What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

A Day in the Life (edited)

Saturday, June 2nd:  Spent the day time traveling.  Oldest child turned it into a nice word problem:  "A family leaves on a flight at 11 AM and flies for 13 hours, arriving at 1 PM.  How is that possible?"  Totally, completely uneventful flight.  Lots of movies, videos games and cat naps.  The division between business class and coach class serves as a reminder to all that class distinctions are alive and well and flying the friendly skies.  Long live capitalism!

Sunday, June 3rd:  Planes, trains, and automobiles.  Finally got to see Frank!!!!  Made it to the apartment, saw two shrines, a local market (where I used my rusty Japanese to buy dinner), and walked the neighborhood a bit.  Frank's already knows the 'hood like the back of his hand, has picked up a frightening amount of Japanese, and has completely settled in.  Amazing.  Jet lag is not too bad, though I wouldn't exactly describe our night as "a full night's sleep."

Monday, June 4th:  Frank took the day off so we could all spend some time getting to know the hood.  Walked for hours--saw the lovely Ueno Imperial Park, which is hundreds of years old and is more in the style of DC's National Mall than Central Park.  There there are no open, grassy fields (so alas, nowhere to play wiffle ball), but there is a lovely pond full of lily pads and carp, numerous shrines, museums, a zoo, an entirely enclosed baseball field (!), and many other wonderful things besides.  (I even spied a sign for an international children's book museum...yipee!)  Luckily there was an outdoor exhibit of the Japan Satsuki Association's gorgeous azaleas, which are carefully pruned and grown to look somewhat like large bonsai.  It was a gorgeous day, and Ueno Park was a wonderful place to spend it.  After an outdoor lunch, we walked for awhile to the Akihabara neighborhood, which is a bit like Times Square, with lots of neon signs, jumbotrons, and stores.  Once there, we ended up Yodabashi, a huge store with an entire floor designated for toys.  Suddenly the kids weren't tired anymore.  IW now calls it "The Big Boy."  After a cab ride home and a quick rest, I headed off to the local market to lay in some supplies.  It was my first solo excursion, and was a fun little adventure.  I successfully asked for butter (bata ga arimasu ka?) and chicken bouillon (niwatori no bouillon ga arimasu ka?) in Japanese, so I was quite pleased with myself.  After a trip to the neighborhood shrine, we headed to dinner at a local soba (noodle) shop, where IW promptly fell asleep sitting up.  Jet lag is real.  Very, very real.

Tuesday, June 5th:  Adventure time!  Frank set off for work, leaving me and the kids to our own devices.  The weather was nice, which is lucky, b/c it is actually the rainy season right now, so we decided to tackle the subway system on our own and find the Pokémon store.  The first obstacle was choosing a subway line.  Tokyo has several different subway systems run by different companies.  Choosing the right line and station is a little daunting at first, but let me tell you that it is the cleanest, easiest to use, most efficient subway I've ever used, and I'm a veteran of the T (which I will always love the most, b/c it was my first), the LA subway (back when there were about 4 blocks of it), DC Metro (as impersonal as the government, but somewhat more efficient), and to a lesser degree the NY subway (fun b/c it is a real-time opportunity to see what it would be like to live in Thunderdome), and on a brief visit, the Tube (with fun British place names like Cockfosters).  So, we chose the JR line and made our way.  The only thing there was the Pokémon store and lots and lots of office buildings.  But, our pilgrimage was successful.  Requisite "only available in Tokyo" souvenirs were purchased.  Off to lunch.  I let the boys choose (we passed on the Denny's, thank you very much), and it was a place that can best be described as a Japanese take on the pub-and-grub.  Lots of wood paneling and boating decor.  But, funnily enough, not heavy on seafood.  Lots of smoking.  Oldest child was horrified and offended.  Lunch of noodles with egg and pork and vegetable gyoza (dumplings) for all three of us came to about $15.  Not bad.  Often it is cheaper to eat out than to go to a grocery store, because fresh food is quite expensive.  Tomatoes, for example, can run $2 a piece for one small-to-medium beefsteak variety.  (If I were an investigative journalist, I'd definitely do a story.)  After lunch we hopped back on the train and ventured to Shibuya station, site of the famous Hachiko story.

Here's the (surprisingly small) statue:

If you don't know the story, look it up!  It the true story of a devoted dog and his beloved master.  Here's a link to a well told version of the story:  http://www.amazon.com/Hachiko-HACHIKO-Newman-Oct-01-04-Hardcover/dp/B007SKD3WC/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338937284&sr=1-5  We toured Shibuya a bit more (kind of like a small Times Square.  Rumored to be the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world) to see the shops and people watch, then headed home for some R&R.

Wednesday, June 6th.  Just the facts:  Rain, laundry, Mets game (loss).  Walking tour with Kato-san to see the 'hood and locate an awesome play ground with lots of boys playing soccer.  It was a grand adventure.  But, perhaps the best adventure was dinner, which was across the street at Mama-san's restaurant.  Tiniest of tiny, we sat in the back where there is only room for 4 other parties.  Tatami mats and Mama-san does not speak English.  There were two groups of diners, each competing for our affections and the chance to prove that they were the most helpful, but that is a story of some great length for another day.

Thursday, June 7th.  First, Mets game (a little), and then a successful trip to the large local market that Kato-san showed us the day before.  Thank goodness she showed us, because otherwise we would not have found it.  The boys were particularly distressed (as I was) to see that the market sells whale meat.  No way to spin that.  Not a happy sight, but we're not in Kansas anymore.  This market has fresh veggies at a much better price than other markets, so I was very happy.  We loaded the kids' backpacks and my two bags with all our supplies and headed home, but not before stopping by the basement of our local department store for lunch.  AF picked out a beautiful bento box with rice and shrimp.  It tasted as good as it looked.  Then it was home for lunch and a rest before heading out to the park for a few hours.  Slow day, in other words, but we need that every once in awhile.

Friday, June 8th.  Just assume every day starts with watching some amount of Mets baseball.  It was a gorgeous day, so we headed our for a four-excursion through the Amayoko market, Ueno Park, and (drum roll) the National Diet's International Library of Children's Literature.  Hooray!  We saw a gorgeous (and completely untranslated) exhibit of the history of Japanese children's literature.  Luckily, I was there to look at the illustrations, so I really didn't need words.  We stopped by the book lending room and check to see if they had anybooks by our friend, Brian Floca.  Score!  They had Moonshot and Poppy, so he is well represented.  A banner day for kimono sightings, which is always uplifting.  A little rest and then dinner out with Frank at a local joint that specialized in BBQ eel, which we all agreed was very good, though the kids liked the chicken skewers best.

Saturday, June 9th.   Subway series started.  We left for our day when they were only down by 4.  Thank God we didn't wait around.  They got drenched by the Yanks.  Then again, so did we.  We were out in the pouring rain making our way by various subway lines to Tokyo's "Railway Museum."  (It must sound better in Japanese.)  The joy of taking the train to the train museum was not lost on us.  It is a TERRIFIC museum.  The kids got to simulate driving a subway train and we saw many old rail cars, as well as a shinkansen (bullet train) car.  We headed back home to dry off and recoup.  Tomorrow:  Little League!

Sunday, June 10th.   Man oh man oh man.  Little League has started!  The boys are on the same team, and the team is huge (almost 30 players).  It's very different and yet it's baseball.  How different can it be?  It was a gorgeous day, we walked to the practice field, where the practice was from 9 to 12.  And that's a short practice.  The boys LOVED it, but they were exhausted in the end.  A little rest for them and lunch and then they headed out with Frank to the amusement park, which as an expensive disappointment.  I, on the other hand, has three hours alone to decompress and reorganize.  A little shopping, a little snacking, and I was a new woman.  Ahhhh.  Dinner out at a local Tempura-only restaurant, which the boys picked.  It was fantastic.  I have no idea what half of it was, but we ate it all, and we rolled out of there so full we could hardly walk.  Seriously.

Monday, June 11th.  Field trip!  We studied the subway maps for awhile and the more and then set out to find Baseman, the tiny shop with all thing Little League.  We do lots of walking here.  On the way to the subway, we passed an enormous shrine, a winding river, and a beautiful woodblock print shop.  After a few requests for help (the subway here is elegant but a bit confusing at times), we made it to the right station with the right ticket and then set out to find the shop.  It was an adventure.  No one at Baseman spoke English.  Uniforms got ordered (we'll see if they are the right size), souvenirs bought (Hideki Nomo backpack charms), and we headed home, but not before stopping at an awesome used book store and 7-11 (yes, 7-11) for a snack.

Tuesday, June 12th.  Rain, rain, rain, but we set off anyway for the origami museum (unbelievable) and the cat café (fantastic).  More rain.  More cats.  Lots of fun!  Delicious sushi take out for dinner.

Wednesday, June 13th.  "At home" kind of day.  A trip to the local market (always an adventure), the local Woolworths-type store (Don Quixote, we call it), and then a walk and some catch in the 'hood.  I made onigiri (riceballs) with lox inside for dinner.  My first try, and they were pretty good, but way too big.

Thursday, June 14th.  We took a trip to the Asakusa neighborhood and saw the Asakusa Jinja (shrine) which is housed in the Asakusa Kannon Temple (Senso-ji), which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and dates back to 628.  The complex also includes a 5-story pagoda, the second tallest in Japan.  We spent lots of time walking through the souvenir market of Nakamise Dori, stopping to eat several snacks, including sweet potato fries dipped in a sweet soy-syrup.  For dinner, it was another trip to Taro for sashimi, asparagus with butter, clams, and spring rolls.

Friday, June 15th.  Prep for our trip to Kyoto over the weekend, so we took a day off and just played a little ball and researched.

Saturday, June 16th.  Shinkansen! (Bullet train!) to Kyoto in the rain.  Set out sightseeing on foot and shopped, took in the sights at a few temples and shrines, walked along the canal and had dinner at Tetsebune.  A LONG walk home in the dark and damp Kyoto night to the Westin Miyako.  We had wanted to stay in a Riyokan (an inn run out of a traditional Japanese house), but they were all booked.  So, we were in the Westin.  Guess what?  Japanese people love the Westin, and we do, too.  Bacon and eggs and pancakes for breakfast!  The boys were in heaven!  I went nuts over the cherries.  They are about $10 for 20 cherries here (no lie), so I pretty much made myself sick on them the first morning.

Sunday, June 17th.  Good luck--no rain, though it had been forecast.  A nice, big breakfast, and then we walked and walked and walked and took the subway a bit.  Saw the old Shogun castle, Nijo-jo, with "Nightengale" floors that were made to sqeak when walked on so that no one could sneak up on the Shogun.  Not that he was paranoid or anything.  Saw secret samurai hiding spots where they could leap out and defend the Shogun.  Walked and walked to lunch at a restaurant that is almost 600 years old.  A local favorite, too.  Fantastic!  Then we walked to the Imperial Park (palace was closed), walked to the textile center (Kimono fashion show!), and then cabbed it to Kinkakujo, the Golden Pavillion, a spectacular Buddhist temple/retreat with a gilded pavillion.  Cab and subway home.  Exhausted.  Dinner in at the Westin Miyako.  Just couldn't get out again.   Legs didn't work anymore.  (Literally.  AF had a sore foot from all the walking.)

Monday, June 18th.  Another awesome breakfast.  But, no cherries this time.  I guess I cleaned them out the day before.  Guess what?  More walking!  The lovely Kazue Takagi from Chris Rowthorn Tours was our walking tour guide.  Our last morning was overcast but no rain.  Saw many more temples and shrines, and walked through Southern Higashiyama, with an incredible concentration of temples and shrines.  Shopped in the old shops that are housed in traditional Japenese wooden houses.  Bought a simply marvelous antique tea set (many thanks to Kazue for ensuring we got a good price).  Lunch in a soba shop that had (GASP!) run out of gohan (rice).  Still terrific, though.  Bought lots of souvenirs, too.  Got to the rain "just in time."  The Shinkansen is NEVER late or early.  Always right on time.  We had 10 min. to spare.  Phew.

Tuesday, June 19th.  Home day.  Market shopping and short trip to the park before the arrival of the much-ballyhooed (but really unimpressive) typhoon.  Lots of laundry and movies, since it was raining too much to play.

Wednesday, June 20th.  Imperial Palace!  Imperial Gardens!  But, I am using exclamation points to make it exciting.  In reality, after the intrigue and quiet grandeur of Kyoto, the current Imperial Palace and gardens are just, well...boring.  I hate to say it, but it's true.  The gardens are extensive, but right now they are in between the spring and summer blooming (except for the hydrengeas).  I am sure the azeleas were gorgeous, though.  They were everywhere.  Sorry we missed them.  Lots of uphill climbing for decent views of the immediate downtown Tokyo area.  There were a couple of interesting (but tiny) museums.  Good soft-serve ice cream.  Not much else.  Got a glimpse at the Tokyo reproduction of the Eiffel Tower from afar (close enough) and the old Tokyo train station, which is red brick and western in style.  By far the greatest part of the day was dinner:  three of Frank's colleagues took us out for a traditional tatami-mat, sit-on-the floor Japanese dinner.  We even had a photo op with two maiko (geisha in training).  Lots of fun and wonderful food, and the boys behaved wonderfully!

Thursday, June 21st.  Frank was nice enough to share his cold with me.  We're taking a day off.  Blog updates and long hours at the park.  Not much else.

Friday, June 22nd.  More cold.  Another typhoon.  A little park.  A little exploring at a local department store.  A little research for field trips.  Not much else.

Saturday, June 23rd.    Baseball practice all morning and then Odaiba all afternoon.  Odaiba.  What a day.  Big blog post on tha to come.

Sunday, June 24th.  More baseball practice and then a trip in the afternoon to the Tokyo Dome station to go to our first Little League game.  Fires won, 11-0!  Lots of cheering.  3 innings played.  Only pitcher for the Fires was a girl, and she was very good.  Boys didn't get to play, b/c of tournament rules.  First game for them will be mid-July.  The afternoon was full of hanging out with dinner from Matsuzakaya.

Monday, June 25th.  Why do the kids always outgrow their shoes so fast?  On the hunt for affordable shoes.  Tried out Ameyoko market and shopped for groceries.  Discovered the many levels of Matsuzakaya, including the roof's "Kid Zone," and the toys on the children's floor.  Spotted Lego vending machines!  Lunch and dinner.  Recouped from the weekend.  Played a little baseball. 

Tuesday, June 26th.  Slow morning, and then a trip to the park for soocer/wiffle ball followed by a trip to Ikebukuro and the Hello Kitty store, as well as Sunshine 60 Street, Sunshine Mall, and the wacky NamjaTown "amusement park' in the mall, home to Ice Cream City and Gyoza Stadium, among other things.  Started to reserach the nex trip--Hakone!  Frank and I had a nice dinner at Taro--alone. 

Wednesday, June 27th.  More research for our trip, then lunch in the park (Subway) before heading out to Tokyo Station to buy Shinkansen tickets (!) to Hakone and a little shopping in Tokyo Station, including "Tokyo Character Street" and Diamono dept. store.  Looking for shoes for the boys.  In vain.  Back to Ameyoko market, where we found shoes for IF but not AF.  Dinner at home, with a movie, too:  "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Thursday, June 28th:  We spent the morning catch up a bit and the boys worked on their NanoBlocks, which is basically a super-small Lego set.  One is of the Kaminarimon temple, which we saw here in Asakusa, and the other is of the Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto, which we also saw.  We had lunch at a terrific tempura restaurant with Kato-san, and then a little time in the park to blow of steam.  A quiet afternoon and a trip to the market rounded out the day, with dinner at home.  Stayed up late waiting to hear the SCOTUS healthcare decisions.  Watched "Play Misty for Me" with Donna Mills and Clint Eastwood.  Impressively horrible, unlike the SCOTUS decision, which was impressively wonderful.  Every now and then the whole balance of powers thing gives me hope.  Almost redeems SCOTUS for Bush v. Gore.

Friday, June 29th:  The boys had time for a little whiffle ball and soccer at the park today.  Also, Frank realized that there was a snafu with our train tix for Hakone, so I had to go to the JR rail station to cancel them.  Turns out that the Shinkansen tickets are the most expensive way to go.  (JR runs the Shinkansen.)  The Odakyu line (run by the Odakyu rail co.) is the way to go.  The bottom line is that though the trains in Japan are incredibly fast and always on time, the business end is byzantine.  Too many companies with lines to the same destination, too many "exclusive" fares.  It's basically impossible to figure out the cheapest and best way to travel.  Dinner at our favorite Korean BBQ place!  TonDon!  Which helped dull the pain of the train ticket misadventure a little.  But not entirely.

Saturday, June 30th:  We had an epic adventure to Hakone, an unbelievably popular weekend getaway from Tokyo.  The region is known for it's natural hot springs (onsen) and (in good weather) views of Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san).  We were up bright and early, as usual, and took 2 different subways to get to the Odawara line, where we took the Odakyu Romance Car (as a guidebook says, an "inscrutible name," as the train has nothing to do with romance) to get to Odawara station. It took about 2 hours, and suddenly we were in the mountainside.  Many people make a weekend (or longer) of the trip, but I decided we'd do a day trip.  That made for a long day, but it was do-able.  One of the "attractions" in this area is that there is a "Hakone circuit" which takes you up and over the mountains and uses many different types of transportation, which is how we came to use:  a switchback train, a funicular railway, a cable car, a bus, a boat, another bus, and then a train back to Tokyo.

Starting in Odawara, we walked up to the rebuilt Odawara Castle, which is a gorgeous replica of the 16th century original, and it houses a terrific museum that has many artifacts from the days of the shogun rulers.  The views of the area from the top are also fantastic.  Back on the train, we headed up one stop to Hakone Yumoto station, where we got off to walk around the town a bit, which is on a river and is well known for its onsen.  After walking around the main area of town (full of fun souvenir shops, but not much else), were ready to head out.   We got on a special switchback train to head up the mountain.  After three switchbacks, we arrived in Gora, where the funicular railway takes you up to Sounzan station, where the cablecar begins.  Once on the cablecar, we were transported over the mountains to Owakundani, which is a bizarre place on the top of the mountain that is scarred with areas where the trees are gone, as is all other vegetation, because of hot sulfur springs that come from the mountains and the hillside is literally smoking with escaping sulfur.  It reeks of rotten eggs, and the local specialty is a "black egg."  It is a hard-boiled egg that has been boiled in the sulfur springs.  It turns the shell black, but the inside is the same as a normal hard-boiled egg.  And no, we did not eat them.  The cablecar down the mountain was closed for maintenance, so we took a bus down to Togendai and then took a souped up ferry (made to look like a Spanish galleon, of all things) across Lake Ashinoko, which is believed to be in the remains of a defunct volcano (dormant for over 400,000 years).  It's a small lake (about a 20 min. ride), and it deposited us in Hakone Machi.  If it had been a clear day, we would have been able to see Fuji-san from Owakundani and the ferry ride, but it was cloudy all day, so we were out of luck.  Because we were day tripping, we did not have as much time as we would have liked to poke around in Hakone Machi;  we had to head back to to Hakone Yumoto to catch our train home.  We had a terrific dinner in Hakone Yumoto before heading home (I had udon curry--my first--and it was fantastic).  It was a long ride home, but we had had a fun day.

Sunday, July 1st:  Baseball practice then game (the semi-final).  The team won (Aya pitched again and she did very well), 11-3.  Next weekend is the championship!  After the game we headed to the Tokyo Dome to start IW's birthday celebration a day early (b/c Frank had to work on Monday.)  For lunch IW chose KFC (ugh) and Baskin Robbins (yes!).  Then we trekked over through the amusement park/shopping mall/arcade to look at a baseball store, Todo.  The boys each picked out Japanese baseball hats:  AH for the Yomimuri Giants (the Tokyo team) and IW for Hokkaido Fighters.  Afterwards we headed home for a little r&r, which was badly needed after Saturday's epic journey.

Monday, July 2nd: IW turned 8!  Hard to believe.  He was especially happy that his birthday was suspended between Japan and NY, which meant he got an extra 13 hours of birthday this year.  He milked it 100%.  Frank had to work, so the boys and I made a trip back to Odaiba for a visit to the new Legoland Discovery Center, which was awesome.  But not before stopping in Tokyo station to get the 70% refund on the Shinkansen tickets, which I had canceled the previous Friday but could not get refunded until Monday b/c of the byzantine business system.  After Legoland, we headed home happy, with another stop at Tokyo station for me to visit the Rilakkuma store.  Then I spent the afternoon running between markets to get all the ingredients for the birthday boy's special dinner request:  spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic bread, and salad.  Not as easy as it sounds around here.  But, I pulled it off, and we ate dinner while watching a Mets game on the computer.  (Probably would have have that dinner and watched Mets at home on the TV if we had been in NY.)

Tuesday, July 3rd:  Spent entirely too long (3 hours) at the Japan Tourist Bureau office (JTB) making plans for an upcoming trip to Nikko, outside of Tokyo.  I had Kato-san with me, which made the whole venture possible, but it was still very hard.  The rest of the day was a blur, as my mind was mush.  The basic lesson is this:  NEVER try to make any travel plans in Tokyo without using a travel agency.  It's simply impossible, even if you are Japanese.  Spent some time in the park in the afternoon, and Frank brought home a nice sushi dinner.  Had lots of wine.

Wednesday, July 4th:  Frank had to work all day, so the boys and I did the most American thing I could think of:  a trip to Tokyo Disneyland.  We took the subway over and were there for about 8 hours, until we could hardly stand any longer.  Hot dogs, hamburgers, and as AH pointed out more than once:  "The best thing about this place is that everything is in English!"  We didn't stay for the fireworks, but we did stop by the 100 yen store on the way home to pick up some fireworks for us to set off at home.  Limited it to sparklers, as we were tired and Frank still was not home.  A quick dinner from our favorite Ameyoko stall (skewers and pork/scallion pancakes), a little Lord of the Rings, and it was lights out!

Thursday, July 5th:  Took the day off and hung around the apartment, trying to recoup from a busy week.   

Friday, July 6th:  Subway ride to Asakusa for English-language Nikko maps (for our upcoming trip to Nikko) and souvenirs.  In the afternoon/evening, we went to our first professional Japanese baseball game:  The (Tokyo) Yomimuri Giants versus the Tigers.  Giants won.

Saturday, July 7th:  7:30 Tobu train to Nikko, a World Heritage Site and also home to innumerable waterfalls and gorgeous mountain hikes.  Only 2 hours by train from Tokyo.  Unfortunately, also a bit like the Pacific Northwest.  Rainy.  Frank said there was "some rain," predicted for the day, so we set off from our hotel (the Nikko Green Hotel), on foot.  We soon learned it was VERY rainy.  Torrential downpour kind of rainy.  All day.  We were drenched, walking with sloshing shoes, wet butts, and general soppyness.  At least it was not cold.  We saw the Jokoji Temple, a temple that was not part of the World Heritage Site,  but fascinating nonetheless for all the red caps on the statues.  We also saw the raging Daiya River, the and local shops, and the red-laquered Shinkyo sacred brdige.  The bus never came, so we had to walk home in the (pouring) rain.  But, the saving grace was the hotel.  We had a traditional Japanese tatami room, and it was really cool.  It was like having a small apartment, and we loved it.  We could see monkeys frolicking outside from our window.  We had an unbelievable traditional Japanese dinner at the hotel.  Tatami mats, several courses of delicious food, including the local specialty, yuba, which is thin tofu sliced into sheets.

Sunday, July 8th:  More rain.  Seriously.  But first, we had a traditional Japanese breakfast (sushi and rice, anyone?)  I dried our shoes with a hairdrier (which turned out to be a waste of time), and set out again.  Undaunted.  Made it to the World Heritage site (thank you hotel shuttle bus) and saw the Rinnoji Temple, Toshogu Shrine (famous for the "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" monkey sculpture), Futarasan Shrine, and Taiyuin Temple.  Basic gist:  the sites are all hundreds of years old and were built to honor a Shogun and his family.  Gorgeous.  Absolutely gorgeous.  We bought a calligraphy book so that we could start collecting the hand-made calligraphy done at each temple/shrine.  It is probably the coolest souvenir we'll have.  The boys are very into collecting the calligraphy "signatures" of each place we visit.  Just wish we had started it in Kyoto. More torrential rain.  We were interviewed multiple times by 6th graders who were on a school trip and were practicing their English.  It was very cute.  The boys were fascinated.  Once we were done with the World Heritage Site, we picked up lunch on the way to catch the bus to Lake Chuzenji.  It was about a 30 min. bus wait (in the torrential rain) without shelter.  Waited with lots of other drenched tourists.  Got a seat on the bus for the 30 min. ride up into the mountains to Lake Chuzenji.  Couldn't see much of anything due to the rain and fog.  The lake was barely visible.  The hiking was impossible in the rainy conditions.  Did see the gorgeous Kegon Falls and also visited a wood carving shop, where the old man and woman who owned it made many of the items sold.  He carved wood in the local Nikko tradition (we bought cherry wood sake cups and a small canister),  and she made textiles woven on a loom in the shop.  We made the bus trip back down the mountain (slosh, slosh, slosh) and then went back to the hotel.  ONSEN!  The hot spring (onsen) bath at the hotel was serene, especially after two days of soggy-yet determined sigh seeing.  Another night at the hotel with a traditional Japanese dinner (again, delicious) and sleeping on the futons in the tatami room, which the boys call "sleepover style."

Monday, July 9th:  NO RAIN!  NO RAIN! NO RAIN!  At least, not much.  Didn't really need the umbrellas.  Another Japanese style breakfast.  (Not my favorite, I must admit.  Rice porridge is just does not quite hit the spot for me.)  Then, we headed out on a 30 min. walk up the mountain to the beautiful and serene Jakko falls.  We only saw a handful of people, which was a real treat.  Then, we walked back down and got the shuttle bus to the Tobu train station.  We shoved our suitcase in a local, grabbed a quick lunch at a soba shop, and then hiked across the Daiyagawa River and up through a local nature trail to get to the Nikko Kibori-no-Sato Woodcarving Center.  It was very cool.  We learned how to carve wood and the boys carved a dragon in a wooden plate.  They even let Frank and me have a turn or two.  We hiked back down to the train station and took the train back to Tokyo.
Home sweet home (away from home)!

Tuesday, July 10th:  Lots of laundry.  And grocery shopping.  A little time at the park and a walk to the grocery store was about it for the (hot) day.

Wednesday, July 11th:  Lunch with a friend at her Japanese home.  It was a fantastic meal, and we had a very nice time.  Got to take the bus in Tokyo for the first time, which was easier than I expected it to be.  That was about it for the day.  Took it easy.  I did make dinner though.

Thursday, July 12th:  Park in the morning, then errands in the afternoon.  I was surprised when Kato-san called and had me come try on the second-hand wedding kimono she bought to use as a display in one of her buildings' lobbies.  I thought the boys and I were just going to see it--it was gorgeous.  White with intricate needlework on the wedding kimono itself.  The other pieces were gold with gold thread, and then the kimono coat, which is worn during the reception, was red with cranes all over it in gold thread.  It was fantastic.  And heavy.  I had coffee with Kato-san and two of her associates, and we discussed the recent Nikko trip.  It was lots of fun.  Dinner at home.

Friday, July 13th:  We set out early in the morning and took at ride in the swan boats at Ueno Koen.  It was already hot.  We got our calligraphy book signed at the Benten temple and then got ice cream.  Next we took a trip to Ameyoko to run errands (and get a skewer and gomu) and then home to cool of for awhile before dinner out with Frank at the Ichi food court.  We dined to the greatest hits of The Pet Shop Boys, which somehow seemed just about right.

Saturday, July 14th:  Long weekend!  We spent the morning at home, but after lunch, Frank submitted himself for the punishment of trip planning at the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB).  After three hours, he finally had our August trip plans set and train tickets purchased, though not without a serious blow to his sanity.  In the meantime, I took the kids out for ice cream, another trip to see Coo at Café Jalala, various errands, and then back home.

Sunday, July 15th:  Baseball in the (unbelievably hot) morning.  Frank and I dropped the boys and headed out for a little date at the Meji Shrine.  I got our calligraphy book signed, and then we headed back.  We took the subway to Ueno Hirakoji to go to carousel sushi and then home for a rest before heading back out in the late (still hot) afternoon for a boat ride from Hinode Pier up the Sumida River (Sumidagawa) to Asakusa.  It was in the low 90s all day and humid, just like home.

Monday, July 16th:  Marine Day, when Japan gives thanks for the bounty of the sea.  National Holiday!  Baseball in the (still hot) morning and then a little take-out for lunch.  We took it easy all afternoon, since the boys were wiped.  Frank and I took a stroll in the hood and picked up some groceries.  The boys watched some Mets and a movie.

Tuesday, July 17th:  Frank headed back to work on what promised to be another 90+ day.  The boys and I took it easy, though we did head to Matsuzakaya to get some hard-earned Lego minifigures (sometimes journal writing and summer reading needs to be rewarded with more than the satisfaction of knowing you've done it).  A late trip to the park and some journal and post card writing.  The cicadas are out in Tokyo...late summer is announcing itself.

Wednesday, July 18th:  Watched a Mets game (v. Nats) to the bitter (10th inning) end.  Then headed out into the noonday sun like a bunch of fools.  It was (it seemed to me) the hottest day of the summer so far, and terribly humid. Must have been in the mid-90s.  Made it to St. Luke's, where Dad worked during the Korean War.  A nice doctor got us inside so that we could see the chapel, which is the only thing that remains from the 1950s, besides Dr. Teusler's house (the founder of the hospital).  Took LOTS of pictures.  Tried to walk to the river, but it was too damn hot.  Made it as far as the fish market but had to hop on the subway home to cool off.  Came home and spent the rest of the day trying to move as little as possible.  I REALLY MISS THE TOWN POOL TODAY.

Thursday, July 19th:  Frank in Yaizu for work.  The boys and I took the scenic route for our errands, which took us first to the local grocery store/dry cleaner (Peacock), and then to an surprising find--a shrine we had not seen before.  This one was for marriage and business.  Or should I say the business of marriage?  It's the Kanda shrine.  Very interesting.  Then to the Confucius shrine (for the second time).  Then Unsodo.  Boy oh boy do I LOVE Unsodo.  Then Iidabashi for one last trip to Baseman, the baseball store, and ice cream.  Eventually we made it home and spent the rest of the afternoon inside, because once again, it was a hot, hot, hot Tokyo day.

Friday, July 20th:  In the morning, the boys and I made a trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market so that we could give it a good visit.  Lots of fish, shops, and even a shrine (of course).  A great lunch at a small stall where we had tuna skewers and fantastic tempura.  Met a couple of young American women who had just arrived in Tokyo and were impressed with the boys' ability to use hashi and their willingness to "eat anything."  Though the day was very cloudy and cool (in the 70s), we made the trip to the neighborhood gym (think old YMCA) to their indoor pool.  We were the only gaijin there.  Later, we took an ambulance trip to ToDai Biyoin (Tokyo Daigaku Hospital) for stitches when I cut my thumb making dinner.  Frank returned from Yaizu after all the commotion.

Saturday, July 21st:  Boys' baseball game cancelled due to rain.  I cancelled my pickle-making class due to stitches.  So, we took it easy and headed to Korea-town for a Koren soup lunch and a walk around.

Sunday, July 22nd:  More baseball. 

Monday, July 23rd:  Another trip back to Unsodo to pick out a few more things.  This time for us.  I had to promise the boys a trip to Freshness Burger to get them to go back to Unsodo (they hate it.  too boring for them.)  Hot day, but the burgers helped quite a bit.

Tuesday, July 24th:  Udon noodle time!  Spent the day in class, which was good, because it was hot and muggy outside.

Wednesday, July 25th:  Took it easy for most of the day, but did take a quick trip to Asakusa (again) to get our calligraphy book signed at the shrine.  Got ice cream, too.  We're getting to be regulars in Asakusa.  Got home and stayed inside b/c of the freakin' heat.  I can take the heat.  I really can.  So, when I say it's hot, it's hot.  I'd say 90 degrees and 99 percent humidity.  It's the humidity (and smog) that kills me.

Thursday, July 26th:  At the request of the boys, we "took it easy" for the day.  It was like a summer day in Houston--hot, muggy, and almost impossible to breathe when outside.  The boys lasted 20 min. outside (at 9 AM) playing catch before coming in drenched with sweat.  Took a brief trip out mid-day to Matsuzakaya for lunch and practically ran home to hide inside.  Starting to pack up to ship stuff to NYC.  It was so hot the boys did not want to go to the pool, because we'd have to go outside and walk to the subway to get to the pool.  Went out at 4 for groceries, and it was still stifling.  Not fun.

Friday, July 27th: