Monday, April 21, 2008

In Japan - The first few days

Well, we made it to Japan. Between spending time with family and friends, and fending off jet lag, I haven’t had much time to work on my blog articles. We’ll see if I can’t get enough done to get something posted here today.

Our travels began as we boarded the small plane that would take us from Sioux Falls, SD to Minneapolis, MN. We had a few hours of layover in Minneapolis so we stopped in a few shops to browse a little, and had lunch at the Chili’s Too restaurant located close to our concourse. We then boarded the big plane that would take us across the Pacific.

We actually lucked out in the end. We were sitting just a few rows from the back of the airplane, in the middle section. There were four seats available in the middle section, and we had the three on the right. There was a man sitting in the far left seat. He seemed a nice enough person, traveling to see his daughters who were living with his estranged wife in the Philippines. After hearing how talkative my nine-month old daughter is, though, he quickly found another empty seat to occupy. We ended up with all four seats to stretch out in. This turned out to be very nice once Christopher needed to sleep. He was just about the right size to put a pillow on my lap and stretch out over the middle two seats.

Rihoko and I didn’t manage to get very much sleep on the plane, but the kids both did. I was actually surprised at how much sleep Christopher got. When he finally woke up for breakfast, just a couple of hours before landing, he ended up crying quite a bit. He doesn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night, and back home this would have been around 3 am. He finally settled down enough so that he could eat a little. All in all, our kids didn’t make much of a fuss on the plane. Not as much as some of the crying kids, at least.

Anyway, once we arrived at Narita Airport we had to go through passport control. They allowed all of us to go through together. Usually, Rihoko would go through a “Japanese Citizen” line. Christopher would have gone with her this time. And, even though Nanami is a Japanese Citizen, she would have to go with me. Nanami currently has an American passport, but not a Japanese one. We’re planning on taking care of that while we’re here.

After passport control was done we collected our luggage and went through customs. We then left the secured area and met some of Rihoko’s family. Rihoko’s mother, Sakahe, sister, Arise, and cousin, Hisao, all came to meet us. Hisao recently bought a brand new Honda StepWgn. I’m not sure if he had the Stepwgn, or the Stepwgn Spada. I’ll try to get pictures of it later. In the meantime, here’s one picture of a Honda Stepwgn we found while walking around Ajiro. I was amazed that Hisao even managed to fit all of our luggage in the van. We had two large suitcases, 2 small suitcases, 1 large garment bag, 2 duffel bags, and one backpack. Usually we have to ship our larger suitcases from Narita to Ajiro. We usually receive them by the afternoon of the following day.

This is the first time we haven’t taken the train from the airport to Atami. We drove all the way back from Narita airport. It took a little longer than the train. Being a Friday there was a lot of traffic heading out of the Tokyo area. But we followed the whole trip on the GPS map assistant on a small screen which was built into the dash. Hisao switched the screen back and forth between the GPS map and local TV stations, which he was picking up in the car. That’s something I’d not seen before.

We finally passed through Atami, arriving in Ajiro a little after 10:30 pm Japan time. That would have made our arrival around 8:30 am Friday CDT. With the car ride I had expected our trip to take longer than usual. All said, door to door travel was right around 24 hours, maybe slightly less. We left our home in Sioux Falls around 8:30 am Thursday morning, CDT. Rihoko’s father was waiting to greet to us at the door.

On Saturday we went for a long walk along the Ajiro waterline. There’s no real beach in Ajiro, though there is a nice one in Atami. Ajiro is a small fishing town. There’s a nice path just inside the breakwater that is created by piling up what looks like enormous concrete caltrops. (I’ll get some pictures for later.) We passed by a number of wire frames where the families of the fishermen put fish, squid, seaweed, etc. out to dry. Ajiro is very well known for its dried fish and squid. No, I am not a big fan of it. Though Christopher enjoys it.

Along the path we walked past a Buddhist cemetery. It’s amazing how even the cemeteries can seem crowded when you see all of the tombstones, or hakaishi, set so close together. You can also see the sticks that people place in front of the tombstones. These are called toban. As I understand it, in the Buddhist religion, when a person dies they get a new name. This name is written on one side of the toban. The living head of the house has their name written on the opposite side. This may be a spouse, or oldest living child.

Most of our little walks in town end at the lighthouse. This time we continued on for a ways. We passed through the fish market which is very active in the early morning. I believe Rihoko said that they are usually selling fish around 5 am. We’ll have to see if I get up that early and wander out to the fish market. It would be interesting to see. They sell live and dead fish out of this market. The live ones are kept in the tanks that you see scattered around the edges of the market. There were only a couple of tanks with fish still in them.

We then passed through some of the narrow streets of Ajiro to get back home. Along the way I took a number of pictures of the little potted gardens that people had outside of their homes. These plants and flowers provide the only real yard that most of these homes have. You’ll also notice the picture of the Tsunami warning sign. This is a warning to people that tsunami waves could reach this far into the town. Notice the English translation, “be careful to tsunamis.” I guess they don’t want to hurt their feelings. I’m hoping to get more Japanese signs for you to view, both humorous and interesting. Along the way we also saw valve covers for onsen water. Residents of Ajiro can pay to get natural hot springs water piped directly into their home. These valves provide access in front of each building. And then, of course, we saw a lot of the fire hose storage boxes scattered throughout town. The fire department would use these when they bring their water trucks in.

In the evening their was a brief hanabi (fireworks) display in Atami. We were able to see the lights quite well from our location in Ajiro. Japanese hanabi are truly amazing to behold, especially if you are close to the action. Not only are the lights and shapes provided by the fireworks awesome to see, the concussion blast from the hanabi explosion is quite strong as it passes you.

Sunday morning we went to church at Hope International Fellowship. This is an interdenominational church which I attended while I was living in Japan from 1998 to 2000. At the time I joined the church was meeting in the home of the pastor, Dennis Sager. Dennis met his wife, Kaku, while attending a Bible School in Oregon. They still live in the same house with their two kids. During my stay in Japan the church moved into an old convenience store location. We cleaned the place up and built a stage on one end of the building for the pastor and worship band. The refrigerated cases were turned into our bookshelves. No we didn’t cool off our library. The church is currently renting the two bottom floors in this building, but are looking at expanding once again. They don’t have any room for Sunday schools, and don’t have a lot of room for member growth.

That afternoon Rihoko and Christopher and I went shopping at the local grocery store, Yaohan. I didn’t take a lot of pictures in this small store but I thought this one would be interesting for everyone. They sell all kinds of bread, sweet and otherwise. The loaves are usually fairly small, as people in Japan tend to buy less and shop more often. In the bread section you can find these pancakes, “hotcakes,” precooked and packaged for your convenience. I wonder how many preservatives you’d need to use to keep the pancakes fresh.

Monday morning Rihoko ran out to take care of some errands. She set up health insurance for her and the kids. The really nice thing about the kids having Japanese citizenship is that they pay no money for health care when they carry insurance. While she was doing that we took Nanami out in the stroller to a nearby open space so that Christopher could play with his remote control car. This is a car that is nearly as long as Christopher is tall. He received it as a 1st birthday present from his Japanese grandpa and grandma. It ended up being too big for them to ship over to America, so we play with it whenever we visit. Unfortunately, Christopher tripper while playing and scraped his knee and elbow. That put a quick end to playing with the remote control car.

After lunch we all went out to Komuroyama Koen with Christopher and Nanami’s Jiji. Jiji is short of Ojiisan, which means grandfather. Koen is Japanese for park. You’ll likely see that a lot in these entries. Anyway, we had a chance to ride up a chair lift to the top of this mountain where we had a great view of the bay and surrounding mountains. Through the haze we think we even saw the coastline around Odawara in Kanaga Prefecture, and maybe as far east as Chiba Prefecture. These chairs are wide open so you can get on and off easily. I was surprised how well Christopher did, as he had to ride on my lap. I was a little nervous as I was the only thing keeping Christopher from falling off, but he did really well. And he really enjoyed going up and down the chair lift.

Down in the main area of the park they have a number of flower gardens, as well as a war memorial, This memorial was set up to remember all those who had died in World War II. We didn’t go in, but I got some nice pictures of it.

You know, I think I’ve actually caught up to our trip so far. I don’t think my future entries will be quite so lengthy. I worked on this on and off all day today. I will continue to add more pictures for everyone to enjoy, though. You can also check out all of my pictures in this Flickr collection for our trip. You may notice that I don’t include any pictures of my kids in these articles. As a general rule, I don’t put them out on public websites. If you are a good friend of mine you can always request to be added to my Flickr contact list. But this is generally reserved for people I know in person. No offense, I’d just rather be safe where they’re concerned.

We will continue to enjoy our vacation in Japan. I hope that all of you are enjoying it as well, as vicarious as your experience is through this article. If you have any questions about the pictures here or in my Flickr collection feel free to email me or leave a comment. Also, if there is something particular you’d like me to try to get a picture of let me know. I can’t guarantee finding what you’d like to see, but I’ll do my best.

In the meantime, here are the sets of pictures under my new Flickr Collection, 2008 Japan Pictorial.

I'm still expanding and organizing these sets of pictures, so some of the names and/or links may change. But enjoy the pictures, and leave comments for the ones you like.

Until next time, matta ne!

1 comment:

Ray Mercer said...

Hey thanks for recording your adventures Michael. Glad to see that your family is growing. NOt sure if you would remember Satomi and I but we are good friends with the Sagers and will be out in Shuzenji again next month for church.

-Ray Mercer