Deer Mania! Japan Day 6

Leave a comment Standard

You’ve probably seen the pictures or heard about Nara’s famous deer like I had, so this was one of the day trips I was looking forward to the most.  Nara did not disappoint, especially since we were basically going for the deer, and there were plenty to pet and feed.  But during our stay, we found a few other beautiful and unexpected sights as well as the beautiful and historical Todai-ji Temple.  The speed of our trip, with my husband now joining us picked up a bit, and therefore, my daily writing more difficult, but I’m excited to pick back up on the rest of our 17 day trip to Japan.

We were scheduled to be in Kyoto for day 6 & 7 of our trip (the Saturday and Sunday right after my husband’s conference ended) and I had been saving most of the Kyoto stuff for him.  However, with the poor weather on the day I planned for Nara, we didn’t get to go and it was something I was really looking forward to.  Since our next destination after Kyoto was Nagoya, and it was only 45 minutes by train from Kyoto, I knew it would be easier to come back to Kyoto from there than it would be to go to Nara from Nagoya.  With that in mind, decided to go to Nara while we were still staying in Kyoto.  This would be my husband’s first day to join us in exploring Japan.  While I was excited to have him along, but it’s always a bit different traveling with another adult than it is alone.

By this point, we were all on a new schedule of going to bed around 10:00 p.m. and not waking up till 9:00 a.m.  This, we began to discover, was not an ideal schedule for Japan where most attractions close by 5:00 p.m.  We were rushing to get to breakfast and eat before the buffet closed at 10:00 a.m., then quickly gathered up our stuff to head off to Nara.  The hotel shuttle took us right to the main train station where we had to exchange my husband’s JR voucher for his Japan Rail Pass.  I found it comical that the line in the JR ticket line was so long for all the locals, and the separate line for foreigners (any foreigner) was a deserted.  My husband was the lone customer the entire time we were in there.

We got to bypass the long line of locals for the empty

We got to bypass the long line of locals for the empty “Foreigner’s Line.”

On the train, a small regional one this time, we found the cars a little crowded with school children, around middle school age.  There was one open bench with two seats facing another bench the had two young school boys sitting down.  I ushered my sons over to have a spot while my husband and I stayed with the stroller in the open way of the carriage.  Immediately the school children took notice of the two little English speakers sitting across from them.  The term “giggling like a school girl” could very appropriately be applied to them.  It was a sweet moment to watch over the next 20 minutes while they were on the train with us.  They watched my boys talk and play with their stickers from the train workers and tried out their English by asking my sons a few questions. I even tried a few of my own and got an understandable answer.  Those type of things are what you live for one trips like this, for a few moments our kids had the chance to try to communicate with someone from a culture so different from theirs and it gave them a chance to be a hospitable sight and a goodwill representative of their own country.

Getting a small chance to interact with some Japanese school children, and to be a bit of an amusement for them.

Getting a small chance to interact with some Japanese school children, and to be a bit of an amusement for them.

Once we arrived in Nara, we went to the information booth and found out about the bus that would take us around Nara park and through the areas where you could get off to walk to their 3 different temples, all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The kids were also immediately given little origami gifts to take with them too, spinning tops!

Many information desks in Japan gave out Origami gifts to kids when we would talk to them.

Many information desks in Japan gave out Origami gifts to kids when we would talk to them.

In all, about 15 minutes from the time we boarded the bus, we got to a part of the park where we could see the deer and got off.  Instantly the kids were drawn to the deer, that really, truly were just walking around with the people.  They were on the grass, they were on the sidewalks, they even crossed the streets, obeying the traffic signals even!  The kids carefully and excitedly approached them and delighted in the fact that they could pet the deer while the deer didn’t seem to notice.  A few, sniffed around for food and one more aggressive deer even went after my shirt!  But, that wasn’t the norm.  A very nice gentleman came over and gave us some of his crackers so that the kids could feed the deer.  You can buy special deer “cookies” from the vendors that are all approved by the city.  He also showed us how the deer will actually bow for their food!  If you hold the cracker up high over your head, then the deer will bow their head/neck down low, some even a few times, to get the cookie from you.  Not sure who started that habit or how long it took to for them to figure it out, my guess is, not very long!

Just petting some deer.

Just petting some deer.

We bought some more cookies of our own and started the walk over to Todai-ji Temple.  Because of our time restraints (us not getting there till around 1:00 p.m., we knew we’d probably make it to just one temple.  I picked Todai-ji based on it’s description and the proximity of some other highly reviewed traditional Japanese gardens near it.  As we walked, we encountered more deer and of course, the row of tourist souvenir stands.  The temple had a fee to get in, 600 Yen for us adults and the kids being free. The gate, statues and the main hall (the world’s largest wooden building) were very impressive, as was the 15 meter tall seated Buddha.

The old gate.

The old gate.

The largest wood structure in the world.

The largest wood structure in the world.

As we walked around, we encountered one of the pillars that had a small hole cut through the middle of it’s base.  The saying is that it is the same size as the Buddha’s nostril and that if you can fit through it, the you will gain enlightenment for your next life.  Of course the kids wanted to climb through the hole.  My husband and I declined the inevitable embarrassment.

The hole the size of the Buddha's nostril.

The hole the size of the Buddha’s nostril.

Each kid wanted to take a turn.

Each kid wanted to take a turn.

WP_20150627_080

We didn’t explore much more of the temple grounds themselves, but instead headed over to the Japanese garden I had read about.  It was a little confusing getting there by exiting the side of the temple, but eventually we found it.  We arrived with about 35 minutes left before it’s 5:00 p.m. closing, something we were getting used to in Japan.  While we only had a mere half hour to explore it, and had to pay a small fee, it was well worth it to take in the beauty of Isuien Garden.  It is everything you ever pictured a true Japanese garden to be.  We used the comfortable facilities for the kids and a diaper change as we left and then they literally closed and locked the gates behind us on the way out.

WP_20150627_108

Isuien Garden with the Todai-ji Temple in the background.

WP_20150627_098

From here we figured it was time to start thinking about some food.  On the bus ride in, we saw a miniature Oktoberfest event set up in the park!  That was definitely not the sight I expected to see when coming to the city boasted as “traveling back to Ancient Japan.”  I thought it would be fun to check it out and see what Japan’s take on the Bavarian tradition was.  We walked over to that section of the park again and did a quick pass through.  After not being able to figure out quickly whether you just paid cash at the booth or if you had to buy some special tickets for admissions and food, we decided that just a walk through was enough and continued on foot by the next section of the park.  I had wanted to walk by a particular pagoda that seemed to be on the way to some other shopping and food.  We could see the towers, but of course, being part of a temple, and it being after 5:00 p.m., much of it was gated off so you couldn’t get too close.

A visiting Oktoberfest in Japan, in June!

A visiting Oktoberfest in Japan, in June!

WP_20150627_147

We walked the loop of the park and came upon a row of shops and eateries, I ducked into a visitor’s welcome center that gave us a map and guided me to a shopping arcade where they had 2 restaurants serving classical Japanese dishes.  With the map in hand, we headed up the promenade until we reached the restaurant.  Menus are still hard as they are not always in English.  But these had some good pictures to go by and we were able to ask some basic questions.  I ended up with my own little grill on a plate in which to cook some raw vegetables and a few slices of Kobe beef, my husband got the most beautiful (yet a bit scary) plate of 30+ brightly colored vegetables, tofu and meat that he had to cook in a broth, oldest son got a plate of rice with grilled eel (and he ate the whole thing!), my younger son ended up with a noodle soup that he couldn’t get enough of and my 2 year old, well, she was asleep.  The food was really good, but the bill was fairly high (ended up being about $110 for all 4 of us) and my stomach was still pretty empty.  On the way back to the train station, I stopped in a couple little markets to grab some food for myself and my 2 year old, who had slept through dinner.

WP_20150627_157 WP_20150627_156 WP_20150627_154

By time we got back to the train, it was approaching 7:30 p.m. and we had just the right amount of fun without too much overdoing it on walking.  Getting back to the hotel a little after 9:00 p.m. was probably the earliest we had gotten back in the last three excursions!  But now it was time to pack up.  It was our last night in Kyoto and we had just a few more things on our list to prepare for the next day.  Including leave our really nice suite for a much much smaller single room in the next city.  However, more adventure were about to come our way!

It’s A Date With The Great Salt Lake!

Leave a comment Standard

Of all the times I have flown over the Great Salt Lake, I finally made it to it’s shores and in it’s water.  As we popped across the Utah border from Idaho on day 2 of our road trip, I began to look at where the best place would be to pull in for a lake stop.  While looking at the map the landmark “Golden Spike National Historic Site” caught my attention.  Flashes of U.S. history started to reappear in my mind as I tried to recall a few things I remembered about the great railroad race to connect east and west.  Since we didn’t do a hotel stop Friday night, we had the whole day to explore ahead of us before we could even check in to our Salt Lake City hotel.

Rocket display in Promontory, UT.

Rocket display in Promontory, UT.

I ran the idea by my husband who shared my mind set of “why not explore” and we watched for the break off signs from I-84.  At the turn, we also saw a sign for “Rocket Display” which I found curious, but made sense since U.S. deserts were often used for missile and bomb testing.  As it happened, the rocket display rose up out of nowhere before we reached the Golden Spike.  The large white rocket with the ever familiar blue NASA logo painted on the side stood off the side of the road in front of a large building waving an American Flag.  It was an impressive display.  Besides the NASA trophy in the front, the whole display was actually made up of more than a dozen other rocket engines and missile motors covering the last 75 years of air defense technology.  The building belonged to government contractor Orbital ATK.

So big!

So big!

Not being the most “techy” girl myself, even I was fascinated by the pieces on display and the accompanied explanations of how the missiles and rocket motors worked by their signs and my husband’s seemingly encyclopedia brain.  Seeing how the pieces fit together and their massive size was dumbfounding, especially when you compare your ideas to what these things do in real life to your childhood images of the movie Top Gun.  Call me dumb, but I had really never pieced together the fact that a missile, or even a rocket required its own motor, and a complex one at that.  I only wished that our 5 and 7 year old sons had been there to see it too, though not all was lost on our 2 year old daughter.

Helpful descriptions at each rocket motor station.

Helpful descriptions at each rocket motor station.

From the rocket display, we moved on to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, which was only about a 10 minute drive away.   We pulled up to the visitor’s center and could see the two steam locomotives in the back as we entered the parking lot.  A quick Wikipedia read before we arrived already told me that the actual Golden Spike was not on site, but I did learn that Stanford University’s founder, Leland Stanford was also the founder of the Central Pacific Railroad that built the eastward connection to the Golden Spike meeting point at Promontory, UT.  The fee was $7 per vehicle to “enter” the park.  There were a few movie features that showed throughout the day offering historical information about the site and also re-enactments, which we missed.  My desire to get to the Great Salt Lake limited my desire to spend too much time at the Golden Spike, but we did walk out to the trains where the tracks had met and there were stairs to platforms for each of the two railroad company’s steam engines so that you could get a good look inside of the pilot’s pit.

Golden Spike National Historic Site. Promontory, Utah.

Golden Spike National Historic Site. Promontory, Utah.

The gift shop had some fun and educational items and books highlighting the railroad era as well as America’s expansion into the “Wild West.”  I purchased a book and a couple of postcards, along with a train charm before heading out to drive along one of the original track routes.  You see, this portion of the historically significant feat of manpower, the first transcontinental railway in the world, has actually been re-routed.  I learned from the park ranger’s introduction that a better route, across the Great Salt Lake, was opened in 1904 that cut out 15 miles of travel and took away several portions of uphill grade that had previously required some extra “push” support for the trains along certain parts.  During World War II, the government mandated that all of the railroad tracks not in use in America needed to be torn up for use in the war effort.  So the tracks that were originally laid, connecting the east and the west, were torn up.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that the government decided that it was of historical significance and needed to be remember and was therefore, re-created a small portion of tracks at the original meeting site.  Nonetheless, my 2 year old found the trains interesting and more importantly, the rocks fun to play with.

As we heading back out to I-84, we decided to stop for a late lunch/early dinner in Ogden, Utah.  I had carried some snacks for my 2 year old with us in the car along with her water bottle so she was pretty satisfied.  Since we also had a big breakfast, no one was really hungry until 5:00 p.m.  We decided on a Cracker Barrel since that was a childhood favorite of my Georgia born husband, and something that we couldn’t get in Washington.  This of course suited my daughter just fine as macaroni and cheese is always a top choice, couple that with some steamed broccoli and we were set.  Though we had gotten out of the car to walk around several times that day, our appetizes were not as big as normal so finishing up even a single meal with salad and vegetables left us stuffed!  The decision to go to the Great Salt Lake between Ogden and Salt Lake City was perfect.  After looking on the map, a trip out to Antelope Island made the most sense.

We paid $10 for our car to get onto the island, which is a state park.  While the name suggests you’d see a lot of antelope on the island, the brochure said that bison herds were quite the popular attraction.  In 1893, about 12 bison were introduced to the island and today there are between 300-500!  As we drove towards the beach area to go into the water, we saw one grazing out in the grass, with a suspiciously pulled over van and people standing out around it.  We soon discovered a man running towards the buffalo, much against the advice of the parks department.  We pulled over to see if this person was truly stupid enough to keep going at the buffalo, trying to get it to charge.  It made a start at the man once, and he took off, back to his van, not to return.  After that brief entertainment, we parked over at the beach to go down to the water.

 

A buffalo and a man trying to tease him out our window.

A buffalo and a man trying to tease him out our window.

The sand was warm, but not too hot to walk on.  It was very dry and felt nice on all of our feet, and being so dry, it didn’t stick to the skin as much.  Soon however we found that more rocks and the dried and broken salt blocks to be a little too sharp to walk on bare foot.  It was however, still tricky to walk on with shoes, especially flip flops.  After we got about a 100 yards out, it became more compact and easier to walk on as we approached the water’s edge.  Soon, we took notice of movement that looked like blowing brown sand whenever someone would walk across the beach.  It took us both a second to realize that it was a swarm of bugs, Brine Flies to be exact.  It made me cringe at first, but the brown clouds they would make when movement was near were fascinating.  You could see them along the coast on the sand, and there was no way to get to the water without walking through them.  They do however, move away quickly and want to avoid you just as much as you would like to avoid them.

Playing in the Great Salt Lake.

Playing in the Great Salt Lake.

Breaking through the bug barrier was worth it.  The warm water was still just ankle deep a good 100 feet out from the shore.  My 2 year old loves the water.  Nothing made her day more complete then swimming or splashing in water.  While we weren’t equip to take a full dip, just walking around in the lake was fun enough.  You could feel the water pushing your leg up if you shifted weight to just one foot and let the other one go.  If you stood completely still on both feet would feel yourself starting to sink into the lake floor’s sand too.  We spent about 20 minutes walking and splashing around before we headed back, beginning to feel our only 5 hours of sleep through the night before.  I dreaded the walk back through the sand with wet feet but it actually wasn’t too bad.  Same issue though with the difficulty of walking with or without shoes that resulted in me having to also carry my toddler half the time on the 200 yards back to the car.  A quick rinsing off at the showers outside of the restrooms and we were loading back up into the car.  My daughter had gotten about 2 inches of the bottom of her dress wet in the lake, and when it dried, you would see the stiff salt crystals on the fabric!

Salt Lake City Sunset.

Salt Lake City Sunset.

We pulled into our hotel, a Sheraton in Salt Lake City, the capital also caught my eye with its attractive skyline backed by mountains with a beautiful sunset.  I was pleasantly surprised by the warm feeling Utah left me with at the end of a long drive, full of fun and educational pit stops.  And we haven’t even been to the rest of the state that gets the most press!  For now, I will leave Utah as a pleasant pass through state that I look forward to visiting again with my whole family!

Washington to Utah. Road Trippin’ With a Toddler

Comments 2 Standard

My counter argument to my husband’s idea about living a global nomad life is that I have this belief that you need to have a “home base” to compare all your travels to, a “sugar pill” so to say.  But in order to understand the country you live in you also have to spend some time traveling it.  Well this summer, I decided to start that journey with my kids.  Will they remember it all at ages 2, 5, and 7 years old? May not all of it, maybe not at all, but just like our international travel for this age, I believe the process of travel is just as beneficial to the future as the sights we visit.  So off we went on a 3 week expedition through 10 states.

My sons had the benefit of flying to Denver to meet their grandparents, while my husband and I drove with our 2 year old to meet them.  We left on a Friday night and planned for a Sunday evening arrival in Denver.  During my drive time, and for a few days after our arrival in Colorado, my boys were going to do some RV camping and touring of northern Colorado and Pike’s Peak.  This meant my husband and I experienced the long forgotten life of having just one child!  We loaded up the Yukon and hit the road at 7:30 p.m., hoping that after a movie or two our 2 year old would fall asleep and my husband and I could trade off driving and sleeping to make as much headway through the night.

On the road!

On the road!

We made it to the Oregon/Idaho border at 3:30 a.m. before my husband decided it was time for us to stop and we both took a 3 hour nap at a rest stop.  I woke at 7:30 a.m. local Idaho time, after the 1 hour time adjustment.  I decided that since my daugher was still asleep, I needed to get moving and try to shorten the distance between us and Salt Lake City as much as I could as this would be our first hotel stop.  This allowed my husband and her to sleep another hour as we pushed further along into Idaho.  I needed a personal stop just before Caldwell, Idaho where I found a Sinclair, “Stinker Fuel Stop” that had free showers and nice changing room/toilet stalls in the restrooms.  I quickly changed and we headed off again.

Great stop for free showers near Caldwell, Idaho.

Great stop for free showers near Caldwell, Idaho.

As my 2 year old woke up and became more alert, we all decided it was time for breakfast.  We were coming upon Twin Falls, Idaho and figured it was as good as any place to stop.  We used a quick Yelp search for recommendations and came up with a family style diner called Choate’s Family Diner.  It did not disappoint!  Inexpensive, delicious food was just what this road trip needed!  My daughter got a giant pancake, me an egg, bacon and 1/2 order of hashbrowns while my husband had a full chicken friend steak breakfast plate, $20 after tip fed us all.

Choate's Family Diner was a great breakfast stop in Jerome, Idaho.  Just outside of Twin Falls.

Choate’s Family Diner was a great breakfast stop in Jerome, Idaho. Just outside of Twin Falls.

From here we ventured on to the next gas station to fill up the tank and fill up our stock of beverages for the next hundred miles to the Utah border.  If we didn’t already know we were in America, the special at the fountain drink station said it all.  Just $1 for a size large (32 oz.) fountain drink while the medium size remained $1.55.

Can't beat a deal on caffeine in America. Just $1 each!

Can’t beat a deal on caffeine in America. Just $1 each!

Fully caffeinated, we were ready to cross into state #4 of the trip and begin a little discovering of the surrounding area of the Great Salt Lake.

Star Gazers

Leave a comment Standard

As part of our road trip, we’ll be going to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.  My kids, have taken a curiosity to space, the stars and planets.  So I was excited when I saw that this week with the Little Passports Blog-Camp Explorer Week 3, you can download a free constellation activity sheet so they can learn the names and shapes of six constellations!  Full Disclaimer: The Little Passports link in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link for Little Passports.

In other space news, did you know that the Perseid Meteor shower, which happens every year, is going on right now?  It will peak between the 9th and the 14th of August.  While we won’t get to the Lowell Observatory during that time, we’ll still be in southeast Arizona where the dessert and limited cities lights will be a perfect place for my kids and I to do some stargazing.  I’m excited to just sit on my grandma’s front porch and stare up at the stars with them, just like I did as a kid!

If you are looking for a hands on activity for your kids in the Seattle area to learn a little more about space, check out the Seattle Museum of Flight.  In addition of their wonderful flight and airplane exhibits, they have some pretty cool pieces from past space crafts for kids to walk through as well as many space related exhibits.  They also have a 3D movie “Journey To Space” that captivated my 5 and 7 year old’s attention, as well as mine! The first Thursday of every month is free admission for entry after 5:00 p.m. and the museum stays open until 9:00 p.m.  So mark your calendars for August 6th!!!

Kids Flying Alone-A Big First For Our Family!

Comments 2 Standard

Yesterday was a big day for our family.  My 5 year old and 7 year old sons flew for the first time as unaccompanied minors.  I was nervous, but deep down, I knew they could handle it with all of their previous experience flying.  They took a direct flight from Seattle to Denver and met their grandparents at the other end.  One thing that made it easier for us to decide to let them go alone was the change in the law a few years ago that again allowed parents to walk their children to the gate and for the receiving adult to meet the children at the gate.  After 9/11, there was a period where children had to be given to an agent before security and then the picking up adults had to wait outside of security for the airport agent to bring the child off the plan and outside of the secured area.  I didn’t want to trust a stranger to look after my kids in a busy airport and I am so glad that the rules now allow parents and designated adults to take children to and pick children up from the gates.

The logistics included filling out paperwork for the receiving adult (that could be done online) and paying a fee (for Delta it was $150 each way but covered both of my children traveling together).  When when my husband and I arrived to check them in, we had to show a government issued ID in order to get our passes through security.  Then we had to fill out some information for the kids on a special unaccompanied minor envelope and verify the name, address and phone number of the person picking them up.  The kids each got a bracelet with a barcode on it as well.

Getting some wiggles out before the flight.

Getting some wiggles out before the flight.

We had opted for the boys to have a backpack for their Kindle Fires and a few other books and small toys for when they were on their trip.  They also had headphones and some snacks (Uncrustable sandwiches and cheese sticks).  We opted for them to take their roller boards on the plane rather than checking them in an attempt to make it easier on my in-laws.  However, we forgot that they would need their booster seats for the car on the other end that they would need to be checked under the plane anyways.  Oh well.  On another note, my in-laws treated my kiddos to this trip, and as it turned out, it was fewer miles to book a first class ticket than a coach seat.  So not only were they flying alone for the first time, they were doing it in first class!  Lucky ducks!

It was a weird feeling knowing my boys were on that plane and I was not!

It was a weird feeling knowing my boys were on that plane and I was not!

So what was my biggest fear about letting them go?  Not that they would not get to my in-laws once they landed or that someone would do something to them on the plane (though I did read a super creepy story about a guy trying to touch a young sleeping child sitting across the aisle from his mother!)  My biggest fear was that in flight, something would go wrong, they could crash or perhaps someone did in fact try to take over the plane and crash it, that regardless, my babies would have spent the last moments of their life alone and scared without me able to be there to comfort them.

And with that lovely image in your head, I am happy to say that nothing bad happened at all and they are safe and sound in Colorado with their grandparents having a grand ol’ time!  But I still can’t wait to see them next week when we drive down to meet them.  Stay tuned for our 2nd trip of the summer, this time on our home turf of the “Wild West” USA where I will be driving a huge circle around America’s west through 10 states with the 3 kids.  The first quarter of the trip I’ll have my husband and just our 2 year old, the 2nd quarter I’ll be solo with all 3 kids from Colorado to Texas, the 3rd quarter my mom will join me from Texas to Arizona with all 3 kids and the last leg of the journey I’ll be alone again with the 3 little ones as we make our way back up to Washington from Arizona with a stop through Las Vegas!

Safe and sound on the flip side with their grandparents!

Safe and sound on the flip side with their grandparents!

A Rainy Day in Kyoto-Day 5 in Japan

Leave a comment Standard

We woke up to rain, for the first time since arriving in Japan. I knew full well that June was the rainy season for Japan, but we had been incredibly blessed with really nice, rain free, weather up to this point. My plan had been to take the kids to Nara this day, so they could wander around Nara Park petting and feeding the free roaming deer. That just didn’t sound very fun in the rain. I checked the surrounding areas and all had rain in the forecast. So, we needed a new game plan. I still wanted to take the kids to the Japanese performing arts show, and with only a couple more days left at our Kyoto hotel, it only made sense that we do something local. But, we were still saving the main attractions to do with my husband on the weekend.

Since we would be somewhat limited in our adventures today, I pulled out some clothes from the dirty clothes pile and decided to do a load of wash in the bathtub. I had packed 3 packets of sink size Tide detergent travel packs so that we could do wash during the trip. I picked out a couple pieces that I knew would dry quickly and a few that I knew would take a full 24 hours to dry. Then I dumped them all in the tub. Twenty minutes later I had some clean tops, shorts and underwear for all 5 of us hanging up to dry around the bathroom. Then, we headed off to breakfast.

WP_20150626_002

At breakfast, a little late in the morning, I mulled over our entertainment options for the day. I decided to check with the concierge about a few experiences I had hoped to have for the kids that were special to Japan. I wanted them to get the chance to do Karaoke and I wanted them to be able to do some kind of Japanese craft. I was not disappointed with the choices. The concierge pointed out the Kyoto Handicraft Center and the location of a Karaoke club where you can book private rooms to sing within your own party. While the kids didn’t baulk at the ideas, they had one more of their own. They wanted to go swimming again! With the rain pouring down outside, how could I say no. I figured there was plenty of time in the day to swim for a bit and then go out and do the activities I had found.

The funny thing about the swimming pool at the hotel, and this could be true for all Japanese swimming pools, is that you have to wear a swim cap. At first I thought it was just because your hair could be dirty and they want to keep it from making the water oily or something. But they are mesh hats, given to us to use by the hotel since we didn’t have our own caps. So it’s not like a full barrier anyways. Nonetheless, we wore them and I have to admit, the kids looked pretty cute with them on! After some fun in the pool, we went back to the room to change into clothes to brave the weather.

Swim caps required for the hotel pool!

Swim caps required for the hotel pool!

At this point, I started remembering all of the things I forgot to bring to battle the rain. I had a plastic poncho from Disneyland Paris still sitting in my closet at home and my stroller rain cover still in the back of my car. Both of which would have made our day much less miserable. But the idea of staying in a hotel room all day sounded about as much fun as trying to take all 3 kids to the dentist by myself.

So we put on some of our athletic clothes, the ones that tend to pull away moisture and dry easier, our sandals, and rain jackets, then headed out the door with the one umbrella that I had packed. The rain wasn’t mild, but it wasn’t stormy. In fact, it was a typical Seattle down pour. The handicraft center we were going to looked to be about a mile and a half way. It was just past the Haien temple that we had walked to a couple days prior. I convinced the boys that this was do-able and not much further than they had already walked before. I must admit, I was a little nervous at how well this walk in the rain was going to go, and not so much over how the kids would handle the rain, but how I would handle the rain! But we all marched along our route until we hit our landmark 7-11 store.

Given that it was past lunchtime by time we started our walk, we stopped in for some corn dogs that made for a quick lunch. We’ve been getting a pretty big and hardy breakfast each morning at the hotel so I don’t mind making lunch a bit smaller and am flexible in what they choose. After the corn dogs, we continued our walk and ended up having to navigate some confusing side walk and street construction around the area we should have had a direct path to for the handicraft center. Because of that, we happened upon a building that I originally thought was still part of the temple grounds, since it was constructed in the more traditional Japanese style. I saw a few people standing about and decided to check if anyone knew how close we were to our destination. The woman we approached pointed us in the direction that we had been on and said it was very very near. I took the opportunity to also ask what was going on inside the building in front of us that had multiple pairs of shoes lined up outside. She told me that there was a class practicing Aikido martial arts. The large square building had the sliding doors open on all sides so we walked along the path to watch briefly from outside. Since both of my boys are doing Taekwondo, it was interesting for them to watch a different martial arts form practiced in one of the disciple’s native countries. Not wanting to be a distraction, we stayed just 5 minutes then went back to our path to the handicraft center.

Watching a Japanese Aikido lesson.

Watching a Japanese Aikido lesson.

By time we got to the Kyoto Handicraft Center, it was 2:45 p.m. I went in and inquired about the crafts that kids were allowed to do. They showed me a board with the times but said that you had to make a reservation, and that they were not sure if there were any spots left. My heart sank, I didn’t even think about having the concierge call ahead. But, they said I could check next door in their other building to see if there was still space. So over we went. They had one in progress that started at 2:30 p.m. and the next was schedule for 3:30 p.m. While they said that we could still join in at the 2:30 p.m. one, I liked the craft that they were doing at 3:30, so we waited. The rest of the center was a huge shop selling various things that are made in Japan and then some Japanese souvenirs (that were probably made in China). So I picked up a souvenir and some postcards while waiting.

From reading the description for the center in the hotel’s map of Kyoto and recommended things to do, it sounded like the craft was going to be free. So I was a little surprised when at 3:30 they asked for the fee before we went up. Already committed in my mind to do it, we paid the 1900 yen per person (I just did 3, one for each kid) to do the painted doll (that was actually a bell) craft. They led us over to the other building and up the elevator, to the room, and got us all set up with our paints. My 2 year old, who had been asleep up to this point, seemed to wake just at the right time when she heard the word paint, and activity she loves. There was a beautiful display of the finished product examples on the table to give us an idea of what to do.

Doll bells at the craft sample table.  Kyoto Handicraft Center.

Doll bells at the craft sample table. Kyoto Handicraft Center.

And this is how ours turned out.

WP_20150626_029 WP_20150626_030
I tried to let my perfectionist ideals go, and let the kids be kids and paint their bells how they wanted to. I struggled with my 2 year old, because in my mind, I wanted something to somewhat resemble the samples. So we compromised, I let her paint what she wanted and then I tried to make it look like a person with hair and a face.

Our Japanese bell doll that my 2 year old and I created.

Our Japanese bell doll that my 2 year old and I created.

While we had been painting, my husband texted me that he had a break from work for a few hours and said he could join us. By time we were done, he had walked over to the center to meet us. While the craft finished, we could also watch some of the artisans working on Damascene with find nails, little hammers and gold patterns.

Artisans making Damascene.

Artisans making Damascene.

Our plan was to go to the Karaoke club next. My husband walked with us to where I had seen the closest subway station on the map, which looked like a straight shot and not that far away. But alas, it took a good 20 minutes to get there, still in the rain. At this point, he was sweaty and soaked, despite his jacket, and would need to go back to the hotel early to change for his business dinner. So he got off the subway before us and we parted ways. It was now 5:00 p.m. and I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss the show again. I decided to try for the 6:00 p.m. show (there was also a 7:00 p.m one too) to ensure we made it and then try Karaoke after. I knew in my mind that I needed to get some cash. But with my preoccupation at finding the theater with the 3 kids in the now stormy pouring rain, I completely forgot to look for an ATM and get cash. We got to the theater with our outer layers dripping wet and relieved to be inside again. Up at the ticket counter I saw the sign “Cash Only.” Crap. Because I forgot to stop, I didn’t have enough to buy the tickets. I asked where the closest ATM was and they gave me a neighborhood map that showed the closest 7-11, which is the most common place for ATMs apparently. Unfortunately for us, it was practically back at the subway station we just came from. But, at least I found a new route that led us through a beautiful temple complex.

WP_20150626_043

At the 7-11, I got enough cash for the next week and had the kids pick out dinner. Since we weren’t going to make the 6:00 p.m. show and would instead have to do the 7 o’clock one, I gave up on Karaoke for the night, which was where we were going to order food at for dinner. This 7-11 was tiny compared to the one from earlier in the day and had no place for us to stand outside to eat. Cultural custom is that you don’t walk around while eating and I was trying as best I could not to be the rude American. So we set out in search of some kind of covered area where we could stop and eat in our route back to the theater. No such luck until we came back to the temple, where there was a covered pathway between two buildings. It being 6:30 p.m. and in the rain, people weren’t exactly swarming this complex. I decided we needed to stop somewhere with shelter and let the kids eat. We stood in the covered area and ate as quickly as we could before heading back at the theater.

Trying to find shelter in the rain.

Trying to find shelter in the rain.

Finally back at the theater, we waited in line for the 7:00 p.m. tickets, again, thankful to be inside again. Seating was quick and easy and so was putting aside the stroller. The theater was not very big and we got a place near the center in the 4th row. The program included several forms of Japanese performing arts. It began with a tea ceremony (Chado), in which two guest participants were selected. During the tea ceremony, two musicians began playing the Japanese harp (Koto). While they were playing, and while the tea ceremony was still in process, the flower arrangement (Kado) demonstration began. All three ended around the same time. I was really glad of this format as it gave the children something in two different spots to look between, which kept them quiet and captivated.

Japanese Tea Ceremony at Gion Corner.

Japanese Tea Ceremony at Gion Corner.

Japanese harp and a flower arrangement demonstration. Gion Corner.

Japanese harp and a flower arrangement demonstration. Gion Corner.

Next came some of the more lively performances. My 2 year old was particularly fascinated with the court music (Gagaku) and dragon dance.

My 2 year old being fascinated by the court musicians and dragon dance.

My 2 year old being fascinated by the court musicians and dragon dance.

Court musicians and the dragon dancing.

Court musicians and the dragon dancing.

The ancient comic play (Kyogen) came next. While there were some English explanations made over the speakers and written in the program, it wasn’t clear enough for the kids to understand. Nor was there enough time for me to read it to the kids in advance of the performance. So they were a bit confused by the comic play.

Ancient comic play. Gion Corner.

Ancient comic play. Gion Corner.

The main attraction, was 2nd to last and was an actual Maiko (a young Geisha) who performed two Kyoto style dances (Kyomai).

A Maiko dancing.  Gion Corner.

A Maiko dancing. Gion Corner.

Last was the puppet play (Bunrake) which I thought the kids would enjoy the most, but again, we didn’t have time to get the full story beforehand, so they were a bit confused. I think my 5 year old even called it “creepy” haha! But from an adult perspective, it was fascinating how fluid they made the puppet move. For most cases, it took 3 puppeteers to manipulate the one puppet.

Puppet play. Gion Corner.

Puppet play. Gion Corner.

The whole show was an hour total. It was the perfect experience for the kids. They got to see all of the traditional Japanese performances I hoped to expose them too and it was in a very manageable time frame to keep their attention. The theater where we saw the performance was Gion Corner. It is very much a company that created this program especially for tourists. But in my opinion, it was well worth it. Again, my 5 year old and 2 year old were free (and they still got their own seats). I had a discount ticket flyer from our hotel so my ticket was only 2800 yen (around $25 with current exchange rate) as opposed to the normal 31500. And my 7 year old was just 1900 yen.

We had a great time at the Gion Corner performance!

We had a great time at the Gion Corner performance!

By time we were out of the theater, the rain had lightened up quite a bit, so it was a reasonable walk back in the direction of the hotel. I had a rough idea of where we were going, and after 20 minutes of walking, we ended up at the subway station that was on the same line for the stop I had read was next to our hotel. I was so happy to have finally figured out where the subway stop was, turns out it was on the opposite side of our hotel from where we had walked on previous days. This was handy information for Day 6, coming soon!

Himeji Castle and Kobe Harborland-Japan Day 4

Comments 2 Standard

Himeji Castle was one of my “musts” for this trip.  It also was one of the places we learned about in our Little Passports Japan kit, so I really wanted my kids to see the real thing.  Himeji was also a straight shot from Kyoto with our JR pass.  I had just planned to go and visit the castle then come back to Kyoto in order to attend a show of traditional Japanese performance arts.  After such a long day in Osaka the day before, I figured another low key day was in order. At least that is what I thought.

Given that I only planned to visit Himeji, we took our time getting out the door.  We took the shuttle to the train station and made an easy stop at the JR ticket office for our bullet train to Himeji.  It was going to take about 45-50 minutes to get there.  My daughter fell asleep before we got on the train and I employed reason 497 of “Why I love my Baby Jogger City Select stroller.” Since I had to fold it up and put it behind the seats, I just popped off the seat and laid it on the floor with my daughter in it so she could keep sleeping with no blocking of the aisle.  That left just me and the boys to have a little snack and be silly on the train until we arrived.

Nap time on the train in her stroller seat.

Nap time on the train in her stroller seat.

Just having some fun on the train.

Just having some fun on the train.

Once we were at the main JR train station in Himeji, it was really easy to find the way out and to see which direction the castle was in, being how you could see it the moment you walked out the train station!  So we started looking about and saw the buses.  Even though you could see the castle, it was still pretty far.  Japanese cities are like Paris, something looks like it is close, but really it’s 20-30 minutes away by foot.  We inquired in at a local tourist information center who said to take the castle loop bus around the corner.  So off we went, but we found that we had just missed it and it ran only every half hour.  Walking it was, and boy I was not disappointed.  Before we even got half way to the castle (which is a straight shot down the same street, directly out from the front of the train station) I was falling in love with this city.   The side walks were large and wide with very separate lanes for bikes, walkers and had greenery and lovely art statues every so often.  Little allies that were actually large and long shopping arcades shot off in all directions of the street.  I felt so comfortable to be walking along this street, despite the completely foreign language.

One of many statues that line the street from Himeji station to the castle.

One of many statues that line the street from Himeji station to the castle.

Shopping Arcades off the main road to Himeji Castle.

Shopping Arcades off the main road to Himeji Castle.

As we approached the castle and picked up a brochure and map from the information center, I began to wish we had gotten an earlier start.  We probably wouldn’t have enough time to visit the zoo in addition to the castle.  It turns out Himeji is a place you should spend a couple days!  But alas, we had one, and less than that too.  It was time to get up to that castle and see what was in side this colossus.  I was really glad that I brought the Ergo this time!

Walking up to the main keep of the Castle.  It was above 85 degrees F that day!

Walking up to the main keep of the Castle. It was above 85 degrees F that day!

To go into the main part of the castle, you had to take your shoes off and put them in the plastic bag that was provided for you.  What was not provided, slippers or socks.  So if you were wearing sandals, like the kids and I were, you walked barefoot if you wanted to see the castle.  Just a heads up, when you visit, perhaps you’ll want to wear tennis shoes with socks.

Taking shoes off to go inside the castle.

Taking shoes off to go inside the castle.

There was nothing inside the castle except the incredibly steep stairs that were practically ladders.  You could see however the incredible wood build and design of the castle, Japan’s only major castle that has never been damage in a war.  There was a great view of the grounds and Himeji from the top however.  In all, it was a very beautiful sight to behold.  It lives up to it’s nickname “The White Heron” which is a symbol for the whole city and often manhole covers are adorned with a flock of flying white Herons.

Six floors of these steep steps up and down.

Six floors of these steep steps up and down.

Interior of Himeji Castle.

Interior of Himeji Castle.

I was having such a nice time walking around the castle grounds and had seen many things on the road there that I wanted to go back to, I lost my sense of urgency to get back for the show in Kyoto that night.  I knew there would be other days to do the show in Kyoto, but probably wouldn’t get back to Himeji.  Unfortunately for me, because I only planned to see the castle that day, we had gotten a pretty late start and most things in the area, like the Himeji zoo next to the castle, all closed around 5:00 p.m.  Even though things were all closing up by time we finished the castle tour, I decided to take a stroll through the side shopping promenades that I had seen on the way to the castle.  We looked at a few shops and then came across a cupcake and pastry shop.  I had to go in and we splurged a little before dinner.

Japanese interpretations of French and American desserts.  P.S. Their version of Strawberry Short Cake is better!

Japanese interpretations of French and American desserts. P.S. Their version of Strawberry Short Cake is better!

As we made it back to the train station I tried to think what we could do with the rest of our evening.  I checked in at the JR ticket counter about Kobe.  It wasn’t a place I thought I’d make it to this trip but as I looked through my booklet for the Hyogo area (which Himeji is apart of) and it talked a bit about the Haborland of Kobe and a Ferris wheel and the Anpanman Kids Museum & Mall.  It looked like a fun sight, especially at night and I had read about an all you can eat seafood buffet right on the water with a great view of the light up harbor buildings.  So we hopped on a regional JR train and off we went.

On the train from Himeji to Kobe

On the train from Himeji to Kobe

Once we arrived, we asked for directions to Haborland and wandered our way through the station and the huge Umie shopping mall to get to the harbor shops and restaurants that is called the Mosaic, right on the water.  We came across and escalator that the boys begged to ride it down just to go back up.  Of course I had to say yes!

Cool escalator in the Umie shopping mall at Kobe's Harborland.

Cool escalator in the Umie shopping mall at Kobe’s Harborland.

By chance, one of the first things we saw as we followed paths that looked like they lead to the water was the all you can eat seafood restaurant buffet called the “Fisherman’s Market.”  I saw some pasta and pizza in the window and figured I’d be set for the kids.  They saw us in to a table and through some patience and hand signals, we decided on how much we would be charged based on the kids’ ages, and whether or not we would eat just the food or the food buffet and the drink buffet.  There was a fairly wide selection of choices but all the pasta and pizza had seafood of course.  So it took a little convincing to try a few things even though they looked some what familiar to them.  They also had French fries and what would be close enough to fish sticks.  I made them try some new stuff and then let them have some comfort choices as well.  Plus, the dessert bar with a huge chocolate fountain was a big incentive!  What I liked about this place the most was that they had allergy cards at each station!  So I knew which things would contain wheat.  There was still a chance for gluten, but knowing which things had wheat was a big step because it also told me which things had soy sauce, which is often hard to figure out here since it is a common ingredient.  In addition to the food, the view was spectacular!

View from the Fisherman's Market restaurant in the Mosaic.  At Kobe's Harborland.

View from the Fisherman’s Market restaurant in the Mosaic. At Kobe’s Harborland.

We knew even before dinner that we were there too lake for the kids museum, but what we really came for was the view and the Ferris wheel.  And in that, we were not disappointed!

Ferris wheel at Kobe's Harborland.

Ferris wheel at Kobe’s Harborland.

In all, we had a great evening that was the perfect night cap to a fun day.  Now, we just had to get back to the hotel.  I took the risk again of having 3 sleepy children when we arrived back at Kyoto station.  But I was prepared!  Since I had packed my Ergo, I figured I could just put my 2 year old on my back in case my 5 year old fell asleep on the train. I could then push him in the stroller.  Sure enough, my 5 year old fell asleep, but so did my 7 year old!  To make matters worse, my phone froze up and was not working.  I was in a bit of a panic because I can’t handle being in a foreign place without my phone, just in case.  After a few failed attempts to find something I had to fit in the pin hold to pop out the sim to restart it, I asked a group of business man with my pointing and hand gestures if they had something that could fit.  Thankfully one did, the pin from the back of his name badge!  Good thing for me that people go to work late and come home late!  At 10:00 p.m. the train was packed with business men returning home from work!  With my phone fixed, my last feat was to get all 3 kids off the train.  All 3 dead asleep.

I was the evening’s entertainment. Our skit was an American single white female attempting to move a sleeping toddler from the stroller bassinette position to an Ergo, followed by transforming the stroller into an upright forward facing stroller in which a sleeping 7 year old was placed, then trying to balance a sleeping 5 year old on top of said 7 year old while on a moving train, then exciting the train.  There were several oohs and ahhs.  From there, I had no choice but to take a taxi back to the hotel.  As cheap as I am and hate paying for them, the safety of the kids still comes first and there was no way to get then onto two more subway transfers to the hotel.  But we made it, and I had never been so relieved to find my way to my bed!