Thursday, July 22, 2021

Out and About: Shinagawa Aquarium and Park

 It is broiling hot.  "Feels like 101" hot.  It will be hot like this until September, I expect.  It is also a four day weekend with the Olympics starting and VVIPs in town and not really a time for the parents to take a trip out of town, no matter how much the boys might want to return to Shimoda.  So.  What to do aside from the pool? 

I thought about taking the kiddos to check out Sporu, a big sports complex, but the surfing lessons were booked through the end of August (Japanese people love to plan!) and a walk to work and back left me drenched.  Idea postponed until fall. 

So, we opted for the Shinagawa Aquarium.  Last year we weren't doing things indoors ... but as this COVID thing has dragged on and 3/5 of us are vaccinated ... now things like the aquarium are still new. 

It's very manageable (2 hours is fine) and affordable (adult ticket about $13).  A perfect half day activity.  And, amazingly, all three children (who now span elementary, middle and high school) enjoyed it (though of course they whined about leaving the house and then made a beeline for the exit once they saw it. *sigh.)

The website showed a cafe and a restaurant, so I figured we'd get lunch there.  I was a little confused when we were walking up at 11:45 and all the couples, families and friend groups were at big picnic tables with their bento box lunches.  We kept walking down to the entrance -- only to find the cafe only sold coffee, ice cream, soda, and Japanese sandwiches (anko bean paste and butter, anyone?), and the restaurant had a line of 20 people.  SO, back to a "taco rice" food truck and the picnic tables it was.  Note to self: next time to bring our own lunch.  

The web tickets worked fine (yay), and they also sold day of tickets at the door (unusual in these COVID times, but maybe since it was such a manageable size, the turnover is high enough -- it certainly wasn't overcrowded).  Various websites mentioned the possibility of a fish foot spa, but the online ticket sales had a ticket to get your own pearl out of an oyster so I selected that option.  

The small one was too tired by the time we walked through to actually then wait our turn for the oyster pearl thing, so since that ticket is valid through the end of the year - and the oldest said it was fun enough to go back - I'll try and remember where in my wallet I put those tickets for safe keeping.  

On the way home, we walked by Shinagawa Children's Park.  A blog I like has apparently highly recommended it - not sure how I missed that!  But, remember at the top I said it was a "feels like 101" day, so needless to say after one ride each on the rope swing and stopping a few minutes to watch a middle school baseball game (the boys really miss sports teams ... the Japanese teams are all going, but the expat English ones and school ones were more COVID conservative), we went on our merry way.  Another thing to check out in the spring or fall - or next summer if the water park area opens up if a post-COVID world ever comes.  

And, in small signs that perhaps normal life is coming back, this neighborhood street near the train station looked decked out for a summer festival.  The matsuri my neighborhood used to have were pretty fun - I bet some neighborhoods now are really looking forward to having some again. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Travelogue: Shimoda

 We're hardly taking any trips right now (thank you, COVID).  Others are more adventurous, but the thought of a kiddo getting a normal cold while we're somewhere else, in this hyper sensitive environment, causes me some second thoughts, especially about flying with the necessary airplane temperature checks.  Luckily, we found another family with two boys similar ages to ours, so we went skiing with them in February and to Shimoda in July.  

Shimoda is a well-known beach area on the Izu Peninsula - first gaining popularity in the 1970s for a domestic honeymoon spot (search in Japanese for "Shimoda romantic hotel" seems it may still be!).  Little coves all along the way make for different beach experiences.  

We rented an AirBnB near Kisami beach, well known for beginner surfing waves.  No, we didn't try.  But we did buy two body boards and had loads of fun jumping waves.  Every now and then was a pretty big one -- the boys and I each at various points didn't time a jump properly and got a little pummeled, but the undertoe wasn't too bad and we popped right back up.  The little kids, though, stuck to the waters edge and an area where a stream emptied into the ocean.  Our AirBnB host commented Sotoura beach was probably better for younger kids as it only has very gentle waves.

Since our children are creatures of habit, the lunch/dinners I didn't cook at home we ate at the White Beach Cafe, steps off of the beach, with pizzas, pastas and few other items.  Quite tasty - and even better they would let a family open a tab, so the kids could go over and order by themselves, with us settling up at the end of the day.  I'm sure other delicious eats exist, but why leave the 500 meter beeline from the house to the beach when there's something great along the way?  

What we didn't do in Shimoda was visit the museum where Commodore Perry negotiated the first US-Japan treaty.  (He landed in Yokohama in 1853, but then had a second visit in 1854 to ink the deal.  Wikipedia crash course here.)  A monk at the temple where the negotiation took place gave my language class a fantastic presentation - but the boys were having so much fun on the beach, messing around with the other kids, I didn't want to be "that mom" who spoiled the fun.  Especially since it was about a 4 hour drive and easy to return to.  So, I guess that means we have to go back!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Out and About: Hanegi Park

It's been COVID-times (korona-ka in Japanese) for over a year.  As a family, we are simultaneously itching to go out and do things while mindful of constantly fluctuating case numbers and a low vaccination rate.  Also, changing habits (sticking close to home) is really hard.  I used a mandatory dentist appointment yesterday as an excuse to explore a park recommended to us last summer - it was only four train stops from the dentist, and the boys could get Burger King takeout for picnic lunch to sweeten the deal.  

You can read someone else's blog about the park here: All the same, I thought it would be fun to document places we've been under this "out and about" heading, so that (when we leave in a few years), I have a list of things to pass onto new families.  

Best attribute of Hanegi for our kids -- lots of climbing and no rules as long as you are safe.  They were on top of sheds and a small house in the park.  I almost had a heart attack when they were exploring new ways to climb up to a roof that involved balancing on a swinging door (!!).  Other fun stuff - a giant slide, and huge rope swing, a place to build a fire, and just general running around with no rules (such a rarity in Tokyo's parks).  

The only thing we couldn't figure out was how to spin a Japanese top.  (like this).  No matter how carefully we wound the string, we just couldn't get the wrist flick.  They didn't seem interested to try and learn at home it was so hard!  But, definitely would be a good non-iPad activity if they had the patience to learn.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

On Driving

 I feel like I need to attach a GoPro to our car, so you can get a sense of driving here.  Obviously, driving on the left takes a little adjustment, but I learned to do that way back in the day in India.  Even after six months, I still occasionally turn on the wipers instead of the turn signal.  But only one time did I drive on the wrong side of the road (after pulling out of a parking lot onto a tiny street).  

What's really crazy, though, are the highways in town.  Driving on an elevated toll road that twists and turns and has no shoulder is really something.  Entrance ramps, exit ramps, or merging to other toll roads could be on either side as they are built for where space is - and there's not much space.  It requires such concentration to stay in the lane, stay aware of where cars are coming from, stay alert for the signs in Japanese (or unfamiliar English place names) for where to go, and stay focused on the road and not on the buildings/river/Mt Fuji.  

An hour trip south to Yokohama leaves me pretty tired.  I come back just after lunch and am pretty much shot for the day.  

And, while I've never experienced, I think speed racing at 2am on the highways must be a thing, because I can hear it from the highway near our house.  A friend confirmed my suspicions - and he said his friend told him she totaled her Porsche going around a curve too fast on the highway at a 3am joy ride.  And that Porsches are better than Lambos on the Tokyo highways.  I said he traveled in circles beyond mine :)  I don't think I'll be in a real life "Tokyo Drift" situation anytime soon - but I can see where the fascination comes from.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Cross cultural influences during childhood: paying cash

 A long running joke in my marriage is how I always like to put cash payments in an envelope.  Greg has rolled his eyes soooo many times as I hunted around the house for an envelope to pay someone, from a delivery guy to a nanny.  "Just give them the cash, they don't care!" And yet, still I just couldn't do that.  

One of our kids is now editing videos, also called "making Fortnite montages" in modern parlance.  He's gotten pretty good, occasionally winning "shout outs" on YouTube in small competitions.  His friends at school think this is really cool -- as you can tell, I'm still learning about this new world, but he's passionate about something that's creative and productive so that's great.  Productive as in, apparently kids actually pay him money to make these clips that they can then post on their social media.

Based on this reputation, one of his friends at school asked him to make a montage.  Our son came home today and said, "Look!  He offered to pay me $10 for the video! And he put it in this envelope he gave me at recess labeled 'For Fortnite Montage.'  It feels so much more official than getting passed cash!" 

Immediately... Greg burst out laughing. "Now I know why your mom always has to pay people cash in an envelope!" 

Incidentally, I never have to hunt for an envelope here because the stationary stores in Tokyo sell inexpensive envelopes just the right size for yen bills.  So, I simply bought a pack and keep it in my desk - so handy for operating in a society still so cash-based.

Friday, December 4, 2020

On English

So many foreigners are surprised at the lack of English in Tokyo, despite mandatory English classes in secondary school.  This topic came up during my koto (Japanese zither) music lesson the other week.  My koto teacher had an interesting take, which I hadn't heard before. 

She admitted to me that she can speak English - but she's more comfortable in Japanese, so she's happy to have our class in Japanese.  (and, anyway, I'm happy to continue in Japanese since this is my year to focus on language acquisition.)  This was funny, because I had had about three classes before she even told me she could speak English.  I commented that, when I lived in Vietnam, if someone spoke even a tiny bit of English he or she would always try to practice with me.  And, though I was trying to learn Vietnamese and wanted to practice with them, it was really hard to find people willing to talk in my middling Vietnamese skills.  

On the other hand, everyone in Japan seemed happy to start out in Japanese.  I wasn't sure if it was because they were more used to hearing foreign-accented Japanese, or perhaps because lack of English-speaking confidence on their part.  

She offered a different possible idea.  She noted one of her friends has a shop, and started speaking English to a foreign customer who walked in.  But, that person didn't speak English.  And then commented how it was tiring to him that everyone assumed he could speak English because he was Caucasian, but he couldn't - however he could speak Japanese.  Thus, the friend now speaks Japanese to all customers, until the customer asks if she can speak English -- because the friend doesn't want to offend customers by assuming all Caucasians speak English.  

I have no idea how widespread this thinking is, but it is interesting to step out of my American-centric viewpoint to think about how English prevalence might be viewed by others.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The same, no matter what culture or language

 I was walking back from some errands today, and saw a scene play out that was so familiar, though the dress and language was different.  I'm sure any parent of three kids - particularly three boys - can relate.

Our residential compound is near two shrines.  November is the "shichi-go-san" (7-5-3) festival month, when boys who are 5 years old and girls who are 3 and 7 years old go for a blessing.  The children dress up in fancy Western clothes or traditional Japanese clothes.  Brothers usually wear a dark suit (with shorts for the younger boys), and sisters a pretty dress.  Dads/grandpas in dark suits and moms/grandmas in either a dark dress or a seasonally appropriate kimono.  It's super fun seeing these family groups walk by.  

Today I was walking home and saw to boys, maybe 7 and 9 years old, chasing each other up the street.  The younger one in a short pants suit and the older one in slacks/tie/button down/v-neck sweater.  Then a dad popped around the corner and yelled along the lines of, "stop running! this is a street with cars.  Please walk nicely back here."  I chuckled, having been in that situation so many times. 

Then I got to the top of the block, and a little 5 year old in traditional Japanese dress was crying as his mom in her kimono wiped her tears.  As the now chastised two older brothers stood looking at their feet, the mom scolded them again for running in the street -- and also for running around and goofing off when their little brother, on his special day, couldn't run around because he was in the fancy clothes.  

And then the mom apologizing to the grandparents for the boys being crazy. 

And then all three of the boys being kind of upset and what was supposed to be a happy day, ending up being stressful. 

Oh, how many times have I been there?  I'm pretty sure every parent in any culture can imagine that scenario.  But yet, a bit more beautiful when kimonos are involved.