One to Grow On

November 6, 2009

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:44 am
Konnichiwa  from Tokyo!  And, it turns out we knew some Japanese after all.  Domo arigato means thank you, and the kids have been cheerfully lobbing it at everyone who’s helped us all day!

When last I typed, from the long-haul terminal of Heathrow airport, we were tired, a little hungry, and the jokes about being homeless weren’t that funny anymore.  Well, happily, we feel much better now!  The kids thought the flight to Tokyo was perfect.  Only the lack on in-flight peanuts marred their satisfaction.  I mean, come on- someone strolled the aisles delivering orange juice while you watched your own private tv.   The lure of the tv was so strong that sleep was tough to come by.  Well, maybe not for me.  I tossed on my eye pillow and stayed only alert enough to manage potty runs for the 12 hour trip.  Thank God for British Airways.

Once in Tokyo we found our Ryokan, like a Japanese bed and breakfast, with little trouble.  Of course, ours serves neither breakfast nor dinner.  We are in the Ueno district, an area dominated by a huge old park, most of the museums, and the venerable Tokyo University.  It’s far from the neon lights and skyscrapers, and that’s fine with me.  We got checked in, remembering to take our shoes off at the entrance.  The lady who checked us in found small slippers for Rory and Nora to wear, then led us up a flight of stairs so narrow with such short treads that even Nora had to place her foot sideways.  I took one look and thought I’d do better to make multiple trips with our luggage.  Our room was ready, three sleeping mats covered in fluffy duvets.  A low table along one wall hid under it two mats for sitting.  Rice paper mats called tatami cover the floor.  In short, perfect.  The toilet next door was sufficiently complicated to please Rory and Nora.  What more could we ask?

Resisting the fluffy duvets was hard, but we had walked past the Ueno Zoo and had vowed to return.  Back we went, stumbling upon the Tosho-gu Shrine on the way.  Built in 1651 it celebrates the man who unified Japan.  The path leading up to it has stone lanterns along  either side which were gifts from feudal lords back in the day.  The shrine has withstood all the disasters to strike Tokyo, from massive earthquakes to US bombing, but it’s closed for renovation now.  Outside it are little, I don’t know, mini-shrines were people write a wish or a prayer on different things and leave them there.  We were pretty taken with these small lightweight wooden plaques, called emas, with a beautiful painting on one side; on the other people wrote their wish.  We debated buying one and leaving it, but I thought it was too pretty to leave, and it didn’t feel right for us.  We just stood and each said a little prayer in our way, and that felt better.  But the emas were quite beautiful.  We had to try not to stare as a man approached the front of the shrine went through a complicated ritual involving clapping and exclaiming and throwing money into a coffer-thingie.  Pretty interesting to watch.  In fact, more interesting than the zoo, although Rory and Nora loved it.  We watched penguins at feeding time, but funnier than that was watching the sea lions next door watching the penguin feeding show.  I couldn’t tell if they were waiting for their turn with the zookeepers or shopping for a penguin dinner.  The sea lions were very enthusiastic eaters, barking insistently and showing off quite a bit.  Nora and Rory were delighted. 


We held out until dark, strolling around the lake in the park, laughing at the paddle boats shaped like swans.  Had I had an ounce of strength left after the staircase at our ryokan we would have had a go.  Alas, we barely had enough umph left to make it back to the ryokan, where we collapsed at 5:30pm for the night.



12 hours, 12 glorious hours, later, we deigned to rise from our beds.   A little Japanese cartoons on tv for the kids, a wonderfully hot,, strong shower for me, and we were out to explore the rest of Tokyo.  A sidenote:  a certain British family is doing a round-the-world trip and keeping a very thorough blog.  I read it almost daily leading up to our own trip, and I admire it very much, but I have to confess I’ve snickered gently to myself at their exhaustive coverage of everything that goes in their mouths.  I mean,  “Little Suzy chose apple jam while Little Timmy went for the strawberry.”  Well, I’m having to work ,really, really hard not to be a hypocrite.  I’m dying to go blow-by-blow through each meal, but, no.   Suffice it to say our breakfast on barstools around a u-shaped counter, ordered off a picture menu, was great.  It was like a Japanese diner, but fast-paced.  We all left a little hungry, but we gave such joy to the Japanese business men watching as Rory and Nora tried to eat their rice with chopsticks.   One even laughed out loud.  The kids loved that, and the guy working there brought out 2 spoons.  We learned that Nora loves Miso soup, and Rory likes  neither miso soup nor cabbage salad nor beef soup for breakfast.  But the boy can put down some rice.


After two consultations with the information guy in the metro and 10 minutes spent messing around with the automatic ticket dispenser, which, yes, was technically in English, only not in any arrangement of words that held meaning for me and set on a timer to accomodate the most gifted speed-reader, I stood, chewing my lip trying to devise a back-up plan, when, lo!  a little square in the wall popped open and a uniformed Metro Man popped out to the waist, cranked around, pressed all the magic buttons, and two tickets issued forth.  What took so long, brother?   Off we went on the way to the Imperial Palace. 

I had, um, forgotten to mention to the kids that the Tokyo subways could be a little crowded.  I mentioned it, just in passing, on was to the platform.  Good thing.  I took was look at the train pulling into the station and thought, Wow, human wallpaper.   No space was visible within the compartments, just body after body after body, faces staring without expression.  The doors opened, 3 men got off, we followed about 5 other folks in, and miraculously there was room.  Granted, the doors physically pushed two guys further into the compartment when closing, but, still, we fit.  Rory and Nora had their faces pressed into me, and I could keep my arms around them, relieved of the need to hold on as I was supported by my fellow Metro riders.   Rory came off it muttering about celery and military planes. 

The Imperial Gardens were fine.  The bridge over the moat with the palace in the background was beautiful, and we even got to see part of the changing of the guard, but the kids didn’t seem to interested.  Their sole concern was how soon could we get to Kiddyland, a 6-story toy store they had been anticipating for weeks.  I failed to entice them to stroll farther into the grounds, even with the lure of ancient castle ruins and huge boulders to be clamoured over.  Nope, Kiddyland or bust. 

Soon thereafter we found ourselves strolled along one of the great shopping streets in Tokyo, and, therefore, the world, in the noted district of Harajuku.  I like it because I can remember how to spell it.  It was wonderful.  The people were beautiful, the shops were beautiful.  I felt frumpy and ridiculous in my serviceable clothes.  I kept chanting to myself,  It’s just for today, it’s just for today…  I was too intimidated to go in any clothing stores, so that was good for our bank account.  If fashion moves East to West now, then here’s a heads-up:  Invest in cuffed shorts, black tights or leggings, and tall boots.  It’s a good look.  Oh, another news flash:  Scrunchies are HUGE.  Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out!


 Kiddyland was the splendour that Rory and Nora had hoped for.  Rory grinned foolishly at the rows of Pokemon items, and Nora was delighted with the assortment of, well, almost everything.  I admit I found myself captivated by most of the Hello Kitty things.  Honestly, the things they think up.  Hello Kitty USB stick, anyone?  In fact, the whole collection of USB sticks interested me, especially the ones shaped like very life-like sushi.  I wanted one for my niece for her birthday, but was deterred by price (70 bucks!).  We also picked out one for Brandon that looked like a ninja’s throwing star stuck into the computer, but, again, too cheap to buy.  If you’re reading this, honey, sorry.  We got a few things (hmm-hmm), and made our way up the street for a few hours. 


Up-scale boutique for pet clothing


Jeans for a cat? Phoebe says, No thanks!

Rory liked it so much he asked if we could stay here in Tokyo longer, rather than leaving to explore more of Japan.  I can see the attraction.   Clean, safe, something new around every corner, yet familiar enough and with enough folks who speak some English not to feel totally strange.  And I bought them chocolate milk both times we saw a Starbucks.  Turns out soymilk isn’t so easy to find here after all, but Starbucks comes through.  I love that, and I hate it.  I think we’ll try to get to the fish market early enough to still head out of town before lunch.  We are going to head off tomorrow to celebrate Rory’s 8th birthday in Igo Ueno City, site of a famous old Ninja House museum.

Thanks to everyone for your comments!  We love to hear from you.



  1. Love the first day in Japan. Sounds like all you had hoped it would be. Love your blog–great way to keep in touch.

    Comment by Nana — November 6, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  2. I want to do this now!!! You need to upload pictures!!

    Comment by Amy — November 6, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    • I’m working on the pictures! It’s tricky on WordPress. And writing the dang blog is about all I have time for!

      Comment by midway2go — November 6, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Hi. I’ve been thinking about you — I’m so glad you wrote and are having such fun. Hank was baptized yesterday — I wished y’all could have been there for the party.

    Comment by Jill Ingram — November 9, 2009 @ 8:38 am

  4. Ahhhh Soooo excited for you guys! All those months talking, you home and us moving and now the roles are reversed! Keep up the blogs they’re awesome and I love reading about your adventures now we are home… Have you tried an online storage thing for the pics? Try Picasa from google it was great for me. Then you can just put the link for the photos on the blog…. uploading photo’s was the biggest hindrance. Enjoy! xxx

    Comment by Lucy & Thomas — November 9, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

  5. Nora you look so gorgeous in your Kimono!

    Comment by Lucy & Thomas — November 14, 2009 @ 6:31 am

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