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Mt. Fuji
Sep 13th, 2009 by Kate
Mt. Fugi from Lake Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko

We spent a few days in the lake town of Kawaguchiko close to the base of Mt. Fuji.  We rented bikes and rode around the lake, went and explored lava caves, and hit a local onsen that had a great view of Mt. Fuji from the sauna.  For our extreme sports friends that were expecting us to actually climb Mt. Fuji – uh, yea, no.  The view from the sauna was as ambitious as we were feeling.

The highlight of our visit to Kawaguchiko (and my favorite museum of the trip so far) was the Kubota Itchiku Kimono Museum.  I have to admit, I really only went because Phoebe really wanted to go, but I am so glad we went.  The museum was built by, and held the works of only one artist, Kubota Itchiku.  The gardens, museum buildings and theatre were works of art themselves – and then we got to the kimonos.  I could go on and on about the kimonos, but my descriptions won’t really do them justice.  If you are interested in seeing photographs of them and a description of the insane process that he went through to dye each garment – go to the museum’s website at www.itchiku-tsujigahana.co.jp.  You will not be disappointed.

Takayama
Sep 12th, 2009 by Kate

We left Nagoya in the early afternoon on a train bound for the small city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps.  My plan was to take some motion sickness medicine and sleep for the two hour train ride as I had been warned it was very curvy.  But just as I was settling in the train conductor got on the intercom and said “blah blah blah blah (but in Japanese) famous river”.  I looked out to a scene worth of the Canadian Rockies – our train was on a narrow ledge high above a deep mountain canyon with a crystal clear river, beautiful rock formations and lush green forest.  We went from a dense urban jungle to a deep green lush pine forest in less than 15 minutes!

 The rest of the train ride was just as beautiful as the first moment I looked out the window.  When we weren’t on the canyon edges, we were closer to the valley floor which afforded me great views of rural backyard gardens – which were even better than the city backyard gardens.  Most of the veggies and fruits I recognize – eggplant, tomato, beans, cucumbers, onion, garlic, leek, green onion, a few beets here and there, potatoes, squash, apples, pears and Asian pears.  There are a few really funky looking cucumbers (I think they are cucumbers) that are covered with spikes and a fruit with spikes that smells really really bad but apparently tastes really really good (I will try it a soon as I can and report back).  And there is a TON of rice.  The rice fields are everywhere.  All of these gardens make me yearn for my little plot of land!

 The Takayama train station was a piece-of-cake and we found our hostel (J-Hoppers) easily.  The city was a little bigger than I thought it would be, but our hostel, the old town, the morning markets and the local craftsman’s shops were all in a concentrated area that we rarely needed to leave, so it ended up feeling like a small town to us. 

 

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

We rented bikes on our first full day and hit the morning market that runs along the river.  There were about 30 stalls of fruits & veggies, local crafts, flowers, and lots of pickled veggies on the side of the street that ran along the river, and small stores selling baked goods, dry goods, miso, sake (there are 9 sake breweries in Takayama) and more local crafts on the other side of the street.  We sampled everything we could, bought a bunch of it, and feasted on our market goodies the rest of the day.  Our favorite market treats were the fresh grilled sake marshmallows (see photo of recipe if you want to make at home – and good luck with that!), little glass bottles of very rich fresh whole milk (it may have been more towards the half & half side of the milk-fat content – but we don’t know for sure cause we couldn’t read a thing – oh so good), and these little rice sugar cookies that we are hording in case we can’t find again.  The fresh veggies weren’t too shabby either.

 

Marshmallow stand

Marshmallow stand

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

On our second day in Takayama we went on a fieldtrip with one of the guys that worked at our hostel.  He brought us to a roadside waterfall that was pretty darn amazing, and then a bit further brought us to this massive volcanic mountain that we hiked on for a few hours.  Our final destination was a series of waterfalls with giant pools that we could swim in.  Oh… but the water was so darn cold.  I mean like glacier cold.  I never saw the glacier, but that water was so freezing I am sure there was one up there.  It just didn’t seem right though not to go in since we had worked so hard to get there, so eventually (with lots of squealing and yelping) we all managed to brave a short dip.  Our guide had goggle with him, and Tess and I swam over to the bottom of the waterfall and looked under – it was really a sight to see.  Almost worth the hypothermia that you started to feel after about 60 seconds in the water.  As we started to swim away from the waterfall we both got sucked back towards the falls by some current, and that, mixed with our muscles getting freaky from the cold made me a little bit scared.  But we made it. 

Takayama hike

Takayama hike

 

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friens Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friends Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

We warmed ourselves on the rocks, ate the bento boxes we brought with us, and then took the short way back to the trail head (oh sure, make us walk up the hard part and back the easy way!).  We were rewarded with our first to an onsen – a traditional Japanese bath house.  This one was extra special because it is famous for its natural hot spring that is filled with minerals.  I’m going to have one of the girls write about their first visit to an onsen, but I will say that we really enjoyed it, and now just a week later, with more onsen visits under our belts, we are onsen pros.

 On our last full day in Takayama, we went back to the markets, fed koi and were attacked by pigeons (see Tessa’s post), window shopped a bunch more, learned about the local wood carving crafts, and then rode up a giant hill (okay, pushed our bikes up a giant hill) to visit the Hida Folk Village Living Museum.  Here there were 25 authentic rural homes; some dating back to the 1700’s, that had been relocated here from other parts of Japan.  Each house had an interesting background, a unique architectural style that was specific to an area based on the area’s climate, and inside each had a display that taught about some aspect of rural Japanese life over the past 300 years.  Just ask Phoebe about silk worms and spinning silk – she will tell you everything you ever wanted to know.  The Village was really neat, we all really enjoyed it, and we are for sure counting it towards “homeschooling”. 

 

Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village

Takayama has definitely been my favorite part of Japan so far.

Things I love about Japan (week one)
Sep 10th, 2009 by Kate
  • Oh the bullet trains are so awesome.  After I finish this blog post I’m going to send Pres Obama an email and ask him to please add bullet trains to his agenda.  We have been crisscrossing Japan using the trains – between the trains and our Japan rail pass we have total travel liberation!  AND, we have almost even figured out how to get around the train stations.  The magic key – asking for help instead of trying to read the signs ourselves. 
  • CC Lemon – it is the ubiquitous little lemon soda in every vending machine.  Every time we pass a machine with CC (as we affectionately call it) we all scream out CC! and then look around our pockets for 120 yen.  Phoebe has become a CC junkie.  We’re going to have to cut her off here soon.  “BUT” she cries, “it only has 65 calories and the juice of seven whole lemons!”  How can we say not to that…
  • I have become a garden voyeur here in Japan (oh yea, I was one back in the states too, but it has definitely gotten worse since arriving here).  See, the trains run behind the houses and apartment buildings, and so I have a bird’s eye view of all the darling little old Japanese people toiling away in their little garden plots.  These gardens are everywhere.  We have all commented that we can’t believe how people use every square inch of space for planting gardens.   There are beautiful eggplant, tomato, beans of every shape and size (we had 2 foot long green beans for dinner last night – very tasty but very squeaky), and the rice is starting to come in too.  I had never seen rice fields before, and from high above on the trains we can see the people cutting it with blades, bundling it, and hanging it on wooden-pole lean-tos.  So cool.
  •  The toilets, we love the toilets.  It’s not uncommon when we come across a great new toilet to all (well, all the girls) huddle in the stall checking out all the buttons.  Let me explain… the toilets in Japan are either a hole in the ground with a porcelain hole cover (we don’t really like this kind at all, but aren’t as afraid of falling in them as we once were), OR if we are lucky, they are very fancy high-tech western looking toilets with lots and lots of buttons.  Our favorites have motion sensored lid lifters (the lid goes up when you enter the stall) and pre-warmed toilet seats.  They have women’s bidets, men’s bidets, and some even make sounds… like the sound of running water or music.  Some have even combined a sink with the toilet (which I think is ingenious- so environmentally smart)  so that the new clean water that is going to be filling up the toilet tank first comes out of a little tiny facet on the top of the toilet tank so you can wash your hands and that gray water is then used in the toilet after its been hand washing water. 
  •  Japanese marshmallows.  We came across the funniest marshmallow man at the morning market in Takayama.  They are made with egg whites, honey, and sake.  They are puffy white squares and then he browns them on his griddle.  They are SO yummy.  We went to the market every single day and feasted on them.  Best 100 yen I’ve spent all week.
A manly post!!!
Sep 10th, 2009 by Jeff

After checking on the “junk” comments for the blog, I noticed an inadvertent lost comment from my friend Patrick. He had just read my first post and was thankful for the injection of some testosterone to the wells360 blogosphere. In the interest of keeping that flowing, I will now discuss a great BEER discovery! I also have my favorite nephew to thank for part of this discussion (that’s you Jack!). He wanted bottle caps from around the world and I would not deny him that simple request. I have been sampling beer in Canada and Japan and collecting the caps to send back to him. And while all beer is good, during my stay here at the K house hostel near Mt. Fuji, I have found a microbrew that is now climbed to the top of my list – Gotenba Kohgen Beer. I have had a delicious Weizen and now (as I write this) a quite tasty Dunkel! Now I just have to find it when I get home. All my Arizona friends, consider that your assignment! Try to find a little Japan in AZ for me so I can relive the trip with you when I get back over a cold one!

Cheers!!!

Jeff

I SUMMON MY MINIONS!
Sep 9th, 2009 by Tessa
I summon you minions...

I summon you minions...

Pigeon "falconry"

Pigeon "falconry"

What’s the only thing better then a puppy or a school of giant koi bigger then my leg? A FLOCK OF CHEEKY PIDGEONS!

One of the markets we went to was along side a beautiful river. The water was so clear it almost looked like you were gazing into liquid glass. There was  a traditionalstyle,  vermilion bridge stretched across the length of the river. Under the bridge was a School of MASSIVE koi. One of the vendors at the market sold fish food. As we walked over to bye some, I kept my eyes on the ground, marveling at how clean the street was. We bought some food and hurried over to the river. The river was more like a large canal. The sides of it were made of river rock and cement with some grass poking out here and there. The ideal place for pigeons. We stopped at the steep slope and started throwing the small round pellets at the koi. The pigeons on the rocks slowly gathered under us to catch all of the poorly aimed pieces bouncing off of the slope. The foraging pigeons in the market behind us started to close in from the back. We were quickly surrounded on the wide sidewalk, about 10 yards away from the closest stall. Flustered by the pigeons and half flustered by my Mom hollering at them and running away (pigeons and camping without air mattresses are her week points), I started throwing the food as far as I could to get them away. My mom laughed.  ”You know you could probably get them to eat out of you hands!” She said as a joke, but I can never tell so I put some food in my hand and held it out thinking, what the heck! These pigeons have got to be the cleanest pigeons in the world!. Phoebe quickly picked up on it. After a little, I decided to try something cooler. I put the food in my hand and stood up with me hand in the air. Five  pigeons instantly jumped onto my hand and ate right from it.

Nacho Takayama

Inspired…
Sep 6th, 2009 by Kate

One of the great things about traveling is all the wonderful, interesting people you meet.  As we venture around the globe, we have made it our mission to try and stay with local families so we can learn about the cultures we are visiting.  If we stay at hotels and hostels – we’ll just meet other tourists.  So now of course I have to eat my words, as I just met some of the most inspiring people I have ever met in my whole life at a Holiday Inn.

 Flory was sitting next to us at the breakfast buffet at the Narita Airport Holiday Inn.  She was sharply dressed and coiffed, 85 years young, and struck up a conversation with the girls.  She shared with us that she and her husband Phil were…get this… taking a trip around the world!!!!   Oh we talked travel, itineraries, packing (shoes – it’s always about the shoes), washing clothes in sinks, getting taken by taxi drivers – all the things that we never give a second thought to while in the comfort of our regular lives.   Flory and Phil have been to just about every country on the planet – twice – and decided to take this one last extended trip while they were still young enough to do it.  I LOVE THESE PEOPLE!

Phil eventually joined Flory back at the table, he was off using the internet to sure up some travel plans.  He shared more stories of their travel adventures, sported his one-and-only pair of shoes that he brought (show off!), and filled in lots of details to Flory’s stories.  She had briefly mentioned that they had been on some “biking” vacations – HA!  The two of them biked 2,500 miles a year on their vacations for 12 years – IN THEIR 60’s AND 70’s!!!  The last year they did this they were both 75!  Phil said that people in France would get out of their cars and cheer for them.  The deal they made themselves… if they rode less than 50 miles a day, they’d only drink a half a bottle of wine, but if they were over 50 miles – they’d drink the whole bottle.  DID I MENTION THAT I LOVE THESE PEOPLE!

Jeff and the girls had gone back up the room at this point, but I had to know more about this amazing couple.  And as it turned out, Flory and Phil’s travels were just about the least amazing thing about them. 

They were both born in Amsterdam in 1925 – and both of their childhoods were cut short by Hitler’s occupation of the Netherlands.  Flory’s family was taken away early, she spent months in Auschwitz as a young girl, and then was transferred to a factory.  She was liberated by the Russians in 1944.  She was the only survivor of her entire family.  The only one.

Phil was Jewish too, but had blond hair and blue eyes so went undetected for a while longer, and then was hidden away by another family until they were liberated by the Canadians.  His aunt’s family survived, but he was the only survivor of his immediate family. 

Flory and Phil didn’t know each other before the war – they met in medical school in the Netherlands, feel in love, and moved to America after school.  He is a retired ophthalmologist, she is a retired anesthesiologist, they have three kids and have lived in Seattle for over 50 years.  I think that when they get home from this trip they just might sign up for couchsurfing.  We hope that they will come down and visit us in AZ when we get back – as we will have all kinds of travel stories to share with each other.

It’s funny thing, when people hear about our around-the-world adventure they say two things… 1) I would love to do that, but I just never could, and 2) wow, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   I usually just shake my head and smile in response, but not any more.  Now my thoughts will turn to a little old couple, who against all odds overcame the most horrible tragedy and are dragging two little black suitcases around the world one more time. 

***A side note… Jeff’s great Uncle Bernard and great Aunt Dessie also traveled the world well into their late 80’s and their adventurous spirit lives on in us.  We love you both, and Aunt Dessie…  we will be in Australia soon drinking wine and toasting you!

Jeff on Canada Ending and Japan Starting
Sep 6th, 2009 by Jeff

Hello All,

I am finally getting a little time to sit and blog – train from Narita to Nagoya – as both Phoebe and Kate do the ralphing thing when reading or writing while in motion and Tessa has the Kindle. So I get to catch up on my writing.

The last of the Canadian adventures went great. Anne and Kellea were superb hosts in Parksville. Kate already blogged about the sandcastles we saw but didn’t go into the swim in the river. Anne and Kellea took us to an ideal spot to jump in and swim in some of Canada’s clear running waters (clear because it had probably just melted off some glacier – also meaning it was pretty chilly). Tessa, Phoebe and our hosts decided to do a little swimming. Phoebe braved here way into the water a complete trooper, while Tessa figured she might as well get completely wet after falling in most of the way while fording the river. I just wanted to be safe in this swimming adventure, so I decided to act as life guard for the group and stayed on shore and supervise the swim ;-) !

I also really enjoyed getting back together with Kyle and Robyn for another assault on Mount Wells which, as Kate noted, was a big success.

(Continuation of post started in train from Nagoya)

Japan has definitely been interesting, fun and exciting. After a few days in Narita (see Kate’s blog entry), we have made our way to Nagoya and now Takayama. In Narita we decided to challenge ourselves a little and split up in teams to conquer the city. Kate and Tessa went to the Noritake China Museum and Phoebe and I ventured off to the zoo. How does the saying go, “getting there is half the fun”. We all started out together on the train but then broke off in different directions on the subway. Phoebe and I struggled a little finding the correct station, but with a little help from the kind people of Nagoya we found the right line, and were able to purchase tickets at the kiosk. That was harder than I thought it would be. I found the button that said English and got the directions, it basically read as follows on one simple screen:

1. Get fare from chart
2. Insert Money
3. Get ticket

I figured out the fare on the chart and could insert the money, but had no idea which button to push to get the ticket, whether I had to insert the money before or after I selected the route (or if I had to select a route at all).  Once again Karma sent along a Japanese helper to assist the ignorant and befuddled American. With a quick lesson, we were on our way with the proper tickets.

We spent a couple of fun hours at the zoo and added quite a few creatures to the critter count (I will let Phoebe add to the list). I think my favorites were the various asian bears (Japanese brown, Japanese black, Malaysian Sun and the Sloth bear) all quite impressive and the up close look at the zoo made me glad we saw our Canadian bear from the car.

We are now in Takayama at a great hostel (J-Hoppers) and have a cool traditional Japanese room with futons for sleeping. We also did a little touring of the town. I have discovered that they have a microbrewery here and a couple of sake breweries that offer tastings (I think I’m going to try that out when the girls go to do the traditional Japanese bath thing)!

Sayanora for now,

Jeff

Narita, Japan
Sep 5th, 2009 by Kate
Narita Temple (find Phoebe & Tessa!)

Narita Temple (find Phoebe & Tessa!)

The flight over the pond was great, eleven hours in first class on American Airlines was a bit of heaven (there is something about hot fudge sundaes at 40,000 feet that can’t be beat!).  A quick shout out to Pappy Wells for 35+ years at AA that affords us standby tickets – thank you SO much, it was a great way to start out our overseas adventure!

We are 16 hours ahead of Arizona time (Tess keeps track so she can chat with her buddies when they get home from school) and the jetlag wasn’t bad except that for the first three days we were up-and-at-em at 2am Japan time!!!  We spent two nights and a day in Narita getting ourselves organized and managed to find a neat park with a huge Temple, a mall, and the best Ramen we have ever had in our lives.

I say “managed” because in spite of the best efforts of our bus driver and a few nice Japanese people who tried their hardest to get us going in the right direction, we still managed to get ourselves lost on the way to the Temple and on the way back.  Yes, we indeed had a detailed map (not to mention that the Temple was on a huge hill in the middle of town right in front of us) but we ended up missing the beautiful meandering entrance and instead hiked straight up the back side of the hill and through the service entrance (never really thought about a Temple having a service entrance, but they do).  Of course we ended up in the same place as everyone else, just took a really different path.  I’m sure there is some wise Buddhist saying about “taking the other path”, but since we don’t know it, we’re using the whole hike as fodder for endlessly teasing our navigator Jeff.

We got equally lost on our way back to the bus, but the happy ending to that was that we stumbled upon a delicious smelling little ramen restaurant.  Who ever knew that ramen could be so tasty!  There were 10 seats in the place, six at a counter and a table for four.  It was a tiny and dark little place,  but had cool modern hanging lights and a young, smiling cook. We sat down and had no idea how or what to order (we didn’t even know it was a ramen place at first) so looked up in our phase book “please make us something good to eat” and he whipped up 4 steaming bowls of noodle with pork and mushrooms.  When the bowls first arrived the noodles were al dente, and continued cooking in the broth that was salty and creamy and earth and delicious.  Big YUM.

J-A-P-A-N! YAY!
Sep 2nd, 2009 by Tessa

I walked out of the airport. It looked like any other street that one would walk on, with a whole lot of busses and cars and what-not. But as I walked down the road to our bus stop it occured to me that we were in Japan. The sky was Japanese, the ground was Japanese, the signs were Japanese the ABC gum on the side walk was Japanese ABC gum! It can all be summarised in a couple words.

“Wow, we’re in Japan….”

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