A Japanese summer and back to Bangkok monsoons


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July 9th 2012
Published: September 14th 2012
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I’ve had some amazing summers in my 27 years. I remember summer days on break from elementary school spent at home with my sister and the neighborhood kids riding our bikes through everyone’s yard, looking for the biggest hill or drop-off, searching for what we could label as the “splash mountain” of the neighborhood. There was the summer we realized the huge tree kitty-corner to our house had limbs strong enough for us to slide down them, bending and shooting us into someone’s backyard. We spent hours waiting for the Popsicle man, ran home when we were called to dinner only to find the front doorknob was too hot to handle from heating up in direct sunlight - turning it one rotation to get into the house was always a challenge I think I made my sister complete. We ran around the backyard, played with our Skip-it on the back deck, dressed up our family beagle in doll’s clothes and walked her around the backyard in a stroller (she was a good sport). We took family trips to the Orgeon Coast, Disneyland, San Francisco. As I got older there were summers spent taking swimming lessons, tennis lessons, babysitting the neighbor kids,
Tokyo Disneyland with Bob's familyTokyo Disneyland with Bob's familyTokyo Disneyland with Bob's family

One of my favorite days this summer
waking up at dawn to get to rowing practice and then babysitting the neighbor kids. I loved all of these summer breaks from school.

Somehow at the age of 27, I had a summer break that engrained memories into my head in the same way the summers of the past did.

Bob and I spent over a month in Tokyo living in the wonderful ward of Nakano. After that month was up we spent four hours hopping anxiously from train to train wondering if we were actually going to end up at the Narita airport or in the town of Narita (not the same thing). We were on a time sensitive mission to pick up his family who wwere flying in from Seattle to visit us. We had actually taken the correct trains and arrived at the airport fifteen minutes after they had landed. We spent the next month showing his family our favorite spots in Asia. But I'll start where I left off.

About an hour train ride away from Shinjuku we arrived at the base of Mt. Takao. With it's proximity to Tokyo and ease of getting there, the mountain gets 2.5 million visitors a
The hike on Mt. Takao beginsThe hike on Mt. Takao beginsThe hike on Mt. Takao begins

most of these people took the tram up because the trails were much less crowded
year. The brochures we had showed every age range enjoying the mountain, so we assumed the hike wouldn't be too strenuous and a nice break from dense city life.

At the base of the mountain a major decision needs to be made - take the funicular halfway up the mountain, take the chairlift half way up the moutain or choose one of eight paths that reach the summit. We chose "path one" to get to the top. Little did we realize we were in for a surprise when the path wound into switchback after switchback of intensely steep hills. Steep, steep hills. Now I know why people take the easy way. I guess the throngs of elderly meandering toward the base from the train took the funicular up. Eventually we were able to breathe again once the path flattened out. We were then into the restaurant and temple section of the hike. Every perhaps 200 meters there was another mountain side restaurant - serving udon noodles, sweets, ice cream and most importantly lots and lots of beer as we walked past the restaurants at 11 am everyone was already partaking in the thirst quenching break from their hike. Before reaching the summit the path also winds through several wonderful temples.

It was an overcast day, so we didn't get a view of Tokyo or Mt. Fuji from the summit, but the people watching was entertaining enough. Bob and I both wore shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. The Japanese hikers wore daypacks, leggings, shorts, huge wool hiking socks, massive hiking boots, baselayer shirt, t-shirt over that and a rain shell on top. Don't forget the bear whistle and camp stove to make instant noodles at the summit while sitting on a bench for one of the restaurants serving noodles. It was baffling to see how many layers of clothes they wore plus all the gear they brought! However, Mt. Takao can serve as the starting point for several multi-day hikes so perhaps every single person we ran into was on a bigger adventure? The dogs were also well equipped with their own hiking outfits and shoes. Definitely no naked dogs on this mountain.

The path we took down the mountain ran down a creekbed for a short time. The other hikers we passed were very concerned about our footwear situation. We were perfectly happy sloshing through the creek in
Swallows game at Jingu StadiumSwallows game at Jingu StadiumSwallows game at Jingu Stadium

One of my absolute favorite things to do in Tokyo
flip flops. But at least we gave some Japanese people a good laugh by being the seemingly unprepared foreigners.

On a sunny Saturday in the early afternoon Bob and I met up with our old roommate from our last time living in Tokyo (two years ago) to head to a Tokyo Swallows game. This was the second Swallows game we've been to and is still one of my absolute favorite things to do in Tokyo. The baseball game is indescribably fun - the songs, the dances, the fans, the mascot everything about it is entertaining and vastly different than a baseball game in the US. Except the rivalry. The Swallows were playing against the Hanshin Tigers - sort of like the equivalent of the New York Yankees. Tiger's fans are known to be a bit rough around the edges one could say, but ever so loyal to their team. Frequently Tiger's fans outnumber the home team's fans when the Tigers play away games. We didn't see any fan-fights but we did wander over to their side of the stadium to get a better look at some of the crazy outfits they wear. I wish we had attended more games
Tanabata festivalTanabata festivalTanabata festival

It was a fantasic day in Ueno.
in the month we were there. I would highly recommend a game to anyone visiting Tokyo during baseball season. Even if you're not a huge baseball fan the games are wonderful.

We always keep an eye out for signs in our neighborhood of upcoming festivals and this time struck gold. We went to two of the best street festivals I've ever been to. The first was Tanabata - which we celebrated in Ueno, another ward in Tokyo. The festival celebrates the meeting of two dieties. According to legend, the Milky Way separated these two lovers and they are only allowed to meet once per year on the seventh day of the seventh month. At present day the festival is celebrated by writing wishes on small slips of paper and tying them to bamboo trees which are later burned. We woke up on Tanabata to a lot of rain. Not having any other plans for the day, we decided to grab our umbrellas and go. The parade began at 1pm but since it was raining pretty hard the parade ended up being a poncho fashion show, which was still fantasticly entertaining. The festival was held on a decorated street that was closed to car traffic so we walked up and down the street all day. Vendors with wonderful Japanese food, carnival games for the kids and dances performed throughout the day made it the most impressive street festival I've ever been to and we had another wondeful day in Tokyo.

The other festival we stumbled on was a folk dance and drum festival in Nakano. Every ad we saw for this festival was in Japanese so I'm still not sure of the festival's name but perhaps 20 groups performed the dance and drumming called eisa which is done to celebrate the end of Obon to honor one's ancestors. We spent two days walking back and forth between home (when it got too hot out) and the festival. The drumming was unlike anything I've seen before. It was powerful and the performers were so genuine - it made for a great experience.

By the time Bob's family arrived I had an itinerary for every day of our seven day non-stop tour of Tokyo. All six of us moved into a great condo in Nishi-Ogikubo. To accomidate for jet lag we started out with a low-key day at Kiyosumi Gardens - our favorite garden in Tokyo. We cut the day pretty short in preparation of the following day's 5:30am wake up call to head to Tokyo Disney Sea - another one of our favorite things in Tokyo. At the end of our week in Tokyo we had spent two days at the Disney resort, toured the Meiji Jingu temple, spent an afternoon in Yoyogi Park, toured the Edo-Tokyo museum and ate plenty of sushi, tempura and takoyaki.

Leaving Japan is always hard for me. There's something about it that's infectious and makes me incredibly happy - always. I leave with a heavy heart that is only consoled by knowing I'll make it a priority to get back sooner rather than later.

We all flew on a red-eye to Kuala Lumpur, took the bus into town at 7am feeling delerious, checked into the hotel and immediately went for food and the swimming pool. It was Bob's family's first taste of southeast Asia. Bob and I have spent a month in Malaysia before and came out with mixed feelings but we ended up having a great 24 hours with his family in KL. After food, swimming and a nap the clock read 4pm and it was clear we weren't leaving the hotel. After an impressive dinner buffet of curries, soups, cheeses, endless desserts and coffee we headed back to the pool deck but this time for a view of the Petronas Towers at night. With that stunning sight we all said goodnight to Malaysia.

After 40-some days of being away we arrived back at our condo in Bankok the following evening. We spent the next three days eating wonderful Thai food, shopping and swimming. Once we were fully shopped-out we took the four-hour journey down to Koh Samet. I still don't understand how we made this possible but the trip was flawless - we arrived at the bus station with 5 minutes before the bus left, got a boat almost right away to Koh Samet and had settled into three comfortable bungalows within half an hour of arriving on the island. We spent five perfect days swimming in the warm water, exploring the island, eating wonderful food and enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of the Thai islands.

It was tough to say goodbye to Bob's family. We've now been back and forth between the US and Asia for the past four years and to be able to finally put images to what Bob and I have been talking about for four years was a great time for us and them. I loved having the company around and to be surrounded by familiar faces in a sometimes unfamilar world over here.

We’re back to school in Bangkok now with only 13 more weeks of school before we fly home to Seattle for Christmas and the New Year. We’re into monsoon season now which can mean it will be hot and sunny with not a cloud in the sky or it could mean the sky will turn black; everyone not under cover will immediately be drenched and have to wade through ankle-deep water. The weather here can change in a second. But I like it. It keeps us entertained and if we turn the air con on to full blast while watching the storm outside, it sort of feels like home, with the best part being that in the morning we wake up to 90-something degree sunshine – unlike Seattle. It’s monsoon season but the rain is warm, entertaining and we still see our fair share of sunlight.

School
They made us wear helmets on the water slidesThey made us wear helmets on the water slidesThey made us wear helmets on the water slides

In a country where not everyone on a motorbike wears a helmet...but we had to wear one to do down a two-story waterslide.
has never been better. We’re loving our classes partially thanks to our wonderful and insightful professors. Our Wednesday night professor of operations management is hilarious, and I’ve had to contain numerous laughing fits to keep my composure. One of our classes has six students, and the other has eight. This, in itself, makes me happy to be attending this specific university that emphasizes small class sizes.

We'll see what adventures the next 13 weeks has in store for us!


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Morning after the typhoonMorning after the typhoon
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