Monthly Archives: March 2013

A lazy day in Hiroshima

We had a whole day to ourselves, we had already seen what we wanted to see in Hiroshima, and the weather was nice! We spent a couple hours trying to plan what we wanted to do in the next cities, and debating whether to spend 3000 yen each way to get to the zoo, before we set off to wander around. We read there was a playground on the top of a shopping center in town. There wasn’t, but it was still a nice area and we spent almost 2 hours there, letting Kiddo run around and just enjoying the sunshine.

We went for udon in the food court afterwards. Kiddo said she wanted “noodles!!!” but didn’t eat almost any. I got wakame udon and was really happy – noodles AND something green!

After that we lazed around a bit more, looked at all the sweets on the sweets floor of the mall, found a pet store where Kiddo was mesmerized by these giant gerbils (not sure what they were, the signs were in Japanese) running in their exercise wheels, and wandered home again. Kiddo napped and then we went out to Okonomiyaki for dinner.

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The stages of making Okonomiyaki.

We had gone the night before too because that is what Hiroshima is known for. They have a food hall called Okonomimura with 3 floors of stalls selling the dish. Okonomiyaki is basically yakisoba cooked in layers on a crepe, and then covered with Japanese barbeque sauce. It is really good, though! I got the same one both nights in other to compare between the two different food stalls: bacon, shrimp and squid. The first one had the better shrimp, and the second one had the better overall dish. Both times it was a fun experience, because you sit there while they cook them up right in front of you. You sit at the counter, beside strangers, and I have to say, traveling with a little blonde Norwegian toddler makes everyone friendly and the conversations are always flowing, er, stilting along.

Last night the cook was particularly taken with Kiddo, and kept making faces at her and telling her to eat (she was only eating her ice). Finally, she started eating the egg, but we hadn’t saved enough for her, so we asked him if he would make us one egg. “Sambled?” He asked. “Yes! Scrambled! Thanks!” She only ate half of it, but still, it was a hit. Then they asked where we were from (we were speaking Norwegian together), and Hubby said Norway. They all screamed with glee that this little blonde kid was indeed Scandinavian. Then Hubby pointed to me and said, “Amerika.” Silence. Sheesh!

We left full and in a good mood. It was a nice day. The only thing I would have done differently was to shower off the fried/burnt noodle smell that had invaded my hair, as it made it kind of hard to fall asleep!

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On to Hiroshima and A-Bomb tourism

Today, SIL and BIL left to go back to Tokyo for a couple days before heading home, while we went on to Hiroshima.

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Hanami in Hiroshima. A prettier view that what we saw inside the Peace Memorial Museum.

We arrived and couldn’t check in yet so we went straight to the Peace Memorial Park. I wanted us to visit the Peace Memorial Museum while Kiddo was napping as I read that the museum has strong images. This meant we were at the park letting her run around for almost 3 hours! Hubby still was feeling unwell, so Kiddo and I ran around and found lots of stuff to be amused with, for example, a frog she spotting under a tree and a paper crane that a nice woman gave her.

We also saw the dome topped building, which was just below the spot where the bomb exploded, so it wasn’t totally incinerated, the peace flame, and the statue in honor of Sadako and her thousand paper cranes (now it is a monument to all children vicitims of the bomb/a children´s call for peace monument). I read a book about Sadako when I was younger and it affected me very much. That was actually the only point at which I cried in the museum – when Sadako´s story was chronicled with pictures and captions.

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Hiroshima before and after the bomb

Finally, Kiddo slept and we went into the museum. At first, we were not that impressed. It was just posters with captions about Hiroshima´s history as the location of the army´s fifth division. But I see the point in establishing that Hiroshima was involved with war from a very early age, although they never came out and said that is why it was a target, or maybe I missed that poster. Then, things started to get heavy. They have a wall where the mayor of Hiroshima has sent a letter of protest every time a nation has tested a nuclear weapon. A copy of the letter in Japanese and English had been made into a metal plaque in A5 size (half of A4). The plaques cover three walls and have just had to creep over the beginning of a fourth. A sobering thought about the failure of the international community to learn from the human tragedy of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) and stop building and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. There is also a model of the city before and after the bombing. A stark and sad image

Upstairs was the real tear jerker stuff. They have the charred and tattered clothing remains, mostly from kids who were working on the war effort in groups outside when the bomb hit, so they were either instantly killed or badly burned and died hours later. Each article of clothing comes with a story of the person who was wearing it in their final hours – a schoolboy who always helped his mother, a schoolgirl who had made the uniform herself, a girl only identified because she was wearing a shirt her family bought her in the Philippines that no one else would have in Japan at the time. It was very hard to read about.

The worst was probably the pictures of the burned people. They look fake, the pictures. Human skin should not char. It was horrible.

The problem with the whole experience is: you go inside, you feel so many emotions, and then you walk out into the sunlight and think, what the hell!? What can be done! It has been almost 70 years since this tragedy, and still, we keep testing nukes, holing up our stocks, and claiming we have to do so to keep us safe. But this museum is a chronicle of how safe they keep us – which is to say – there is nothing safe about nuclear arms!

I sincerely hope no other group of people has to experience that again.

So, we walked out of the museum and were at a loss about what to do. We ended up walking home and just hanging out – letting Kiddo walk her iPad while we sort of sat around, glazed. And then we went out for dinner!

Arashiyama under Cherry Blossoms

We woke up a little stiff from having slept on futons on the floor and Hubby had caught a stomach bug.

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The view from the hill above the temple at Arashiyama

Despite that, we had a nice morning walking around Arashiyama, which is a suburb of Kyoto where the ritzy people used to go relax on the weekends. It has a Buddhist temple, beautiful garden and a bamboo forest perched on a small hill above a river lined with cherry blossoms. It is truly a gorgeous spot, and if it hadn’t been a Friday during cherry blossom season, it would have been such a relaxing respite from the city. As it was, there were lots of hustling and bustling and people and photos and running after Kiddo. And lots of time spent trying to have a two year old stay on the path in a meticulously groomed garden. A little stressful. It was still nice though.

We had our first experience with no English signs or no spoken English from people. When we arrived at the temple by taxi, we were let off at the bottom of a pedestrian street, and we sort of followed the crowd. All of us had to pee, me – so much I was losing my ability to think, and there was no indication of where to enter the temple. There were lots of little side temples and no obvious line. Finally there was a women in a booth. I asked her where the toilets where in Japanese, and then she answered in Japanese and I understood nothing. There was a lot of pointing and gesticulating and shaking of the head. Finally a woman behind me in line said that the toilets were inside the garden and if we went behind this little turn ahead, we would see a place to buy tickets. Phew!

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Afterwards we went to a view point, let Kiddo run around, and walked down the hill to the town center, where we caught a taxi to Honke Owariya, a soba shop that has been open in one form or another since 1465! It originally was a pastry shop, and now it is a noodle house where the Imperial family occasionally visits. The soba was excellent, Kiddo napped, and we all had a nice rest, sitting and chatting. Then we tried some of their buckwheat flour cookies. Crisp and tasty!

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I didn’t know a “large” meant DOUBLE DECKERED! *belch*

After that we found a doughnut shop where we were only marginally disappointed. They looked soooo good! We wandered home and Hubby´s stomach was really bothering him, so we took a couple hours in the room. Kiddo and I went up to SIL´s room and they played together. It was very sweet. We couldn’t decide if we needed to go out and get dinner, but decided we didn’t want to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, so out we went, looking for a restaurant. It was only 8:30pm but everything was closed! Finally we found a “family restaurant” serving western food. It was a riot! We all got club sandwiches and salads, and Kiddo got a bento box with a hotdog, rice, veg, a dino shaped chicken nugget and a meat ball. She ate the hotdog, anyway! The western meal really revived us for Japanese food. It was a good idea.

There must be some irony to eating at a 540 year old soba shop for lunch and an 80s version of an American Denny´s for dinner! Love it. 

Shinkansen to Kyoto

After a quick breakfast at Muji Café (yes, the same brand as Muji the store with lots of boxes and pens and small cute stuff), we were off to the train station. We gave ourselves 45 minutes, and spent the first 5 minutes sort of standing around at a loss for what to do or where to go. We had planned to buy bento boxes at the station, because my friend T had said that was fun. I was feeling sort of so-so about it (I think I was a bit grumpy from having to set an alarm – ha!) but then when I got my turn to go downstairs to the bento box food court (seriously! – I wish I had taken a picture, but by that time we were rushing) I realized how right T was! That place was amazing. It was a little too much to take it, actually. There must have been 50 shops, all selling beautiful things. Broiled fish, salted fish, cured fish, raw fish, fried fish, sautéed veg, crispy veg, tempura veg, vegetable salads, seaweed salads, pickles, plain rice, colored rice, rice with beans, and rice with sesame, not to mention the sweets! We had about 5 minutes to make our purchases and then we had to high tail it out of there. Suddenly we only had 10 minutes until our train LEFT!

We scrambled to figure out who would take what, including Kiddo, and we started running. We found out our train was leaving from platform 15 (out of 35, I think – geez!), and we made it with 3 minutes to spare. We stood there for 2 minutes, then the train pulled up, and the passengers debarked, we got on, and by the time we had walked up to our seats a half car away, the train was pulling away from the station. Whoa!

The ride was lovely. We got a peak of Mt. Fuji behind some clouds. That was really fun, because I guess it is really hard to see since the weather around it can make for lots of clouds all the time. Otherwise, SIL and BIL kept Kiddo entertained for an hour, which was amazing because it meant I could sit and read my book. They dozed off for the last half hour or so, but then Kiddo was ready to see a little Mickey Mouse and look out the window. We ate our bento boxes and were super full on tasty authentic Japanese lunch food. It was a blast.

We found our Ryokan pretty easily on foot, and settled in nicely. We were all feeling pretty lazy but we decided to go out and see a temple. We decided to go to one with some famous statues, but it was already closed and plus, you have to wait in line to get tickets at 6:30am or something. So we got the taxi driver to take us to Kiyomizu instead. It was gorgeous! Packed, but beautiful. We had a really lovely time wandering around and watching the people and seeing the cherry blossoms. They had some fun shrines to matchmaking gods and love, and we watched some people try to see if they would soon find lasting love by walking between two stones with their eyes closed. I saw two people fail and one make it.

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View from Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto

Then we wandered down to the main road and got a cab to the imperial garden, where we wandered around for a bit more, trying to tire out Kiddo. Then we went back to the ryokan to try to find some dinner. There was an incident with Kiddo throwing a memento on the ground at the ryokan and breaking it. Hubby was pissed, and the mood was not great. Then BIL wanted meat, so we went to the train station to try to find some “katsu” or cutlets. We did, and they were pretty awful. The place was packed so we assumed it would be good. BIL hated his pork so much he didn’t eat it. SIL left half of it on the plate. I ate mine because it wasn’t dirt cheap and I didn’t want to waste it/be hungry/have to buy more food. Kiddo spent the whole dinner under the table, which I have a reaction to because my mom thinks it is unacceptable when parents let their kids go under the table. But Hubby pointed out that she was having fun, disturbing no one, and letting us eat in peace, which was true.

Then we went to Lawson to get beer and ice cream, went back to our room, and had a nice little get together with SIL, BIL, Hubby, Kiddo and me. Since we didn’t have internet in our room, no one was on their device. It was lovely. Kiddo and SIL had a “moment”. It was a nice day!

Ueno Zoo and Kappabashi Street

Today we went to the zoo!

And were cold and sort of miserable 😉

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Cherry Blossoms at Ueno Park in Tokyo. Rainy but beautiful!

It was raining and cold but we wanted to see the pandas that they have, so off we went. I was feeling toasty until we had to stand in line to see the pandas, and then I started to feel a bit cool. And then there was a bit of pushing and yelling in the panda line, which was filled with old ladies and lots of little kids (I learnt afterwards that they pandas were off exhibit for awhile for “breeding season”, so maybe this was the new rush of people to see them), and it soured my mood a little bit. One panda was sleeping so that we couldn’t see it, and the other one looked really sad in the corner, trying to hide. Poor pandas!

We had a nice time looking at the Japanese Macaques and the sea lions, and then we decided we were too cold and had to find a place for a tea. We couldn’t find anything, though, so we went into the station to meet SIL and BIL.

Then, it was off to Kappabashi, which is a whole street lined with shops selling kitchen and restaurant gear. It was insane! There were shops that sold solid wood lacquered miso soup bowls for almost $100 a piece (down to plastic ones for a few bucks a piece), shops that sold papers for lining the beautiful boxes they sell sweets in, shops with lanterns, kitchen uniforms, steel kitchen equipment, lighting, signage, tradition curtains found at the entrance of restaurants, huge pots, bamboo steaming baskets, plastic display cabinets, plastic food, stools and chairs…anything and everything that a restaurant or food establishment would need or use was on this street. The first 30 minutes were really fun and then I started to lose my motivation a bit.  

We found a lot of stuff we liked, mostly in novelty kitchen gear stores, like some little bird shaped lemon wedge squeezers for the in-laws and a bunch more tools to make Kiddo´s food look like something fun. We wanted to get some miso soup bowls, but we couldn´t make up our minds. Eventually, I started to get super crabby because my back was killing me (Kiddo was napping on me), and it was rainy and cold, but we found a place to sit down and eat lunch. It was a bento box with rice, covered with minced chicken, broccoli, shredded egg, and pickled mushrooms. It was so good! And warm. And satisfying. Then we went down one other side of the street and called it a day.

We met my friend “T” again for Okinawan food in Shinbashi, and he ordered us a bunch of stuff. It was really fun because we never would have thought to order some of the dishes he choice, like Japanese sea grapes – a kind of seaweed, or fried fish with cheese on it (there is some American influence in Okinawan cuisine). He looked tired, so we all went home early. Kiddo fell asleep walking home, which was perfect because we had to pack all our stuff up into two piles, one to store in Tokyo and one to bring for the 2 weeks we will travel around Japan on the Shinkansen. We were up late, but we got it all done!

We will miss the amazing hotel in Tokyo, and the overabundance of fun restaurants and bars within walking distance, but we are looking forward to seeing more of Japan. More about that coming soon!

The Tsukiji Fish Market – after hours

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1pm – after hours at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

So, we were supposed to wake up and go to the fish market. We all have been feeling like we are catching a cold, so we slept in a LOT, and then, decided to eat breakfast, which was actually lunch it was so late, and then took ages to walk to Tsukiji…and it was closed. Whoops! But we saw the after hours, ate some mediocre sushi (Hubby thought it was amazing), and shopped the side stalls, including this amazing shop that had beautiful, hand made vegetable shape cutters. We got some for Kiddo, in the hopes that if I cut little radishes to look like bunnies, for example, maybe she will want to eat them. We shall see.

We couldn’t be bothered to walk home, so we took a taxi. Kiddo fell asleep and then slept in the bed and not in the front carry for the first time in 3 days, and my back was doing somersaults it was so happy. She is too heavy to front carry, but I do it anyway, because she likes it and I can still breastfeed her on the sly in that position, which is so handy in many circumstances, but especially when we are traveling in countries where I am not sure how tolerant people are about nursing in public.

So, we took baths, and were slow, and finally decided to go out to dinner to a tempura restaurant. A restaurant that just serves tempura! Well, they serve a couple other things, but mainly tempura. Oh my goodness. It was AMAZING! We got the tempura set menu, which came with a couple of prawns and then some amazing fish and vegetables, as well as rice and miso soup. The would bring out two pieces at a time, so each piece was piping hot and you could eat it slowly and pause before the next two pieces were brought out. The chef walked by and saw Kiddo and sent out two special mashed sweet potato tempuras, which were amazing, but Kiddo didn’t like, so we nibbled on. The server spoke English so well, and she was charmed that we thought so. She told us she had been learning for 9 years. Wow! It was a fun experience, and the ability to ask the server anything and have her be able to respond was an added layer on the cake.

Since the restaurant was in a shopping mall, we looked around a little bit and then I found this interior shop with an amazing kids section. Kiddo went bananas and had a minor meltdown when we had to leave. We made it up to her by finding the cutest little crackers in the food mart downstairs – “tiny baby flower” crackers. They really were the cutest crackers I have ever seen. They were also extremely salty, but whatever, sometimes kids eat salt!

I feel like I eat a ton of salt here, but I think partly it is because I don’t drink enough water. I have to pee all the time even without drinking all the water I want to drink, and it is hard when we are out in a group of five to have to stop everybody´s pace to find a toilet. That is the martyr in me, or something. So then I get home at night and I don’t want to drink too much because I don’t want to wake up every hour in the night. It is the tourist´s dilemma, for me. 

Harajuku

This morning we went to Tokyo station to trade in our vouchers for Japan Rail Passes.

It was a fun experience. First, we walked by a bunch of Japanese people waiting outside the Tokyo Station Hotel, which is a really fancy hotel, and we asked a security guard “what is all the fuss?” and he was torn between being polite/answering our question & maintaining security. So we asked, “famous people?” and he nodded and we asked, “Japanese famous people?” and he hestitated and then gave a slight nod, and we laughed and thanked him and said we don’t know any Japanese famous people and walked on.

The rail pass part was easy. We got what we needed done easily with very friendly and efficient people who spoke English well enough to help us, no problem!

Then we were started to melt from hunger but decided to go to Harajuku and get our breakfast there. We hopped on a train and the blinking lights said we were a half hour from the station. Oh dear. SIL was not happy.

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Hip, futuristic mall entrance in Harajuku, Tokyo

When we got to Harajuku, it was raining, but we were immediately rewarded for our half hour ride by seeing the trademark fashionistas who roam the area in their platform shoes, short skirts, dyed hair, and so on. Really interesting. We stopped for some takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. Hubby and I loved them, SIL and BIL: not so much. Then we went looking for “the best mall in Tokyo” – Laforet. We assumed there would be a huge food court on the bottom. There wasn’t. There were only two places to eat, and both only served cakes. Not gonna work. So we went across the street to another mall, thinking they would have a food court. At this point SIL was melting in despair from grouchiness and hunger. I had eaten 3 fried balls of dough so I was doing okay again. Hubby, too. This other mall did not have a food court either, but they had a restaurant on the top floor. We went up to check it out. Folks! It was a “see and be seen” place, and the woman took one look at us and said, “no, sorry, come back at 4pm.” She then told the family behind us, who were clad in even more outdoorsy tourist clothes than we were, “sorry, there is a dress code.” Well, I didn’t hear what she said exactly but the look on their faces was such that they were turned away rather rudely. Okay then!

Luckily there was a Starbucks nearby, so SIL and BIL got a quick snack and then we shopped our hearts out for nearly two hours while Kiddo slept on my stomach. We bought iPad accessories, stickers, multicolored zippers, colored and patterned scotch tape, folders, small toys and I think that is about it. It was a blast. Japanese consumers are so attuned to aesthetics that everything is beautiful. I think we all just wanted to take a little of that feeling home with us.

Then, we had a quick noodle lunch and went to walk the streets of Harajuku, where we did lots more people watching, window shopping, and nabbed a new toy for Kiddo: a hamburger Mickey Mouse. It is actually some weird brand that they only sell in this one shoe shop on that one street, but Kiddo loooooved it, so we got it. Poor girl has had a lack of toys, lately.

We ran out of steam pretty quickly after that, plus it started to rain, plus my back was killing me, so we headed back to the hotel. We all had baths and then we went out for sushi and Kiddo fell asleep early. Big day! First time out doing any real shopping since Portland. It was fun and exhausting.

No plans for tomorrow. Hubby was going to wake up to go to the tuna auction, but I don’t think he will. I can’t be bothered. It starts at 5am. I need my rest J