Postcard From Japan: Meiji Shrine

After touring the Hachi Yoshi-en garden, we decided to head to the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. My first (and last) visit to the Shrine had been 15 years ago in the pouring rain. I remember it vividly mostly because it was so wet that very few people were at the Shrine that day. When you’re in Tokyo and find yourself almost alone in a public place, it’s a memorable experience.

However this time we visited on a relatively warm November Sunday and we were most definitely not alone.

This marked Mayumi, Shinya and Karin’s first visit to the temple and I grateful that we all had the chance to go together.

I’m also grateful that we arrived just in time to witness a wedding procession. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the wedding photographer who was trying to navigate the crowds of tourists. I also found myself wondering why you would choose to get married in such a busy, public place. Still, there’s nothing quite as spellbinding as a traditional Japanese wedding procession.

We also spotted more than a few little girls dressed up for Shichi-Go-San.

As it started getting colder and darker, we stopped for a quick bite to eat and beer (for the adults).

Then the children decided to let off some steam with a run around the courtyard.

And then, all too soon, it was time to say goodbye to the Meiji shrine…

And our Japanese friends…

It was so good to see you Shinya, Mayumi and Karin. We hope it’s not too long before we see you again.

Postcard From Japan: Wandering Tokyo with the Abes Part 1

After lunch with the entire Fukushima crew, Mayumi, Shinya and Karin joined us on a small tour of Tokyo. We only had a couple of hours so we decided to first spend some time exploring the Hachi Yoshi-en garden next to the restaurant. We soon discovered that our visit to Tokyo coincided with both Shichi Go San (children’s festival for 3 and 5 year old girls) and wedding season. Of course this equated to photo opportunities galore. Little girls in Kimonos and traditional Japanese brides? Perfect!

Also, bonzai, koi and a shrine or two. Your basic Japanese heaven on earth (minus all the wedding photographers).

Autumn held on for just a few extra days to make me happy.

The company wasn’t too shabby either. Seriously – happiest child on the planet.

Next: We take the Abe family to the Meiji temple for their very first visit and, as a result, they can finally call themselves Japanese (I kid – a little). More weddings, more little girls in adorable kimonos and more Mayumi, Shinya and Karin.

Postcard from Japan: A Fukushima Reunion in Tokyo

Kei and I have a strong connection to Fukushima – it’s where we both lived for twelve months and where we met. In fact my (teeny) apartment in Fukushima was the first place I had ever lived away from home. Our connection to Fukushima is part of the reason why we were both so affected by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown. It was the main reason we offered to host a mother and child from the region in our home for 2 months over the summer of 2011.

My blog posts from July and August of 2011 share the full story of Mayumi and Karin’s visit, but I think the very first post that I wrote after their arrival and the one I wrote on the day they left sum up a lot of the things I was feeling. I think it’s safe to say that Mayumi and Karin became a part of our extended family during their stay.

So, when we traveled to Japan in November (our first visit since 2010), I was thrilled to learn that we’d have an opportunity to catch up with Mayumi, Karin as well as Mayumi’s husband (and Karin’s dad), Shinya – who we’d never met but had obviously heard a lot about. Mayumi, Shinya and Karin just happened to have plans to travel to Tokyo for a wedding while we were in town so we arranged to meet up.

As an added bonus, Mayumi had managed to get in contact with one of my old friends from Fukushima, Toru Mizuno. Toru worked at the Sukagawa Community Center and, thanks to his ability to speak English, helped me navigate everything from car buying negotiations to getting my washing machine replaced by the board of education after it broke down. He was a true friend to a young 22 year old living in a foreign country with limited knowledge of the native language. I’m not sure how I would have made it through that year without him.

So, long-story-short, Mayumi found Toru and asked him if he wanted to meet up with us in Tokyo and he said yes. Crazy! When I left Japan, Toru was twenty-something years old with young wife and two year old daughter. Now he’s forty-something and has five children (!). He also owns a large apartment building in Sukagawa where the new English Language teachers live.

So, on a sunny winter day in Tokyo, we found ourselves walking to meet a large gathering of old and new Japanese friends – Mayumi, Karin and Shinya, Sinya’s parents and Toru with the three youngest of his five children. Toru’s wife was off visiting their oldest child at college in Tokyo – the two-year old child that I mentioned earlier.

It was all a little crazy and surreal and awkward and wonderful at the same time. Thankfully we managed to get a group picture to prove that THIS really did happen.

Toru is in the back, third from the left. His children are the three biggest in the front. Very smart, sweet kids.

We all had lunch together, talking about Sukagawa, then and now. About how Toru is working out of a Gym because the Town Hall was destroyed in the earthquake. How the english teachers have much better accommodations now because Toru owns and manages the building. It made me feel nostalgic but also incredibly grateful for how far we’ve come.

After lunch, Toru and his children went to meet the rest of his family for the drive back to Sukagawa and Shinya’s parent’s boarded a train back to Fukushima city. Thankfully, Mayumi, Shinya and Karin were on a late train so we were able to spend the rest of the day with them exploring just a tiny little corner of Tokyo.

I’ll share more photos of our small adventure tomorrow but, for now, here’s a quick shot of the boys being reunited with their “sister”. Karin had barely changed at all in the years since we’d last seen her. Happiest, smiliest kid on the planet.

Postcard from Japan: Yokohama Bay

My mother-in-law lives in Yokohama – a city just outside of Tokyo which could really be considered an extension of Tokyo. When you catch a train from Tokyo to Yokohama you never really feel like you leave the city.

The last time we visited (about three years ago) I felt as though I had seen Yokohama. I knew the train station and the area around my mother-in-law’s house so that seemed like everything to me. We even traveled to the top of the second tallest building in the city so we saw it all, right? Wrong.

Apparently Yokohama has a taller building and a BAY. So this time we got a little more adventurous and caught a bus to check out the shiny parts of Yokohama, including the happiest place on earth for two small Pokemon fans.

The view from Yokohama Landmark Tower.

Some interesting food options for lunch…

And then, Nirvana (for them. Headache for me).

Thankfully this part of Yokohama is quiet during the week in November. We were the only people on the Ferris Wheel despite the amazing sunshine.

It must have been our lucky day because they put us in the transparent Ferris Wheel car. 

I think Kei was asking the kids to show how scared they were to be able to see the distant ground below their feet.

A quick stop at the arcade where Kei and Thomas played a little Mario Kart while Samuel and I checked out some of the interesting prizes on offer. Fake food anyone?

If you look closely you can see our transparent ride.

A gorgeous day on Yokohama bay.

Postcard from Japan: Home Sweet (almost) Home

So much has happened since we arrived home from Japan that the trip feels like a distant memory and just yesterday at the same time. I traveled directly to Japan after my business trip to Beijing. I arrived early on a Wednesday afternoon, having endured a 5 hour flight while suffering the after effects of a little food poisoning (never more grateful for an almost-empty plane), and found myself incredibly happy to be landing in a country that feels a little more like home every time I return.

There’s nothing quite like 10 days in a completely foreign culture to help you appreciate the little things like an alphabet that you can read and the ability to speak a few useful phrases in the local language (and understand the response). I found myself saying “eki wa doko desu ka?” (where is the train station) and “nanji desu ka?” (what time is it?) with a confidence I hadn’t felt since I lived in the Japan many, many years ago. I felt exhilarated by the ability to travel by train from Narita to Yokohama without any English language assistance whatsoever. I said “Arigato” (thank-you) and “Sumimasen” (excuse me) to everyone I encountered just because I could.

And when I reached Yokohama station and saw Samuel running to me with arms outstretched I may have shed a small tear. I felt like I’d come home.