Sunday Morning 5/19/2019: Week 1 in Portland

The adults walked to Komazawa Olympic Park; the grands got a sweet ride in the wagon. Our son and daughter-in-law spoiled us rotten while we were in Japan, and gave us so many wonderful experiences and memories.

It’s almost hard for us to believe but just a week ago we were still in Tokyo and celebrating Mother’s Day with our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids. The day was absolutely lovely, and we walked over to nearby Komazawa Olympic Park and enjoyed the wonderful picnic lunch M had had catered by a nearby department store. M & M surprised me with a strawberry cake for my birthday, and gave me a teacup patterned with the symbols of each of Japan’s 47 prefectures which I absolutely love. I also received a small cloth bag with a chidori (plover) design and a small inu hariko charm for my purse. It was an all-around lovely day and a great last outing with our family. Both Brett and I even managed to get a little sunburned!

Our tasty picnic lunch had something for everyone.
Our beautiful daughter-in-law and granddaughter – we miss them terribly.
Miss this guy so much too.

We picked up our grandson from school one last time on Monday afternoon, and once M and M both were home from work we said our (very tearful) goodbyes and rode the train home for the last time. Brett and I enjoyed a delicious sushi dinner at a restaurant near our apartment, and then finished the evening with sesame soft ice cream from the shop on the corner. It was a lovely way to say farewell to the neighborhood – we thoroughly enjoyed our time there and the location. After we finished our ice cream it was back to the apartment to finish up the last of the packing and get some sleep before having to be up early the next morning for the trip out to the airport.

My surprise birthday cake . . .
. . . an my prefecture cup. Learning the kanji will be one of my summer challenges; I only know about three or four right now (I know the kanji under the maple leaf is Hiroshima, for example).

We’re still settling in to our apartment in Portland’s West Hills, but so far we’re quite happy with it. Our first apartment on the east side was the absolutely perfect place to pull ourselves together for a couple of days after the long flight from Japan, but our permanent place for the summer is pretty wonderful too. We have a well-equipped kitchen with a dishwasher (yeah!), the bed is comfortable, we love the mid-century decor and furnishings, and we even have a guest room! We are completely unpacked and it will be nice to settle in for a while.

I will be holding the first of three giveaways next week beginning on Thursday! While I think all three are great I am going to do the “big” one first so that everyone who wants can participate (the winner of each won’t be able to enter the other two). Each giveaway will run for two weeks, and you’ll be able to enter once every day with the winner chosen at random. I’m pretty excited about all of them, but especially the first one and hope you’ll be motivated to enter!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I’m reading another Val McDermid mystery, Insidious Intent, while I wait for another library book to come off of hold. Her books are real page turners and fun to read. Reading has been sporadic the past few days though because my jet lag made it difficult to concentrate, but thankfully that has passed (somewhat).
  • Listening to: Brett’s the only other one up because it’s early in the morning here: 6:30 a.m. I am never up this early, but thanks to the magic of jet lag, here I am. I’ve actually been up since 2:00 a.m., but have spent my time reading and working on this post. Anyway, I’m listening to Brett making coffee, but otherwise YaYu is still asleep and it’s quiet outside. It was raining earlier this morning, but it seems to have stopped for the time being.
  • Watching: We have a quite extensive number of cable channels to watch here, so Brett and I are thinking we might binge-watch Game of Thrones on HBO this summer – we’ve never seen any of it. Crazy Rich Asians is available too whenever I need a fix! Not sure what we’re watching this evening – we’re letting YaYu choose.
  • Cooking/baking: YaYu will be with us for another 10 days and has asked me to fix several of her favorite things, but tonight she’s doing the cooking and making fried rice (I’ll be having fried cauliflower rice!).
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I don’t really count leaving Japan as an accomplishment, but the journey was a long one and I’m glad we’re through it. Brett and I have shopped at Costco, Trader Joe’s, New Season’s and Target and we’re well stocked for the summer (although we’re going to Fubonn Asian supermarket today). I found a great pair of trail shoes that I’m looking forward to breaking in, and Brett also found a new pair of shoes at Costco that he’s thrilled with (his pair of Skechers also gave out). I visited the walk-in clinic of our former healthcare provider and got my prescriptions refilled for the summer, just in time as I had just three tablets left. The doctor also ordered another bone density test to be done to make sure I really need the medication I was taking for osteoporosis. Both Brett and I will see the doctor in July for physicals, etc. and to get our prescriptions set for the year. I need to have my cholesterol levels checked, and a mammogram done before we take off for England.
  • Looking forward to next week: Next week is all about relaxing and spending time with YaYu, and getting to know our new location. Hopefully I can also start managing this jet lag a little better – I see improvement every day, but I’m still on a wacky sleep schedule (actually no schedule at all). We plan to do some hiking this week on one of the trails in the forest near the apartment, and also walk down the hill into downtown and see how that goes. Brett and I are going to get senior Tri-Met passes so we can get around town using public transportation, and we’re also going to investigate signing up for Zipcar for those days when we need to have a car.

    We’re here long enough this summer that we can unpack and use some of our Japan things, like these two Kutani porcelain coasters we found at the Kubota museum. The designs remind of us the stunning kimono we saw there.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I am still a bit stunned that we made it to Portland with all our stuff – I kept thinking if one of our suitcases was going to get lost, this would be the trip but even though they arrived on different flights (Brett’s suitcase came in on an earlier flight for some reason and was waiting for us), they both arrived safe and sound. I love that our summer apartment has lots of storage space – it was easy to unpack this time and get everything put away. I’m very happy about the great lightweight trail shoes I bought this past week and am looking forward to breaking them in this summer so I’ll be ready for some serious walking when we get to England.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was not a frugal week. We bought A LOT of food and supplies for the summer, and along with my shoe purchase we really messed with our daily spending total. On the plus side, we won’t need to shop for quite a while, for anything. I was going to buy an Instant Pot this summer but the apartment has both a slow cooker and a rice cooker so I will forego the Instant Pot for another few months. We’ve started saving our change and $1 bills again – I’m hoping to save enough this summer to cover one of our train trips while we’re in England.
    Our summer apartment is decorated simply in the mid-century style – I love it! The sofa is very comfortable.

  • Grateful for: While I enjoy traveling, I’m very thankful we have a nice, affordable place to stay for the summer, and the chance to unpack once again for a while and unwind before hitting the road again. We’re here long enough that I can set out some things we bought in Japan to enjoy them and the memories.
  • Bonus question: What has your best travel experience between locations and what has been your worst? Hands down taking the train between Perth and Sydney was our most amazing travel experience. It was comfortable, the food and serve was great, the other passengers were nice, and the scenery and outings magnificent. Train travel throughout Europe was pretty great overall too. When it comes to flying the best trip was our flight from Hawaii to Portland in first class – absolutely wonderful! That’s not going to happen again though. Our best economy flight experience was the one from Gatwick to Boston last December on Norwegian Air. We had loads of legroom, the food was very good (the first perfectly cooked chicken breast) and the service was amazing. The worst travel day? The journey from Bordeaux to Florence was a very long and difficult day, and I think we used every form of transportation to get there except for a donkey and a bicycle. We made it but really had to be on our toes the entire time as there was lots that could have gone wrong. The (thankfully again) short flight on Iberia Airlines from Lisbon to Madrid on our way back to the U.S. was absolutely miserable. We are not tall people and our knees were pressed up against the back of the seats in front of us – I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for taller people. Plus, once the plane took off we never saw a flight attendant again until we landed. The most awful flight though, hands down, was the one from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Paris. It was extremely long and extremely crowded, and departed late so full of lots of unhappy people. The minute the plane took off the women in front of us reclined their seats and we couldn’t move (and if I reclined mine the woman behind me pounded on the seat to put it back up!). The only way we survived those flights was to keep reminding ourselves that they would eventually get us to where we wanted to be.

We have another busy week ahead: Later today we are taking YaYu around to several thrift stores so she can look for things to take to Japan this summer, and we’ll also stop at Fubonn supermarket to get some other things she wants to take along, like hot sauce. Brett is taking her to get her military ID card renewed tomorrow morning and we may visit some more thrift stores; the car goes back to the airport on Tuesday; and I will be setting up appointments to get my bone density scan done (I can walk to the hospital from our apartment though!); and I will also be calling the dentist to get the rest of my dental work finished while we’re here. Brett is going to register to take a Japanese class at the community college along with his calligraphy class. I was going to enroll in the Japanese class as well, but decided to stick with Memrise and use along with a text as the classes offered this summer are beginner level, and below where I’m already at. We’re hoping too that the weather will cooperate this coming week so we can get out for some hiking on the nearby trails.

I hope all of you had a very good week, that lots of good things happened for you and that you’re looking forward to what’s happening this coming week. I hope you’ll stick around for next week’s exciting giveaway too!

Sleepless in Portland

We’re surrounded by nature in our comfortable Airbnb. It’s a wonderful place to relax and decompress.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. this morning . . . again. If today is like tomorrow I’ll be able to stay awake until around 4:00 in the afternoon, then sleep until 9:00 p.m. Brett is on a similar sleep pattern so we’ll eat dinner again at around 10:00, fall back asleep at around 11:00 and then repeat the cycle all over again. Hopefully.

So far though our jet lag isn’t quite as bad as I imagined it would be and we’ve been awake enough to get up and out to do errands during the day. Yesterday we shopped at Trader Joe’s and New Seasons Market, and I bought a pair of trail shoes at a local store for hikes and walks here and when we’re in England. Today we’re going to Costco, Winco Foods, and Target, and will stop by a local clinic to get one of my prescriptions refilled. Tomorrow morning we will load up the car and take everything over to our summer apartment on the other side of the river and get settled there for the summer. We’ll have to somehow stay awake tomorrow evening too because YaYu arrives late at night.

I enjoyed one last bottle of mugi-cha, my favorite Japan beverage, on the train out to Narita. We brought home loads of tea bags to make our own this summer.

Leaving Tokyo wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, at least the physical part of it. Our taxi arrived on time and got us to the train station where we got our NEX tickets out to the airport, arriving there with plenty of time to check our bags, have a light lunch and buy just one box of KitKats (Tokyo Banana flavor). Our flight left on time. The seats were very cramped though and it was impossible to sleep, but there was a wonderful selection of movies (yes, I watched Crazy Rich Asians again and loved every moment). The food was actually good too – for the second time on a flight we had perfectly cooked chicken breasts along with great salads and side dishes. We also received a small container of Haagen-Daz ice cream mid-flight, and had a nice ham and cheese croissant sandwich along with fresh fruit for breakfast before landing.

We’re always glad when we get our big suitcases checked in. Brett’s suitcase weighed in at 22.9 kg (limit was 23kg), probably because he carried all of our dirty laundry. Mine weighed just 20.75kg.

The layover in Seattle was a hot mess though. Our flight was delayed, and they changed the gate which required us to walk a long distance through the terminal – not fun when you haven’t slept for nearly 24 hours. But, we eventually got on a plane and the flight to Portland was short and easy, our luggage was waiting for us, and in no time at all we had our rental car and were on our way to our Airbnb where we immediately fell asleep.

We splurged on fresh Northwest cherries from New Seasons Market yesterday, and are looking forward to the arrival of Oregon berries and other summer fruits which will soon be available.

Portland is so green right now! And so wet – it’s raining, of course. I had forgotten how beautiful spring is here, but up in our Airbnb we’re surrounded by big, leafy trees and it’s very relaxing and calming. The apartment is one of the nicest Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in too. It’s beautifully decorated, and has a fantastic, gourmet kitchen, a big, luxurious bathroom and a very comfortable bed. There’s also a full-size washer and dryer. We’re actually going to be a tiny bit sad to leave tomorrow, although our next apartment is pretty nice too.

We miss Tokyo deeply and would turn around and go back if we could. We especially miss seeing the grandkids every day, and connecting with our son and daughter-in-law. We miss all the walking we did and the daily rhythm of life we established there even though it could be stressful at times. We miss the food. We know we’ll be going back in the not too distant future though, and for now we have this summer in Portland to enjoy and next fall’s visit to England coming up as well. We are blessed.

For right now all I’m hoping is that our current sleep pattern doesn’t morph into something more insidious and instead segues into something realistic and sustainable. A girl can wish, can’t she?

Sunday Morning 5/10/2019: Week 12 in Japan

We’re going to miss this little pixie so much! She is such a happy, even-tempered and contented little girl.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Today would be my traditional Day of Doing Nothing, where Brett and the girls take care of all the chores and wait on me hand and foot, but this year there is too much going on for that to happen (and no girls around to help Brett). We’re relaxing at home now, but in a little while we’re heading over to the park near our son’s place for a picnic with them. Yesterday we handed over the few last things we had in the cupboards and refrigerator to our DIL so the apartment is ready for cleaning and last minute packing on Monday.

This is it though – our final Sunday in Japan. What an absolutely wonderful time we have had here! We are so, so sad about going but have enough to do before we leave on Tuesday that we hopefully won’t sink too far into melancholy. The only thing we are looking forward to leaving behind is our apartment. While the location has been superb, and the apartment clean and the kitchen well-equipped, it’s otherwise been a somewhat stressful place to live with very uncomfortable furniture, funky decor, and a so-so bed and bathroom. We realize that the apartment we had originally requested may have been too small to host Meiling and her boyfriend when they came, but it would have suited us far, far better in the long run. We’re apparently leaving at a fortuitous time as well as a new house is being built right next door (and I mean up close next door) and the construction noise during the day is becoming annoying. There are also other noisy tenants in the building now, including a group of some rather loud American college students.

Doing some homework at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s – we’re going to miss our fearless skateboarding boy too.

But, we’ll be back to Japan soon – we already have plans to come at least for a month in the fall of 2020 to be here for our granddaughter’s fourth birthday, but hopefully we will be able to stay longer. We had once dreamed of being here for the Olympics, but have now rethought that idea: we don’t really want to deal with the huge crowds along with Tokyo’s sweltering summer head and humidity.

Walking through the wetlands at the nature park in Saitama Prefecture last weekend. It was lovely the day we visited but I imagine the park would be beastly during the summer humidity.

Everything is ready for us in Portland – we will be staying in one Airbnb for three nights when we arrive, and then move to our long-term rental in the west hills on the 17th. Before we move over there, and in between bouts of jet lag, we will shop for food and supplies for the summer and take care of a few other errands on the east side of the city. YaYu arrives late at night on the 17th, and will be with us until the 25th (I think) before heading over to Japan for the summer. Meiling’s graduation happens mid-June, and Brett’s sister will hopefully be able to join us for that and stay with us for a few days. Brett is planning to continue his calligraphy lessons throughout the summer, and we both intend to sign up for Japanese lessons – our time here has shown us how woefully inadequate our language skills are. We are also going to somewhat try to be tourists in Portland this summer, and visit places and do things we normally never did there, or at least didn’t do very often.

Anyway, this morning I am:

  1. Reading: I finished two Val McDermid mysteries this past week (I read Broken Ground in two days!) and am now just about finished with The Library Book by Susan Orlean. I’m not sure what I’m going to read next.
  2. Listening to: We’re enjoying a very quiet morning – there’s not even a sound outside. The leaves aren’t moving on any of the trees either which means it’s going to be another hot day. It’s almost hard to believe how bitterly cold it was when we arrived back in February, and we’re now wearing summer clothing.
  3. Watching: Remember all those movies I planned to watch last week? I didn’t watch even one of them because I was too busy reading! I’m hoping I get to watch Crazy Rich Asians once again on the flight to the U.S. – love that movie!

    The only thing missing on my plate of pancakes from Butter was actual butter! The squares on the right were crème brulée, but Brett took my ice cream and syrup (in the back) and I somehow ate all the rest – it really wasn’t as sweet you might imagine. Brett and I are both going on a carb moratorium when we get back to the U.S. though. The only reason I’m still able to fit into my clothes now is because of all the walking we’ve done here every day.
  4. Cooking/baking: There are no longer food nor supplies in the house to do any sort of cooking so we have been eating out the past few days. We had okonomiyaki, Japanese savory pancakes, on Friday evening; McDonald’s last night (one more Teriyaki McBurger for me) because we were feeling tired and lazy; and tonight we’ll probably pick up a bento somewhere or maybe get one last order of takoyaki. We’re going out for sushi tomorrow evening, will have something from the bakery on Tuesday morning before we leave the apartment, and finish our Japan eating odyssey with lunch at Narita before we depart.

    Brett’s final calligraphy work product after four weeks of instruction. The characters represent the four seasons.
  5. Happy I accomplished this past week: This past week has been a series of chores necessary for moving on and we’ve mostly gotten them accomplished; thankfully there are just a few more small things left to do. We’re down to the last few items to fit into the suitcases and we have our fingers crossed that everything will fit. Brett had his last calligraphy lessons and did OK on his final work product. It has been a challenging endeavor for him because he has to use his right hand (he’s left-handed) but he enjoys it and is looking forward to continuing to learn. I also found and booked an Airbnb in Portland for us to stay in when we return to Portland next December to get us through Christmas there once again.
  6. Looking forward to next week: The only thing I’m looking forward to next week is that I will be able to once again understand what people, signs, magazines and newspapers around me are saying. I am not looking forward to the jet lag I know is coming – I think it’s going to be brutal this time.
    We enjoyed getting together with M’s parents last weekend. (And yes, I am growing out my very curly hair, and am in currently in my “old lady pouf” stage.)

    M’s mother’s garden is even more gorgeous this week as everything is in bloom!
  7. Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful time last weekend with our daughter-in-law’s parents. We started out with snacks at their home and toured her mom’s beautiful garden (she’s a master gardener) before going out for lunch at a restaurant in the countryside. Afterwards we spent some time walking through a lovely nature park and wetlands near to the restaurant – it was an all around great day. Brett and I had a fun trip to Sogo’s food gallery in Yokohama on Tuesday. We bought a few items and then finished with fancy pancakes for lunch. The restaurant was named Butter, but I think butter was about the only thing I didn’t get with my pancakes! We were so glad to have finally eaten at the okonomiyaki restaurant last Friday. We have walked by it nearly every day we’ve been here and alway said we’d eat there “one of these days.” The restaurant was small but the food was fantastic and I’m sad we didn’t get to eat there more than just this once.
    The okonomiyaki restaurant had a nice old-school ambience.
    Our okonomiyaki getting started on the griddle, with the pancakes topped gererously with cabbage, ginger and chopped shrimp. That mound was then topped with several larger shrimp and pork belly slices. The cook expertly flipped the pancakes a few times as they cooked and didn’t spill a thing!

    The pancakes were finished on a hot metal plate before a scrambled egg, seaweed, sauce, mayonnaise and dried bonito flakes were added on top. The pancakes were then served to us on a wooden charger.
  8. Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve done an outstanding job of using up all the food we had here in the apartment if I do say so myself. Very little went over to our son’s. Last Wednesday Brett went to the grand opening of a new 7-11 store that opened just down the street and scored some nice discounts on several items that we have eaten this past week or used for our grandson’s after-school treats. I reserved a hotel room for an overnight stay near Eugene for Meiling’s graduation and saved $40.47 off the price using my Expedia reward points. And, we’re leaving with a daily spending average for our entire time in Japan of $45.75 per day which makes us very happy (currently $43.75/day for May).
  9. Grateful for: Both Brett and I are so very, very thankful for the extended period of time we have been able to spend in Japan near our son and his family. It’s been all that we hoped for and more.
  10. Japanese word of the week: sayonara さようなら. While sayonara means good-bye, it also carries a sense of finality, and is used in situations where one will never be returning or not for a very long time, much like the word farewell in English. Sayonara is often used casually in Japanese speech, but you really don’t hear it much in regular conversation. We will be using the more informal jā matane when we say our goodbyes tomorrow, which means “see you again soon.”

Tuesday is my 67th birthday and Brett has been joking that I will get to enjoy it twice this year – thanks to the miracle of international travel it will be Tuesday morning once again when we arrive in the U.S. Not funny though – on Tuesday here we’ll be running the gauntlet to get out to the airport onto the plane, and all we’re going to want to do once we get to Portland on Tuesday is sleep. Oh well, there’s always hope for a special birthday next year!

I’d like to wish all of the moms a wonderful, wonderful day today! I hope everyone had a great week and that lots of good things happened for you, and that you have a great week coming up. See you back in the U.S.!

Our Least-Favorite Travel Tasks

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again . . .

Without beating around the bush, our absolute least favorite travel chore is the process of getting us and our suitcases out to the airport (or train station) for departure. The reason this has become our least favorite is because:

  1. We first have to figure out transportation to the airport (or train station). This can be by bus, taxi, train or even walking, but it always involves having to wrangle our big suitcases and it almost always costs us something (the only airport/station we could walk directly to was in Florence).
  2. Our suitcases are heavy.
  3. Once we get to an airport there is often a long walk to our check-in counter, which may be hidden or difficult to find.
  4. There is sometimes no elevator or even escalator to get the bags to another level within the airport (we have a system for this though: Brett carries the first bag to the bottom or top of the stairs while I remain with the other; when he gets to the bottom we each leave our respective suitcase and run to switch places, then Brett carries the second bag to the where the other bag is. Yes, it’s exhausting.).
  5. There is always a slow-moving line at the check-in counter, or a long wait before we can begin check-in, and by the time we get this done we’re usually hot and thirsty.
  6. Once we get our bags checked, our departure gate often turns out to be an immense distance from the ticket counter and we still have our carry-on materials to haul. And, we have to go through security which is never pleasant.

Any or all of these situations can and have occurred on our travel days, which means that while we’re excited to go to a new location we know we’re going to have to work for it. We try to stay cheerful or at least even tempered, but it’s not always easy. I am already dreading next Tuesday’s ordeal, most especially because we really wish we weren’t leaving Japan.

Our second least favorite travel chore is packing, always a bittersweet task. You might think we’d feel happy to do this because it means we’re going somewhere new, but the truth is it also means we’re leaving someplace we’ve come to enjoy, or haven’t seen enough of, or never want to leave.

While I don’t enjoy living out of a suitcase, I also dislike trying to fit everything back into my suitcase when it’s time to leave a place we’ve stayed long enough to unpack. While Brett can get his stuff ready to go in a few hours, these days it takes me more than a few days to figure out what can go in early and what needs to stay out until the end, to get it right and make sure everything fits in the end. For example, right now we’re between seasons and from day to day it’s been hard to know whether I need to wear something warmer or something more summery, which is making my current sorting task a bit more difficult. Thankfully I don’t need my heavy coats any more so those are vacuum-bagged along with my heavy sweaters. But should I leave out summer clothes for the next few days (it’s very warm in Portland now)? Will it be too cool on the plane for summer things or should I wear something warmer? Or will it be hot here in Tokyo tomorrow or cool again and what should I leave out for the next few days? Temperatures have been on a roller coaster and we’ve been surprised (and miserable) on more than one occasion recently.

On the plus side, we’ve done a good job using up lots of stuff while we’ve been in Japan. This has cleared out room in our suitcases, but we’ve also picked up more things than usual during our stay here. We bought dishes at Kappabashi, and those will be going onto the plane with us in our travel tote bags to fit under the seat in front. We’re also taking back food items – the bottom of my suitcase is already lined with several packages of CookDo sauces. I bought two more pieces of clothing here that I need to make room for, Brett bought calligraphy supplies, and there are also other little odds and ends we’ve accumulated.

Hopefully we can get it all to fit into our trusty bags. Brett used to be in charge of packing his squadron’s cruise boxes whenever they went to sea and I’ve always said he can get a baby grand piano into a carry-on bag if he has to – I am depending on him to make sure everything fits and goes with us next week.

In the meantime, we’ve got four days to take care of our second least-favorite travel task and then face our least favorite once again. Wish us luck!

A Walk Around Old Tokyo

An old corner building has been renovated and repurposed into a small shop and workshop.

I’ve always felt that any time you go out in Tokyo you can expect an adventure. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve walked to your neighborhood station, or over to the supermarket, or to work or wherever. There is always something new to discover or learn. Turn down a new street and who knows what you’ll find?

This old building now houses the Yanaka Brewing Company.
The Yanaka’s former neighborhood bathhouse is now an art gallery.
Old doors bearing the family or business crest.

It was with much anticipation that Brett and I visited the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo last week. Yanaka was brand new territory for us, which guaranteed an adventure.

The Tsukiji-bei Wall. Made from stacked mud and roof tiles, the wall is over 200 years old, and often used as a backdrop in period movies and television shows.
Detail of the wall’s roof design.

The Yanaka neighborhood did not disappoint.

The massive Himalayan cedar was originally brought in a pot by the grandfather of the current owner of the tiny Mikado Bread Shop. It burst from its pot back before WWII and rooted itself into the corner and has continued to grow, grow, grow.
The full size of the cedar can only be appreciated from a distance. The tree has also been featured as a backdrop in television shows and movies.

Yanaka is unique because not only did the neighborhood survive the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the subsequent fire that destroyed most of Tokyo, it was also spared during the Allied firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. Brett and I marveled at the many old, original buildings we came across, and were impressed with how many had been preserved, renovated and repurposed. There were plenty of new buildings and modern architecture too, but the neighborhood seemed to have maintained the feel and spirit of old Tokyo – there were no high-rise apartments or office buildings, and newer buildings blended in well with the old. We were especially awed by the large, old trees seen everywhere we walked, including several huge cherry trees that must have been magnificent in bloom, and one massive Himalayan cedar tree.

The Yanaka Cemetery is filled with lovely, large old cherry trees. It is a popular spot for hanami (flower viewing) picnics.
The grave of a notable someone stood out from all the others.

Yanaka is also the sight of the largest cemetery in Japan. Established in 1874, the cemetery covers over 1,000 acres and many artists and feudal leaders (including the last shogun of Japan) are interred there. A large street bisects the cemetery and is lined with huge cherry trees. One of the most famous places to see in the park is the foundation of a former five-story pagoda. Built in 1791, the pagoda stood in the center of the cemetery until 1957, when a pair of lovers committed suicide by burning down the pagoda with themselves inside. Their ghosts are said to wander the area near the foundation.

Yanaka was also originally a temple town on the outskirts of Tokyo (temples could also be used as forts in case of attack), and the neighborhood was absolutely filled with temples and shrines, more than we could count, and we eventually gave up trying to keep track of them all.

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We had originally wanted to do the pilgrimage to the seven temples of Japan’s seven lucky gods, but learned that pilgrimage is only done during the first 10 days of a new year. The pilgrimage route also had us missing several other things we wanted to see such as the Tsukiji-bei Wall and the giant Himalayan cedar so we ended up using a map we found online along with a paper map of the neighborhood we picked up while we were there.

The old Yoshidaya Sake Store is now the Shitamachi Museum annex.
. . . and contains many sake-related artifacts from the old store.

In spite of the heat we encountered that day we both felt it was one of the most interesting places we had visited, and perhaps the ultimate Tokyo adventure. We will definitely be returning as our walkabout only scratched the surface. There are lots of arts and crafts shops we would love to investigate more, more temples to investigate, and other lanes we would like to turn down just to see what’s there.

An old Yanaka home, lovingly renovated to maintain its character.

Sunday Morning 5/5/2019: Week 11 in Japan

What I love about Japan #3,692: This house has no yard, but a lovely garden has still been created out in front.

It’s almost impossible to think about, but we have only 10 days left to go in Japan (counting today)! We haven’t figured out how we’re going to accomplish it, but on May 14 we and all our luggage will head out to Narita Airport and leave for the United States in the late afternoon. We’ve seen and done everything we wanted to here and then some, spent loads of wonderful time with our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, eaten all the food, accomplished everything else we set out to do while we were here and even a few things we hadn’t planned on. Our three months in Japan has been everything we hoped for and more.

The main building of the Tokyo National Museum – there are four more.
We visited a special exhibition of treasures from Tō-ji temple in Kyoto. This sculpture is from the 9th century, and is a National Treasure of Japan.

We’ve had a relaxing and not too busy week: we returned from last weekend’s Golden Week getaway on Monday evening; unpacked, did our laundry, and rested on Tuesday, visited the Tokyo National Museum on Wednesday; Brett went to his calligraphy lesson on Thursday; and on Friday we did a self-guided walking tour of the Yanaka neighborhood. A little later today we’re going up to Saitama Prefecture for a visit and lunch with our daughter-in-law’s parents, and are looking forward very much to seeing them again. Because of Golden Week every place we’ve gone has been quite crowded, but we decided that’s just part of the experience.

From the Imperial Household display, a magnificent porcelain plate.
Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan, and their small population currently resides in the north, on Hokkaido. The applique and embroidery on these coats are exquisite; the fabric is hand woven and dyed.
An old corner building in the Yanaka neighborhood has been turned into a shop.

One of Brett’s and my big jobs this summer will be to inventory all of the things we’ve been traveling with and get rid of or store what is unnecessary and replenish or replace things that are needed. For example, my trusty Skechers have to be replaced – the memory foam soles that were so comfortable at the beginning of our travels have completely broken down, the inside fabric is falling apart, and both pairs are now quite uncomfortable. I must have taken nearly a million steps in them though. I think I have worn the pair of clogs I brought along all of two times, so they will go into storage and be replaced with a good pair of walking/hiking shoes for treks while we’re in England. I also have a couple of jackets that have turned out to be impractical, and can see that a lightweight rain jacket would take up less space and get used more, so I’ll be on the lookout for one of those as well. Some of my clothes I’m just plain sick of at this point and want to swap them out, but thankfully I still am happy with most of them. Brett is in a similar position and wants to change out a few things and add a couple of things as well. We’ve started on a list but will get serious about it all once we’ve settled into our Portland apartment later this month.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished up another one of Susan Spann’s mysteries, Blade of the Samurai,. Because of the amount of historical detail she includes, I was able to appreciate much more many of the things I viewed at the National Museum this past week. I am still waiting for a couple of books to come off of hold at the library but was able to download a book by one of the authors, Cross and Burn, by Val McDermid. She’s a new-to-me mystery writer from Scotland. So far the book I’m reading now is a real page-turner and I can’t wait to read more of her work (and she has written a lot).
  • Listening to: Our grandson slept over with us last night, so he and Brett are chatting right now. We’re getting ready to go up for lunch with his other set of grandparents in a short while. Otherwise it’s very quiet here – not many people outside. The sun is shining brightly too – it’s supposed to up to 77º today!
  • Watching: I watched a couple of favorite movies this past week on days that I wasn’t too tired or reading: The King’s Speech and Lincoln. This week I am going to choose between Doubt, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Apollo 13. Neither Brett nor I have missed not watching television while we’ve been in Japan, and at this point doubt we’ll get a television again when we finally settle down.
  • Cooking/baking: I’m not sure what we’re having tonight as I’m fairly sure our DIL’s mother will feed us well for lunch. The freezer here is now cleared out, and we’re going to start stopping by the grocery store each day to pick up what we need for dinner rather than do a weekly shop and end up with any leftovers.

    There’s a lifesize statue of a blue whale outside of the national science museum in Ueno Park.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I had a lot to write about after last weekend’s travels, and got four blog posts done. Writing is a genuine effort for me (I am never satisfied), so I’m glad I was able to get last week’s posts done in a timely manner. Even though we were tired, Brett and I both were glad we made the effort to go to Ueno Park to the National Museum and to the Yanaka neighborhood. Believe it or not, even after all my time in Japan, this was my first trip to Ueno Park! Other than those things, I don’t think I accomplished all that much other than the regular everyday stuff I do around here.

    We gave up counting all the old temples and shrines in Yanaka.
  • Looking forward to next week: We are heading back to Yokohama again to visit the Sogo department store food gallery in the basement. We want to buy a package of bird cookies, and a kind of Japanese green tea “pudding” I love, made with kudzu starch as the thickener. Brett has his final class and will take his first calligraphy exam this coming week! We’re also hoping for better weather this week too – we’ve had quite a bit of rainy weather this past week, including a major thunderstorm yesterday. What we’re not looking forward to is dragging out the suitcases toward the end of the week and getting started on the packing.

    We’ve been happy to ignore these for the past three months.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our visits to the Tokyo National Museum and the Yanaka neighborhood were the last two items on our list of things we wanted to see and do during our stay in Tokyo. I think the only thing we missed out on was our visit to Shinjuku, but it will be here when we come back. We’ve heard from all three of the girls this week: Meiling is getting ready for her last set of finals; WenYu is currently in Florence, Italy during her spring break (and eating gelato every day); and YaYu is finishing up her first year of school and not looking forward to her finals. We stopped at a shop selling traditional Japanese sweets when we were in Yanaka to pick up a small gift for M’s parents, and the shop carried another one of my favorites: mochi filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a fresh, aromatic bamboo leaf. They were every bit as good as I remembered them.

    Mochi wrapped in fresh bamboo leaves – very delicious!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We didn’t spend much this week – just two small trips to the grocery store, the present for M’s parents and mochi for me, and a stop for lunch when we visited Yanaka. We have done a good job of eating out of our refrigerator and pantry this past week and had no food waste. Both of us are very happy with our April spending totals, and hope we can keep it up in May, although we have some big grocery shops to take care of in Portland as we set up for the summer.

    We ate a late lunch at a ‘fast food’ tempura restaurant near Yanaka, and got lots of tasty food for the two of us for just $15.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are extremely thankful for our son’s generosity throughout our stay in Japan, and for the wonderful time we had with them last weekend on our getaway. We are glad we have been able to give back just a little by picking up and watching our grandchildren in the afternoons, a pleasure for us and a small way to make their lives easier, especially with our daughter-in-law returning to work outside the home.
  • Japanese word of the week: yada やだ. This is an expression my grandchildren use over and over, and although I understood it to mean “no” or “don’t” more accurately means “I don’t like that!” or “I don’t want to!” Children often use it to mean “Stop it!” Yada is often compared to the word dame だめ, which generally means “wrong,” “no good,” “useless,” or “hopeless.” Dame is usually said to stop an action immediately, especially when said to children.

Ten days to go . . . I almost can’t believe it. I’m pretty sure from here on out it’s all going to fly by, and the next thing we know we’ll be on our way out to the airport. It’s all been wonderful though, the visit of a lifetime and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I hope all of you had a very good week, and that plenty of good things happened for you!

The Most Beautiful Museum

The entrance gate to the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.

Even in the rain, the Itchiku Kubota Museum in Kawaguchiko was the most beautiful I have ever visited.

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The museum grounds were equally as beautiful as what was displayed within.

Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003) was a fabric artist and dying expert who created deeply gorgeous, beautiful kimono, each one a work of art in its own right. Inspired by the lost Japanese dying art of tsujigahana seen on a visit to the Tokyo National Museum when he was 20 years old, Kubota studied and worked to figure out how it was accomplished, and then created a contemporary style of the technique now known as Itchiku Tsujihanan. Along with other dying techniques such as shibori (tie dye), resist dying, and layered dying along with embroidery and other fabric techniques, each one of the kimono he created is a unique work of art. It took nearly a year to make each kimono (with the help of assistants), and while almost all are individual works, some are parts of a larger work when placed together.

Mt. Fuji was a frequent theme in Kubota’s art. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
Thousands of tiny knots were made in the plain white silk fabric he used for all kimono, then dyed to create intricate patterns and intense depths of color. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)

Kubota designed the museum himself, and set up his studio there. Located on a forested hillside just outside of the city of Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes district, the museum experience begins at the front steps where visitors pass through a large wooden gate surrounded by a swirling bronze sculpture. A path leads visitors up through a large garden filled with ponds, waterfalls, benches and seats where visitors are invited to stop and reflect. The museum building itself is very organic, constructed of chalk and covered with limestone, and built partially into the hillside. The actual kimono gallery is a large pyramid, built from over 1,000 ancient cedar trees chosen by Kubota. The pyramid allows light to stream in (even on a rainy day) making it possible to view the kimono in natural light.

Entrance to the museum building
A large pyramid created from cedar beams forms the kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
The kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
The kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
Natural light streams through the top of the pyramid into the kimono gallery. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
Detail of the above kimono (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)

None of the kimono on display are behind glass; visitors are encouraged to get as close as they’d like to inspect the kimono (without touching, of course) and see how the different techniques come together to create the larger images on the kimono. Visitors are also shown a short video about Kubota before entering the gallery to understand some of his technique (some of it remains unknown) how the kimono are made.

Museum interior leading to the kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool? https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/yamanashi/itchikukubotaartmuseum)
Kubota’s former studio is now a tea room.
This large circular design is etched into the wall of the former studio.

The entire experience left Brett and I speechless and filled with wonder, and we both agreed that it was the most beautiful of any museum we had ever visited, both inside and out. Whether you are interested in fabric art or not, the experience of seeing Kubota’s work and visiting his museum is worth the effort. To reach the museum from Tokyo, take the JR Chuo line limited express train from Shinjuku station to Otsuki station; change to the Fujikyuko line to Kawaguchiko Station. The museum is a 10-minute taxi ride from the station. The entrance fee is currently ¥1300 per person.

Closing Out the Books on April

We’ve set aside all of our 1¥ and 5¥ coins while we’ve been in Japan for our granddaughter – we jokingly call is “K’s trust fund.” I think there’s over 300¥ in there now – around $3.00 (but I also spy a 50¥ coin right on top in the center).

After a couple of months of being slightly over-budget, we made up for it in April and came in well under our daily goal – yeah us! Brett totaled up everything for the month, and our daily spending average for April was just $38.56! Our 74-day average daily spend for the time we’ve been in Japan also came to $46.65. These really are amounts I wasn’t sure we’d be able to achieve.

Our son’s generosity has helped us immensely, especially this past month – besides covering all transportation expenses involved in picking up our grandson, in return for our time watching the grands they covered everything except souvenirs on our getaway last weekend, and also for meals out together this past month. We have offered to pay for things, or at least for our expenses, but they have refused.

We have 11 more days left in Japan beginning Friday. We are eating down our food supplies, and are for the most part done with sightseeing (we’re visiting the Yanaka neighborhood on Friday, but that’s the last outing). We plan to make one last trip into Yokohama to pick up a couple of food items at the Sogo department store (bird cookies!), but other than that we’re done with spending except for transportation and items that are absolutely necessary.

Tokyo (and Japan) has a reputation for being expensive, and definitely can be if you’re not careful, or like me want to buy everything because it’s Japanese and cool and/or beautiful. Still, I’m very happy and satisfied that we’ve been able to spend three months living here for less than we thought was possible, and without sacrificing anything.

Golden Week Getaway: Part Two

The Sunday morning view from our cabin.

After a very comfortable night’s sleep at the cabin, we woke up Sunday morning to sunshine and the most amazing view of Mt. Fuji imaginable from our living room window. I almost didn’t want to go anywhere just so I could look at it all day, but we were all ready to go by 9:00.

Rabbits and badgers were tied into the ropeway experience, and there was a small rabbit shrine at the top.
Ready to board our gondola! We appreciated that passengers were not stuffed into the car – everyone got a view.
Up we go! I rode with our granddaughter at the front.

Our first activity of the day was the Mt.Fuji Panoramic Ropeway, which goes up to the top of Mt. Tenjō, across the valley from Mt. Fuji. It took us a couple of tries to find a parking spot somewhat near to the entrance as things had already begun to get crowded at 9:00 a.m., but we eventually found one not too far away. Even in spite of all the people the line for the ropeway wasn’t too long, and we were on our way up the mountain after only a short wait.

The view of Mt. Fuji from the top of Mt. Tenjō
Looking out over Lake Kawaguchi, the city of Kawaguchiko, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The view from the station at the top was spectacular. Besides the breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji, we could also take in all of the city of Kawaguchiko, Lake Kawaguchi, the Fuji-Q Highlands amusement park, and snow-capped mountains off in the distance. We hiked around the top for a while, took lots of pictures, and thought about hiking up to a torii at the top of the next mountain, but when we saw the sign that the hike would take an additional 40 minutes one way we decided not to go.

When we came back down from the mountain we could not believe the length of the line, almost four times if not longer than it was when we had arrived! Before going to our car we first stopped at the Fujiyama Cookie shop, located at the bottom of the hill, and bought ourselves several flavors of their famous cookies which are shaped like Mt. Fuji (Later in the afternoon when we drove back past the cookie shop, the line was out the door and down the street! We were glad we went early.).

The forest on the way to the Wind Cave entrance was like something out of Harry Potter – we thought we might come across Aragog the spider!
Down we go into the Wind Cave – only 46 steps! The difference in temperature from the top of the stairs to the bottom was quite shocking.
Part of the large ice formation in the cave.

From the ropeway we headed to see two of the Fuji Caves, created when hot air was trapped in lava during the Mt. Fuji eruptions. There are two caves, the Ice Cave and the Wind Cave, but the Ice Cave required a descent of 92 steps and 102 steps on the way up. and there was no way that was going to happen with a toddler and my knees. We instead walked to the Wind Cave which took us through a forest straight out of Harry Potter, with a thick tree canopy and amazing tangle of roots as well as small caves, burrows, and natural tunnels. The cave itself was quite cold and had its own wonderful ice formations along with other features. We had to duck down quite a bit to get to the end of the cave, and saw where the cave had been used in the past as natural refrigerated storage for seeds for reforestation and for silkworm cocoons. By keeping the cocoons in the cold hatching was delayed and allowed farmers and merchants to get two extra cycles for silk making.

Iyashi-no Sato: The Healing Village

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Our last stop of the day was Iyashi-no-Sato, also known as “the healing village.” Located near Lake Saiko, the village stands on the site of a former fishing and farming village that was destroyed by a typhoon in 1966. The village now holds 20 reconstructed thatched-roof farmhouses in the kabuto-zukkuri (samurai helmet) style and serves as an open-air museum where visitors can experience traditional Japanese arts and crafts and local food specialities. Several of the houses contain shops and workshops, while others hold museums, restaurants and gift shops. Walking through the village is like being transported back in time to the early 20th century. Just outside the village there were once again farmers selling fruits and vegetables, and we finally bought a bag of apples.

Our souvenirs for the day: wasabi crackers, sesame sticks, assorted Fujiyama cookies, and locally grown Fuji apples.

Back at the cabin our DIL prepared a wonderful dinner of yakiniku with pork, beef and sausages, noodles, and a variety of vegetables that we grilled at the table and enjoyed with some rice.

These giant gold maneki nekko seemed to say “Welcome . . . and good luck!”
Neither good luck nor lots of money could ever get me to attempt this.

We were up early Monday morning as we had to check out of the cabin by 10:00. Once again the sky had clouded over and obscured Mt. Fuji, making us extra grateful for the beautiful day we had on Sunday. After getting the cabin clean and the car loaded we drove to the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park so our grandson and granddaughter could spend some time at Thomas Land (Thomas the Tank Engine). In spite of the crowds and long lines for rides they had a wonderful time. Brett and I, on the other hand, mostly stood around and tried to stay warm (the temperature dropped to where we thought it might snow) while we gawked at the roller coasters in the main park. There were five of them, two with straight vertical drops, one that shot the cars from a catapult into a giant loop, one that sent riders down a giant couple of waterfalls, and the highest coaster I have ever seen, called Fujiyama, King of the Coasters. I love roller coasters but there was absolutely No. Way. I would have gotten on any one of those.

The Thomas Land section of the Fuji-Q park was more our family’s speed.

I will never be able to thank our son and DIL enough for including us in the weekend getaway. They spoiled us the entire time and picked up the tab for all admissions and meals. What a great time we had!

Golden Week Getaway: Part One

What looks almost like blue sky in the background are actually clouds covering Mt. Fuji from top to bottom.

Well, we did not go to Hakone-Izu National Park for our getaway as I thought when I heard “Mt. Fuji” and “ropeway.” That, I was informed, would have been madness because of the expected crowds that would be visiting this week. Instead, we headed for the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes district, just outside of the city of Kawaguchiko. Because of traffic issues that were expected on Golden Week’s opening day, we spent Friday night at our son’s home, and were all up at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and on the road by 4:30, arriving at our first stop, the Oshino Hakkai Springs, shortly before 9:00 a.m.

Streams as well as underground tunnels connect the eight springs at Oshino Hakkai.
In the past, the streams were used to power mills in the area.

The Fuji Five Lakes, which wrap around the northern side of Mt. Fuji, were formed following several eruptions of the volcano as were the Oshino Hakkai Springs, which was originally a sixth lake that dried up. The air at the springs was crisp and quite cool when we arrived, but Mt. Fuji was covered in clouds – if you didn’t know better you’d never have known there was a very big volcano sitting just off to the side.

Pure, clean water bubbles up from the bottom of one of the springs. The water is filtered through deep layers of porous lava.

The eight Oshino Hakkai springs are an asset of the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Site, and are lovely, deep pools of extremely clear, pure water. The water said to be the best in Japan, and is revered by locals for its purity – “water of the gods.” When the snow melts on Mt. Fuji it enters the ground and passes through several layers of lava, which is porous. Apparently it takes nearly 80 years for the water to reach the springs which is why they are so clean and pure. The deepest pool, Wakuike, was over 26 feet deep and coins were visible sitting on the bottom (visitors have been asked not to throw coins though as it degrades the water quality). Koi could be seen swimming in layers throughout the pool, and beautiful green water grasses on the bottom waved back and forth. Next to the pool was small waterfall where cold, refreshing water from the spring was available to drink or bottle (we filled a bottle).

A modern Japanese farmhouse in the Oshino Hakkai Springs neighborhood
Because of the cooler temperatures in the Five Lakes area, cherry trees and other plants were still in bloom.

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Surrounding the springs are farmhouses and farmland, and we visited several of the local vendors who were set up near the springs selling locally produced or grown items, including sweets, pickles and local crafts. We ate some grilled dango (balls of mochi basted with sweet soy sauce), grilled kusa mochi, made with local mugwort and filled with sweet bean paste (my favorite mochi, although I’d never had it grilled before), and hot chestnuts right from the roaster (Brett’s favorite). Several farmers had huge Fuji apples for sale – the samples we tried were very sweet – but we decided to wait until later to purchase those. The Five Lakes area is also known for growing wasabi, and I purchased two bags of wasabi senbei (crackers), and one of my favorite Japanese snacks.

The Hannoki Bayashi Shiryokan museum farmhouse
Crossview of the deep thatch on traditional farmhouses – it almost appears to be solid.

Included in the village is a small museum, Hannoki Bayashi Shiryokan, which allowed us to walk around two more of the springs as well as visit an old, traditional farmhouse and outbuildings. The former farm owners were apparently silk manufacturers – silkworms were grown in the attic area of the farmhouse, and then woven into fabric with finished products made at the home. We were able to climb through the entire house and see how the rooms were set up and where work was done – it was fascinating.

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Colorful koinoburi greeted visitors to the aquarium

After leaving the springs we headed over to a nearby small freshwater aquarium. Because of the streams coming off of Mt. Fuji and out of the other surrounding mountains, trout are plentiful in the area as are sturgeon. The kids especially enjoyed spending time here, and we came across several more farmers selling vegetables, apples, and eggs at the side of the parking lot – both my DIL and I were very tempted!

Then it was on to a nearby restaurant for lunch where we enjoyed another area specialty: houtou. These are wide, thick udon noodles served in broth. I ordered noodles with pumpkin, Brett had his with pork, and the lunch sets included pink rice (cooked with red beans), pickles, tofu and some other treats. We left with full, happy stomachs.

Pumpkin houtou set for lunch – I ate every bite.

Rain was coming down as we left the restaurant and Mt. Fuji was still swathed in heavy clouds, so we decided to split up for a while before going to our cabin. Brett and I wanted to visit the Itchiku Kubota Museum just down the road, and our son, DIL and kids needed to do some grocery shopping. The museum was the most beautiful I have ever visited in my life and worthy of a separate post.

The kitchen at the cabin.
The soaking tub was fully programmable – you filled and heated the water (and maintained the heat) from a remote control in the great room.
The cabin was paneled in pine which gave off a lovely, soft aroma throughout the house.

Our cabin for the next two days was wonderful. The house slept 10, and had a great room with a large, extremely well-equipped kitchen; a huge, luxurious soaking bath; a tatami room downstairs for two; and two bedrooms upstairs that slept four each. Both Brett and I said we could have happily lived in that house – it was lovely.

Mt. Fuji emerged from the clouds as the sun began to set.
Grandpa helped K with some after-dinner fireworks.

After getting unpacked and the food put away, we all took a short nap and awoke a couple of hours later to the magnificent sight of Mt. Fuji coming out of the clouds as the sun set – a beautiful ending to a terrific day, and a promise of a beautiful day to come.