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From Temples to T-shirts in Japan
 
 
Resources
Explore Japan
Anime Cartoon
Marsha Recommends
Wrong About Japan by Peter Carrey
Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman by Maira Kalman
 
From Temples to T-shirts in Japan

Ramune

 

Photo by Marsha TM

By Marsha TM, sweatpantsmom

When my husband and I first told our two daughters, ages 8 and 10, that we would be taking a family vacation to Japan, the resulting screams and squeals were deafening. And while I would love to say their excitement was due to their anticipation of a culturally-rich adventure to discover their mother's heritage, the truth of the matter was they pictured the trip as one long trek in search of souvenirs.

Because my girls love to shop. And while my husband is always quick to point out that 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree', I have to admit their shopping prowess even intimidates me. So while I was attempting to excite them with the idea of riding on the shinkansen, Japan's famous Bullet Train, and visiting some ancient Shinto shrines, what they were breathlessly telling their friends was, "There's a mall in Tokyo that's six stories high!"

My husband and I had traveled to Japan fifteen years ago, before we were married. And while we definitely wanted this trip to be an enlightening one for our girls, we realized that this was their vacation, too, and that it would be vastly different from the trek we made before they were born. Let's face it - to a couple of kids the idea of an entire day visiting museums and temples is about as appealing as math homework. On the weekend.

So we compromised. As long as they kept within their allowance for that day, a visit to a temple could be preceded by a quick stop by the gift shop to pick up a small keychain or postcard. An afternoon spent meandering traditional streets in Kyoto, while relaxing for my husband and I, provided an opportunity for maximum retail saturation for the girls, as the stores are packed tightly one on top of the other, into alleys and hidden behind restaurants. And while most of those stores sold food and traditional Japanese goods, for my two shop-happy girls even the purchase of a ramune, a Japanese soda, meant victory.

But first and foremost on their list was anything to do with Naruto, their favorite Japanese cartoon or anime. (Anime is the animated version of a manga, a Japanese graphic novel.) They were tireless in their search for any merchandise bearing the logo or characters, and when they were successful their triumphant shrieks could be heard for miles. And just when we thought the Naruto frenzy had reached the saturation point, one of my cousins showed up at our hotel with exciting news for the girls. On the very weekend we were visiting him, A NARUTO FESTIVAL was taking place at the Tokyo Dome. I was incredulous - what are the odds of that? And just what did we do to deserve this? My husband and I stared glumly ahead while our two girls danced around us in a frenzied anime dance.

While there are two of us who would hate to admit it, we all had a good time at the festival that day. The look of joy on our daughters' faces when they entered the arena was worth the price of our entire airfare. Everything was written in Japanese, making it virtually impossible for them to play any of the games but they were ecstatic anyway. Of course, no festival would be complete without a visit to the overpriced gift shop. And while disturbing, witnessing my children falling to their knees and bowing at the base of a t-shirt display is probably no different from what my parents experienced when they caught me kissing my poster of Peter Frampton.

We eventually did manage to sneak some culture into their diets, and had what we consider to be our most amazing trip as a family so far. And when my 8-year old was asked do a report on her Asian adventure, what was the picture she chose to represent it? Not a photo of her anime heroes, but one taken in Kyoto, of all four of us standing in front of an ancient temple.

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