Friday, September 30, 2011

Tokyo, Typhoons, and Traveling Parents

After being in Japan for 14 months, my parents decided to take a trip over the Pacific Ocean and visit me in Japan. It was a rather quick trip of 8 days, but we had a great time (at least I did). I met my parents at the airport and we spent one day in Tokyo. We went to Meiji-jingu (temple), what it’s famous for I forget.

First Stop with Mom and Dad

Writing our own wish

Gelato Break!

After having lunch, we hopped on a bullet train and headed to Nagoya. On Saturday night, we had a fantastic traditional Japanese steak dinner, where they cook the food in front of you. Oh man, it was delicious.


Sunday was spent exploring what Nagoya has to offer. We went to Atsuta Jingu (shrine). We then headed to get lunch and do some shopping (nothing was bought sadly enough). After a well-deserved lunch break at Outback (seriously, like one of a few places were you can get a salad in Japan), we headed to Nagoya Castle. We walked around the gardens and then called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Nagoya Castle

Tying our fortunes to the string, hoping they come true

On Monday, since it was a national holiday and I had no work, we got in our rental car and headed north to my prefecture. We first stopped at Inuyama Castle (which I think has one of the best views in Japan). Then, we headed north to the city of Mino. It is famous for it’s paper and paper lanterns. Here is the back story: last Christmas I bought my sister a small paper lantern from this place and at the time, my mother asked me where hers typical of my mom. So I said, if you come to Japan, I will take you to this place. We walked through the old traditional Japanese house lined streets and ended up in the same store I bought Molly’s lantern. My parents settled on a gorgeous lamp for their house and it will be the first lantern to get sent abroad from this shop (I’m a little nervous to ship it). Our final stop was the city of Seki. It is famous for swords and my mother wanted new knives for her kitchen (now I realize that my mother was more interested in shopping than my dad…go figure). Now, I had never been to the cutlery store, so I was just guessing and yet another successful adventure when we found the knife shop! This was truly a miracle because I had no idea where we were going. After a successful day of buying a lantern and some knives, we decided not to test our luck and head to our next hotel.

View from Inuyama Castle


On Tuesday, I had to head to work and leave my parents to explore on their own. Thankfully, they were able to see a few places before a massive typhoon started closing roads and making traffic miserable (trust me, I know). I noticed it rained all day, about 20 inches we figure (for those of you in Portland, Portland gets 52 inches a year)… At about 2pm, my school canceled classes and made parents come pick up their students (something that rarely happens). I was informed that my apartment complex was unsafe (because I live on an island between 2 rivers, yeah, who planned that?). So, with my apartment being evacuated due to risk of flooding, I started my trek to my parents’ hotel. Normally, it is a 15-minute drive, just 8 miles or so. Instead, with all of the road closures, it took me 2 hours to make it there. Tons of fun! Not. Due to the crazy traffic, I took my parents to a traditional American dinner (in the eyes of the Japanese) at KFC, since it was a 5-minute walk from our hotel.

On Wednesday, with classes canceled due to the typhoon, I was not thrilled with the prospect of sitting at my desk all day. Nonetheless, we started the trek to my town. After 45 minutes or so in traffic, I called my school and supervisor and was granted the day off. It was nice to spend a little more time with my parents. Once the typhoon passed with no damage to my apartment, we headed out to dinner at another Japanese steak restaurant. I love these restaurants, where you order raw meat and you get to cook meat and veggies on a burner in the middle of your table. Luckily, there were some Japanese boys/men who could recommend what cuts of beef to order and they even showed my parents what they called a “Japanese hamburger”, which was a piece of steak, a little sauce, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. They even spoke a little English, which was a relief for both my parents and I.

Just outside of my apartment (road closed)

Introducing my parents to a "Japanese Hamburger"

Thursday it was back to school and my parents came with me. Once again, the roads were still closed so a normal 15-minute commute took 2 hours. I’m not a fan of typhoons. I made it to school a mere 5 minutes before my one and only class of the day was supposed to start. That is winning. My parents got to watch about 15 minutes of a JHS 3rd grade class (9th grade). Since we were doing an interview activity, some brave students interviewed my parents on their “interests”. Once 3pm rolled around, I had had enough of resting at my desk, so I met my parents at my apartment (I think they found it decent. Needless enough, my father didn’t like the black mold growing in one room and he instructed me to tape off that room). Oh well, I guess parents will never stop being parents. We then headed to Nagoya to take a train up to Tokyo were we would spend the last 2-3 nights in Tokyo.

On Friday, we went to the Tokyo National Museum, which had ancient artifacts from Japan, China, Korea, India, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We got some goodies at the museum shop (some of which are heading to the Lady Vandal golf tournament in Seattle in 2 weeks!). After the museum, we went to Akiharaba, which is the electronic district of the world (well, actually Tokyo). We wandered through a few stores, but it was quite overwhelming! On Friday night, we had a truly fantastic dinner at a restaurant in the hotel we stayed at. My mom and I had a course menu, which brings you salad, soup, main course, dessert, and coffee. My dad had the best steak I’d ever tasted in my life!

Tokyo National Museum


Best Dinner Ever

Saturday was my parents’ last day in Japan. So we made the most of it by seeing the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum. The shrine is dedicated to the soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. The museum related to the history of Japan through its wars. It was quite interesting to read the WWII part. In my 14 months in this country, I’ve noted some cultural differences and the museum accurately reflected how the Japanese perceive the numerous wars they’ve fought in. My interpretation of the Japanese belief is that the Japanese believe that they are always attacked (which would happen when you invade and take over some other country…at least that’s what I thought). Anyway, it was a good learning experience and I know my father enjoyed the museum because he is a history buff. After a quick bite to eat for lunch and we were off to the Imperial Palace. It was a bummer because you can only go onto the grounds two days every year. So instead, we walked up to the moat and took pictures, just like the other tourists. One more stop to Tokyo Tower, Japan’s version of the Eiffel Tower (13 meters taller than the actual thing). Finally it was Saturday night and I had to see my parents off to the airport. I can’t lie, I was really sad to see them go. I can’t wait for my next visitors (hint hint anyone).

Outside the Imperial Palace

Tokyo Tower

On Sunday, I did some shopping at Forever 21, H&M, and the Gap before heading back to my Japanese home. It was tough to leave the comforts of my Tokyo hotel, but I guess it had to be done. This week has flown by with only one more day left until the weekend. I’m looking forward to the weekend because we are playing in another soccer tournament in Nagano Prefecture! Go

Gifu Pirates.

Until next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Typhoons and Traveling

Let me start out by saying how much I have experienced with Mother Nature during the past year. I started my Japanese journey in the hottest summer ever recorded, followed by a bitterly cold (but typical) winter, then came the most powerful known earthquake to hit Japan (and then there were the tsunamis and radiation), and just last week Japan had another encounter with Mother Nature with Typhoon 12, the largest typhoon to hit Japan in the last 25 plus years (26 inches of rain in one day in some areas). I have come to respect Mother Nature a lot more, because Typhoon 12 which struck hundreds of miles south of me, earlier in the week was on a direct course for my prefecture. Needless to say, I’m thankful that I live in a landlocked prefecture now more than ever.

But, on with the travel story!

I’ve recently come up with the idea that I will try and travel to as many prefectures that Japan has to offer (47). However, due to the earthquake, if I make it to 40 of those prefectures I will be quite pleased. So, for the next 10.5 months, I will make my way through Japan. Am I excited? Yes. Am I excited to be spending more money than I should be (oh graduate school)? No, but I figure this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, my goal to 40 prefectures is up and running. I’m taking into account the prefectures I’ve visited in 5th, 8th, and while in college, so I’ve knocked off about 10 or 15 prefectures already.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk and I was thinking of my weekend plans. So, I got out my Japan guide and realized that Ishikawa Prefecture is right above me. It was settled. On Friday (mid typhoon rains and strong winds), I started my 4 hour train ride, first west into the typhoon and then north-east. I settled into my Ryokan (Japanese style hotel/hostel) and woke up bright and early Saturday hoping to beat some of the rain that was forecasted for the day. My first stop was the famed Kenrokuen Garden. It is designated as Cultural Property and a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty, plus it is consider one of the three “Great Gardens” in Japan. It was first built in 1676 and did some moving and design changes through the years until 1874, when it was first open to the public. It has the oldest fountain in Japan and the fountain actually works by natural pressure. It was gorgeous, even if I spent most of the time under my umbrella. The leaves were just starting to turn reddish-orange, and I would love to go back in a few weeks when they are all autumn colors.

After the garden, I walked across the street to the ruins of Kanazawa Castle. It has been rebuilt and looks nice, but I opted not to go inside from the recommendations I read online.

From the Castle, I went to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s deisgned to be like a “museum open to the city like a park”, which is cool until they tack on admission fees for all sorts of exhibitions. I opted not to do the major exhibition because only about 1/3 of it was open on the day I went. Instead I wandered into a local artists room, where these two ladies try to give me free admission when I asked them what it was about (I finally managed to give them my $5 coin).

After the museum, I ate a quick bite to eat and I was off to Myoryuji Temple (aka Ninja Temple). It has nothing to do with ninjas, but when it was built, houses were only allowed to have two stories (and even now, they never build three storey houses). So from the outside it looks like it has two stories, but in reality, it has 7 stories that fit into a normal two-storey house. I wish I could’ve taken pictures, but that wasn’t allowed. After the ninja temple, I walked around and visited the open market where loads of fresh seafood (we are 20 miles from the ocean) were being sold. After a quick peak at the market I took a bus back to the main station where I met a lovely professor who teaches animal science, who spoke great English. He was visiting the area to escape the typhoon (I thought it was odd that only him and his buddies went, not his wife or daughters…).

I headed to the mall which was right next to the station and looked at the movie schedule and decided Transformers 3 sounded like a great way to end my Saturday night. I saw the movie, walked 3 minutes to my hotel, and enjoyed a nice beer and Catcher in the Rye. Tough life.

Sunday morning was spent at Starbucks and then catching a train to Fukui City (of Fukui Prefecture). They have a famous landmark called Tojinbo. It is a massive collection of rock formations on the coast. It was a great sight and it made me miss the Oregon Coast dearly! It took about 1.5 hours from Fukui City to get there, and then another 1.5 back, so at that point I was ready to start my journey back home.

It was a great trip and I was able to wipe off two prefectures from my list. Once I figure out how many I actually visited during my previous trips to Japan, I’ll post a list of what I have left.