May 31, 2013

Convenience Store Supernatural Marketing Ploy

Day Two. Up early again and eager to go do stuff. Somehow, the combination of Marina screaming about something while still in her sleeping bag, and Elena being obstinate during breakfast, made us parental units lose it. This was long before 0600, folks. So I reckoned it was best to go spelunking again with the Rising Daughters to physically and mentally cool down.  Ladies E & M took my scolding in stride, then took in the smells and the sounds of the ocean. I am a sucker for salt air, and my irritation melted away in the warm breeze.

We proceeded to spend the day at the Izu Animal Kingdom, a thoroughly likeable “walking safari” experience, paired with a petting zoo that drew in Elena like a bee to a sunflower. It was a thoroughly memory-free experience for me, though. So many monkeys begging us for food seems to have imparted a frontal lobotomy effect on me; I have but two residual images of the entire wacky day:
1. Marina feeding endless carrot sticks to the giraffes, whose tongues…well, let’s just say I know where Gene Simmons got some of his ideas.

2. The choo-choo train ride between the safari and mini golf areas had a series of alluring naked woman statues lining the road. Wazzat? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this spectacle in a “family zone” but I guess the sea of smut that is available to any kid with Internet access renders my thinking charmingly pre-digital age. Ja?
Driving back to the campground, we noticed several of the roadside convenience stores were bereft of their usual eye-catching colors.Whaa? No pretty colors to draw me in to buy your wares? 
This was offensive somehow…a kind of anti-marketing campaign?
These white/black only convenience stores along on Route 135 toward Shimoda became the subject of my curiosity. 
This means I droned to my poor, long-suffering wife about my many theories as to why major convenience store chains were doing this . Ultimately, I boiled it down to three sinister sources:
1. Some passive-aggressive marketing exec's expression of the yin-yang nature of his/her existence? Or perhaps the duality of man?
2. An ironic way of quietly showcasing Shimoda as the site of a historic trade deal in 1854 that pried open Japan from its closed door policy to trade with the revered/dreaded gaijins. Shimoda was where Adm. William Perry landed with the much-feared “black ships” for the second time to open some Japanese ports to foreign (read: US) trade and end its 200+ years of enforced seclusion. In other words, screw you, round-eyed dogs, don’t localize your penchant for bland and boring convenience here in old Nippon.
3. Satan decided to take control and manage a few of these localized little gold mines that suck the marrow from your soul as quickly as it sucks the money from your wallet. The Angel of Darkness, too, knows that it’s all about location, location, location.

I just had to know the reason. So I asked a hapless and slightly befuddled clerk why the store signs were just black and white? Alas, like Adolph Eichmann, it was not about the banality of evil but rather a slightly inept way of trying to preserve the coastal road’s beauty by keeping the storefronts unobtrusive to the eye--the idea being that the bright colors detract from the natural adorableness of the landscape.

I still think it is some kind of supernatural marketing ploy. But thinking about it kept me awake on the long drive home. Thus, we arrived home safe and sound.

May 23, 2013

Camping: There is no substitute

Camping is good for the soul. It’s also good for the wallet. Both of these adages were soaring through my head as we drove out of cloistered Yokohama at 0530 – that’s no typo, 0530! -- in the morning on the first day of the Golden Week holiday. We’ve found the only surefire way to escape the predictable traffic jams that signal a long holiday is to just simply outwork the competition. So, our holiday began with a crazy-early drive toward the Izu Peninsula. It worked: scored a smooth exit from the city and down the coast.

To relax as we journeyed toward our destination we had to quell the mutiny in the backseat. Quarrels between the sisters abound in the confined space of the rear seats. We endured their conversations, spiked with kiddie expletives, and drowned out the racket with music. As we drove on, I heard only a few “I’m bored” quips and “how much longer” queries, which we studiously avoided answering, lest it generate even more. I was inspired to keep going by Van Morrison as we cruised down the coastal highway.
First stop: Izu Guranparu Park. This is an amusement park-cum-commando course and restaurant complex. We avoided the rides for the most part, but the girls, with their pent-up energy from the hours-long car ride, attacked the wooden beams, obstacles, and Tarzan rope swing with the gusto of Navy SEAL trainees. Marina was undaunted, clearly wanting to keep up with her older sister, while I ran shotgun to make sure she did not dent her head or otherwise do any permanent damage. 
Blood oxygen levels replenished, we proceeded further down the coastal highway, passing several hot spring resorts that were clearly not within our budget. Hence the camping.

Next up was the Atagawa Tropical and Alligator Garden. It was a fascinating pairing of Japan’s largest collection of alligators from around the world and tropical fauna.

Odd combination. There are three separate areas, one filled with pens containing the mostly-immobile alligators. The other two areas had some other creatures, and many hothouses with various flora and fauna, all kept warm by steam created by natural volcanic gases. We boarded the shuttle bus and visited all three areas, determined to get our money’s worth. It was a pleasant afternoon. The girls pestered us for treats and Elena would sometimes get exasperated and stomp off, but overall it was fun. Good spirits prevailed.

The nightcap: tent up, fireworks that dazzled the eyes. Elena is a pyro, just like her dad.
So, what are attractions of camping for the Rising Family? 
- Modern camping is comfortable and relatively inexpensive
- We’re low-maintenance: the camping part is just sleeping and fireworks
- My family is 75% chicks: clean toilets and bathing facilities are the only prerequisite
- We rarely cook or BBQ. Easier and cheaper to eat out. 
- Oh yeah: easy way to reconnect with nature without too much planning
 - I get to spend time with the girls without competing against friends or booping electronics
- We can go exploring (in this case, along the beach)
- I get to scare them at night with my flashlight pointed at my flaring nostrils together with my corney Darth Vader voice
- We wash off the day’s dirt at cheapo hot spring baths