Friday, November 23, 2012

The Rowlands in Japan

Firstly, apologies that it's been almost a month since my last post. Time sure is flying by.

At the beginning of November my family came to visit! My dad, mom, sister Elizabeth, and her boyfriend Alan trekked all the way across the world for a week of visits and some interesting cultural experiences. I'm not exactly sure what words they would use, but I would say they got exactly what they bargained for.

After an arrival fiasco to which I came very late, the week was pretty good! We went to a lot of places previously mentioned in my posts including Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Akihabara, Tokyo Tower, The Imperial Palace, and Asakusa. We also explored a lot of new areas that I didn't know much about like Shinjuku (where my family stayed), Odaiba, Tokyo Sky Tree, Roppongi, Tsukiji Fish Market, and Hakone. I ate more American food than I've eaten in all my time here, my mom went to see a doctor in Japan (something I have no intention of ever doing), AND the best part, no one died!

Shinjuku was an interesting place to spend a lot of time. It's the center in Tokyo for large department stores, so we went and checked one out on a rainy day. Department stores in Japan are bigger than most malls I've been to in America. Also, because of their incredible hospitality, they're famous for giving customers the ultimate shopping experience. Shinjuku station is another story, maybe a whole other world. It's huge and confusing and I'm pretty sure I'd like to stay as far away from it as possible from here on out.

Odaiba was a really unique place to go. For some reason, maybe because it was a Wednesday afternoon, there was no one there. It seemed like a ghost island. The train ride over there was especially cool, though, because we had to take a fairly new line which ran right under the rainbow bridge. The view was spectacular. Odaiba is a weird place. Of course, in true Japanese fashion, there was tons of shopping as the main attraction. We also rode the large ferris wheel there, which I've come to learn is one of about 5 in the Tokyo area (why, I just don't know). Though it was cool, it felt more for tourists and foreigners than Japanese people (luckily we were tourists and not Japanese people).

Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the biggest and most famous fish markets in Japan. You can go early in the morning to witness the tuna auction, where they only let 120 tourists enter. Or you can do what we did, and go at 9 am and walk around a while. It's a wholesale fish market so there were a ton of people, both customers and tourists. It was similar to the smaller fish market I had been to on my trip to Kanazawa. A tourist favorite, it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy a sushi breakfast. Just adding it to the list of things left to do!

On Saturday we took a day-long tour to the Fuji/Hakone area. It was nice to finally get to see the mountain because when I climbed it, it was the middle of the night. Hakone is a nearby area with another, smaller mountain. In Hakone, we went on a pirate boat ride around one of the five lakes, lake Ashi, and then took a gondola ride to the top where we got a great view of Mt. Fuji close to sunset. Hakone is famous for black eggs that are boiled in the natural sulfurous pools on the mountain. If you eat one, you're supposed to live 7 years longer. The leaves on the mountains were starting to change, which is a beautiful time in Japan. In Japanese, there is a word specifically used to describe the leaves changing colors: kouyou (ko-yo) . I've been told many times that the english language is so boring because of lack of words like this and others that the Japanese use so much.

One of the best new discoveries I got from my family's visit is Roppongi. In orientation, we were warned about Roppongi being a dangerous place to go alone and at night. However, just like everywhere, if you're careful you shouldn't have a problem. Foreigners flock to Roppongi. There was bar after bar with Outback Steakhouses and TGI Fridays all over. It was like a little mini New York City. We went to dinner one night in Roppongi and I vowed to revisit at least once before I go home.

While having my family here was so exciting and a great change of pace from my weekly routine, it also came with a lot of ups and downs and a lot of stress. It was hard to let go and let cultural mistakes happen. At the same time, it was so different being around people who weren't using the language and weren't learning it either. Because so much of my life is centered around Japanese, it's hard to look at Japan without Japanese. That really changes everything.

Overall, it was one giant adventure I'm sure none of us will ever forget. I've added a few new places to visit and revisit in Tokyo, and my family got to see a little of what my life here in Japan is actually like. While it was a great time, I'm sure this has been a sufficient amount of Asian travel for the Rowland family for a while.

From the 5th Station on Mount Fuji

The whole crew at dinner in Roppongi

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