Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, August 20, 2007

What I Did This Summer

(Was that a cliché post title, or what?)

Swinebread says that my summer vacation (which just ended) was WAY too short. I agree. It was particularly bad this year. Thanks to a combination of my job, my wife's job, PTA-related activities, my mother-in-law's recurring poor health, suddenly scorching weather in mid August, and an uncanny lack of motivation, summer vacation almost didn't happen at all. What little free time we had was spent either working around the house...or shopping. There was no time whatsoever for any kind of trip, except to go shopping. Weekdays were pretty much shot, and our weekends tended to consist of my wife working most of the day on Saturday (or so she said) while the kids studied and/or did chores (read "played with their DS's, watched TV, and fought") and I worked on various things, if I was home (though I did take the kids out to nearby parks in the afternoon from time to time so we could get a bit of exercise), our whole family cleaning house Sunday morning, and then our going shopping in either Kashima, Katori, or Narita Sunday afternoon.

The one day trip to Chiba Zoo I managed with my kids one Saturday in late July seemed like a monumental coup, although the long-overdue visit to Costco (blazing fanfare!) I squeezed in during the same outing still made the whole thing qualify as more shopping even though my wife wasn't there. By mid-August I was starting to get pretty fed up with every trip outside the house winding up being spent in a shopping center, but it didn't seem like there was much to do about it. There's not much else to do around here, and if my wife is with us we WILL end up shopping one way or the other.

Finally, just before the three-day Bon Festival period (see below), we found ourselves in possession of one full day together with nothing planned. I had hoped to take the family up to an amusement park and nearby attractions (read "museums and/or hiking") in the northern part of Ibaraki. Unfortunately, the temperature had jumped up to around 38 degrees Centigrade (right around 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and I got soundly outvoted. Instead, we drove down to Yokohama Landmark Tower, the tallest habitable building in Japan, guessed it...we went shopping.

Picture of Yokohama Landmark Tower from Yokohama's tourist guide website.

Yes, I bought a number of things at the sprawl of shopping malls under and around the building, but don't let that fool you. I was pretty irritated that our last chance of a family summer outing wound up being just another overblown shopping trip. Therefore, I insisted on a little indulgence and took a little detour on the way back...along the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. It's kind of a fun drive, going under the bay half the time and above it the other half. I especially like stopping in at the Umi-Hotaru ("Sea Firefly") rest area on a man-made island in the middle where the bridge joins the tunnel. I programmed my BLUE RAV4's navi-system, and off we went.

2007 uminohotaru3
Just for a little bit of "awwww" factor, here's a pic of the kids on the top deck of Umi-Hotaru. The structure itself is made to look kind of like a great, big sailing ship (albeit with a squarish hull). You can see ships in the surrounding bay and the Tokyo-Yokohama skyline in the background.

2007 uminohotaru4
And another for comedic relief. My son looks to be his usual happy-go-crazy self, but the fact is that, hopeless coward that he is, he whined all the way out of the tunnel and into the parking lot, cried as we left the car, clung to his mother for dear life going up the escalator, and kept saying, "Can we go now? Can we go now?" over and over again till we finally left. But then he decided he liked it and wanted to go back. *sigh*

We didn't stay very long before my wife started getting antsy about getting back, but it was still kind of a nice side-trip. Unfortunately, heading back from there my navi-system went all goofy, and it wound up getting us totally lost. One obvious problem was that the highway had been recently extended, and the navi-system didn't have that data. However, it turned out there was an even bigger problem; specifically, the navi-system had been trying to navigate me back to Yokohama Landmark Tower all along! (I found out later that, while trying out a new function, I had misunderstood the kanji and pressed the wrong button. I had told the navi-system to plot our return trip...TO the Yokohama Landmark Tower parking lot!!! Oops...) I managed to get us back using my own smarts instead of the technology, but we arrived much later than expected...and were greeted by a blast of bile from my FIL.

Oh, well. That was our summer vacation.


Summer did get one last crack, however. Today (August 20) was supposed to be a work day for me, this after the orchestra performance yesterday and school/music-related stuff over the three days before that. However, my scheduled activities got moved to tomorrow, so after the kids got their homework for the day done I loaded them in the car and headed off to the Oarai AquaWorld Aquarium for the afternoon. (Just what is it about these spontaneous day trips with the kids? They seem to have a habit of winding up at either a zoo or an aquarium! Oh, least it isn't a shopping mall!)

I had been to the long-famous Oarai Aquarium before (about nine years ago), but I had yet to see its far grander, new reincarnation as AquaWorld. The original aquarium was reasonably large and had a wide variety of exhibits, but I'd found it to be just so many fish in ordinary, bare, glass tanks in a facility that was crumbling and smelled awful. It was more like a collection of lab specimens than a modern aquarium. Its sea lion show had been held in a dark, rank room that looked and felt like an old movie theater with an old, recycled swimming pool stuck in it. The new facility is MUCH more impressive! Not only is it even bigger, but its exhibits are designed to be as environmentally accurate as possible, i.e. the massive tanks are built to resemble the natural habitats of their occupants as is the case in most modern aquariums such as Sea World. There are also a lot of interactive exhibits with plenty for both adults and children. It just seemed to go on and on without letting up or letting down. I was impressed.

And the facility for the dolphin/sea lion! A domed (and air-conditioned) arena offering a spectacular view of Oarai and its beach in addition to a pool that is easily comparable to Sea World's dolphin pool if not better.

2007 aquaworld1
Here's a quick flash-photo shot of the kids in front of one of the massive tanks that completely encompass the corridor...or should I say the corridors go through them? I took the pic before seeing the sign saying, "Flash photography are prohibiting." They are? I guess I learned something new.

2007 aquaworld3
A no-flash shot (which are always so bloody hard to get in focus) in one of the more regular exhibit sections, this one showing creatures that live in very specific environments. My son whined that he was scared when the corridors got darker, but then his curiosity took over.

2007 aquaworld4
One more quick shot outside the main entrance before heading home. It got dark quickly during the dolphin/sea lion show even though it was still only 5:00 p.m.. We later found it was because a fog bank had rolled in off the sea. Everything was GRAY! Everything was GRAAAAY!!!!! Time to go home...

I'd definitely say it was worth the trip, especially since my navi-system found a short cut that reduced travel time to 45 minutes. There was plenty of time to do a bit of shopping after that.

And thus endeth my summer vacation for 2007.


  • Your boy is a poser!Hahaha =D

    By Anonymous angele, at 2:59 AM  

  • Your kids have grown a lot since the last pics you posted, from the visit to the Temple....hey, was that at the last Obon?

    I think you should drop the words "weekend", "vacation" and "holiday" from your vocabulary because they only seem to consist of stolen time between competitions and teaching!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 5:32 AM  

  • Moody: Take me home NAV system!

    NAV: Turn Left

    Moody: OK

    NAV: Turn Left

    Moody: OK, but now we are going the wrong direction.

    NAV: Turn Left

    Moody: Hey wait a minute!

    NAV: Turn Left

    Moody: Why do you keep telling me to turn left?

    NAV: I was reffering to your other left. I will compensate. Turn Right...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:31 AM  

  • Love to see the pictures of your kids, they are so cute :)

    And also to read about your little boy's characteristic/ behaviour, now I'm wondering where does he get it from ;)

    By Blogger Selba, at 6:34 PM  

  • Nice to see pictures of the kids. It's great you spend so much time with them.
    Now it's back to work is it - but of course your whole life is one long holiday isn't it - well, you are teaching music aren't you - which you love?

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 7:53 PM  

  • Cool
    Can't beat seeing the sights
    Then there are summers & summers
    there are summers that just scream for the beach, and there are summers that just beg to get away from it all, and there are summers when it's just great to absorb the wonder of it all ...

    PS - We had our summer sometime in April & May

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 3:47 AM  

  • At least you have summer vacations. Here, we don't know when's summer. ;)

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:48 PM  

  • I'm glad you go the chance to do something.

    I find myself shopping quite a bit with the SO as well.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 4:14 AM  

  • Looking at the first pic of your kids and the pic of all of you at Kashima Jingu in a new years(?) post, it is striking how much your daughter takes after your wife and your son takes after you.

    Nice outings and good pictures. We'll have to check out Oarai Aquarium some time.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:48 PM  

  • I keep seeing the word "shopping"..

    Hope that the retail therapy was good.. and with all the stuffs u bought from the "shopping", will you be shopping for a bigger house soon?


    By Blogger Robin, at 7:10 PM  

  •, shopping and more need a vacation from your vacation.. cute kids though..

    By Blogger memo, at 3:41 AM  

  • i haven't read this post yet... but will come back. wanted to comment on these adorable photos. i love them. your son is so cute and the faces he makes... to die for. he looks like you! now i can see it clearly. your daughter looks more like your wife... i wonder why it happens like that, but the same w/ naief, altho his hair is lighter like mine.

    your children look very happy and no matter how bad things seem... you can smile when you look at them! :)

    can't wait to listen to your music...

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 12:47 AM  

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