Wednesday, October 28, 2015


     Well...we did it again.  Wynn and I took another great trip, this time to Japan with Nathan and Nina.  Not since 2012, when the four of us went to Ecuador and Peru, have we been able to travel together.  

     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
     After landing at Narita Airport, we spent the first three days in Tokyo, mostly visiting family. Nathan lost his passport the first day we were there, so there was some drama dealing with the procedures and paperwork needed to replace it at the U.S. Embassy.  I had made copies of everyone's passports, but had left them on the desk back at home.  With the help of our friend, Brigid, we were able to get them emailed to us.  But...Nathan being the luckiest guy I know...someone found his passport and actually turned it into the Tokyo Police Department's Lost and Found. Strangulation of son by mother...averted. 

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. 

Shinkansen engine

     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
      From Nagano we took a local train to Yudanaka - a small mountain town in an area famous for onsens, (a word meaning both hot spring baths and hot spring resorts.)  Autumn,  deep in the mountains of the Japan Alps, is spectacular.  The fall colors were just beginning to emerge.  We stayed at Kanbayashi Onsen, a traditional Japanese inn/resort, with tatami rooms, futon beds, onsens, casual kimonos called yukata, and amazing ten-course breakfasts and
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.  

     From Yudanaka we took a train to Matsumoto, another beautiful mountain city, which is home to the oldest castle in Japan, Matsumoto Castle, built in 1504.  Smaller structures, adjacent to the main tower, were added over the next 70-80 years.  The castle's history dates back to feudal lord times and was actively used until the end of the feudal system in 1868.  It is spectacular. The interior is designed for protection and defense, but one of the towers has a moon-viewing room.  

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
2)  Space is a premium and the Japanese are creative in their use of it.  Check out this parking garage in the apartment building of one of my relatives.  Each parking space accommodates three vehicles, stacked up.  When you need your car, you insert a key into the corresponding car number, and the lift will bring your car to street level. 

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.  


denise Friesen said...

Oh Happy Day, thanks for the tour, the pictures are just fabulous. I'm so glad that ALL of you got an opportunity to go. So thankful for the honest people of Japan in returning Nathan's passport!!

Thanks for sharing, just breath taking photos! So peaceful.

love you,

Stacy Pettit said...

Love the pictures - what a great trip. By the way, Nathan looks just like my kids when they get lucky and avoid strangulation. Hugs, Stacy

Anonymous said...

Might be good to check out the cutting edge immunotherapy routinely deploy on cancer patients in Japan, especially in the areas of autologous immune enhancement therapy.

J said...

Could we seek your help to make a simple enquiry with a pathology lab in Tokyo? From their website, they seems able to test TAA (Tumour Associated Antigens), which by having this information, is very useful in selecting possible peptide based vaccine treatment. We had thought this type of testing is only available in Germany. But we could not get any email response back from them, maybe because we wrote in English and the (poorly) Google translated Japanese. Hope you can help us. Thanks.

Luna O. said...

I wish I could help you, but my Japanese language skills are not good enough. I was born and raised in the U.S. and only speak Japanese, poorly. I do not know how to read nor write it.

I wish you luck,