Today was one of those days that felt like we were on vacation even though we weren’t. It was very hot and humid so Will and I went to our current favorite beach, Isshiki Kaigan. We swam for hours and had lunch at Blue Moon Beach Hut before it closes tomorrow for the season. It was the perfect way to wrap up the end of the summer season. I don’t feel like we have been that busy, but it certainly went by fast. Mike spent a week at a work training in San Diego, but found plenty of time to drink craft beer and California wine texting me all his discoveries. He was missed but Will and I filled the week with plenty of time at the beach and pool. Will has become quite a good swimmer for a four year old. In addition, there were lots of fun events that week.
We’d been looking forward all summer to the the annual Pikachu Festival. Once again, we invited a group of friends and trained up to Yokohama. It one of the hottest day of the summer so after a couple shows and watching the Pikachu march, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Splash Pad. We did catch a surprise show held there in which Pikachu attempted to limbo. This was pretty entertaining and even more so after the Chu hai (Japanese cocktail) I’d just drank since there is no open container law in Japan. Will and I returned to the festival a few days later to catch the big parade (a one day event compared to the shows that ran multiple times a day all the week). I’m so glad we’d done most of the shows on a different day as it was easily five times more crowded. We began at the big water show we skipped the other day. There were so many people that it was impossible to see anything but the water shooting into the air. Will begged to go back to the Splash Pad and insisted on skipping the parade.
The day before Mike returned, Will and I met the Mack family at the Uraga Port Festival, a local festival south of the base. We’d attended last year, and I loved the beautiful lanterns. The food selection was great appearing to include local restaurants. Shortly before the fireworks, nature provided perhaps the most intricate heat lightening show I’ve ever seen. It was a bit nerve-wracking but appeared to be off in the distance. However, halfway through the fireworks, it started to rain. We began packing up and had just started walking to the train station when it really started to pour. Luckily I had an umbrella which I gave to Tak to keep little Ethan dry. The locals were also not expecting rain. I’d never seen so many Japanese people without umbrellas. I copied another family and used our picnic sheet as a rain shield. We were all good sports about it and by the time we got to the station it slowed to a drizzle.
Another Friday, we went with a group of friends to see the Yokohama Dinosaur Exhibit. Large skeletons were brought from the US, but the kids were way more into the robotic dinosaurs. Their favorite was definitely the dinosaur that spat. We spent a good chunk of time there waiting until we finally were the ones to get spit on. The exhibit was very crowded for a weekday. I also felt it was overpriced which I typically don’t find to be the case with events here. After we went to the nearby splash pad and the children appeared to have way more fun. However, Will has frequently asked to go back and see the dinosaurs so it did have redeeming value. I was also happy with our inexpensive dinosaur egg souvenir that allowed Will to play paleontologist at home.
A couple Mondays ago, Will and I ventured to Tokyo to see the Tokyo City Art Exhibit by Naked. I’ve been to a couple other Naked exhibits and again enjoyed the experience. The show largely consisted of night scenes of Tokyo’s most famous neighborhoods. Will loved the fire-breathing Godzilla in Shinjuku as well as drawing with his fingers on the street art wall screen. He was most excited about the two “robots” that repeatedly performed a dance in Shibuya Crossing then mingled with the guests. There was hardly anyone else in the gallery and one (or both of the robots I couldn’t really tell) took a liking to Will. They drew with him multiple times and taught him how to do the interactive map. High touches (high fives) were exchanged several times. It was a great sensory experience for both of us.
Last Saturday, the three of us boarded the ITT bus for a tour to the Fuji Yoshida Fire Festival. This is considered one of Japan’s 3 most unique festival. This 500 year old festival signifies the closing ceremony for Fuji’s climbing season as well as to ask the Fire Goddess of Fuji to not erupt this year. We were dropped off at Segen Shrine in time to see the two Mikoshi (portable shrines) come out. They also had opened some sacred sake for the occasion which Mike happily sampled. Will loved playing in the giant cedars that lined the main promenade. After we’d explored the shrine, we headed into town to find the food booths. We caught the Mikoshi parade on the way. Hundreds of food booths lined the Main Street overwhelming us with delicious choices. I finally settled on a kebab but then ate some dumplings too. Fuji made a three minute appearance then clouded over. Giant wooden tower torches or shorter stack of pallets stood every 5-10 feet in the center of the street. There were easily hundreds of these throughout the town as well as at the shrine. At sunset a team raced through lighting the fires. Each lighting was accompanied by cheers for good luck and lots of clapping. The evening temperature was pleasant but the fires were definitely throwing off some heat. Due to the crowds you often had to meander closer to the fires. Sparks and ash flew in the air and often the tops would fall off. Mike remarked of the liability of hundreds of open fires, thousands of people and lots of alcohol. This would never happen in America. Once Will learned it was good luck to get hit by an ember he kept venturing closer to the fires. We meandered up and down the main strip then back to the shrine with time to enjoy the historic site illuminated by fire.
One of the coolest things we attended all summer was teamLab’s Jungle Exhibit in Shibuya. We loved their DMM Planet Exhibit last summer. Looking at their website (listed below) I learned that most of their exhibits are in Japan but they have others all over the world including the US. I hope I can remember to check for events whenever we travel and when we return to the states. We went to their daytime KidsNoon show (there is an adult show at night). We met Shawna and her boys and luckily we were able to waltz in right before 10 and get tickets for the first show time. The fifty minute interactive light show was best described by Shawna as a kid’s rave. Ethan was initially intimidated but Brian and Will loved jumping up to touch the lights and twirling around. All the kids loved the giant illuminated balls that changed colors as they were touched and batted around the room before the illuminated tambourine cube and trampolines were brought out. The show ended in confetti shower which was also a huge hit. From there, we ventured into the part of the exhibit one can do at their own pace. There were several large interactive light screens for the children to play with. There were also tables with various block toys that created different affects based on how they blocks were arranged. Will really enjoyed building the city. Children could color pictures of jungle animals then staff would scan their art in which became the display for the mountain and valley illuminated pit. Will loved climbing and sliding in that as well as playing on the large light show slide which created fireworks as the children slid down. We spent a couple hours at the show then had lunch and headed to the wading pools at Rinshi no Mori Park. The wading pools were surrounded by trees so I stayed cool while Will splashed and played in the lovely “waterfall and stream”.
On Tuesday, Will and I trained to Kodomo no Kuni Park in Yokohama. This still is one of the coolest parks I have ever been to. It’s an enormous green park with fantastic play structures throughout. Today we wanted to check out their pool. I should say pools since we discovered there are multiple giant pools. One is strictly for lap swim and two others range from 95 to 120 cm deep. There are two large baby pools ranging from 30 to 35 cm, one of which has sprinklers too. We came mostly for the water slides since I learned Will is allowed to do all but one. I had to do the green tube slide with him but he could do the straight slide by himself or with me. Once he realized how much faster he went with me that was his preferred way to go. We spent about three hours at the pool then went and played around the park. I was delighted to find sprinklers and misters in some places and at least there was a breeze. I wish we would’ve checked out the pools sooner since it was pretty awesome and is about to close for the season. I do want to come back and do their stream wading pools since they’ll be open for another month.
Despite all the fun, there has definitely been an undercurrent of stress this summer. Our community has experienced more than its share of tragedy with the loss of life from the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions. We are fortunate to not be personally affected, but it is difficult for any military family to process these fatalities especially when it happens during a routine part of one’s job. The escalating conflict with North Korea is another source of anxiety. I try to remind myself that this is part of military life and focus on what I can control. For the last couple of months, we have been going through the uncertain and painful process of Mike getting assigned to his next position and duty station. In theory, we have some control over this by submitting Mike’s top choices, but it honestly depends on whether it works out the way we want. We had our fingers crossed for Spain, San Diego, or Puget Sound. Then they offered Mike an outstanding opportunity beginning in 2019 if we stayed here for an additional year. I was thrilled; Mike less so. However, we weighed the benefits and agreed. For a week or so, we thought we’d be in Japan for two more years. Mike wisely asked for the deal in writing, and it slowly unraveled as he found out more people were also being considered for the 2019 position. We continued along the initial process. Then Mike got an email saying he was being considered for an O6 position. Since Mike will not be looked at for promotion until 2021 or 2022, we were both a understandably incredulous and unsure what to think. Then a week later, another email came saying that pending approval he being assigned to an O6 job east of the Mississippi, but that is all they would tell him. We waited another week before finding out that Mike was approved for this position which is at the Pentagon. We don’t have a timeline yet, but guess we’ll likely be moving in May or June. There are a lot of advantages to moving to DC, and family and friends absolutely tops the list. Will thinks we are moving to Washington Disney Sea, so he might be a bit disappointed. I have to admit I am a tad disappointed too. I would’ve been much more excited by the locations previously mentioned, or so I think. Perhaps it is too soon for me to be happy about leaving Japan to go anywhere. Honestly, I know I can’t complain about DC. It is a great city, and I know no matter what we will make the best of it. A positive outlook is really the only way to be a military family.
Video, pictures and helpful links below…
- Video of teamLab Jungle Exhibit: https://youtu.be/QQqZpsLgyoo
- teamLab All Exhibitions: https://www.teamlab.art/
- teamLab Jungle (through September 10 although performances are only on weekends): https://www.teamlab.art/jungletokyo/en/
- Yokohama Dinosaur Exhibit (through September 3): http://www.yokohamajapan.com/upcoming-events/yokohama-dinosaurs-exhibition-2017/
- Tokyo Art City (through September 3): https://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/aamo/e/exhibition/tokyoartcity/
- Kodomo no Kuni Park: http://www.kodomonokuni.org/english/
- Splash Pad Yokohama Map Pin: https://goo.gl/maps/fLvweWao76J2
- Rinshi no Mori Wading Pools (open 10-3, July 8-August 31, closed Thursdays): https://goo.gl/maps/t4uoCtcX5gz
- Isshiki Kaigan Map Pin: https://goo.gl/maps/PDPLuGbQdDE2
Zushi and Isshiki Beaches
Uraga Port Festival
Yokohama Dinosaur Exhibit
Tokyo Art City
Yoshida Fire Festival
teamLab Jungle Exhibit
Rinshi no Mori Wading Pools
Kodomo no Kuni