Japan 2016, February 28 to March 4

February 28

First a little background. Why Japan? Well, Jill’s sister, Nancy, has been teaching English in Japan for about 10 years now. She has been teaching in Kashima, but just got a job in Tokyo. I had booked vacation time for this period when we had been planning to take a 5 week road trip through California, but we decided to use the vacation time to go to Japan and help Nancy move instead, since that was exactly when she would be making her transition.

Packing is becoming easier and easier as the kids don’t really need much stuff anymore, and Jill and I have really pared our travel wardrobes down to the bare minimum. Jill has also devoted substantial energy to her travel checklist, so we don’t even bother packing until the night before we go. All our stuff for a trip of any duration greater than 3 days fits into 2 and a half carry-ons. Unfortunately, since we are going to Japan, we also had to bring a lot of gifts, so we ended up with one checked bag as well.

Per our usual wont, we packed a ridiculous amount of activities into our last day. We started with breakfast with the cousins at 8:30, then went directly to the 10:45 ferry, which ended up being 20 minutes late. This meant we had to give our planned quick visit to M&S a miss and proceed directly to the Hina-Matsuri Party we were also jamming in. We lingered there until 1pm, then booked it for the 3pm ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. Unfortunately, it was overloaded, so we had to hang out in the Departure Bay terminal until the 5pm sailing, which ended up being 30 minutes late. Poor performance from BC ferries today!

We got our car into the Park and Fly and finally made it to the hotel at about 8:30. We decided to keep the girls up late, in preparation for jet lag, so we took them to the pool for a while… bed time was about 11.

February 29-March 1st

The girls still woke up at 7, as per normal, so it was off to the pool again after a short walk to pick up our Wi-Fi hotspot for Japan. We checked out at 10:30 and went through to our gate. Much waiting and not much else before we got to board our Dreamliner flight about an hour late… However, the Dreamliner was a great plane, with one notable exception; the control panel on the arm rest was precisely where one’s elbow wanted to rest. Lights were flickering on and off all over the plane, and the poor flight attendants spent much of their time responding to accidental elbow summons. I had an awful time trying to watch movies because I kept turning it off with my elbow. I also managed to flush the toilet with my elbow somehow during one lavatory visit.

It was on the flight that keeping the girls up late paid off, they both fell asleep a few hours in and slept for most of the flight, waking up for the meal an hour and a half before landing.

The only hitch in our journey through Narita Airport was the insistence of the golf cart driver that we take a ride. Taking the golf cart is actually slower than walking. He just would not take no for an answer though. Kind of weird really.

The bus to Kashima was ridiculously easy to take, the ticket booth was directly visible after leaving the customs area, and the bus itself was right outside the door beside the ticket booth. The bus ride itself was less than an hour.

Nancy picked us up from the bus station, then had to go teach her evening classes. We were all sound asleep before she got back.

March 2nd

Nancy’s current place has a nice view of the ocean, and isn’t all that far from it, so we walked down in the morning after picking up some coffee at the 7-11. A very nice beach it was.

The rest of the day was spent laying about and napping to try to get over the jet lag.

March 3.

Nancy had the day off, and after she and Jill bickered and packed for an hour or so, we all went for a nice walk to the beach. Then we picked up some lunch and ate in the apartment before all piling into the car at 1 for the trip to the bus stop on our way to Tokyo. Not a bad trip all in all and we were at the new apartment by 4 or so.

We dropped our stuff at the apartment and immediately headed out again for bedding and dinner. It turned out that our go-to department store in Kumegawa had been taken over by Wal-mart, and we really noticed a decline in the quality of prepared foods since the last time we’d been there.

Ru-chan fell asleep in the living room with her feet under the kotatsu, her happy place in Japan. For those of you un-familiar with kotatsu, they are basically little coffee tables with a heater on the bottom side of the table top, and a blanket draped around it to keep the heat in. Since very few houses in Japan have adequate insulation or heating (by North American standards), this is a very nice way to stay warm in an otherwise freezing cold house.

March 4th

Jet lag is still a factor, especially with Ru-chan, who figures that once she is awake, everyone should be awake, so we were all up and about by 4:30. We had to be at the apartment when the movers arrived at 11, and nothing opens before 10am, so we only managed a quick jaunt to the playground and bakery before going back to wait.

The neighbourhood is very well served by just about anything a person could want, including a french style bakery 50m from the apartment. We have to walk within 10m every time we head out, so I strongly suspect we will be in there rather often.

The movers arrived at 11:45 and got everything in quite rapidly, they were done and gone by 12:30.

Jill had to fill out a customer satisfaction survey after they finished, but she reads kanji very slowly and told the movers that, so the mover said she could just give him 10s all the way down. She laughed then filled in top marks, they were actually very efficient.

We unpacked and did an inventory of what we had, compiled a list of what we needed and headed out to the magical J-mart, our old/new favourite store (we’ve been there before). It has everything a person might need, except for fresh veggies. We got pots and pans, utensils, bedding, a coat rack, laundry rack, existential coffee mugs, various minor items, and even a bottle of Spanish red wine that turned out to be not half bad.

It was a bit of a slog getting it all back to the apartment, but doable. A stop at the playground along the way let us have a break.

We dropped the stuff off and immediately headed out to get supplies for dinner, now that we had the implements to do our own cooking. This time we tried the little supermarket on the same side of the station as the apartment and had great success. The prepared foods looked way nicer, and the fruit and veggies were as immaculate as they always are in Japanese grocery stores. I think we have a new go-to store.

On our way back, Miwa and I headed to the apartment while Jill and Ru were lured into the bakery by the enticing smells wafting up the street.

We finished setting up the apartment with the new supplies and made some curry rice for dinner.

Ru-chan passed out with her feet under the kotatsu for the second night running. Miwa wanted to go to the bakery for an apple based pastry, so I took her over for our third trip of the day, and then sent her back on her own while i went on to get another bottle of wine and some whiskey to keep us until Nancy arrived. Miwa was sound asleep by 7:30.

Jill and I then struggled to stay up until Nancy arrived around 9:30. The wine and whiskey survived unscathed.