Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Going to Sea What We Can See

The first Saturday of a three-day weekend is never very conducive to waking up, especially if you have nothing to do that day. What's really weird is when you wake up at your usual time, remember you have no real reason to be awake, and try to coax yourself back to sleep again even though the superego Nazi that is your body clock is still insisting it's time to get up and go to work. Well, that's the state I'm in right now. It's the first Saturday in a long time in which there is absolutely nothing I have to do. It's also seven a.m. and I'm wide awake. Judging from the giggles, howls, and occasional yelps of pain I hear downstairs, the kids are up and about, too. I guess that means I'm trapped.

The wife is out for the day. Her whole three-day weekend is more or less wiped out by that damned tennis club of hers. That leaves me to take care of the kids in the meantime. Considering the level of racket I'm hearing downstairs as well as the frequency of my son's screaming, I'd really rather not be here doing this. So, what other plan is there?

Throwing on some clothes, I come downstairs to find the kids in their pajamas watching Cartoon Network (read "locked in a life-or-death struggle while Cartoon Network plays forlornly in the background). I ask them if they've had breakfast, and they stop trying to throttle each other long enough to tell me they haven't. I ask them if they have a lot of homework, and they reply that they have already finished it (and show it to me to prove it).

A quick decision is made. I tell them to put their clothes on and brush their teeth. While they do that, I get myself cleaned up, and then I head out to the BLUE RAV4 and secretly enter a destination into the navigation system. Then I herd Thing 1 and Thing 2 into the car, hop in, fire up the willing engine (responding with a...well, not exactly a roar, but a reasonable attempt at one), tires spitting mud, I commit my clever deception.

"Where are we going?" ask the two kids.

"Yes," I reply with a grin.

There's a brief period of silence, and then my daughter, the older of the two Things, says to her little brother, "Kamine Park. It has to be! We're going to Kamine Park!"

Actually, we're not, but I'm not going to tell them that just yet. I admit I thought about it, but I've already taken the kids there a number of times, and I want to do something different. Even worse, the drive to Kamine Park, made twice as long as it should be by backed-up traffic on a very unscenic road, doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment.

We arrive at the intersection of Route 50, and the polite, feminine voice of the navigation system (which I definitely don't need yet, but I have it turned on just for fun) tells me to turn right.

"Wait a minute," says my son. "Aren't we supposed to go the other way?"

(He can be a clever, little thing...when he actually uses his head.)

Big sister replies matter-of-factly, "Papa's just trying to trick us. Don't worry! I know we're going to Kamine Park!"

We buy our breakfast at the 7-11 down the street, and then I head on down the hill from Namegata to Itako. It's actually a beautiful day today; it's looking to be hot, but the humidity is down, and there's plenty of blue sky. With real, yellow sunlight, the tree-covered hills and the potato and tobacco fields between them look even greener. The rice paddies of Itako are greener still. It's a lovely view. We get an even lovelier panorama when the car climbs up onto the expressway and heads due south. (Best speed to Regula I!)

"Ehhhhh...?" fumes my son. "We can't be going to Kamine Park! This is totally the wrong direction! Where are we going?!?"

"Kamine Park," insists his elder sister self-importantly. "Like I said, papa's just trying to trick us! He's going to take the long way, and we'll be there before you know it!"

My son is unconvinced, and this same dialog plays out repeatedly as we head on past Katori (Sawara), past Narita, past Shisui and Sakura, and then, as per the gentle commands of the navi-system, take the exit onto Keiyo Road. (Diminished seventh power chord)

That's the biggest problem with using a car navi-system. When you enter a destination, it will scan the maps and plot the most logical course. However, that doesn't mean it'll plot the best course. It uses a net link to pay attention to traffic updates, and it will change the route to avoid accident or construction sites as well as jam-ups, but only if it thinks there is a logical alternative route available. In many cases it'll just shrug its invisible, electronic shoulders and say, "Oh, well. You're stuck with it," to itself. And then it'll guide you onto Keiyo Road. (There's that diminished seventh chord again!)

The last time I went to the same destination was seven years ago, when my daughter was a toddler and my son was a bulge in my wife's belly. I didn't have the RAV4 yet, and it was the first real trip we made in the dark blue Ford wagon my wife had just bought (yes, the one I saw in my dreams months before she got it). A navi-system was an impossible dream at the time, so we bought one of those map books and plotted our course carefully, taking into account what we knew of the terrain. I wound up getting totally lost in Chiba City, but at least we avoided Keiyo Road. (Yes, again.)

This time, however, I trust the oh-so-gentle-sounding navi-guide, and we wind up caught in the less-than-walking-speed traffic for which That Road (that power chord) is infamous. For nearly half an hour I nudge the BLUE machine along hoping that neither the auto-clutch nor my nerves get ground into oblivion (even with Enya trying very hard to soothe my soul). As it turns out, however, the jam-up isn't anywhere near as bad as it can be, and once we're through the gauntlet the pace picks right back up again. Soon I'm cruising at a nice, brisk pace into the Boso region of Chiba Prefecture.

"I really don't think we're going to Kamine Park," says my son.

His sister pauses with pursed lips. Then she demands, "What are you up to, papa?"

Boso is the southern tip of Chiba Prefecture, which juts out into the sea from the island of Honshu like a great elbow forming the eastern side of Tokyo Bay. It also serves as a handy shield deflecting most of the typhoons that come our way so that Tokyo (and Ibaraki Prefecture) rarely suffers a direct hit. Needless to say, Boso tends to receive some of the worst typhoon-related damage in the country, but it is still a very beautiful area. It consists of densely-forested hills and small, jagged mountains that remind me a lot of the Coast Range in Oregon (except that the trees are different). They even sing like the Coast Mountains. They're also traveled by means of the same sort of narrow, winding roads. (No log trucks or RVs, though...thank goodness.)

Another key difference between Boso and the Oregon Coast Mountains suddenly rears its head...or does it? It's road kill, but the cars ahead of us veer much more wildly than usual to avoid it. Whatever it is, it must be something really special, because it doesn't look very big. We get our answer soon enough. It's a monkey. Actually, it's a Japanese macaque, to be precise. That explains it. It's not talked about much, but monkeys seem to be revered here...not so much the animals themselves as their souls. No one wants a vengeful monkey spirit coming back home with them, so they give the road pizza a wide berth. Just to be safe, so do I.

Anyway, we zip around on the paved roller-coaster ride for a while, and then the mountains suddenly open up into a giant, circular valley filled with vivid green rice paddies. It's the area of Kururi in Kimitsu City, named for Kururi Castle. It's a gorgeous sight (and me without my camera)! Reentering the mountains on the other side, we wind about some more, shoot through a couple of enchanting, little resort towns, and then we cross the beautiful Kamogawa (lit. "Duck River"). In fact, the city of Kamogawa is our destination, and the kids figure it out as soon as they see the large billboard with an orca on it.

"Kamogawa Sea World! We're going to Kamogawa Sea World!"


Just as we're rolling into the last kilometer, the city starts to disappear, fading into an eerie white. A fog bank has just rolled in off the ocean. The scenic value of the city has just dropped to zero, but at least the mist brings the temperature down. It's actually a bit on the chilly side when we park the car and get out.

Kamogawa Sea World is an aquatic theme park. Its aquarium exhibit isn't the biggest I've ever seen, but they constructed it to look like a natural progression from a river source on down to the ocean and then to different oceans of the world. It's almost like the visitors are the ones in the glass cases. It's not so crowded, and both kids enjoy it far more than I expected. The real attractions, however, are outside.

First we go to see the famous sea lion show, and we finally find the crowds. It is only ten minutes to showtime, and the stands are already packed. Well, no, actually, they aren't. The trouble is that several people are blocking off seats if not whole bench rows, saving them for friends or family that are off playing elsewhere. I find the practice both unfair and extremely rude, so I finally tell my tired little boy to sit down on the edge of one such bench row anyway. The old man that is blocking the thing off tries half-heartedly to shoo him away, but I tell my son to ignore him...just waiting (hoping?) for the old asshole to try to make a scene. He doesn't, and it turns out that his family has more than enough room anyway (especially since one of them, a mother with a baby, leaves only a few minutes into the show anyway). The show is a lot of fun, well worth seeing. However, I admit I have a thing about the mentally handicapped (autistic?) boy that is jumping around and making weird, loud noises a few meters away from me. I'm glad he has a chance to enjoy the attraction like anyone else (if he's even aware of it), but he's getting a lot of annoyed stares from the people around him, and it's pretty much a given they're all thinking, "What's up with that freak?" Is it really right for the poor boy to be humiliated like that?

After a quick bite of lunch, we arrive a couple of minutes late for the beluga show, so we're forced to sit on the floor off to the side and see what we can till we give up and leave. Doing so allows us to get to the dolphin show early enough to get good seats plus some food.

Hey...they sell churros here! I always thought churros were exclusive to Disneyland! Well, apparently not. I've always liked those things, and it's nice to know I can get them without having to deal with Disneyland! (Oh, gripe, gripe, gripe...)

The dolphin show, naturally, is a lot of fun, and the kids are impressed. The two bottlenose and two grampus that they have there do all kinds of funky things. At one point one of them tosses a soccer ball up into the air with its nose, leaps out of the water, and kicks the ball with its tail, sending it flying out of the arena. It's quite entertaining, and it also ends early enough that we're able to hustle over to the main attraction, the orca stadium, and actually get seats.

I've always been fond of orcas. (Don't call them Killer Whales, dammit!!!!) Every once in a while wild ones wander down from their usual haunts up north, come into the bays of the Oregon Coast, and eat the seals, which pisses off the tourists but delights the locals. Even so, it's hard to tell just how big those things can get until one of them lobs itself up out of the water. There are four trained orcas in the stadium, three female and one male. The females are big enough as it is. The male is f****** HUGE. When he does a "splash jump", as he does repeatedly, he kicks up a massive blast of water. I'm sitting far enough back that I only get my shoes and pantlegs wet. Some people sitting a row or two closer get absolutely drenched.

There's one more orca in the pool, too, but it's not performing. It's a baby which was born earlier this year. Named "Ran", I think he was the real darling of the show even though all he did was race around trying to imitate his parents and aunts. Actually, there are a number of babies here. There's even one baby dolphin that was born not even a week ago. There are also baby seals, sea lions, and a whole clutch of squid eggs. (Hey, let's be fair! Mollusks are living beings, too!)

The fog is gone now, and we can see the ocean. It's time to do our souvenir shopping and go home. The kids are tuckered out but happy. The car is sounding less rough than it did this morning. The temperature is warm and comfy. All in all, a good start to a three-day weekend.

Tomorrow is cleaning day.


  • Wow... the papa really had a great plan to spend with the kids!!!

    I love going to sea world/theme park when I was a little girl... :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 9:18 PM  

  • Sounds like a good day out, all gathered memories for the kids to keep!

    I bet the person who hit the road kill macaque in the first place has been lying awake at nights!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:36 PM  

  • I don't think I realized that Japan had a Sea World!! How cool! My brother is coming down for a visit next week, and we're going to hit all the big So. Cal fun: Sea World, Wild Animal Park, Magic Mountain, and the Beach. Of course, that's also the big So. Cal tourist traps, and money-scams too, but what the heck!! Waiting in lines in 106 degree heat, and 40% humidity, should be fun!! ;-P

    By Blogger DewKid, at 6:00 AM  

  • sounds like a blast!!!!

    i wonder what went through the mind of the driver who hit the monkey? lol.

    i've never been to sea world, but you've definitely made me want to try one out.

    By Blogger mae mae, at 1:52 PM  

  • thanks for the wonderful reading..

    I am sure you also enjoyed the trip and the Peter Pan in you is definitely growing up.. some day.

    By Blogger Robin, at 4:27 PM  

  • Selba
    It was a lot of fun...and it was nice just to get away for a change!

    I've never fully understood the Japanese psyche with regard to monkeys. They've always given them a special sort of respect, like they do with the tanuki (raccoon dog, also believed to have supernatural powers), but it's not as clear why. I do know that Japanese legends are full of tales of monkey spirits, so I'm theorizing.

    Yeah, the errant driver probably went to a shrine and a temple and loaded up on charms!

    I didn't know there was a Sea World in Californiland! Sounds like you and your brother are in for some fun!

    Only 40% humidity? It must be nice living in a desert! ;-)

    Mae Mae
    I always enjoy visits to aquariums and aquatic exhibits, and the performances at Sea World are even better! Orcas rock!!!

    I refuse to grow up! :-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:22 PM  

  • What a great outing and all the more fun by keeping the secret. Orcas are amazing, well cetatians in general are, but Orcas are especially amazing to watch.

    The macaque was probably a suicide and the government will bill its family for the clean up costs.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:43 PM  

  • Oooooooo. I'm going to BIF you VERRY VERRY HARD!!!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:50 AM  

  • Wasn’t it because of the “Marine Day” on 17 July in JP, so you brought your kids there to see something about sea or ocean?

    I’ve been to a few aquariums I like the one in Vancouver especially.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 3:33 PM  

  • A 3-day weekend - how nice.That was some exciting day. Unfortunately, we do not have a sea world-type of place here in KL. The closest we get is the dolphin show in the National Zoo. We do have a newly-opened aquarium though next to the Twin Towers which I have yet to visit and I was told is worth a visit.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:31 PM  

  • Pandabonium
    Oh, I've been fond of orcas since I was rather small.

    Macaque suicides? Well, I guess if high school students do it...

    What's with the Romanian accent, dude?

    I didn't even think about that! You're right, the Monday holiday was "Marine Day"! That's interesting! Maybe my subconscious mind was being *gasp* manipulated...

    Any attraction is better than none, and a dolphin show is still a dolphin show! You ought to check out the one in KL if you get a chance. I'm sure it's good for a visit.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:45 AM  

  • aaahhh, the day sounds fantastic. i really enjoy Sea World but haven't been in ages.

    i love the orcas myself! i remember the last time i saw a show and they did the same w/ the splashing. everyone one got soaked. it was so much fun.

    the drive sounded wonderful. the sites there sound amazing and so beautiful. i've always heard japan is gorgeous.

    so, seeing that the monkey is dead... people still believe that the soul will haunt them? what about the guy who hit the monkey... wouldn't he be the one that the monkey would follow?

    By Blogger tooners, at 3:26 PM  

  • What a wonderful treat for the children. I wish we had more greenery here in Bahrain. All you really see when taking long drives is sand, and desert.

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 3:28 AM  

  • Tooners
    It was a very scenic drive. The Boso region is quite beautiful. Sea World is always good for a visit, too. Then again, I've been really interested in living things since I was little.

    The way the Japanese view souls and especially hauntings is really complex and hard to figure out. They believe that an angry soul can haunt different people at the same time...even if the person/animal owning the soul is still alive! Many legends and "documented" cases of paranormal phenomena in Japan are actually said to involve manifestations of spirits of people or animals that were very much alive and totally unaware of what their subconscious was up to!


    Even so, the desert has a certain beauty all its own...though I imagine it would lose its charm if you lived in it and saw it every day. I admit I really know very little about Bahrain other than its name, location, and the fact that I know some people that live and/or hail from there. I'm always curious to learn more.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:55 PM  

  • I wouldn't get too uptight about calling them "Killer Whales", that's colloquial and accepted by Marine Biologists. The term seems to come from Spanish sailors calling them "Whale Killers", and it got mixed up in translation. They aren't whales, but big dolphins and they are killers. Top of the food chain, Ma.

    The name Orca, from Orcinus meaning "from Hell" isn't exactly cute and cuddly. But they don't attack humans, unless kept in captivity and driven mad. Kind of brings up the old argument about the ethics of keeping wild animals for display. I suggest revolving animals, (especially 6 ton, highly intelligent marine predators) in and out of captivity on a seasonal basis. It'd cost a bit more, but would be beneficial to everyone concerned.

    On a different note, how do you like the Rav 4? I'm thinking about picking one up in the near future. I'm trying to find if Toyota makes a manual version, but their website sucks. Any ideas?

    By Blogger Seymour, at 3:08 PM  

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