We spent an amazing weekend at Universal Studios! We left on Friday afternoon by train, then caught a ferry to Osaka, arriving in the morning. After a long day at the park, we got back on the ferry and arrived back in Kokura on Sunday morning.
FRIDAY We caught the train at 5:30. Fortunately the trip was only 30minutes - but even that was long enough - 8 children can make a heck of a lot of noise even when they are being constantly shusshed! Actually that was the main reason we decided to go with the ferry - we knew we would have trouble with the kids over a three-four hour train trip. We got enough space to sit together only in the smoking car, but the upside was that we got to sit directly behind the driver, which was cool.
I was excited and nervous about the ferry - I had horrible visions of various children running too fast and slipping over the edge! You know how you go all soft and emotional when you're pregnant. Makes me think pregnant ladies should rule the world, if only we didn't keep forgetting stuff (I walked out of a supermarket with my basket the other day, having forgotten completely to pay! 'Excuse me, Ms Customer' goes the door hostess'. Only in Japan will you be reprimanded for stealing so very gently and politely! Perhaps she realized I was having a mummy-brain moment).
One of the Mums knew the purser, and when she told him I was pregnant, he upgraded me to the second best room! I was quite prepared to sleep on a narrow berth - at home I have switched from my soft bed back to the firm futon on the floor, because I seem to sleep straighter. I have no back pain so far, in fact my back is even better than it was before I was pregnant, when my penchant for sleeping and reading on my tummy was affecting my back. But I couldn't complain about the spacious Japanese tatami cabin, with its HUGE window. Downstairs, the others got a TV screen video of the outside of the ship!
We had dinner, which we had bought at the supermarket at the train station before boarding the bus that took us to the ferry. A very healthy Japanese lunchbox - mine had beef, salmon, and 3-4 salads; the girls had rice balls. Then we had a bath! Yes, there is a full-size Japanese public bath on the ferry! Although the last thing I wanted was a rough journey, I was kind of hoping the wind would whip up just while we were in the bath. It didn't, nor could we see through the frosted windows, but it still felt quite like we were on a boat, with the engine noise and shuddering. The whole ship shook and shuddered and rattled all the way to Osaka and back.
The kids slept well, and I was comfortable, but I can't say I slept well. I read myself to sleep, but once I woke again a few hours later it was really hard getting back to sleep. The gentle rocking was okay - we were lying cross-wise, so it was head-up, head-down, but only very slightly; but the shaking and rattling were very off-putting. I think I got to sleep again around the dead hour, for a few more hours before dawn.
SATURDAY Breakfast was bread we had purchased the day before at the station. In the middle of breakfast, we passed under one of Japan's spectacular over-ocean bridges connecting the mainland to various islands. We took the obligatory photos, and Amy loved looking over the edges into the sea. Since it had gotten dark soon after we boarded, it was really our first feeling that we were really on a ship. Lena was a bit more wary, which didn't bother me at all - one less to watch at the edge!
A bus took us from the ferry to Universal Studios. After the obligatory group photo, and finding a locker to store our bags, in we went - and the first person we met was Hello Kitty. USJ has tons of characters, including Sesame Street, Kitty, Snoopy, Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker, Oz, ET, Shrek and characters from other movies.
We came back on the bus, and boarded the ferry. Having no bought food this time, we had to use the ferry's restaurant, which was very utilitarian. Cafeteria-style, with a tray and pre-prepared food covered in gladwrap. The kids had curry, and I had a beef stew and salad and fruit. Then we hopped in the bath again. I was more careful with the location of the children after a brief scare the day before, when I let Lena run off with Maia, and went separately to the bath with Amy, by a different route. When Maia and her mother arrived though, all they had was Lena's shoe. That was a dreadful five minutes as I wandered around the ferry with one lonely shoe wondering where my baby was!
Another sleepless night! It was a little rougher this time, but my main worry was the lovely Japanese paper-screen fittings in the room, which rattled all night! I hunted down one rattle, but gave up on the rest, and I realized that all that would happen is that I would then start to hear the rattles from the next room, and the corridor...visions of a wild and crazy sleep-crazed pregnant foreigner chasing down phantom rattles all over the fery....
We bussed back to the station, and after a drink at the station, some of us visited a nearby famous bakery. I am always wary of 'famous' bakeries here - Japanees seem to have a completely different idea of what is good in bread to me, so I am often disappointed. But I went. First regret. As I walked out of the restaurant door, I turned and saw Lena looking deserted, and told her she could come. Second regret. Because while I selected my buns, she and a friend played with the precious Kitty balloon - which broke away and sailed over the station building. I was so sleep-deprived I nearly cried! Lena was laughing, inspired by her friend who seemed to think it was really funny. I was very angry and hissed "It's NOT funny!". To her credit, the string was still wrapped around Lena's wrist, and the weight still firmly clutched in her hand. The string had actually broken. It didn't really sink in though, until we got back to the restaurant and she saw Amy's balloon. Then the tears flowed.
It was still only 10am when we got back to Nakatsu. We picked up our car, and gave Baachan her souvenir cookies, and went to the 100yen shop, because I had promised Amy that morning that I would buy her some clay to make a fairy.