Thursday, July 9, 2009

The second day travelling with kids in Japan.

When Andrea and Joshua finally join the land of the conscious, we head down for a hotel breakfast. There is only a buffet. Ari and I have fabulous grilled fish, rice, pickles, and other Japanese delicacies for breakfast. Joshua eats croissant and pastry. Andrea has a few Japanese things, but mostly eats a western breakfast. We all have fruit.

The coffee and Japanese brown tea take the edge off my pounding headache but I still feel like I've spent a late night playing on the computer with Kathy -- only instead of Andrea swearing she'll never stay online that late again she's telling me how impossible the airlines are.

We've missed our 9AM tour of Tokyo and Andrea reschedules to the afternoon while the kids and I pack up. Off to the airport to buy train tickets and head to Shinjuku to our hotel. There are more combinations and permutations of train tickets than there are stars in the sky. Two information and two ticket windows later I have a Suica card and Narita Express ticket, having considered a bus, a shared ride, a Japan Rail pass, the Skyliner and the Metro pass.

We find the platform, find our car, and board at 9:48 - headed for Tokyo and then Shinjuku. Andrea opens the subway map, laughs out loud at the complexity, and just closes it again. Joshua is aghast at the negligence we're displaying by not really knowing how to get from one hotel to another. Andrea argues with him for a while, explaining that New York, London, and Budapest are different because we'd been there before. Finally she plays the "that's what makes it an adventure card" but he's not buying it. If he spoke more Japanese he'd be calling child protective services.

We made it to the hotel, upgraded one of the rooms to a queen bed. The hotel room is still tiny. For an extra $23 a night our queen room offers enough room for two people to walk past each other, but no desk, closet, or place to hang clothes (unless you count the shower curtain, which has 2 plastic hangars on it).

I go to the bathroom - I love bathrooms in Japan they are always an adventure - before we head off to find a quick lunch before our afternoon tour. We've seen bathrooms that have both western style and Japanese style toilets (Andrea described it as looking like a urinal ripped of the wall and inset into the floor so you can squat over it). This hotel had a hand dryer that is sort of like the Dyson air-blade but whose interior is constantly bathed in UV light to keep it sterile, lest you get a nasty germ from touching heated air.

For lunch Joshua had croissants, Ari had a really really small piece of baguette with a Japanese spread, I had something that looked like a cross between an open-faced grilled cheese and a pirate's eye, and Andrea had something that looked like a mini pizza (It wasn't. It had pork in it. She hated it). We ate standing up and ran off to the tour.

First stop on our tour was Tokyo tower. We went up half way (the total height is 333 meters) to the observation deck. The next stop was the "outer garden of the imperial palace" which is more accurately described as a parking lot from which you may gaze across the moat at the wall around the imperial palace. The palace itself is only open two days a year (December 23, the emperor's birthday and January 2, New Years). They get a million visitors on a day that they are open.

Final stop on out tour was Tokyo's largest Bhudist temple. Awesome. I had to stop Joshua from playing a game where he ran circles around the sacred fountain used for purification before going into the temple with one of the special cups on a stick used in the ceremony, trying to catch water from every dragon's mouth in the fountain in as little time as he could. Unfortunately I didn't manage to catch him before he'd run into someone who was using the fountain in a more appropriate manner.

Then, off to Ginza to window shop and to dinner. Andrea was fit to be tied after lunch - and was not going to a place where the staff could not explain what was in the food. We talked to the staff at 3 restaurants before one finally had a waiter, who hearing Andrea's questions said, "We have an English menu." Bingo! Andrea had a salmon rice bowl, I had the beef rice bowl. Ari tried both then ordered one like mine. Joshua had rice and edamame.

Half way through the meal the woman at the next table told Joshua in Japanese "In Japan we don't do that." It took me a second to figure out that he had put his chopsticks in the rice sticking straight up while he ate his edamame. In Japan that looks like incense sticking up to mourn the dead and is a big no no. I explained to Joshua while the woman's dining companion calmed her down. I was so busy with Joshua I don't know if I ever apologized to the lady that took offense. I kept a hawk's eye on him the rest of the meal and only had to remind him once.

Ari had a great deal of difficulty with chopsticks. After an inquiry the waiter was able to find a fork, but no knife. I was proud of the Japanese phrases we could spout out. When the waiter inquired if everything was OK though, Joshua standing up, making large circular motions with his palm over his belly, and declaring in a loud voice "Oishi desu" (It's delicious) had a few of the staff doubled over in laughter.

Desert was sofuto kurimu (Soft Ice Cream) for me and Joshua and Ichigo Keiki (Strawberry cake) for Ari. Next time I get the cake.

We headed back to the hotel for an exhausted early night. Andrea saw an Italian place she'd like to try for breakfast. I replied that we shouldn't come to Japan to eat Italian food to which she said "There's no way I'm having fish and rice for breakfast." I told her that I thought it was the best meal we'd had all day. I slept well, though up for an hour around 4:00. I wrote this as soon as I woke up. Today we're off to an Itallian breakfast and drumming.

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