We’ve been busy lately.  On Tuesday, March 28 my parents arrived from Riverside, California for one week.  After they left we barely had enough time to get the laundry done before Avalon’s BFF and her mom arrived from Newport Beach, CA for one week.  Then, overlapping with Avalon’s friend’s stay, we were asked by our school to host two visiting high school students from Seoul, South Korea.  The Korean students are still with us but they are set to leave early tomorrow morning, which happens to be Sunday, April 16, Easter Sunday.

My parents arrived with one suitcase full of goodies for us.  The one thing I really wanted they actually brought for me — American kitty litter!!!  The box isn’t light so I’m very grateful they hauled it overseas.  It may seem strange, asking for kitty litter, like why didn’t I ask for See’s Candy or California navel oranges.  But the Japanese kitty litter just isn’t pleasant so I’m having to resort to buying Arm & Hammer kitty litter and having it shipped here from America.  The box of kitty litter itself costs about $19.98 USD but to have it shipped adds on about $60 USD.  So in total one box of litter is costing me around $79.98 USD each.  If I order two boxes then I’m looking at $160 USD just for two boxes of litter worth $40 at Target!  So my parents graciously hauled a box over for us.

They brought two jars of Knott’s Seedless Boysenberry Jam, too!  Perfect timing, I was just running low on the jar that Sandi sent.  They also brought Easter treats for the kids, but mysteriously my mother decided to pour cheddar bunny crackers out of the package and into each kid’s bag of goodies, so that when they arrived the crackers were crushed into tiny crumbs.  What a mess!

First stop with Grandma and Grandpa: Sakura Matsuri at Expo Park!  Matsuri means Festival.  Below, the tall statue with the two faces is called the Tower of the Sun.  It looks Alaskan to me.

My Dad can’t walk a long distance these days so we stayed fairly close to home.  But we did go hunting for cherry blossom (sakura) trees in bloom.  First we went to Expo Park to see the trees there.  The website says there are more than 5,000 sakura trees in the park.  It was a bit too early though, and all there was to see were tiny buds and just a few petals poking out.  On another day we went to Katsuo-ji Temple to see what state the cherry trees were in.  Katsuo-ji is higher up in the mountains where it is cooler so no blooming trees there yet.  The colder the climate the longer it takes for them to open up.  The lady at the temple entrance told us to wait one more week.

We made another attempt to see sakura in bloom at Osaka-Jo (Osaka Castle).  The best sighting so far!  The trees had started to bloom but they were not at their peak yet.  Nevertheless it was enough for my parents to see the trees begin to bloom.  Hooray.  Plus, at Osaka-Jo there is a tram called the Road Train and if you pay a small fee you can take a ride around the castle grounds and park.  This was so much better for my Dad and it was really the only way that we all got to see the castle up close.  My Dad waited for us near a tram stop while we got off and walked up the hill to the castle.  I have yet to go inside Osaka-Jo.  I keep waiting for a visitor who wants to go inside.  Until then I’m holding off.

My parents stayed for one week.  We kept busy every day.  They were troopers about navigating the subway and walking through crowds.  We got to know where the elevators are in the subway stations.  Some of them are not very conveniently located for people who do not want to walk far.  Halyard isn’t in any of these photos because for most of the time that his grandparents were here he had a terrible cold or flu.  He was actually in bed for several days of their visit.

I think their trip was a success.  They got to see where we live and what our life is like here.  My mom got to wander around the grocery store and feel my pain about not being able to read a thing.  I made dinner almost every night and we played cards and the kids had a great time with Grandma and Grandpa!  Thank you for coming to see us!

We had just enough days to launder the sheets and clean the house before Avalon’s BFF Kate and her mom Jo arrived.  They also brought goodies from home, too!  But Jo thought I was joking about missing American kitty litter so she did not bring any.  I should have emphasized that I was not kidding!  For the sanity of anyone that stays at our house overnight I would suggest a box of American Arm & Hammer kitty litter as omiyage.  Well, they were lucky that my parents had just brought a brand new box.  Kate brought Avalon a sweet Tsum Tsum nightgown and a fun purse with matching bracelets.  They brought us York Peppermint Patties, Ghiradelli chocolate bunnies, Peeps and three boxes of Girl Scout cookies.  We hit the jackpot!  Here’s a combo picture of things that my parents brought and things that Kate and Jo brought:Avalon had just gone back to school when Kate arrived so it was unfortunate that our Spring Break ended as Kate’s was just beginning.  They spent time together after school mostly.  The mornings are a mad rush to get ready and get out the door so very little quality time is being spent in the morning with anyone.  We did take Kate and her mom to downtown Osaka and to the Lucky Owl Cafe on Avalon’s free Sunday afternoon.  I knew this would be a highlight of the trip and it was.  The girls also got to spend a lot of time running around our neighborhood mall and playing at the arcade.  While Avalon was in school we continued our search for blooming sakura trees.  Since Kate and her mom arrived a week later than my parents we saw trees in full bloom.  The trees were beautiful and full at Q’s Mall!  One day we took them to Katsuo-ji Temple to see how the cherry blossoms were coming along.  But the lady there said to wait a few more days!

We went for a hike up to Minoh waterfall in the afternoon.  It was wonderful weather that day.  But the next day, when I had to work, it rained for most of the day.  We also took them to Nara (about a 2-hour train ride from Minoh) to see the “wild but tame” Sika deer that rule Nara Park.  Jo bought deer crackers, or shika biscuits (shika means deer in Japanese), and the deer ran after her and Kate.  It was hilarious.  She bought about 3 or 4 packages of crackers in all.

We also walked to Todai-ji Temple to see the gigantic Daibutsu inside the temple.  Every souvenir in Nara is either a deer or a Buddha it seems.  The cherry blossoms were in bloom in Nara and the deer looked even more kawaii against the backdrop of sakura flowers.On their last full day in Osaka, we let Avalon leave school early to accompany Kate to Universal Studios Japan.  Both girls had been talking all week about the possibility of going there.  Avalon rode her bike home and we hopped on the bus and the express train headed for USJ.  It was the most amazing day to be there!  There were no crowds and the lines were really short.  I couldn’t believe it.  Avalon’s favorite ride, Hollywood Dream, had a wait of 10 minutes in the singles line and 20 minutes in the regular line.  Unheard of!  She and Kate went on it twice.  The only significant wait we had was for Evangelion, a super cool virtual reality roller coaster.  You wear a VR headset and watch scenes related to the anime of the same name while on the ride.  It’s pretty wild.  By the time it was dark we were getting close to shutting down the park.  We actually walked right on to the Harry Potter ride!  This ride often has a wait of 3+ hours so to walk on with no line is unbelievable.  It was the best ending to a perfect week with our special guests from home.Overlapping with our entertaining duties was the fast approaching international school swim meet.  Halyard is on the team and swimming for our SOIS Sabers team.  Two schools will compete against them: Korea International School and Seoul International School.  All team families were required to either host two students or find someone else to host them for you.  So we had to “kick our friends from home out” to a hotel and bring in two foreign students for a home stay of 3 nights.  As it tuned out, it was great fun to host these students in our home.

Upon their arrival, Thursday, April 13, we took Jo and Kate to school for a mini tour and to meet our home stay students.  Both boys were very polite.  We decided to take them out for sushi because they told us that sushi is super expensive in South Korea.  John told them to eat as much sushi as they wanted.  Our bill for the eight of us in our party came to 8800 yen, or about $80.  Only $10 per person!  We love sushi in Japan.

Halyard hung out with the boys from Korea in the evenings and we all had breakfast together at our house in the mornings.  Both boys had lived briefly in the US, which we were very surprised about.  One had lived in Cleveland and the other had lived in Boston.  They spoke flawless English!  At 7am sharp on Easter morning we delivered them back to the school to catch the bus to the airport.

All in all it’s been a lot of fun to have visitors with us and to see familiar faces from home.  It’s been a busy few weeks and now it’s time for laundry and cleaning the house all over again.