Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Summer Trip 2009: Part One

Well, after summer seminars, music camp, and my mother-in-law's Shin-bon, my family finally managed to find itself with a bit of free time. To make matters better, my wife's school district gave her four full days off from work for "Refresh Vacation" time. It was a perfect opportunity for my family to get away from it all and spend a few days unwinding and mending ties.

Which naturally meant it wasn't going to happen.

Unfortunately, that little speck of a holiday wound up getting caught between my August work schedule and my daughter's handball club. We'd talked about going to Hokkaido, Gifu Prefecture, or the Shikoku area for a few days. That wound up crashing in flames. In the end, we settled on a much less ambitious, one-night trip down to the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture.

So we left fairly early in the morning on Saturday, August 22nd. First we went straight to our hotel to have a look at it and confirm its location. Since check-in wasn't till later in the afternoon, we decided to keep heading down the peninsula to explore. I'd once been to a summer music training camp down there, and while it was without a doubt one of the worst summer music camps I've experienced, I remembered that the area was really nice. I thought it would be nice to check it out again...if I could find it. I remembered that one of the sightseeing spots was near a cape, so when my navigation system pointed out the Futtsu Park located on Cape Futtsu (pronounced "foo-tsoo" with a stop in the middle), I figured that was it.

Futtsu Park 1

It wasn't, but it was still worth it to get out of my BLUE RAV4 for a bit and walk around. We didn't go all the way out to the tip of the cape, but we found what was apparently an old castle ruin surrounded by a moat, and it's now a wildlife refuge.

Futtsu Park 2

It's hard to see in this cell phone pic, but the trees were full of colorful sea birds we'd never seen before.

Getting back in the car, I scanned around on navi-chan a bit more, and I saw that the Tokyo-Wan Kannon was only a little further south. I remembered seeing it from a distance when I'd gone to that camp, so I figured now was a good time to check it out. A drive on a narrow, curvy road finally revealed:

Tokyo Bay Kannon 1

Built in 1961, it was the tallest free-standing Buddhist image in Japan until the Ushiku Daibutsu was completed in 1995. Still, at 56 meters it's no mean idol! It was really hot and muggy by then, but after a bit of a squabble we finally decided to try climbing the 324 steps to the top. My son, ever the lazy coward, wimped out and started squealing by the time we'd gotten to the 4th of 21 levels, so we sent him back. The rest of us continued to the view decks up in the head.

Tokyo Bay Kannon 3

There was quite a view from up there, even with the hot mist!

One thing that was fascinating about the Tokyo-Wan Kannon was that each of its levels plus the main stairway itself housed several carved wooden Buddhist sculptures, each apparently made by the same man who'd designed the big statue itself. Naturally, each image was accompanied by a small offering box. I went ahead and popped a coin into the box for Benzaiten, the goddess of everything that flows, including water, words, ideas, and music (i.e. a woman after my own heart!). However, when I was near the top, one of the last images was another spiritually significant woman who I would never have expected to find in a Buddhist sanctuary: the Virgin Mary, holding a baby Jesus! Her offering box even bore a cross! (Actually, that's really not so surprising. A Buddhist nun in Taiwan once told me that Buddhism believes all faiths to be one. I've also heard from more than one Buddhist that they believe Christ and Buddha to be one and the same, a single being in different incarnations, sent from Heaven for the same reasons. I guess that qualifies Mary to be a Bodhisattva [saint/angel] in Buddhist tradition as she is in many Christian denominations!)

Tokyo Bay Kannon 5

It was pretty windy up there, in any case!

After we went down and collected my slob son, we decided it was time to seek gastric enlightenment, i.e. lunch. There we didn't seem to be having much success. I continued down the coast, and while we passed a number of small and kind of questionable-looking noodle shops, there wasn't anything that really caught our eye. Then, when we were on the verge of giving up and looking for a 7-11, we stumbled on what appeared to be some kind of tourist trap roadside resort complex. It included a small hot spring bath/spa complex, gift shops, and a restaurant. It also seemed to be rather busy. We figured it was worth a try.

Kanaya resort

Actually, it turned out to be a nice bit of serendipity. The restaurant was very simple, being more or less a big, roofed deck right above and open to surf-pounded rocks. However, it was very busy, and with good reason. The seafood fare was all locally-caught and kept in tanks right there in the restaurant, i.e. everything was about as fresh as it gets! I went with one of their recommended mixed plates, which included sashimi, shrimp tempura, and scallops, and everything was great. Even the asari (clam) soup, a staple generally taken for granted, was good enough to merit special notice. The prices, while not really cheap, were still reasonable. After lunch, we went down to the rocks below the deck of the restaurant and played in the tidepools for a while before heading back to the BLUE RAV4.

I pressed on south for a while so we could take in the unique scenery and character of the South Boso area (even running into a festival parade at one point) before we decided it was time to go back north, where our hotel was waiting.

Ryugujo Hotel 1

We stayed at the giant Ryugujo Hotel Mikazuki in Kisarazu. There are three hotels in Chiba Prefecture bearing that moniker, taken from a legendary sea castle, and all of them are big, fancy, and very famous. The accommodations only account for a small part of the complex, which includes a spa/resort building with a massive pool area and hot spring bath facilities plus convention and event halls. Almost more of a theme park than a hotel, I'd definitely say it was crafted with families in mind.

Ryugujo Hotel 4

This was the view from our room, which was on the ground floor. The palm trees are actually masking the outdoor part of the sprawling pool facilities. Naturally, the kids wanted to head there immediately, and my wife went with them. As for me, however, I suddenly felt an attack of apathy. Not only was I feeling a bit burned out, but the thought of being out in that big, CROWDED pool complex surrounded by people who would be staring and pointing at me sounded about as appealing as a root canal, so I opted to stay in my room, read a bit, and take a nice, long nap. That was probably better for me anyway.

Ryugujo Hotel 3

I still went ahead and put on a yukata (light cotton kimono) with the others after they came back. That is, after all, the tradition at a spa resort.

The next big event was eating. Dinner and breakfast were both buffet style. My wife wasn't too enthusiastic about that; buffet-style meals rarely seem to be all that impressive. We were pleasantly surprised. Having to elbow our way through crowds to get anything wasn't fun, but some of the dishes they served were good enough to merit multiple trips.

Ryugujou Hotel 7

I don't know how many trips my son took back to the buffet, but he probably got the high score in terms of quantity in the end. (No, the beer is MINE!)

Ryugujou Hotel 8

Not that his sister didn't give him plenty of competition!

Ryugujou Hotel 6

As for me, I was a good boy...during the first round. Then my appetite finally woke up, and my superego got taken down. I think I went back and loaded up my plate five or six times...

After dinner we did something my daughter had requested and had been looking forward to for over a year: our playing the Game of Life (a la Milton Bradley, now part of Hasbro) as a family. We'd promised to do so during our New Year trip to Yokohama in 2008, wound up not, and then had failed to keep our promise throughout the ensuing year and a half. I hadn't known it, but apparently my daughter had been very upset about it. Now was our chance to rectify that. My wife was reluctant at first, not being a fan of games, but she wound up enjoying ourselves. It was certainly no big deal, but it clearly meant a lot to my daughter.

Everybody started dropping off to sleep after that, but I was still wide awake (probably thanks to my afternoon siesta), so I went over to the spa section. All of the facilities were supposed to be in full swing till eleven, but I went into the hot spring bath facility at about 10:45 to find the towel counter unmanned (so I just grabbed a couple of towels from the pile), the outdoor bath locked, and the famous gold bath shut down. There were still all kinds of funky baths and jet pools to enjoy, but I still felt a bit short-changed.

I don't know why, but hot-spring baths tend to make me feel all pumped up and full of energy...almost too much energy. I remember visiting a natural hot-spring bath over in Niigata once, and I was left so quiveringly energized that I had to run around the block a couple times afterward to calm down. This one didn't overload my batteries quite so much, but I still felt weirdly wired and unable to concentrate as I made my way back to the hotel building and my room...mistaking almost every turn. One poor trio of girls that shared my route apparently got unnerved by my frequent wandering off in a different direction and then stomping back in a huff, the youngest of the three finally whispering anxiously, "You know, I really hate that guy!" I'm sure my stringy-wet hair hanging limply in my face (Yes, I need a haircut!) probably didn't help matters. Still, I made it back to the room, had a cold drink, washed my hair, and went to bed.

Naturally, it was too cold with the air conditioner on and too hot with it off. I didn't sleep all that well.

(To be continued...)

7 Comments:

  • I wonder if you had a full four days of vacation if you would wear yourself out! Funny thing about the spa. Must be that funny metabolism of yours.Interesting to note how much your daughter looks like your wife, and your son looks more like you. They are growing up fast.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:27 AM  

  • Wow, that statue is quite impressive - as well as the three of you making it up to the top for a spectacular lookout. Think how far you could see if the mist were gone.

    And how nice to see you and the family in pictures :-)

    p.s. seeing the sushi on your plates made me wish I weren't having Thai for lunch today...

    By OpenID nikkipolani, at 1:21 AM  

  • Can tell it's a great trip! :)

    Your daughter looks so tan! Hehehe...

    It made me laugh when I saw you were eating bread and salad using chopsticks, hahaha

    By Blogger Selba, at 4:18 AM  

  • That is an amazing statue. I am enjoying the cultural context as well. Your buffet dinner makes me want to head to our local Japanese buffet right now (except it is too expensive). Look forward to hearing more (though with some sense of foreboding).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:55 AM  

  • Cool. We'll have to check out that statue. We were planning for Hokkaido this year too, but as the time approached the cost of it loomed larger and larger and our inability to plan well finally convinced us to put it off. Coincidentally - sort of - I offered up a couple of days at Katsuura - southeast coast of Boso as a second choice. With all the sailing taxing our unfit bodies, even that seemed like too much work (whether by train or car) and we ended up taking the bus to Disney Sea for a day instead.

    Glad you got a REAL vacation. Playing "Life" with your daughter is nice and reminds me of playing various board games and cards with my own girls. Good thing for families to do.

    Sorry for a blogappotomus comment.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:14 PM  

  • Beautiful pics of your family by the way. But, hey! You need a haircut.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:19 PM  

  • Yep, glad you got a real vacation, MM.

    The food looks good and you hold your chopsticks well.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 5:37 PM  

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