Japan Trip Day 7


THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 12, 2003: Wednesday
Japan: November 13, 2003: Thursday

        • Took the train to Tokyo to see the Meiji Shrine.
        • Ate kaitenzushi with Mom and Patricia.
        • Went to Asakusa.
        • Went shopping in the Senso temple’s street of shops.
        • Ate at an okonomiyaki restaurant.
        • Took the train back and met Michelle at the izakaya again.
        • Packed for leaving the next day.(Technically the next day:)
          USA: November 13, 2003: Thursday
          Japan: November 14, 2003: Friday
        • Rode the bus and saw Mt. Fuji.
        • Shopped in the airport.
        • Went through security and boarded.
        • Transferred in Chicago and arrived in Tampa!


Our last day in Japan began with a sort of disappointment: We found out that my sister had been misinformed about where the Sumo was to take place, so it was too far away to go see it. We’d seen a little on TV, though. We went to see the area where she used to live when she went to Waseda, and we found some nice places to shop, though our last ditch effort to find a DDR machine was also unsuccessful. So I didn’t get to play Japanese DDR. 🙁 Patricia got Starbucks.



Meiji Shrine Entrance


Trees at Meiji

We wandered around the shrine a while, looking at the merchandise and at the beautiful grounds. I lost my umbrella. I don’t really know much about what the shrine was dedicated to except that it has something to do with a certain emperor and his family. You can find out more here at this external link about it.

My mom hadn’t had kaitenzushi yet and Patricia desperately wanted her to try it, so we ducked into a place. My mother liked this too, and I got to try a “begetarian” roll that unfortunately had some cucumber in it that I didn’t like. We got a little snack (and my mother got a Coke), and then it was off to Asakusa.


Senso Temple





Time for the Senso Temple. My sister wanted us to eat age-manju, and they were pretty good but I couldn’t eat a whole one because it was just too much fried batter and crap. I found a BUNCH of cool souvenirs in this place, because the whole street leading up to the Temple is totally lined with shops. A lot of them sell food of the snack and candy variety, and one really nice shopkeeper kept following me around offering me samples whenever I expressed interest in something (so I kinda felt obligated to buy something from him, which I did). We took a look at the guardians outside the temple and looked at the temple itself, and the cool lanterns and the lit-up Pagoda. It was all very cool, but it was now time to eat okonomiyaki.







Cultural Note:

Okonomiyaki is kind
of known as the “Japanese
pizza,” but it isn’t really.
It means you mix whatever
you want in a bowl, cook it,
add seasonings, cut it up,
and eat it. It was tough
for us to find ingredient
combinations that only had


I enjoyed the experience of making okonomiyaki, though it wasn’t one of my favorite food experiences. I preferred the one I cooked–I think it was like corn and cheddar–to the other, which had peppers in it. In any case, we ate all our food (and ordered a bottle of wine, which I didn’t touch), and we had just gotten some of our pictures developed so we looked at them. We chatted about health and food in Japan, and then it was time to head back.

On the way back, my mom’s foot was pretty bad so we sat in the disabled seating so that she would be guaranteed a seat. (Actually, Patricia and I held the rings in front of the seats.) Two elderly ladies started talking about us in Japanese, wondering if we were students and sisters and commenting on my amazing blonde hair. My sister just interjected, “Do you have a question about us?” and of course they were shocked that she understood them. “We heard you speaking so fluently in English,” one said, “and assumed you wouldn’t understand what we were saying.” Heh.

Then my mom got to meet Michelle, at the izakaya. She really liked that place, and willingly ate a bunch of good stuff. I ordered some fries, having missed my potatoes during my stay in Japan. (They’re very non-cheese, non-potatoes-eating people for the most part, unless you go to the fast food restaurants where they’re trying to be American.) I had a Kahlua ice cream thing instead of the green drink (though my sister and Michelle ordered their “Sexy” and “Recharge” again). I have determined that I should not drink alcohol. I fell asleep on the table again.


Sorting gifts


After leaving the izakaya, there was really no time for sleep because we had to leave REALLY early in the morning to catch a bus that only runs to the airport four times a day. I slept for about half an hour after packing up the stuff, and my mom didn’t sleep at all. Our plans to get a taxi fell through–none were OUT that early, it was still dark!–but Patricia’s friend Ed helped us and we made it to the bus.


Sunrise on the bus

Leaving Narita Airport

Once on the bus, we saw some really nice scenery, including a vague Mt. Fuji and a nice sunrise. We ate a Japanese pear Patricia had brought (called nashi), and I slept a bit. Then we got to the airport and hung out for a very long time, shopping in the souvenir stores and wasting the day until the flight was ready to board.


We left


Finally, we said our goodbyes and got on the plane. I had a fantastic time, of course, although I was planning to see Patricia in another month or so from the time we left so I wasn’t thinking I’d have much time to start missing her. She took a picture of our behinds as we left, though.



The flight back was VERY comfortable, for some reason–my mother and I got seats all alone, and I was able to sleep for most of the flight (though I hadn’t wanted to, I’d wanted to work on the calendar more). The food on this flight was fantabulous too (when I was awake for it); there was some unidentifiable stuffing-ish rice thing that was soooo good, I thought I’d just die, it was great. I wish I knew what the heck it was.

Our transfer in Chicago and ride back to Tampa were uneventful (though tiring and annoying, we had to go through customs). We arrived back in one piece, and were grateful to get back to the house, unpack, and do laundry. I didn’t go to sleep for a long time because of all the sleep I had on the plane, but eventually I did go to bed.

I think my favorite things about the visit, besides seeing my sister, were the great food at the soba shop and the sushi place, and the Japanese karaoke. I also loved shopping in Tokyo. My least favorite part was having to ride the train so much, especially when I had no seat and was tired, and having to lug a heavy backpack when my back hurt (sometimes my mother ended up rescuing me from it), and the really awful cold and rainy weather. But I am so glad I got to see where and how my sister was living, and finally got to leave the country I’ve lived in all my life, even if it was just for a little while.

Japan Trip Day 6


THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 11, 2003: Tuesday
Japan: November 12, 2003: Wednesday

        • Went to Patricia’s school, helped teach five classes.
        • Got a ride home with one of the English teachers.
        • Experienced an earthquake.
        • Went to Kawagoe with Patricia while Mom stayed home to rest.
        • Shopped at Loft.
        • Had conveyor belt sushi (kaitenzushi).
        • Went to an izakaya, met Patricia’s friend Michelle.
        • Went to karaoke with Patricia and Michelle.


Today was the day we had to go to Patricia’s school, to her job teaching English. We were to be interviewed by the students in five classes. I wore my hair looped up in little braids, and when we got to the school (by taxi) we had to wear special guest slippers that were far too large for us, so we shuffled to each class.


Cultural Note:

The children wear uniforms,
of course, but there is
a lot of restriction on
how they can wear their
hair as well. Black and
clear rubber bands are okay,
but no other ornamentation.
However, any shape
is allowed, and that’s why
I wore unique loopy braids.


My sister has a desk in the teacher’s lounge, but children are allowed to come in and talk to her. She gives points to kids for talking to her in English, so sometimes they come in to do that or just to see her. Before any classes started, I got to talk to a wonderful student named Yuka, who has been practicing English since she was very young and speaks very well. Talking to her was probably my favorite part of the school day, actually, and I got to talk to her between almost every class.

Joking with Japanese students

Kids’ presentation

Japanese students


Each class was more or less the same. First we were introduced (my sister emphasized that I was her older sister, and they seemed confused by that), and we said a few things about ourselves, and the rules of question-asking were explained; then we were asked questions by the students.


Cultural Note:

In Japan, birth order is
more important than in the
U.S. My being Patricia’s
OLDER sister carried a lot
more weight than just the usual
sibling relations. “Older
sister” is even said with
a different suffix in
Japanese than when you refer
to your “younger sister.”


They had been given a sheet to ask us from if they didn’t know what to ask, and everything had to be done entirely in English. My sister gave them points if everyone at their table had asked a question. We actually got some rather odd questions along with the usual ones, but that is to be expected since we were dealing with third-years (about fourteen years old or so).


Some questions (and their answers, if they’re amusing):

        • Q: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
        • Q: “What kind of men do you like?”
          A: (Mom) “Tall, dark, and handsome!”
          Q: “Is your husband tall and handsome?”
          A: “Tall, yes. Handsome? Ehh, so-so.”
        • Q: “Are you Christian?”
        • Q: “Can you eat natto?”
        • Q: “How long is your hair?”
          (I answered by unraveling my braids and having my family members
          hold the braids out from my head. This provoked much amazement
          from the crowd.)
        • Q: “How old are you?”
          A: (Mom) “Older than dirt.”
        • Q: “What do you want to do in Japan?”
          A: (Mom) “I want to experience an earthquake.”
        • Q: “What is Florida famous for?”
          A: (Me) “Disney World, oranges. . . . ”
          (Mom) ” . . . And OLD PEOPLE.”


Cultural Note:

“Natto” is a type of
fermented bean that most
foreigners don’t like and
find repulsive. It is
stringy and smells like
feet (though I wouldn’t
have thought to say that).
Much of the population of
Japan also does not like
natto, but they seem to find
it funny to ask foreigners
if they “can” eat natto, as
if they’re wondering if it
is physically possible.


Interestingly enough, one of the teachers had asked a couple students to prepare for us an introduction to Japanese culture. They drew pictures for us and one of the set of students let us keep theirs. The pictures taught us about not wearing shoes in the house, not using soap in the tub, and using a futon instead of a bed.


[futon] [genkan] [jbath]


In between the classes we usually went back to the teachers’ lounge to sit and relax, and then we were supposed to have lunch in there but some other class snagged us and asked us to sit with them, so we did that instead; they even gave us free school lunches even though we’d brought our own.


Cultural Note:

Japanese schools eat their
lunches in the classroom,
they don’t have a cafeteria.
They push their desks into
rows and hand out the food.
At this school, they also
did a rock-paper-scissors game
at the end to see who had to
help clean up.


Classroom kids

Japanese school lunch

At the end of the day we hung out in the teachers’ lounge talking to some students for a while, waiting for one of the teachers because she’d offered us a ride home (sparing us cab fare). On the way out we met the special ed teacher and she tried to guess my age, coming up with “sixteen.” Sure. We got our ride home and hung out at the apartment for a little while talking about the day.


Cultural Note:

Relationships between the
teachers in Japan aren’t
much like the ones here.
Teachers actually go out
drinking together, and
since alcohol is involved
they tend to have more
than just professional
relationships and know
more personal details about
each other than in the U.S.


My mother was not ready for what my sister had next on our platter: A trip to Kawagoe, a special sushi restaurant, a drop-in at an izakaya for snacks and drinks, and a bout of karaoke with her friend Michelle. She decided she’d rather stay home and relax instead of going out, so Patricia and I made to leave the house. It was then that the ground started shaking; it was a mild earthquake, my mom got her wish.



We took the train out to Kawagoe and had some great shopping. Unfortunately, it was already pretty late, and stuff was starting to close. We managed to check out a few other hundred yen places, a place that had some funny shirts, and the Loft department store, where there was everything you could dream of, toys and clothes and candy and stationery . . . dream come true, but a nightmare if you have no money. I found a gumball machine that sold little Tarepandas.




We decided to go to the conveyor belt sushi restaurant (which is called “kaitenzushi” or “kaiten sushi”) so I could see what it was like. I’m not historically a sushi person (since, well, I don’t eat fish, actually neither does my sister), but there were four things I tried. Kappa-maki was not one of my favorites (cucumber roll), but it wasn’t horrible. I already knew I liked tamago (the egg sushi), so I got one of those, and I also ate a natto roll (the bean one, called natto-maki) and found it to be fantastic! Yes, I can eat natto! Lastly I tried inari, a sort of battered and fried cold thing with rice inside, and it wasn’t very good in my opinion. My sister said that what we’d ordered today was probably the least amount of food she’d ever ordered in one of those places.


Cultural Note:

Kaitenzushi places
usually have lots of different
sushi rolls on plates that
rotate around the bar. You
can grab whatever you want,
and be charged by how many
plates you racked up. You can
also order special items, but
it is possible to go to one
of these places and never speak
to an employee. Even the drink
(green tea) is in a distributor
that’s already at the table.


Patricia was still a tad hungry so we headed back to her neighborhood to do izakaya, or so we thought. We called my mom a couple times to see if she would join us, but she wasn’t answering, so we got worried and headed toward home. We ran into her in the street and it turned out she’d gotten lost on the way back from the convenience store. It sounded like a scary experience, especially since the street signs were in another language and it was tough to ask directions from people who don’t speak English. Long story short, she didn’t want to go out again and stayed home while we went to meet Patricia’s friend. She also hurt her foot during the walking around, so the next couple days she had to walk around with a swollen ankle.

Off we went to Shiroki-ya, apparently my sister’s favorite izakaya. It’s a Denny’s-ish place that has a picture menu (for us goofy illiterate foreigners), and many dishes are pseudo-American, plus there are many alcoholic drinks. Patricia’s close friend Michelle was there waiting for us, having already ordered a drink whose name was “Sexy.” It was bright pink. It had companion specials on the menu entitled “Recharge” (yellow) and “Fruity” (green). I got “Fruity” and Patricia got “Recharge.” It wasn’t that good but then I’m not an alcohol fan.

I had a good time meeting Michelle and eating potato-cheese mochi (sort of biscuity thing with cheese in the middle), but then due to a combination of exhaustion and alcohol I fell asleep on the table. Whenever they felt like waking me up, I bounced back and we went to karaoke for two and a half hours! It was a more run-down place than the others, but still quite fun, and I enjoyed watching Michelle and Patricia put songs in for each other as well as choosing them for myself. I was definitely ready for bed by the time we got back to her place, though.

Japan Trip Day 5

[daibutsu toon]

THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 10, 2003: Monday
Japan: November 11, 2003: Tuesday

        • Checked out of the hotel and went to the bus station.
        • Took a bus to the Daibutsu.
        • Went to the Hase Kannon Temple.
        • Ate at another noodle restaurant.
        • Took a train to Shibuya.
        • Met Yuichi at a ramen shop.
        • Did karaoke and sticker pictures again.
        • Had a really tiring train ride back.


I woke up in the middle of the night because I’d gone to sleep so early, and eventually I got up and took a shower, then did my hair in cute little buns and put on one of the yukata for the heck of it. I was really sad that I’d missed the chance to hang out in the hotel room with my family for a leisurely evening.



Patricia fixing my yukata

Me in yukata

Patricia in yukata

Tea in yukata

Tea in yukata

Tea in yukata

After my family got up, my sister showed me the proper way to wear a yukata (depending on if you’re a man or a woman, it’s worn differently) and helped me adjust its length, and we took some cute pictures and had some tea. Then finally we packed our stuff and checked out of the hotel.

We stopped at a convenience store and a few nice shops while we were wandering around looking for the bus station. I got some melon bread but I didn’t eat it yet. Soon we rode the bus to another part of Kamakura, where the big Buddha is, and when we got off I ate my melon bread. That was very exciting to me.



Melon pan

Finally we made it to the attraction of the area: Daibutsu. He was a HUGE Buddha statue that was hollow inside, and you can go in him if you want. We admired him and shopped in the temple shops (which sold Daibutsu merchandise and little safety charms), and looked at the little attractions like the Buddha’s incense thing and his huge shoes. It was awful and rainy outside, but we managed to have fun.



Daibutsu’s shoes




Mom & Ivy at Daibutsu

Incense at Daibutsu

Next on the agenda was the Hase Kannon temple, where the figure of honor is Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Mercy. We got to see her and the huge garden of tiny statues called jizo. Those little statues stand for the patron saint of departed children, and if you want to honor a dead child you can go there and put clothes on one of the statues. It’s sad and touching to look at the statues.







There were several other attractions at the Kannon Temple. One was a system of grottos where you could light candles or burn incense toward certain statues for certain results or buy a tiny statue and write your wish on it to leave in the cave. (The grotto was dedicated to Benzaiten, a goddess of beauty and wealth.) Then there was a big wooden holder of some Buddhist scriptures, and you can push it around in one rotation to get wisdom. And of course there was the statue of Kannon herself. We looked at that as well.



Turn for wisdom

Turn for wisdom

Turn for wisdom

There was a cool wall of places to hang wooden plaques with wishes and prayers on them (you could buy a plaque for 500•), and we read some of the other people’s wishes. (Patricia said that she’d once seen one that said, “I wish for my cat to not be constipated.” My mom joked that she would buy one and write on it, “I wish for my 500 • back.”)



Fish pond

Nice pond


We saw a cool graveyard and some nice swimmy fish on some temple grounds, and finally we decided it was lunchtime. We got on the bus again, made it back to the train station, and ate at a cool noodle restaurant near there. I had udon this time, while my mom had tempura. We stayed there way too long, then decided to go on to our next destination: Shibuya.



We went shopping around in Shibuya, including a store called 109. (A mannequin somewhere looked just like me, as you see above.) We saw some cool electronics and whatnot, and then everything started closing so we decided it was time to check out the ramen shop. As an extra bonus, Patricia’s boyfriend was able to take a break from work to come see us, so he met us at the shop too.



Ramen restaurant

Ramen restaurant



Cultural Note:

Ramen in a ramen
restaurant is nothing
like the “ramen” you
buy in dry packages in
the U.S. It tastes much
better and usually comes
with meat of some kind in
it. But unfortunately,
unlike sobaramen
is not very good for you.


We did sticker pictures again, all four of us. They really love those machines.


[purikura 1]  [purikura 2] 
Then my mom and Yuichi went downstairs to play with games while my sister and I took some sisters-only pics. This machine was cute because they showed you images of two girls and you were supposed to imitate what they were doing, then choose four of the six poses. (We rejected one where we tried to kick at the camera and it didn’t come out particularly glamorous.)


[purikura 3]  [purikura 4]  [purikura 5]  [purikura 6] 
After that Yuichi had to go back to work (even though it was like 9 at night!), and so we left him and we went to karaoke again.

Ivy & Mom karaoke


  [keitai 4]  [keitai 5]  [keitai 6]

Ivy at karaoke

Well, after that we shopped a little more, saw some hotels and some strangely-dressed people, and I saw a Japanese bookstore, including the Japanese kids’ section, which of course interested me because that’s my position in my bookstore at home. I didn’t buy anything, though, because . . . I don’t read Japanese.



Japanese kids’ section

Tokyo nighttime

We rode the train home and I almost fell asleep standing up, it was exhausting! We could have stopped along the way to see if some place had a DDR game, but I couldn’t have played, so I passed it up. We went home and crashed.

Japan Trip Day 4


THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 9, 2003: Sunday
Japan: November 10, 2003: Monday

        • Took the train to Kamakura.
        • Got a room at the Tsurugaoka Hotel.
        • Took a walk to the Hachiman Shrine.
        • Went to Kenchoji Temple.
        • Shopped in little Kamakura shops.
        • Had warm noodles.
        • Spent the night in the hotel.

Big apple

Big apple in Japan


Yay, we got to eat the big apple for breakfast! It was so big that it filled two plates and the three of us couldn’t eat it all, so we took it in a bag and hopped on the train.

[suica]While we rode on the train munching the apple, I did my hair in french braids, and my sister read to us from the guidebook to tell us all about our destination: Kamakura. There are LOTS of shrines and temples there, and it’s pretty far away; Patricia thought it’d be a good opportunity to see all the stuff and also get to stay over in a Japanese hotel.

After some mucking about trying to find the best rates and then trying to find the place, we arrived at our destination: Tsurugaoka Hotel. It was rainy and yucky, so we were glad to take a breather and put down our stuff in our room. The room was great! I kind of wanted to hang out there longer, but we had stuff to see. It had beds, which isn’t “traditional” exactly, but it also had the tatami floors and a futon and a box of the yukata that you could wear around the room. And of course some neat sliding paper doors to enclose the tatami-floored portion, where there was a tea table and some free tea with a water boiler. I even found some very funny phrasing on a packaged razor: “Have a good shaving for your fresh life.” I was excited that we’d be able to enjoy all these things later.


Papers at Hachiman

Old trees at Hachiman

Purifying at Hachiman

Bridge only for the Shogun

Bridge with umbrellas

First we went to Hachiman Shrine (external link about the place, if you’re interested). It has lovely grounds, and we were greeted at its entrance by a bridge that you can only walk over if you’re the Shogun. (Don’t worry, there are bridges for us peons too.) There was a little place where you could purify yourself, and plenty of neat stuff to look at, but a large portion happened to be closed the day we went.


Cultural Note:

At a shrine, according
to the Shinto tradition,
you purify yourself by
washing your hands with the
water (into the rocks below),
then sipping a small amount
and washing your mouth out
with it, spitting it out.
You’re then pure to touch the
statues and talk to the gods.


Waving smoke at Hachiman


The next stop was Kenchoji, which is a temple, the most important Zen temple in Kamakura actually. It’s still in use and very beautiful, even though it was a soggy day. We could take our shoes off and walk around in certain areas of the building (which we did), but there wasn’t a lot we were allowed to see. It was pretty cold, so we went back into town; I was getting hungry. We passed a shrine dedicated to hell demons on the way back, but decided not to go in in the interest of time. My sister and I talked about Japanese language stuff on the way.


Cultural Note:

The difference between
a shrine and a temple is
that shrines are for
Shinto-oriented beliefs,
and temples are for


We did a small amount of shopping in the Kamakura shops. Kamakura is famous for the Daibutsu (the “big Buddha”), so a lot of the souvenirs had images of him on them. We found a lot of fun things to buy and look at, but the weather and being hungry and being cold was making me a bit irritable. We stopped for wine and drinks to bring to the hotel for our little party.


Warm noodles


After being cold all day, it really felt good to stop in a restaurant and be warm and eat something warm. I had soba and my mother had udon, we both had some tempura stuff in ours (mine had peppers, pumpkin, and eggplant–I liked it all but the peppers). We had a very short walk back to the hotel, and there I took off my jacket, kept on my other three layers, holed up like an inch from the heater, and stayed there for about an hour before passing out on the floor at only about 7 PM. (Somehow they got me to the bed, but I missed the whole night, though they tell me I woke up and tried stick tea. I don’t remember it.)

Out like a light

Patricia makes stick tea

Japan Trip Day 3


THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 8, 2003: Saturday
Japan: November 9, 2003: Sunday

        • Met with Patricia’s Japanese teacher and her husband.
        • Drove a very long way to Nagano in the next prefecture.
        • Went to Zenkoji temple.
        • Ate soba noodles for lunch.
        • Drove a long way to go shopping at Karuizawa.
        • Drove a long way to go to the hot springs (onsen).
        • Drove a long way to come home.

Riding the train

We got up bright and early to go and meet Mrs. Ogawa, who teaches my sister Japanese. She and her husband had graciously volunteered to drive us around to some rather far-away places (the original plans included seeing Mt. Fuji), thus sparing us lots of money in train tickets and probably hotel fees for staying over.


Cultural Note:

It’s customary in this
sort of situation to buy
a really nice gift for
someone. Japanese people
usually buy something
edible or something that
gets used up, so that their
houses don’t clutter up with
junk from this custom.

We met Ogawa-sensei and she was very, very nice, and a couple of times along the way she talked to me in English and I talked to her in Japanese. We stopped at a rest stop, where I got my first exposure to Japanese-style toilets, and everyone but me had a snack. We decided along the way that seeing Mt. Fuji today was impractical because of the weather; we probably wouldn’t even be able to see it well. So we decided to go to Nagano instead. (Well, I say “we” decided because there was a long conversation between Patricia and the Ogawas in Japanese, after which she gave us the short version of what was said and asked, “is that okay?” Communication was not easy.)

We spent a very long time in the car on the way to Nagano, and ended up in the next prefecture (which is kind of like crossing state lines). Along the way the Ogawas pointed out nice scenery and we did our best to talk about it together. We saw volcanoes and beautiful fall colors and lovely landscapes. It really is a beautiful country.


Cultural Note:

The Japanese pride them-
selves on their four
seasons. Some even believe
that they are one of the
only countries that
truly has four seasons,
so they show it off. (My
sister’s teacher is not in
this category, of course,
but she did enjoy showing
us the changing leaves.)

We arrived in the city of Nagano, and apparently this area was famous for three things: The Zenkoji Temple, the soba shops, and the GIANT APPLES. Our activities during this day did involve all three of these things. We spent a little bit of time wandering the cute shops that lined the avenue on the way up to the Zenkoji Temple, and we noticed a lot of little kids running around in formal “traditional” dress. It was interesting.


Cultural Note:

There is a traditional
festival in Japan at the
time of year I happened to
visit: 3-5-7 week. There
is a tradition for children
of those ages to get dressed
up and go to shrines and
temples for blessings.
3-5-7 week was actually the
next week after I visited, but
many people, due to time
constraints, celebrate early.


I bought some souvenirs for my friends in the shops, and Ogawa-sensei bought us one of the big apples (which we ate for breakfast the next day). Soon enough we approached the temple.


Patricia, me, Mom, Zenkoji Temple

At Zenkoji Temple

At Zenkoji Temple

Waving smoke at Zenkoji

Waving smoke at Zenkoji

We got to stand outside and try to get incense smoke on us for luck in money, and we got to see some national treasures that were in the temple. We had the option of paying ten yen to make a wish to the Buddha, and so we did that and learned the proper way to do it. We then decided to go through the tunnel thing that this temple is famous for; we bought tickets, took off our shoes, and got in line.

As a quest for enlightenment, you’re supposed to go down these stairs and walk through a hallway that is pitch black. You put your hand on the wall on the right side and just walk in the dark, looking with your hand for a wall-mounted key which guarantees enlightenment if you find it. It seems like it could be a really enlightening experience, except that you’re doing it with lots of people who are probably talking and bumping into you. Anyway, it’s a neat experience.

Next on our agenda was the soba. As mentioned, the area was famous for it; soba is a type of buckwheat noodle, and they make it from scratch in many of the shops. We found a shop and argued over what to eat for a while (complicated by my mom’s slight squeamishness of some Asian food, my vegetarianism, and the fact that neither of us could read the menu). My mother ended up getting oyakodon and I got zaru soba. Mine was basically cold noodles with dried seaweed on the top, and I honestly think it was the BEST thing I ate in Japan.

Cultural Note:

Oyakodon literally means
“mother and child.” It has
that name because it is egg
and chicken, which is a bit
morbid. Zaru soba is
dipped in a soy-type sauce, and
after you’ve finished the
noodles, you are provided with
some water the noodles were
boiled in, to add to the sauce.
Then you drink it like a tea.
It is nutritious.


The Ogawas insisted on treating us at the restaurant, and afterwards we took another long, long ride. We went shopping at Karuizawa, where I acquired some more good souvenirs, and when it started to get really chilly and dark, we left for the onsen, also known as a hot spring.

Obviously there are no pictures from this, but my account should be sufficient. When we arrived at the onsen VERY ready for relaxation, we put up our personal things, left Mr. Ogawa on his own because he had to go to the men’s side, and went into the bathing area wearing and bringing nothing but small towels. We had to choose a washing station and scrub down, then we were allowed to get in one of the four available springs. (Your hair and your washcloth are not allowed to touch the water, so if you have long hair like ME you have to put it up!) This bit was frustrating for me because the washing station I chose did not work correctly, and of course since it was my first time using one I thought it was my fault! (When I used one again after the fact, I realized that mine had been very stubborn.)


Cultural Note:

A lot of Japanese people
wash themselves first and
then soak in the bath even
at home. At the onsen
this is compulsory; no one
wants to soak in water with
dirty people. However, since
very young children ARE
allowed in, I’m sure it’s
unavoidable that kids pee
in the water. ^_^;;


The four pools available to us were the main one (with a waterfall!), an herbal bath, a jacuzzi, and an outdoor. We all went in the main one first, and I used the waterfall eventually to give me a little massage because I was VERY sore for some reason. And incidentally I had kind of expected that people might stare at us because we were the only foreigners, but as far as I could tell no one cared. I started getting VERY hot and almost fainted, so I tried the outdoor spring with the others, but I still felt like I was going to black out so I went back indoors and just sat on the side for a while. The others tried the different pools and finally we decided we wanted to finish up. So we rinsed off and got dressed again. It was only THEN that someone stared at me, when I was doing my hair. Some little girls were exclaiming over my hair color and length. That was not the first or last time, though–they seem to really like my hair over there. 🙂

The onsen we visited is famous for its homemade beer, so it is traditional to sample the local delicacy. I chose not to do so of course (I’m not a beer person), but everyone else had something, there was ice cream and noodles and a bunch of other stuff you could order and eat and drink while sitting around low tables talking. My mom and I kind of zoned out because we didn’t know what the others were talking about really, but there was a neat little conversation between my mother and Ogawa-sensei when they shared photographs and Mrs. Ogawa thought the old pictures of Patricia were fabulously entertaining. (Incidentally, I get the gist of most conversations in Japanese, and know just enough of the language to be annoyed by not being able to glean specifics.) Eventually we decided it was time to leave. The Ogawas refused to let my mother pay for the onsen, also, because they insisted it was Japanese tradition. I’m glad we got them as nice a gift basket as we did.

It was very late and very dark on the car ride back, and most of us slept at some point while Mr. Ogawa drove. (He was really a trooper!) They opted to drive us all the way back since it was raining instead of making us take the train again, and we thanked them profusely and went up to Patricia’s apartment. I hadn’t eaten anything at the onsen because we’d had vague plans to meet up with one of my sister’s friends and go to a place called an izakaya, but my sister decided it would be better to save that for another time. Patricia fixed me a small snack and then we fell asleep.

Japan Trip Day 2



THE DAY IN A NUTSHELL:USA: November 7, 2003: Friday
Japan: November 8, 2003: Saturday

        • Took our first train ride: Out to Harajuku, Tokyo.
        • Met Patricia’s boyfriend Yuichi outside Meiji Shrine.
        • Went shopping on Takeshita Street.
        • Had lunch at Jonathan’s.
        • Took sticker pictures (purikura).
        • Went to Japanese-style karaoke.
        • Took a train to Shinjuku.
        • Saw Takashimaya Times Square at night, went shopping.
        • Played at a game center and won a prize.
        • Drank coffee at Segafredo.
        • Took the train back to Higashimatsuyama.


In the morning I got to take a Japanese-style shower in my sister’s bathroom, and after that she made us french toast (shown above). We ate at her cute little table and got ourselves ready to go out, after arranging with her next-door neighbor to be home to collect our lost bag. Now it was time for our first train ride: To Harajuku, Tokyo.



[train ticket] The trains are a bit complex, at least to the untrained eye. Because no one in our party except my sister can read Japanese, we couldn’t even buy our tickets on our own; it’s all automated through a machine. My sister bought tickets for Harajuku (we still didn’t have any yen), and we fed them into the proper machines and rode the trains.



Cultural Note:

Trains are usually very
crowded. If you want to
get a seat, stand in front of
someone you think might get off,
and if you’re holding the ring in
front of them when they leave,
you get their seat!

Empty Train

This particular train was very crowded, and we took standing positions holding the rings for the almost hour-long ride. We talked to some little girls who offered us candy, and finally we arrived in Harajuku, where we were to meet my sister’s boyfriend Yuichi outside the Meiji Shrine. (We’d planned to check out the shrine at some point too, but today we didn’t have time.)


Takeshita Street


We met up with Yuichi and decided to go shopping on Takeshita Street, where I was told people sometimes dress up like video game and anime characters and walk around being weird. We only saw a few people like that–apparently the weirdos come out at night mostly–but we did have fun going to shops. There were some funny names on these stores, like “Snobbery” or “Nudy Boy.” My favorite happens to be the hundred yen store.

[hundred yen store] A hundred yen is a little less value than a dollar, so I got some cheap souvenirs and the place was five floors high. We were on a strict time schedule because of Yuichi having to go back to work soonish, so we opted to quit shopping and have lunch, which we did at a place called Jonathan’s. It was a bit Denny’s-ish because it had a large variety of food (some of which was not remotely Japanese), and we all had a nice sit-down meal, catching up and chowing down. I had miso soup and some rice.



Cultural Note:

At Japanese restaurants
you don’t tip; it is
generally included in the
price of the meal.
Most menus are totally in
Japanese (though some
have pictures), so it’s
best to have someone with
you who can read it!


[purikura 7]  [purikura 8]  [purikura 9]
Next it was time for “purikura,” or sticker pictures. This is one of my sister’s favorite things to do, and she has tons of these little things in her collection. All four of us got in the booth, choosing a machine called “Cameraman” (I think it’s Yuichi’s favorite); after you choose which character you are on the display, it calls you by your name and tells you where to stand for the different picture shots. Afterwards, you decorate them.



Cultural Note:

“Purikura” stands for
“Print Club.” Lots of words are sort of
English slang.


Anyway, after all this fun, Yuichi went back to work, and it was time for us to try karaoke.



Karaoke in Japan

Mom & Ivy at karaoke

Karaoke in Japan is good. You get your own room, and there are plenty of English songs to sing (the directory is almost like a phone book!). In this nice establishment, the lights go down and the walls light up when you sing, and also each person gets a drink with their patronage. Much fun was had.





        • “Butterfly” by Smile.dk (Me)
        • “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor (Me)
        • “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan (Me and Patricia)
        • “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion (Me and Mom)
        • “Thank You” by Dido (Patricia)
        • “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush (Me)
        • “Thank U” by Alanis Morissette (Me)
        • “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt (Me and Patricia)
        • “First Love” by Utada Hikaru (Patricia)
        • “All the Things She Said” by t.A.T.u. (Me, I did it in Russian for fun)
        • “Cherish” by Madonna (All three of us)


[book off]We finished up our karaoke and went to a discount bookstore called “BookOff,” and I bought a used Ranma ½ manga there, for Jeaux to enjoy.



Now my sister wanted us to go see the Tokyo lights, so it was time to go back on the train. We were getting a little tired (being that we also had a really long plane ride the night before), but that time at least we were able to get seats. We arrived in Shinjuku and it was dark.


We walked around and took some pictures of lights and us being in Tokyo, and eventually found the international ATM we’d been looking for for so long. My mom finally got some yen, and so we decided to go shopping!

Tokyo at night

Tokyo at night

Tokyo at night


We went into a place called Tokyu Hands, but we were running out of time and everything was closing. I managed to buy a postcard for my work pals, which incidentally I ended up sending but it arrived several days after I got back to Gainesville, I checked work’s mail and found my own postcard. Wahh. [tokyu hands]



Cultural Note:

In Japanese stores there
is almost always some kind
of dish or plate onto which
you place your money.
The cashier gives back change
by putting it on the same surface.
Strangely enough, some places
elaborately wrap purchases
(especially if they seem like
they might be gifts), while others
actually hand you a bag, you bag
your purchases yourself.



Mom with Doraemon

A game center was also there, and my sister played a claw drop, winning a Doraemon on the first try. She gave it to my mother because it is dressed like a hockey player and my cousins like hockey. Unfortunately there was no Dance Dance Revolution game there. It has apparently gone out of style somewhat. Too bad, I wanted to try it.

[keitai 1]
We got into a bit of a bad mood because we got word that the delivery of our suitcase hadn’t been successful, and we didn’t know what we were going to do. We stopped at my sister’s favorite café, which is called Segafredo. We had some coffee and rested our feet.


Patricia at Segafredo

We had a rather exhausting ride back on the train, annoyed and depressed about the suitcase (since it contained gifts that we were supposed to give to Patricia’s teacher upon meeting her tomorrow); and now here’s the really bizarre part. When we got back to her house, the luggage was just inside, sitting in the genkan. Despite the fact that all Patricia had on her cell phone was a confused message from the delivery people about her and her neighbor not being home, the luggage was THERE! So we unpacked it and prepared the gift basket for presentation to her teacher and all was well. Weirdly enough, we still don’t know how it got in the apartment.


Lost suitcase came!

We went to bed shortly after arriving home, because we were planning to catch an early train and meet with Patricia’s teacher for a full day of fun.

Japan Trip Day 1


USA: November 6, 2003: Thursday
Japan: November 7, 2003: Friday

        • Went to the airport: Tampa, Florida.
        • Got through security and check-in.
        • Took a plane from Tampa to Chicago (Chicago/Ohare).
        • Took another plane from Chicago to Japan (Tokyo/Narita).
        • Took a bus to my sister Patricia’s apartment in Higashimatsuyama.


Technically speaking, this day was more than just one day, and a lot of it was spent on the airplane. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but it was interesting. I had never been out of the country before, and now it was my first time. See my passport photo? I look excited, eh?

We flew United from Tampa to Chicago. For those of you who don’t know, my sister Patricia bought my ticket as a gift, because she wanted me to be able to see where she was living in Japan while she was teaching English over there. It was quite an extravagant gift, but without her purchasing the ticket and my mother coming with me to cover living expenses and provide some moral support, I could not have gone. I fear traveling alone because I hate being lost (and I GET lost easily), so I owe my trip to these two family members. (Also, my pal Jeaux was nice enough to drive me to Tampa from Gainesville, and to drive my mother and me to the airport. Thanks Jeaux.)

I had an amusing thing happen at the Chicago airport while we were waiting to connect. I was waiting for my mother to get out of the restroom, and people kept coming in and standing behind me, assuming for no reason that I was in line to use a stall. They kept getting confused and standing around and sometimes indicating to me that there were open ones. I don’t know why me standing there made them think I must be the front of a line to use the bathroom, but that was the only convenient place to stand (I tried a few others). It was really silly. Anyway, my mother got a salad at the airport, and we got on the Chicago plane.

It wasn’t a particularly comfortable flight. I was next to an uptight Japanese man who got really upset that my foot touched the jacket in his lap once in our close quarters. We were seated in the middle section of an airbus, and it had a nice little video system and earphones and stuff, but overall it was just not easy to relax and very difficult to sleep (I only did so brokenly for about an hour or two during the twelve-hour flight). But I must say one thing was fantastic. . . .

THE FOOD! I will never complain about airline food again. It had been arranged for me to get special vegetarian meals for my flight, and so I was always served first. My first lunch was a salad, veggies, rice, a little package of tiny rye bread slices, and a cookie. The cookie was labeled “Now & Zen.” (The whole meal was vegan. I think they just make it vegan when you ask for vegetarian since that does the job for both.) I later got a snack that was an unidentifiable yellow potato thing with peas in it. It was excellent! The only bad thing was that my final meal ended up being a potato and onion salad and a cinnamon roll. Onions make me gag and I’m allergic to cinnamon . . . but luckily my mother likes those things, so I traded her and she ordered the pasta dish that was available off the regular menu. At one point she also had Chinese noodles, and tried to get the hang of chopsticks since we’d be in for a week of using them. She did pretty well, though the woman she was looking at to copy her eating style probably thought she was strange.

I spent much of the flight drawing pictures for my Ivy calendar and listening to the announcements getting made in English and Japanese. They showed the movie Finding Nemo, which was weird because I’d been telling my mother she needed to see it, but since she fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up for the movie, I sulked and wouldn’t watch it either. My mom and I entertained each other with conversation some of the time that one or both of us weren’t asleep, and finally we arrived in Japan.

We had to stand in a HUGE line to get checked in for being allowed to be in the country, and then we unfortunately got held up by the fact that one of our bags had been left in Chicago! We made arrangements to have it delivered to my sister’s apartment, but that is like two hours away from the airport, so we were a little stressed about the possibility of missing the delivery since we were definitely planning to be out and about a lot of the next day. The bag that was lost was the least “essential” bag, but it contained the gifts we had brought for people we were supposed to see, so it was depressing.

Arrived at Narita!

Finally we got to go out into the lobby and meet my sister. She’d been worried since it took so long! She snapped our picture (above) and we did our hugging and greeting, and then had to hurry out to a bus platform. We got drinks and boarded the bus with our luggage, and my mom had a nice nap on the long bus ride (though for some of it she was awake). Patricia began to give us excited details about what we could do on our trip, even suggesting attending a Sumo wrestling event. (“Wanna see some fat guys?” she asked, then cautioned us that close-up seats might be fun but they were expensive and you also run the risk of getting “sat on.”)

There was a little drama with the taxi (the driver didn’t have change, and so we couldn’t pay him everything the ride cost, but it didn’t really matter), but we got to my sister’s apartment all right. We climbed stairs, took off our shoes, and brought our luggage inside.

Cultural Note:

In Japanese houses, you
take off your shoes at
a special entranceway
called the genkan.
If there’s a step up,
that generally indicates
that you should take off
your shoes to enter.


My sister’s apartment was little, but very beautiful. There was a nice wood floor hallway which led to her bedroom, and the bedroom had tatami floors, plus there were glass doors that led out to her patio. To the left of the hallway, there was a toilet in its own room, a bathing room, and a little washing machine.


Cultural Note:

Japanese bathrooms don’t
seem to include both a toilet
and a bathtub. Also, the
shower is normally separate
from the bathtub, because you
wash yourself and then soak if
you choose to do so.


To the right in the hallway, she had a lovely little kitchen. A low table, all kinds of food and a fridge, the trash receptacles, a sink, a microwave, and a stove. And then, going deeper into the house (also connected to her bedroom, it was all like a big circle), she had a small living room, with a low couch, a Japanese-style table with cushions to sit on, a television, and her computer desk. That’s about it.


Cultural Note:

The Japanese have burnable
and non-burnable trash pickups,
plus god knows how many
specific types of recycling.
Recycling and separating is
compulsory, and if you miss
a certain trash day, you’re stuck
with it until next time!


My mom was a bit stressed out by the trip and so she decided she would smoke in Japan even though she hadn’t wanted to, so Patricia and I went in search of cigarettes. As a result I got to see some of her town right away; we walked around her neighborhood and went to a 7-11 (yup, they have them there). But none of the convenience stores were selling them. So we ended up getting them out of a vending machine. We came back, and I shared my leftover Halloween candy, and we all went to bed. I slept on the futon, and Patricia and my mom slept on an inflatable mattress. The futon was comfortable; I was out like a light soon after lying down.