On Tuesday I attempted something I had not previously done – I let the warm, familiar, Americanized borders of our little town and struck out across country into Japan…alone. The plan was simple: I was going to drive with the boys to a neighboring city that I’ve visited several times as a passenger, and try to find the Children’s Park and Botanical Gardens – which we have never been to.
All went surprisingly well at first. We made it to the city! I successfully followed increasingly obscure directions (“Cross a narrow bridge and turn right at the intersection with a Sunkus. The road will split and wind uphill, by a river. You will come to a T-intersection with a lot of signs…”) until the very last one. I tried…and I tried…and I tried, but I could not find it. (This is because the last direction turned out to be completely and inexplicably wrong.) It was frustrating to be so close but be so utterly unable to find something that should be so visible. I mean, the place has a roller coaster. I cast down one road and then another, finding down the first increasingly rural Japan (where I saw things like this…that’s not my picture, but it’s accurate. Yes, they really dress like that. Yes, this is a real farm – fairly typical of what I’ve seen, too – they do so much of their farming by hand. It’s very peculiar compared to – say – Kansas. They’re drying rice in that picture, by the way), down another a toll road leading away from the city, and down the third another path to the downtown area I had just left. It was on this road that I lost track of the way I had come and became horribly, horribly, horribly lost.
We had at this point been in the car for over two hours. The boys were crying – I was almost crying – and I had no idea how to get back to where I had been, how to get back home, or how to reach any of the landmarks I recognized in the city. Off of the roads that Americans frequent, the street signs are almost entirely in kanji which, you know…I can’t read. It was very stressful. I just drove, looking for something I recognized, trying to move towards larger streets in the hopes that I’d be able to find my way out.
It was at this point that I happened to pass something I recognized – although it didn’t help me orient myself at all. It was a mall that we visited on the tour when we first arrived. We hadn’t been back since, but I remembered that it have a pretty sizable arcade and play area inside, and a pet store across the street – and I decided to take the opportunity to salvage something of the day for the boys at least. They were predictably impressed by the pet store and the mall. We saw (extremely expensive) puppies, some fish, and some birds (they sold chickens O_o) at the pet store, then walked over to the mall. When we’d gone before, we hadn’t gone into the arcade because we were short on time, low on energy, and pretty bewildered by the foreign culture. Even though I was stressed and exhausted, I felt so much calmer and more confident navigating the mall this time that it was actually pretty soothing.
As it turns out, the arcade there is a great place to take two small children to make them think that was the whole point of two hours’ driving. Aside from the loud, flashing arcade games of which there were plenty, they had an area for smaller children encircled by tracks for a little train, complete with railroad crossing that closed, flashing lights and dinging if the train was going around. There was an enclosed room filled with fans and big balloons, they had a full-sized carousel (aka ‘Merry Goraund’), miniature Pokemon bumper cars, a little corner filled with foam mats and blocks, and coin-operated ‘rides’ like you see at the front of Walmart. Although, while you might see Thomas the Tank Engine or a bus in Walmart, you’re not terribly likely to see Anpanman there. There was even a real roller coaster on the upper level, but obviously I didn’t take my boys on it. We spent most of our time in the bus – not even putting any money in, just sitting or (in the case of Max and Charlie) taking turns at the steering wheel. Of course, the first time that little train went around right behind us, Max sat bolt upright and insisted that we get to the train immediately. We rode the train around once (it was a short ride but a cheap one) and then it was back to the bus until Max saw the carousel going around. With his recent horse obsession that was no big surprise. It was the boys’ first time on a carousel and they did pretty well! I even think Charlie enjoyed it, and he was pretty dubious at first.
All in all, they had a blast. I wrangled them onto the bumper cars and we took another turn on the carousel before we left, picking up some vending-machine ice cream on the way out. (It’s a phenomenon that’s growing on me. Some of them are actually sold in cones of soft-serve, frozen solid and encased in little plastic cone protectors.) Back in the car, the tired and happy kids fell asleep, and it only took about twenty minutes of nervous driving for me to find a big blue sign with the way home in tall white letters.
Once I got home, of course, I checked directions to the gardens on several sites and discovered the glaring error in the last line of the ones I had followed. Looking at the right way to get there, I could see in my head exactly which way I should have gone. Frustrated, I decided that I was going to try again the next day…and I will write about that tomorrow.