[Sunday 24th March 2013]
My last day in Hiroshima of this trip as I'd be heading on to Tokyo the next morning, and working in the office there for the final week. Chie and Erika would be joining me a few days later.
Had a quiet morning in today, both Chie's Mum and Dad went out in the morning to classes - Chie's Mum to a hula dancing class, and Chie's Dad to a soba noodle making class. We continued with Erika's weaning, and today gave her some mashed up banana to eat. She pulled a bit of a funny face with the first mouthful, but after that seemed to quite like it.
For lunch we ate the fruits of Chie's Dad's labour. A typical way to serve soba is cold - boiled first, then cooled - and dipped in a bonito stock based sauce (in case you forgot we were in Japan) with possibly some chopped spring onions. When I've had them in the past I've substituted soy sauce for the bonito stock, which is just too salty really. So today Chie made a vegetarian version of the dipping sauce, with a bit of kombu stock, some soy sauce, and some mirin. I'd always been a bit take-it-or-leave-it about soba noodles in the past, if I'm honest, but today as a combination of having really fresh, lovingly handmade noodles, and the right kind of sauce, I actually really enjoyed them.
In the afternoon we headed out to Aeon Mall, to do a quick bit of shopping (I bought a couple of 100 yen bow ties) and to meet up for coffee with Chie's friend Nagi-san.
We popped back to the flat briefly after that to say a quick hello to Chie's aunt and uncle, Naoko-san and Kazuyoshi-san, who had popped in for a quick visit. Like last time we met them, Erika started crying every time Kazuyoshi-san looked at her, which was a little odd as he looks quite similar to Chie's Dad, and I think has a rather gentle, sympathetic sort of a face. I suspect the reason may actually be Naoko-san, who is lovely, but also somewhat highly strung, and made a big deal about it, and was hiding Kazuyoshi-san's face etc. I'm sure by the next time Erika meets them she'll have got over whatever it was.
In the evening we went to Sushi-Tei for dinner - this has become something of a tradition pretty much every time we visit Chie's parents in Hiroshima. I wasn't sure if we'd go this time, as people don't tend to take babies out to restaurants so much in Japan, but Chie's parents seemed undeterred, and so we went regardless. Surprisingly, for a cuisine which is so reliant on freshness and delicate flavors, sushi places can often be quite smoky, but fortunately Sushi-Tei has a no smoking policy at the weekends. I expect that actually means they're a bit more tolerant of kids at the weekend too. We needn't have worried anyway - Erika was very well behaved throughout, and slept through some of the meal.
I ate all the usual things I eat here - the umibudou (sea grapes), ha-wasabi (leaves from the wasabi plant) and so on. The food was good as always, but the mood was perhaps a little subdued. Maybe it was partly just because the medication Chie's Dad is taking at the moment means he can't drink, but I think it was also partly because our time in Japan - for this trip at least - was coming to an end. Although Chie and Erika were staying on in Hiroshima for a few more days, and actually Chie's parents would be coming to Tokyo to see us off too, nonetheless my departure is a reminder that there's only a week left.
I think it's bound to be a bit more difficult than it was before, now that Erika has arrived, that my family are on one continent and Chie's family are on another. Although Chie's Mum had already spent a few weeks with Erika in England after she was born, this trip was Chie's Dad's first time to meet Erika, and he has surprised us all by how involved he's been with Erika since she's been here. Not just playing with her, but pushing the buggy, carrying her in the sling to help her get to sleep, and giving her baths. I can't help but feel a sense of guilt that by going back to England this time we're depriving Chie's parents of their granddaughter, for a while at least.
Well at a minimum I think we're going to have to come to Japan more often from now on - I think the last gap between visits had been 18 months, which is pretty much an eternity in baby terms. Hopefully we can persuade Chie's parents - both of them this time - to come to England really soon too.
[Saturday 23rd March 2013]
Today we went for a day trip to Okayama, which would usually be about a 45 minute journey by shinkansen from Hiroshima, but we took the slower/cheaper "kodama" shinkasen which was closer to an hour-and-a-half. This was Erika's first time to be on a shinkansen - and actually the only opportunity she'd get on this trip, Chie had decided it would be easier for them to take domestic flights between Hiroshima and Tokyo.
On arrival we headed into the centre of Okayama, for lunch at a tofu restaurant called Okabe. I'd found it by searching Google Maps for "vegetarian okayama" - and this was the only result. Whilst not entirely vegetarian (as always in Japan the ubiquitous katsuodashi - bonito stock - was ever present) with a bit of negotiation we were able to order a slightly modified version of one of their set meals for me. Their assuage - deep fried tofu - was probably some of the best I've ever had - fried to order, and really fresh and light tasting. At the same time though I really didn't want to eat any more fried food - it seems kind of unavoidable for me in Japan.
We then met up with Chie's friend Tetsu at the station, and went back to his flat, where we'd spent the remainder of the afternoon. Tetsu is a friend of Chie's from her university days, who, coincidentally, had a baby around the same time as Erika. So Erika spent some of the afternoon getting to know Shin-chan - it's fascinating how babies seem so interested in other babies. It's probably a relief after a while to meet another person who isn't a giant.
Alas more fried food ensued - Tetsu's wife Kanako had very kindly prepared a dish of kara-age style koyadofu just for me. Again it was delicious and of course I couldn't refuse it because it had been made specially, but I decided after that I was going to make a concerted effort to not eat anything else fried for the rest of the time I was in Japan.
We were also joined by Hiroshi during the afternoon, another friend of Chie's from university, who happens to live very close to Tetsu. He has two kids too, although they're a bit more grown up already (I think the eldest is six) and he'd decided to leave them with their Mum this afternoon.
We left around 8, and on the way back to Hiroshima had a whole carriage on the shinkansen to ourselves - I've never seen it so quiet. Consequently we took a lot of silly pictures. I particularly like the one of Erika poking her head up above one of the seats, a few rows of seats away.
[Friday 22nd March 2013]
We were out for most of the daytime with Chie's Dad today - around Iwakuni, in the neighbouring prefecture of Yamaguchi.
Our first stop was a famous restaurant in the mountains above Iwankuni called "Sanzoku" which translates as "bandits". Chie and her family used to come here when she was a kid, and she was really keen to take me and Erika here. To call it just a restaurant perhaps sells it a bit short - it's rather a sprawling complex, with an emphasis on outdoor dining - almost a theme park really. They had huge decorations up for girl's day and boy's day (the 3rd of March and the 5th of May respectively) which bordered on the gaudy, but that all added to the charm. We sat outside, beneath a waterfall, and had a light lunch. Whilst there wasn't much of interest to vegetarians on the menu, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the place.
After lunch, we headed to the famous kintaikyo bridge, which I've been to a couple of times before (and, as you may have noticed, is used in the logo for this blog). Perhaps a tad disappointing on this visit, as the weather was quite overcast, and we'd hoped for the cherry blossoms to be slightly more in bloom than they actually were.
We drove back straight into the centre of Hiroshima, as we had plans to meet Chie's aunt Chikako-san for dinner at 6pm. We were also joined by Chie's cousin Ryo-chan, and her two kids - so Erika had a chance to meet some more of her second cousins. We ate at Andersen, the headquarters of a pan-ya (bakery) chain which is present all over Japan, but originated in Hiroshima. On the second floor they have a restaurant where they do an all-you-can-eat plan, which was particularly good as all the food was cooked fresh to order. It was mostly Western style food, which I found quite welcoming, as my stomach was still a bit unsettled from the unpleasantness earlier this week, and I was glad of some familiar comfort food.
At Andersen, if it's your birthday month, they gave you a special sticker, a goodie bag to take home, and also a flautist came to play happy birthday to our table. Interestingly it seemed like there was a birthday on every table.
[Thursday 21st March 2013]
We resumed Erika's weaning schedule this morning, having taken a break the last few days owing to the vomiting bug. We tried out a sort of instant rice mush we'd bought in England, which she didn't seem particularly a fan of. For some time now, as babies do, she's been in the habit of gnawing on plastic things. So instinctively when a spoon is near her mouth she's quite willing to give it a bit of a chew, but since we've started weaning, the first spoon which actually has food on it seems to elicit a look of surprise and dismay, as though that wasn't what she thought she'd signed up for.
In the early afternoon, we went over to Chie's Grandmother's house, to take some pictures of Erika in the Moriwaki family's baby kimono. It's a Japanese tradition to buy a child size kimono (it's actually kind of huge on a baby) and take pictures of your baby/child in it at various stages of development - I think Chie's Mum said the first picture the baby isn't really expected to actually wear it, it's just sort of draped over them or something. Anyway, we dressed Erika in it even though it was far too big, and took some pictures in the back garden, which looks very traditionally Japanese. Erika was a little grumpy today so she isn't really smiling in any of the pictures, but probably that sort of stoic expression is appropriate for this kind of traditional Japanese portrait, and that aside I think we got some nice shots.
Later on in the afternoon we headed out again to Hijayama park, which is sort of up on a hill above the centre of Hiroshima, to have another look at how the cherry blossoms were coming on. Again the trees were partly in bloom, but not yet enough to tempt any Japanese people out for a hanami.
The timing probably ended up a bit unfortunate on this trip - the cherry blossoms were going to be later in Hiroshima than in Tokyo this year (despite Hiroshima being slightly further South), and by the time they were in full bloom in Hiroshima I'd be in Tokyo, where they'd already be a bit past their best.
We went back home from Hiyajama by way of Ujina, Hiroshima's port, where there's a little street of former warehouses which have been converted into "lifestyle shops". We bought Erika another toy there - one of those sets of stacking cups.
In the evening Chie's Mum made harumaki (spring rolls) for dinner - they were delicious, but this kind of fried food was probably not the best thing to eat when my stomach was still recovering, and consequently I had a very interrupted night's sleep.
[Wednesday 20th March 2013]
I felt much better this morning, and by contrast with yesterday was filled with a kind of joie de vivre that I think you can only really achieve the day after a bout of feverish vomitting.
Went out for a walk with Chie's Dad and Erika in the morning, around a nearby park, to see the first bloomings of the cherry trees. Erika slept throughout so didn't really get to see any of it. Chie's Dad mentioned a Japanese proverb during the walk which translates as "after the rain, the bamboo grows more quickly", which seemed apt on a number of levels - in the immediate term my current state of recovering from a quite unpleasant bout of illness, and in a slightly broader sense the current churn at work, which has been constantly playing on my mind throughout this time off.
Today was also the spring equinox, which in a self indulgent and probably quite nauseating way I feel compelled to say lent an added poignance to anything and everything. It all added up to the sort of scenario in which people decide it appropriate to write haiku. Fortunately I managed to stop short of that.
Had yaki soba for lunch - the first proper food (apart from the one-and-a-bit bowls of rice porridge yesterday) since Sunday evening.
Later on in the afternoon we popped out for a bit to meet a friend of Chie's and her Mum, who has since become a friend of Chie's Mum. We were going to go to a coffee place, but it was full, so instead we went to a restaurant near where Chie's Grandma lives, which has often caught my attention because it has a waterwheel outside.
[Tuesday 19th March 2013]
Almost exactly 24 hours on from Erika, at around 3am I woke up, and then embarked on a course of several hours of vomitting. This was not a great deal of fun. I haven't been sick through illness since I was a kid, as far as I can remember - the only times I've ever thrown up in my adult life have been on the occasions that I've had too much to drink. As I'm sure you can imagine such occasions are extremely rare.
By 8am or so I stopped throwing up, but then felt really awful for the rest of the day - feverish and exhausted. I just about managed to have a shower in the afternoon, but other than that was pretty much bedridden all day.
Reassuringly Erika seemed completely fine already by today, and Chie impressively didn't seem to have caught the bug.
I managed half a bowl of okayu (rice porridge - what you typically eat in Japan when you're poorly) for lunch, and then forced down a full bowl for dinner, even though I had very little appetite. I also took a paracetamol which helped the fever a bit. Still felt drained for the rest of the evening, but had the impression I was on the mend.
[Monday 18th March 2013]
In the middle of the night Erika woke up for a feed, after which she threw it all back up again. From then on she threw up every time she drank anything, even water.
We were naturally a bit concerned, so we took her to a doctor in the morning. In Japan the health system is quite different, quite often instead of going to see a GP you just go direct to a specialist, and there are pediatricians who you can have a walk-in appointment with. He said it was possibly gastroenteritis, possible norovirus, possibly rotavirus. There wasn't any point in determining which as the treatment would be the same in all those cases.
They gave us some medicine and some advice on helping her to get rehydrated. So we then spent the rest of the day indoors tending to Erika. She actually didn't throw up again after coming back from the doctor - so either the medicine work or the vomiting had already ran its course by then. Surprisingly she actually looked relatively well too - even when she'd been throwing up she had a look on her face which was sort of "oh, what happened there?" rather than looking like she was in pain.
On doctors orders we just gave her the rehydration fluids throughout the daytime, and eventually later on in the evening gave her a small amount of milk - and she seemed fine with that.
I'd started to feel a bit funny today, although maybe it was as much to do with worrying about Erika than anything else. Either way I'd lost my appetite, and didn't actually eat anything all day. Somehow I thought if I didn't eat I wouldn't get ill, but it turned out that was of no use at all...
[Sunday 17th March 2013]
Headed into the centre of Hiroshima around 3pm by train and tram. We didn't really have anything particular to do, so just wandered round the shops a bit, then eventually found an izakaya for a quick pre-dinner drink, before eventually going for dinner at an Indian restaurant called Nanak.
Chie's Mum had seemingly come down with the same bug today, and spent a lot of the day in bed. So we were in two minds whether we should perhaps try and find a hotel or something for tonight, to try and prevent the seemingly inevitable likelihood that we'd catch it too. In the end though we decided we'd probably already been exposed to the virus by now, and if we were going to develop the symptoms it'd probably be better to deal with it in familiar surrounds rather than a strange hotel.
[Saturday 16th March 2013]
Chie's Dad went to see the doctor in the morning, they thought it was probably gastroenteritis.
So far at least the rest of us felt OK, so Chie, Erika and I went for an afternoon out to "Kure Portopia". I'd seen this from the ferry on the way to Matsuyama last week, and it had caught my attention as the buildings looked very non-Japanese. Apparently it was originally a kind of theme park, which went out of business, and was instead bought by the local council and turned into a sort of public park. There wasn't really a huge amount there, but there were a few shops, a pottery market, and if nothing else some nice sea views. Oh and some kind of cosplay event was going on.
[Friday 15th March 2013]
Spent the morning at Chie's parents place, drinking tea and eating various sweet things - including my birthday cake, a Baumkuchen. Chie gave me a rather nice pair of Lock and Co. cufflinks which I was very pleased with.
For lunch we went to a pizza place I'd found using the thing I work on - called Pizzariva. It was fairly authentic, and I think they'd won some awards.
After that we went to Shukkeien gardens, as I thought it might be nice to take some pictures on my birthday with Erika with some nice scenery - especially as she was wearing her Liberty dress. As it happened though she decided to have a nap instead, so we just rather awkwardly pushed her buggy through the little paths, carried it up and down steps, and over the tiny little slighty nerve wracking bridges. Still, it was quite picture-skew even though the cherry blossoms weren't quite in bloom yet - at least the plum trees were flowering.
Chie, Erika and I went back to Aeon Mall again later on in the afternoon so Chie could do a bit more shopping, and walked back from there by way of Yamaya, the discount booze shop, where I picked up a bottle of knock off Campari and a tiny bottle of prosecco.
Things took a bit of a turn for the worse in the evening, Chie's Dad had had a bit of a stomach ache in the afternoon, and by the evening was quite dramatically sick. This was something of a glimpse of what we had in store for the next few days...
[Thursday 14th March 2013]
Chie's Mum went out to get her hair cut today, and the rest of us went off to "Aeon Mall" (formerly known as Diamond City) - the big shopping centre near where Chie's parents live. Chie rather likes it here. Chie's Dad came with us and we actually walked both ways. On the way there we stopped off at the Post Office, to open Erika's first bank account - lots of relatives have given us cash presents and Chie wanted to pay it into a Japanese bank account.
We had lunch in he food court in Aeon Mall. It was a bit tough to find anything vegetarian there - I ended up having some cold soba noodles (yes the were meant to be cold) which were a bit boring but I suppose they filled a hole.
After that our shopping mainly consisted of wandering around "Babies R Us" looking for things for Erika - we picked up a bath toy (a sort of duck with a chime in it) and also a "jinbei" - a type of Japanese costume which is a bit like a yukata but shorter, and comes with shorts. Here's a video of Erika with her new toy:
[Wednesday 13th March 2013]
Went into the centre of Hiroshima for lunch with Chie's friend Manachan. We went to a kind of vegetable themed restaurant, where the highlight was a salad bar with some quite interesting / unusual vegetables on it. In particular something which may have been called "ice plant" and had a salty flavour, with sort of a glazed surface to the leaves.
In the afternoon Chie's Dad had a hospital appointment. Chie wanted to go with him, so I looked after Erika for a bit.
In the evening we had temaki (DIY) sushi for dinner.
[Tuesday 12th March 2013]
Erika had her first couple of spoonfuls of solid food this morning - being in Japan it was rice porridge. She didn't seem to make any fuss over it particularly, she's been a fan of putting plastic things in her mouth and gnawing on them for a while now, it just so happened this spoon had some food on it. Although she was a bit perplexed as to why four people were simultaneously taking pictures of her.
Chie's parents took Yuka to the station around midday, as she was heading back to Tokyo today. Chie, Erika and I stayed behind, and fended for ourselves for lunch - we walked to a nearby supermarket and bought some spaghetti and pasta sauce. I found myself missing Western food at this point.
In the afternoon we went to visit some of Chie's Mum's side of the family. Her Grandfather on that side has been in hospital for some time now and is very frail. He was fast asleep when we visited and we couldn't get him to wake up, which was a bit of a shame. Still, we'll be in Hiroshima for a while so we have more opportunities to visit.
Next we went to see Chie's Grandmother at her house, who picked some vegetables from the garden from us.
In the evening we had curry for dinner, and gave Chie's Mum a (bit of a) rest for a change, so Chie cooked.
[Monday 11th March 2013]
Day two of our trip to Dogo Onsen and Matsuyama.
We had breakfast at the hotel (a "baikingu" which is Japanese English for a self service eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet), then Hirofumi-san, Erika and I walked down to the Dogo Onsen centre to give the girls a bit more time to get ready. After meeting up again at the Dogo Onsen building, we went for a short tour around the inside, to see the special room used by the Emperor for bathing when he visits Dogo - I think I head them say this is the only onsen which has one of these, which says something about its status and fame. I was surprised by how narrow and steep one of the staircases apparently used by the Emperor was - apparently this was partly for security purposes(?!).
Next we got on the "Botchan" train into the centre of Matsuyama proper. This had been replaced by a replica with a diesel engine now, but I think the original was one of the very first steam trains in Japan. It's interesting that steam trains were first used in the UK for freight, and passengers were something of an afterthought - whereas right from the word go in Japan they were about tourism. This may partly explain the Japanese affection for trains. That or the fact they actually run on time.
Just before lunch we went for a walk up the hill to Matsuyama castle. The sun had really come out by this point, and I managed to get some nice pictures of the castle, the blue sky, and some of the early blossoming trees in the grounds (again, not yet sakura / cherry blossom).
The Moriwakis had lunch at a local udon place (udon is a speciality of Shikoku) whilst I went for a not particularly fruitful walk to try and find something to eat. Then we all got in a taxi and headed for the ferry port.
The ferry on the way back to Hiroshima was more crowded than it had been on the way there, and seemed even more boroi. So it wasn't really as pleasant as the outward journey had been, but at least the weather had improved so I was able to take some slightly nicer pictures.
Back in Hiroshima in the evening we had okonomiyaki for dinner, made as a joint effort by Chie's parents, which was very tasty as always.
[Sunday 10th March 2013]
Today was the first day of our two day trip to the famous Dogo Onsen and Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan.
It was also Erika's six month birthday!
We left the Moriwaki residence in Hiroshima in the morning, and headed for the ferry port, where we boarded the ferry bound for Shikoku. The ferry was a bit "boroi" as they'd say in Japanese - old and a bit grotty around the edges, but nonetheless pleasant enough in its own way. The weather was a bit grey on the way there, so the pictures aren't particularly inspiring, but it was a fairly interesting route, including a passage through the fairly narrow Ondo-no-seto strait between the main island of Honshu and the island of Kurahashi.
The ferry arrived at Matsuyama around midday, and then we had what felt like quite a long taxi ride to our hotel, the Dogo Prince, in the Dogo Onsen resort area, which is sort of a suburb of the main city of Matsuyama.
After lunch, we spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the Dogo Onsen area, and the girls had a dip in the baths of the main onsen complex while I took Erika for a walk around the town, taking in some blossoms (not the all important cherry blossoms yet, apparently) in the little park.
Towards the end of the afternoon we hired a family bath room for a short while, so we could introduce Erika to an onsen for the first time. The water was too hot for her to bathe fully - over 41 degrees - so we just dangled her feet in it a bit. Not sure she really understood what all the fuss was about, but it was a nice moment for the rest of us.
We ate dinner at the hotel, as is the tradition when staying in a traditional ryokan style place. We had a sort of banqueting room for our group of six. As it had just recently been Yoko-san's 60th birthday the staff of the hotel persuaded her to (very briefly) wear a sort of red jacket with a matching hat. Yoko-san took it off as soon as the picture had been taken.
Chie had mentioned I was vegetarian and the hotel had made a pretty good effort to create the sort of multi-course meal you usually get in a ryokan. There's usually lots of little plates and bowls - some with only a mouthful of food in - I always feel sorry for whoever has to do the washing up. Perhaps the most memorable part of this meal was the salt slab with a flame under it, for grilling vegetables on. I'd never seen this style of cooking before.
[Saturday 9th March 2013]
We took Erika for her first visit to Miyajima today, which was also her first opportunity to meet lots of the Moriwaki family.
After arriving in Miyajima we headed for the umi-no-tori (the big red gate which stands in the sea). This gave us the chance to recreate one of our wedding photos, but with Erika in it. The composition was a bit different - as were our costumes of course - but it captured the spirit of the thing.
After a quick lunch al fresco, we went to visit Chie's Grandmother. She's in her nineties now, and in a care home, which is conveniently just metres away from where Chie's uncle lives. Erika was a bit hit with her hi-obaachan (Great Grandmother), who couldn't stop saying "kawaii!" (the Japanese word for cute / pretty). In fact this became something of a theme for the day, and I joked later on that Erika might think that's her name.
The next visit, just down the road, was to Chie's uncle Masaru-san, his wife Reiko-san, who also had their grandchildren Mio-chan and Rio-chan visiting. Chie's Dad is one of four brothers, and Masaru-san is the oldest, making him sort of the head of the family I suppose. He runs the family business - an oyster farm - on Miyajima - and their house is partly a home, part office, part factory.
After that we headed off for the ferry back to the mainland, but had one more family visit to make before heading back to Hiroshima - one of Chie's other uncles, Kazuyoshi-san, and his wife Naoki-san, in Miyajima-guchi - the town on the mainland where the ferry to Miyajima goes from. They also had visitors - their daughter Sato-chan, her husband Yamasaki-san, and their newborn baby Kohe-kun. We'd met them around this time last year whilst they were honeymooning in Paris, when Chie was pregnant. So it was really nice to meet them again with our respective babies, and have Erika meet one of her second cousins. She seemed quite fascinated by him - I think it might be the first time she's met a baby younger than herself.
We headed back to Hiroshima after that - quite a full day!
[Friday 8th March 2013]
Was originally planning to go to the office today, but as it turned out hardly anyone else was going to be there - most of the visitors from London and California had either left already, or were on an offsite in Kyoto. So I decided just to take an extra day off and head on to Hiroshima earlier than planned.
I got the shinkansen from Shinagawa just after 2pm. The four hour trip to Hiroshima was very smooth as it always is, and I dozed off for some of it.
Chie and Erika came to meet me at Hiroshima station, which was rather lovely. Spent the remainder of the evening Chez Moriwaki, Chie's Mum made a very nice dinner as always.
[Thursday 7th March 2013]
Had some rather difficult meetings at the office today, including with my manager's manager who was also visiting Tokyo this week. There's a lot of "churn" going on in my part of the company at the moment, which is causing much and wringing of hands.
So in the evening I was very glad to have the chance to go out with Andy, to chew the cud in a way I only really can with other English people.
We started off at the Hobgoblin - neither of us felt particularly compelled to do anything quintessentially Japanese as Andy now lives here, and I have quite a long trip this time, so plenty of other opportunities would no doubt arise. Bizarrely Andy had not been here since moving to Japan this time round (last summer) which is odd as he confessed to craving English beer, and this is quite possibly the only place in Tokyo where you can get a proper cask ale (their Hobgoblin bitter is from a proper hand pump). It was also happy hour so the prices weren't too terrible. Andy enjoyed it so much he worked his way through at least 4 pints in the two hours we were there.
I felt at that point we should probably try and do something Japanese, so found a "Dragon Quest" themed bar just down the road. I don't think either of us had any idea what was going on there so left after one quick drink. There then followed further little hole-in-the-wall bars, none of which were particularly notable, although they all seemed expensive, this being Roppongi.
Maybe we should have just stayed in the pub.
[Wednesday 6th March 2013]
Worked fairly late at the office tonight - until almost 9. I hadn't really planned much for this evening, but realised it would be my last chance to go and visit Watanabe-san in Ikebukuro, as I'd be out with Andy the next night, and then would be in Hiroshima after that. So I headed to Ikebukuro, and of course as I was in that neck of the woods had to pop into Rohlan for dinner. I ordred the veggie tonkatsu as always - which is as delicious as it ever was - and also had the ma po ramen, which I don't think is actually such a common concept - and was also quite delicious.
I then headed on to Quercus where I had a chat about babies etc with Watanabe-san and one of the regulars, Toyota-san, who very kindly gave us a present for Erika (a very nice bib and a blankie, or whatever you call those things). Watanabe-san also gave us a little envelope with some money in (this is sort of a tradition in Japan when you have a baby). It occurred to me what an odd situation this was. Although Watanabe-san is a friend we have an unspoken agreement that I still always pay for my drinks in his bar. As it happened I'd taken with me a bottle of Sacred Gin as a present. So, to recap, I had gone to the bar and given Watanabe-san some spirits and some cash. Watanabe-san had then in return given me some spirits and some cash.
[Tuesday 5th March 2013]
Woke up very early again this morning - probably before 5 - I don't think I got a proper night's sleep until Thursday. On the plus side that meant another opportunity to see the sunrise over Tokyo from our hotel room.
I waved off the girls in the morning when I went off to the office, as they were heading on to Hiroshima ahead of me. We managed to get a really nice picture of the three of us in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton just before we said our goodbyes.
In the evening I met up with Tanaka-san. I felt like trying this year's "vege ramen" at Kagetsu, the ramen chain that has a vegetarian ramen dish on the menu every spring. It wasn't due to officially "launch" until tomorrow, but a few branches had started early, and I managed to find the branch in Aoyama - not too far from Roppongi - was one of them. So we met there, and Tanaka-san had the vege ramen too. He seemed quite impressed - but then he always has been quite an open minded sort of chap.
From there I was really keen to introduce Tanaka-san to the vending machine bar I'd discovered on my last trip, so we got the metro to Shimbashi, and walked from there to Yurakucho. I'm not sure Tanaka-san - or anyone I've mentioned it to for that matter - really gets the appeal. Maybe what I like about it is the fact that although the concept is futuristic, it's actually fairly grotty. That gives it a sort of Bladerunner feel I suppose.
From there we went on a bit of a crawl of various random hole-in-the-wall bars, although none as remarkable as the vending machine bar, until we eventually ended at the impressive Ginza Lion. It's a circa 1934 recreation of a German beer hall, with, as far as I understood, the original interior still intact. It's very rare to find old bars like this in Tokyo, and despite being a bit on the expensive side, and the snacks being decidedly naff, it was right up my street,
[Monday 4th March 2013]
Not a very eventful day really, and so not many pictures to show for it.
I went to the office in the day time - the plan was for me to work this week so I didn't have to take too much vacation for our long trip to Japan - whilst Chie and Erika received various visitors at the hotel. Erika had been a quite dramatically sick in the middle of the night, so Chie decided it probably best not to go too far today, thinking Erika might have caught a bug, but in the end it turned out to just be a one off. Aren't babies strange?
In the evening we were all a bit tired, and still didn't really want to go too far from the hotel, so went for pizza at a place in Tokyo Midtown - the sort of shopping centre / development which the Ritz Carlton is part of. This being Roppongi our simple dinner of two pizzas and two drinks came to 7640 yen - about 55 quid. The pizza was fairly good but the bill rather soured the experience - it would have been cheaper in Belgravia.
[Sunday 3rd March 2013]
Woke up early thanks to jetlag - even earlier than usual actually - around 3:30 - and didn't really get back to sleep again properly after that. Erika seemed to sleep through fairly well though, so we weren't too concerned if it was just us grown-ups staggering around like zombies.
This did at least mean we had the opportunity to enjoy the sunrise over Tokyo from our hotel room, on the 49th floor of the Ritz Carlton (which only really starts at the 40th floor).
Spent most of the morning lounging around our hotel, and popped out for breakfast at the attached cafe some time after 9.
At 11 we headed out in the direction of Yokohama, where we planned to spend the afternoon. Our first port of call was Myorenji, a couple of stops away from Yokohama proper, where we met up with my friend and former colleague Tanaka-san, who had kindly invited us to his house for lunch. I'd spoken a lot with Tanaka-san about the pros and cons of having kids (he has two himself) so it seemed very appropriate to take Erika to meet him and his family. His wife made a very nice lunch for us (I think Tanaka-san must have tipped her off that I like fried things!) involving some unusual delicacies like sato-imo (a kind of potato), gobo (burdock) and avocado gratin.
Whilst there a nappy change turned rather, um, dramatic shall we say, and I had to borrow one of Tanaka-san's shirts to go home. Tanaka-san found this hilarious.
After that we said our goodbyes, and headed to Yokohama proper to meet up with Yuka again, and have a bit of a wander round Yokohama. It's not somewhere I really came to much when we were living in Tokyo, so it's all a bit unfamiliar, although to some extent it's much like any other city centre in Japan.
We had an early dinner at a tempura place which was a bit naff, actually, and then as we were starting to get tired decided to call it an early day and head back to the hotel.
[Saturday 2nd March 2013]
We landed in Tokyo around 10am. It took us a bit longer than usual to get off the plane as we had to wait a bit for the buggy, which they handed back to us at the gate. This meant everybody else had headed to immigration before us, and so we arrived to quite a large queue. Fortunately though as we were travelling as a family, and we are 50% Japanese overall, they let us go through a different lane - and in fact we ended up directed into the lane for diplomatic officials, which I found quite exciting (although in practice it wasn't any different to the other lanes). It seemed appropriate for a VIP like Erika's first time to arrive in Japan.
We hung around in the airport a little while to repack our luggage a bit - so we could send a suitcase directly to Hiroshima. This made our ridiculous fleet of wheely bags, cases and of course the buggy slightly more manageable - at least now we had four wheely things and four hands. I also changed a bit of money - the exchange rates for GBP-JPY on offer in Narita were slightly better than they'd been in Heathrow, and I generally felt less loathed to give them my money. Better still they had a machine here, which rather impressively I could feed pounds into, and get yen out of. Although that did make for the slightly demoralising experience of thinking about how much I'd be able to buy in the UK with each note I fed in, and how little I could do with each note I got in return. Oh well, it's only money.
We took the train to the centre of Tokyo, to a station called Daimon (which Chie thought would make for an easier change), and from there got on the metro. It turned out Daimon station doesn't have any lifts, so we had a fun time managing our four wheely things on the escalators - we ended up doing two trips, as wrangling a buggy on an escalator is still a bit nerve wracking, more so when very tired and jetlagged, and really needed two hands.
We eventually made it to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton in Roppongi, just after 1pm. Having been in the airport, on trains, and in subways until now, the short walk from Roppongi station to the hotel was Erika's first time to be outdoors in Japan. I felt it was my responsibility at this point to explain she was in a different country now and tell her how lots of things were going to be different here - what a fascinating time she was going to have learning about a different culture, and so on. Only to then turn a corner into the plaza where they had an event promoting tourism to Great Britain, with Union jacks, red telephone boxes, Beefeaters and all sorts of other British clichés abounding. Erika did not look convinced.
Rather pleasingly a former colleague of Chie's from her days at the Grand Hyatt was on the reception desk at the Ritz-Carlton (the hotel industry is an incestuous one), and also Yuka was there to meet us - the first time for Erika to meet her aunt. So this made for a great welcome, which was much appreciated as I have to admit by this point I was getting somewhat tired and a bit fed up of travelling.
I'm not sure Yuka was entirely comfortable with being called "obachan" - the Japanese word for aunt - because it is the same word as middle aged lady, and she's still in her twenties.
After dropping off our luggage in our room the girls went out for a chat, and some lunch, but I decided to have a shower and an afternoon nap instead, and managed to get a couple of hours sleep in before our evening schedule commenced.
Andy came to meet us at the hotel a bit after 5. This is actually the first time we've ever managed to meet up in Japan - he now lives here so I was really determined to make it happen this time, having had several near misses in the past, where he's left the day before we arrived and vice verse. After introducing him to Erika briefly, we headed out for a quick pre-dinner drink and a chinwag to catch up. What a delight it is to be in Japan with an English friend - something which seldom happened when I was living here.
We went to a "craft beer bar" called "Ant n Bee" - which I'd been to on a previous trip - mainly just because I knew the place and it was close by, rather than I actually liked it. It's expensive even by Japanese standards, and as hard as I tried not to think about the petty cash I'd changed at Narita earlier today, I couldn't help but do the mental arithmetic and figure out those pints (and American size pints at that) costing 1200 yen were effectively ten quid each. We didn't even really like the beer very much. So we only had the one. And Andy paid.
From there we headed on to meet up with the others at the Chinese vegetarian place Chie had found in Roppongi. As the only vegetarian there I felt rather spoiled - but I suppose in arranging this Chie was trying to nip my usual whinging about how I can't find anything to eat in the bud. We were quite a large group and so had our own private room, which was great (and probably a good thing as Erika, poor thing, was a bit grizzly at the start). In addition to me, Andy, Chie, Erika and Yuka, we were also joined by some of Chie's university friends - Hide, Asuka, Haruka and Yumi. The girls were all head over heels with Erika from the moment they saw her, of course, despite her not being in the best of moods for the first half an hour or so. She did eventually settle down, had a feed and a bit of a sleep, and then later on was her usual sociable self again.
There was also a moment of excitement during the evening when Yumi spotted Japanese musician Cornelius was also eating in the same restaurant. I wonder if he might be a vegetarian, in the vein of Thom Yorke et al? He too was with a fair sized group, and I found it slightly amusing that we had the private dining room, whilst the celebrity was sitting out in the regular bit. Mind you, they didn't have a jetlagged baby with them.
Chie has some lovely friends, and Yumi in particular is one of the gentlest and most caring people I've ever met. I immediately feel relaxed and at home in Japan as soon as we meet her and the others. It was a really good night, everybody seemed to be in good spirits, the food was really good (I'll very likely be coming back here during this trip, I think, as it's so close to my office) and it was great to start off the trip on a high like this.
[Friday 1st March 2013]
Got up at 7:30, with still a reasonable amount of packing left to do. By 8am we still hadn't actually packed any clothes for Erika, or for Chie for that matter - but then clothes are probably the easy part - it's all the other odds and ends that require more thought and time. We seemed to end up with a really ridiculous amount of luggage, as we'd decided to take Erika's buggy as well we barely had enough hands for it all.
We left the flat at 9, got a taxi to Paddington, and from there the Heathrow Express, which got us to the airport around 10. I spent the time in the airport being annoyed at the terrible exchange rates on offer there, and kicking myself for not having gone to the one near Victoria yesterday. The current base rate is 140 yen to the pound, but places in Heathrow were generally offering to sell at 124, which is an 11% profit for them, and would make 1000 yen cost £8. When I was living in Japan it was more like £5.
Our flight was at midday, so by the time we'd checked in and got through security etc we didn't seem to have much time to kill in the airport at all (I'm not complaining) - so just did some rudimentary shopping and headed for the gate.
I have to admit to having been quite apprehensive about Erika's first flight, I had visions of her crying the whole time and us having to endure menacing stares from irate fellow passengers. As it turned out though it wasn't too bad, we lavished attention on her whenever she was awake, and the cabin attendants were all cooing over her as well, so she probably quite enjoyed it. She had a few short naps in the "Sky Cot" we'd been given, although I'd hoped she might have a more substantial sleep towards the end of the flight, as it would be her bedtime back in the UK, but unfortunately they have to take the cot away almost an hour before landing.
The descent was probably the toughest bit, she'd been fine with the pressure change on the way up, but on the way down it seemed to bother her - probably combined with the fact that she was quite tired by this point, and had been rudely awoken from her peaceful slumber in her sky cot. So for that last hour of the flight she did cry a bit on and off, despite our best efforts to get her to yawn and/or drink. Oh well, it can't be helped I suppose.
So she probably slept for a total of about 2 or 2 and a half hours during the 12 hour flight. Not bad I suppose, considering it is effectively a daytime flight. It occurred to me she has slept longer on this one flight than I have on all the flights I've ever been on combined. My running total is still pretty close to zero.
[Thursday 28th February 2013]
The day before our flight to Tokyo. I went to work as usual, and popped out at lunchtime to pick up the Vic Reeves artwork I'd bought from the Strand Gallery.
Spent the evening not really packing as much as we probably should have done - I made a reasonable start on my clothes, but it turns out to be a much more involved endeavour when packing for a baby as well.