Our annual visit to Shimonoseki was soon over and we drove home more than satisfied by the food and stocked up with gifts for the family back in the UK and a good selection of books for Mrs danyul to read. We spent several days at ‘home’ preparing for the arrival of Mrs danyul’s brother and his family. MiniMe looks forward to this as it means his slightly elder cousin and slightly younger cousin arrive to play with him. Each come armed with their Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii games. The 3 of them become inseparable for the next few days and are busy running around the house, eating together, and playing all sorts of games. It’s always a shame to say goodbye to them each visit and MiniMe is always especially sad to see his play friends leave.
A visit to Japan has to include a stop at a shrine or three and this trip proved no exception. It is traditional visit a shrine on new years day and this has come to be one of our customary trips. However, our first shrine visit was slightly further away as we spent a day at a fantastic onsen (hot spring baths) relaxing. I remember my first visit to Japan when I was not exactly very comfortable at the onsen since it involves full nudity (men separated from women of course) but these days I don’t think anything of it. It’s also a lot easier now that MiniMe is old / big enough to keep his head above water in all the baths so I am having to continually chase him as he throws himself around like the baths are a private swimming pool just for him.
The nearby shrine is very picturesque and draws many visitors from the surrounding area. I cannot profess to know much or understand much of the religion followed but the shrine is a very welcoming place and we always make sure to stop at the small shrine within the building that is devoted to children. We are always thankful to have a healthy young MiniMe but realise that there are lots of people who are not as lucky so we will all say a little prayer and make a donation at the children section.
Each year MiniMe will carefully make sure to drop and count 8 large beads strung out in front of another section of the shrine. I have no idea of the significance of why 8 beads and why this would bring good luck and Mrs danyul is unable to provide much guidance as she was never big on Japanese religion.
After having several very warm days we then had a rain storm hit the area on New Years Day so we were not able to go kite flying as usual. There was still plenty to do and MiniMe made sure to spend his New Years money well at the local shopping mall. This year he wanted to buy himself a new game for the Wii and was determined to get Wii Sports Resort after his cousins brought along their copy and the trio then spent several days playing against each other. However, it seemed that Wii Sports Resort was a very popular choice for all the kids now rich with gifts of money from their family. Thankfully the very last electronics shop we visited had a single copy left and was offering a 20% discount on all Wii games so MiniMe even had some cash leftover. Being the Japanese version of the game it meant that MiniMe couldn’t take it home to the UK but he was quite happy to have it for the rest of the stay and to leave it behind ready for the 2011/12 trip.
I have to admit that one of my favourite reasons to visit to Japan is to sample the wide range of divine food. Not only is the choice of food fantastic, it is nearly always reasonably priced compared the same food type that you would find in the UK. You can guarantee that we will visit the ANA Hotel Ube several times just to eat from their lunchtime Viking (buffet) lunch. The price is cheap compared to anything comparable back home and the selection is extremely wide and tasty.
For a little extra you can include all you can eat desert as part of the buffet but we tend to just stick to the main meal and then move ourselves into the cafe area if we want any desert. There is a whole selection of different cakes at the cafe and you can sit in relative peace and quiet although you do have to watch out for the smokers since Japan has not yet banned smoking in public places and you can guarantee that there will still be smoking only tables in most places.
During this visit we went to a new canteen style restaurant that I had never seen before and was absolutely amazed at. The layout is very simple in that it resembles a school canteen and you simply walk along with your tray and help yourself so the small dishes before someone rings up the total at the end. The food on offer was a very high standard and I was very cheap and I was stunned to find out that this is considered a ‘working persons’ restaurant where most of the local office workers will get their food. We visited twice and I can understand why my mother-in-law rates this as her favourite local place to eat. On both occasions we stood out, primarily because I was the only non-Japanese guest, because everyone else was either dressed for office work or was some sort of construction worker taking their lunch break.
Our 2010/11 visit to Japan was once again approaching its end and we would soon be making our way home. I did manage to fit in some runs while we were there so I didn’t lose all my fitness by being away. MiniMe had a great time with his Japanese family and improved his language skills while I caught up with a lot of reading and just relaxing by being away from work. Mrs danyul was glad to see her family and seemed to stock up on the contents of each and every Japanese book store we passed while still finding room in suitcase to get as much Japanese food product as possible stuffed inside.
Unfortunately our return journey home did not go as smoothly as anticipated. The plane ticket prices to Japan were extremely high in 2010 so we left booking until the last possible moment in the hope of being able to get a slightly cheaper price. Sadly the prices didn’t fall at all and the flights we originally wanted were all full by the time we went to book our flights. This meant that we had to leave a day earlier than planned, which meant we just escaped a huge snowfall that would have kept us stuck in the UK for several days, and also that we could not book a direct flight home. We flew from Ube to Tokyo as normal but then had to take an ANA flight to Frankfurt. This leg of our return journey was heavenly as the flight was mostly empty, which meant we could spread out to take a row of 4 seats each. However, the change at Frankfurt did not go well as it took an age to clear German immigration, who especially did not seem to like my Kindle so proceeded to escort me to a separate room so that it could be fully scanned. We eventually made it onto our Lufthansa flight to London but sadly the majority of our luggage didn’t. It seems that everyone who transferred onto this flight at Germany also had their luggage left behind so we wasted a good hour queuing at Heathrow to register our lost luggage. Bizarrely my suitcase did make in onto the plane so a very tired danyul family found their taxi driver and arrived home. I had to then work from home for the next few days to make sure someone was home to accept delivery of the lost luggage once it made it back to London.