Kobe and Fuji-san!
It is a cloudy Monday morning in Tokyo and I am writing from the ninth floor of the Hotel New Otani overlooking the rose garden (in short, things could be worse). I am really lucky to have my family visiting me this week - my parents lived in Kobe for two years and have several family friends in the area, so with my 21st birthday being last Friday and my sister having a break between the end of classes and start of summer job, this was a great time for them to visit. I have been staying with them in their hotel, which is approximately 3.5 minutes from my 9:15am classroom. Sure beats taking the train for an hour in the morning.
Having my family here has been a really interesting experience. My Japanese could be considered "beginner" at best, and so I've been relying on a lot of other people since I've been here to translate for me. However, showing my family around has shown me just how much I know about the city and how I can actually get by with my Japanese in several situations. For example, yesterday we went to Kawaguchiko to see Mt. Fuji and I had to make our bus reservation over the phone! It was really stressful but between my broken Japanese and the operator's broken English, we got it done. Success!
As I said, my parents lived in Kobe so they are pretty familiar with Japanese culture, but didn't spend very much time in Tokyo. So, our agenda was very open when they got here. Thursday night we spent some time walking around the Yotsuya area around campus, and had a nice dinner all together. I kept them busy until after 10pm so that they would have a better time adjusting to the jet lag. On Friday, I had two classes but in between we got lunch near campus, and then after class I took them to Harajuku to do some shopping (my dad was really excited about that part...). My mom, sister, and I ended up doing "purikura" (those Japanese photobooth things where you take pictures and then decorate them), while my dad wandered around exploring the area. We had dinner in Harajuku, and then my parents went back to the hotel while my sister and I went over to Shibuya. We were going to meet some friends but ended up getting window seats on the second floor of Starbucks, overlooking the intersection across from the JR station. We got really absorbed in watching the crosswalk -- it was amazing how many people crossed every 30 seconds or so. At one point, an ambulance and police car were trying to make it through the intersection, but they had to sit and wait for a while to let people go by and cars in front of them move!
On Saturday, I went with my family to visit Kobe (where I was born). When we got there, my mom's good friend picked us up and we went to have lunch at the church where I was christened, which is now a German cafe... my parents pointed out where the altar used to be, and where the pews were, and the friend with us thinks she actually sat in the area our table was in. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. After lunch we went over to the Kobe aquarium, which was really cool -- I can't remember the last time I went to an aquarium, and this one had a ton of different kinds of marine animals. The jellyfish especially were really neat -- there were at least three different kinds. We also saw a dolphin show, which was really cool. I sat just outside the splash zone, so I had a pretty good view but my camera was safe! After the aquarium we went back to our friend's house for dinner, and then had a very informal personal tea ceremony -- and my sister and I got to try mixing the tea! It was a really cool experience, although the tea itself I am not that fond of -- it's very bitter, and is definitely an acquired taste.
Sunday was a great day -- we were pretty tired from the day before, so we didn't leave the hotel until 12noon, and decided to head towards Mt. Fuji. I made the bus reservation (as I mentioned previously), and we made it to Kawaguchiko by about 3pm. From Kawaguchiko there is a bus that will take you to the "5th Stage Trail" area which is basically the bottom of the mountain, but it turned out we had missed the last bus. However, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we decided to walk around the area, and found a ropeway car that took you up a hill to an AMAZING view of the mountain. It was a cloudy/rainy day but the mountain itself was actually very clear -- we were very lucky and got some great pictures. It was incredible to see Fujisan in person -- it's obviously very tall but is also very wide at the base -- the amount of land area it takes up is incredible. That view is something everyone who visits Japan needs to see!
My family is here for another few days, so I am showing them more of Tokyo this week. They are actually in Nagano today and tomorrow (without me since I have class!), so Wednesday and Thursday will be jam-packed. It has been really nice to see them though -- it's hard to believe it's been almost two months since I left home! Time is flying by, and I can't wait to see what else Tokyo has in store for me this semester!