Sunday, April 4, 2010

Last Day in Japan!

Woke up, realized that we were the only Westerners getting a Japanese breakfast in the hotel, but decided not to ask about it because the Western style breakfast had
lots of fried things and some odd looking pastries. Boys decided they were happier with just rice and Yamini was okay with rice and miso soup.
Took the city bus from near the hotel to to the Kiyomizudera Temple. Bus lets you off at the bottom of a hill on a city street, then you walk up through a pretty little street with snack foods and souvenir shops. Then you get up to the temple complex which is at the top of the hill with a view over the city. It was crowded but so beautiful. We walked around to get the views from all the different terraces and it looked like the temple was floating on the cherry blossom trees.

Then we walked down the hill (with a stop for some ice cream) and walked to another temple - Sanjusangen-do. The kids were like, “Oh, no, another Temple!” but when we went inside they changed their minds. There is one huge central figure of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. Then, on either side are 1,000 other
golden kannon statues and other deities guarding them. The 1,001 statues are made out of cypress but painted gold, so they look really cool. Yamini and I liked that the guardians were all inspired by Buddhist gods that were similar to HIndu gods, so they all had Indian names too. In front of the central buddha, there was a shrine and you could buy candles to burn. They had these big white candles and you could write your wishes on them with a black marker, so everyone in our family wrote a wish on one of the candles. It was really cool. You were not allowed to take pictures there, but I downloaded a picture from the web. . .

Next we made our way back to Kyoto station, so we could get some lunch to eat on the train to a baseball game in Nagoya. We went to the basement of the Isetan dept. store and kids got (no surprise) chicken and Matt and Amy got their favorite “sushi chunks over rice with other stuff bowls.” We discovered we had a favorite pastry place in the train station where kids got sugared donuts and Amy had a “cherry blossom” muffin. Train ride was short, then Matt tried to lead us on a walk to the Nagoya Dome which turned out to be nearly a 30 minute cab ride away. Amy nearly had a heart attack when she read “13:00” as the time (instead of 15:00) on
the Japanese tickets and thought we were 2 hours late, but it turned out that was just the time the stadium opened.
About baseball in a dome with astroturf: boring. About baseball in a stadium with enthusiastic Japanese fans: fun. So the fun crowd made up for the boring environment we cheered with the other Hanshin Tiger fans when Kenji Jojima hit a 7th inning home run to tie the game against the Nagoya Dragons. We still don’t know if they won though, b/c we had to leave to catch a train back to Kyoto. Got back in time for a late dinner which turned out to be Sukiyaki. You cook meat in a sizzling pan with some soy-based broth, add some tofu and vegetables, and then you eat the sliced cooked meat in a little bowl with raw scrambled egg. (Yamini and Amy tried theirs with the egg - boys did not.)

On our last morning, we took a walk around the hotel neighborhood for an hour just to get some fresh air before a LONG day of travel. Shinkansen train to Tokyo, then Airport Express Train to Narita, then a 3 hour wait in the airport for our 13+ hour flight back to NYC. Spent our last Yen in the airport stores and now we’re on our way home!

Final Impression from Amy & Matt - while there are definitely more places we want to see, we will come back to Japan. Matt thought it was not as expensive as he was told. Amy could have spent at least 2 weeks in and around Kyoto. Yamini still wants to ride the roller coaster near the Tokyo Dome. Will says Japan was “nice” and “baguette-full.”
Trevor says he had fun, and “Go Tigers!”

Thanks for reading our blog! We’ll write more when we have some more “adventures.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Kyoto - A Castle & 2 Temples

Had breakfast in the hotel. They set it up in a downstairs room at tables. Breakfast included many different styles of tofu, so the kids ate rice and some smoked salmon. Walked from the hotel to the Nijo castle, which was home to the Tokugawa Shogun in the 1600-1700s. Very cool b/c it has the "nightengale" floors that sqeak on purpose when you walk on them so ninja assassins could not sneak up and murder the castle dwellers. T & W got some samurai sword souvenirs.
Started to walk t
owards the Temple of the Golden Pavillion, but ended up in a cab b/c it was too far out. The gold floors of the temple (viewed from outside . .you can't go in) are dazzling. It shined so bright, it hurt our eyes! Gardens were pretty. Lots of places to give coins to buddhas.

Advice to adults traveling with kids - give kids lots of treats when you take them to historic sights. They had ice cream before the temple and then we stopped at some Euro style cafe afterwards, where Trevor & Yamini had waffles with whipped creme.

Next temple was Ryoangi, which is famous for its Zen rock garden. Matt was starting to balk at the admission prices for everything, and when we walked in and saw the rock garden, the kids were like, "We paid for this?" But actually, once we sat down on the benches and looked at the garden for a while, we all really liked it! Trevor and Amy were wondering if monks brag to each other about how many chants they can do in a certain amount of time or how many rocks they rake in a day. :)

We tried waiting for a bus that would take
us back to the Kyoto train station where we had to pick up some tickets and wanted to check out the stores. We ended up in a taxi after two buses came by that were not going in our direction. The train station is really cool because it has a shopping mall, a movie theater, a hotel, and an observation deck above it. We went up to the roof, walked through the Isetan department store, and the boys did a race down the roof

Got back to the hotel with some time to relax before dinner. Tonight's dinner was Shabu-Shabu beef, a sort of make your own veggie omlette thing, more sushi, pork, noodles, rice, fruit, tea, etc. There was definitely enough food for 10 of us! (But that's also b/c William eats enough for half a small child!) Tomorrow is our last day in Japan for activities and Sunday will basically be an all-day travel day, so check in one last time tomorrow and thanks for following our blog! P.S. this video is for 12 year olds and younger.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tokyo to Kyoto

On Wednesday night, while Amy was downloading the pictures from her camera, Matt decided to do some laundry. We were thinking maybe he was going to rinse out some socks and underwear in the sink, but to our surprise he put all the dirty clothes into the bathtub and soaked them. When Amy walked into the bathroom, she found sopping wet jeans, t-shirts, and other items hanging all over. So, Thursday morning was spent with Matt trying first to blow-dry, then to iron dry all of our clothes. While he did this and Amy packed, the kids played hide and seek in a 300 square foot room, which takes some creativity. Trevor wrapped himself in a robe and stood like a statue in the corner, thinking nobody would see him. Will tried to hide in a drawer and almost had a suitcase and a dresser fall on him.

We checked our bags in the hotel lobby and decided to see one more Tokyo site before we took the Shinkansen (rapid) Train to Kyoto. We went to the Asakusa neighbohood to see the Senso-ji Temple, the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. It has these huge hanging lanterns and a little street leads up to it that sells all these Japanese snacks and souvenirs. We got some little crackers that looked like mini rice crispie treats. By this time, we were very good at taking the Tokyo subway, and could even purchase tickets by pushing the buttons in Japanese!

On the way back to pick up our bags, we stopped at the Mitsukoshi department store food hall and got lunch to eat on the train. Boys got the usual baguette and chicken yakitori, Yamini got a strawberry and banana sandwich with whipped cream, and Matt and Amy had sushi and some Japanese sausages. We love these food halls.
Waiting for the train was very civilized. The train pulls into the station, and all these ladies get on to clean it. 5 minutes before departure, they get off, everyone takes their assigned seats and the train leaves on time. Lots of leg room and big windows to see the view that goes whizzing by. In under three hours we were in Kyoto. It was 6pm and raining, and Amy was wishing she had reserved the luxury hotel right above the train station so we could just be there already.
Instead, we got the lady in the tourist office to write down the Ryokan address in Japanese so we could give it to a taxi driver. We got to the hotel which seems to be in a nice neighborhood and checked out our tatami room. We miss our fancy Toto toilet from the Tokyo hotel, but this is a very cool experience.

Amy was also worried about whether the boys would eat anything in the hotel-provided dinner, but when they carried in our HUGE trays of food, we saw steak, and we knew it would be okay. There was steak to cook yourself, a hot pot with broth & seafood, sushi, miso soup, japanese pickles, rice, fruit for dessert and a couple weird un-identifiable items. When dinner was over, they came and laid out our futon beds for sleeping and took away the table and we were ready for bed!
One other cool thing is how everyone is so exciting about the Cherry Blossoms and how they bring Spring. We saw all these beautiful cherry blossomed themed desserts in the food halls, and in the Kyoto Tourist Office, they even had a Cherry Blossom viewing chart, which Amy thinks indicates buds versus blooms!