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.
Today I met up with Klaxman, one of my old roommates for lunch. He is a retired game programmer turned English teacher who moved to Japan in 2006 and has been there ever since.
We went for lunch at an Italian restaurant that had taken over what used to be Cats Cafe. They didn’t serve ridiculously oversized desserts like their predecessors, but they did have some pretty good octopus spaghetti. Klaxman caught me up on all of the changes that NOVA has made over the past 10 years since their bankruptcy, and told me about an open source portable game system called Arduboy that he was making a game for.
After lunch we played a few games at the nearby game center before joining some of Klaxman’s friends at Radio City karaoke. I was happy to see that “Suck My Kiss” by Red Hot Chili Peppers was available to sing, but the crowd in the room was a little more Beatles so I decided to hold off on songs with rampant use of the word “motherfucker”. Karaoke is not a rock concert – some times you need to adjust your song choice for the audience.
It was fun to catch up and break my long karaoke dry spell.
Today we went to beautiful Izu Peninsula to visit family. Both sides of the Penpal’s family have roots in Izu, and there are still numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins who live in the area.
Izu is one of my favourite parts of Japan. The entire Peninsula is filled with small towns, mountains, and natural hot springs. The few flat areas are home to rice paddies and strawberry farms. It’s about as close to “rural” as you can get near Numazu.
The Penpal’s father has a large family, and most of his siblings are in the 70-90 year old demographic. An energetic 3 year old looks even more energetic in a room where the average age is 80. While the family visited, I did my best to entertain TD with Lego, an ancient electric organ, and the small, friendly dog who was happy to go for endless walks around the house.
There were two interesting things I noticed during our visit:
- The Penpal’s father is the youngest of 12 children. At home he is absolutely the king of the castle. When he is around his siblings, some of which are almost 20 year older than him, he almost fades into the background. It’s an interesting things to see, and I’m not sure if this is unique to his family, all traditional Japanese families, or just large families in general.
- In Canada everyone says that Tiny Dog looks like his mother, pointing out some of his more Asian features. In Japan everyone says he looks like me, pointing out his many non-Asian features. It’s interesting how different things stand out to different people.
I’m happy we got a chance to visit so much of the family while on our vacation. It was a cool experience to introduce them to the overseas branch of their family.
Today before embarking on a trip to Izu, we stopped for lunch at the Mishima branch of Kappa Sushi, a kaiten sushi restaurant.
Kaiten sushi, also known as conveyor belt sushi, is a fun way to eat. The restaurant will have some form of conveyor belt or train where plates of sushi come by. If something looks good, you simply take it from the belt and eat it. Depending on the restaurant, each plate will have the same price or the plates will be colour coded indicating how much each costs.
Kappa Sushi has a long snaking conveyor belt which winds its way up and down rows of tables. To ensure that people at the end of the belt can still get what they want to eat, there is also a bilingual computer ordering system at each table. You can use a touch screen to place an order which will then be delivered directly to your table on a special train.
The Penpal and I have been to kaiten sushi many times, but today was the first time for Tiny Dog. Little plates of sushi coming by on a belt or by train is very exciting for a 3 year old! He was a big fan of maguro (tuna) and cucumber rolls. I ate way too much, which is exactly the right amount to eat when on vacation.