Friday, July 24, 2009

Heading Home

Since I had looked for, but failed to locate earplugs, I started reading once enough sunlight was shining through the shoji to see by. Joshua woke first, and I took him for another Japanese style bath. Andrea woke and bathed a bit later. At 8:30 we woke Ari.

Joshua was still feeling under the weather and felt a little hot, so Andrea gave him a Tylenol. Andrea and I went to get takeout for breakfast while the kids lounged on their futons allowing Joshua's Tylenol some time to kick in. Starbucks muffins for us, conbini food for the kids. They picked at the food and wished they'd gotten the muffins. We packed up, ordered a cab, downloaded books to the kindle for Joshua. Ari, when confronted with the fact that the umbrellas which he so eagerly toted from Osaka did not fit in any of the suitcases, gladly donated them to the ryokan.

Ordering the cab was difficult. Large cabs that could accommodate our luggage were scarce. Since we hadn't reserved a day or two in advance we couldn't get one. I suggested that two of us go directly to the station when we were done with lunch while the other two headed back to the hotel to get the cab - plenty of room in the back seat for luggage then.

Andrea asked if she could charge her iPhone in the hotel office. It had started losing charge in about 6 hours as soon as we upgraded to 3.0 (dumb move), We headed out, late as usual, for kodomo no shiro.

We stopped at Starbucks on the way to get the kids muffins, just like mama and daddy had eaten for breakfast. The trip took forever because we didn't have good directions. I tried to download them in Osaka, but Andrea lost her patience and so I had parts of station names (the names were partly obscured by bubbles on google maps). The lady at the ryokan's front desk was too long winded to ask (having her help book the cab was a 40 minute affair), and so off we went sort of guessing as to directions. We got close and while Andrea and Joshua went to the toilet I finally figured out how the nameless streets work. Each neighborhood has a name. Within the neighborhood there are numbered areas, within the areas numbered blocks, within the blocks numbered houses. So, kodomo no shiro with its address of Jungmae 5-53-1 was in neighborhood Jungmae, area 5, block 53, number 1. Not that our map had the area numbers or the block numbers; I figured this all out on a map that was posted near the subway entrance. We took a long walk.

The place was clearly aimed at kids younger and with longer attention spans than ours, though it was large enough that ours could find amusement. As Andrea and I sat, bored, we baegan discussing the logistics of the afternoon - we needed an hour to get back to the hotel and we needed time to get lunch. We realized that we'd need to dine someplace that took a credit card because we were down to about 1,000 Yen in cash and we'd need that to get subway tickets for the kids. Then it hit me -- most cabs don't take cash -- time to find another ATM where our card worked.

Andrea balked -- between Ari falling apart and all the little challenges of Japan life was a bit too hard and stressful. I thought quickly and volunteered to leave her our remaining cash, go to the ATM with one kid, return to the hotel get the cab and meet her at the station. She could lunch on the credit card, go to the station and have time to spare. Easy peasy. Both kids wanted to stay with the momster, and I'd move faster alone. I headed off. Finding an ATM wasn't so bad. I asked for directions, which I didn't understand but I headed in the direction the person seemed to point. When I felt I must have gone too far I asked again. The nice man pointed from where I'd come and this time I understood him - he said to go back 100 meters and make a right. Thank you Pimsleur Japanese IIB lesson 17! I turned around, counted 120 paces and turned right. BINGO - yuubinkyoku.

10,000 Yen richer I decided that I was doing great. I went to the Japanese branch of Gerbaud -- a famous Hungarian bakery. Andrea loves and misses dobos torta. Occasionally, I'll get her some when I drive through Ohio for work. I've been known to go hours out of the way to get her one as a sort of gesture of love. So, in Japan I went into the world's finest Hungarian patiserie and spent an exorbitant amount of money on dobos torta for Joshua and Andrea and a strawberry pastry for Ari.

When you buy prepared food to go in Japan they ask how far you are planning to take it and put in little ice packs to keep it cool for your journey. Once the question got asked in English phrased as "How much times you go here?" Andrea replied "This is our first time in Japan." Confronted with a puzzled look, Andrea held up a finger. One time?" the person from whom we'd just purchased a cream puff asked. Yes, one time, Andrea answered. She proceeded to put ice packs in with the cream puff as it dawned on us how wrong we'd been. This time, I understood the question and replied that I was taking it to America on an airplane. I wonder how much ice she put in.

I headed back to the ryokan, downloaded one more book for Joshua, changed my Facebook status, and asked the nice lady at reception where Andrea's charging iPhone was. She had no idea; it was not the same woman that was there in the morning. We searched. We tried calling Andrea on the rented cell, but got no answer. Eventually I gave up.

The cab arrived, I piled in the suitcases and we got to the station without incident. The cab dropped me at the Marounochi line north exit, where we had agreed to meet. I paid the driver and stood by my pile of six large suitcases and one small bag of Hungarian pastry and waited. When Andrea had not arrived after a few minutes I began moving the suitcases in a few feet at a time, cycling through all six. I made it maybe 20 feet toward the elevator when Andrea and the kids arrived. Her cell was in her purse - she'd decided not to charge it after all.

We took the Narita Express, but bought a ticket on a train that departed in seven minutes, rather than 37. That meant a mad dash through the train station to make it onto the train. Ari's craziness, which just wouldn't let up, didn't help. I think he's missing home, though he won't admit it. On the train I bought a 500 Yen sushi bento box (small but tasty), a coffee, and split a small bottle of water with Andrea. It was the first thing I had to eat or drink since the muffin seven hours earlier. Once we'd checked in we bought candy with our leftover change. Ari got 'n cream Mentos, Andrea and Joshua got chocolate covered mushroom shaped cookies, and I got green tea Kit Kat. I can hardly wait to try it.

At security they made a fuss over Joshua's carry on. I thought "don't you have anythign better to do. He's 10 years old and hardly looks the part of a terrorist." Turns out he packed the real shuriken (throwing star) he bought for his friend Juan in his carry on. They found it and Joshua donated to the Japanese police force rather than check his entire carry on bag.

The airplane is it's usual mess - the overhead bin above my seat is taped shut with red tape that reads "unserviceable do not use". The tape is so old most of the lettering has rubbed or faded away. We departed an hour and forty minutes late. America is only 12 hours away. This was the best vacation I've ever had, but I'm ready to be home.

Corrections and Errata:

It turns out you still walk to the left in Osaka, it is only the escalators that reverse.

I know that I made a bunch of spelling errors in place names - I will go back and fix them one fine day. A lot of this stuff had to be written quickly and little thought or editing went into it.

I have more pictures and video which I will post soon.

I have seen a number of additional toilet features in Japan. One of my favorites had labels in English that included "flushing sound" which Andrea had already tried and "powerful deodorizer" -- I didn't try it. The Japanese are very hygiene conscious. For example, our hotel in Osaka had a spray bottle at the entrance labeled "antiseptic alcohol, feel free to use" and many people wear surgical face masks on the street, which makes it odd that there is often no soap and even more often no towels or air dryer in Japanese restrooms.

The Japanese people were kind, patient, and with a few exceptions bent over backward to help the confused gaijin and overlooked our many faux pas.

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