Dan’s parents, hitherto known as ‘The Moomins’ arrived in Japan for five days to kick-off their ‘We’re Nearly 70′ round-the-world trip. We were SO busy. We ran them ragged. But we wanted to show them as much as possible.
They landed Thursday night. We let Hilary rest Friday morning and I took Bill to the Italian garden which is round the corner. I then whisked them into Yokohama to meet Dan and his colleagues for lunch at the Korean barbecue restaurant. Then we all trundled along to the boys’ school to take part in their open afternoon. I think I mentioned that previously.
On Saturday we took the train to Hakone.
First Stop: the Open Air Museum
We all ADORE this place. It’s a real feast for the senses.
After the Open Air Museum, we went to an Onsen, which was another first for the Moomins. We had a traditional meal there: I chose the fish which was delicious.
We stayed at K’s House, which is part of a chain of hostels.
We had stayed there previously in October and we find it very convenient and I really enjoy chatting to the other guests. We spent the night in a traditional tatami-matted room, (a private room for the six of us), and the following morning I relaxed in the hammock on the veranda.
The weather was cooler but sunnier on the Sunday and we walked into Hakone, where we visited a little exhibition about the local craft of marquetry.
The boys and Hilary all bought ‘magic’ money boxes which have a combination of special moves that allow it to be opened.
Then we started our Hakone Free Pass adventure which goes:
Cablecar over Volcano
Boat across lake
We then walked through a small grove of ancient cedars before catching the bus back to Hakone.
We were blessed with super-clear views of Fuji-san.
Then it was time to pick-up our bags from the hostel and make our way homewards, stopping off at our favourite bar, @Cafe/Bar LeBron
On Monday, after the boys had returned from school, we went out to Tokyo to take in the lights.
Enoshima and Kamakura
We took the boys out of school on the Tuesday and we all visited Enoshima for lunch and then went to Kamakura to visit the Daibutsu, (giant buddha).
Two weeks ago I had a meeting with the other international (English speaking) parents about how the kids are progressing and the forthcoming swimming season. Here is the form I have to fill in and confirm with my banking seal each morning for each child (on the days they have swimming), otherwise they won’t be allowed to participate.
These are the boys’ mugshots in the International Classroom. I am super impressed with the neatness of Oliver’s hiragana because his English handwriting is not nearly so nice!
After the chat with the principal and general swimming briefing, we had a presentation about Oliver’s residential trip. Take a gander:
They’ll be gutting fish
They’re off to Izu Peninsular
The fish will be dried…and then brought home!
They’ll be serving their food
And a campfire
And prepping them for drying
There’ll be fun on boats
Here are the sick bags (labelled of course) that I’ve had to put together for the trip.
He’ll be spending two nights at a purpose built centre owned by Yokohama City Council.
It was rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake, in a different spot and orientation but it is up a hill. The kids will have tsunami practice which involves running up the hill to the centre from the water’s edge. That should keep them fit. They will bring the dried fish they create home on the bus in an ice bag. Mmm.
Also last week the boys had a medical at the school. They’ve had ECGs, fitness tests and had their BMIs measured. Not only this but also they were sent home with this: that’s right folks, a urine test. (Thankfully, they passed with a literally clean bill of health.)
However, they are both a bit obsessed by “Diabetes Type 2”, as they call it and we’ve had lots of discussions, which is all to the good.
Last Friday the school had an open afternoon. We were able to observe Oliver having a maths lesson which wasn’t that exciting, whilst George was having a music lesson. There was lots of school work on display and we were chuffed to see this from the boys.
They’re both growing up so fast. Oliver is going on a school residential trip on Monday for two nights; for this I had to buy him some marine shoes (Gul shoes, I think we might call them). Anyway, he’s a SIZE 6!! How did that happen? He came home from shogaku today and said he has Home Ec tomorrow and needs to take 40g each of broccoli, carrot and cabbage. I roll my eyes and think of the traipse we’ll have to do en famille later to go shopping, but then remember we’re in Japan where it is perfectly acceptable for kids to go places on their own. So off he went to the Family Mart at the bottom of the hill to buy his provisions.
In a similar vein, George has been gagging to have a playdate with one of his classmates. They had planned a playdate earlier in the week but we had already agreed to go to Tokyo with the Moomins, (in-laws), so that had to be quashed, (much to George’s disappointment.)
Today though, the Moomins have gone and we are not busy so I dropped him off but we agreed that he could walk home on his own.
They both had a great time with Grandma and Grandad, and both are enjoying school. I’m so proud of them.
After the boys had headed off for their school trip I failed to go to my Pilates class after failing to buy tickets for the Studio Ghibli museum, (see previous posts). Anyways, this all meant I had time to kill before meeting Dan for lunch in Minato Mirai, (the shopping district of Yokohama).
I found a floor of a shopping mall dedicated to awesome food shops. Here are some of my highlights:
The Tea Shop
Yes, you read that right, tea made from Job’s tears. (I know, I know, it’s a plant, but it did make me giggle); and also onion skin tea. And to think I’ve been composting it all these years when I could have been making tea out of it.
Kaldi is brilliant. It has lots of exciting Japanese products, such as these crispy items.
Are they sweet? Are they savoury? Who knows!
And also, some more western products:
Then there is the full-on supermarket that stocks loads of CHEESE and also the key ingredients for Tiramasu. I was so, so excited.
My bento supplies, garnered mostly from the 100 Yen shop
My weiner sculpting kit.
My first Weiner crabs and octopuses
Last Thursday, (or actually, a week ago last Thursday: time does march on), well, the boys had their first school trip. It was a whole school trip to a local park and this meant I needed to supply them with a packed lunch. In Japan this is called obento and *can* be a big deal. I made it a big deal. On my potential list of elements in the bento box was:
pasta salad + olives
cherry tomatoes and sticks of cucumber
hunks of cheese
I never did find any wraps, so I went with everything else and voila!
Golden week is manic in Japan. The roads become grid-locked and the trains are packed. Everywhere is booked-up months in advance, so we decided to had no choice but to stay around Yokohama and do some local exploring.
I think I mentioned that Saturday 29th we had been to a food fair at an International school: well the coup for that day was managing to buy this second-hand bike for George for ¥500 (about £3.50). Woohoo. Well done Dan. I also bought some of these Summer Oranges (see above). The boys had had some one day for their lunch and were raving about them. They are very sour/bitter and refreshing. So when we spotted some in the supermarket I thought we should all try some.
That afternoon we caught the train to Kamakura, and this time Dan showed us the beach. George got carried away with the paddling and ended up stripping off; I sat and read, but we all had a great time.
George enjoying the waves
Looking towards Enoshima
Love the DIY Samurai they have turned the Colonel into
The torii gate on the road out of Kamakura town towards the beach
Sadly I spent the Sunday, Monday, and most of Tuesday in bed with a sinus headache that wouldn’t shift. However, by Tuesday, once the boys had returned from school, we all went to our neighbourhood sento. A sento is the communal baths.
You arrive, deposit your shoes in the lockers, pay, head into your single-sex bathing area, strip off, scrub yourself raw (or just give yourself a thorough washing), then head into one of the two hot bath areas. Then come out, wash again, and back into the water.
I love going to sentos. I find the communal naked thing very humbling and a great leveller. This time an old dear offered to scrub my back for me, and I obliged and it was just really lovely.
I must say that this particular sento wasn’t the most salubrious of places. The water and equipment was clean enough but it could do with a refurb. A lot of the tiling and grouting needed seeing to, but hey-ho, it was cheap and did the job. (Reminded me of the steam room of yore in Copeland Sports Centre if any of you ever went there!)
Thursday of Golden Week was another public holiday – Constitution Day, and I was beginning to feel better. Certainly better enough to head into Yokohama to the Bay Quarter shopping centre and have this fantastic pancake breakfast at a restaurant called ‘Butter’. We ate outside and the weather was warm but humid and it spotted with rain a little, but it was pretty refreshing. I clocked a Dad at another table with a bottle of beer and it was 10.30. Public holidays seem to be synonymous with booze.
After the breakfast we walked back to Sakuragicho station along the bay and the wind gets up. It blows George’s Minecraft cap off his head and it landed in the sea. He was really, really upset, but we weren’t able to retrieve it from where we were standing. I noticed that the wind was blowing the cap towards a jetty, so bless him, he runs over to the jetty and approaches one of the chaps there to try and save his cap. I keep an eye on the cap, and Dan loafs over to join George. After much patience the cap does drift in range of the chap with a pole and “Hurray!” he gets his hat back. Fortune favours the bold.
Things that go Bump in the Night
We experienced our first earthquake. It was in the middle of the night and the boys didn’t wake up. I dreamed that someone was knocking on the door, then the sound happened again and I woke up and realised it was the doors rattling around the house.
I checked in the morning that it was an earthquake and it was. So there’s a first.
The 5th May is Children’s Day, or Kodomo no hi. It is celebrated by flying carp-shaped windsocks of varying colours. I had bought some carp-themed sweets for the boys from a sweet shop in Honmoku, which I gave them that morning. But they turned out to be crackers. The boys weren’t impressed. However, we did make them hotdogs for breakfast in bed in return for the the breakfast in bed that they had prepared for us the day before (no reason!).
We then went into Yokohama and saw the giant carp displays.
It was pretty hot and we ambled around for the rest of the day. We stumbled upon a gathering of mascots outside the city chambers that were posing for a photo opportunity. Don’t know what that was all about, but it was kawaii.
Then we found a run-down mall and in one of the shops there was a pop-up workshop where the boys were able to have a go at screen printing a scarf. So we did that.
Then we came home and I snapped this picture of the big wheel all light up behind the Nihon Maru tall ship that resides in the harbour.
Finally, on the Sunday we got up fairly early and caught the train to Ofuna and then took the monorail to Enoshima. We’d bought a beach shelter and our plan was to go for a swim and have an explore around the island. We did all of this.
We got on the front carriage to get the best view.
This monorail dangles down, it’s great fun!
After descending the five flights of stairs to get back onto terra firma, it’s a walk along a bridge to the island of Enoshima.
I was snapping some interesting street furniture when Dan spots something and starts taking photos of it.
It took me a while to spot it, but it was so cool when I did……
The island itself was jammed with holiday makers and lots of bikers. We managed to find a real gem of a coffee house off the beaten track that served lunch.
We got chatting to the couple who were running it: the lady is Japanese and expecting a baby in July and they are going to name him George. The husband is Canadian.
Whilst we were there, in walks a Japanese gentleman in a kimono and these wooden stilty sandals. Intriguing. I’d never seen those before.
We had had a busy day and needed to get back to the house so George could have a playstation date with his pal (it was Bank Holiday Monday back in the UK) so we didn’t get much chance to explore Enoshima, but that’s a great excuse to go back and to meet the baby George.
Apologies in the radio silence my end. The first week of May was Golden Week. Apart from Wed and Thur that week, the rest of the days were all public holidays. Dan took those two days off too (the boy were in school for those days), so that we could spend some time together and I came down with a sinus headache and slept through most of it. (Sudafed is a banned substance here. Grrr).
This week the boys are now walking to and from school on their own and I finally have this much dreamed-of time to myself. On Monday I tidied and hoovered the flat; on Tuesday I went to my first ever Pilates class. Yesterday I went to the 11.20 showing of ‘I, Tonya’. It was brilliant. Today I was meant to be meeting a British Mum for coffee but that’s fallen through so I’m off to Pilates again.
I’m also on a mission today to buy tickets for the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo.
More posts filling-in the blanks will be forthcoming, I PROMISE. In the meanwhile, TTFN. X
EDITED TO ADD: getting the Ghibli museum tickets meant being at a Lawson convenience store at 10am. I got to one at 10.02 and had to queue to use a machine. I tried three times to secure tickets but with each attempt, by the time it came to confirming and paying, that slot had sold out. Boo. Thankfully, due to a miscommunication with Dan, he was also trying at another store and DID get tickets, aided by the one of his lovely colleagues. So we have tickets for June. But I did miss Pilates.
Last Thursday I opened a bank account using my swanky new seal.
The experience was only slightly longer and more finicky than opening a new account with the Cumberland, so I was pleasantly surprised to get out of there in under two hours.
The bank was located on the edge of China Town so I had a wee explore before it opened at nine – most shops and restaurants only open after 10 so it was pretty quiet.
I had a great espresso to celebrate my new account (opened so that I can pay for school lunches and sundry materials). After that I walked thirty minutes or so to meet Dan for lunch.
The night before, we had walked to another part of Chinatown for an explore (for tea), and were flagged down by a lady on a bike shouting “Daniel-san, Daniel-san!”. It was one of Dan’s colleagues, who is lovely and very supportive of us, and who had given us an empty 5kg rice bag for school. We asked her advice for somewhere to eat and she suggested a cheap ‘hole in the wall’ and gave us directions.
We found the place and sat outside and ordered some dishes. One of my favourites was a pickled cucumber dish. The food was great and finished with a lovely dessert which was ame tofu flavoured with cardamom and lemon: a really refreshing and delicious combination.
Yesterday was the first day of Golden Week and we decided to check out a list of cheap shops that sell international foods. These were all located in Chinatown. I finally found some chick peas and lentils and I also spotted my first Fair Trade label and some rose petal jam, which I’ve only ever eaten once before and really loved.
Love that instead of luncheon meat it’s luncheon fish
Fair-trade jam and rose petal jam on the right.
I also found some Japanese ice cream I’d been wanting to try since watching a YouTube video about ice cream.
This ice cream tub was multilayered; with vanilla ice cream on the bottom, then some dollops of marshmallowy mochi mixture (chewy pounded rice dough), and a cofffee-ey/chocolatey sauce on top and a finished with a sprinkling of soy flour. George and I loved it. Ollie and Dan weren’t so keen.
The boys grabbed a dumpling (without the panda face) and we headed home with our provisions.
Yesterday we walked to Honmoku where there is a brilliant ¥100 shop and we bought all sorts of necessities.
I also spotted some lovely traditional shops like this seaweed shop. And also a less traditional Viking family restaurant!
Today we went to a food fair put on by one of the two local international schools: St Maur.
The Czech stall was selling bottles of very tasty beer for ¥400, and the Hawaiian stall had long hunks of pineapple on sticks for ¥200. We also scored some second hand English books for the boys and a second hand bike for George for ¥500 and struck up a friendship with a family from Walton on Thames. Result!
Matt Lucas is on the telly. Breakfast telly too. In Japan………..
Hang on a minute, that’s not Matt Lucas, that’s Kim Jong-un. This is my first morning at home – yesterday I spent a good hour or so at the bank, opening a bank account to pay for school lunches. (On other mornings I’ve hung around the school ostensibly to ‘help’ the boys, but actually doing very little.) So this is my first taste of Nihongo housewifery and what a Good News Story this is: the two leaders of the Koreas meeting up.
Considering that last year North Korea was shooting missiles over Japan, this is really great news for this part of the world.
Tim Marshall in his book “Prisoners of Geography” points out that moving on from the stalemate is unchartered and perhaps undesired territory, (at least for South Korea and China). This is because there will be huge demands economically on South Korea and a united Korea would also mean Beijing will share a border with a US ally.
Anyway, I’m hoping the Domesday Clock has gained some time from this development. Exciting times.
I was super excited and super lucky to head to Tokyo all by myself to meet an old pal for lunch. He was here on business and was flying out Saturday afternoon so we met in the morning. I caught the train to Tokyo and gave myself far too much time. I keep thinking that the journey will go wrong; that the train will be late or I will get lost but so far so good.
I read my book on the train and it was a sad bit so I welled up. Unfortunately I needed to blow my nose, which is another no-no in Japan, so I sniffled and snuffled all the way to my station.
I had a crappy coffee at the station and then went to find a loo. Google maps showed me to a public toilet so I went exploring and was very proud of myself when I used my first squat toilet. Go me!
I met Richard and we went for a wander around the Imperial Palace after securing his luggage at the station. The azaleas were out and were really stunning. We were able to hear and see (a little) of the Imperial Guards practising their kendo.
Then we made our way to the Marunouchi Building and the 35th floor which had plenty of restaurants to choose from. We had a delightful sushi lunch which included sakura ice cream (cherry blossom).
The sun still shone on Sunday and we headed into Yokohama after lunch to go and see ‘Ready Player One’ at the IMAX. Our friend, Keir, had recommended this book to Oliver back in November at the King family Fireworks Extravaganza, and since then he’s read it at least twice. He’d wanted to see it in the UK but I’d persuaded him to wait and watch it with Dad in 3D at the IMAX.
It was epic. (Despite me fretting that I’d left the iron on).
After the film we wandered around Rinko Park to the Bay Quarter Shopping Mall and had a burger tea.