Monday, September 3, 2012

River Cruising, Japanese-style.

Every month, our base MWR emails the upcoming month's tour list.  As soon as that email pops up in my inbox, I desperately scan it for kid-friendly tours that will get Little TF and me out of the apartment!

During deployment, the weekdays aren't so bad.  Little TF is in preschool and I teach my English classes, run errands, and fulfill my various commitments.  Weekends, though, are the WORST.  Weekends are supposed to be fun and relaxing and spent with family!  Instead, we mope about how much we miss Daddy. Little TF also gets mad that she can't go to preschool seven days a week. 

Thank-goodness for MWR tours!  I am usually the first to encourage moms to just get on a train and go somewhere.  It's simple math.  The more you do something, the easier it becomes and the quicker your kid(s) gets used to it.  I can't deny, though, that sometimes I just don't want to take the train.  I've been here two and a half years and I STILL never enter Yokohama Station the same way in which I exit (What is wrong with that train station?), and some train stations like to hide their elevators, and some train stations don't have any elevators for stroller-wielding mommies, at all. Why not? WHY NOT?  So when it comes to beating the weekend deployment blues, I often prefer to board an MWR bus, pop in a movie for Little TF, and relax while the tour guide does all my thinking for me.  It's just easier.

This past weekend, we took a tour to Saitama Prefecture for a river cruise!

Dubbed "the Rhine of Japan" (the nickname seems a bit too grand), the Arakawa starts in the mountains of Saitama Prefecture and flows toward the city of Tokyo, where it becomes the Sumida river.  Our bus arrived at a section of river with spectacular rock walls and light rapids.  It was a beautiful, sunny day...perfect for enjoying the stunning scenery!

Waiting to board a river boat.

We excitedly boarded our riverboat.  Our boat was poled by two boatmen- one in the front and one in the back.  Our tour guide informed us that boatmen have to train for five years.  I sometimes think this is one of the biggest cultural differences between my American culture and Japanese culture.  America tends to value speed.  Japan tends to value excellence.  

There were some small rapids- just enough to make the ride a bit more exciting!  Little TF was not pleased.  She kept asking our boatman to slow down.  I tried to give her my best pep talk.  She was not impressed.

As we were poled down the river, we got to see how others were enjoying their weekends!


Cliff jumping...


It was a great day for a boat ride!

At the end of our boat ride, we boarded the free shuttle that brought us back to our journey's starting point.  Little TF kind of wanted to stay in the boat and swing from the crane. Not this time, kiddo!

Next, it was time for lunch.  We popped inside a small, noodle shop for some homemade soba. So yummy. During the hot summer months, soba is traditionally eaten chilled.  Dried seaweed, radish, wasabi, and chilled soup stock add flavor.  The bamboo mat is used to convey feelings of coolness and airiness. Fun on the river and delicious, summer-appropriate food?  So glad we didn't spend the weekend rotting inside our apartment!

River-boating on the Arakawa is accessible via Nagatoro Station and the Chichibu Line, in Saitama Prefecture.  Boat companies typically operate from 9:00-16:00.  Prices start at 1,550 yen for adults and 750 yen for children and depend on the length of your chosen boat ride.  Life jackets were provided, including jackets for children.  If you have a very young child, you may want to bring an infant life vest. I didn't see those, anywhere.

About 900 meters from Nagatoro Station, walking away from the river, is the Mt. Hodo Ropeway.  Ride a cable car and appreciate views of the Chichibu mountain range!  In the direction of the Ropeway are the Hodosan Jinja Shrine and Fudoji Temple.   There is also a historic, silkworm house and the Saitama Museum Of Natural History.  Stop by the Nagatoro Tourist Information Hall, located outside Nagatoro Station, for an English pamphlet and map.  

Riverboat Companies (Japanese-language only):

Disclaimer:  I do my best to make sure all my information is accurate.  However, details may change or I may just be flat-out wrong.  Please let me know if something needs a correction.  Thank-you!

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