Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My One Day of Spring Vacation

Well, fate and the powers that be were kind enough to allow my family's various schedules to come together into a nexus for one whole day. In other words, as a family, we had ONE FREE DAY to share during this Spring Vacation. Naturally, we'd been looking forward to it for some time.

Naturally, my father-in-law immediately tried to hijack it. You see, in the universe he lives in, there is no such thing as a day off from work. Being free from your regular job should never happen, and if it somehow does, it means you spend all day working at home (or, in his case, going around shoving his nose into other people's business in the interest of "correcting" them). Things were complicated even further by the fact that doctors recently found my father-in-law has a kidney stone. The doctors don't seem to think it's very serious, and he has suffered little if any pain from it, but it's still enough for him to whine about being an invalid (as long as he has an audience; otherwise, he follows his usual routine without variation). Naturally, when he found out I was going to be free today, he immediately insisted that I spend much if not most if not all of the day tilling his beloved eighth-of-an-acre field. I told him I would have nothing of it, saying that there was no way I was going to give up that ONE DAY of Spring Vacation I could spend with the wife and kids. I got an earful of guilt trip, as expected, but that's just life.

Our plan was to get up early, hop in my BLUE RAV4, and head for Yokohama in time to beat the crowds. Everyone was in agreement there, but alas, it was easier said than done. I actually managed to get myself up and ready to go at a decent hour, but my newly teenified daughter required a threat of ice cubes in her bed to get her to budge. Then my wife, true to form, insisted that my son clean his room first. My son is not only careless, he is a slob. He's also a careless slob who is very easily distracted. It's hard to get him to do anything that takes longer than ten seconds to finish, and it's even harder to get him to do it without breaking things or making another, bigger mess in the process. Needless to say, by the time we loaded up in the car we were already way behind schedule. That was when FIL suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started loading the guilt trip on my wife. We didn't give any ground on going out for the day, but we decided to compromise on one issue: we went to tend MIL's grave first before heading out.

We arrived at the Higashi-Kanto Expressway to find it unusually crowded with slow Sunday drivers. You see, the government, in an effort to encourage more people to install Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) units on their cars before the start of the new fiscal year, has been subsidizing the purchase of the devices for a period that will end on the 31st of this month (i.e. I need to get mine tomorrow morning!). Not only that, but users of ETC units now get a whopping discount on highway tolls. At the same time, however, there is also a crackdown in progress on the speed with which ETC-users shoot through the toll gates. There were a lot of cars on the expressway. Traffic was moving, thank goodness, but there were a LOT of people cruising up to 20 clicks under the speed limit, and the lines at the ETC lanes of the toll gates were really long (meaning few lanes were allocated for people WITHOUT ETC units...). We managed to make good time nonetheless, and after only about ninety minutes we rolled toward the giant, public parking center under the famous Conference Center... find the entrance blocked with a big, red sign saying, "FULL". Luckily, there were still some spots available in the obscenely overpriced parking garage under Yokohama Landmark Tower.

And so we spent the day shopping at the Landmark Tower Plaza and other nearby shopping malls. (Actually, in my case I mainly stood around looking bored while my wife and daughter spent the day shopping, but whatever.) I did find a half-price clearance sale of English books at the bookstore there, so I grabbed a bunch of books I'll hopefully remember to read sometime before I die. I also failed to resist buying more import munchies at the Sony Plaza store. We had lunch at the Sizzler there, which made everyone happy, though I was a bit disappointed. Both the service and the salad/soup/dessert/bread bar were really nice, but the grilled herb chicken I ordered had a tough crust on the bottom and tasted like the chef just grabbed a bunch of spices off the shelf and dumped them on without any respect for the flavor of the chicken itself (which was quite good, actually). The grilled chicken with yuzu marinade that my wife ordered was much better. After that we split up a bit so the kids could hit their haunts and my wife and I could have a "date" (that consisted of her shopping for clothes for the kids and complaining that she couldn't find anything in my daughter's size). Once that was all done, we loaded up in the BLUE RAV4 so we could get back at a reasonable hour (and hopefully reduce the amount of griping from my FIL).

LT Engrish
Yokohama Landmark Tower is in Minato Mirai, perhaps the most cosmopolitan area of arguably Japan's most cosmopolitan city...but they STILL can't get their English right! The Japanese means, "Watch your step."

As it turned out, however, my wife realized she had never been in the giant Carrefour store in Makuhari, about halfway home, so we popped in there...and wound up getting totally wrapped up in its amazing deli and bakery sections. It's hard to believe that the Carrefour very nearly went out of business when the Costco opened about a kilometer away, but it survived thanks to a takeover by the local Aeon/Jusco department store chain. Its selection is now a combination of Jusco's line and Carrefour's import items. I've heard people say they're now disappointed with it, but I don't know. I never saw Carrefour before Aeon/Jusco acquired it, and as far as I'm concerned its food market selection is excellent. We'll definitely go there again sometime.

The drive back took forever because the expressway was even more clogged up with outrageously slow drivers. (I mean, come on! 80 kph [50 mph] on a posted 100 kph [63 mph] expressway? With neither wind nor rain?!?) By the time we got back it was well after dark, and FIL was upset about both the low level of kerosene in the bath-heater's tank and the fact that there were still the unused corners. I filled the tank (and let HIM pull the weeds), and then we all enjoyed a dinner of take-out Subway sandwiches.

So much for Spring Vacation this year. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in enough time for a Costco run...or to get an ETC unit while the government is still helping foot the bill.


  • Isn't Aeon/Jusco a futuristic movie about an assassin in Peru?

    I thought you liked oregano cinnamon anise habanero chicken!

    Sounds like a full day off. I'm glad you were able to change the routine.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 5:20 AM  

  • Hippity Hoppity Hippity Hop
    Easter's on its way!

    You didn't mention seeing any bunnies for sale?

    Does your ETC have a GPS so they can tell where you have been and how fast you got there? In the US its a major concern as the gov wanted to start taxing people how far they drive by the mile. Some experts claim the technology would allow the government to track you from home to Rome.

    Or is it simply and RFID tag?

    By Anonymous Dave, a concerned motorist, at 5:55 AM  

  • Snabudon
    Yes, you're right. If nothing else, it was a welcome break from the routine.

    Re: The spices. I once had a grilled herb chicken at the Big Boy restaurant that opened in Kamisu not too long ago, and it was really good! I mean, they used mainly rosemary with a hint of sage and what was probably thyme (parsley? Scarborough?), and I thought it accented the flavor of the chicken nicely. In this case, at the Sizzler, I took the first bite, and the deluge of (not well blended) spices just wiped out my taste buds. Then the chicken itself wound up not having much taste at all until the spiced part was long gone and well cleansed by my salad. Eating it was almost a chore.

    (I'm sure some people find it very amusing that I'm talking about ordinary chain restaurants as if they were gourmet fare, but hey...this is NOT the U.S.A.! These are rare treats for me!)

    I haven't gotten an ETC unit yet, but I can understand the concern. I have noticed that, while there used to be a wide variety of ETC units available, there now only seem to be two standard models, and the shops will no longer let the customers install them themselves. That seems more than a little odd to me.

    As far as taxing people by the mile (kilometer, sorry), that is also being discussed here as a reaction to the growing popularity of hybrid vehicles and "smart cars", not to mention increased development of electric cars. Local and federal government alike are worried about the projected drop in revenue, and this is the likely result.

    They aren't forcing people to buy ETC units yet, but they are doing everything possible short of blocking off non-ETC tollgate lanes to get people to buy them.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:35 PM  

  • Doesn't really sound like a day off, but at least the 4 of you were not doing school-related things.

    I enjoyed trying to imagine what wonderful things you saw at Carrefour. Which I believe is French for "square oven"...

    Did you get your ETC yet Mr Minstrel???????????

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:20 AM  

  • Olivia
    I tried. Unfortunately, as it turns out, my previous statement was in error. It's not that there are "only two standard models available". The fact is that all of the decent types were sold out at least a week ago thanks to the government-sponsored discount. The only ones still on the shelves are ones that are designed to interface with specific models of onboard navigation system and thus would be pointless for me to buy (especially as they are overpriced because of the interface).

    I went ahead and ordered one today, but I was told it may be weeks before new stock arrives. I'm also not eligible for the discount; apparently it only applies to certain types of car, and my BLUE RAV4 is outside the category.

    Oh, well. I've been thinking about getting one of those things for some time now.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:58 AM  

  • We have both Aeon/Jusco and Carrefour here and both are doing extremely well. They have lots of outlets spread out in KL.

    It's good that the family was able to have some family-time together. Happy Spring, MM.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 2:39 PM  

  • So, as a bi-lingual (multi-lingual? don't want to be insulting) person, does 'Engrish' bug you? If I were not mono-lingual I'd wonder why the didn't pay me to proofread the signs.

    I can't complain about my FIL, but my MIL's third husband is, I feel, a gigantic loser who shakes hands like he's handing you a two-day old fish.

    verification word: abide. As in, "I can't abide getting a real word for verification; it's no fun"

    By Blogger Arkonbey, at 9:54 PM  

  • HappySurfer
    Japan seems to be the only part of Asia where Carrefour hasn't been doing well...if you don't count the time it got demonstrated against in China. I've often wondered about that. The one I went to apparently used to do well, but its business got torpedoed when Costco came to town. I personally think they are two very different stores, but whatever.

    Considering all the money spent on "internationalization" in this country, the massive Assistant (English) Language Teacher programs, and all those English conversation schools and cram schools everywhere, the fact that Engrish like that still happens just baffles the hell out of me.

    It bugs me even more when really stupid Engrish catch phrases are put out by municipal or even prefectural boards of education, ALL of which employ native English advisors if not teachers. It just goes to show that the tremendous English resources in this country are being ignored, either because the perpetrators have too much confidence in their own ability or (more likely) they simply don't want to bother asking someone to check it.

    I have had the city of Kashima ask me to check English-language travel information they've provided. I did it for free because my school was participating in the project. I was more than happy to do it. That being the case, there's really no excuse for Engrish like what appears in that sign I posted, and it seriously annoys me.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:25 PM  

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