Well folks, here it is, our final blog post from overseas. Seems like just yesterday that we were documenting our time in London, our first destination back in September. So we will start with a big THANK YOU to all of our readers for your love and support from afar, and for helping us feel connected to something back home during this extended period of time away. We plan on posting some kind of final wrap-up on our big adventure when we get to Hawaii and have some time to decompress and form coherent sentences. For now, the finishing touches on Japan…
After leaving Kyoto we traveled by train to the lovely town of Hakone which was originally a rural getaway for the Japanese aristocracy. Hakone is best known for its thermal hot spring resorts, called “onsen resorts,” in which you can enjoy traditional Japanese bathing rituals and the peace and tranquility of this thermal enclave. We stayed in a Japanese inn called a “ryokan,” which was one such resort. As with most ryokan, our room was lined with bamboo mats (but strangely no beds…) and there were communal hot baths to enjoy (separated by gender) when we weren’t exploring the town.
SCHUYLER: This may not seem like a challenge, but sharing one room with your family is harder than you think, and we’ve done this for our entire stay in Japan! Our room at the ryokan was pretty small, with just a low table on the floor in the middle of it and no beds in sight. Late in the day, some people came in and moved the table and put down some sleeping mats. Although the beds were on the ground, I actually found them to be pretty comfortable. Happy surprise! It was like one big slumber party each night. My favorite part of the inn was being able to go into the hot baths. There is a whole process to the hot bathing. First you rinse off in front of these little mirrors, sitting on plastic stools, using a hand shower. Then you dip in the hot baths for a few minutes. Then you are supposed to get out and soap/shampoo back at the mirrors, followed by more time in the baths. Finally you rinse off again and get out and put your robe and slippers back on. It all was kind of random, but also was such an interesting part of Japanese culture. I felt really healthy and rejuvenated every time I went in. It’s also a nice place to socialize, just relaxing in the hot water (as long as you don’t mind being naked with strangers, of course!).
ZOE: The hot baths in Hakone were really awesome because it was a traditional activity for the Japanese that we got to experience first hand. Each morning and night we went to the baths and spent about 30 minutes there. Most of the time, I was washing my body and hair or sitting in one of the massage chairs in the changing room. But being in the hot baths was really relaxing in between those activities and I think we should have some of these in the U.S.!
OPEN AIR MUSEUM
When not romping around the ryokan, we spent our time at Hakone’s amazing Open Air Museum which is nestled high in the mountains. To get there, we rode the Hakone Tozan Train, Japan’s only mountain railway, which meanders along steep inclines and switchbacks for about 40 minutes before you arrive at the museum’s stop.
After a short walk from the station, we arrived at the Open Air Museum and spent an absolutely fabulous day outdoors. With substantial Picasso and Henry Moore collections, there was plenty to look at. But equally as impressive were the children’s play structures scattered around the museum.
ZOE: I had no idea what the Open Air Museum was all about before I got there. I thought it was going to be ancient artifacts or something but I was wrong! It was really fascinating to see all the art, especially the Henry Moore sculptures which I thought were abstract and cool. I had so much fun playing in the kids’ play areas because they were unlike any other playgrounds I’ve been to. It was a great day!
The museum boasted some of the most ingenious children’s play areas that we’ve encountered, either along our travels or at home.
Our favorite play space by FAR was this bird’s nest contraption. From the outside, it looked like this and we weren’t sure what to expect:
Once we got inside, we discovered THIS!!!
THAYER: When I went to this museum there were some play spaces, and my favorite one was this colorful one with holes around it, and buoys that hung from the bottom. When I climbed up inside it was like a maze, and you had to find your way through it to the big flat net at the top. It was very fun and also a little bit hard to find my way. We stayed for sooooo long, right until it closed!
SCHUYLER: The Open Air Museum was just SO MUCH FUN! You could wander around all the sculptures, but then there were so many fun play areas as well. My favorite thing there was the bird’s nest building (or lincoln log building) with the colorful nest inside. There were all these holes in the bottom of the nest that you could climb up into, layer by layer, finding the holes along the way. It was like digging a tunnel, only going up. Up on top it felt like a rainbow that you could walk on. It was super bouncy so we could run around and jump and scream, and get all of our energy out. That was the best part!
It was a great day for us all, one for the record books!
After two nights of sleeping on the floor in our Japanese inn, packed in like sardines, we were ready for Tokyo. Another easy train ride and we found ourselves in Japan’s capital for the last few days of our journey.
We spent our time here doing less sightseeing and more recreation. Truthfully, at this point we just needed to kill time before our flight to Hawaii. The ten months on the road are catching up with us and we are keenly aware that our return home is imminent; we are all shifting gears accordingly. Conversations focus on what we are looking forward to about being home (no more shared “family” hotel rooms, a supermarket in which we can actually recognize the food, family and friend reunions, a washing machine!). And when not daydreaming about being home, we are reminiscing about the adventures of this year and wistfully recalling memories and many laughs over the experiences we have shared. Everyone is feeling accomplished in his/her own way as we near the end. There is a deep sense of awe and pride that we are all expressing during these final days abroad. It’s an interesting time…
So to keep ourselves occupied, we explored Japanese recreation options for a couple of days. Braving the subway system was one of our first tasks and Jeff led the way on this, clueless yet fearless, which proved to be a successful combination.
We checked out some of Tokyo’s popular amusements, like giant arcades, electronics stores, and an enormous ferris wheel which gave us a great view of the city.
Of course, we have eaten our fill of sushi…we’ve never seen so much fish in our entire lives. Fish, seaweed, and tofu constitute the bulk of food options here, along with some very strange snacks (see below). The girls are not exactly seafood lovers, or even seafood try-era, so they are very excited about the food options when we leave here.
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
Our last stop in Tokyo was a visit to the biggest wholesale seafood and fish market in the world, the Tsukiji Fish Market. Literally billions of dollars worth of seafood are processed through this market each year, from the smallest sardines to 300kg tuna and controversial whale species. Fish start arriving at 3:00am and the official auctioning begins at 5:00am. By breakfast time, the bulk of the action is over, and the market continues to operate for another few hours.
We arrived at the market casually late (ok really late) at around 11:00am. As soon as we got off the subway at the nearby station we caught the aroma of fish wafting through the air, and the whining and moaning from the kids officially began. Although Jeff and Blair thought this would be a fabulous field trip to end on, we were the only two who had such high hopes. We walked past the massive piles of empty styrofoam fish containers, dodged cranes and trolleys and refrigerated trucks, and found our way into the center of the market. It was clearly shutting down, with vendors hosing down their stalls and murky fish water streaming along the ground. The smell wasn’t as intense as expected, perhaps because everything there is so fresh each day, but it was intense enough for Schuyler that she began to gag almost immediately (doesn’t take much for her).
THAYER: When we went to the fish market, we saw some gross bloody fish. And a fish had an eye as big as a plate! It’s fins were like a dophin’s fin because they were so big. And the market was full of water – I’m not happy that I wore my flip flops. Yuck.
Before too long, Schuyler was really suffering and the others weren’t far behind. When she informed us, while crying, that she was going to throw up, we made a beeline for the exit.
SCHUYLER: Even though we went to the largest wholesale fish market in the world, it didn’t feel like such a great honor to me. This was my least favorite thing we’ve done in Japan, because I really dislike fish and the smell of fish. The market was a combination of both of those things, plus some fish guts and chopped up dead fish everywhere. Walking around and looking at dead fish made me feel really sick. I am ready to go home to some non-fishy experiences!
And so it goes, traveling the world with children… you have to roll with the punches. Thanks to the gift of hindsight, some of the girls’ most exciting stories to recount will be the ones that describe the sheer misery of an experience. This final field trip will likely be another one of those tales. But they definitely will have some stories to tell for years and years to come!
We thought this might be a fitting photo to end on…. Tokyo has a Statue of Liberty! Who knew?
Let’s hope that the many the wonders of the world never cease to amaze us.
See you in Hawaii, with love and our deepest gratitude,
The Demers Family xo