Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring Break Tokyo

Spring Break Tokyo! (Spring Break in March? That one? Yes, that one.) I know I'm behind the times, but this trip has to be documented. It was so much fun! And it took me about four whole weeks to get back into a routine after it, I'm pretty sure, because getting back into the reality groove is so hard after wonderful trips. 

Michael's oldest sister Shelley lives in Japan, and we wanted to visit her sweet family in their element before they make the move back to the states this summer. They've been there about six years, and it was so fun to see their routine and environment and just the life they've made in a foreign culture. Michael's parents also went, and we had so much fun being with family that week.

So, the travelogue:

Sake Barrels at the Meiji Shrine - read about the tradition here.

After a jet-lagged night, we went for a walk to Meiji Shrine on our first morning in Tokyo. The entrance is full of these Sake barrels that have been donated to bring good luck to people/businesses. The grounds were so beautiful - all the rocks were being raked with natural tools made of sticks, and everything was so well manicured. It felt peaceful, and so fun to just finally be in the place we'd been looking forward to for so long with family.

A bride in full Kimono, taking pictures at the same Shinto Shrine. Fun tradition facts here and here.

We were hoping to see some brides that day dressed in their full Kimono for their Shinto wedding ceremony. We were lucky and saw a few - this beautiful bride above was having her pictures taken that day. We also saw some bridal party processions and had fun watching part of their fancy, special day. They have special cars to drive the brides with a door that opens regularly, then the roof opens higher as well for their tall headdress.

Ema - prayers and wishes written on small wooden plaques and hung at Shinto shrines.

These prayers/wishes were hanging outside of the shrines we visited. Some in Japanese Kanji, others in English. It's heartwarming to read the wishes of strangers - some so sincere and full of heartache or others from sweet, hilarious children or even a picture. It reminded me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or writing a prayer in the temples I worship in. We all have the same God, we all have prayers or wishes. We walked home from the shrine through Yoyogi Koen (koen = park), and I wish I took pictures there! But I didn't, because I was so entertained by all the different groups and their community hobbies going on. People don't really have their own space to do their own thing in Tokyo, so their hobbies happen in parks. We saw choirs, karate, exercising, picnics, so many small cute dogs and I just loved the feeling of community there. Americans kind of stick to their backyards and homes and cars. 

Details on the shrines at Nikko.

We took a train outside of Tokyo up to Nikko and I loved being around mountains again. I'm telling you, mountains speak to my soul. When we were studying in Jerusalem I loved learning about the symbolism of mountains in the scriptures and the way they served as temples when no other was available. I was thinking about that while we walked through these beautiful shrines.

My favorite doorway of all the shrines at Nikko.

This was my favorite doorway. The wood against the white looked so beautiful. No pictures were allowed inside the shrines, and shoes had to always be removed.

Yakisoba - buckwheat noodles, rolled tofu, a sweet mushroom, and a "fish hotdog" (the white and pink thing).

This was lunch during our Nikko excursion - so delicious! Yakisoba - a buckwheat noodle soup. The rosettes are rolled tofu, which is my favorite way I've ever eaten tofu. The texture was so delicious. The mushroom tasted so sweet, and I kind of even liked the "fish hot dog" slice with the pink edge. Shelley said they make them into all sorts of fun shapes for kids.

The Five-Storied Pagoda - burned down in 1815 and rebuilt.

I loved the colors and details of this Pagoda.

Japanese saying: "Don't say 'kekko' until you've seen Nikko." (Kekko = magnificent, beautiful.)

The snow and trees and beautiful structure - doesn't even look real! Supposedly wild monkeys hang out around there, but I never saw one. They don't sound very friendly, so that's probably good, but I was on the lookout the whole time.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

We rode the train out to Kamakura another day and saw the Great Buddha. Shelley made us delicious bento box lunches, with rice balls and all sorts of delicious things. Some watchful hawks even tried to get in on sharing with us, which kept Ella and Quinn on the edge of their seat during lunch. And the rest of us, really. Those hawks did not seem very afraid of us at all.

And, kissing that Great Buddha.

Kissing that Great Buddha... you can see my other traveling kisses here (with the Sphynx) or here (with my camel). There are probably some others if I thought harder about it. I'm a lover.

We saw some of the early cherry blossoms - Sakura.

We waited out a short rainstorm before we explored some more that day. This was one of my favorite stops, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. (We searched a long time on Google to confirm the name of this one... I would have kept a few more brochures if I knew my blog post was going to be written two nauseous months after the fact.) We caught our first sighting (and smelling) of beautiful Sakura, Japanese cherry blossoms. I loved seeing these - I have been to DC just before and just after its cherry blossom festival and was pretty bummed about that both times. 

I loved this tree - so old, and gnarled, and huge.

This tree was so awesome to me. That is most definitely partly due to the fact that there are many, many small baby trees growing in my house that Michael tenderly cares for, and so now I realize that it takes a long long time for a tree to look like this. A long time. Trees have seen so much!

I don't know how anyone could learn Japanese Kanji - but it looks like beautiful art!

Other Japanese prayers and wishes blowing under the Sakura.

Perfect apples.

Produce in Japan is so pretty, and so pricey! These apples were $5 each and just huge. It's crazy to hear Shelley's stories of the expensive watermelon or milk over there, and what she can or can't find. This trip to the grocery store was so much fun! We filled a cart with Japanese treats and curry mixes, and Shelley showed us all sorts of other things that we would probably never fill our cart with no matter how long we lived there... I thought I was a much braver eater pre-Japan trip.

Checking the tuna before the early auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

We woke up bright and early one day just to make sure our bodies didn't get too used to adjusting to that 13-hour time difference. If you want to visit the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, you have to get there before 6am and be in the first 120 people to be able to witness the auction. We may have speed-walked past a nice group of people who were turned away after us...it's a pretty brutal system. Our brother-in-law Tony was so nice to take us with Michael's parents early that morning before he went to work.

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We watched the buyers walk around checking the tuna by stabbing hooks into the meat or feeling a piece between their fingers. We watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi after we came home, and learned more about the experts of sushi. It seems like that culture really values becoming the best you can at whatever you focus on, and truly achieving excellence.

Early morning market happenings.

One last shot of the busy, hard working routine of the Tsukiji market. I can't imagine doing this so early, every day. Wholesale seafood is their life.

Walking/Scooting the niece and nephew to Japanese School.

These two cuties are professional scooters around those neighborhoods. They tear down the street at a speedy pace and always made me hold my breath when they abruptly stop at an intersection, but they are all over the rules of the road. They know that no stop = no scooter, and that's a big deal to those little legs. You can never really get a good view of where you are in that maze of neighborhoods, so more than once miss Ella guided us home. The few times we ventured out on our own together, Michael and I just took a trial and error approach to various turns until we saw Shelley's house.

A delicious, full bowl of Japanese Ramen.

This is Ella's favorite food, Ramen. That bowl is full of such deliciousness. We stopped for lunch here after seeing Quinn and Ella sing in their school program. They were adorable, and all the kids played instruments and sang songs to celebrate the "graduating" class of their school.

Anthon and his new Orange Belt after his Karate test.

Anthon impressed us all that day with his Karate skills, and earned his new Orange belt. He told us he wants to become a black belt because then "you are officially a lethal weapon, and you have to register yourself with the police." Sounds intense. 

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Michael and I ventured out to Shibuya one night on our own, and walked across the busiest intersection in the world a few times. All the lights turn red/green at the same time, so people pour into the streets from all directions every few minutes. It's insane. We watched up above from the mall walkway as well, where everyone just looks like ants. Such a busy, full city.

The busy market in Asakusa.

We walked down the long market in Asakusa and tasted all sorts of fun things. My favorite thing about markets will always be how quickly the smells change from one to another.

Chestnut and Red Bean Paste in a Crepe

This was a chestnut and red bean paste treat, in a lightly fried crepe. It was delicious.

Hand-making some of the many sweet treats we sampled.

At one shop in the market these treats were being made by a machine, and at this shop this man was making each one by hand. He had this down to a system, obviously. I wonder how long he's been doing it.

A Tokyo icon - the Asakusa Shrine.

This was our touristy shrine experience, and we went on a holiday so a lot of other people enjoyed it at the same time. Each shrine has a fountain outside of it so you can wash your hands and your mouth to be clean before entering. There are prayers hanging outside and small lightning bolts hanging as well as a symbol of the Shinto religion.

Another snack...

Another market eating experience... See the tiniest, crispiest leg up there? That's how much I tried of that. Like I said, Japan humbled my self-titled brave eater status. Humbled it quite a bit.

Sibling rivalry gets serious.

Michael couldn't back down from a challenge from Shelley, that would not be the Daetwyler thing to do. He ate a whole one, even the round body part which I can't even stop to think about on the chewiness scale. Especially since food has only recently become tolerable again to me, and it's still a limited list at that. Brave Daetwylers.

Cow piss/Calpis. Favorite Japanese drink, now matter how you say it.

This though, I had no problem with. Sounds like cow piss, spelled like Calpis. It's a dairy type milky sort of drink so, no surprises here that I loved it.

Beautiful Sakura.

Cherry blossoms, up close. The official Sakura season starts when a certain tree on the Emperor's grounds blossoms, but we saw quite a few that were ahead of that certain tree's schedule.

View of sprawling Tokyo and Mount Fuji from the Government Tower.

We went to the top of the Government Tower to get a view of sprawling Tokyo from all angles. We were lucky to catch it on a clear day and see Mount Fuji in the distance. We loved hearing Shelley's stories of hiking Mount Fuji and looking down over a thunder storm. Isn't it crazy how dense that city is? Subways under roads under roads under freeways. Layers and layers of hardworking, clean people. 

Anthon & Ella's piano recital at Suntory Hall
Anthon and Ella had a piano recital in a room at Suntory Hall while we were there. It was so fun to see them perform and dress up for that big day. Also, some of those Japanese kids just blew us away... there were literally first graders playing songs I learned in high school. Songs I felt proud of learning in high school, mind you. Like I said, hard working achievers of excellence over there.

Korean Barbecue at Mampuku Yakiniku

We ate so, so much good food in Japan between our fun meals out and Shelley's cooking. This night was a Korean barbecue experience with a grill in the center of the table. Ella was in charge and cooked all our meat perfectly. We also had Kaiten sushi, a tempura lunch, Japanese curry, a delicious grill experience, Shabu Shabu, "rare" cheesecake, and so many other yummy things. Actually I just read through this list and I'm pretty impressed with how much of that we ate in 10 days. That's what traveling and family time is all about, right?

Walking through the stalls at Tsukiji Market.

Speaking of yummy treats. Kidding. We did not eat these. This was from our second trip to Tsukiji fish market, because after the 6am auction tourist aren't allowed in the marketplace to walk through the stalls until 9am. So we went back a few days later to see the market at its busiest and look at all the catches of the day.

Such a busy environment at the world's largest wholesale seafood market. 

You had to constantly watch all around you in the market, as workers drove from here to there with huge loads and people moved their seafood from place to place as they prepared it to be sold. It felt so busy. They're currently building a new venue for the market that will let tourists watch from up above, which makes total sense. These workers are following their routine and trying to get the job done that they do every day, and tourists can't help but come and look at all that they're doing.

Sweet Ella and the terrifying fish head.

Yikes, right? There's something artistic about the juxtaposition here. I haven't used that word since AP English but obviously it was at least filed away for potential future situations. Glad it could be of use for this picture.

Exploring a neighborhood on our last morning in Japan.

After the market we explored a beautiful neighborhood, as well as visited Shelley's friend's art gallery. He paints in traditional ways and creates beautiful, beautiful pieces. It was so fun to look around at what he has made.

One of the enjoyable translations we saw.

Had to post at least one of the many enjoyable translations that we found. We didn't end up buying this, and so missed out on our momentary teatime.

Anthon's Baptism

We felt so lucky to be there the Sunday that Anthon was baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That was such a special day for him and it was fun to share in celebrating his decision. Anthon's grandma and Uncle Michael both gave great talks, and Anthon had so many people from his ward family there supporting him. You can tell his family is so loved and will be really missed when they leave Tokyo this summer. The selfish part of us is so happy to have them back in our same country soon, but it's impressive to see the life this family has built in Tokyo.

The souvenir haul - no easy task of getting it here with no breaks or cracks.

We added to our Japanese dish collection while we were over there... that was way too fun. A special thank you to bubble wrap for getting these beauties across the ocean with zero breakage. Blew my mind, honestly. We brought back some fun treats and toys as well, and left this load on our table for probably a good three days. Putting it away would mean the trip was really, truly over, which was too sad.

I'm sure I missed so many things when writing this, but I wanted to post it before it's not timely anymore! Oh wait......

Still, though. I'll just come back and add them as I think of them because this trip was one for the permanent books! This blog started out as a travelogue when I lived in London, so it's fun to add to its original purpose here and there. Thank you, Cannons, for such a fun time in your home and your country! We had so much fun being there with family and experiencing so many new things.

Plus, our chopsticks skills have never been better. Gotta keep that up.

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