Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Luggage Locker Vacation

So my parents came to Japan for a week last week and we had a grand ol’ time. We started off in Fukuoka, where we took the ferry to Ojika. The ferry is just a big open room basically, where you sleep on the floor, surrounded by other people doing the exact same thing. It`s not exactly the epitome of comfort and the stench of cigarette smoke is strong. As my dad described it, "it`s like a giant neighborhood sleepover party." You get enough floor space to lay down and that`s about it. I fell asleep with a family next to me and I woke up with one of the children huddled up at my feet. Thankfully, the mother woke up, grabbed the child’s leg and dragged her back over to her allotted floor space. Sleeping in such conditions is difficult for people like me, who tend to flail and thrash in their sleep. Whenever I wake up, I am almost always partially mummified by my sheets (minus the embalming).

"Oh, hey there! Just hanging out outside the Ojika post office."

My parents really enjoyed Ojika – meeting my friends and students, and walking around and seeing the sites of the island when it wasn’t raining. I took them on a death march because we didn't have a car. The weather wasn’t ideal and regrettably, we didn`t get to see the Pot Hole. The Pot Hole is a well-known landmark on the island, where a stone ball was formed in a hole on the coast by crashing waves. It`s about as exciting as it sounds. We went to the high school sports practices, where we dealt out Reese’s and after a mishap with a friend, we had to advise them to remove the dark brown paper before consuming the peanut butter cup. Also, my mom and I hit a soft tennis ball back and forth, much to the amusement of the girls tennis team. Whenever I have gone to sports practices, I am still not used to everyone turning and collectively bowing in my direction. I prefer to be covert in my arrival.

During the march, near the public track and field/baseball grounds.

After Ojika, we headed to Kyoto and saw Kiyomizu-dera (a temple), the Golden Pavillion, Nijo Castle, Fushimi Inari and Arashiyama’s monkey mountain. How it works is you climb up a really steep mountain and pretend to not look winded. The monkeys roam freely close to the top of the mountain. When you finally wheeze your way to the top, you go into a screened in room where they sell apples, bananas and peanuts to feed the monkeys, who all hang onto the chain-link fence separating monkey from man. So it`s basically like a reverse zoo. I went and visited the monkeys last year with my sister but I just couldn`t get enough of their creepy little human-like hands reaching out for apple bits. My favorite part was when three monkeys were hanging on the fence with their hands outstretched. One monkey was being particularly impatient and crying out loudly when I heard my mother say to the monkey “no, you`re naughty. I am not giving you any!” The monkey then proceeded to turn around and attempt to defecate on the other two patient monkeys. Revenge, a dish not served so great while hanging from a chain-link fence and gravity is working against your favor.

One of the patient monkeys.

After Kyoto, we went to Osaka and visited the aquarium. Words of advice - never visit the Osaka Aquarium during very busy tourist times. It's probably the only time and place I ever see people being outright rude to each other, shoving and pushing their way past each other. The aquarium is designed to flow downward so that people walk past tanks and take in the sea creatures. However, this is lost on the crowds that tend to swarm toward the glass windows in large groups so that very few people can enjoy viewing the animals. They even crowded together to take pictures of small crabs, something I can see on this island. Those crabs probably now have a very elevated sense of self-worth. Even my mom was bitten by the photo-taking bug, with my dad dubbing her "Charlene Lynum, Marine Photographer."

After Osaka, we headed to Hiroshima, where we engaged in a battle of epic proportions for luggage lockers to leave our crap in while we walked around. It was only one battle in the constant war during our trip in finding suitable and open luggage lockers. Not only was it a matter of finding lockers but also finding lockers to fit all of our luggage and the size of our luggage. Luggage lockers are a serious business at Japanese travel hubs during heavy tourism times. As soon as you take your stuff out of one, people literally run for the now empty locker. We spent about an hour in Hiroshima station before eventually figuring out how to safely ditch our luggage. We spent a few hours at the Peace Park, where they were having the 2012 Hiroshima Flower Festival. I was happy that my parents got to see some Yosakoi dances at the festival while we were there.

The grounds of the Peace Park, decorated with flowers and giant paper cranes for the Flower Festival.

A Yosakoi dance group that was pretty impressive. Anything that involves back-flips is always impressive to me.

I loved these metal hair decorations!

After we had finished our crazy, fast-paced trip around Japan, we ended up again back in Fukuoka the night before my parents flew back out. We went out and consumed an authentic Japanese dish for our last meal together, tacos with chips and salsa. I had a really great time with the parents and it was great to see them after so much time apart. They seemed to enjoy themselves, minus the sitting and sleeping on the floor. It's never easy to say goodbye to family at security gates at airports but I can rest assured because I will see them again in July when I return home. I'm hoping to return home to find a fabulous photo album full of trip pictures, two-thirds of which will be of seals and jellyfish.

"Go, go, go!" - It was raining and this was a few seconds sans umbrella and people walking through the shot.

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