All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Last Night in Japan with my Kids

Our final night in Japan was spent in Fukuoka in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. When I lived in Kyoto, it was in an older Japanese house, so slipping my shoes off and walking through sliding wooden doors and across tatami mats in my socks was rather, well, homey.

Fukuoka ryokan

They really packed the kids in at this stop -- five or six to a room -- and because it was a ryokan, they were expected to use the public bathing area in the neighboring onsen. However, not only did my room have a private bath, I was also given access to a private room in the onsen. O baby, o baby!

Fukuoka ryokan

Ah, hair liquid, medicated brace up lotion, and milky lotion -- all my toilet essentials.


Curtained doorway leading into my private room in the onsen, where I headed for a brief but relaxing getaway from teacher duty.


My little pool, fed by a nearby hot spring, which I got all to myself!

Say hello to my little friend

My only visitor


My crew

After my little soak, I headed back to the hotel and got the kids suited up in their yukata for dinner. Kawaii desu ne? (Aren't they cute?)

RJ is downright ferocious

Part of our evening's entertainment included a "samurai" -- who pretty much just ran around the dining hall menacing people with his katana -- and a rollicking round of karaoke during which the boys and I sang *NSYNC's ever-beloved "Bye Bye Bye". And did the dance (obviously). All the students from the other groups said, "Why isn't our teacher that cool?" Or at least, that is what I presume they were whispering to each other after our show-stopping performance.

Speaking of show-stopping, the karaoke ended abruptly when the proprietor told us our time was up and hustled us out... and then proceeded to stand alone in front of the empty dining hall and continue singing by himself. Yep.

The kids, unable to cope with the fact that our trip was coming to an end (and not anxious to go back to their sardine-style sleeping arrangements), spent the rest of the night in my room playing cards and talking about how awesome Japan is.

Playin' cards

Second Day in Nagasaki: Glover Gardens

Hilly terrain outside Nagasaki

Nestled in the mountains, Nagasaki is a tremendously beautiful city. In some places, the roads are so steep that the houses are virtually built on top of, rather than next to, each other.

Strolling thru Nagasaki

The steep streets in the old European district, called "Hollander Slopes" after the Dutch merchants who lived there, are lined with little shops, perfect for strolling and window-shopping.

Oldest church in the Orient

Built in 1856, Oura Catholic Church in Nagasaki is the oldest Christian church in the Orient. It is also called The Church of the 26 Martyrs and faces Nishizaka hill, where twenty-six Christian martyrs were crucified by the local shogun in 1597. The church is known worldwide as a symbol of surviving religious persecution.

Strolling thru Nagasaki

Glover Garden

We also enjoyed Glover Garden, built on the estate of Scottish entrepreneur Thomas Glover. The house has been converted into a museum, and the surrounding gardens are exquisite.

Glover Garden

Glover Garden

Glover Garden

Glover Garden

My boys get into the macro zoom. Ah, they make me proud!

Glover Garden

The same night, we walked around near our hotel, hit up a karaoke parlor, and got ourselves some takoyaki.

Spot those NOVA signs!

Gotta love those NOVA signs. O, how they haunt me!

Buying takoyaki

The kids loved the octopus balls so much they bought a few more to have for fourth meal at the hotel.

Ryan hearts pachinko

We thought it appropriate to make one more stop in a pachinko parlor before we went home so that Ryan could blow the rest of his yen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mt. Inasa and the Nagasaki A-Bomb Memorial

We started our first day in Nagasaki by taking the bus up to Mt. Inasa. We were assured, when we shelled out the thousands of dollars for this trip, that the view of Nagasaki from Inasa was one of the most breath-taking in Japan. We will just have to take their word for it.

Cheesy Tourist Shot

The kids enjoyed a touristy photo op before we hopped on the cable car.


The photo came out well despite the fact that Ryan is approximately twice the height of this particular attraction's target demographic.


We got a fleeting glimpse of the city as the cable car took us deeper and deeper into the mist. By the time we reached the lookout on the top of the mountain, we were surprised to see that the view from Mt. Inasa looked shockingly like the view of Mt. Aso we had had a few days before.

Lovin' the view!

The most thrilling part of our visit to Mt. Inasa actually came as we were hiking back down from the summit to the cable car and RJ spotted the one thing he really came to Japan to see: a dreaded mukade. Now, what you have to keep in mind is that at this point, I had literally been telling mukade stories to some of these kids for three years, so they were basically prepared for the thing to leap up at them, its jaws slung with bloody slather and eyes lit by the fires of Hades' own eternal damned kingdom.

RJ's Mukade Shot

Fortunately, as you can see from the photo (courtesy of RJ), it was not only a rather small mukade but also a decidedly dead one. Whew! Dodged a bullet there!

Heading into the museum

On our first full day in Nagasaki, we went to the atomic bomb memorial. Unlike the Hiroshima museum, which is a large building in the middle of a wide open space leveled by the bomb, the Nagasaki A-Bomb Museum is built underground. While it contains many of the same type of photographs, mementos, and exhibits that we saw at the Hiroshima museum, the difference in atmosphere between the two was incredible.

Nagasaki Memorial

While the Hiroshima museum had been silent and virtually empty, the Nagasaki museum and the surrounding gardens were over-flowing with Japanese students of all ages. Inside the museum, many of them were on scavenger hunts, racing from exhibit to exhibit trying to find the information they needed for their assignments. Outside, older students were there with their Peace Studies classes, stopping museum visitors and having them fill out surveys about their reactions to the museum and their thoughts about the atomic bomb specifically and war in general. They were nervous and giggly about using their English to talk to us, but they were also wonderfully friendly and welcoming and I had a great time talking with them and making them laugh with my rubbish Japanese.

Chatting up Japanese students

Nagasaki cranes

Though the outdoor memorial featured plenty of origami cranes and centered on a beautiful pool just as the Hiroshima memorial had, the atmosphere was lively and refreshing, and Nagasaki Peace Park, which includes statues about peace from artists all over the world, is much more extensive than the memorial park in Hiroshima.

Nagasaki Memorial

Nagasaki Memorial

Peace Statue, which is the focal point of Nagasaki Peace Park sits on top of an infinity pool. His right hand points up as a reminder of the bomb, but his left hand is extended as a symbol of peace.

Nagasaki Memorial

A Japanese student plays with the water at the edge of the infinity pool

Nagasaki Memorial

Peace Statue reflected in the infinity pool -- While the Hiroshima memorial is centered on the idea of remembering the tragedy of the atomic bombing, the Nagasaki memorial is focused on the notion of healing and of promoting peace around the world.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fukuoka: Or Getting Rained on in Dazaifu Tenmangu

My kids get into the convenie food

My kids became convenie food junkies. We got them a fix and then headed up to "see" Fukuoka's famous volcano, Aso-San.

Mt. Aso museum

I use the term "see" rather liberally here, as it was so foggy that the view left a bit to be desired. We spent a little while in the museum, but the volcano itself was a bust.

Aso-san in the mist

Instead, we headed back to town for an early dinner. Along the way, we spotted this classically creepy Japanese advertisement. I never realized that pigs were that into dental hygiene...

Creepy piggy says "Brush your teeth!"

The following day, still in the rainy mist, we visited Dazaifu Tenmangu, an enormous shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Dazaifu Tenmangu

Dazaifu Tenmangu

Luckily, the rain didn't seem to bother the kids or the tour guide, who was the most entertaining and enthusiastic we had had so far.

Dazaifu Tenmangu

According to legend, the Dazaifu shrine is built over the grave of Michizane Sugawara, a 10th century Japanese officer who is revered as the embodiment of the god of literature and calligraphy. During his funeral procession, the ox pulling his coffin is said to have stopped at this spot and refused to go any further, so Michizane was buried right here and the ox became the symbol for this shrine.

Dazaifu Tenmangu

As at many of the shrines we visited, preparations for the Matsuri, the summer festival, were in full swing, so colorful decorations like this were lying around waiting to be put up.

Dazaifu Tenmangu

Another gorgeous hand-washing basin outside the main shrine

Dazaifu Tenmangu

In addition to the ox, the plum blossom, the flower of Fukuoka, is an important sacred symbol at this shrine, so wishes here are written on plum-colored paper.

Zen Rock Garden

Nearby the shrine is a small Buddhist temple, where we spotted this beautiful zen rock garden. The large stones in the center mark out the Kanjii 光 which means "light."

Kyushu National Museum

To duck out of the rain for a while, we went to the Kyushu National Museum.

Dragons: This way and that way

In Japanese, this says, "There are dragons this way and that way." Or something like that.

Fukuoka pottery shop

On the walk back to the bus, my kids spotted this excellent little pottery shop and bought more tea cups than they will ever need.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yamaguchi Prefecture -- Kintaikyo and Iwakuni-Jo

On our way to Kyushu, my kids and I hit up Yamaguchi Prefecture to see one of the most famous bridges in Japan -- Kintaikyo (or "The Brocade Sash Bridge" in Eigo) -- and to hike up to Iwakuni-Jo, the only castle on our tour of Nippon. You can just see it perched charmingly on top of the mountain in this shot...


The kids really enjoyed the bridge, which is so steep that it's actually a staircase on the center arches. It rained the whole time we were there, but that just added to the misty mystique of the mountains and the river.


From Kintaikyo

Iwakuni in the rain

The kids were troopers and didn't complain about the rainy walk at all. Kat got some great shots on our way through town, and we had a pleasant, mukade-free stroll through the forest around the castle.

Strolling up to Iwakuni Castle

Iwakuni Castle

The main tower of Iwakuni-Jo

Sidebar about Japanese castles: Many Japanese castles and palaces employ what they call "nightingale floors" -- a special method of floor construction that produces deliberately squeaky floorboards. Why, you ask? It's a security measure; squeaky floors are very hard to sneak across. Just consider it ninja citronella.

View from Iwakuni Castle

The view from the top of the castle tower was definitely worth the soggy hike.

Kat in Iwakuni Castle

My boys discover Yakult

The rain may have soaked us to the bone, but it didn't dampen the kids' spirits -- a couple Yakults and an ice cream, and they were ready to hop back on the bus and rock on to Kyushuu.

Double-fisting the ice cream

Yay, Kitty-chan!

Alison even found some Kitty-Chan gear, which kept her spraying glitter out her ears for hours! :)

Rain-covered kids

Kat buys hair gel

Kat picked up some hair gel and took advantage of everybody's wet hair to Manga-fy the guys. Their level of awesome reached OVER NIIINE THOOOOOOUUUUSAAAAND!!!

RJ, the Anime Edition

Bridge from Honshu to Kyuushu

The bridge between Honshu and Kyushu


We stopped for a quick "set-o" menu dinner that the kids then supplemented with munchies from a nearby market.

Japanese market

Bus drivers taking a break

This was one of a few stops where we crossed paths with another EF group, so our bus drivers hung out and shot the breeze while the kids ate and shopped. And yes, the little stuffed animal charms belong to our bus driver. Japan may be the only country in the world where a straight, grown man can get away with this sort of thing.