Everyone back at home is probably nearly tucked safely in bed by now, but man alive I’m trying my best to keep up on our adventures here before they are over.  

As I have mentioned before, we are kind of slaves to our school here.

I grew up with the mantra from my parents: “Don’t ever let schooling interfere with your education,” (adopted from Mark Twain) and I adore it.  There is so much to learn and grow and do in this life, and every once in a while school gets in the way.  That’s not to say I don’t think school is important because man alive, is it ever!  But Dave and I have never had any problems with taking our kids out of school for this or that extra thing we deemed important enough.  

That whole perspective changes a lot when you have a daughter with special needs that you want to keep up on grade level and two close to graduation and important college decisions.  Oh, and when you’re living in a foreign country and all of your kids are trying their darnedest to keep up.
So we’ve been careful about sticking around for school…even the Saturday school days we’ve had here.  But we’ve also tried to take full advantage of any vacation days we have had to get out and explore where we are living.  They had one day off on Thursday for Thanksgiving (which we thought was pretty lucky since this isn’t an American school), so we decided to miss school the next day (Friday) so we could get to Japan before the end of this Asian adventure.  I figured it would be pretty fascinating to see another Asian culture so close in proximity but so different in so many ways.  Growing up, my family lived in Japan for a month one summer when I was a teenager (back here) and I wanted to share it with my family while we were so close.

When I was in Utah for my sister’s wedding I had the brilliant idea to investigate whether my brother who served his mission in Japan and his family may take the bait to join us there for Thanksgiving.

When they called to tell us they were in it was like it was Christmas morning around here.  All the kids were SO excited, most especially to get to snuggle up their little cousin Zara.

We ran out of time to present our “country reports” (which I have the kids do every time we visit some place new), so we did them at the airport.  Max talked about Japanese emperors and the history of Japanese government:

Elle talked about Shintoism and Zen Buddhism.  Here she is getting everyone into the “Zen” pose:

Grace forgot her paper sitting on the kitchen table so we’re still waiting on her history report of Kyoto and Tokyo.  Claire reported on Geishas and Lu reported on what a Japanese temple is and what the weather would be in Japan, but they did theirs before we left (Claire was very excited and even had a power-point).

We had been anticipating this trip for a while so we were all pretty excited going to the airport.

We flew in late on Wednesday night and stayed right by the airport.

It was so strange to land in this country where there were Christmas decorations everywhere.  Made us feel so joyful.

Then the real adventure began the next morning.  We took a train to meet Eli and Julie in Osaka where they were staying.

That’s all of Osaka we saw…just the gorgeous clear view from the hotel (we’ve kind of gotten used to a little fog and pollution over here so it seemed extra crystally).  

Then we were on to the great traditions of plastic food displays in windows:

Perfectly organized everything, even trash:
The sweetest, smilingest people:

 And a boatload of taxis getting us from place to place.

We also explored the metro system.

This was Kyoto’s.  Much smaller and more manageable than Tokyo’s was.

Have I mentioned how much I love metros?  I don’t know why but it gives me such a rush to figure them out in new cities.  Love how quick and slick they can get you around.

Aside from the metro and taxis, we walked.

Which I love too.  The kids didn’t agree about how fun that part was, but they were such great sports walking all over creation.

So was Zara:)

We spent the first two days in Kyoto where we saw the most gorgeous temples, then spent two in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Our Thanksgiving amidst the Fall leaves is back HERE.

The next day we started out at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple:

Once again, the gorgeous Fall leaves everywhere knocked our socks off.

 (Those last two pics. were from Eli.  Love his eye for photography.)

While walking to the next stop we lost these three for a minute.  When I went back to check on them this is how I found them:

Ran into some Geishas en route to the next stop:

…and got totally ripped off by a dried-fruit seller.

Next stop was Chion-in and Shoren-in Temples.

We took the metro to the Nishiki Market where there were endless rows of interesting food for sale.  Most of the things for sale were so similar for what we see here in China, but so incredibly organized and clean and beautifully lined out.  Fascinating to see.

We somehow ended up in the funniest ever place for lunch after we started to starve to death and were ready to take anything to eat.

I don’t think there were many people under 75 in this place.

My favorite shrine was the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine.

It had literally hundreds of these huge orange gates leading up a mountainside.
Along with hundreds of steps.
And we climbed them.  

Well, most of them at least 🙂

 I can’t even imagine how long it took to build this thing and carve out all these characters.

…for as far as your eye could see.

There were these maps all along the way and we kept thinking we had gone SO far only to find we had made it about an inch on the map.  This place was huge!

 Zara wanted to climb most of it herself too.

The view from the top:

(at least the “top” we got to)

 Love to watch these two with the camera.

After that it was dusk and we rushed to catch the bullet train to Tokyo.

And settled into our tiny little Japanese house we rented from Trip Advisor that was perfect for us.  Here the kids are with Tex, the guy who rented the house to us.  Such a great guy who helped us out so much.

I think Tokyo was my kids’ favorite part of the trip.

It was Dave’s birthday.  I haven’t done a post about that little fact because we have celebrated it in many ways over the last few weeks…I’ll have to write up something so we can remember soon, but the actual big day was in Japan.  Eli and I went out and found pancake mix and syrup so we could whip up a little birthday feast.

 …and have a few birthday gifts.

We walked through the Harajuku District and did a little exploration of Takeshita-dori Street where a bunch of teenagers hang out.

 It was a little rainy off and on, but it was a pretty cool place.

 …with lots of interesting little shops.

Let me take you there for a minute:

Then we walked down the Omotesada area where the high-end shops are.

 See us in that cracked mirror this up there?

We walked down some tiny alley-ways to find a great little lunch place Eli found.

 …where we listened to Christmas music and made our own “pancakes” with meat and veggies and yakisoba noodles on these little grills.

 …while it poured rain outside.

We went to watch Shibuya Crossing (the busiest intersection in the world) while drinking hot chocolate at Starbucks.

And walked from all that hustle bustle to this most quiet, beautiful Meiji Shrine through such a beautiful fog-laden park.

 There was a beautiful wedding going on amidst the tourists.

We watched the sun set from the Government Building where you can go up for free to see the view.

Even after the rain and fog we could still see Mt. Fuji off in the distance.  See it down there on the right horizon?

For dinner we went to this cool place our friends had told us about called Tonki that serves tonkatsu.  They have been serving the same meal for 73 years.

For reals.

And I think this guy has been slicing up the pork the whole entire time:

Ha!  But is he the cutest or what?  It was fascinating to watch the process of how they make their famous dish (they only serve one thing).

Poor Elle had a hole in the bottom of her shoe so by the end of the day her shoes looked like this:

See how one is way darker than the other?  That’s because it was soggy as all get-out.

After we tucked everyone in bed back at home a few of us decided to run out to catch a little bit of night-life at Shinjuku.

We walked through the coolest little alleyway to get back to the subway that Eli had scoped out before we arrived.

It was so cool to walk through that packed little place with all these noodle shops tucked in there along the way.

Julie is one amazing mama, carrying Zara a lot of the way, pregnant, and jet lagged.  Man these guys were the best travel companions ever.  Love them so much!

 Gotta love Japanese cartoons all over the place:

 And interesting that they have “women only” cars on the metro.

This metro system kind of blows your mind.  There is an above-ground system AND a below-ground system and honestly I don’t know what we would have done without my brother to get us where we needed to go.

The next day we went to church:

 Visited the LDS Tokyo temple:

Ate at this awesome noodle place called Ippudo.

We spent the whole afternoon getting to the airport.  We flew on this total budget airline which meant that the airport was a huge hike to get to.

…And there are all kinds of stories surrounding that adventure that involved prayer and suitcases and a lot of running but we made it.
The girls read Harry Potter all the way home.

LOVE that they are so into those books…Claire was so mad at Harry at one point on one bus somewhere in the outskirts of Tokyo because of some intense part where she wished he would do something different.

Grace took this picture as we arrived home.  She loves this thing and has stars in her eyes about filling up every page some day.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’ll have to get a new one in a few years when it expires and start all over, but somehow I don’t think she’ll mind.
Despite all the walking and crazy adventures, I think these kids are pretty in love with traveling.
And I’m SO grateful my brother and his family could join us for this one!!
So grateful for this kind of “schooling” that only interferes a little bit with our Chinese schooling, which we jumped right back into early the next morning.
And grateful for whoever made it through this giant-sized post!

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  1. He he! I Zara holding a little yellow umbrella, while she is fast asleep on Julie's back!? I am so enjoying your families beautiful photographs & stories, from China and beyond! (I really enjoy all your posts too!)

  2. Since you are in China now you may want to lower your enthusiasm about how awesome Japan is compared to China. Just trying to save you from an awkward conversation at the school with the other mothers. Particularly the region of the country you are in really suffered and people may have ancestors, even living relatives who lived then. Until world war 2's end Japan forceably colonized China and Korea for several decades, all sort of atrocities, there are a ton of territorial disputes that continue today with several more neighbors from not properly sorting out who really owned what beforehand. And they are not like germany and admitting to past faults but recently retracting some things formally admitted and not apologetic over some of the issues. The women only cars are because of complains from women about being groped. It's not just large cities in Japan. Pink cars are in other major cities in other countries too. It is a very clever solution to the problem, it's great its being taken serious enough to have the optional cars. It does not rely on victims coming forward and having a process to identify offenders, it prevents the opportunity. Another baby in the family is very exciting. Are there more kids than adults now on the eyre side? It sounds wonderful you were able to attend a more typical worship service and see family for the holiday. The fall leaves are beautiful.

  3. You are definitely lucky your kids got thanksgiving off. The American school here in Riyadh was open. So strange! I live that Grace wants to fill up her passport. Perhaps she could be a foreign service officer and work around the globe when she's older.

  4. When you guys are traveling, how do you decide where to go/ what to do/ where to stay? Do you use solely advice from friends and family, guidebooks, travel websites, a combination of all those?

  5. And you might want to give credit for your post's title where it accurately belongs….to Mark Twain. Not Rick and Linda Eyre.

  6. Oh my goodness, you are amazing at planning and taking advantage of so many awesome opportunities while you are there! I love how you are just breathing in all of these cultures and gaining a huge taste of and appreciation for so many different people and places. You and Dave really are awesome parents. The pics of you two at the Meiji Shrine are beyond precious. Your playfulness and love for each other just shines through! And I'm sure you already know this, but you two sure are giving your family the chance of a lifetime — memories that will last forever.

    Also, second your shout-out to Julie — she sure is one amazing mom! So cool for her and Eli to be able to go back to where he served.

  7. So cool! By the way, Ippudo has two locations in NYC – it's one of my favorite restaurants; SO good! And although they look totally different supposedly they really are one and the same as the Tokyo location!

  8. I also noticed little Zara holding the yellow umbrella while asleep. 🙂 Cute.
    I'm so happy your family is having such wonderful experiences. I love the pictures you share with all of us.
    And unlike Madam Queen, I completely understand why you mentioned your parents in connection with the title "Don't let schooling interfere with your education" since that is something they said to you and your siblings throughout your life while growing up. Heck, I wouldn't know where the majority of my parents, grandparents, and teachers quotes originated from. It's not criminal to share life experiences.
    Thanks for allowing us to be part of your journey.

    Lisa in Seattle

  9. Great post as usual! Random question though – do you have a way to "bulk" water mark your photos with 71toes.com? It seems like you must with a post of that size 🙂 Thanks for your help!
    Katie from SugarSpiceandSparkle.blogspot.com

  10. Oh man! I enjoyed this post very much. Out of all your travel posts, this one is probably my favorite. I really, really, really want to go to Japan now!
    I love that Claire and Lucy are loving Harry Potter and reading too! I'm a big reader myself 🙂

  11. Your trip looked awesome. Julie is awesome. Loved all the photos. Can't imagine living in all these places with so many people, smog, buildings, business, etc…what a neat experience. Thanks for sharing.

  12. The Fall leaves are gorgeous!! And good for your to not let the crowds get you down.

    I think what KMS is getting at is that it might be interesting and intellectually stimulating to delve a little deeper into some of what you are seeing instead of just packing in a million things in one day and being all "yep, we saw that." I know that you are a visual person and get that you appreciate things that are "the coolest" and "neat" and "clean" and "colorful" etc. And tt seems to me like you're rushing through just seeing the pretty and not digging deeper into what you and your family are experiencing and the culture you are visiting. The pink sign for the train is the perfect example; if you had dug a bit deeper it would have been a great opportunity to talk to your older kids about some really important topics. It's not just a funny/cute/neat/cool sign.

  13. LOVED every picture. We saw so many things that brought back great memories but also so many things that we didn't get a chance to see (or maybe they weren't there) when we were there all those years ago. What a country! Everything is not only orderly but incredibly complicated in Japan. The instructions for cooking rice properly includes at least 6 steps. And each kernel is precious. We love those beautiful people and all we learned from our wonderful host Susan and neighbors who took care of us for that month. Fabulous photographer. Simply breathtaking!

  14. Thanks guys. To Jenny (also) I appreciate your point. I think by the end of this monstrous blog post I was just ready to tie it up and go on to the next thing (we have done SO much I haven't written about and I'm trying to find a little balance living and recording these last few weeks). So I didn't go into much detail for the blog readers which I should for my own memory's sake. The history is such a huge part of the experience we've had here. It has been so eye-opening to be able to study so much history while we're living and traveling right in the middle of it. There is a lot I could say about the history of Japan vs. China (thanks for adding so much information kms, wow you know your stuff!), but I'm so limited on time to write everything down. So interesting to be among these people who are so good on both sides and try to understand up close and personal the things their countries have gone through. Dave also has some interesting insight from living in Taiwan for two years with the Chinese perspective as well. But all that would be another blog post that maybe I'll get to some day…
    My brother did explain the Women's only cars and I should have written that in…just not enough time! I appreciate anyone who wants to add extra insight. And thank you for the Mark Twain info. Madame Queen, I couldn't remember who originally said that so I'm glad for the correct credit to add in.

  15. oh Shawni, I love the fog-laden park. Awesome! The colored leaves were stunning, but the atmosphere in that park is quite something!

    And since you've opened the comments again: I have been meaning/wanting to thank you for the recent post about raising teenagers. That helps. A lot. Thank you 🙂

  16. I LOVE Japan and the Japanese people. I spent a short 2 weeks there after HS graduation and it was amazing. I hope to go back someday- seeing your pictures made me more eager to do so.

    I also hope you don't let the nitpicky comments stop you from posting. I completely understand that you can't even begin to write all that you learned about the places you visited and so where do you start? It's easier not to. Hopefully your pictures will spark your readers' interest enough that they'll go do a little research of their own 😉

    Thanks for sharing your adventures!

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