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Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

Jun 23, 2009

Japan 2009


In Two and half days...

Tokyo Part 1 from outypants on Vimeo.

It is our hope that while on this side of the world that we will visit some places that we would most likely never even bother with living in the states. Japan was one of those places. Nathan was able to visit there on his last trip to Asia and loved it. We originally were going to go on our own without the kids but last minute change of plans and they came with us. Jane just today mentioned that she likes Tokyo more than Michigan. Maybe that is because each day of our trip the kids got at least two toys.

I had a lot of trouble for some reason with this post. I am not that familiar with html and found my preview of pictures and the post are not matching up. I am too ignorant and a little too lazy to try harder.
Ultimately my post will help my scrapbooking so a lot of what I do is to have a record for when I transfer these memories to books.
 So it is a bit scattered and not very seamless.  I apologize.

 It is more spread out than HK. Walking from one place of interest to another might be quite a hike.  Taxi's are cheap in HK and since we don't own a vehicle, for us a way of life.
  In Japan their cost was a bit much for us and we opted not to take them.

 If you read tour books, at least the three I skimmed, they all will tell you how easy the Tokyo subway is to use.
 That term easy is used a little too freely. On a scale of 1-10 of ease of use, I would rate them at a three.  London and Hong Kong are easily nine and ten, in my opinion anyway.
 The subway routes on a map are comical looking. About fourteen routes and all different colors, it can be intimidating.

Located outside our hotel

 Another reason to add to the confusion, more than one company runs the trains and they don't quite share the same cost and ticket system. When purchasing a ticket to somewhere you have to check from point A to point B, because it will matter if you change company lines.  The HK MTR now runs on one system, as a result you only pay for where you are going get on and get off.
We missed our Octopus cards and the ease of using them.  The nice thing was the kids were free.
My guess is, if we spent a month in Japan, we would find it usable and point at laugh at tourist who we spot looking up at maps squinting and confused.

 This area is known for having a great variety of Japanese items for sell, it was not a disappointment. I was entertained just walking the streets.
We happened upon a shop that was making and selling cookies.  You can see the shop in the video. We had not eaten yet and were getting hungry.  Within seconds everyone was salivating as the baker poured this chocolate filling into soft yummy looking dough, inside a fish shaped mold. Convinced a bag was quickly bought.
Then I took a bite... I liked the sweet soft texture of the outside and how warm it was.  That being said I quickly realized it was not chocolate. 
My first comment to Nathan is that it tasted kind of like re-fried beans.  We both quickly realized it must be red-bean paste.  To the Chinese, and it seems also to the Japanese and Koreans (and I am sure more countries that I have yet to realize) this is a dessert.
Here in Tai Po you can get a green tea, red bean sundaes at McDonalds.
I'm glad I was tricked into trying the cookies, because I would have passed on doing so had I known it wasn't chocolate. I can see acquiring a taste for it and overall, and didn't think it was awful.
 I have a sweet tooth a whole mouthful and when you expect something that is going to taste like it has sugar on it and instead you think you need sour cream to go with it, the appeal and desire to eat it can diminish.
The kids of course on this excursion got some little trinkets at the market- or what I would like to call, sorry we are too cheap for taxis and are making you walk more miles in a day then most American kids do in a year gifts.
Jane got a stuffed bear wearing a Kimono and Elliot got a cloth sword that squeaks. I was on the look out for traditional Japanese art. I bought a lot of postcards on this trip.
 We finished the night at the Government building, it has comparable views with that of Tokyo Tower but it is free.  Remember we budgeted for a trip for two and ended up with a trip for four, couldn't do it all.

You get the impression in Japan  that everyone is a big kid. It is not uncommon to see grown men and women wearing or accessorizing with the likeness of cartoon characters. I have seen women age 25+ wearing Hello Kitty, socks,earrings, shirts, cell phones, purses etc. So when you see this store front you can understand the marketing is not necessarily toward children. 
We saw a long line on a Monday morning outside Uniqlo- a chain known for having no designer labels and cheaper prices on clothes.  It was amusing to see people waiting to get inside the store- that
one in particular only sells T-shirts.

The Imperial Palace

East Garden

Really beautiful gardens and landscaping. The palace is opened up to the public once a year. We did not come at the right time for that.

 Ueno, Meiji Shrine

Tokyo is known for the vending machines.  If your hand can get it out of a slot or door it is vended in Japan. Is vended a word?  A fair amount of pictures include the kids posing in front of vending machines.  We passed on having them pose in front of the ones selling liquor, cigarettes and other questionable items.

They soon were in a routine of striking a pose in front of them.
We were waiting for the subway to come in, and the kids posed in front of machine that was on the platform, probably selling ipods or umbrellas.
  Jane has quickly picked up the classic Chinese two finger pose (the peace sign or victory sign for westerners) Elliot was doing other things with his hand. at one point he was attempting to do something special with his hands when suddenly his middle finger pops up, I was convinced Nathan had clicked the camera at the same moment.   Our kids don't have a clue this means anything in particular. I am thankful it wasn't crowded and there was only one person sitting on a bench. I was laughing too hard to tell Elliot to quick do something else. Nathan didn't end up taking a picture- he was laughing too hard and eventually  managed to suggest that our 4 year old do something different. 


We ducked into a restaurant while out and about.  Jane was excited we had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor.
 Our Japanese doesn't go much beyond  Ohio and Sianara and since we are newbies to Chinese characters, our reading of any of the written Japanese language isn't better. 
We looked at pictures, pointed and hoped for the best. Only one item was not that great, I thought that was pretty good odds.

We get spoiled in Hong Kong as a majority of shopping and restaurant venues are in English, or there are some people who can speak it to help you with the Chinese.
 It is a little intimidating especially with hungry children to have to guess what to order. This experience went well. The kids are getting used to eating with just soup spoons and chopsticks.

Inside Kiddyland

We headed out to the five story toy store Kiddyland.   Definitely over-priced but fun and we spent money anyway.
Jane treasures her pink ballerina dancing jewelry box. I am sure a purchase that can be made at any major chain in the U.S but to her that box, which has absolutely nothing Asian about it, will mean Japan.

More Food Comments:
We also enjoyed our 7-11 food. The sandwiches were almost gourmet with cucumber/wasabi mayo as a choice and the Ramen was better than I have ate at some restaurants.

We first heard of this story from the popular Japanese Manga/TV show One Piece
Hachiko  would wait for his owner everyday outside train station.  When his owner died, it didn't stop Hachiko, he continued to wait for him everyday for nine years.

I would like to go back and explore more of Tokyo and get closer to Mt. Fuji.

Nathan's impression that it was quiet. We were in Tokyo not Hokaiddo, but it still seem almost still at ten o'clock at night. Obviously we weren't at the party spots, but he felt the noise level was different than Hong Kong.
What  a blessing it was to have our kids with us.  We booked this trip originally without them partially due to expense and also a concern about getting about. Maybe we could have done a little more without them, maybe we could have spent more time in a museum or just sitting and people watching, but there is something unique about a child's perspective, the questions, observations that makes exploring a new culture even that more interesting.

The children draw attention to us, and although people aren't as quick to ask for pictures or touch your kids in Japan as in China,  with kids in tow I find people are more likely to excuse you for ignorance of custom and inability to speak their language. The universal language of a smile is never more easily expressed than through the face of a child.

It is one of our favorite memories so far and I wouldn't trade having the kids with us for anything.

Jun 5, 2009


The spinning cups fun for Jane and Dad

Shenzhen is a special economic zone on the Mainland- It is one of the "richest" places and fastest growing cities in China. I have ventured to SZ a handful of times now, primarily for shopping- cheap stuff! Nathan travels there everyday, this is where he works. Recently we were invited by his co-worker to enjoy a day out in Shenzhen. We went to the children's park ( amusement park- carnival rides) Windows of the World mini replica's of famous world sites. It reminded me of Epcot's around the world theme. We had a delicious Chinese dinner inside a mall. The Sus (last name of the family have a five year old - I didn't see his name wrote down but I believe it is pronounced Mowjong- we thought it sounded like Mahjong. A cutie and him Elliot got along quite well in spite of the language barrier.

A Day with the Su Family from outypants on Vimeo.

Jane got to experience a squatter toilet -twice. It is of course quite common for little kids just to go wherever they are standing. This is something I don't know if I could ever quite get used to. When it is a 1-3 year old, it is one thing and I can understand the cultural difference but we saw kids who were much much older than that, just going anywhere. I would think most Chinese instruct their older children to use the toilet, and this is a minority? Maybe as we live here longer I will get more insight into this.

We have found the Chinese are very polite and lovely people in general. They love the kids and often ask for the kids to take photos with them or they just snap shots of the children, most ask first. I plan on compiling a post of just photos of other people taking pictures of our kids later on. This happened a few times while we were out in Shenzhen. Elliot was having none of that this day Jane likes the attention and is always willing.

Umbrellas are commonly used not only to protect from the rain but from the sun.
Jane now ask often for an umbrella when out in the hot sun.

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is on Nathan's must see list. This "small" replica of the site made me appreciate how large it really is.

The cocanut was warm and not that tasty