The in laws and Okinawa

It isn’t until new people arrive that you realise how much you have done and how much you still have left to do! With the arrival of my new teaching partner, I suddenly realised how long I have actually been in Japan. Since arriving two years ago, there have only been four new international members of staff so I still felt like a ‘newbie’. However, with three new teachers landing this August I was faced with the realisation, I am no longer new. In fact I have only one year left on my contract (two if I choose to extend)… I am rapidly nearing the end of my time. A scary thought and so we are more aware than ever that we need to try to fit in as much as possible, in the time we have left.

October saw the arrival of our fifth guest… the in-laws! They were coming to us for the first leg of their five week world adventure which included stop offs in Australia, New Zealand and San Francisco. They were supposed to come to us for the full week I had off in October but due to planning issues they had to move all their dates forward. I was upset that I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with them as much as I would have liked but Rob was able to take the time off and it gave them some quality time together. It also meant that we were able to squeeze in another part of Japan and this time we chose the beautiful islands of Okinawa.

Rob’s parents arrived on the Tuesday so Rob was able to pick them up and spend the first day exploring Makuhari and where we live. There were a number of things that we had to consider during their stay, such as transport and hotels but the main one was that Rob’s mum is a celiac and this is not a dietary need easily catered for in Japan. Luckily I had managed to find a translated information card from the celiac society which was written in Japanese. We just showed it to the restaurant staff and they were extremely helpful- it certainly made eating out much easier.

After their day of exploring the local area, Rob decided to take them to the top thing on his mum’s to do list which was …. Disneyland and it was the perfect day. Because Thursday is  during the week, it was quiet and the weather was beautiful. They had a great time and even managed to get a snap shot of the three of them with Mickey Mouse!! Such a nice thing for them all to do together almost twenty years since their last Disney trip together! Even though I had to spend the day at work, I came home to an amazing pair of Tangled and Olaf socks! Perfect!

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On Friday, my school was hosting a book parade to celebrate the end of our book week. All the children arrived in costume and paraded around the playground so we could all learn about the stories they had been looking at and the costumes they had made. Because it was an open event, Rob brought his parent’s along for a rare insight into where I work. They were able to watch the parade, speak to some of my children and even got a chance to speak to some of the parents and teachers. Everyone was so complimentary and they walked away with a bit more of an idea of our life here.

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The weekend was set aside to explore the sights of Tokyo. I had booked a hotel in the Akasaka area, so that we could have somewhere to rest in between our busy sightseeing. On the Saturday we checked into our hotel and explored Akasaka. We had lunch in a Belgian pub style restaurant after a little bit of a hunt and then ventured down to the local temple Hie-jinja shrine. It is a very small shrine that has a monkey theme to it but it is beautiful all the same. It was a nice way for Rob’s parents to be introduced to the more traditional side of Japan without all the tourists. We headed back to the hotel for a rest and got ready for the evening where we headed down to the glittering lights of the Ginza district. I had booked in advance a table at the infamous Andy’s Izakaya. It is a well known restaurant under the train tracks at Yurakucho station, famous for its amazing crab and seafood. The guy who owns it is English and the food is always fresh making it easy for Evelyn to find something she could eat. It turns out that Andy is pretty knowledgable about gluten free eating and was amazingly accommodating to her needs, grilling food that couldn’t be fried and even recommending his own karaage (fried chicken) which was made using a gluten free recipe! We had a fantastic night with great food and great company.

On Sunday we stopped by the Oriental Bazaar for some souvenir shopping at Omote-sando station before moving on to some sightseeing at Asakusa. We got our usual selfie in front of the big red lantern at Sensoji Temple and showed them how to get their fortune. After topping up the souvenir shopping we had enough time to stop off at the caricature shop for their own personal souvenir. The artist got their personalities perfectly giving them a nice reminder of their time here.

Monday was a day of rest and just enjoying each other’s company before heading to the airport hotel for our last night together. We shared a lovely meal, tried some sake and finished off by playing some impressive rounds of ‘Heads Up’. A wonderful end to a great week and a trip far too short!

On Tuesday morning we headed to the airport and enjoyed some coffee and breakfast before they were whisked away on to the next leg of their incredible journey. We said our tearful goodbyes then we waved them off and headed back home where it was time to get ready for our own trip before the end of the holiday. We ventured down to beautiful Okinawa, with a 2 hour 40 minute flight and a 80 minute bus ride to Onna village on the main island. We stayed at the Rizzan Sea Park Hotel with the most amazing deal that included all our evening meals and breakfasts. The hotel was so big that you could choose from five different restaurants each featuring all you can buffets. Chinese, Western, BBQ, Yakiniku and Japanese… heaven!

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The first night we chose western enjoying all you can eat, pizza, steak and to my husband’s delight… a chocolate fountain. We spent time exploring all the different souvenir shops, a walk along the beach and finished it off with a traditional drumming show which we came across by accident and was much more impressive than expected. It was on a small stage with a small audience but the women who performed were extremely talented and gave a wonderful array of traditional Okinawan performances. A true delight and a pleasant surprise.

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On our first full day there was a little less sun than we would have hoped but it was warm and the rain was holding off so we decided to explore a nearby museum.

We took a local bus to Ryukyu Mura ‘theme park’. It is Okinawa’s answer to Beamish (if you have ever been) where the entire park is built to look like an old traditional Okinawan village.  There are so many activities and crafts for visitors to do here including cooking, weaving, printing and pottery making. I opted for a more geeky experience. Since arriving in Japan, it has always been a wish of mine to try on a kimono. There are many opportunities in the major tourist areas of Japan but I always found them to be too expensive or too public. Here I was able to fulfil that wish in the peace and quiet of a small traditional house with just my husband there and a little old Japanese lady. It was so personal and she was really lovely arranging everything in the traditional way. Cheesy I know but a tick off the wish list none the less!

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We returned to the hotel late afternoon and instead of freezing it in the sea we opted for the warmer option and taking a dip in the indoor pool. It was warm and relaxing and nice way to finish the day. That evening we met up with a colleague of mine and her family, Q, who just happened to be staying at the same hotel as us. We decided upon BBQ and enjoyed an all you could eat grilled meal in the warm evening air. And I didn’t get bitten once… bonus!

The next day we took the plunge and ventured two hours on public transport to a place I had been wanting to visit since I first started exploring Japan- Churaumi Aquarium. It is known as the largest aquarium in the whole of Japan and although I know that places such as these are not very popular for their animal treatment, their breeding of whale sharks was something I wanted to see for myself. It took two looooong bus rides but it was totally worth it. The aquarium is set in a huge park built on the coast next to a very beautiful Emerald beach. The sea was as clear and blue as Guam and I was dying to explore it but the weather, however warm, was just not sunny enough to warrant sea dipping! The view from the entrance to the aquarium however, was stunning making it easy to forget you were still in Japan

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As you enter the aquarium, there is nothing really special that stands out at first. It is pretty much like every other aquarium; full of tanks of various shapes and sizes displaying a delightful array of underwater wildlife from across Japan. It isn’t until you reach the end that you turn the corner and are faced with the most impressive sight! A cinema screen sized tank full of creatures that are completely overshadowed by three beautiful (and huge) whale sharks. To see these creatures up close was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen and one I will not easily forget…

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I would just like to add before moving on that although I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, seeing such wonderful creatures in captivity was not an easy thing.

Once exploring the aquarium, we enjoyed some sea breeze air then decided it was time to start heading back. We thought it would be easier to get a taxi back to the bus station then catch the bus back to the hotel. We hopped into the first one in line and it turns out the driver was quite a chatty old man. He spent the first 30 minutes trying to haggle with us a reasonable price straight to our hotel, which for anyone who knows Japanese people well, it is extremely out of character. As a result we were a little wary but he gave us a good deal and so agreed to let him drive us all the way back. It turns out he was just bored and just wanted a good drive out. He had cut his price so much that we actually gave him more that we should and were thankful for the hour long journey instead of two.

Our final evening we spent enjoying the sunset by the beach and a delicious Chinese buffet followed by a free drink at the hotel bar overlooking the sea. It was a great way to end the holiday. As an added bonus this particular hotel had a great deal where you could choose to have your hotel room left uncleaned each day. If chose to do so, you were rewarded with a 1000yen voucher each time which you could spend anywhere in the hotel. Because we had included dinner and breakfast we ended up buying all our souvenirs… for free!

The next day it was time to head back. We enjoyed our trip by the sea greatly and although we never actually got to go in it, there is something very relaxing about eating your breakfast overlooking the sea, drinking coffee overlooking the sea and watching the sunset over the sea. It was perfect!

For the past two years, our October break has often been a very low key affair, never straying very far from Tokyo. This year however, it was very full on and full of new experiences. It was so nice to spend some quality time with Evelyn and Trevor and share our life in Japan with them, even if only for a short time. It was also nice seeing yet another part of Japan. It is here that I end this entry and set our sights towards the end of yet another year and what a way to finish it off than with another visit from my parents. We have the tree ready to be put up and a trip to Kobe planned in the lead up to New Year, somewhere Rob and I have yet to visit and very excited to see.

And in 145 days (Robyn?) we are very excited to have my husband’s sister, niece (plus husband) and nephew coming to stay!! Its all go!! So until next time…

SP x

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