To celebrate my mom’s 75th birthday, she took all eight of her grandchildren to Japan in December (her adult kids had to pay their own way). We started our adventure on December 20th, departing Honolulu for Tokyo on a lovely 9 hour flight (well, my flight was actually lovely since I flew first class). Since we were such a large group (14), we had a tour guide and a chartered bus for most of our stay in Tokyo. It was a first visit for the majority of us so it was nice to have a guide. Her name was Naoko and she was very helpful. Highlights of our trip included Tsukiji Fish Market (best fatty tuna sushi ever); Oedo Onsen; Ghibli Museum; Skytree (think Space Needle); shopping at Daiba (dollar store) in Harajuku; riding the gondola in Hakone and a boat tour of Lake Ashi; visiting with the Okano family at their temple and family home in Yokohama; and Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, also in Yokohama.
On day six, our tour guide helped us get on the bullet train to Hiroshima where we met up with another tour guide, Satoko. We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum and Memorial. That was a very somber experience for all of us. The next day, we went to Miyajima Island, home of the rice scooper and super friendly deer. Too bad it rained that day. It was bad enough being cold! We got around the island with our umbrellas and stopped at the various shops to eat warm manju and other goodies. That afternoon, we caught the bullet train to Osaka for the remainder of our trip.
While in Osaka, we visited the Kuromon Fish Market which is famous for oysters and fugu (balloon fish). I did try the fugu sashimi at a sushi restaurant and was unimpressed (at least I lived to write about it). The market also had a lot of produce vendors and the tangerines, strawberries and bananas were delicious. In my opinion, the sushi was better at Tsukiji. We also visited the Osaka Kaiyudan (aquarium) and saw their whale shark. Impressive!
We also took a day trip to Kyoto and I was so disappointed because it rained really hard that day. Kyoto was the one place that I wanted to see because it’s like old Japan and I wanted to see geisha. It was truly miserable that day. Our tour guide Yoko ended up taking us to an enclosed “mall” and open market instead but that was a bust. The open market was very crowded because people were getting ready for the New Year. It was so crowded that I actually had a panic attack and turned around and went against the crowd so I could get out of there! I ended up sitting at Tully’s Coffee, sipping a tiramisu latte to wait for the rest of the family. I wish we had Tully’s in Hawaii, but I digress.
On New Year’s Day, we visited Sumiyoshi Shrine (one of three that we saw on this trip) to ask for New Year’s blessings. Generally, you have to throw a yen into the shrine, bow twice, clap, make a wish and then bow again. However, there were so many people at the shrine that Yoko said not to get to close because we would get hit by coins. Seriously, people in the back (including my sons) were just flinging their coins toward the shrine. Of all the shrines we visited, this one turned out to be the most fun. As we made our way in, we saw people on the ground sifting through the pebbles. Turns out that the temple paints the five power characters on the pebbles and you’re supposed to look for all five for good luck. Of course, all of our kids (and a few adults) had to join in the fun. There was also a street fair featuring lots of interesting food and carnival games.
No trip would be complete without shopping and we did a lot of that on this trip. Particularly at the Daiba stores, Tokyu Hands and The Loft (not the Ann Taylor Loft). My sister purchased every pen imaginable in Japan. I bought things like Japanese paper gift bags, tiny gift tags, kitchen gadgets, pens (not as much as my sister) and of course, food. I think my kids and I went overboard with the weird flavored Kit Kats, Hi-Chews and Mentos.
Overall, we didn’t have any major disasters. We did have one train incident where half the group didn’t get on the same car with us and we weren’t sure if they heard the name of our stop. It worked out and no one got lost. For me, the highlight was the food although I admit that I’m tired of Japanese cuisine right now. During our layover at Narita, we ate sushi (super good for an airport restaurant) and then we ate at McDonald’s! By the way, it tastes exactly like it does at home but they have cuter toys in their Happy Meals.
Japan was a lot of fun and I’d love to go back, but I am SO happy to be home after being away for 12 days. I think my body and brain have finally recovered from the jet lag. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends. Wishing all of you a prosperous 2013, filled with love, good health and happiness!