Art in Motion: Museum of Art in Atami, Japan

Staring at an artistc masterpiece for minutes on end.  Perusing ancient statutes, paintings, and handcrafted pottery. Sitting before a behemoth Miro or Picasso, mesmerized by bright colors. Hours on end staring at Van Gogh’s chunky brush strokes from every angle.  Days spent wandering museums from Amsterdam to Paris to St. Petersburg to New York City to Madrid. Then along came a baby.

My love of museums didn’t stop and I kept trucking. With my baby tucked in a baby carrier, we journeyed through the Louvre and the Norton Simon Museum. But then he turned into a rambunctious toddler . Once he wouldn’t stay in a baby backpack, I thought my museum wanderlust was resigned to stimulus overload at children’s museums. And then I had a second child and became scared of losing my kids in the whirlwind of motion at the kids museum.

Yet, at, here we are at an art museum at last. We are in Atchi, Japan, known for hot spring inns (onsen ryokans) that are centuries old. It is also known for MOA, Museum of Art, standing over the city on an oceanside cliff.  I don’t know what got into me but I decided to take the family to the museum. The sky looked with rain clouds waiting to burst, so we drove off to the museum.

The ride alone was worth the trip. We swerved through curvy local roads and spied on life outside the touristy resorts. Around every bend, ocean vistas appeared. The feeling of impending death on narrow, curvy roads in Japan never gets old. As the museum neared, we drive through a bamboo forest wonderland. The museum appeared, with Roman Greco columns of white. So….Japanese…

Museum of Art, MOA, Atchi, Japan

 

Suddenly the anxiety creeped up. Our relative was dropping us off with no car and two kids at an isolated museum. We would be there for hours with two nap-deprived kids. And onward we go!

The museum is sandwiched between a bamboo garden and an ocean side perch. There is not a bad view in sight. The vastness of the ocean and the high-in-the-sky bamboo dwarf  my stress. I am reminded that the world keeps on turning to the hand of an awesome Creator, and I start to settle into zen, kids and all.

Ocean Vista

This museum is like the Getty in Los Angeles; you can come just for the view and the grounds and have a wonderful time. Oh wait, there is art to be seen? Who wants to be indoors with this view?

Old me would grab a map and plot out a whirlwind tour through the key collections. New me is focused on finding the cafe. Nursing hunger pains! Plus, well-fed kids are less cranky. We find the restaurant which overlooks the museum gardens with floor to ceiling windows. Better yet, the food was so delicious, we ordered another round! The restaurant sticks with local ingredients and the freshness is clear. We had a pork meatloaf (in Japan, this is a hamburger) served on a sizzling black stone. It was surrounded by local mushrooms, radish, potatoes, eggplant, and onions, all sizzling in the pork juice. Everyone, baby included, indulged in it. Highly recommended! Go for the view and be surprised by the food.

image

The next stop was the tea rooms. The museum houses an indoor tea room constructed gilded gold. It is perfectly preserved. I loved it for the history and a love of all things tea. The boys loved it for it’s blinding shininess.

 

Golden Tea Room

 

Afterwards, we traveled outdoors to the other tea room, one that actually serves tea! The museum garden contains a classic summer residence with ancient Japanese architecture and gorgeous gardens. We could have spent all day there. The kids loved roaming the moss-sprinkled pathway, destroying the zen in the rock garden, and roaming around ancient corridors. I loved immersing myself in a bygone era and the serenity of the gardens. I am also a tea nerd, and loved drinking freshly made matcha (green tea powder) in the tea room overlooking the gardens.

Bamboo with Wild Lillies

 

Entry to the Gardens

Former Residence

Tea Room

Eventually, we went inside to see the art.  We spent all of our time in a temporary exhibit about light. The kids, and the grown ups, loved it. As a result, this is my only photo of traditional Japanese art forum the permanent collection:

Japanese art

In the end, my kids taught me a new way to enjoy museums. It turns out I am less cranky when I am well fed. The art was more enjoyable on a full stomach. But beyond that, they forced me to slow down and really live the experience. Did I see every masterpiece in the museum? No. Did I read about the history and symbolism in the pieces? No. Did I stop, breathe, stroll, and take in the grounds and residences like a local from the past? You bet.

Light art

When it came to the actual art, my son introduced me to the joys of more experiential art. We spent half an hour in front of an interactive screen projection where our sillouhettes controlled the movement of colorful balls (see the featured image of this post). My son ran back and forth between colorful light displays. As his face lit up with wonder, so did mine. He reminded me the world is magical and the best art is to be fully enjoyed. And whatever you do, take the scenic route. (This includes the museum’s endless elevator corridor, filled with colored lights and surround sound symphony music).

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

Advertisements

Ocean View Hot Springs: Getting My Zen On in Luxury

I am buzzing from the hot spring high. Fifteen minutes in the natural, hot, bubbly springs will loosen your muscles, soak away your cares, and force you to let loose. Then you hop out and get right back to the craziness of toddler, baby, and in laws. But it is such a nice way to bond as a family!

Traditional Japanese inns, called ryokans, are clustered throughout the country. Many ryokans also have hot springs, or onsen. The whole family dresses down (or dresses up in my Western view) into ukatas, which are casual cotton kimonos. They are so comfortable that many people sleep in them. There are no shoes allowed in the inn. Everyone wears slippers in the common areas and goes barefoot in the onsen and in their private rooms.

Once you change into your traditional Japanese pajamas, you head to the hot spring. As per my previous post, you get naked with the whole family (usually single gender but not always). You bathe before entering the springs. Today’s bath took place outdoors with an ocean view. Then, you slip into the hot spring and let your body adjust to the heat. Slowly, your body and mind unwinds. I take in the view of the bay and the city lights. Fifteen minutes later, it is time to cool off in the nude in the fresh ocean breeze. If I stay any longer, I run the risk of falling asleep. Then, bathe again. There are usually a variety of spa products to pamper yourself, and of course you can purchase them later if so inspired.

Once double bathed and fully refreshed, it is time for endless food in your room. Ryokans often serve eight to twelve courses, including sushi, wagyu beef (heavily marbleized), and an array of Japanese delicacies. Today we indulged in local, sweet lobster, both grilled and raw sashimi. Another specialty item was steamed abalone. We ate on pillows and a low rise table. It allowed the kids to run around the tatami floor in between courses. Relaxing fun for everyone!

For a little more self-indulgence, I took a nighttime dip in the onsen. Fully relaxed for bed….until my baby screamed for attention. Getting my zen on indeed!

Sashimi

Appetizers
Abalone steaming up!

Eating Like a Local While the Typhoon Rages On

A major typhoon is sweeping through Japan. For three days, torrential downpours and black clouds heave covered our valley. There have been moments of sunny skies to break the gloom. Two nights ago, I became convinced I would be struck by lightening. The clouds were thick and heavy. I could barely see the streetlight right in front of my window. Thunder and lightning shook the house every two minutes. About every ten minutes, I heard the big crackling an death rattling lightning strike. We are surrounded by forest on the backside. It sounded like the trees were getting pounded. Every time he lightning flashed, our whole room lit up. I found myself wanting to crawl into my mom’s bed, until I realized I AM the mom know. Amazingly, my three-year-old never woke up. My baby woke once but was easily calmed by my presence and fell back asleep. Clearly, he couldn’t see the panic on my face in the dark.

During the day, I drive slower than the numerous grandmas here. I am very cautious of rain on windy mountain roads. When the rain pours the hardest, I stop in to the nearest eatery and pig out until the weather calms down. It is for the safety of my children. A bonus is the delight of my tummy and meeting new faces.

Along the back country road, there is a little development. The drive surrounds me in forestry, rolling hills,and vistas of the town and farms below. Rarely, I stumble upon a little eatery. My first thought is where do they get customers? The road feels deserted, as if I am traveling through a fantasy world by myself. I am frequently the only customer at places I stop. I enjoy the intimacy. The shop owners have time to talk with me, whether out of boredom or any real interest in me. They are always surprised to see a foreigner, especially with a baby in tow.

Today, the rain suddenly picked up speed close to home. I pulled into a little cafe run by a local farm. The little house is surrounded by apple trees and blueberry bushes. The windows look out over the uninhabited forest and a lonely log cabin with wild flowers. The kitchen is run by a mother and daughter team while the grandfather comes in and out as he tends the farm. It feels like dining in there home, as multi generations gather in the kitchen for a family meal while I eat next to them in the dining room. The entryway is filled with bags, dolls, tissue holders, and other items hand sewn by the grandmother. It feels more homey than my own home.

My baby crawls around and takes in all the attention. Meanwhile, the daughter serves me hot tea.  While I relax and watch the downpour, I see her dash out into the typhoon rains to a shed. She comes back in, drenched, holding a small bowl. Would you like some blueberries while I cook? Would I ever! I feel guilty that she suffered the rain for me to eat blueberries and savor them even more than usual. The baby ate them right up! He will be quite disappointed when we get back to eating produce in the desert.

Ooiishi! Yummy!

Ooiishi! Yummy!

The restaurant only serves three dishes. One is soba (see my noodle post: https://misomommy.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/noodles-a-japanese-noodle-guide/). Another dish, displayed proudly on a outdoor banner, is grilled rice balls on skewers slathered with a sweet and chunky miso paste.

Miso rice ball skewers

The third dish is called kurumi. I ordered it blindly and then learned about the dish as it arrived. Kurumi looks like white miso soup, but it is actually coarsely ground walnuts boiled in a sweet broth. The soup is topped with two, freshly-grilled mochi squares. The aroma of buttery walnuts and grilled rice filled the air. As I dug in, the mochi softly pulled and stretched. I bit off a piece at a time, chewed the mochi, and drank the soup. In between bites, I looked over the storm and the mountains.

Walnut soup with grilled mochi

Walnut soup with grilled mochi

A chart on how to make Kurumi, mochi walnut soup

A chart on how to make Kurumi, mochi walnut soup

As you can seem the soup came with homemade pickles.  The salt content is lower than commercial pickles  and the experience is crisp, cool, and refreshing. I didn’t think it could get any better, until she brought out local cherries that she had frozen. They were like little cherry Popsicles plucked right from the cherry tree.

Frozen cherries - a refreshing summer treat!

Frozen cherries – a refreshing summer treat!

After a delicious respite, it was time to face the tsunami and drive slowly home.

Wind and rain typhoon-style

Wind and rain typhoon-style

Blending with the Locals

When it was growing up, my relatives told stories about growing up with a lively downtown and specialized stores. When people needed milk, they went to the dairy. When they needed meat, they went to the butcher. Sweets and bread were purchased freshly made at the neighborhood bakery. Salons, restaurants, boutiques, and bars were locally owned. You couldn’t just go to Target or Walmart and get all your shopping done.

Now, I am experiencing this way of life in person. The city of Iida, Japan is  a mix of old neighborhoods with specialized shops and the newer development of big chain stores offering one stop shopping. The outskirts of the little city are full of discount department stores with full grocery stores, hair salons, travel agencies, sweet shops, full service restaurants, mall-style food courts, rotating vendors of all sorts, and retail spots rented out to various boutiques. They even have an arcade, a book store, and a dollar store within them.  It is kind of like the Target and the mall having a baby together. I have literally spent six hours straight in these stores and not run out of things to do, all with a baby or two in tow.

Back in the historic downtown, another world awaits. A bygone era comes to life. The local train runs through the center at an old-fashioned pace. The nearest bullet train is over an hour away by car. The streets are lined with small shops topped by the owners’ homes. Many of the businesses are run by the elderly and many look untouched for thirty years. The camera shop still develops film and sells disposable cameras. There is a store just for. Japanese dishes in a hue of ceramic glazes. There is a liquor store, a tea store with tastings, and a small market just for fresh produce. If you want fish, you go to the seafood shop, chockfull of fish tanks and seaworld oddities. If cows are your thing, there is a genuine butcher shop with delicious homemade roast beef. There is shop to get your custom Chinese character stamp. There are separate tailor shops for men and women’s clothes. There are three ornate shop with intricate kimono fabrics where you can order a custom made kimono if your wallet is fat. One of the kimono shops even has a real koi pond and stream running through the shop.  Unfortunately, photons are obtrusive and inappropriate, so hopefully the verbal depiction is painting a mental picture.

Today, the baby and I passed the morning in a bakery shop run that remains unchanged for almost forty years. The hardwood floors are worn down from the many visitors. The decor is dark wood and burgundy, reminiscent of a Rat Pack steakhouse. As we devoured a savory pumpkin bun and chestnut cake, the owner asked about America and our path to the Japanese countryside.  The grandmother came out to play peek a boo with the baby. She even brought a blanket fresh out of the laundry to  keep him warm. When it came time to leave, the shop owner escorted me out, covering us both with her umbrella. She even directed traffic so we could safely pull out of the parking spot and face the rain.

We could all use a little more small town hospitality in our lives, even as an outsider.

Traveling with Little Kids: Practical Tips

My previous post proclaimed the secret of traveling with kids is just do it! And I mean it, just do it! Learn as you go. Surprise your self with your unexpected ability and super parenthood. Laugh at your ridiculous mistakes and fumbles. Dust yourself when you hit a bump in the road and carry on. But why reinvent the wheel? Let’s learn from each other and here is my two cents on how to make traveling with kids a little smoother.

1) Keep your expectations low. Does this sound like a departure from my positive spin? Well, it helps keep me positive when things get choppy on a long trip. When taking a long flight with little kids, I go in with really low expectations. I think about the potential tantrums, ears that won’t pop, restless wiggling that drives other passenger bonkers, cranky kids that won’t sleep, diapers exploding, food flying, saturation of my patience and my clothes with untold liquids. I think about simple tools I can bring to combat inevitable messes and disgruntled travelers. In the end, the trip is always smoother than expected. The result is that I am grateful for what went smoothly rather than frustrated about the inevitable challenges.

2) Carry a spare set of clothes for each person. I am all about traveling light but comfort and health are essential. Messes are shouganai (https://misomommy.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/shouganai-it-cant-be-helped-getting-my-zen-on-part-3/) with little kids, so be prepared. You will get wet and sticky and so will they. To prevent misery, rashes, and dampness, bring a spare set of clothes. If you manage to survive the trip without a major spill, you can use the clothes for a fresh outfit change when you arrive at your destination.

3) Always bring wipes, snacks, diapers (if applicable), and a little treat for yourself. If you forget wipes, grab some paper hand towels from the restroom. You can dampen them as needed. If you run out of diapers, as once happened to me in the middle of an international flight, use your last clean diaper with sanitary napkins from the airplane. Planes and most bathrooms provide feminine products, but diapers can be hard to dinIf you use up your last diaper unknowingly, you will have to secure the pad as best as possible with a onesie. You can also ask any other travelers with small kids for a spare. Parents usually love to help other parents.

4) Ignore the jerks. This may be one of the most important tips. When you travel, you will bump into all sorts of personalities. Do not let them rain on your parade. Some people have no sympathy for kids, some people are having a bad day, and some people just aren’t nice. For some reason, certain people love to spread their own gospel about how you should raise your kids. No one has all the answers for traveling with kids and no one knows your kids better than you. Try to keep a smile on your face and keep on going. Remember, how you react to Erik’s will be passed on to your kids, who watch and imitate your every mood. Don’t let strangers suck your energy

5) Write down a list of the most important things for your trip: passports, license, keys, a favorite toy, credit card, tickets, important reservation information, and so on. Use the list for packing and on your trip. Every time you transition off a mode of transportation, check out of a hotel, or leave anywhere with your bags, go through the list and make sure you have what you need most. There is nothing like losing your passport or access to money while you are responsible for little ones. Really write it down. Mental checklists deteriorate when juggling kids.

6) Count the total number of bags/items you are bringing. Then, count your bags every time you transition with them (airport, in and out of taxis, check ins and check outs, etc.). If you are traveling with another adult or older kids, do not rely on their counts or you are bound to hear or say “I thought you had it…agh!”. Do your own count.

7) What not to bring: (a) Toys that roll: This includes cars, crayons, balls and so on. Unless your child cannot live without it, do not bring toys that roll on modes of transport (you can pack them and use them wherever you sleep on your trip). These toys will roll away on the plane, ship, bus, etc. They will annoy other passengers and risk a major meltdown by your child if the toy becomes irretrievable. (B) Sticky or smelly foods. You do not need more mess or more reasons to irritate fellow travelers. (c) All your baby and toddler gear. Think hard about what you really need and brainstorm ways that one object can multitask for you. For example, a shawl or jacket can be used as a blanket, nursing cover, shade from sunny car windows, etc.

What are your traveling tips for kids? I would love to learn more!