June 19, 2017 part 2 – Not Tokyo

Looking north across Uchiura Bay towards Awashima and Mt. Fuji

Japan is a fascinating country to visit, with simply too many things to see and do. Most people who come to Japan for a short period of time will see the most popular sites – the bustling urban jungle of Tokyo and the wonderful temples and shrines of Kyoto. While those are both well worth the visit they don’t accurately represent much of the rest of the country.

The drive along the Numazu coast towards Izu Mito Sea Paradise is a good example of something that exists for the people who live there, not for the benefit of visitors. Numazu is famous for it’s fishing industry. The narrow road along the coast is lined with marinas, fishing supply shops, and warehouses. Trucks speed by taking the day’s catch towards local markets or even to the big cities. Fishing boats are docked along the shoreline next to fishermen with dark tans who are casting into the nearby waters.

There are no skyscrapers. There are no salarymen. There are no temples. There are just hardworking people whose lives are based around the ocean.

As we drove back towards our house, my father in law pointed out some spots where he and his older brothers went fishing for their dinner in the hard years after World War II had ended. These were likely the same spots where people had been fishing for hundreds of years before.

I really enjoyed the drive today – it was cool to get a little taste of non-tourist Japan.

 

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June 19, 2017 part 1 – Aquors? In my Sea Paradise?

This morning we drove to Izu Mito Sea Paradise, an aquarium in the south part of Numazu on Uchiura Bay. The first time I ever went to Sea Paradise was in 2014 with The Penpal on my first ever trip to Numazu, and I have been to a few times since. Tiny Dog (TD) has never seen the ocean or been to an aquarium before, so we were excited to show him something fun and new.

When we arrived, I noticed artwork for some kind of animated idol pop group all over the building. Since I hadn’t seen this on my previous visits, I assumed (correctly) that “School Idol Project” is probably one of those things in Japan that is massively popular for a while but then disappears suddenly. We must still be in the massively popular stage.

Sea Paradise has an impressive collection of aquatic life from near and far. Usually I take the time to read all of the signs and learn a bit about the animals on display, but this time I had an excited 3 year old dragging me to see the next thing. “So cool” he assured me as he spent about 10 seconds looking at the octopus before moving on to the jellyfish.

After a whirlwind tour through the main building, we went outside to kill some time before the dolphin show. TD fed some fish and then got into the kids wading pool where children can walk in knee deep water with small fish swimming around while their parents alternate between taking pictures and hoping the kids don’t fall because they didn’t bring a change of clothes. TD loved the dolphin show; he was excited and clapping every time they jumped out of the water.

The real highlight for TD was not the fish, the amazing dolphin show, the wading pool, or even the idols plastered all over the place. It was the kids play area in the gift shop that featured a ball pit and indoor sandbox. We could have come to the play area without even buying a ticket!! He was having so much fun that we let him play for almost an hour while I shopped for souvenirs.

Sea Paradise is a great place to visit in the Numazu / Mishima / Izu area. It’s a lot of fun for kids of all ages, but I would recommend that if you’re traveling with small children that you avoid the gift shop until end unless you want to hear “ball pit! ball pit!” for the duration of your visit.

For fans of the animated group Aquors, there are a bunch of cardboard models in the gift shop. I didn’t know anything about the group before I arrived, but I knew that I had to do what any mature adult would do on vacation:

Hanging out with Aquors at Sea Paradise

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June 18, 2017 – Rakujuen

This morning I took my 3 year old son Tiny Dog (TD) out for an adventure by myself. Our destination was Rakujuen park in nearby Mishima.

Rakujuen is a large park in Mishima which was built in 1890 by Crown Prince Akihito. As you can imagine, the park is beautifully landscaped with impressive thick forests and a beautiful lake. More importantly for the under 5 year old demographic there is a petting zoo, miniature train, merry go round, and coin operated rides and games.

Remember all of those coin operated rides for young children that you used to be able to find in front of malls and supermarkets? Rakujuen is the place where classics go to retire alongside some high tech Pikachu games.

TD was totally overwhelmed with his options and didn’t know where to start. We rode the train and merry go round and rode a few of the coin operated rides before he found the most exciting game in the entire park: Pirate Blasta.

The object of Pirate Blasta is to aim a water cannon towards different pirate themed targets to make them move. Up to 4 people can play at the same time, and there are step stools provided for the young children.

To say that TD loved this game would be a complete understatement. He ended up playing it 5 times in a row before I got him to check out some other games with the promise of snacks. I even got him to go to the petting zoo for about 3 minutes, but not even the opportunity to pet some adorable guinea pigs could keep him from dragging me back to “water game”. I reminded myself that we were on vacation, and paid for a few more plays. Thankfully it started raining which I used as an excuse to head back to the station.

I’m sure that Crown Prince Akihito never intended for his park in Mishima to become home to a bunch of children’s games, but I’m hoping that he would be happy that it has become a fun place for families to visit and leave with slightly lighter wallets. Highly recommended if you have kids under 5.

 

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June 17, 2017 part 2 – Seiyu is WAY different now

This afternoon we decided to go to Seiyu to pick up a few things, most notably a new hat for Tiny Dog (TD) after his awesome Domo-kun hat was lost at Haneda airport, and some toys to keep him occupied at the house.

For a little background, in 2002 Walmart acquired a majority stake in Seiyu, a Japanese department store company. In 2003 they opened their first big box, Walmart style store in Numazu.

I lived in Numazu from 2004 – 2006 about 5 minutes away from the big box Seiyu on foot. It was incredibly convenient to be able to buy groceries and pretty much anything else 24 hours a day.

Overall, Walmart’s expansion in Japan has not been a success. There are a lot of very good articles explaining the reasons, but long story short Walmart was trying to provide something that people didn’t want.

Sometime since our last visit to Japan, Seiyu Numazu got a pretty serious remodel. The groceries were still there, but the housewares and most importantly the toys were all gone, replaced by a new clothing store and a 100 yen shop. We didn’t know this before we left, and had promised TD some new toys. That was a mistake.

There are few things on planet Earth more persistent than a 3 year old who has been promised something fun but has not received it yet. After a few laps around the store, we decided to occupy him with the huge selection of Gatcha machines near the store entrance. Gatcha machines are the ones with cheap toys inside little plastic capsules.

The cheap toys he got were fun, but not nearly as fun as putting money into the machines and turning the handle.

Lessons learned: things change when you are away for a few years, and never promise something to a kid unless you can get it to them in a reasonable period of time.

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June 17, 2017 part 1 – Jetlag sucks, especially for kids

In Winnipeg, our 3 year old son TD (Tiny Dog) usually wakes up around 7:30 am and goes to sleep around 9:00pm. After an early morning followed by flights and train rides in a time zone 14 hours in the future, we didn’t really know what to expect for the morning.

He woke up at 4;45am dammit.

The Penpal and I have been back and forth between Japan and Canada several times, so we know what jetlag feels like and how to deal with it. This is not something that you can just explain to a kid. The Penpal stayed up for an hour with TD, and then tagged me in for the next hour so she could sleep longer.

Thankfully he was happy to watch marble run videos on YouTube while we sat around like overtired zombies.

Jetlag sucks.

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June 16, 2017 part 2 – Don’t bring a car seat on a plane

The Penpal, TD, and I were happy to be off the plane and on the ground at Tokyo Haneda airport. Our next goals were to get through immigration and customs, get luggage delivery, and travel to The Penpal’s parents’ house in Numazu.

Unlike Canada, Japan is not an immigration friendly country. They do not allow dual citizenship, although they allow children of Japanese / non-Japanese parents to carry two passports until they reach their 20th birthday. We still haven’t gotten TD his Japanese passport, so he was traveling on his Canadian one.

When arriving in Japan, there are two immigration lines – one for Japanese passport holders and one for foreign passports. The Penpal took off to the short, quick Japanese passport line while I dragged TD through the gaijin line wearing my backpack with the heavy car seat slung over my shoulder.

Nobody likes waiting in lines, especially an overtired 3 year old who has just been sitting for almost 12 hours. He did his best to try to escape my grip while I held on and attempted to navigate the queue. I used to make fun of parents who took their kids out in public on a leash – I would have paid cash money for one while in line.

After what seemed like 3 hours (but was probably only 15 minutes), we met up with The Penpal at the luggage carousel. We took our bags through customs and got directions to the luggage delivery counter.

Luggage delivery is amazing. Japanese trains are fast and convenient, but they aren’t built for passengers with large suitcases. After changing out of my dorky shorts into a clean pair of jeans, we arranged for our two large suitcases to be delivered to The Penpal’s parents’ house the next morning. This cost just under 4000 yen (about $40) for both bags, which is a great deal.

Free of our biggest bags, we took the kid, car seat, stroller, and 3 backpacks onto Keikyu line bound for Shinagawa. I asked TD what he thought of his first ever train ride. “It’s like a bus” he answered, totally underwhelmed.

At Shinagawa, The Penpal bought tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Mishima. Since we were now in the Friday evening rush hour, we booked reserved seats to ensure we could all sit together. There were three problems with our seats:

  1. We were on a train leaving in less than 10 minutes
  2. Our seats were in car 16 at the very end of the train
  3. Car 16 is a smoking car. Yes, you can still smoke cigarettes in some select cars on the Shinkansen.

We hauled collective asses to the platform and got there just as the train was arriving. With no time to walk to the end of the platform, we boarded in car 8 and started our long walk to the end of the train. I was carrying the car seat in front of me, doing my best not to smash elbows or mow down people who were standing. The Penpal was carrying TD, doing her best not to hit his head on the doorways while we walked along the moving train. Fortunately it only happened once.

If anyone ever tells you that it’s a good idea to bring your car seat with you on a plane, chances are good that they don’t like you. I’m sure its great for shorter flights, but carrying it around airports is awful. Your so called friends are likely sitting around somewhere laughing at you.

It was a great relief to finally arrive at Mishima station and be greeted by The Penpal’s father, who was happy to see his grandson in person for the first time. He took us to his house where TD got to meet his Japanese grandmother for the first time. After that we took care of the essentials; hugs, food, and connecting all of our devices to the wifi network. It was good to be back in our Japanese home.

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June 16, 2017 part 1 – Long ass flight

Learning from our barfy first flight, we carefully dosed TD with Gravol just before takeoff. The good news is that this helped create an incident free flight from Toronto to Tokyo. The bad news was that the flight was really, really long.

I have flown back and forth to Japan several times before. The one thing I have learned on all of these flights is that after about 8 hours, I really want to get off the plane. Our flight from Toronto was just over 12 hours long. This is a long time for an adult to sit in one place, never mind an active 3 year old.

We spent most of the flight watching the Lego Batman movie. This is not an exeraggation – we watched the full movie at least 4 times. It is a fun movie with a lot happening, but you really don’t get much more out of it after the third consecutive viewing.

Sleeping was a challenge – we brought TD’s airplane approved car seat to help him be more comfortable during the flight. He was comfortable sitting, but not at all comfortable when he tried to sleep. I watched jealously as the young children in the row ahead of us simply curled up in their seats while I tried to turn myself into a bed diagonally with one leg draped over the front of the car seat with TD resting on me. We managed about 3 hours of awkward sleep in two attempts.

There were three highlights from our flight:

  1. The Penpal ordered the vegetarian meal in an attempt to get passable airplane food. This has worked in the past, but today she was served some unrecognizable goo. Much like watching bad movies makes every other movie seem good by comparison, my food seemed much more delicious than usual.
  2. We flew over the Arctic circle, which was pretty cool.
  3. Nobody barfed.

After a long but incident free flight, we were all happy to be on the ground in Tokyo.

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