This was an important trip for me. Besides my mother and sister, who live in the U.S., the rest of my relatives all live in Japan. Although several family members have visited us in the past few years, I had not been to Japan since 2006. In 2000, our big millennium family trip was to Japan. Wynn, Nathan and Nina had not been back since then. With work and school obligations, Nathan and Nina could only come for the first week. Wynn and I stayed several more days. It was an important trip because I didn't think I'd get another chance to visit Japan because of my cancer diagnosis.
|Tokyo Police Station's Lost and Found|
|An Okada Family get-together in Ikebukuro|
We had dinner with some family members on father's side. My aunt and two cousins met us for sushi.
One of our days in Tokyo we spent with my cousin, Takao and his wife, Yuki. We walked the grounds of the Imperial Palace and down the main street in Ginza.
For the second half of the first week, we took the Shinkansen, (bullet train), into the Japan Alps. The first day we spent in Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. We were surprised to see large farms at such high elevations.
Japan, being a serious agricultural country, is big into serving fresh produce. We had lunch at a Farm-to-Table buffet, which we think would be a great restaurant concept to bring home with us.
|Zenkoji Shrine, Nagano|
|Kanbayashi Onsen's coutyard|
dinners. Each of us got a yukata, (a fresh one twice daily), to wear while staying there. We wore them to meals, walking around the inn, and to the baths. Men and women are separated, (but you can make special arrangements for a private onsen.) After showering, we waded into either the indoor hot pool, or an outdoor natural hot springs pool. The crisp Fall air was the perfect temperature contrast to the hot water of the natural spring, so we mostly hung-out outside.
(We all wore a yukata while staying at the inn.)
|A hot spring water fall at Kanbayashi Onsen|
|Each monkey had a different and distinct face.|
On day #2 in the mountains, we took a minimally challenging hike to see the Japanese macaque monkeys in the area. These monkeys, also known as Snow Monkeys, are famous for hanging out in the hot spring pools in the winter time. When we were there, it wasn't cold enough and there was no snow, so the monkeys didn't get into the pools. But they were fun to see. There was an obvious alpha-male and many babies. The redder the face, the older the monkey is. They groom one another, obsessively. The
experience was a little disappointing, however. In autumn, the monkeys naturally stay at higher elevations because it isn't too cold and there is plenty of food. When we were there, the park workers lured the monkeys down the mountain with food so that tourists, like us, could see them. We arrived to the viewing area before the monkeys had arrived. Initially, it was really cool to see them coming. But as the park worker was tossing some type of grain around, more, and then many more, monkeys came down the mountain. There was a tipping point where it suddenly felt like there were too many monkeys around and the
scene started to feel like a rat invasion.
The mountainous area was beautiful, and although it was cool to see monkeys that weren't in a cage, overall, the experience felt a little too staged for me.
|A long line of people waiting to buy soba noodles|
It happened that there was a Soba Festival while we were in Matsumoto. Who knew so many would turn out for noodles!
|Okada/Sheade, Jimbo, and Mogi Families|
We returned to Tokyo for one day to have a party with relatives on my mother's side.
|The middle house is ours.|
The next day, Nathan and Nina took the train, by themselves, to Narita Airport and headed home. Wynn and I, along with my Aunt Sumi, Uncle Koichi and cousin, Minako, took a train to Atagawa, a sleepy seaside town on the Izu Peninsula. Wynn and I are part owners of a family summer house there. Built into a mountain, this area is also known for its abundance of hot springs. In fact, our house doesn't have a hot water heater. All of our hot water comes from a local hot spring, which is piped directly into the house. When running a bath, you have to turn on the cold water tap or the temperature will be too hot to get in.
One day we took a train to a nearby town to walk along the Pacific ocean cliffs, but mostly we relaxed, read books, napped, and ate. It was perfect.
We tried to get together will all my relatives, at least once, during our visit. This was our last night in Japan with my cousin, Sae, and her husband.
There were a few observations I made during our stay:
1) Japanese people must be very honest. We were so pleasantly surprised when Nathan's passport was turned into the Tokyo Police. But, interestingly, my cousins were not surprised at all. In fact, before we learned that the passport was waiting for Nathan at the police station's Lost and Found, my cousin's wife said to me that she was so surprised that it wasn't turned in because Japanese people are "so good about trying to help others find lost items." In a city of over 13 million people, Nathan got his passport back. Amazing. - Additionally, we passed by many bicycle parking lots. I did not see one heavy-duty lock on any bike. Many had flimsy locks that look like they would fall off if someone rode away on the bike. There were plenty of these flimsy locks to make me feel that they are enough to deter theft in this society.
|There's a 3rd car below the black Volvo|
3) Japanese people are so healthy looking. Walking the streets of Japan, it is obvious that obesity is a non-issue. They walk a lot and eat loads of fresh fish and produce. I'm pretty sure I was the fattest person I saw the whole time we were there.
4) Whenever I go to Japan, I
will always spend time in Tokyo because that is where my relatives live. I love spending time with all of them. And like any large city, Tokyo has many wonderful attractions - fine restaurants, fabulous shopping, great theater, incredible cultural sights, etc...but, it's so crowded. The density of people and buildings is almost overwhelming. Having had the opportunity to experience the mountains and seaside, I now know that I will want to travel out of Tokyo to give balance to my visits.
I know how fortunate I am to be able to travel to far away places. I also know how fortunate I am that, for now, my illness isn't interfering much with my life. My knees and hips were challenged when hiking in the mountains and the marathon days of touring around. But the minor discomfort was a small price to pay for the happiness I felt traveling with Wynn, Nathan and Nina.