hotel Miwa and the apartments where most of the teachers live. Just as we were about to enter the building, we saw my fun coworker Vivian coming up the street. I introduced her to my dad, who invited her to join us for a beer.

North side Ryoba has some tables, but I wanted to give my dad the full experience, so we proceeded to the tatami floor area with low Japanese style tables. The table next to us was full of businessmen unwinding after a long day, ties loosened and ready to become headbands later. We enjoyed some delicious beer and meat on sticks, and my dad seemed impressed by the small bowl of snacks that came with our first drink order (a great Japanese tradition). Vivian and my dad are both outgoing people used to talking to anyone, so the conversation flowed easily. In the end, my dad picked up the tab for all of us.

It was cool getting to take my dad out for a beer in Japan. Even though we have seen a lot of cool things, this might be one of my personal highlights of my parents second visit.

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March 30, 2006 part 1 – Kiyomizu Dera with my parents

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.

Side view of Kiyomizu Dera

Side view of Kiyomizu Dera

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.

Kyoto Kiyomizu 2

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 🙂

Kyoto Kiyomizu 3

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March 29, 2006 part 3 – Translating for my dad

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.

Osaka model

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!

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March 29, 2006 part 2 – Rampaging Hordes of Deer

Nara Deer

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.

Unhelpful sign is unhelpful

Unhelpful sign is unhelpful

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!

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March 29, 2006 part 1 – Very old buildings in Nara

Nara Todaiji

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.

My parents next to the giant bronze Buddha

My parents next to the giant bronze Buddha

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.

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March 28, 2006 part 1 – Osaka Castle with my parents

Osaka castle outside

Today my parents and I did some sightseeing in Osaka. We started our day with breakfast at the hotel (with a restaurant full of our new friends), and then headed off for Osaka Castle.

Japan is filled with old castles, and most of them have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Osaka Castle is no exception; the main tower and surrounding buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over, with the most recent restoration in 1995. After seeing Himeji Castle twice (which was never destroyed), I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy Osaka castle as much. I ended up being  pleasantly surprised.

The current version of Osaka Castle is a restored exterior with a modern museum inside. The museum tells the story of both Osaka and Osaka Castle, which was played key roles in the struggle to reunify Japan in the 1500s. The museum was interesting and interactive, and featured excellent English signs.

We explored the castle for a few hours, and then headed towards the obligatory gift shop near the exit. Outside the gift shop is a giant golden tiger and a box full of samurai gear so you can pose for a picture. There were a lot of Japanese people standing around, looking at the tiger and cool samurai clothes, obviously wanting to take a picture, but nobody wanted to be the first person to step up. Fortunately my dad was there to bravely volunteer:

Osaka castle inside

My dad had just traveled half way around the world and was in a modern restoration of a 500 year old castle. I don’t think anything could have stopped him from getting a picture with a fake sword in front of a golden tiger. The crowd of Japanese people, now happy that none of them had to go first, formed an orderly line to dress up and take pictures.

This is exactly the kind of thing that would have embarrassed me when I was a grumpy teenager. However, as a 27 year old I realized that my dad was actually pretty cool, not to mention fun to travel with.

Next up, Osaka Aquarium!

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March 27, 2006 part 2 – Middle aged Korean women

My parents and I spent our afternoon exploring the magnificent Himeji Castle, and then headed to Osaka to check into our hotel. I had booked us rooms in the Park Hotel Rinkai, an inexpensive business hotel where I had stayed last year. It’s not the fanciest hotel, but it’s centrally located and inexpensive.

Park Hotel Rinkai is easily accessible from two different stations on the Osaka subway. The problem is that I couldn’t remember which exit to use, and we ended up wandering around for some time trying to find our way with street maps, my fuzzy memory, and some good old fashioned guessing.

We did eventually find the hotel, and checked in at the same time as a large group of middle aged Asian women. After checking in, we jammed into a tiny elevator filled with short, chatty women. We were at the back wall of the elevator, so I needed someone to press the buttons for us.

“すみません、10回のブタンを押してください” (Please push the button for 10th floor) I said politely. This got no reaction. Figuring that they might not have heard me over their conversation I repeated myself slightly louder and more clearly. The woman closest to the elevator turned to me and responded in English “Sorry, not Japan, Korea. Korea.”

I responded with the only phrase I know in Korean. “Annyeong haseyo! (Hello) Please push 10”. This got the desired response, and a good laugh from the Korean ladies in the elevator.

I had tried to warn my parents that the hotel rooms were going to be small. I think they were expecting Canada small and not Japan small. They were shocked to see the tiny rooms that I had booked us into. Their room had two single beds (my dad snores like a rusty chainsaw), with barely enough room for their tiny suitcases. My room was so small that the three of us could barely fit inside at the same time, and we are all small people!

Osaka hotel 1

My dad in a business hotel bathroom. He’s only 168cm (5’6″) tall!

I remembered the hotel being fairly quiet the last time, however I didn’t have a tour bus full of excited middle aged women on vacation staying there at the time. Our fellow guests were up late chatting, singing, and generally enjoying themselves. I have now added “middle aged Korean women” to my list of fun people to party with in the future.

How much hotel room does one person need?

How much hotel room does one person need?

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March 27, 2006 part 1 – Himeji Castle (again)

Himeji mom

I picked up my parents early in the morning outside Hotel Miwa in Numazu. We were setting off for 4 days of sightseeing in western Japan before returning to Numazu. My parents liked the hotel so much that we booked a room for them when we returned to Numazu. The staff seemed really happy that my parents had enjoyed their stay so much, and not in just a “hooray, repeat business” kind of way. Hotel Miwa is a fantastic place which I would recommend highly!

My parents had learned from their first trip to Japan, and had packed much lighter for their return. The first time they had a bag with a shoulder strap that we referred to as “the green bag of doom” which seemed to weigh about 900kg, as well as some large suitcases. This time they had small bags and backpacks which made for a much more enjoyable experience.

We walked to Numazu station and took Tokaido line to Mishima. While on the shinkansen platform we enjoyed breathtaking views of a snow covered Mt. Fuji before catching the train to Shin-Osaka, with Himeji as our final destination. I don’t travel on the shinkansen often by myself, so I’m always amazed at how quiet and smooth the ride is. We blasted across the countryside at over 250km/h, watching the coastline and cities whiz by the windows.

We arrived at Himeji in time for lunch. While we were standing outside the station deciding where to eat, a friendly Japanese woman approached and asked in English if we were lost. I explained that we were just trying to decide where to eat, and she lept into action, running to the nearby information desk to find out where the station restaurants were located. She apologized sincerely for not being able to recommend one of the restaurants personally.

I have found that Japanese people, especially the ones who can speak English, are almost universally helpful to tourists. They seem to be especially helpful to middle aged tourists like my parents, who have been treated like royalty since landing at Narita.

Unfortunately the restaurant we chose was busy and not nearly as friendly as the nice lady we met outside the station (which is rare), but we still enjoyed a good meal and set out for the castle.

I have been to Himeji castle before, and it is still just as breathtaking the second time. My parents were blown away by the size of the castle, which dominates the view from the station. We spent a few hours exploring the huge castle grounds and the interior of the castle.

"Beware of bird poop"

“Beware of bird poop”

I could visit Himeji castle over and over without getting bored; there is just so much to see and enjoy. It was a bit of a letdown to walk away from the beautiful castle towards the station. We boarded the shinkansen again bound for Osaka, which would be our home for the next few days. Good bye Himeji!

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March 26, 2006 part 2 – Exploring Numazu

Senbon parents

My parents, The Penpal, and The Penpal’s Parents enjoying a windy day at Senbonhama Beach

After an eventful morning where my parents did some solo sightseeing, we met up with The Penpal and her parents to see some sights in Numazu. Both of their cars were too small to hold six adults, so we divided up into a men’s car and a woman’s car. While we were driving, my dad had about a million questions for The Penpal’s father, and I did my best to translate their conversation. I’m happy that my father is a friendly, outgoing person, but by the time we got out of the car my brain was tired!

We visited Senbonhama Park and beach, and then went on to the giant tsunami gate View-O, where I had been with The Penpal’s father before. Everyone got a chance to talk and hang out before we ended up at the mountaintop restaurant for dinner.

My parents were jetlagged and overwhelmed by everything, but they enjoyed getting a chance to spend time with me, their future daughter in law and her family. Over dinner we discussed the plans for the rest of the week. Tomorrow morning my parents and I were going to get up early and head west for 4 days in Himeji, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara.

It was a fun day, and a good way to spend time with my two families.

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March 26, 2006 part 1 – Canadian parents on the loose in Japan

I showed up at my parent’s hotel in the morning, surprised to find that they were not only awake, but had already been out of the hotel and had some adventures on their own. This is not something that would have happened on their first trip to Japan!

My parents had woken up early due to jetlag and general excitement about their trip. Instead of hiding in the hotel room, they went and introduced themselves to the desk staff, who had already been told that Canadians were staying in the hotel. Instead of being intimidated, the staff were eager to practice their English with the friendly gaijins. Note to any of my students: do this! Practice English when you have the opportunity, especially with native speakers!

After having some breakfast, my dad started asking the hotel clerks about the parking lot. Hotel Miwa has an automated parking system, which is an awesome way to store a lot of cars in a small space. We had seen a demo of this kind of car storage at Toyota Mega Web in Odaiba on my parents’ first visit. My dad asked the clerk for a demo, and he happily retrieved and put away cars so my parents could watch. Customer service in Japan is generally exceptional, but taking the time to retrieve car after car to entertain a guest is really going above and beyond.

Car in an automatic parking system

Car in an automatic parking system

My parents had also wandered over to the nearby Ito-Yokado, a cool department store / grocery chain. My dad manged to order a coffee and got his picture taken with a female model who was standing near a car inside the store. I’m not sure the exact context of what happened, and I don’t think my dad really knew what was going on either. He just somehow ended up in this picture:

Car model

The first time my parents came to Japan I was their tour guide and never too far away from them. This time was already different, and I was looking forward to seeing what we would get up to!

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