Monday, July 28, 2008

The Fam Does Japan: Tokyo

It was pretty surreal to come to the realization that I hadn't seen my parents or brother in over 10 months. That has by far been the longest I had ever been away from them. Honestly, it didn't seem nearly that long either. Maybe because we had kept in such good touch, or because we could use 'modern communication' like Skype so it seemed like we were seeing each other, or because I had been so busy and overwhelmed in the last 10 months that I never had time to really allow the distance to get to me... I'm not sure why. But, I do know that seeing them in Tokyo, Japan was one of the greatest feelings a daughter could ever have. It was totally natural and felt like no time had passed at all. As we spent the next few weeks together in Japan, I would learn just how much had changed in each of their lives, and I'm sure they learned a lot more about me. But, I would also realize that our love for each other not only remained, but somehow felt stronger. Does distance really make the heart grow fonder?
There wasn't that much time between my sister's departure and the P's and bro's arrival, so I didn't really have too many anticipation or nervousness pangs. Most of that time was spent working out the final transportation and accommodation kinks... some of which never really got worked out until minutes before. I wanted so bad for them to see and do all the things I enjoyed in Japan as well as for us to experience some new things together. I wanted them to have a varied experience across the geographical, activities, cultural, and financial board, without being too overwhelmed. SO, you can imagine how much planning and preparation was needed to prep for this "trip".
I am soooo appreciative they were willing not only to foot the bill to come to other side of the world and experience a country I had chosen (initially without their approval !) to live in, but also to put the legwork into the logistics to make it happen and make it enjoyable. Japan is not at the top of everyone's (anyone's?) top travel destinations, so I was incredibly grateful they were willing to open up their minds and hearts to this experience. I can only hope they saw a fraction of the beauty, uniqueness, kindness, and sincerity that I have come to love and appreciate about Japan so much!

So without further adieu, here are some pictures from my first weekend with them in Tokyo. I sent them to find all my favorite spots in Tokyo before I could get there and then we did some things together. Most of these locations I talk about in previous blog posts, so I'll save you from having to read the 'mundane' details twice. Enjoy!

Mom and Dad in the big city for the first time.
Austin, in one of his most memorable stops of the trip, Akihabara, Tokyo.
Our first dinner together and their first izakaya experience.

Up at 4:30am to make it to the Tsukiji Fish Market on time.
I love this picture, because it totally shows my Mom's classic "don't you do THAT!" look. This was right before Austin and I got splashed with a giant bucket of ice water.

I never knew cutting up a giant tuna would be so difficult!
Next we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings. I have lots of pictures of that in past blogs. You go up to the 32nd floor of the building for an incredible perspective of Tokyo. Never ceases to amaze me how big Tokyo really is. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite clear enough out to see all the way to Mt. Fuji.
Then, we strolled around a park right outside the buildings for awhile. That is where we found these awesome exercise and stretching devices. And yes, that woman sitting on the bench in the background not partaking in said fun devices, is my mother.

There was also a shrine in the park I never knew existed.
And a waterfall!

Next, I led the fam to a festival I had heard about going on in Tokyo. What with Tokyo being so big and all, the festival was of course on the opposite side of town. Let's just say we got reallllll comfortable with Tokyo Metro that weekend. The festival was going on all weekend long, and the parade was making rounds almost the entire time. I was kinda bummed, because the festival was missing the foods and games aspect I love so much about festivals, but it was still cool.

Next, we headed to Asakusa to see Senso-ji.
The love for ice cream runs in the family!

Ma and Pap at the five storied pagoda.
This guy was awesome. I was trying to explain to Dad what his fortune means, when this guy jumped right in to explain/lecture us about Japanese culture. I think he was good intentioned and informative, but it kinda felt like we were the naughty kids being lectured the whole time.

I give Austin mad props for trying all of the Japanese food I shoved in his face, even if it was so small a piece the flavors would probably be non-existent in it. He was a good sport, but realllly didn't like anything. SO, when there was chance to get some fried chicken, he was game! KFC's is running their "Red Hot Summer" special now, and I'm pretty sure his getting sick on the special was Japan releasing it's wrath on his rejection of Japanese cuisine.
We of course hit up several arcades during our time in Toks. I am so terrible at the taiko (drumming) game, that it's not even worth documenting. This guy, on the other hand, stepped up to the game with like a debit card for the game, and it was clear it wasn't his first time.
Making our way across the busiest intersection in the world in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Happy Father's Day, Dad!
Apparently there are no restaurants open on Sunday mornings in Tokyo... no matter how hungry you are and despite the fact that it is an American holiday. Still, our little conbini breakfast outside the Suntory Orchestra Hall was pretty enjoyable:)
Last destination in Tokyo: Yoyogi Park on a Sunday. If you live in Japan, and you've never done this, you are missing out. It might not be everyone's "thang", but it is most definitely a sight to see. An eclectic selection of bands line the outer gates of the park, while everything from kendo practice to boy scouts groups and families make up the inner grounds. Entertaining and relaxing!
Most entertaining group singer, by far!
My favorite band, musically.
We love Engrish!
Kendo practice
Elvis has Japan... to dance in the park.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tanzawa-Oyama Traverse

In early June, a friend organized a hike in Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park. The entire park is pretty huge and has tons of hiking options. It's located a little over an hour train ride southwest of Tokyo. Some opt to ride a gondola up to scenic spots, snap some pictures with their ketai (cell-phone) and head back down, while others opt to go hiking for days, stopping only to sleep and eat. We were somewhere in between, opting for a 5am departure and planning on a full day of hiking. On clear days, you can have views of Mt. Fuji to the west and the ocean to the south, like in the picture I borrowed below (

Of course, on the day we planned for the hike, it was raining, misty and foggy. BUT, the rain thankfully stopped before we actually hit the trail and it was a really fun, mystical hike. The first half was almost entirely uphill and I felt it for three days after the hike. We opted not to do the entire circular route we had planned, since the views were limited to 2 feet in front of us, but it was good exercise and pretty nonetheless. Check it out:

The only paved portion of the hike.

Our new friend, who was like a hippie compared to the deer in Miyajima.

Until Daniel scared him away.
Erin trying to get the perfect shot for Daniel.