We survived birthday week! Lots to celebrate. On Sunday, November 6 Halyard turned 15 years old and Avalon turned 10 years old! On Monday, November 7 I turned ??? Right in the middle of forty-something. We decided to have our special birthday breakfast on Saturday the 5th because Avalon had plans to have a girls’ night sleepover at her friend Aimi’s (pronounced eye-mi) house from the 5th-6th. So Avalon wasn’t even going to wake up with us on her birthday morning. The special birthday breakfast menu highlights were pancakes, bacon, fruit and apple juice.
After breakfast we convinced all three kids to hike up to Minoh Falls to see the autumn leaves. I made sure to pack plenty of water and snacks because that’s what seems to ruin a trip every time. Our plan was to bike to Takimichi where there is a bike lot at the bottom of the uphill hike. On the way to downtown Minoh Halyard suddenly had the feeling that he had better turn around and go home and study! He does have a lot of tests in the coming week, but after repeated, fruitless attempts to get him to study it seemed strange that he’d decided at that moment that he’d better start to buckle down. So he turned his bike around and left. Who knows what he’s really going to do at home while we’re gone?
For the next 30 minutes John and I suffered while listening to Avalon complain about being hungry and tired (despite the snacks I brought). We ended up turning around mid-way so that we could end the misery. It was monumental enough that we were able to get outside on this beautiful day. We will take what we can get.
When we got home Halyard seemed hard at work with his studies. Avalon left for Aimi’s house at 4. Since we were without Avalon it seemed like a good idea to take Halyard and Kaiyo out for a night downtown. Around 7pm we went to Namba looking for a popular street market called Kuromon Ichiba Market. I had read about it and wanted to check it out. We found it but it turned out that it’s only a daytime market. Everything was shut down. We ended up eating at a teppanyaki style restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine called okonomiyaki and yakisoba. Afterwards we found a tiny gelato spot with flavors such as black sesame, chestnut sorbet, ginger & lime and adzuki bean. The boys went to an arcade and we got home around 11pm (23:00).
November 6 is birthday morning! But Avalon isn’t home so we’ll just say Good Happy Birthday Morning to Halyard. It was a slow, pajama kind of morning. Bacon, hash browns, english muffins are on the breakfast menu. Please, no eggs, Halyard said.
Avalon got home at 12:15. Her friend Kate from Newport Beach called via LINE to say Happy Birthday. It was 8:15pm the night before in California. Avalon kept Kate on the phone while the kids opened their birthday presents. She was on video so Kate got to be in on the present opening action.
A special thanks to the Griffins for sending us an amazing box of US goodies that included fun Halloween items and birthday presents. Halyard is fearfully eating and sharing his Beanboozled jelly beans. Yuck and Yum at the same time!
After presents were done we got back on the train headed to Expo City. Avalon wanted to take Halyard and Kaiyo to Sweets Paradise again. This is the all-you-can-eat in 70 minutes dessert buffet extravaganza that we took Avalon to on her day off from school. She can’t wait to eat plates of popcorn and bowls of kakigori (shaved ice) again. She said that’s the first things she’s getting.
Sweets Paradise made us all feel like gluttonous animals. Ugh. I’m so stuffed. I wanted to try lots of different things but I also felt compelled to eat a “nutritious” lunch beforehand. So by the time I finished my curry and rice with salad and onion soup I was fairly full. So I really had to stretch my belt to get in a variety of desserts, including Avalon’s favorite popcorn and kakigori. I think we just went home and rolled around for the rest of the day.
When it was time to go to bed Avalon had an emotional/sentimental breakdown. She was in hysterics about not wanting to grow up and how she wished she were still a baby. We all had to talk her off the cliff. Having a baby is wonderful and sweet but having a big girl to have fun with is even better. Kaiyo told her now that she’s 10 she’ll get to do more things than when she was younger. And here in Japan she has a lot of independence with a bike.
November 7 is my birthday morning! The kids packed up and went to school. John and I went downtown again because I wanted to check out the UGG store in Shinsaibashi. It turns out UGG boots are even more expensive in Japan than they are in the US. But the $75 flat fee that the US UGG website charges for international shipping doesn’t add up for me either. And Costco Japan isn’t selling UGGs here, just Kirkland boots. It doesn’t look like new UGG boots are in my future this winter. Oh well. I’ll have to keep looking.
After the failed UGG venture we walked around and I found some awesome second hand clothing stores. Japan is full of second hand items. It’s part of their “mottainai” philosophy. Mottainai is a Japanese term that conveys a sense of regret for being wasteful. The word mottainai, when used as an exclamation can be roughly translated to “what a waste” or “don’t waste.” It’s akin to the English saying, “waste not want not.”
I really enjoy browsing through second hand clothing stores so John left me there for an hour and I found a few birthday things there that beat new UGG boots any day. (Maybe)
We ate birthday lunch at Dotonbori. Dotonbori is a street that runs parallel to the Dontonbori-gawa (river) Canal. It is of one the most popular tourist and nightlife destinations in Osaka. There are tons of restaurants, entertainment options and stores along this stretch.
This is also where a lot of the wacky building facades are that I’ve posted photos of can be found. The buildings that face the canal are covered by advertisements and neon signs. The most famous sign is probably the one of the Glico Running Man which is super huge. The animated Kani Doraku crab sign is also famous.
We decided to check out Kani Doraku. Mayumi told me that kani means crab and doraku means joy so is it Crab Joy or Joy of Crab? Anyway, it’s a very famous place and there are actually several locations, with two of them being a short distance away from each other along Dotonbori. We ordered a lunch set served kaiseki-style. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal consisting of small plates of fancy food arranged with cute little shapes and designs.
In this case there were several rounds of food featuring crab. (I forgot to take a photo of our food before we ate it!) A Crab gratin dish, crab soup, boiled crab and grilled crab plus a few other crab goodies. I think it was all snow crab but I’m not a crab expert so I could be wrong. At any rate it was oishii (oh-eee-she: delicious)!
On the way back to the train station, while walking through the crowd in the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, we spotted a candy store. As I’d mentioned in my Halloween post, my kids are missing familiar candy. So we popped in to see the candy selection. The store was called Candy A*Go*Go! and it’s a typical bulk candy store where you buy by the weight. They had gummies of all types and Snickers and Skittles and marshmallow treats and Japanese sugar candy and Jelly Belly candy and more. Uncle Paul, we thought of you and your candy drawer. Here’s John with the pink candy girls!
Fast forward to Friday, November 11. We held a birthday party for Avalon and Halyard at a big park across the street from school. The party is planned immediately following school and we invited both kids’ entire classes plus a few more family friends. I figure we’d better get a Costco cake and large volume Costco snacks to feed them all.
It turns out that in Japan you have to pre-order your Costco cake in person at least 48 hours in advance. That means we are going to have to brave a trip to Costco twice in quick succession. We managed to get ourselves to Costco on Wednesday and Friday, but I got John a bit lost both times and it was a fairly stressful trip. I’m not very good at following Google Maps and the darn thing seems like it is constantly rerouting us, even when it isn’t supposed to.
For our Costco trip on Friday we invited a Japanese couple that we have met through water polo. They were interested in seeing what Costco is all about. They met us at the store at noon on Friday. I think they were pretty amazed at the scale and volume of the place. When we walked in the husband was like, you don’t need a cart. And his wife was like, I’ll get a cart just in case. Japanese shopping carts are really, really tiny. So pushing those huge Costco carts are an experience by themselves. At the end the husband said, it’s time to leave before we have no money. And his wife ran off to find a few more things. We said to him, where did your wife go? This is the same in America except it’s usually the husband running off for more things while the wife gives him the evil eye. After shopping they wanted to stay and eat lunch with us but unfortunately we had to run off because the chances of us getting lost on the way home are high and we need extra time to get home. We barely made it!
The birthday party at the park was a big success. Almost all of Avalon’s classmates came, boys and girls! They all had a really fun time. Some of Halyard’s friends came later on and even more showed up at dusk. Halyard says his classmates hang out at that park a lot so if we waited long enough they’d show up.
We were right on target with the cake – my first Costco cake by the way and it was absolutely delicious – and our snacks. As I predicted to John the water bottles were largely wasted as most kids drank about five sips and set their bottles down never to return again. We even wrote names on them but they sat 3/4 full anyway. But John was right about buying lots of Costco snacks. Those were all eaten by the child vultures. Avalon received some beautiful and generous birthday gifts and she was very happy.
Halyard went out with his classmates after the party to find food and hang out. He called at 10pm to ask if his friend Takumi could crash at our house for the night. Yes, of course. But Halyard and Takumi didn’t roll in until after midnight! Halyard said they got lost walking home. Hmmm. We had all gone to bed already. I tried to stay up to wait for them but I was too sleepy. Like I’ve said before, Japan is pretty safe and Halyard was with his friend and he has a lot of independence here.
As a side note, during our delicious pancake breakfast the following morning John noticed Takumi seemed to be wearing pajama pants. John said, are those pajamas? Takumi said yes, I carry them in my backpack all the time, just in case. And he bought a toothbrush on the way to our house! It turns out that Takumi lives on Kobe’s Rokko Island and his bus commute to school is 2 hours or more! That beats Avalon’s friend’s 1.5 hour bus commute from Kobe. If Takumi misses the last bus home at 10:17pm (22:17), then he finds somewhere to stay the night, usually at a friend’s house on the way home he said. Talk about independence! He must leave super early to catch the bus to school and he must get home super late too. I wonder if he sees his family much.