After a year of living in Canada, it was time for our first trip back to Japan. Sadly my school only has one week off in the summer, so I took a few extra days off and in July we went for a super-condensed 12-day visit.
While waiting for our flight we splurged on lunch at Lee Kitchen, Susur Lee’s fancy new Pearson Airport restaurant. This is the Top Chef Chicken, a curry dish that was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a good while (and the most expensive).
13 hours later we were in Tokyo. It was great to see Hideaki again after being apart for six months, but I had no time to settle into our apartment as we left the next day to stay with the in-laws in Osaka. While there we walked through the forest to Minoh Falls, which I’ve done a million times but never get tired of. This time we were lucky to see plenty of wildlife: blue-tailed skinks, bugs galore, owls (through someone’s telescope) and a giant salamander.
We also went to the insect museum, and inside the butterfly conservatory I pointed out how the butterfly was sticking its long tongue into the flower to drink the flower juice. “You mean it’s drinking nectar with its probiscus?” he said. I kept quiet after that.
We also stopped for a soak at the newish ashiyu (foot bath), filled with water from the local hot spring. Forget for a minute the implications of sharing a foot bath with dozens of strangers, most of whom who’d just finished a six kilometre walk- it made my tired feet feel wonderful.
And we made sure to pick up the local specialty- momiji tempura (deep-fried maple leaves). Crunchy, slightly sweet, totally delicious.
The next day we went to Kaiyukan, Osaka’s excellent aquarium. It is known for its whale sharks, but we really liked the octopii (which were busy squeezing into and out of the many pipes and clay pots in their exhibit) and jellyfish.
Another highlight was harassing some sharks (rough and scratchy) and rays (slippery and surprisingly soft).
On the shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo we enjoyed some pretty ekiben (train station lunch boxes) and some lukewarm beer. In my early years in Japan I loved the idea of being able to buy and drink beer right on the shinkansen, but eventually I noticed that it was never quite cold. Didn’t matter if I bought it on the platform directly before boarding, or bought it from the lady who wheels her snack trolley through the train- it was always warm by the time I opened it. But I guess I am a sucker because every single time I ride the shinkansen I buy myself a beer.
In Tokyo we stayed at a hotel for one night because it had a fancy outdoor pool we wanted to try. We took some time to explore the neighborhood, which featured a network of rivers and canals that were home to egrets, herons, kingfishers and other birds you wouldn’t expect to find right in the city.
One section of river had been turned into a cool little playground with a water-based obstacle course. The park had seen better days but we loved it.
Back at home we spent the rest of the trip re-familiarizing ourselves with our neighborhood, with just a few days to meet with cousins and friends.
I finally got to drink some cold beer, including the obligatory seasonal variety (there is nothing special about it, it’s the same old beer in a limited-edition can). And it wasn’t until my last night that I got to eat what I’d most been craving: a typical Japanese meal including grilled fish (in this case hokke, a richly fatty fish from Hokkaido). Not that I didn’t eat a lot of good food during my visit, but it seems to be the simple stuff I miss while I’m in Canada so this was a treat.
And then the trip was over. I didn’t get to do enough shopping (although I did bring back an entire suitcase filled with rice and other prized foodstuffs), didn’t spend enough time with family, hardly saw any friends, had no time for visits to Shuma’s old kindergarten or daycare, couldn’t get a haircut (Shuma did though! it’s way cheaper in Japan), didn’t finish cleaning the apartment, hardly did any cooking (I miss cooking), I had zero time for relaxing, and Shuma’s Japanese abilities did not miraculously return. But I’m kind of amazed at how much stuff we did get done (such as getting our teeth cleaned- yay dental coverage!) and a few days after we got back two cool things happened. First, Shuma said he liked having two houses, which is an amazing optimistic way to think of our situation. Then, he started spontaneously speaking Japanese, and even if it was only a few words before he got stuck and switched to English, he’s been doing it regularly since then. A good start, I hope.
More pictures here.