The following post is written by my amazing sister!
First, an introduction: Hi! I’m Torey’s sister, Alix. I’m the older sister, though her kids won’t be convinced, and I’ll tell you I’m 29. I’M TWENTY-NINE. I’m back in Ann Arbor, her once and future stomping grounds, and we grew up together (OBVI) in Dexter. Our mother always told us “Hey! Be nice! She’s the only sister you’ll ever have!” and BOY are we glad we heeded her advice (*ahem* Mom – we really DID listen). We are the best of friends, who look after each other’s kids (mine all have 4 feet) and houses, run errands together, and bring each other coffee in emergencies and sometimes just because. In short, I’m the luckiest, because I ended up with the best sister in the world. Since I was able to visit T, N, and the kids in Japan, I also promised my sister I would write a blog post. Well, turns out, I’m on the wordy side, so A blog post turned into a FEW blog posts, and this is the first. Now, bear with me, because I’m not as funny as Torey, but I will do my best.
To begin at the beginning (a very good place to start. I should mention I’m the executive director of a community theatre, so forgive me if I break into song now and then), I had MAJOR mixed feelings when I learned that my baby sis was moving halfway around the world for a minimum of a year. I mean, what an amazing opportunity! But, also, HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE WITHOUT MY SISTER THAT LONG?? So I swore then and there that I would do whatever I could to make a trip to Japan happen. And once again, I am the luckiest, because I was able to take the time from my job, my wonderful SO, Andy, was very supportive, and, thanks to the kindness and generosity of a couple of wonderful people, it was much more affordable than I had feared. The luckiest, I tell you. Now, with that said, there were a couple of not-as-ideal points. One, Andy wasn’t going to be able to come with me. His job, and the health of his father (who doesn’t leave super nearby) meant that he wasn’t going to be able to take the time necessary to travel to Japan – I mean, one doesn’t ocean-hop for a weekend. So, boo to that. And two, summer is the time I get to take my vacation because we are in between seasons in July and August. And summer is a *little* toasty in Japan, but c’est la vie. I WAS GOING TO JAPAN!! And my trip was AMAZING. It was INCREDIBLE. And I am so grateful that I was able to take it. And now, as promised, I get to guest-post for my sister! This first post (if you’ve managed to get past my rambling intro) is an overview of my trip. In future posts, I’ll cover travel tips/things I learned, plus more detailed information on our trips out of Nagoya.
A trip like this was certainly something that took a fair amount of planning, and, not to brag or anything, but I’m like, really good at worrying. So I researched and I planned, and I bugged my sister, and then I bugged our friend Roberta, who visited T with her family before my trip (*cough* and who still owes T a blog post *cough). I found out all I could about what to pack, what to expect, how to behave, where to go, what to see, etc. And I wrote lists. I love lists. I am a list maker. GOOD NEWS THOUGH: My sister is a phenomenal host, and let me know all sorts of things she thought would be helpful. She made sure I knew things like tank tops aren’t really a thing in Japan, and that everyone carries a small towel with them, and not to forget bug spray. She forewarned me about Japanese toilets (you guys, I could do a whole POST on toilets, but I won’t. I have a phobia of public restrooms …). And Roberta talked me through all the logistics: what it was like getting through customs, what I could expect at the airport in Nagoya, and how normal people who actually get hot (unlike my sister) handle the summer weather. So, after all these lists , two suitcases, 50 pounds of American goods headed to T, a carry on, a suitable outfit for 13.5 hours on a plane, and goodbyes to Andy and the furbabies, it was GO TIME!
Thank GOODNESS I inherited my father’s ability to sleep on planes. That, plus going forward in time (let me tell you, going in REVERSE across the dateline, like on the way back, will MESS YOU UP), plus landing in Nagoya late afternoon local time meant that I could basically hit the ground running. Of course, by running, I mean waiting in line at immigration and then and customs, bouncing up and down, sweating, and texting my sister who was on the other side of the gate, also bouncing and texting. But we managed to keep it (mostly) together, I made it through, and then, SEVEN MONTHS after we’d last seen each other, it was SEESTER TIME! She drove me back to her house (she rocks this driving on the opposite side thing!), and I got to see the kiddos! They sorta noticed I was there. Well, they played it cool for a little while, and THEN I got hugs and cuddles and it was the BEST. I have really missed watching those kids grow up a little every day. Seven months is a lot of growing up when you are 8 and 10. I don’t think I even got to see Nathaniel that night – unfortunately, his work schedule meant that I didn’t get to see a lot him at all, but it was really good to see him too, and to catch up and hang out. I’m telling you what – family is my happy place .
We spent the first couple of days of my trip in Nagoya, hanging out, catching up, drinking coffee (in the morning), drinking beer or cocktails (in the evening), eating all the things, letting me get acclimated to time and weather, and taking it on the easier side. Two things to note here: one, canned cocktails in Japan are pretty awesome, not like pre-mixed stuff here. Business idea: figure out how to import Strong Zero. Two, when my sister told me it was humid, she was not kidding! As I mentioned, Torey is an excellent host, and prepared me well for the fact that everything in Japan in high summer is, er … (Molly, if you’re reading, skip ahead) … moist. Not only did she warn me, she explained to me why even if the temp and humidy % were comparable to home it feels WAY hotter in Japan. The answer? Dew point. Theirs is 10-15 degrees higher than ours, so yeah. It’s HUMID. And it was pretty dang hot too.
When I say we took those days on the easier side, we still did a bunch! We had lunch at a conveyor belt sushi place which is basically heaven. This was my first lesson in “everything in Japan talks or has a song.” It really amused this gaijin. But OMG SUSHI. And we ate unagi (eel) for good luck, because apparently we were supposed to on that day. It was delicious. It was ALL delicious.
.Then, my sister had made us (herself, Rosie, and me) reservations to do Shibori (traditional Japanese tie-dyeing) at a shibori museum in a place called Arimatsu, which is a very old town with gorgeous traditional architecture. It was SUPER fun. The ladies who taught us didn’t speak English, and Torey speaks some Japanese, but I speak none. But I do sew, and so I caught on pretty quickly. To the point that one of the teachers only realized about halfway through that I wasn’t understanding a word she was saying, only following what she showed me! Both teachers were absolutely lovely, and the older of the two thought Rosie was a hoot (did I mention Rosie wore her giraffe ears?), and basically ended up doing Rosie’s project while teaching her in Japanese with the cutest sound effects EVER.
We also hit the mall to go to the Daiso (100 yen store. So like a dollar store. But WAY better), the junk food store (Japanese junk food is awesome), and grab Starbucks and a snack. And then … GIRLS NIGHT! I got introduced to Yamachan (which has the BEST tabesaki (chicken wings famous in Nagoya) and something called cheese fry which is little pieces of deep fried cheese that put American mozzarella sticks to shame) and then we did karaoke. Oh did we karaoke. My sister and love a good karaoke room, and we sang until we were hoarse. My sister knows me well, and I had a fabulous time.
The next day we (Rosie and Torey and I) got crafty again and made hair ornaments at a party hosted by one of Torey’s ex-pat friends. This was also so much fun, and we ended up with gorgeous hair clips. And Rosie NAILED this craft.
Then lunch at a curry joint (yum), my intro to Mr. Donut (OMGYUM), and the train to a mystery destination. Which turned out to be A FABRIC STORE. Which was unbelievable. 4 or 5 floors with traditional fabrics, modern prints, all you need to make those Lolita-style costumes you see in Japan, more trims than you can shake a stick at, crafting stuff, home dec … OMG. I “restrained” myself and only ended up with 3 metres of printed silk. Aaaand some obi-weight fabric. Aaaaaaaaaand some trims. And a kit to make another hair ornament but really at that point … Ok yes. I am a fabric junkie.. Then off to Osu Kannen to see the temple/shrine and to the second hand kimono store, where again I *ahem* restrained myself. Which meant three kimono and an obi.Then it was pizza and movie night while Nathaniel was at a work function, and we got ready to travel.
The rest of visit included a day/night in Hiroshima, a day/night on Miyajima, and an overnight in Kyoto. And, as with everything else, my sister did an impeccable job of planning and catering to everybody really well. But more on all of that later. Thanks for reading this far, if you’ve made it. I’m loving getting to share my amazing trip with all of you. (and if you’re thinking of visiting, if I haven’t made it clear, Torey is the best host 🙂 )