Journal Entry


Friday morning, July 18, 2003

"I miss New York where I eat with a fork.
Just kidding. I love it here!" laughed Christine S. Thomas.

Ohayo gozaimasu! (Good morning!) Tokyo is exotic and wondrous. Our time here has flown by rapidly. It's hard to believe we are disembarking in a matter of hours. It has been a busy time since I wrote my last journal entry.

On Tuesday afternoon we took the hotel bus to the airport and sampled a few Japanese treats waiting for Tomoko from Tokyo's Make a Wish Staff to bring us the airline tickets to go to Sapporo and back. Tomoko lived in NYC for four years and now lives in Japan. It was wonderful to meet this beautiful Japanese woman who helped us check in for our flight. (The language barrier is so great I said to Shayne when we were walking to our gate, "I didn't know we were going to check the strollers." (We always just gate check them so that the girls stay comfortable and have the option of riding while waiting for the airplane to depart.) He laughed back saying, "I didn't either!" Oh, I wish I could speak Japanese!) Not only was checking the strollers a surprise, I was also surprised that never once were any of us asked to show photo identification - very different than the "three times per person" in America. The girls were absolutely thrilled to see a Pokemon plane parked right beside our plane even though it was for a competing airline. The flight went extremely well and soon we were in Sapporo - a city of 1.7 million and home of three of our former Heidelberg College exchange students. Yipeeee!!

Not only was Miyuki waiting there to take care of us, but so was her sweet Mother. The big surprise for me was two Greeters from Make a Wish's Sapporo Chapter were also there. (I had no idea there would be Greeters clear up in Sapporo. I was very surprised that FOUR chapters were involved in coordinating Christi's Wish Trip. How kind!) Manami speaks fluent English and Mr. Azuma had a van so he had planned to take all eight of us back to the Prince Hotel. Because we were not tired, the wonderful Make a Wish folks took us to Shikotsu-Toya National Park - a popular spot near Sapporo. It was breathtaking - the calm, clear lake surrounding by lush, misty mountains. The girls were so happy getting out and playing and hiking up a mountain along a nice path. Once back in the van, Shayla fell asleep on my shoulder, while Christi snoozed on Miyuki's lap. We had no idea they would not wake up the rest of the night. (Still battling jet lag!) Mr. Azuma drove us back to our hotel and Manami assisted me at check in. Miyuki asked if her family could take us to dinner and we were thrilled to accept and to get to meet her wonderful family we had heard so much about.

We went to our room to change. I put Christi's beautiful yukata and obi on that Saiko's sister had made for her thinking she'd wake up at the restaurant, but she never did. (A yukata is a lightweight summer kimono - colorful, elegant and gorgeous. An obi is a beautiful and complicated aspect of a yukata or kimono. While extremely difficult for me to wrap around the middle of the yukata, it appears to be second-nature for the Japanese women.) All eight of us went to the Sapporo Beir Garden where we met up with Miyuki's sister and father. I was hoping to be able to talk more with Miyuki's sister (Yayoi) who is a kindergarten teacher in Japan; however, the language barrier was too great – even with Miyuki serving as a translator. Yayoi wanted me to come to her school, but time did not permit. I would have absolutely loved that and I hope to one day. In Japan, the teachers are very respected and earn a title that doctors and elected officials receive (Sensei). This was the summer that I had hoped to have been selected through OSU's teacher exchange program to get to come here and share American culture with the Japanese students for two weeks, but due to Christi's diagnosis I obviously never even applied. Shayne spent his dinner conversing with Miyuki's wonderful father. He spent some time in America and Shayne really enjoyed his time with her kind and knowledgeable Dad.

It was so fabulous to see Miyuki again. She's so sweet and beautiful; we've missed her so much!! Miyuki is just about ready to graduate from college now and she is also working at the Gap Kids' Store in the brand new (opened in March) Sapporo station. Little did I know we would actually run into her there the next day and we would get to go to lunch together. The restaurant Miyuki's family took all of us to was incredible! The style of eating is found mainly in Hokaido and is called jingiscan. Little grills (shaped like Hokaido) are in front of you. The efficient waiters bring your raw food and you grill it as you eat. Manami took care of cooking my food while Miyuki's sister cooked for Shayne. The smells and the food were most delicious. (You know Shayne and I we loved it all! Lamb, cabbage, bean sprouts and onions - delicious!) Melon was served for a refreshing dessert. This historic restaurant was an original brewery and now it is a very popular place to dine in Sapporo. We were surprised that it was full on a Tuesday evening. We were disappointed that Christi and Shayla were so tired that they slept in strollers the entire meal as we know they would have really enjoyed watching all of the activity at the table and trying the different foods. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Miyuki and her family. Mr. Azuma drove us back to our hotel.

Our hotel room was very Japanese - complete with four darling, little beds about knee height. The girls thought it was so fun to have so many little beds in one room. It was a beautiful hotel - where again they provided yukata's on our beds for us to borrow during our stay. The girls were awake at 3:00 AM and happily played in our room until breakfast opened at 7:00 AM.

During a morning stroll around Sapporo to the famous TV Tower, the girls enjoyed playing with some darling Japanese children at the Odori park running along an east-west street - one of Japan's liveliest, most charming boulevards. They also enjoyed eating corn and potatoes sold by street venders. (I mean sold by EVERY street vender. Each street vender had exactly the same thing - corn and potatoes. Very interesting! I've yet to see a hamburger and French fries sold here.)

Finally, it was 11:00 AM and time to meet the fabulous Mika in the hotel lobby. Mika stayed with us through Heidelberg College's Japanese Exchange program in 1996. Shayne and I flew to Hawaii to serve as her witnesses for her 2001 wedding where we also met her family. Last November, she and her husband (Katsu) flew to Columbus to meet Christi and to help cheer up Christi in the hospital playing tea ceremony, and doing calligraphy and origami for hours. They are so sweet and kind!

Christi rehearsed Hodgemasda (nice to meet you) with Shayla so that Shayla would bow and give Mika a special greeting upon meeting her. Shayla did very well and Mika giggled in her beautiful way and hugged her. Mika, so petite, cute and intelligent was exactly as we remembered. (Miss C. - Mika still wears high shoes!) We checked out of the hotel and went by taxis to Sapporo station. The taxis in Japan are very expensive and very clean. White cloths cover the seats, only the driver can touch the doors and of course like in all of Japan they drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right. I thought the girls would find that odd, but they never even noticed until we shared it with them. Also, the taxi drivers like bell hops and waitresses do not accept tips. While the prices are high, it's a switch not to also have to tip like in New York were it seems that nearly everyone has their hand out for a tip too.

At Sapporo station, we had time to shop and eat while waiting for our 2:00 PM bus to take us to the Japanese hot springs. Mika took us to a large (Macy's style) department store. Mika's quiet, lovely and kind friend (Tomoko) watched the girls at a play area while I walked around that same floor. I really enjoyed looking at everything and for the first time could fully understand why our Japanese students always enjoyed shopping in Tiffin, Ohio. While everything was extremely expensive (children's stretch pants on sale abut $36.00, dresses $175, swimming suits $80) and I had no intention of purchasing anything, I really enjoyed taking it all in. I thought if the children's yukatas were inexpensive I would purchase one for Shayla; however, they were about $150.00 so of course I did not. The store even had a children's only food area beside the little playland. So cute!

The next thing I knew, Miyuki walked up! What a pleasant surprise! She was on her lunch break and ran into Shayne downstairs waiting with our luggage on a bench so he sent her up. We were so happy to see her again since our time together was so short the night before. She joined us for lunch.

Mika's brother (Mario - a teenager now living in Sapporo who is preparing to enter the university) joined us as well as and Mika's wonderful mother (Emi). She rode a bus for five hours to Sapporo to join us. It was great to see these kind and beautiful folks again! (Mika has lived in Sapporo since she was 15 years old. Her parents sent her and her younger sister so that they would get a better education than they would have up at the northern border. I tried to explain that in America, parents would never send their children at such young ages to go live by themselves in a distant city, but Japan is so safe and education is so valued here. Things are really different.)

Mika picked out a most interesting Japanese lunch venue. At this restaurant with booth-style tables a long grill was built right into the middle of each table. We enjoyed a delicious lunch consisting of: cabbage, shrimp, noodles, eggs, pork and some other things I was not able to recognize, but enjoyed. The bus was leaving in a matter of minutes, so we literally ran through Sapporo station to catch our 2:00 PM bus to Noboribetsu. We just made it!

The bus ride lasted for two hours as we took in the beauty of the Japanese country side. We rode through the gorgeous Orofure Pass. Mountains, the ocean, lush greenery - it was very picturesque. As the norm for this entire trip, the girls got along like the best of friends displaying impeccable behavior. Many times through Christi's Wish Trip Shayne and I have joked, "To whom do these kids belong?" and "Where are Christi and Shayla?" They are so happy here and Christi has been pain-free (Praise the Lord!!!!) this entire trip. That always helps her tolerate her sister better. Shayla is loving her big sister's attention and praise. These girls are wonderful; we've been so blessed to be their parents.

We arrived in Noboribetsu at the beautiful resort. Mika gave us a quick tour. Our room was most amazing! It was a traditional Japanese-style room. There were zabutons (mats) around the low table to eat and drink tea at and two small twin beds. At night the workers move the table to the side and put out the futons on which to sleep - so cool!! We felt like we were immersed in rich Japanese culture staying in this awesome room. The girls absolutely loved it asking again and again, "Can we stay here again soon?!!" One would not imagine that a six and a four year old would be so captivated by a unique hotel room, but they were beyond belief.

Mika, along with her mother and brother, stayed across the hall in another room. Mika came into our room to show us how to put on our yucatas and obis and to explain how to bathe in the hot springs. I innocently asked, "Do I put the girls' swimsuits on first, or just carry them?" Mika looked confused and said, "Swimsuits??". Ah, I got it! No swimsuits. Not sure if the girls would like bathing in the hot springs, Shayne and I quickly asked if they wanted to go swimming. Well, they most certainly did. Shayla asked, "Mommy, did you bring my arm floaties?" totally cracking me up. I explained that in Japan, at the hot springs, you "swim" naked and its waters are only shallow. This brought most interesting looks from the girls, but they were ready to go "swimming" so off we went.

There were three areas to onsen (bathe in hot springs) here at this popular resort. It was very different than I imagined. We removed our shoes and then entered the onsen. After washing in a large room with many Japanese women, we then entered the next room where the hot baths were. Shayla loved it, but with the water at 42.0 degrees Centigrade it was to warm for Christi. Therefore, we walked to another onsen area in a different building and repeated the process again. In this one there was a cooling area - like a cool Jazuzzi in America that Christi absolutely loved. She claimed she was never leaving. Shayla drifted back in forth between the outside, inside hot pools and the cool pool. Everyone really enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The famous Japanese hot springs here (noted for healing) are all sex-segregated and were once made out of wood, but now out of marble and they can hold 1,000 bathers simultaneously. There's nothing like it in the world. Thank you, Mika for making it all possible! We're so grateful!!! (Shayne went to the men's onsen, but without a guide. I think he managed just fine, just following the other Japanese men due to not speaking Japanese.)

Next we went to dinner and enjoyed a most delicious Japanese feast. How thankful I was to have Mika walk along beside me explaining what everything was along the buffet. I've been so spoiled having fresh (raw) salmon nearly every day. (Definitely one of my favorites) The girls and I were exhausted, so we went back to our most unique and special room and slept for the evening. Shayne took another onsen before retiring for the evening.

In the morning, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the hotel. (The buffets have worked out so well as we can try a variety of foods and not worry if we don't like something or if we want more. The girls have been terrific about trying new foods.) Like at dinner the night before we were very surprised to notice most everyone wearing their hotel provided yutcata. Shayne joked to me, "You don't even need to bring a thing with you. They give you a robe and that's all you wear the entire visit." Very true! It was so funny. It was just like "dress up and pretend" for the girls in their small sized yucatas they loved, but it was real. Mika's kind mother bought me a zinbei (very comfortable) to wear and Shayne was already wearing his zinbei that Yariko gave to him in Tokyo.

After breakfast we took a bus to the Bear Park to see the kumas (bears). I dressed Shayla in the yucata that Yariko gave Christi. She looked so adorable in it; she received much adoration from the people we ran into yesterday and I heard the word kawaii (cute) many times. The bear park was so great. First we rode what the girls called "The Sky Ride" up the mountain - enjoying every minute of the spectacular view from the cable car along the journey. Once in the park, we went to see the female bears. Wow - nearly 25 bears were standing there performing tricks for a large crowed gathered around. The girls really enjoyed feeding them as well as all of their time at this unique park. (bears, ducks, historic Japanese Indian huts to explore - what fun.) Christi is best when her mind is occupied and it was definitely occupied. Again we enjoyed the cable car ride to the bottom of the hill. Then we took a bus to the bus station.

At the bus station, we realized that the bus service was not available so we took two taxi cabs to a Japanese cultural park - Noboribetsu Date Jidai Mura. Truly an incredible experience!! This park reproduced the streets of the Edo Period (1600-1867) and allowed a hands-on experience through dramas and other attractions. Christi and Shayla loved exploring the different areas of the park - so much to see and do. Shayne and I especially enjoyed our delicious lunch and tasting the different food item samples in the many shops.

Our last tourist attraction for the day was Jigokudani (Hell's Valley). With eleven kinds of springs, it is unique in the world. It provides a scenery that reminds you of hell as its name implies. The steam juts out of the rocks that are reddish brown all over. This is the volcano that is the source of the hot springs. Christi was most interested in learning what was really going on underneath here, despite the fact that she didn't like the pungent odor of sulfur. Shayla enjoyed the fact that she was walking through a volcano since she pretends dinosaurs and volcanoes a lot in her imaginative play. We walked back to the hotel as Mika's brother led the way. I was certain we were lost walking around little winding streets, but we were not.

That evening we returned to the resort. After dinner, Shayla crawled up into my arms at the restaurant and fell asleep. I brought the girls back to the room where I read to Christi until she fell asleep and then joined them myself. Shayne went out with Mika's brother to explore this town a bit. The girls didn't wake up until 5:00 AM. I think they've adjusted to Japanese time - just in time to leave for a new time zone.

After a morning onsen we enjoyed another delicious breakfast this morning. It's hard to believe that Christi's Wish Trip is coming to an end today. The wish we really want we can't just have (a cure) but this trip has been the next best thing. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a dream come true for the entire family. We've been blessed beyond belief and will forever be grateful. When Christi was diagnosed people told me good things would come about as a result of her battle with cancer - Make a Wish was definitely something that person was talking about. We knew Christi would love Japan, but she enjoyed it more than we ever could have possibly thought and we experienced more here than we ever dreamed possible - all thanks to the Make a Wish Foundation and our lovely friends: Saiko, Mika and Miyuki. Japan has proved to be exotic, educational and wondrous! Thank you, Make a Wish!!!

We have been unable to establish an Internet connection since the one time in Tokyo. Therefore, we still do not know the NB team's recommendation for Christi's next course of treatment. I have not worried nearly as much knowing that she didn't have any new spots (not that Dr. Kushner told us about in his email anyway) and that the MIBG showed improvement. Shayne and Dr. Kushner worked out what to do if her cancer was "worse" (MIBG treatment) "same" (MIBG treatment) or "better" (many options: antibodies, surgery, different chemo concoctions, MIBG treatment, etc.) We are hopeful that tomorrow when we are at the Hilton on the Big Island we will either get this laptop hooked up to the Internet so that we can get Dr. Kushner's email as well as post my journal entries. We are certain my family and friends want to know that we're safe and that Christi's test results are back. God bless you all!! Sayonara!

In His love,
Angela

Chrisit's Joke: What is a Japanese mosquito's favorite number? (ichi - pronounced "itchy" which means one.

What's Next? Mika will help us leave at 10:00 this morning. She's going to take the bus with us to the airport. (Thanks, Mika! It really is confusing! She is really going out of her way and we are most appreciative.) This afternoon we will fly to Tokyo. We'll then wait in the airport for about five hours for our flight to Honolulu. We will arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii about 9:00 AM (Hawaiian time) and are hoping to meet Gwen - Shayne's banking friend from his banking school in Madison, Wisconsin. (The same school where he met Christi's most awesome webmaster - Eric!) Gwen lives in Hawaii and will hopefully come to the airport to visit with us a bit before we depart about three hours later to fly to the big island where we will stay for four days before returning to New York. We are hoping to get to play tour guide to Katsu (Mika's husband who is currently traveling in Mexico and will soon arrive in NYC) when we return there ourselves.

Angela Thomas

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