Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It started out well enough...

Went down to the lobby of the National Children's Castle this morning as soon as it was open and were welcomed warmly to the large empty "Enfants" cafe, where starving played out children are fed during the day, and the few early-rising hotel goers are given a hearty breakfast. The 'teshoku' plates are from the "set menu", where you are simply given the food to eat without worrying about having to order anything. When a semi-standard western breakfast of scrambled eggs, artfully garnished with a sweet katsup, thickly sliced white toast, salad with thousand island dressing, pasta salad and several extra-wide slices of bacon were brought to the four of us, Alden stood up on his chair, and loudly declaired "Yuck! Pig!".

After two wonderfully sweet and icy canned coffees, we made it up to the Harajuku shopping district, where we went to a 6-storey Toystore Kiddy Land. We arrived a few minutes before the store opened and watched the young staff prepare the store for opening. Then they put on wireless headphonesa and lined up four deep on either side of the door and, when the lead had received word from the manager inside, she stepped to the front of the store, bowed deeply to the waiting customers and made a little welcoming speech. The staff inside were lined up at the top of every stair case and bowed deeply to the first customers of the day as we walked around the store. These awkward teenagers seemed for the most part comfortable with their relationship to the store's guests. The boys were reserved and reasonable and got a couple toys with the money from their 'pigs' at home.

We decided that we would go for a walk -- about 8 blocks through Harajuku to Harajuku station. Being Sunday, it was pakced with people. We rested at a Starbucks about 1/2 way through and made it to a Daiso (dollar store) near the train station without too much fatigue. We got on the train after buying several little hand fans at the dollar store (it has been sticky hot and humid) and went the one stop to massive Tokyu Department store at Shibuya station. We were all hungry and bought take-out food from the "foodshow" court in the basement, but couldn't find a place to sit anywhere. Ended up eating on a planter outside the mall, which was OK.

By this time, we should have taken our rail passes to the exchange desk at Shibuya station and headed back to the Children's Castle, got our bags, and made away for Atami. Instead, we went window-shopping a bit more in the department store, pushing our time for the train, went back to load up with our rather heavy backpacks (we should have brought wheeled luggage) and tried to navigate the bewildering train station (over 3 million people a day use this particular station) fully loaded with overhot and tired kids. It was really not fun. We booked cheap tickets on commuter trains for the 110 minute trip to Atami. The kids and Karen got seats but for the most part I had to stand with the massive bags. It was a bit of a torture session with impatient children as we finally made it to our Ryokan (japanese-style inn) in the Hotsprings resort town of Atami.

The hosts of the Okawa Ryokan, all older people, speak mostly Japanese so my language stills were employed to the max. We were served our dinner feast -- more food then anyone could possibly eat -- of fish, and fish and more fish. Karen and Elwyn were challenged (Elwyn eating almost nothing but a bit of miso soup and rice, but Karen amazingly making it through the better part of course after course (it was probably 6-8 courses in all). Alden liked almost everything.
By 7:30 the kids had collapsed asleep, so the inn keeper moved our table aside and laid out their futons. While they slept, Karen and I went and enjoyed a 40 minute soak in the hotspring. A very nice way to end a hard day.

1 comment:

Joanne Prieto said...

HI there,

I came across your blog while searching for travel info for our Japan trip at the end of this year. Your blog gave me more info than some tour guide books i have been reading!
May i ask if you still have the info for "Okawa Ryokan" in Atami? I have hard time finding their website and would like to stay there (especially after seeing the nice photos of yours!). I'll really appreciate it.
my info:
joanne prieto, from bergen county, NJ

Thanks a lot!
again, i really enjoyed your blog on your Japan trip.