Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Hunt for Pokémon

Kai is still very much into playing Pokémon GO, but hadn't had as much chance to catch Pokémon since we returned from Japan. In Pokémon GO, the most Pokémon are found in urban areas (which is why we found so many in Tokyo) whereas we live in the suburbs. So, on this last week of summer break, we thought it would be fun if my wife brought Kai to downtown Chicago where he and I could go hunting for Pokémon after I got off work.

They came down late Wednesday afternoon, and I met them in Millennium Park, not far from my office.

It was a hot day, and after walking from the train station catching some Pokémon along the way, Kai was enjoying a very refreshing splash in The Crown Fountain.

Though calling it a "splash" is a dramatic understatement. Kai enjoyed standing directly under the pouring water...

...which meant that he got drenched. He loved it!

After the splashing, I had planned that we would walk around and look for more Pokémon, but it started to rain severely. Not that Kai would mind as he was already soaking wet, but my wife and I wanted to get indoors.

We found refuge at the Shake Shack, and had dinner. My wife and I had burgers while Kai had a hot dog, and we all had their famous milk shakes. Though when it comes to food, I often dig right in to eat and forget to take the picture until there's hardly any food left on the table. :)

The rain thankfully ended just as we finished eating, so we were able to walk to the train station and catch a few more Pokémon along the way. But we didn't catch as many as we had hoped.

So, today, I took Kai back downtown for the hunt for more Pokémon. This time we went to Chicago's Museum Campus along the shores of Lake Michigan.

We parked near Soldier Field.

We walked by the Field Museum.

And on to the Shedd Aquarium.

We were catching Pokémon all along the way as we walked.

It was a fabulous day, sunny with pleasant temperatures in the low 70s. We had a great view of the beautiful Chicago skyline.

While Kai had great fun catching a lot of Pokémon. We found the most near the Adler Planetarium.

We caught so many Pokémon that Kai ran out of Poké balls, which are needed to catch the Pokémon.

We had lunch in the park before heading back home. Lunch was Chicago hot dogs, of course.

It was a really nice way to spend a stress-free Sunday.

School starts on Tuesday. Back to reality.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016 Japan Vacation, Day 16: Our Last Day

Our last day in Japan was the hottest. The temperature reached 90 degrees with high humidity. It was reminiscent of the sweltering heat we experienced regularly the last time we came to Japan two years ago. We were very thankful that it wasn't this hot for most of our stay this time.

My wife and I walked around the neighborhood one last time. We stopped at a Starbucks for a Crushed Orange Frappuccino to cool off. (Do they even have that flavor here in the U.S.?)

Kai stayed behind with his grandparents to play with his Pokémon plushies.

After lunch, it was time to head for the airport. We said goodbye to Baba at the apartment.

My father-in-law drove us to Narita Airport. Kai gave Jiji a heartfelt hug goodbye.

Our return flight was uneventful. We made it home safely and on time. And now we're very tired, but have had an opportunity to begin to reflect on this wonderful vacation.

Even though this was my fourth visit to Japan, we visited many places this time that I had never been to before and had many new experiences. My father-in-law in particular did so much to make our trip enjoyable, from making hotel and restaurant reservations before we departed for Japan to buying tickets to the Yokohama baseball game and Ghibli Museum; from driving us around Hokkaido and to Nikko, to looking after our every need. My mother-in-law did our laundry and made sure she had snacks and beverages for us. We are very grateful for everything that Jiji and Baba did for us, and are so happy that we could spend such quality time with them.

As my blogging friend Shiroi commented yesterday, I think our leaving was hardest for Kai's grandparents. Living so far away, we just don't get to see them very often. But Kai was already thinking ahead to our next visit. On our last night in Tokyo, Kai told us that he wants to come back for the 2020 Olympics. I think we'll likely make a return visit before then. Though the future is not guaranteed, we hope to come back and have another great visit with Kai's grandparents.

Kai's initial impressions of this trip may be shaped by the Pokémon he caught playing Pokémon Go, or the new plushies he was able to get at the Pokémon Center through his grandparents' gift cards. But I hope that longer term, what will remain are memories of the places that we went, and, more importantly, the love he received from his grandparents. Those are the wonderful memories that I'd like to think will live on with all of us.

Friday, August 5, 2016

2016 Japan Vacation, Day 15: Back to Tokyo

We had a leisurely morning at our hotel in Nikko. We had a family photo taken in the lobby before we left.

My wife was wearing a new outfit she had gotten in Japan, and Kai noticed. "Mom, I never saw you look so beautiful before." He is such a sweet talker. :)

We then made the drive back to Tokyo, stopping at a travel plaza for a potty break. It was the hottest day since we arrived in Japan so Kai welcomed the relief from the fan that blew a cool mist.

We later stopped for lunch. Kai had beef curry rice.

My father-in-law and wife had cold noodles.

Our destination for the afternoon was the Ghibli Museum. This is the museum of Studio Ghibli, which is known for the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Photos are not permitted inside the museum, but we took a few pictures outside.

Miyazaki's films are enjoyed by children, but have depth, artistry, and adult themes that make the films appealing for grownups. Similarly, the museum was a delight for kids, but adult fans would enjoy seeing the original artwork from creating the films.

In the evening, we had our last dinner in Japan at Zauo, a restaurant where you catch your own dinner. They have a huge tank filled with fish. You grab a pole and fish!

Here's Kai trying his hand at fishing.

My wife caught our first fish, a red snapper.

Here's Kai pulling one up.

A restaurant worker takes the fish and you tell them how you'd like it prepared - sashimi, grilled, or deep fried.

Jiji tried to catch a lobster.

It took awhile, but he was successful!

Kai caught another fish, a flounder.

After a successful catch, they bang the drum in honor of the fisherman.

Here they are honoring Kai's catch.

The drum is quite loud and it bothered Kai when we were first starting to fish, but he seemed to adjust once we started to catch fish.

And then it was time to eat!

We had the fish prepared as sashimi, grilled, and fried. Here's the sashimi.

I liked the grilled fish the best, but this place as much about the experience as it is about the food. It was a fun final dinner in Japan.

It has been a great two weeks, and it will soon be time to leave. It's bittersweet when you come to the end of a vacation; you're sad that it is over and to have to say goodbye, but still filled with joy from all the good times we had.

See you back home.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 Japan Vacation, Days 13-14: Nikko

After our late night return from Yokohama, we slept in a bit later and relaxed in the morning before heading out late morning. We were headed to Nikko, a beautiful area about a two-hour drive north of Tokyo.

Our hotel had a view of the mountains and the river that ran below.

It was cloudy, and storms were threatening. When the hotel made the decision to close the outdoor pool, Kai was very upset. This would be one of the few hotels we were staying at on this trip that had a swimming pool. As before, Kai did not take the disappointment very well.

Later in the afternoon, we did use the outdoor four (public bath). I enjoyed the view of the mountains and Kai was fine, but I don't think it was as fun for him as the pool would have been.

After the ofuro, we dressed in our yakuza (casual summer kimono). Mom helped Kai with his obi (sash).

At various places on our vacation, we've taken photos of the three of us for possible use on our holiday cards. The following may be a strong candidate.

Then it was time for dinner. Our hotel had a buffet dinner that rivals one we had in Beppu two years ago the last time we were in Japan.

There was a wide selection of food that spanned Japanese, Chinese, and western food. My wife had sushi, other Japanese dishes, and steak.

My father-in-law had the crab legs, among other things.

Kai gave the thumbs up to shrimp tempura, boiled shrimp, crab legs, and potatoes.

Here is a photo of my dessert plate.

The next morning, we drove to Nikko National Park. Our first destination there was Kegon Falls.

An elevator takes you down to where you can get a good view of the falls. The elevator itself is interesting as the shaft was cut directly into the mountain. When you get off the elevator, you have to walk through a cave-like tunnel that is very cool compared to the outside temperature. At the end of the tunnel, you come out to the platform where you view the falls.

The area is known to have wild monkeys, though we did not see any. The souvenir stands sell all sorts of things with monkeys on them, including this monkey's butt candy. Funny, I didn't find that to be very appetizing.

The other place we went to was Tosho-gu, one of the most famous and lavish shrines in Japan. The shrine complex actually consists of more than a dozen buildings in a beautiful forest setting.

Here we are at the Ishidorii, stone tori gate at the entrance.

The Shinkyusha stable is for the shrine’s sacred horses. There is a frieze of eight panels of carvings of monkeys running around the building, depicting the lives of ordinary people. Monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses since ancient times.

The frieze are currently being renovated so we saw a recreation of the famous “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” carving of three monkeys.

The omizuya is used to purify body and mind by washing one’s hands and rinsing out one’s mouth before worshiping the enshrined deity.

Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat) is designated as a National Treasure. Traditionally attributed to the master carver Hidari Jingorou, this carving of a cat dozing while surrounded by peonies and bathed in sunlight is also said to be a depiction of nikko (sunlight).

Karamon Gate a also a National Treasure. The entire gate is painted with a white powder chalk. It features intricate carvings of Kyoyu and Soho (legendary Chinese sages), an audience with the emperor, and other scenes.

The trees throughout are magnificently tall and statuesque.

After that, we rushed back to the hotel to make sure we got to go to the pool. Rain was forecasted for later in the day, and we didn't want to disappoint Kai again.

After the pool time, we went to Saru Gundan where we saw a comic show featuring trained monkeys. No photographs were permitted during the show, but we saw a couple of the monkeys afterward.

After that, we went to Tobu World Square, an outdoor park/museum that has reproductions of 102 world-famous buildings on the 1/25 scale, including 45 World Heritage Sites.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the reproductions, and it was fun seeing places we had been to before, including several that we saw on this vacation, as well as places we would love to see someday.

Here's St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

And this is Kiyomizu-dera, the beautiful Buddhist temple in Kyoto.

For dinner, we again had the spectacular buffet at the hotel. I had sashimi, crab legs, and steak. Kai had beef curry.

And we had plenty of desserts. Among mine were three different flavors of ice cream. I wanted to try flavor I cannot get back home so I had tomato, pumpkin, and orange.

Our vacation is rapidly coming to an end. Tomorrow we will leave Nikko and return to Tokyo for the final couple of days.

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