The last couple of nights I’ve had some very vivid dreams.
Last night I dreamed I was with my cousin in the run-up to the ending of his life. We were on a mountain, with views to the sea and a crowd of tourists were whale watching. All of a sudden a huge whale rammed up against the shore to try and shoo the people away.
The night before I dreamed I had bumped into an ex from University. He had been very dull back in the day but now he was sporting an edgy haircut and tattoos. I was so pleased for him! That dream was set in Japan and is the first dream I’m aware of that is set here.
This morning I am lacking motivation. This may be in part to going out last night to mark Mum’s death 18 years ago on the longest day, but also the Solstice itself and also the birthdays of Steph and Ruby. I had three highballs. And some amazing aubergine from Osaka and some lovely chat at the bar with different people. And that was after eating the most delicious toasted sandwich (avocado and spinach with basil oil and cheese on caramel bread) from a local restaurant specialising in cheese toasties.
Dan’s 41st Birthday fell on a Saturday this year. So did the first meeting of my new bookclub. Remember now: Bookclub = Friends, so despite the clash, I needed to go and make some friends.
First things first, though. The Friday night. We caught the bus to Honmoku and then walked along to Sankeien Gardens to go and see the fireflies. They were magical. Absolutely magical. But you’ll have to take our word for it as they were camera shy.
On the way home from the fireflies we popped into our favourite bar, Cafe LeBron. Masagi, on the left, runs the place and it is just great – very friendly with a relaxed atmosphere, good food and I really like the whiskey highballs there.
I’d struggled to get a birthday cake made locally, so I bought a sponge from the supermarket and then decorated it with whipped cream (which took ages to whip) and fruit. I also got this chocolate label thing from the 100yen shop and I’m pretty pleased with the result.
I made egg fried rice too (for breakfast) and we drank the wee bottle of champagne (as Buck’s Fizz) that I’d been given by my Nethertown pals for my birthday. And then we decided we’d also go out for brunch at a new place that has opened up locally called Smoke Shack which is run by a Glaswegian.
So at Smoke Shack I had a mojito, we shared some deep fried oysters and had Eggs Benedict too.
Fully replete, I then headed to an Indian restaurant in China Town to meet my new book buddies and Dan took the boys to Kita- Kamakura to do a wee hike with them.
The book we were discussing was ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula LeGuin. It was a big book. I was reading it on my Kindle and when I started reading it, the device reckoned I had 12 hours of reading ahead of me. It did not lie. Even with the assistance of my favourite peach alcopop, I only finished reading it the morning of the meet-up. But finish it I did.
Unsurprisingly, after all that eating in the morning, at Bookclub I went for something light – the Idli setto – and it was okay. Aside from the food, I had a great couple of hours discussing the book and getting to know the other book gals, most of whom were American.
After the meeting I caught the train to Kamakura to meet up with the boys and then we came home to get ready for our babysitter to arrive so that Dan and I could go out AGAIN!
We wandered around aimlessly for a while, seeing the lights and the horse-and-trap-taxi, and then we discovered another newly opened business called Bruntons which specialises in beer.
The following morning we went for an explore; Dan planted up some flowers I’d bought and I started labelling Oliver’s clothes for his impending residential trip.
Come Monday afternoon I thought I’d better start packing. All the clothes were labelled, they just needed putting in the big rucksack (or the small rucksack) and checking off the illustrated list we were given. I’m so pleased I had made a start by the time the boys came home, as Oliver announces that a teacher from the International Classroom was on her way home with George to check on our packing. REALLY?!! Wow.
So we get cracking. The teacher came. She was lovely. She was pleased with our procuring, labelling and packing. She told us not to back a paperback for Oliver. (Really?).
I felt so relieved. Until I remembered he needed an Obento box to take with him the following morning. Anyway, this is what I rustled up for him and he was happy with it.
The following morning he needed to be at school before 7am, so we all walked to the school and then left him to it. I’ve never felt so intrepid for him before. Poor lad, but he coped.
In the meanwhile I decided I really needed to get my learning head on and try a bit harder learning Nihongo.
Also, whilst it wasn’t yet the rainy season, I might as well walk to destinations where possible and listen to lessons/ podcasts on the way.
Our next bookclub book is an American book which I found difficult to get hold of, except as an audio book with Audible, so that became another listening experience.
So I am trying to learn kanji piecemeal, often spurred by some kanji-based twitter accounts. I am using a youtube video for katakana and I used some online games to nail my hiragana. Pimsleur is helping me with speaking, listening and vocab, as is the LearnJapanesePod.
So here are a few of my snaps as I wander around. The hydrangeas are in bloom right now and are stunning. I never really ‘got’ them in the UK but here they are glorious.
George had his friend, Shoma, over one afternoon and then it was time for Oliver to come home. YEAH!! I’d missed him so much. I ran a bubble bath for him.
But he assured me that he’d had a bath before they got on the bus. So I put the cover on it and used it later.
The following morning he had a later start and so he and I went to a local cafe for a victory croissant. I love that boy so much.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The boys have been uber helpful and good today, all because tomorrow we rise early in the morning to cross the (thin end of the) country and get to explore Diggerland. Wooohoooo. Wooohooo.
Earlier they were musing at other possible tourist destinations. “Spiderland?”. Erm, no. “Motorbike land?”. Sorry. “Trainland?” (He must have been thinking of York.) Just goes to show the level of genius for whoever dreamt up the concept of “Diggerland” in that it a) makes sense and b) sounds good.
Our eldest son is a competent reader and riding this wave of helpfulness, we got them to wolf down their pancakes and told them that come 8pm, rain or shine, (or in pyjamas or not, more to the point), we would be sat infront of Holby, all parental rights abrogated. I managed to oversee toothbrushing before the witching hour, and assisted the younger one a wee bit in getting his pjs on and then removed ourselves from the shared bunk beds as eldest son had organised Thomas the Tank Engine stories on the stereo and had started reading ‘Supertato’ (our current favourite library book) to the wee one.