Touring Japan with my parents is really fun because—surprise!—we enjoy lots of the same things!! We stopped in Yokohama for pastries on our way to the heart of downtown Tokyo one morning last week. First stop: Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. We had perfect weather for touring: cloudy and cool. A couple layers and a light jacket sufficed to keep us temperate all day! However, our nice layers did not help us avoid disaster with the palace water fountains. Mama leaned over for a sip and got a geyser to the face. She came up startled and spluttering, and after laughing (and lending her our handkerchiefs of course), Daddy carefully turned the handle on another to show us how it’s done. A steady fountain gurgled for a moment, but as soon as he tried to get a drink the pressure surged and he, too, got a facefull. O ye thirsty, beware!!After admiring the graceful arches of the palace bridge, we crossed the street to Hibiya Park. My parents like to tour European-style, meaning they thought ahead and brought a loaf of cranberry walnut bread from the bakery near my house, plus some dried fruit, nuts and chocolate. We bought some green tea from a vendor in the park and had a lovely late lunch on a park bench by the fountain. We watched golden ginkgo leaves shower down every time a breeze blew. We took made bets on people’s nationalities. We watched a mom and her pigtail-ed toddler wait for and meet up with some adoring grandparents. Then we walked through Ginza to Chuo Street to admire the Christmas decor and general bustle before hopping onto the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line for a straight shot to Asakusa. Next stop: Sensoji Temple! Daddy took this opportunity to hang on something Mum couldn’t reach. Speaking of height, I have never felt so conspicuous! I like to tell Chris I’m very “internationally sized,” meaning I’m never the tallest nor the shortest, and if I wear a hat and Japanese shoes I can blend in here quite nicely. My dad, however, didn’t blend in at all. Everywhere we went he got stared at constantly. I found this very amusing! Big herds of giggling Japanese schoolgirls would get completely silent when we walked by. Behind us, we could hear them whispering. A friend at church shrieked when she saw my dad: “Eeeeeehhhhhhh!?!? Sooooooooo tall!!” she said, holding her hand far above her head. My dad laughed and held his hand down at the level of her head: “So short!” Everyone laughed, and several rounds of, “So tall!” “So short!” ensued. Anyway, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, founded after two brothers fishing in the Sumida River pulled in their nets to find the Goddess of Mercy in 628. The area avoided demolition during the Second World War, so Asakusa’s narrow streets have an old world feel. Some of these narrow, old streets house traditional Japanese pubs, or izakaya. We sought one out for dinner. Eating in Japan is difficult. First of all, it can be tricky to distinguish which buildings are restaurants. The second difficulty lies in determining the price range and style of food. Finally, it is not easy to knowledgeably order when the menu is in Japanese. After two years in Japan, I’ve had a little practice in trouble-shooting these issues, so I led my parents inside with confidence. I ordered beers and yakitori (Japanese chicken kebabs) for three. My favorite trick is to wait until I see someone receive something delicious, then ask what it is and say I’ll have the same. Soon the Japanese businessmen boozing it up next to us ordered some tasty-looking soup. Mama said she’d like a bowl, so I ordered three. Thankfully, it wasn’t fish. But…what was it? For awhile we fished out roughly-chopped meat pieces with our chopsticks, wary of their irregular textures but mollified by the fact that it wasn’t squishy or crunchy. “Sumimasen!” I said to our waitress, “Kore wa nan desu ka?” (which I think means, ‘excuse me, this what is?’) She and the businessmen conferred in Japanese, looking for the English words. She patted her tummy and moo-ed. The chubbiest businessman nodded. “Stomach of cow!” “Oohhhhh,” I said, trying to look pleased with this information and nodding enthusiasticly. “Oishi!” Delicious! Like most food, it became less delicious as I became less hungry. Then my mom pointed to the tv screen over my shoulder. It was broadcasting the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. That morning the Japanese prime minister had ordered his cabinet to stay in Tokyo in case the need for immediate decision-making arose in light of North Korea’s continuing belligerency. Chris was at that moment preparing for controversial exercises with the South Korean military, so this caught all of our attention. The newscast was in Japanese, but the tension transcended language. Somberly we returned to our stomach soup, discussing potential outcomes of the current conflict. Mama seemed awfully amused for the seriousness of our topic, and when she burst out laughing Daddy saw right through her: “You gave Mari your stomach soup!” I became indignant: “What!? You called my attention to news that concerns my husband possibly going to war just so you could empty your wiggly bits into my bowl!? Mom!!” She laughed uncontrollably, repeating, “Wiggly bits! Ha ha! Wiggly bits!” One of them was huge and especially wiggly-looking. “I’m going to eat this just to make you feel bad!” I said, picking up the brain-looking wiggly bit with my chopsticks. But it was too big and chewy to finish and I started to gag, ultimately depositing it neatly into her napkin and grossing her out. From then on, ‘wiggly bits’ became the generic term for all unappetising Japanese food, like the tentacles rising up out of the steam near the counters at most convenience stores. Mmmmm, wiggly bits. So after the wiggly bits took the Ginza line straight through to its other end: Shibuya! No one can leave Japan without experiencing the scramble of the main crosswalk. Girls dressed like pink Little Bo Peeps or trussed up dolls roamed the streets, and eventually we found ourselves in the department store 109. This fascinated my parents. The bizarre costumes, nonsensical Engrish, pounding music, the national obsession with cute—this combined to make Shibuya one of the most interesting places we visited! “May my days be as exciting as gambling! Without risk, life would be a bore. Without fashion, I would be a snore. To be the most beautifl, I always know what to ware…TWISTY!” I think that’s my new life mantra. And with that, we completed our Tokyo adventure! Up next: Sankeien Garden.