Archive for January, 2009

Kansai trip 2008

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

We had an excellent trip to Kansai at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. We had planned on visiting Naoko’s family in Himeji for ages, but we didn’t trust our Japanese which wasn’t very good. Now that we’ve been here 3 years and I’ve written the JLPT3, we thought we’d visit them. Fortunately, Naoko was also home in Himeji this year over New Years with Zen, so we had a great opportunity to go down there.

We left Saturday morning relatively early (8am) to beat the rush. Actually, the traffic was really good and there wasn’t any major problems getting out there. We had booked a place in Toba, which is in Mie prefecture, since Ise was too busy. Toba is right at the bottom of the Mie prefecture and from the map we could see that a boat went from one side of the bay to the other, and landed in Toba. So while we were driving, I checked out using my mobile, whether we could take a car on the ferry. Sure enough, we could, so we decided to take the direct route to Toba and take the ferry.

The road out there was brilliant and we went through some great farmland areas. It looks like the area around Irago, where we caught the ferry, was famous for growing melons, so we saw some nice honey melons and we bought some nice Omiyage for the Fujinos from there.

The ferry itself was quite big and we were expecting a big fee to get across, but the whole thing cost us around 8000 yen or so, so it was quite reasonable. I reckoned it would be more expensive. Here is a picture of the ferry:

The kids had a great time on the ferry I think – they were running around the deck and the seats and seemed to enjoy being on the sea. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience for them.

When we got to Toba we made our way to the hotel and met the nice people there. We checked in and they gave us some maccha and some okashi (sweet) and got our room ready. The hotel was really beautiful with an awesome view from our room:

We got into our yukata (kimono) and made our way to the ofuro (bath) and had a great bath before dinner time.

We also took a car trip around the bays in Toba, along the perl road, since apparently there is a lot of shell-fish harvesting done. We had some great views of the bays and the water and in general it was an excellent ride!
Dinner was amazing. They just kept feeding us! When we thought the last batch was done, they came with more! The kids didn’t eat much, so we had to eat a lot of what they had. So Nicole and I ate for the 4 of us. :(

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Our hostess, Sakura-san was a really sweet girl, who spoke english very well. She helped us so much and when we checked out the next day, she came to say goodbye and Lauren gave her a big hug. When Sakura-san was helping us and giving us our dinner etc, Lauren was helping her – almost getting in the way too much. :)

From there on we went to Ise, which is not too far. Ise has the most famous shrine in Japan and the emperor always makes a journey there on New Years day. There are two shrines in Ise, the Naiku and the Geku, but we didn’t have time to see the Geku. The Naiku was very nice, but I suspect there are a lot of areas that we aren’t allowed to that have special significance.

The town in Ise was very lovely, with old streets and lots of things to buy and eat along the way. Nicole really loved it and the kids had a good time too I think.

After Ise, we took the slow road to Osaka and then on to Himeji. The slow road in Mie towards Osaka was brilliant. Lovely rolling hills, lovely views, small villages with lots of farming. It was great! And not many people. I wondered whether the navi had gotten us on the wrong path, because some of the roads were so narrow! Amazing that they’re on the navi at all!

We got into Himeji around 18:30 or so and we met up with everybody. We plugged in Naoko’s telephone number into the navi and it got us to around the right spot and I remembered the landmarks around there and actually got us to their house directly! It was 11 years ago that Naoko and Peter got married in Himeji and I still remembered around where Naoko’s parents lived. It hadn’t changed much and I remember their house being a bit different, but the family was outside waiting for us when we arrived.

It was great seeing Naoko and Zen again, although it felt like we hadn’t seen them all that long ago. That night we had some yummy food with the Fujinos and a whole bunch of the other relatives came by. Daichi is all grown up now (he was around 3 or so when we were there last) and his sisters also came. Haruka we’ve only ever seen from pictures (she had really bad teeth then!) and Nanaka we’d never seen pictures of. The kids all got on like houses on fire, with the kids running around the house, making noise etc. Despite the language barrier (Evan and Lauren don’t speak any Japanese and Haruka and Nanaka don’t speak any English) they got on so well and had a great time running around. Lauren grabbed all the girls and wanted to hold hands all the time. She really got close to the girls I think. The girls were so good about everything and even the other trips we made when we were there, they all joined in without complaining at all. Nanaka got a bit attached to me, even asking to come up into my arms when she saw me carrying Lauren occasionally. They were such great kids.

The next day we walked up the local hill (megayama) and had a great view over Himeji. From the top we could see the hills around Himeji and we could see the water (through all the factories).

Later in the day we went to a great park nearby and had so much fun with the kids. After that, we went to Himejijo, the castle in Himeji. It was fun to go back, since we went to the castle a few times last time we went to Himeji.

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That night when we got home, we make okonomiyaki, which is kinda like a pancake, made out of flour, eggs, cabbage, seafood and other yummy things. Nicole loved it. We had some great sake with ojiisan and ate and drank until late. It was good talking to the Ojiisan and Obaasan, since now we could talk a bit of Japanese and we could get our points across. Apparently the Fujinos were a bit worried that we couldn’t communicate at all, but I think we did ok. No talks about nuclear fission or anything, but I think people made their points clear.

The room we had was a great room, albeit a bit cool. The covers were great though – they kept us so warm. Overall, it was great staying with the Fujinos.

The next day was time to move on, so we went to the park with the kids, played soccer and dodgeball and had lunch at a yummy ramen shop. We said goodbye to the families and the kids hugged each other a lot. Ojiisan invited us back to their house again, and if our Japanese improves, maybe we will drop by some day. At lunch, Lauren got a toy from the restaurant and she chose some plastic rings (5). When we got home, the girls all put one on and we took a picture:

Then we went on to Osaka, again through the lovely hills around Osaka. It was really nice. We checked into our hotel (Novotel) in Koshien and then decided to head into town, since it was still early and town was rather close.

We made it to the Osakajo (castle) and took some night pictures, some of which actually turned out. A sliver of a moon was rising, so it was very pretty. It was however darned cold, so we didn’t stay too long.

We met a nice old lady who wanted to talk to us in english and she showed us to a good place to have dinner and catch the train home.

The next day we went to the Kaiyukan (Osaka aquarium) where they have whale sharks as a specialty. It was quite good, but Evan was quite naughty – I guess he wanted to get out and do things outside. Then we took a ride on the kanranshya (ferris wheel), which is apparently one of the biggest in the world. Nicole was a bit nervous, because she doesn’t really like heights. There were quite a few things to do down in Tempozan, but unfortunately the 3D IMAX was closed on that day. :(

That night was new years, so we bought some cakes at a store and took it back to our hotel. We bought some toshikoshisoba for us and the kids settled into bed and we watched the new years TV show until the new year. We stayed up and watched a bit, going to bed probably around 1:30 or so.

On new years day, we went to universal studios. It was a good day for it – there weren’t too many crowds. USJ was quite nice – a typical themepark, where everything was beautifully created and costumed people walked around taking pictures with guests. We decided to go on a ride first – the Spiderman ride. It was quite a ride actually, with us wearing 3d glasses and being tossed about in a car. The ride was very realistic and Evan and Lauren said they were scared during it. So we decided to something a bit easier, so we went to the Back to the Future ride, which we hoped was better. Turned out to be a similar thing and the kids (actually Evan more so) were scared again. Evan however figured it out, when he could see people in the cars around us and that it was just a big screen which was making us look like we’re flying through the air!

After that we played in the childrens areas and had fun taking a small roller-coaster. The kids enjoyed that. We had some food and went to the ET ride, which was us riding a bicycle with ET in the front. It was quite good, although Lauren was freaked out by the robot ET in the queue, but during the ride she was happy with the worlds that we discovered when we were there.

The last thing we saw was a presentation with some gaijin singing and a lot of people dancing. Lauren really liked it, but I’m not sure Evan enjoyed it. It was quite nice, with Nicole and I singing sometimes.

The next day we left the Novotel Osaka and headed towards Hamanako which was where our next hotel was. We stopped off in Biwako, which was a lovely lake, with a sprinkling of snow on the hills, which made it look very magical. I can imagine it would be very busy in the summer there!

We made our way to Hamanako and were very late due to the slow traffic. Our dinner was only until 8:30 but we arrived at 8:00 and got to have our dinner. It was a massive 5 course meal, French-style or something. The kids didn’t eat much of their meal, but Nicole and I ate all our food (and some of their). It was quite different than the other places we stayed, and much more expensive too actually. We had a nice play in the ofuro, which was full of people. The next morning we had an awesome Japanese breakfast with lots of yummy food, like nattou and other great things.

We got home on Saturday around 5:30 or so in the evening, after a slow travel amongst all the other cars. Usually we drove around 50 kph since there were so many cars. We couldn’t see any accidents so the slowness was probably just the congestion of so many cars. I imagine the Sunday would have been so many more cars!

That was our great trip – we saw some cool parts of Japan and had a great time.