Land of the rising sun and snow monkeys.

January 29th 2010
Published: February 26th 2010
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The decision is made to go to Japan with Oliver while he is still under two. Our accomodation is finally all booked and that was no easy feat. Japan may seem advanced in many ways but their accomodation booking is not! We will have to pay cash in Yen at two places, had a lengthy several document booking for our Tokyo place, and will be checked in by an electronic robot machine at another. Looking forward to our adventure.

At last we found internet almost a week into our trip. Its not as high tech as you may think here. In fact a lot is still quite traditional and basic. But what an interesting country! So completely foreign for westerners when you arrive in Tokyo confronted with Japanese writing and minimal english. But the people are incredibly warm and welcoming and so helpful.

We left sunny Queensland on jetstar and were lucky to get a bulkhead seat and a bassinet. Having thought Ollie too big for it he actually wasn:t and just had his legs hanging out a bit. He fell asleep on take off and we had an hour to relax. It was short lived freedom. He woke and the entertaining began. The toys were rationed out as were the snacks. As the hours ticked by he grew more and more stroppy until we decided to crack out the phenergan. Im no saint when it comes to giving this to babies to make them sleep as opposed to them screaming. However we discovered it did not work on him. No effect. Very confused on that one. So we took turns to take him up and down the aisle and calm him. It worked a bit and he did calm and we ate some dinner but come sleep time he was a lot of work. He screamed on landing for quite some time and we had the experience of being 'those people' for the first time. I was a bit teary listening to him scream. We agreed its too hard to travel with a two year old.

At least customs herded us through the priority check in with a screaming infant and we then had the pleasure of finding an atm as so much is cash based here even the train into Tokyo. Which took forever!
A kind business man let us use his mobile to call our overly helpful apartment guy. Got chatting to him about Australia.
What a long way the airport is from the centre. Oliver looked so unhappy and eventually came to me and climbed beside me into the seat and fell asleep. Finally!
We found our way on the JR quite easily. Its all colours and station names but the first time i looked at the map i said wow. The apartment guy Matako met us outside the station and showed us to the apartment which at least was bigger than our London flat. He then went over all these garbage recycling rules, very strict here, and brochures. Oliver was passed out on the futon and we were fading.
Cupboards are big here so we put O in there and it worked ok except he was waking on Sydney time and still is really.

We had some brekkie in a bakery, also big here, and some very strong coffee having not learnt how to order it with milk. Actually Starbucks is the only western type chain available. Most people either get the bakery coffee or from a vending machine, also big here.
Oliver's bin obsession has been superseeded by a vending machine obsession. He is the only one allowed to put the money in. This came about because there are less bins here. No one litters, all rubbish is separated for recycling and it confuses us a lot. But kinda worked out its combustibles, non combustible and plastic bottles and the paper. If you are out and about you save your rubbish in a bag and tie it to your backpack for later disposal.

Oliver also has to be the one to put the train ticket in the machine or else throws a tanty.
The Japanese are quite polite in showing him interest. In Malaysia it was a full head swivel but here its discrete little looks and smiles. One woman asked us if she could take a photo on
her phone as he was so cute. He does stick out when playing in a playground of black haired children.
Playgrounds are a bit thin on the ground. Most are a swing set and a monkey bar over dirt. However Inokashira park near our station Nishi Okikubo had a good park with a couple of slightly dated playgrounds. It was surprisingly relaxing to escape the bustle of Tokyo and wander around the lake.

We hit the supermarket the first time in awe and interest. A big seafood section, no baby section and gorgeous ready made bento box meals and tempura and all sorts. So hasn't been hard to have a good meal at home everynight.

Our first lunch out we found a sushi train under Shinjuku station. It was similar to our ones in Oz except amazing service and chefs who wanted to make us fresh tuna.

While waiting for the apartment guy to show up so we could leave i was sitting watching japanese tv, highly annoying if you can't understand it. I felt two small tremors... you know a slight shift in reality. Nick and Ollie were outside at the bins and didn't notice anything.

We left Tokyo on the Shinkansen bullet train for Nagano. The ticket machines not being that hard to work out but occasionally we require help. The train was very spacious and clean. It did go fast but not quite as fast as we had thought a bullet train would go. Mainly because it made several stops before Nagano. We changed trains at Nagano for the local express train to Yudanka which was a slow clunker of a train.
Yudanka is a bit of a resort town but very quiet. People come to stay at ryokans and to see the monkeys. We stayed at a traditional ryokan inn at which they spoke no english. I got a tour around by the old man who used sign language on me. There were three onsens to use and our room was spacious and traditional japanese with tanami grass mats and sliding doors and futons to sleep on. Oliver loved exploring and hiding in the cupboards.
Our evening meal was served at 6pm in our own private room. An old woman who spoke no english served us dish after dish of very nicely presented japanese food. We dined on tempura, sashimi and a hotpot of beef and little pickled veges and other seafoody things. We were totally stuffed. Oliver did not want any of it and ate vegemite and crackers.
While we ate she rolled out our futons and blankets for us to sleep on. We rearranged Oliver's into the window vestibule to save him rolling all over the floor at night. It reallly amazes me that babies can sleep on a futon
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Brekkie time at the ryokan
and not a cot here.

We had a pleasant sleep and then breakfast was served at 8am. It was a bit of a culture shock to eat rice, fish and seaweed for breakfast. But the second morning she had added some scrambled eggs and ketchup in maybe according to how much we had eaten first time round. I must admit the miso soup was quite nice for breakkie.
The onsen was very hot at this place. At first i thought how could anyone sit in it, you would be cooked. Apparently an egg can be boiled in it.
The trick was definetely to do it gradually. After showering to lower the feet then legs in gradually until you can submerge the whole body. Even Oliver managed it eventually. He loved moving all the wash bowls round and playing with the showers.

The son in law spoke a few words of english. Lucky for us because we ran out of nappies! Finding nappies in a small japanese town was not as hard as it sounds. Except they are found at the pharmacy not the supermarket. They have actually been quite good nappies like our training pant nappies except they
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Get this thing off me!
don't stay wet like ours.
The son in law also dropped us off at the snow monkey park in his car. It was still a 1.8km hike to where they are located. Rather strenuous with a grumpy cold baby on the back. The monkeys are definetely not approachable with one snarling at us. They sit around in the hot springs soaking it up and then braving the snow to forage for nuts. Ther was even a live snow monkey cam website for anyone interested.
It was a rainy old day and Ollie doesn't last long in the cold so we caught the bus back into town. There wasn't a whole lot else happening in the town and we found it hard to make out what shops were what when signs were in japanese.
Dinner at the ryokan was equally as generous and amazing. We put Ollie to bed then went and used the computer and watched the olympics then had an outside onsen. It was lovely sitting in the hot pool surrounded by garden and the cold air. One of our more relaxed nights hitting the hay on the futon after a nice soaking.
Our last morning at the ryokan
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Supahotel shoebox
and we had another Japanese style breakfast with fish, rice and a hotpot of tofu and beansprouts and a hot bowl of miso. Ollie had his usual bowl of weetbix. We packed up and said our goodbyes. The old man picked Ollie up and carried him round not wanting to let him go, cute. He gave us a big jar of apple jam as the area is the apple growing area for Fuji apples. He also gave Oliver a bag to carry with two apples in it. So he carried his apples up the road and waved at the man. This is why i wanted to take him travelling.

The clunker train back to Yudanka was nice and warm. A couple talked to us a bit about Australia. They seem to be interested or like to practice english sometimes. While in Nagano waiting for the shinkansen i took Ol and ducked into a department store to get Sonia a wedding card. No mean feat finding things like that but i did manage meanwhile Ol was squealing around the bookstore to the amazement of all the people. He does create attention especially when i had to carry him out under
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Playland at New Chitose airport
one arm by force.
The post office people are so courteous it makes me cringe when i think of our local one at Broadway and the cheek i get. With much bowing they glued the envelope and stamped it and took care of it.

After another Shinkansen ride we arrived back at Tokyo station and had to find our way to a rather obscure station near Haneda airport for our transit night at the Supahotel. This is a budget chain in Tokyo that provide a room, literally, and breakfast for a cheap rate. We did manage to find this hotel and had booked a room for two thinkng Ol is just a baby. The lady did not speak english and gestured that he made us three in a room. I wasn't going to pay for him so she translated some things on google and handed us the paper. It seemed all the three person rooms were already booked yet her rules said we could not have a two person room. When she came back again it seemed the Supahotel computer had said in this case it can be allowed. She was adament that we should not go find another
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Whats this white stuff?
hotel so was slipping us in a two person room.
We laughed when we opened it up. There was barely enough room to swing a cat. There was no way Nick was letting Ol sleep on the top bunk so we rearranged the room with the desk chair on the bunk and the mattress under the desk for Ol. We had to sidestep to get in and out. But hey it was a bed and it was a rather nice breakfast in the end. I had noodles for breakfast, that is a first. The vending machines were set on free too so we had a few hot bevo's.

We had to get to Haneda airport for our Skymark flight to Sapporo which was easy enough just a shortish walk to another station and a train trip. All seemed to be well in the end with our tickets which we could only book one at a time on the internet. The airline was much like any budget one and involved a bus out to the plane and then to the terminal at destination. So many little transits makes for a long day!
Which was only getting longer. We knew it
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Hitting the slopes Furano
was gonna be tight making the bus for Furano but were optimistic with it being helpful Japan. Our first disappointment of the trip was the bus people not letting us get the bus as the rules stated 15 mins prior to it leaving and we were 5 mins before. Therefore we had a wait of 3 hours at the airport on top of a 3 hour bus trip with an infant. I was one unhappy camper.
Even with all this time to wait we somehow ran out of time to get dinner.... Oliver was playing in kids playland (not much in it really but somewhere to play anyway). Add in nappy changes, watching the fugu pufferfish in the aquarium, checking train schedules, trying to get him to sleep and the time goes by. We boarded the later bus with one other Aussie Jeremy, a snowboarder. Oliver ran up and down the aisle while we chatted to Jeremy. The landscape was snowy and wild looking mountains. Times like this i wonder why Oliver wont sleep, he flails round like an eel out of water driving me mad. I had nodded off a bit and looked round for him, he was passed out front first on the seat behind Jeremy and stayed that way till we arrived at Furano. Wonders never cease.

At Furano we were greeted by Hiro, our host, who showed us into our nice apartment. It was new and had a very large flatscreen tv, kitchen, bathroom with fancy washing machine and bidet toilet and shower. Only thing was no bath but we managed ok by finding the hotel down the road which had onsens. Infact we became the regular foreigners in there amusing the staff when Oliver streaked them looking for daddy who was in the male onsen.
Hiro was a very multi talented man. Running the apartments, cleaning them, running a restaurant there too and doing ski instruction during the day. He also had a desire to go through the garbage procedures late at night with us after a long journey. Very important.
First order of the day was to get kitted up with snowboards and boots. We also hired some snow boots for Ollie who ended up hating them and we could not get a refund. The boards were quite nice. I ride goofie while Nick is regular. Second order was to find the Kojima kids academy childcare. It didn't look real busy infact no one was there. Third order was to go get some food supplies from the supermarket in town. The supermarket again was fascinating and time flies when looking at raw squid tentacles and packets of tiny plankton like shrimps. We probably went a bit nuts on sashimi and crunky cookies.
Later on we went to the kids academy and did get to speak to Megumi who works there. She said it was quiet and that she could take Oliver that afternoon if we wanted to snowboard. Well of course we did!
She came and picked us off and dropped Nick and I at the gondola. We waved goodbye to Ol who was in the front seat in a child seat. Not like Australian laws!

The slopes at Furano are comprised of two mountains and we concentrated on the Kitomine one which had a gondola to the top for intermediate/advanced runs and a chairlift for green runs then another chairlift for some intermediate action. The view from the top of the gondola was amazing, white mountains and a smoking volcano, the newest crater apparently. Too bad the loudspeakers play cheesy japanese beats to disturb the tranquility.
We did one day go across to the other mountain via a rather precarious chairlift for the snowboarder, minus any leg rest for the board. My leg and foot soon grew numb with the board hanging from it for so long. Coming back over to our Kitomine mountain was tedious. A long flat run surprised us and we got stuck and had to one foot it for awhile, highly strenuous. I also had my first stack and got some whiplash as my neck cracked loudly. Felt alright after though like a chiropractor. So i did not venture to the other mountain after that, concentrating on this one.
We snowboarded in the mornings after that. Ollie went to the kids place from 9am to 12 noon and Meg would bring him to meet us in the gondola restaurant full of tired japanese and aussie skiier snowboarders slurping noodles.
The days varied between either blue sky and sun and lovely mountain views or snowing, windy and cold.
On the thursday it had snowed most the day and a bit overnight so we enjoyed powder conditions on our last morning. Nick had us carving the intermediate runs repeatedly. Megumi had mentioned the snow bowl she was scared to tackle. So I found myself coerced by Nick to try it first to take the camera down for his action vid. Now this was a black run as it was ungroomed. Not great for a snowboard, i mostly falling leafed it down but could at least say i did it.
The powder was good but tiring. I did a few stacks mainly getting stuck up to my eyeballs in it much to the army dudes amusement on the chairlift above me. Some other powder hounds searched amongst the trees.
Meanwhile Oliver enjoyed himself with the staff at the kids academy. He tried sledding and did not get into it. Too cold. He played inside with the toys and ate his snacks. Megumi was sweet she paraded him around and said that people were saying he looks like a doll. She also gave us a cd of pics she had made of her time with him. She seemed genuinely sad we were leaving. She also told us that the day before she had not been at work because she went to hospital and found out she felt ill due to being pregnant. That was nice to share her news. I hope to email her with some tips and send her a card later in the year.

While not snowboarding we often walked into town or caught the infrequent bus. There wasn't a whole lot happening in winter. We did find a small cafe, a rarity. Craving coffee - the vending machines just don't cut it. The menu was brief aside from coffee there was a potato salad sandwich and curry. It was nice coffee i admit. The waiter was so formal, bowing profusely like we were royalty. We tried our best not to laugh but when he was trying to count the change in english and kept skipping a number it was too funny.

Afternoons was onsen time. We found the hotel near our apartment had onsens for 500Y each. It was separate men and women though so we had to take turns with the little fella. An onsen just wasn't as relaxing with Oliver running amok. He did enjoy it and learnt the word pretty quick.
Oliver also loved the Japanese toilet. Usually a high tech gadget with a heated seat and control panel for front or back cleansing and different jet speeds and many other buttons we were not game to try. Nick was set back a little while when Ollie hit a few buttons and let loose some jet action.

On our last night in Furano we dared to sneak out and go to the BBQ grill Korean style. It was a tiny little place much like a bunker and we had our little alcove sitting on the floor and cooking in the table hotplate. There was kimchi on the side, a sore point with Nick after his time in Korea. We enjoyed the lamb and veges and the smoky atmosphere was unique. Walking back was so cold! The coldest night yet.

With some sadness but some excitement i guess we left Furano. Hiro dropped us at the train station as the bus was so infrequent. He also ordered the tickets for us. Very helpful man. Two other aussie guys were doing the same trip and so we kind of tag teamed it helping each other. They followed us when we changed trains and they helped us find the right carriage. There was three trains in all to get to New Chitose airport. Then we boarded our flight to Tokyo after getting some snacks, a bowl of rice, crab and salmon for the road. The snacks really made the flight go quick as it amused Ollie.

Once back in Tokyo we were at Haneda airport and needed to be at Narita for our main flight home. Usually one would think going between two airports easy. Perhaps it was but our train guy spoke minimal english and really i think directed us to the slowest train possible. This journey across Tokyo took about two hours and i was climbing the walls of the train.... poor Ollie. Lucky he snoozed for a bit. Some kind people on the train could sense our distress and helped out.
We had allowed quite a large amount of hours before the flight and i was hoping for some shop time. By the time we got there and jetstar checked us in and we had some last minute sushi there wasn't much time left. Jetstar are pretty dodgy with computers and took ages checking in. They did to their credit bag us a four seater to ourselves so we could spread Ol between us to sleep.

In the souvenir shops i was in japanese heaven. Such cute gifts and so little time. In fact i said to Nick we better go through security now. Lucky because while at customs our flight got last call. We sprinted to the train to get to the gate. The hostess was waiting for us and some stragglers yet the security guy wants passorts again for the fourth time. Wow close call.

The flight home was pretty good except the lights were left on awhile and dinner was noisy and breakfast was served at 2am. Oliver seemed excited to get in his sleeping bag and sleep on the plane. He did go to sleep eventually after entertaining the girls behind us and slept until an hour before we got to Cairns. Unfortunately Cairns was at 4am and we had several hours stop over. However the next flight we both fell asleep on take off and he stayed asleep until Sydney. Another mum seemed amazed and probably wondered how we did it. I did not explain he had journeyed all the way from central Hokkaido.

It was nice to get home to our own beds. We would definetely go again to Japan but no more long haul until the tacker is a bit older.


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