Japan days 14-15

Day 14 was shopping and testing out many Japanese snacks and candies. Let’s move on to my favorite day ever…day 15!


I have watched the PBS documentary on the snow monkeys many times and it wasn’t until our trip was planned that I learned it was filmed in Japan. I had to go! It involved three hours and multiple train transfers to get there from Tokyo but it was worth it! Jason wasn’t as excited about it as I was and we knew it would be tough (read: nightmare) with the younger two, so it was decided just me and the big guys would go and it was the most relaxing, fun travel day!

We started early in the morning with a subway ride, a (slow) train ride and then grabbed junk food and drinks from a convenient store for an hour bullet train ride…

Then we had one final train ride to the mountain town where the monkey park is. We sat in the back for a full window view of the countryside as we went…

A taxi ride to the park and here we are, ready for the short hike to the monkey (and human) hot spring…

I seriously could not contain my excitement and as we got closer and closer I was nearly bursting!

Following the signs and Isaac points out monkey poop…

The hot springs create a steam throughout the mountains, giving it its name: Jigokudani, meaning Hell’s Valley.

Up the steep steps…

Bam! First macaques up close! With a baby too.

The kids had to drag me away! I wanted to stay, it was so incredible. My hands were freezing and we stopped at the gift shop to warm up by the heater before catching a taxi back to the train station.

More junk food on the train with our favorite gummy candies…

Japan Trip Day 13

Our last day in Yonezewa we squeezed in some fun things. Mari and Toshiyuki wanted to take us to a natural hot spring bathhouse “Onsen.” The two big guys weren’t keen on the idea of naked bathing together, even if it is separated by gender, so we split up into two groups.

Toshiyuki took the big guys out on the town. They got to visit a shrine and try out the foot onsen…


A little shopping…
And warm up with some tea…
The rest of us went for the hot bath…
Typically photos are not permitted inside the onsen but it was empty so I snuck a few. It is super hot! I had a hard time adjusting and Lotus ended up playing with a shower head and a hose next to the bath instead of getting in.

The water is nice and it was relaxing. Simon was like a new person afterward! So chill.
Feeling refreshed!
Time to head out on the bullet train again. This cow is at the train station…like I said, the town is known for its prized beef.
Life is pretty chill on the train. It is such a smooth ride…
We made it to our final apartment in Tokyo and it was a real treat! Three bedrooms and a big living room and kitchen, all on the ground floor. I didn’t have to worry about the kids stomping or jumping too loudly.

Card game…

Japan Trip Wakamatsu City Castle

Tsuruga Castle was built in 1384.

A mini castle in front of the real castle…
There were many floors of museum pieces, maps and history and then a view of the city and grounds at the top.
The kids are comparing themselves to the average height of the samurais living in the castle in its day. Not much taller than them…
Vending machine madness. It was nice to have Mari to translate what the beverages were…
Xander wanted to try the yogurt soda but pushed the button for the yogurt water by mistake. We got to try both!
Another sushi train restaurant for dinner…

Japan Trip Days 11 and 12

Moving day!

We packed up and moved from our first apartment in Tokyo to stay with some friends in Yonezawa, Yamagata for the weekend.

Check out time was at 11am and our friends weren’t going to be home from work until after 5pm so we had some time to kill. We ate a slow brunch at Denny’s. Check out the kids menu and Pikachu pancakes!
The weather called for strong winds and they weren’t kidding! Capturing it in a photo isn’t so easy. ha!
Time to head out of the city with our first experience riding the bullet train, known as Shinkansen. Tickets are very expensive but prior to our trip I bought a 5 day flex pass for the Japanese Rail for each of us. Lotus rides free. The JR pass is a discounted pass for foreigners only and worked out great! We were able to use it for our trip to Yonezawa, our return trip, our later trip to see the snow monkey park and our final trip on the airport express train to go home. If I had planned a little tighter we could have used it a 5th day to see Mt. Fuji.
Mari and her son Hikaru stayed at our house three years ago through the travel website: couchsurfing.org. We were excited to see them again in their home. After Jason and I is her husband Toshiyuki, then Mari and then Toshiyuki’s brother. His brother’s daughter also came for dinner. We had yakiniku, which is the grilling of meats and veg on the grill in the middle of the table…and getting our drink on.
The kids table. The blanket under the table topper is thick and heated. The kids are cozy tucking in for breakfast in the morning.

He brings his own 4 liter bottle of whiskey! They are a fun, generous family to welcome us like this.
We slept on traditional futon rolls on a tatami floor, especially designed for it. Apparently the flooring allows air to circulate so it doesn’t get moldy.
Hikaru was so excited to show everyone his room and ask if they wanted to have a slumber party with him.
Breakfast and a little Wii gaming the next morning…
Lotus and Hikaru are showing each other their language learning apps. Hikaru was eager to help Lotus with the Japanese quizzes then he showed us a quiz on his English app. Mari showed us her photo album from her trip to the States and we compared travel experiences. I loved seeing photos of my homemade pizza in her book. ha!
We compared jetlag and travel time. I told her the strawberries in Japan are so sweet and delicious! She agreed that strawberries from the states are not sweet and “taste like vegetable.” She told me our cucumbers are HUGE! I agreed US cucumbers are a lot bigger, but carrots in Japan are GIGANTIC. Seriously, look at these…

Mari showed the kids a Japanese card game and they played a couple rounds…
Then we rented a car they took us to Tsuruga Castle in Aizuwakamitse City. We finally got out in the daylight to see what the area looked like. They get very heavy snow and are known for their ski resort. They are also known for their fine quality beef. Anyway, the snow layer gets so heavy they use teepees of wood to protect the trees. As Simon said, “so they use trees to protect trees?” yes, I guess they do.

The neighbors house with protected trees…
Mari and Toshiyuki’s house…
Looking out the window, the drive was gorgeous! Snow sprinkled mountains and many tunnels that cut right through them.
We stopped for lunch along the way and the kids tried a ramen burger and ramen pizza.
This post is getting too long! I’ll work on the castle visit in the next post. 🙂

Japan Trip Days 8-10

The next few days were all about walking around Shibuya and the food!

Isaac really wanted to find a sushi place. On day 8, I took Isaac and Xander with me to do just that, while Jason hung out with the little guys. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure where to go and we ended up back at the first restaurant we ate at on day 1.

We had ramen and potstickers. I discovered the ramen tantan or ramtan, which has a red chili oil and a bit of a kick. Delicious!

The next day we found the sushi place, Uobei, tucked down a narrow side street. It has a digital ordering system (Genki) and the food comes zooming up on a delivery train. The kids (and Jason and I) absolutely loved it! It was so much fun. We went three times!

The kids each sat at their own station and ordered what and as much as they wanted. The prices were super low at only a dollar per plate. I know they loved the autonomy and the food was good too.


They even had junk food choices: cheesy fries, cheeseburger sushi and ice cream sundaes.

Our last meal before leaving our apartment was at the ramen place again. For some reason they didn’t bring silverware for the kids like they had been and Lotus and Simon worked on their chopstick skills.

Japan Trip Days 5-7

Day 5 was a down day. I woke up with a headache so we hung at home, took naps and relaxed.

Day 6 was another trip to the Sunshine City mall and the Aquarium.


We had lunch at Agio and this is how we wait for our table: a line of chairs outside the restaurant.
Most restaurants have a display of their menu selections like this…

Looking up “best places for ice cream around the world,” someone’s list included a place at this very mall. We all got these fancy crepe cones with character shaped ice cream.

There were several ice cream and food shops inside the section of the mall called NamJaTown. Inside, kids were racing around doing a magic quest game, much like we’ve played at Great Wolf Lodge. Too bad we don’t know Japanese, or we could have played! Instead we just got ice cream.


Day 7, we woke up bright and early for a bike tour.

The original plan was for Isaac and Xander to ride their own bikes, Simon ride a trailer bike behind Jason and Lotus would ride in a trailer behind me. As we got started, there were immediate issues. Both Xander and Simon were unhappy with their bike situations. The bike tour company was fabulously patient with us while we worked out two trials before settling on both Simon and Lotus together in the trailer (heavy!) and Xander behind Jason on the trailer bike (also heavy!).

We were not the only people on the tour and the two tour guides split up to accommodate us through a few less hilly detours. At one point I had the kids get out of the trailer and walk so we could get up the initial slope of a bridge crossing. It was an excellent workout and turned out to be an amazing part of our trip, despite the initial struggle.
A break at the top of a bridge to enjoy the view and some ice cream puffs.
A shinto shrine gate…
Simon tries out the hand washing technique, to pay respect at the shrine.
The giant Tokyo fish market…

Picnic lunch by the river. They had fresh, raw tuna from the market for us to sample. so good!
A wedding couple was posed for photos…
Next, we rolled our bikes onto the ferry for a boat ride back across the river…
We drank homemade ginger ale. Ginger ale and green melon soda is popular in Japan.

We saw a few Shinto shrines and one Buddhist temple. The guide gave us a little history and explanation on the difference and how the two religions are incorporated into Japanese life today.

These baby statues each represent a loss due to miscarriage or stillbirth. The little handmade hats were particularly sweet.
The “stairs of promotion.” There is a story that gave it that name. Now people climb the stairs of promotion when they want to get into that university or get that great job.
The kids enjoyed feeding the koi…

A Buddhist Temple gate (much larger)…
The Imperial Palace…

Japan Trip Day 3 and 4

We went to the giant mall In Ikebukuru: Sunshine City.


They had a concert for the J-pop girl group Country Girls. Crowds on every level were watching and by this point fans were lined up for a meet and greet.

The boys were super excited for the Pokemon Center. They each brought their DS’s and were constantly getting new “street pass” friends, as we walked through crowds of others also carrying DS’s. It kinda became an obsession. Ha! They could only get 10 new friends at a time before having to approve them and make room for 10 more. So they were constantly checking and approving.

They bought DS carrying cases at the Pokemon Center and it was perfect for also carrying their Pasmo cards for the subway. They were able to swipe their case instead of having to dig their cards out each time.

Also, little trinkets/jewelry to hang off DS’s and phones are popular here. They are sold everywhere and we each got a few.

Arcades are alive and well in Japan. This seven floor Sega Arcade was quite impressive. The lower floors are all, what I call “kiddie gambling,” with the claw machines and dozers. The upper floors are more serious gamers and fewer kids.

We had pastries for dinner from Vie De France at the subway station. The kids wanted to try everything, and I think they did by the time we moved to our next place.


Day 4, we figured out the laundry machine and made a trek into Shinjuku, Tokyo for the show at Robot Restaurant. We did not have use of our phones and the online reservation wasn’t working out. I emailed one of the hosts for our Airbnb apartment and he called and made reservations for us. What an awesome guy! Not only did we get the last minute tickets for the showtime we wanted, but we also got front row seats.

No dryers in Japan…

What is that peeking over the building top? Godzilla??

Why yes, it is! The kids loved it.

Robot Restaurant is hard to miss…

The waiting room for drinks…

Jason and I had two Moscow Mules and were feeling fine…

Soothing music…

Ready for the show!


Simon was chosen to be part of the show and fight a robot. It pretty much made his day! Lotus said later, she was worried Simon would lose but then he won and she was so happy. heh!

This is the loot he won. I love the buxom anime…

Family Trip to Japan Days 1 and 2

We are home from our trip to Japan and have many photos to sort through. It was a fantastic trip and everything went well.

At the airport, excited for our journey…
Lotus had a tiny pack of toys to keep herself entertained…
Singapore Airlines from Lax to Tokyo was a 12 hour flight, jam packed with food, snacks, drinks and movies. The kids were loving it! Lotus and I having tea…
We made it to our apartment by 10pm the next day and went to bed right away.

Our first breakfast in Tokyo. We managed to find a restaurant and point to the photo of our food choices.
We felt a bit disoriented and wanted to move past that feeling right away, so we figured out the subway and took ourselves to the Ueno Zoo. Purchasing a “Pasmo” card for the subway made life a lot easier: add a sum of money to the card and then it’s just swipe and go. The subway is clean, on time and amazingly low wait time. Another train comes every few minutes.

Shibuya crossing: a famously large intersection, with hordes of people crossing all at once.
Ueno Zoo…

I absolutely love all of the mom bikes everywhere! Child seats on the back and the front, many with electric assist. The accessories for rain and wind were attractive and fascinated me. Bike parking lots were HUGE! more on that later…

There was a long line to see this panda. Sad panda. I have sad, guilty feelings about visiting a zoo.
After the zoo, we walked down through a street market by the water. I saw this guy making some type of veggie/seafood pancake and had to try it!
Surprise mayo on top! I was not expecting that. The pancake was delicious. It’s called Okonomiyaki “make as you like” and can be made with whatever you have, mixed in with a bit of batter. Of course, I bookmarked a recipe to try at home, sans mayo.
Tucked in next to the pancake guy’s booth for eating. Isaac saw a dumplings vendor and declared it his choice. I love that he felt comfortable looking around and making a choice. The littles had hod dogs on a stick. We learned that Western junk food is everywhere. Though, when the kids got regular pancakes for breakfast they said it was not good and tasted too much like cake??

On the way home we stopped at our nearest grocery store, which was very small.
Not able to read what things are, we had to stick with what we know and guess on a few. Eggs, vegetables, fruit and milk. Jason guessed on a cold coffee.
All bread is white bread. I tried to find peanut butter and while trying to look over some mystery foods I thought might be peanut butter, it turned out I was in the baby food isle. Oops. Skippy is all I could find.
Our little apartment…

Beds one and two.
Bed three.
The kitchen, making breakfast…

I made eggs, veg and sausages every morning.

The bidet toilets are amazing! Heated seats and a warm spray to clean the tushy off. The kids were reluctant to try it at first but then they loved it. Isaac started a family joke, “Did you bidoo?” Lotus squealed with laughter and we thought it was funny to hear her starting it herself, on her own. We want one at our house now!

Simon’s Day!

Today is Simon’s 8th birthday and instead of a party we are having a family Simon’s day. Keeping it simple, yo. With several work days this week and international travel coming up, simple is what I needed and Simon was happy to oblige.

Breakfast out with Grandma, a movie at the theater and later dinner at home with a homemade cake. He’s having a great day!

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Simon wanted a chocolate cake with oreos on it. Homemade cake, homemade frosting with some oreos thrown on and it was a success. Woot! 

Gummies, take three

That escalated quickly! I made some beef pho gummies from the broth I’ve been neglecting in the freezer. I accidently over salted that batch but thought maybe it’d be okay for a gummy. Still too salty! But it might be okay for a snack on my hike tomorrow. 

I’ll pack a baggie of all three for a super strange trailmix. 

By the way, spending all day babysitting Vietnamese beef pho, only to end up ruining it with too much salt is indeed a tragedy. So many ingedients, so many steps, so many hours. Tragedy!