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Day 11

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Today was another do-nothing day.

In the morning, I finished setting up the wireless access point.  This device also works as a file server, using external USB harddrive that we can attach—which is the part I worked on.  Now I can start dumping all the photos I’m taking on this network drive, leaving them for my family to enjoy later.

Right after lunch, we went to the hardware store again to buy some of the stuff we missed last week.  There, we ran into my uncle Shinsaku.  From that point, we went to his house for a while, killed some time…

Then we came home, I finished setting up the out door curtain (pictures coming later), ate dinner (yummy again), and reserved hotels for next week’s trips.

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Day 10 – Tea Ceremony

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

This was a unique day.

My aunt Noriko is taking Japanese traditional tea ceremony (sado) lessons.  We were invited to attend a part of the lesson.  I think it was quite an experience for Evan.

The experience started with wearing of Yukata, a casual version of Kimono.  We did wear yukata at the hotel the other day, but this version was more formal than that.

Then we attended the tea ceremony lesson held at a city-owned facility with nice big Japanese style room.  My apologies—I didn’t take the pictures or movies of the ceremony itself.

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Day 9 part 2 – Magome-juku

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

After the boat ride, the my brother’s family went home on the car, then we headed to Magome-juku, one of the highway towns built during the Edo period.  The place is easily accessible with train (2 stations over from Ena), and a bus (it runs almost every hour, connecting between Nakatsugawa station and Magome-juku).

By the time we arrived at Magome, it was almost 1PM.  It’s time for another round of delicious food.  The place we entered had a combination plate for a super bargain price of 650 yen, with udon, soba, and goheimochi served side by side.

After lunch, we strolled through the town.  There’s not much to do here.  It’s just one street full of shops in old houses… and couple different spots.  Evan had pretty good fun here though.  She didn’t have to watch out for her two young nieces, and there was plenty of place to run around.  The steep slope provided plenty of exercise challenge.  The streams running along the street provided nice sound scape, making it feel cooler than actual.  Some of the shops provided some entertainment as well.

Overall, the trip was really fun.  I highly recommend Magome-juku area to people interested in the historic view of the town.

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Day 8-9 – Enakyo

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

We took a 2-day trip.  3 highlights were an amusement park, hot springs, and an old town.

Ena city is one of the smaller city in the mountains in Gifu prefecture.  The city was built near Kiso River.  It is a pretty place to visit.  And to make more people come to the place, city of Ena and its neighbor city, Nakatsugawa, built an amusement park in 1970.

This park once had a booming business.  The business started dwindling down in the 90s, and closed its door in 2000.  Another company bought the facility, and reopened it in 2002, but the business is not booming like before.  Added to that, we went on a weekday, and the Japanese schools have not started their summer break.  And Japan is feeling the recession as much as America…

All of that added up.  The place was practically empty.  Perhaps there were more people working there than us visitors.  Each ride attendants were operating several rides in turn.  At one point, one attendant was walking along with us, from ride to ride…  That’s personal service.

After having fun at the amusement park, we moved to the hotel.  That’s a trip by itself.  We packed a small car with 4 adults and 3 kids.  That was a tight fit.

The hotel has public bath style hot spring.  This particular hotel, Enakyo Grand Hotel, also has 2 private hot springs that a group of guests can reserve so many minutes at a time.  (If you ever travel to Ena and want to experience onsen, but feel uncomfortable with the public style bath, you can use this private bath.  Each room also have bath rooms, but they don’t use onsen water.)  The water tasted funky, but I suppose it’s good for the skin.  (No, I did not drink the water.)

Then comes the dinner.  What good is a trip without a huge dinner at one point?  See the pictures for more.  All was good, except giant eggplant was not to Evan’s liking.

All of us took the bath in the evening.  Some of us even took the bath in the morning as well.  Onsen feels so good, we can take as many baths as we want during the hotel stay.

To wrap up our stay at Ena, we took a boat tour.  It’s pretty, but without the English Evan looked somewhat bored.

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Day 7 – Fix-It day

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last time I visited home, I fixed the screen doors for them.  We realized how easy it was (both for them to ask me, and for me to actually do it), we decided to do more fix-ups this time.  Soon after I arrived here, we made a list of things they want me to fix.

Item #1 – overhead lighting in the living room – the pull-chord was getting stuck.  They were even thinking about replacing the unit.  We took the unit apart, did stuff… fixed!  That saved us some money.

Item #2 – they want to put some bamboo roll-up curtain on the balcony.  We bought 3 curtains, I put up one.  That’s when it started raining.  It’s the first rain since we’ve arrived in Japan.  We’ve been lucky so far that it hasn’t rained more, since Japan still is in the middle of a rainy season.

Item #3 – install a screen door on the front door.  I did manage to finish this one.  It did take several hours.  We did realize that we could have chosen better item.  But it’s installed, looking halfway decent…  we’re happy.

Item #4 – install a wireless LAN.  Finally an item that’s pretty easy.  We bought the router, set up the router, set the password, and all is set.  I’m finally writing this entry via wireless connection.

There are more to do around the house, but we’ll save that for another day.

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In Japan Day 6 – Sunday #1

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

There’s not much to write about.  Sunday – we went to church in the morning, ate lunch their, they had a bi-annual major cleaning, my daughter’s still bored, so rented 3 DVDs (Bee Season, The Pursuite of Happiness, Because of Winn-Dixie), watched Tony Award show on BS-2…  and now I’m ripping the movies for my daughter’s viewing later while encoding Candy Boy DVD based raws.  The local rental place didn’t have Black Jack DVD – darn.  I guess I’ll have to rent them online… if I can.  It seems like the online rental services normally require a credit card issued in Japan.  *le sigh*

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Day 5 – first day with nothing

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Today was the first day we got to relax without doing much.  We visited my uncle for a while, where we saw a part of first Naruto movie.  (I don’t watch Naruto, and I only found it’s the first movie after looking up the plots of all movies on wikipedia)  I think my daughter was getting bored…

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In Japan Day 4 – returning home

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Traveling from my grandmother’s to home usually is an uneventful event.  Not this time.  This trip involved two stops along the way – Ueno and Hayakawa.

For this trip, we are using Japan Rail Pass, a 21-day version of it.  We had to purchase this before we left for Japan.  We only got an exchange order back then.  We had to bring the order to Japan, and get the ticket at one of the designated train stations in Japan.  Most obviously, the train station at the airport can handle this task, but we didn’t.  My uncle came to pick us up, so we didn’t need to use it.  And we know that our last train ride from Nagoya to the airport will be expensive – we better utilize this pass then.

We wanted to do this exchange the day before, since we took couple trains to go to the museum.  We learned the hard way that we had to go to a bigger station.  That’s where the need to stop at Ueno station came to be.

And it was not all bad thing.  Right next to the ticket counter, we found Tokyo-Ueno branch of Hard Rock Cafe.  I picked 3 T-shirts there for those people who asked me for them.  If anyone else wants HRC T-shirts from Japan, I’m planning to stop by at Nagoya and/or Osaka HRC.  Let me know via comments or something.

And one last comment on HRC – even though Michael Jackson really wasn’t a hard rocker, the place still was paying tribute to him a little, by having his music video on all day.  I think his news is one of the bigger news for many people, even in Japan.

Our next stop was Hayakawa station, right next to Odawara.  There’s not much to talk about it.  We just wanted to see the station with our name on it.  It was a small place, right next to a small port for fishing boats.  We snapped a few photos here, hopped back on the bullet train, and continued our travel home.

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In Japan Day 3 – The Railway Museum

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This is our first tourist-like activity, one of the highlights for me – a trip to the Railway Musium.  I always loved trains ever since I was a baby.  The very first word I ever read, according to my mom, was “Asakaze,” which is the name of a train.  The musium was really made to please the true train fans.  The people who designed and built it must have been fans themselves.  Talking about it is pretty boring – I will post the photos later.  (I packed away the SD card reader in the other suit case which I shipped from the airport to my mom’s home.)  Evan and her 5-year old cousin, Kasumi, did enjoy the visit.  It might have been a bit too difficult for Kasumi.

After that came another feast.  10 of us went to a Japanese restaurant together.  Mmm, yum!  Sashimichawanmushi, kanimeshi (crab & rice), negitoro (spicy tuna & scallions), miso soup,tempura, etc, etc…  I can’t even remember everything that were on the table.  Evan enjoyed another round of fresh, raw fish.  Yes, more photos coming later.

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In Japan Day 2, part 2

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

I’m feeling so much better that I got some good night’s rest. I only slept for about 6 hours, but that shouldn’t matter.

Looking back, the flight experience yesterday was both good and bad.  The bad – my seat didn’t recline.  The good – I didn’t know wine was free with the meal on international flights.  More good – on the first flight, we got the row right behind the first class area – row 5 on this chart – that it was really comfortable.  More good – on the international flight, we sat 5 seats behind the main cabin exit – row 25 on this chart – that exiting out of the airplane was really easy, which helps a LOT after that.  By exiting early, we were one of the first ones in the immigration control area.  They opened the aircraft door at around 5:30PM, a bit behind the schedule, but we were legally in the country of Japan by 6:00PM.

The difficult part is actually getting these seats.  Since we fly Northwest, and Northwest reserves these front section of the economy seats to Elite members, they are normally inaccessible to us.  I only discovered that they open up these seats to everyone close to 24 hours before the departure, at which time I jumped on to these couple seats.  Another bonus for these seats – it’s so much quieter, being in front of the engines.  I highly recommend sitting in this area if you can manage it.

Once we left Narita Airport, (use the map’s zoom to see approximately where that is in Japan, since Google Map display everything in Japan in Japanese), with my uncle driving us, we stopped at a local sushi restaurant, a recommended place by my uncle.  It was a big hit with me, and as for minisylf – I think she was too tired to enjoy it fully.  She still liked the fact that she got her first sushi (She wanted some at the Minneapolis airport too.  I had to convince her out of it, because we were so close to real sushi, and the packaged sushi at the airport looked dry and icky…).

Right now, we are in a city that was once called Omiya-shi.  Around FIFA World Cup in 2002, they merged several cities to form Saitama-shi, a new big prefectural center of Saitama prefecture. (Wikipedia link)  More fun will unfold today.  It’s 6:45AM.  People will start to get up soon, and we are off to some more fun.

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