Saturday, May 7, 2016

Part 3 - Japan Family, Friends, and Akiba

Sorry for the delay, but here is the third and final installment of our Japan trip. In this section, I'd like to cover the primary reason for our trip: time with family. Sumie's parents had recently moved from New York back to Tokyo and the kids had missed them. And Marichan had yet to meet them! After all our adventures, we spent our final few days relatively quietly. Marichan hung out with her Obachan...
 ...Kuri was attached to the couch (note the foot) to keep him from bouncing up and down on the floors (an annoying the family below)...
...and Mimi, well, she was delving into the dark world of Swedish crime drama.
During naps for the younger kids or errands, Mimi and I liked to visit the shrine in Shinagawa. It had great views (and a playground).
It also had some cherry blossoms still in bloom.
As Mimi wrote in her report for school (yes, she had to miss some school days for us to pull this trip off despite going over the spring break), her favorite part of the trip was playing with her cousins, particularly Asuka.
Hand-in-hand wherever they went...
...the two were inseparable. They even decided to wear their matching Kidzania wallets when out on the town.
One night, Uncle Shu loaded all the kids (as well as Sumie and I) into his wagon and we headed over to Tokyo station to see the "character street," which is filled with toys. We got a great view of Tokyo Tower along the way.
On one of our last days, we got to hang out with 3 of Sumie's college friends. Sadly, I don't have any pictures from this as juggling three kids at a party is a bit nuts. After that party, we got to have dinner with one of Sumie's high school friends, Rie. Somehow, the kids were remarkably well behaved, despite us sitting down to eat around 8pm.
Mimi and I ran off on our last day to visit Akihabara - Tokyo's Electronics town. We stopped off at Yodobashi Camera. I had told Mimi about this store. "It's like 5 Costcos combined into a large building that only sells electronics."
I love this store because they have an amazing headphone selection. At least 200 headphones are on display - with prices ranging from 10 dollars to 2000 dollars - and they can all be tested out. I selected an excellent pair of inexpensive JVC headphones in black (folding, for travel) and Mimi picked up the neon orange version.
She was quite excited about them.
And even Kuri, who didn't get a pair of headphones that day, got into the spirit.
We had a very special evening our last night. Shortly before we arrived in Japan, Aunt Kayo and Uncle Shu welcomed their fourth child to the world. We went over to their house, with Ojichan and Obachan, for a celebratory dinner. I was on baby duty for a while with Marichan...
 ...and later, thanks to my recent practice, had a chance to hang out with Fumikachan as well.
But both babies had their favorites in Ojichan and Obachan.
Toward the end of the night, we gathered around to share a cake...
...and take a family picture.
It was a really memorable evening. Sumie and I hope we'll be able to host the family (perhaps everyone the next time around) at our home here in California sometime soon.

Our final morning, we finished packing and waited for the Limousine bus with Obachan and, of course, the family sheltie, Harry. Mimi and Kuri waved frantically out the window as the bus pulled away.
At the airport we prepared for our flight with a meal at Fujiya. Mimi and Kuri took the obligatory picture with Pekochan...
...and by the time the plane reached cruising altitude, both were sound asleep (for a little while).
Our 2016 trip to Japan was a tremendously special one. We look forward to our next journey across the Pacific, which Marichan will be able to play with her cousins, perhaps share some words with her grandparents, and stare in wonder while her brother and sister go nuts at Disneyland.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Part 2 - Japanese Adventure: Tokyo Disneyland and Kidzania

Last February, Mimi returned from her first day back after the school "ski break" (during which we neither broke nor skied) and asked me, "Papa, when can we go to Disneyland?" Apparently several of her friends had gone and she'd gotten the bug. Being in the Bay Area, she had a right to wonder why we hadn't visited the famous mouse. After all, I grew up four hours further away than she is now and I went before I was five.

I told her, "Well, honey, it's going to be a while. It's a long trip and it wouldn't be much fun with Mari and Kuri." "OK, Papa," she replied, somewhat forlornly. But what she didn't know was that I had a trick up my sleeve. Disneyland in LA, with its massive crowds and expense, would have to wait, but maybe, just maybe, we could sneak in a visit to Tokyo Disneyland.

And that's just what we did. The night we got back from Hakone, Sumie and I decided that Kuri and Marichan needed a day of rest, but Mimi and I would take the train out to Tokyo Disneyland. All we told Mimi was that she and Papa would be going out for a special day together. Early the next morning, I got Mimi dressed and we headed out right around 8:30am, just in time for the famously crowded Tokyo commute. Mimi braved the stuffed trains, though at her height, it couldn't have been much fun being basically at butt level.

Tokyo Disneyland is only about 20 minutes by train from Tokyo station. It's pretty fantastic. As the train from Tokyo station started up, Mimi asked me, "Papa, where are we going?" "To a park," I replied, which was technically true. She kept asking about the park - what it would be like - and I told her to just keeping looking out the window. Eventually, she saw the castle and the monorail in the distance. Still, she didn't make the connection. It wasn't until we got off the train and I told her to read the signs. "Tokyo Disneyland?" she made out. And then she slowly turned her head and met my gaze with a look of absolute incredulity. She thought I must be nuts. "This is Disneyland?" she ventured. "Yup," I said. Mimi took my hand, still not quite believing what was happening, and we headed for the park.

Although we got there an hour after the park opened, thanks to it being a Thursday, off season, and slightly rainy, we still had our pick of the rides. I know she's only five, but she was tall enough for the serious ones, so that's where we went. Star Tours: check. Space Mountain: check. I won't say she "loved" them, but she didn't totally freak out. On Space Mountain, I told her it was expected, even proper, to scream. And scream she did. The verdict on the ride: "My heart was pounding!!! I like it, but I don't want to ride it again today. Maybe when I'm seven." That will work.

To wind things down a bit we headed over to the Autopia. Mimi couldn't believe that she'd actually get to drive. I'd forgotten how much that had excited me at that age. Like Raymond, she was an excellent driver.
I really like the pic below. It's like she's channeling Senna in a hairpin turn (although here I think she actually had the wheel turned the wrong way).
And here she is taking it easy after the race.
The Merry-go-Round was a big hit, but not as big as the teacups. Sadly, I couldn't get a picture there as I was too busy trying to get Mimi to throw up, which for some reason she loved.
We entered Cinderella's castle for a tour...
...where Mimi found it endlessly hilarious to point at the Fairy God Mother.
I was hoping to go to the Bayou restaurant for lunch (you can actually get into it at Tokyo Disney), but Pirates and the restaurant were closed for renovation. We made do with a crepe.
And then headed for the jungle boat ride. If I recall, this has been removed from California, but it was great in Tokyo. Mimi kept exclaiming for the first half of the ride that the animals weren't real, but after a while, she really got into it.
We took a break from rides at Tom Sawyer's island, which actually turned out to be a lot of fun. It got me wondering if a lot of the Native American attractions on the island (Indian Village, etc.) were still at Disneyland in CA. Tokyo Disneyland, at least to me, seems a bit more old-school Disney in a way.
We eventually secured a large Minnie Bow...
...and got ready to watch the Easter Parade...
...again. At least the second time, we found a good spot where I didn't have a five year old on my shoulders.
Outside of the teacups (which Mimi couldn't get enough of) Mimi's favorite ride was "It's a Small World." Why?  Because it was "relaxing." Not the word I would use, but it did get you off your feet.
We left the park around 6:00pm. The longest we waited in line was 30 minutes. It was a fantastic day out. Compared to the parks here in the states, it's smaller, but at least you can go when your kids are out of school and everyone else in the country still has class. I think the park was at 40 to 50 percent capacity for the day. We'll definitely do it again the next time we visit Japan.

On the way home, we passed a series of Shinkansen (bullet train) displays. Mimi had to take a pic in the red one...
...the green one...
...and the blue one. There was no escaping the photo opportunities.
With Kuri and Marichan rested, we all went out to Kidzania the following day. This, sadly for Kuri, was also a Mimi-centric event (sorry kid, you'll get your full dose of fun the next time around). Kidzania is a bit hard to explain. It's a huge space, maybe 20,000 square feet, that has been mocked up to look like a town. The town is kid-sized and filled with scaled-down stores and services. There was a hospital, a fire department, security, department stores, bakeries, you name it. They were all sponsored by real Japanese companies (that's how I got my one Mos Burger in during the trip). At each storefront or service, your child can sign up for a 15-50 minute "experience" of what it would be like to work in that profession. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Mimi's first job was a baker. Here she is waiting to go into work.
And here she is with her partner working on the dough (she made quick friends with the little girl next to her and they were giggling throughout the session).
Sadly, the experiences were a bit advanced for Kuri, so he spent the time mainly watching and chilling out.
Mimi also got to work with babies in the hospital, much like her aunt Kae.
Mimi learned how to put on a diaper...
...and how to bathe a newborn. Sumie and I were pretty astounded by her technique. She was much gentler than most, but then again, I suppose she's had her fill of recent, hands-on experience.
Kidzania was really cool, and we'll definitely go again, but there are a few caveats. 1. You cannot sign up for more than one activity at a time or sign up early. Because there are often long wait times, this means there can be a lot of downtime between events. We thought a few hours would be enough, but it's really an all day event. 2. You cannot leave and come back. That's right. You're locked in. I don't know why, but they are fierce about it. When Mari and Kuri had had enough, I tried to exit, only to be told I couldn't bring my kids back in. Later, I tried to exit with just Kuri and was told that I couldn't take him out. It was all very confusing and a bit insane. Apparently, the "pass holder" (that was Sumie) has to be there for checkout, but even then they wouldn't let you back in. As such, if you do go, take only kids who can take part in the activities. Otherwise, you could very well find yourself strapped to two tired children who don't really have anything to do.

That concludes the big-ticket adventures. In my next post I'll cover the most important stuff: family, quiet time, and little adventures on the streets of Tokyo.