Sunday, February 17, 2013

Japan trip, Part 3

Dear Maya,

You are running circles around me as I write this, stopping every few minutes to get into something you shouldn't, so I'm sorry if I forget some of the details of our third week in Japan. Here it is spelled out as best as I can remember:

February 10th
You had some quality time with your grandparents while mommy and daddy went through some of their old belongings that were in the storage area above the garage. It was a pretty quiet day by comparison to our time here so far.

February 11th
After a quick stop to see some friends whose son was home from the soccer school where he lives, we left for a two-day stay in Nagasaki City. When we arrived at our hotel you were really sleepy but couldn't settle down in the big bed we were all going to share. Daddy rigged up a small bed for you out of a big blanket and two wing chairs pushed together and you went right to sleep! Daddy was tired from the drive so he rested, too, while mommy souvenir shopped at the 'Holland Slope' right outside our hotel.

In the late afternoon we walked to the Lantern Festival, Nagasaki's big Chinese New Year celebration. First we went to 'Central Park' where there were tons of lanterns to look at in every shape imaginable. You loved the animal ones: tigers, camels, kangaroos, pigs, fish, elephants, you name it! Later we walked down the main street of Chinatown where endless round lanterns hung over our heads, steam from the vendors' hot dumplings swirled around us, and crowds and crowds of people enjoyed it all.


February 12th
It was a dreary, rainy day so instead of exploring any more of Nagasaki's outdoor sightseeing, we hit the Penguin Aquarium. It was perfect for you--not as big as a zoo so we could take our time at each exhibit, and a little different from a straightforward aquarium to keep your interest. You even loved the 3D theater and ran around trying to touch the penguins and fish that seemed to be flying through the air. After we left we headed home to your grandparents' house.

February 13th
We didn't have any plans and it was chilly, so what better day to take you to your first onsen? We drove up the mountain to the hot spring resort town and rented a family bath at an inn there. It was a covered outdoor bath with a view of a flowering tree and the mountain beyond. Mommy and daddy felt so relaxed after soaking in the hot, mineral-filled water. You enjoyed the bath, but I think your favorite part was the ice cream afterwards.

February 14th
Valentine's Day in Japan is quite different than in the US. Over here girls and women usually give gifts of chocolates or other sweets to the men in their lives (or who they'd like to be in their lives). Then on what is called White Day, March 14th, the men return the favor. While daddy was in the shower this morning you and mommy sneaked down to the corner store and bought him and your grandfather some chocolates. We had some other errands the rest of the day that mommy will blog more about when we get back from Japan.

Running back from the store with chocolates
Giving daddy his chocolates (mid-shaving)
Giving your grandfather his chocolates
February 15th
We went out to a yummy barbecue restaurant with your grandparents for lunch. Afterwards the weather was so nice we decided to drive to a big park for you to run around, but you fell asleep in the car. We turned around to head home and you woke up, so we stopped at a local waterfall to play for a short while instead.

February 16th
We did a little shopping in Shimabara and then daddy went to help some relatives plant crops while you rested and mommy worked on photo editing and blogging. At night we went to a dinner party with some old and new friends and you had so much fun running around and playing with all their kids.

And now on to our last week in Nagasaki...the time is going so quickly!
Love you!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Japan trip, Part 2

Dear Maya,

Holy moly, have we done a lot this week! And mommy has endless pictures to show for it. Breaking it down by day seemed the easiest last time, so here it goes again: what we've been doing since the last post...

February 3rd
We went to the park for a little bit in the morning until you got cranky and screamed all the way home. After a nap, you ate part of an eho-maki sushi roll that is just one of the many traditions of Setsubun, the Japanese festival denoting the beginning of spring. The other fun tradition you took part in was throwing beans (though we used peanuts) at the ogre (daddy in a mask) to ward off bad luck. You threw most of the peanuts towards his feet and then kept picking them up and throwing them again. It was really cute.

February 4th
We had a relatively quiet day. Daddy went to the dentist, you went to the park again with mommy and grandma, and we went around to visit some neighbors and bring them gifts from the U.S.

February 5th
You led grandma for a walk down the street and when you came to a small shop, you went in, grabbed a basket, and started to fill it with everything you could reach! Grandma stopped you but you did manage to get some bubbles, balloons and a snack out of the deal. You little stinker! The rest of the day was rainy and dreary so we went out to a conveyor belt sushi place for lunch, then did a bunch of shopping. We got clothes for daddy, Japanese character magnets for you, and a bunch of souvenirs for friends and family back home.

February 6th
We visited some relatives a couple towns over, then went to Shimabara Castle. The plum blossoms were in bloom and it was such a beautiful sight to see--at least I imagine it would be if we weren't busy chasing you and trying to keep you safe. Thanks to some kind of tourism campaign, staff members dressed in Japanese armor, kimono and ninja outfits were milling around the castle grounds. We spent a while chatting with the pink ninja because it turned out she was one of mommy's old students!

Running up stone steps speckled with fallen plum blossom petals

She wouldn't take off her mask to show us her face, but mommy's pretty sure she remembers the student from her eyes and her cute laugh. She held out a big bunch of origami throwing stars for you to pick one, but of course you tried to take them all. She tracked us down later in another area of the castle grounds and gave us a whole pack of them, though. How sweet! She also was the one to tell us that there were ninja costumes in all sizes available to try on for pictures if we were interested. Cue cutest ninja ever in 3...2...1...

You were strangely calm and didn't seem to mind the headband at all
You got to make your choice from a collection of weapons
Not sure what the lip is all about, but you make a pretty fierce ninja!

Don't mess with this little girl!

Before leaving the castle we bought some snacks and sat by the plum blossoms to enjoy them. You spent most of the time running around, of course. Mommy took the opportunity to shoot some photos of the flowers and the castle, as well as the light shining out from behind the clouds and the volcano that makes up the center of the Shimabara Peninsula. It was overcast at times throughout the day, but more often it was clear and so much warmer than it is back home.

We made one more stop this day--at the nearby Bukeyashiki, an area with some samurai residences that have been restored for visitors to explore. Your favorite part was the carp pond, where you made friends with a yellow carp that followed you around and let you pet him. We're just glad you didn't fall in!

February 7th
Our first stop on this day's outing was a veterinary clinic owned by a friend of daddy's. We got to play with a tiny little kitten while they caught up. Next we drove up, up, up towards the top of the volcano. There is a cable car we could have taken to go up even closer, but the weather was freezing cold, very windy and foggy so we passed. Instead we stopped at the hot spring resort town on the way back down. There we walked through hell (the name for the area immersed in steam from the hot springs), bought some souvenirs from the old-fashioned toy store, and had some hot drinks and hard-boiled eggs. It was so cold up there!

The volcano in the distance and a bridge over the 'water-less river' caused by lava flowing from the 1991 eruption

February 8th
A friend came to visit us and we also visited with some other neighbors and friends on a walk around town. Otherwise, it was a pretty low-key day.

February 9th
Today we went on a day trip with your grandparents. We took a ferry over to Amakusa Island where we went out for curry and then to Tomioka Castle. You again had us chasing after you as you ran up and down the stone steps and dangerously wielded the bamboo walking stick grandma had been using. Afterwards we drove the long way around the island to find some land that has been passed down in daddy's family. Your great-great grandfather was from this island, and there are still some relatives living there.

And, to finish off this very photo-heavy post, mommy would like to add just a couple more pictures of you with your grandparents. You've really enjoyed your time with them so far and they are smitten with you. You've practiced some Japanese with them and they've picked up some English from you. You often pull their hands and take them to another room to play and you give them hugs and kisses before naps and bedtime. It is so heartwarming to see you behave like you've been around them all along!

Well, mommy really needs some sleep now. More memories to come! Love you!