David Chart's Japan Diary

December 2nd 2005

There's been a bit of a gap between diary entries because I didn't get the break I mentioned I could do with. Back in August, I decided that it would be a good idea if, three days after we got back from our honeymoon, my mother came to stay with us for a couple of weeks. I can plead only two factors in my defence. First, my wife was with me when I made the decision.

Second, it actually was a good idea.

Mum and Ray have gone home now, which is why I have time to write a diary entry, but we all had a really good time. Yuriko actually missed them when they were gone. Even the final weekend, for which Yuriko's parents also joined us, was a big success. Yes, not only do I love my wife, I like my in-laws, she likes hers, and both sets of in-laws like each other. Mum and Ray will be welcome back here any time.

Just not right now. I need a rest.

But I've got ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning of the visit.

Mum and Ray came via Hong Kong, because that was the cheapest route, and took the opportunity to add a one-night stop-over there. They enjoyed that, and would quite like to go back for a four-day trip at some point, to see everything properly. As a result, they were on the last plane into Narita, so it was quite late when I met them. Nevertheless, the trains back to Kawasaki were fairly crowded, and it was after midnight by the time we got here. Kawasaki is the opposite side of Tokyo from Narita Airport, so the journey is rather long. Once we got here, we had a light meal (which Yuriko prepared while we were on our way), and then everyone went to bed.

Dinner Scene The four of us having dinner together at Ume-no-hana.

We took the following day easy, both because they were tired from the trip and because we were going away on Friday, the next day. I showed them around the local area, including the shrine and the supermarket, and then we went into Tokyo for a posh dinner. The food and setting were very nice; we had one of the those tatami rooms with a pit under the table, so that you can sit as if on a chair but still get the feel of a traditional Japanese room. We had a nice conversation, and the journey was a good opportunity to show Mum and Ray how to get around Tokyo by themselves.

That wasn't immediately relevant, as on Friday we headed for Nikko, the World Heritage Site where Tokugawa Ieyasu's mausoleum is located. I've been there before, and it's one of my favourite places in Japan. It's up in the mountains, and stunningly beautiful in many ways. The scenery is spectacular, and the buildings are breathtaking. On the Friday, however, we arrived, by design, just after it got dark, so we could see nothing. We rode the Spacia special express to Nikko, and then got a taxi to our hotel, the Annex Turtle Hotori-An. Last time I went I stayed in the main Turtle Inn, but noticed that the Annex had a really nice location. I wasn't disappointed by our stay this time; it's a really good place, with a nice private hot spring bath. The main weakness is that it doesn't do dinners, but the proprietors do recommend some places. We went to the closest, a yakitori (grilled chicken) shop called Hipparidako. The food was delicious, and the walls covered in business cards, photographs, and small bills with messages from customers. Ray had one of his Council cards with him, so he wrote on that and I pinned it to the ceiling.

Yuriko had to work on Friday, of course. One of the big advantages of being freelance is the ability to choose your own hours, and take a weekday off if necessary. (Another advantage is being able to move to Japan without changing jobs.) Accordingly, Yuriko got the train after work, and joined us late in the evening.

Outside the Twilight Gate The four of us outside the Twilight Gate at the Toushou Shrine.

Saturday was set aside for seeing the main attraction: the temples and shrines that constitute the World Heritage site. This is a full day, easily, and we were able to visit a part I didn't have time to get to on my last visit: Futarasan Shrine. Mum described this as a Shinto Theme Park, which was fairly accurate; there are a lot of varied shrines in a small place, and even games to play. Yuriko and I both played a game where you throw straw rings at poles. You get throw three, and if even one lands over the pole, you get good luck. I hit twice, which might explain being married to Yuriko. (Oooh, soppy...) We also wrote a really soppyromantic message on the message paper at the relationship bamboo grove, and Yuriko spun the 'Cake Fortune Telling Wheel' at the shrine to the god of sweets.

I won't write about the rest of the place in detail, because I did that last time I visited. We didn't go to see Ieyasu's mausoleum, because that is up a lot of steps and not much to see, but we did everything else. My favourite place is still Iemitsu's mausoleum, and Mum agreed with me. It's just a bit less spectacular than the Toushougu, and as the last place on the standard itinerary, also a bit less crowded. Over all, this gives it a wonderful atmosphere. There seems to be a house there, too. I wonder who gets to live in that?

We finished out tour of Iemitsu's just as it was closing, arounf half past four. It was too early for dinner, so we went to the coffee shop at the Kanayama Hotel for a drink and cake. Everyone except me also fell asleep for a bit. The hotel looked nice, and it's in a really good location. Having picked up the leaflet, it's also not as expensive as I thought it would be. From there, we went back to Hipparidako for dinner, and then back to the hotel to sleep.

On Sunday, we had the whole day, as our train home was a bit after sunset. We first took a walk along the river, past the Bakejizo. After that, we got a bus to Chuzenji, to see Kegon-no-taki. The waterfall was spectacular, as before, and this time I had time to walk down and see the lake. It was cold. An icy wind was blowing across it, and we were very glad to get inside and get something to eat. When we came out, things were rather warmer, but we were heading for our bus back. Back in Nikko proper, we had time to visit the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which we hadn't managed last time. It really is splendid, and quite restrained. Twilight was falling as we walked around the gardens.

The plan for the following week was that Mum and Ray would entertain themselves in Tokyo. I recommended places, supplied a map and station names, and sent them off. This worked well; they had a good time, and I was able to get some work done. Yuriko, of course, was in work. The exception was Wednesday, which was a national holiday, so we all went to Kamakura.

It was very busy. Leaf-turn season, national holiday, good weather... I suppose that was only to be expected. The Enoden train to the Daibutsu was as packed as Tokyo rush hour trains; we got the bus back, which was a good choice. We only had time to see Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu and the Daibutsu, but it was still a very good day. I've been before, of course, but it was Yuriko's first time since primary school.

Last weekend we went to Izu, with Yuriko's family. As usual, we arrived fairly late on the Friday, and then Yuriko joined us. The hotel, Orange Town Sakai, does very good, spectacular meals, and some of the rooms have a good view over the Pacific Ocean. Yuriko's family came to meet us at the railway station, which was good, because the road to the hotel is steep, twisty, and poorly-lit.

In-Laws Both families at the Jougasaki Coast. Yuriko's father is taking the photograph.

On Saturday, we went around to visit some of the sights of Izu, specifically the Jougasaki Coast and Mount Oomura. The coast is famed for spectacular cliffs, which really are, and the mountain is an extinct volcano, which is still volcano-shaped, complete with caldera. The weather was a bit misty, which made for nice views but put paid to any chance of seeing Mount Fuji. Still, it was worth a visit. I think I'd quite like living up one of the slopes with a view out over the Pacific Ocean. Maybe when I'm really rich and famous.

Ray and Satsumas Ray picking a satsuma, mere moments before eating it while looking at the Pacific Ocean.

After the mountain, we went to a 'pick-your-own-satsumas' place. Ray had earlier expressed a desire to eat one off the tree, and as we were in an area famed for them, it seemed like an ideal opportunity. The place we went is on a slope, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we said at the time, it does allow for the ultimate in one-upmanship. "Oh yes, these satsumas are quite nice, but they only reach their true flavour if you eat them within moments of taking them from the tree, while looking out over the Pacific Ocean, with good company." They were, indeed, very nice, and we had a good time picking them. We still have a couple left, but they'll probably get eaten today.

Part of the point of the weekend was for Mum and Ray to meet Yuriko's parents. Yuriko's mother used to be an English teacher, so she was able to sustain conversation without any trouble. This was good, since Mum doesn't really have any Japanese... For some reason, I started wheezing on Saturday night (still not sure why), and so we went to bed early. The sets of parents stayed up talking about us for a bit longer, and apparently really enjoyed it. I wonder what they were saying?

We had to come back fairly early on Sunday, because Mum and Ray's flight home was early on Monday morning. So, we first went to Itou, and a gentle walk by the river before lunch. The journey back to Kawasaki was uneventful, and baggage was successfully reorganised. The only slight hiccup was at Shinjuku, where we were changing to the Narita Express. The plan was to get ekiben (station packed meals) for Mum and Ray, and me, as a final Japanese experience, and there were no places selling them near where we entered. We had plenty of time, so I set off searching, and finally found a shop. By that point, we didn't have plenty of time, but we still made it to the train without mishap.

In Narita, we stayed at a business ryokan, which was fine, and meant that it was relatively easy to get to the airport in time for a 9:30am flight. Everything went smoothly there, and I sent Mum and Ray off on their journey home.