Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hotokegaura Rock Formations |Shimokita Peninsula

This is a part of our Mutsu area trip, scroll to the bottom to check out my links & recommendations for the entire weekend trip.

Here are the basics:
• NOT stroller friendly • probably pet friendly • Good for kids* (see below) • FREE entry •

Hours: 24/7, from what I can gather
Boat tour leaves from the town of Sai
I recommend only going May 1-October 31-ish. These roads will be completely snowed in during the winter.
Directly from base, this is only about a 2 hr, 40 min drive. From the Gates of Hell, it was only around 1 hr, 30 mins.

41.311349, 140.809338

The above pin will take you directly to the parking area. You will make the trek down to the cove via the trail that begins right next to the “beware of bears” sign. Don’t worry, we took our children in and we all survived.


Edit-08718Edit-08837This is one of the most gorgeous places I have been to in Japan thus far, and I 100% recommend making the trek to see it too before you leave the country. That being said, this is a HIKE with kids. The trip down the side of the mountain was pretty much cake, other than the burning calves we both had at the end from each bearing the extra weight of a kiddo. The trip back up? Ahhhhh, not so much cake. We had been making fun of the “rest stop” benches at various places on the stairs on the way down… but alas, on the way back we ate our words and rested our butts on those same benches. Haha. Edit-08716Edit-08822

My face to the “BEWARE BEARS” sign and the massive trek back up the mountainside.

As mentioned, be aware that this is an area where bears reside- as you make your hike to and from the rock formations, make sure to frequently talk and vocalize. If you have never hiked in a bear inhabited area, this is the way that you consistently let them know where you are. If there’s one thing bears do not like, it’s being surprised by a human. If you are really concerned, you can buy a bear bell before going.joyfulcrew.com 8.jpgEdit-08722ALSO, be aware that there are apparently wild monkeys in this area too. I saw one cross the road behind us briefly and seriously almost started running, because I could not FATHOM what I had witnessed crossing the path in the manner that it did. It was only later in the day when we saw wild monkeys on the highway that I realized this was exactly what I saw.Edit-08843Edit-08839But anyway,

This. Area. Is. Beautiful.

The hike is somewhat brutal, but it is SO worth it, even when we had to carry two small kids up and down the side of the mountain. Again, I wore Ellie in my LilleBaby, and honestly, if we had a second carrier, Drew probably would have worn Henry too. It makes it SO much easier to just have the kids on your back if they are little.Edit-08731Edit-08734There is a ferry/boat that does tours of the cove- we chose to just explore it by foot, especially since we weren’t sure of the hours, and since we didn’t actually make it up to Sai. We figured it would be less stressful with the kids to see things from the actual coast, too. Totally don’t regret choosing the hike/coast route.Edit-08742The water is crystal clear, and Henry LOVED seeing the starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, and tiny fish swimming through the water below him. The rocks to the create tons of tide pools, and we got to see some pretty neat sea anemone too.Sea glass abounds on the shorelines, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a glass float here if you arrive early and before it has been picked over. The area is stunning, and I 100% would not have been upset to spend several hours just sitting on the beach listening to the quiet waves.Edit-08805Edit-08777Historically, this is called Buddha’s cove, and carries the same sort of ominous atmosphere as the Gates of Hell. The mysterious towering cliffs are formed by volcanic activity and the constant beating of the waves along the rocks, and they are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are mysterious and breathtaking, to say the least. Photos just do not do this area justice. The quiet, calm nature of the shoreline while we were there was something I could have just taken in all day.

Absolutely a must-see, and I highly recommend taking your families here too if they visit!

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Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Mutsu Area Weekend Road Trip- July 5 & 6

We had the BEST weekend, and I have like… 500 photos to prove it. I split this post into two separate posts- one for each of the main stops we made, simply because there is SO much information, and SO many photos from each one.Edit-08567Edit-08593We chose to make this a 2-day road trip, simply for the fact that it is honestly easier on us with our young kids. You could easily see everything you would like to in the Mutsu area on a regular weekend via car. We probably only spent around $30 on gas total.
If you woke up early in the day and got on the road, you could do this in one day, though I personally recommend taking a full two days, and adding the wild monkey observatory into your trip. We missed out on the wild horses too- we still need to check that off the bucket list.Edit-08718Edit-08750Edit-08734We left the house around 2pm on Saturday, and checked into our hotel around 5pm. We actually left the house and drove to Mutsu without any hotel reservations- we figured either we would find something that was available, or we would just drive back to base if luck wasn’t on our side. Turns out there were plenty of rooms in Mutsu, and the language barrier didn’t pose any issues at all. We walked down the street from the hotel to find dinner and then went to bed early to wake up and road trip the entire next day.Edit-08731If you’re new here on my blog, our kiddos are two (three this coming weekend… *sniff*) and 10 months old. They did awesome on the trip, but make sure you check out each individual post, because I definitely have my recommendations about bringing kiddos to the various places that we stopped. Our kids are pretty quiet, calm, and laid back (and they fall asleep anywhere and everywhere, clearly.) If you have rambunctious or restless littles, this may not be the best trip for you to take them on.img_6788We visited the Gates of Hell first, then road tripped through the mountains to visit the rock formations of the West coast of Mutsu Bay / the Sea of Japan. The mountain drive is BEAUTIFUL. Stop at any restrooms/rest stops that look pretty, because there are some real gems tucked away in this area. We traveled along 338 on the way back to find the wild monkeys (we didn’t stop at the sanctuary- they are THICK along the sides of the road, so we just saw them as we drove through) and had the weather been a little nicer towards the end of the day, we probably would have stopped to hunt a few beaches for glass floats.Edit-08675

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The mountain road itself is worth the drive.

We traveled from Misawa along the western coast road to our hotel, Plaza Hotel Mutsu. It was around 12000¥ for our night, but we each had a twin size bed, there was a pull-out couch, and the room was big enough for the kids to roam freely. Wifi was free. The bathroom was also one of the largest we have ever had during a Japanese hotel stay, so overall I would highly recommend this hotel. Lawson’s, McDonald’s, KFC/Pizza Hut, and a yakiniku place that we did not get a chance to try were all within walking distance, and parking was free.

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We pushed the couch to the end of the two twin sized beds in order to make Ellie a makeshift play pen. We pulled an extra quilt flat across the floor, and she slept safely there. (Safe sleep always, y’all!)
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The view that they gave us from our hotel was gorgeous from the 6th floor- overlooking the Bay.

Here are individual links to my posts on each place we visited. These are the two places in the Mutsu area that I 110% recommend visiting before you leave Japan.

Gates of Hell | Mount Osoresan

Hotokegaura Rock Formations |Shimokita Peninsula

And then, here are a couple more pins that we DID NOT visit yet, but that I’ve seen recommended for this area. We plan to visit these, just didn’t have time in the two days we devoted to driving up in the area, especially since we left late in the day on Saturday. I will update this guide when we have visited each.

Wakinosawa Village Wild Monkey Park- 41.167784, 140.804523
Hours: 0900-1630, open all 7 days per Google
We chose to simply drive highway 338 on the way home from the rock formations, because it drives directly past this, and the park was already closed. Drive carefully, you will almost certainly see several wild monkeys along the road as you drive.

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse & Wild Horses- 41.429507, 141.461434
Hours: 0800-1545, check Google- the hours change slightly based on the seasons

Edit-08681
Highway 253

As mentioned, we drove up the coast of Mutsu Bay on the way to our hotel. From the hotel, we went straight to the Gates of Hell. From here, we took the mountain road (highway 253) to the west coast to see the rock formations. From the rock formations, we took highway 338 on the way home to make sure that we at least drove past the monkeys. Essentially, we made a HUGE loop. There wasn’t an ugly road that we saw the entire trip.
I HIGHLY recommend it, the entire trip is BEAUTIFUL. I really can’t say that enough. Parts of the trip looked like Arkansas and Tennessee, parts looked like the Smokies. Parts were reminiscent of Yellowstone. Parts had white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water. It is one of the most diverse areas I have ever been to. We filled up on gas before leaving base, and upon pulling into our driveway at the end of the trip, we had only used a little over 1/4 of our little Toyota Raum’s tank. Cheap, easy, and so much fun.

Edit-08794100% worth the gas and the hotel stay- I wish we would have taken our parents/families on this trip while they were visiting!

Make sure to shoot any questions you have to me via DM on Instagram! I answer there best, usually. I’m always happy to answer anything you have to ask, and I am passionate about families LOVING Misawa like we do. Coming from a gal who cried big, ugly tears when she found out this was her family’s assignment, that is saying something.

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Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

“Gates of Hell” | Mount Osore- Osoresan Bodai-ji Temple

This is a part of our Mutsu area trip, scroll to the bottom to check out my links & recommendations for the entire weekend trip.

Here are the basics:
• NOT stroller friendly • NOT pet friendly • Good for kids • Entry fee (yen only) •

Hours: 0600-1800
Only open May 1-October 31

41.326247, 141.090895

The above pin will take you directly to the parking area.

Edit-08567Edit-08438-2


We had NO idea what to expect when we arrived here. We had heard mixed reviews on this temple from various individuals who have visited before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew there would be some walking, and we knew the place would STINK.

Edit-08576

joyfulcrew.com
We are still working on the peace sign haha.

Here’s what I gathered from our own trip:

  • It smells like eggs.
  • It is VERY quiet. 
  • It is VERY beautiful.
  • It is FULL of amazing Japanese culture.
    Seriously, read my little history excerpt before you go, or research the history for yourself. Knowing the background of the area makes it that much more incredible, and it also gives you a newfound respect for the Japanese that are actively worshipping or praying here.

Edit-08616Let me preface ALL of this by saying, this is one of the three most holy places in Japan. If you read the history on the temple, you will appreciate the entire area culturally so much more. Do not bring dogs, in my opinion If you have loud or rambunctious kiddos, I would make this a date-day trip and leave the kids with a sitter. The area is NOT stroller friendly, though I wore my daughter in our LilleBaby carrier without any trouble whatsoever.

Girlfriend just couldn’t hang. The entire area is so quiet and ominous. Who knew that is apparently the perfect lullaby for a 10 month old? Ha

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Edit-08586
The bottom quarter of the largest set of steps, Henry sat on Drew’s shoulders the entire time. The view from the top where the shrine lies is beautiful. You can see every bit of the grounds, and the surrounding lake.

Drew and I are pretty active, and we weren’t bothered by the stairs here- but I can definitely see how that many stairs would pose an issue to those with kids. There is only one part of the loop with lots of stairs- the rest of the walk is pretty flat, unpaved walkways.

Edit-08600The area is open May 1st to October 31st, and for good reason. The roads to this area will be 100% snowed in if for some reason the snowy season starts before the closing date of the temple, so do keep this in mind if you go in the late fall.

There is an entry fee of 500¥ per adult, and 200¥ per child age 15 and under. Our kids (2 & 0) were free.

They will provide you a brochure that is written in English- be sure to look at the map before entering. It shows you the flow of traffic through the shrines.joyfulcrew.com 4Okay, now that all of the basics are out of the way, I 100% think this is a place that everyone should visit before leaving Japan. I was unaware of the cultural significance of this location prior to entering and exploring (read the brochure, Emily… come on, right?) and so I did not realize that a few places within the shrine area are completely off limits for photos. In addition, both your shoes AND any hats should be removed before entering any of these buildings. I will explain the significance of this area to the Japanese in just a bit.

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Inside of this particular building, photos are NOT allowed.

Actually, lots of shrines are supposed to be photo-free in Japan, particularly those that are enclosed by a building, like the above- something I had NO idea about. This is something I learned from a quick Google search after being given the big “X” from a worker while trying to photograph Henry within a shrine building here. Oops. Lots of “gomen-nasai”s spoken from me this trip.Edit-08548Edit-08628

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The yellow ground kept catching Henry off guard.

Here is a little history, from what I learned from the brochure and a few sources online:

Around 1200 years ago, a Buddhist priest had a dream in which a holy monk appeared to him, stating that he was to embark on a 30-day walk in search of a sacred mountain, where he would propagate Buddhism from. Eventually, the priest stumbled upon this volcanic area, realizing quickly that it met all of the requirements told about in his dream, including many geographic numerical markers, matching very specific Buddhist symbols. The priest knew this was the area spoken about in his dream.

With his own hands, he carved a statue of bodhisattva Jizô, and subsequently added a building to house it.

Here is the except directly from the pamphlet that they handed us. This was the most impactful and interesting part to me personally.

As you can imagine, this is a pretty historically important and heavily important place to the Japanese, especially those actively practicing Buddhism, and it gives you a deeper respect for the quiet nature of the area once you know what the worship taking place is all about. Many Japanese come here to pray for their deceased loved ones, and while every Japanese individual we saw met us with “konnichiwa” and smiles at our babies, we absolutely remained quiet unless spoken to, in respect to the natives around us.

Edit-08622We happened to go on a cloudy, misty day, and while we were worried about the dreariness when we woke up, it turns out… it was PERFECT. Some of the reviews I have read since visiting actually state that the entire area blossoms with color under the dreary conditions, and that sunny days are much less saturated with the deep blues, greens, and yellows.
Because the entire area is already somewhat ominous due to the bubbling sulfur pits and burning areas, the dark and dreary day with a mist over the mountains made it that much more dramatic.Edit-08602joyfulcrew.com 1I HIGHLY recommend this being a place that you take your family/friends if they are visiting. It definitely IS kid-friendly, but as mentioned above, just please teach your kiddos that this is a place of reverence for the Japanese, and do your best to abide by that fact as a family while you are inside of the area. As a Christ-following family, we personally choose not to participate in any of the rituals, but we are 100% all about respecting those who do. The Japanese are actively worshipping/ praying- consider how you might have your kids act if they were in a church service.Edit-08593Edit-08502Here are some fun superstitions too that I gathered from a few posts online and on Misawa Asks, if you like that kind of thing.

  • If you pick up a rock in your shoes from the ground within the temple area, and take it home with you, you are said to be taking home a spirit with you
  • Odd numbers are considered good luck within this shrine, with even numbers being considered ominous/bad. You are supposed to visit in odd numbers, and if you visit the area once, do not return, or you will have to visit it again to make it an odd three times. Already messed that one up with our family of four… oops.

Edit-08619Make sure you check out my other two posts about our whole trip up to the Mutsu area, too! This has been one of my favorite trips so far, and I hope y’all love it as much too!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Picking- June 29

Oh my goodness was this a short, fun little day trip. All you can eat fresh cherries for 40 minutes on a warm June day. Can you beat that? 

Here are the coordinates directly to the parking lot- it is a very small shop with a couple vending machines on the side. It is right on the corner of several streets. The owners were super friendly, despite our inability to understand how the process worked. Ha.

40.405600, 141.325477

Disclaimer: Like I said, we didn’t realize how this process worked, so we unfortunately did not realize that you are not supposed to bring a container inside the picking area with you. This is an all-you-can-eat-only kind of deal, then you can purchase cherries in boxes afterwards. When they didn’t hand us any baskets, we assumed we were just supposed to bring our own, and grabbed a Daiso basket from the car.

Thankfully Henry didn’t pick MANY cherries, but we still felt so bad bringing a bucket to the front when they didn’t charge us for them.

The Japanese hosts were so kind to us when we brought out a small container of cherries that Henry had picked, but we felt SO bad that we didn’t realize that we were only supposed to eat freely while in there. With our blueberry picking experience last year, you could pay for the weight of whatever you carried out, so we assumed we could do the same here.
Don’t be us. There are flats of cherries that you can buy afterwards- don’t carry any out on your own!Entry fee is 1000 yen per person for 40 minutes. It is somewhat unclear from the signs/what they charged us on exactly how much kiddos cost, but they are CHEAP either way. They were kind enough to allow our babes in for free.
During those 40 minutes, you may eat as many cherries as you would like.The cherries are THICK right now, as of the last week of June. You will leave that area with a stomach ache if you eat the entire time- I promise. And they are SO good. I took photos most of the time, and still ended up feeling full when it was time to leave. 

Let me say it again, the cherries are SO good. Like, can I say it 4 times? I was shocked to even see some dark, rich bing cherries on a few trees. Do y’all realize how much those babies cost at the grocery store in Japan?!
The branches hang LOW, so even a kiddo as little as around 1.5 years old could easily reach the branches.

AND… the best part?

It’s all COVERED by greenhouses! It started absolutely pouring while we were picking, and all of us stayed nice and dry.

If you look closely, you can see the pouring rain in the background. SO nice that the trees in the picking area were covered, so the kids stayed totally dry.

Basically NO bugs. Grass is very short. Seriously the easiest place for a fun day trip with even very young kiddos. Vending machines are also located to the side if you end up going on a hot day. I would highly recommend this for ANY age.The drive from base is about 57 minutes without tolls, but it is a BEAUTIFUL drive. I am not sure if a toll route would change this, but I HIGHLY recommend the route that Google Maps took us while avoiding tolls. 

The Japanese asked us to come back as we left today, only after taking photos of our kids and gifting us a small bag of cherries for free. We will absolutely return. I’m tempted to go back again tomorrow, honestly.Make sure you check them out too, you won’t be disappointed.

Japan Life · Travel Guides

14 Reasons Japan is the Best For Kids & Families

Looking for somewhere overseas to take a vacation with a toddler or baby? Moving to Japan soon? Just generally interested in one of the coolest countries on earth?
If you have kids, and especially if they are infants or toddlers, I am confident you will find Japan to be one of the easiest places to raise your little babes.

Don’t believe me?
Read on.

Why is Japan the best for kids?

1. Public nursery/breastfeeding locations

These are everywhere. The mall, the airport, train stations, airports. Anywhere that you might be caught needing to tend to a baby, there is likely a free-to-use nursery nearby.
These rooms boast: purified hot water access for preparing formula, privacy for breastfeeding, changing tables, and a ban on both smoking and electronic device use- making for a clean and quiet space for little ones.

In addition, these rooms are often sectioned off so that men can enter too! HOW COOL IS THAT?! One half of the space is for anyone caring for a baby, and one half for women only, so you can openly breastfeed here if you do not feel comfortable doing so in public.

Furthermore, Japan is incredibly accepting of breastfeeding in all the experiences I have had while feeding two babes over here, and while I choose to cover- I have never got a bad look if I chose to use the two-shirt method without my nursing cover.

2. Chaos does not exist

The Japanese people lined up at each train car, single-file and quietly waiting to board their train.

Everything has order.
Everything has an unspoken rule about waiting your turn.
Everything.
And when you have chaos holding on to each of your hands in the form of a small and loud child you are trying to drag onto public transit, more chaos is the last thing you need. We were terrified initially to use public transit with a language barrier, but it has proven to be one of the most stress-free things we have done since moving here.

When boarding a train that just entered your terminal, there is an unspoken rule that those exiting the train will do so before those boarding ever step foot on it. There is no pushing, no squeezing past somebody in the aisle- everything happens in order, everything runs on time, and it is glorious.

And finally, everyone is always willing to help you find your way. Whether they speak ANY English or not, they will do their best to help you. Chaos doesn’t happen here.

3. Kids meals are delivered first

Almost anywhere you go in Japan, children will be served first. Small plates, bowls, and spoons are also almost always brought to tables. Water is always offered to kids immediately. Japan seriously takes care of kiddos.

4. Kids meals are HUGE

Kids meals aren’t just one chicken strip and three soggy fries thrown in a cardboard box here. Seriously, everywhere you go- your kids will leave full.

Meals here almost always come with: a scoop of rice, a main dish, a side dish, some sort of juice or milk, and often even a toy or treat afterwards. If your kids love rice (which I guarantee they will after a few months in Japan) you can basically ALWAYS request a side of rice at a restaurant. This is our favorite trick with Henry, who is the pickiest eater in the world at times.

Best part? Most kids meals like this cost like $1.50-$3.50 max.

5. Baby Holders

Um, so, this is probably in my top 3 favorite things about Japan.
Who wants to poop while holding a child? Who wants to let their toddler crawl on the bathroom floor? Not you, eh? Need I say more?

6. Priority parking for pregnant mothers

Yep, Japan considers you handicapped while you are pregnant, and it’s the most genius thing I have ever seen. Most parking spots like these are DIRECTLY in front of an establishment. During the time that I was pregnant and had a toddler, this fact about Japan was 100% a lifesaver.

The Japanese will also refuse to let you carry ANYTHING heavy if they notice you are pregnant. I can’t tell you how many times a Japanese man carried a watermelon or even just a small bag of groceries to my car while I was pregnant.

7. Priority seating

Elderly? Pregnant? Injured? HAVE KIDS?

Yes? Then not only is there designated priority seating for you on public transit, but the Japanese people are ATTENTIVE to it. Last week on a train, an elderly man stood up for ME and said “please, please” gesturing to his seat so that I could sit with my 9 month old, who was already sleeping happily in my arms.

The Japanese are intentional, they notice, and they are SO kind.

8. The Japanese are so kind to children

At a ski resort, where the Japanese ski class had just let out. Henry collected candy piece after candy piece from these kiddos. One of them even bought him a hot chocolate from the vending machine behind them.

If you spend 10 minutes in the midst of the Japanese people and your child makes eye contact with somebody, chances are you will be coming home with some sort of treat or toy. We have had elderly couples walk us over to cookie/candy stores specifically to buy Henry a treat in front of us. We hear the term “kawaii” (cute) about our babies all the time, and it is our favorite to tell Japanese families that their babies are kawaii, too.

Children here also LOVE American kids. Because they often are learning English in school, you may even be stopped so they can practice their English with someone who is fluent. When you respond to their “hellos” you may be met with the sweetest giggles in the world.

One of my favorite things to do since moving to Japan is to take our kids to local playgrounds or play places. If there is anything that will teach you about inclusion, it is seeing toddlers of two different cultures, who don’t even speak the same language, playing flawlessly and happily together.

Henry, watching a Japanese show on this little girl’s phone while we ate yakiniku at the table next to them.

9. Arcades, parks, playgrounds GALORE

The entire country of Japan is basically one giant playground for kids and adults alike. You can’t enter a city without finding an accessible place for a kid of any age to play. There are 7 story arcades, huge playgrounds, massive activity centers… and the best part? We have yet to find somewhere that isn’t totally affordable for a day of fun.

And can we talk about how cute the entire country is? For goodness sake, the traffic cones are made to look like cute little animals here!

Any time Henry passes a booth that is giving away some sort of balloon animal, he ALWAYS ends up leaving with one for free.
All playground equipment is so intentionally constructed here, as well. This incredibly tall slide is fully enclosed at the top to keep kids from falling off.

10. Japan is CLEAN

I mean, you will see people picking weeds or cigarette droppings out of the cracks on their sidewalks. It is clean here, it is tidy here, and it is orderly here.
We never buy train tickets for our toddler and infant (mainly because kids under 6 are free,) but also because we feel comfortable letting them sit at our feet on the train. That’s how clean everything in this country is.

You will never find dirty tables, dirty floors, and it is incredibly rare to find a dirty restroom. This would probably make you think that they are uptight about kiddos making messes- but again, Japan will shock you on that. I always try to crawl under tables to clean up the messes our kids make- and the servers always gesture for me to not worry about it.
Poor Henry even had an accident in a booth once at a restaurant, and the kind waiter just nodded, smiled, and told me “Hai, hai, it okay, it okay!”

11. Shopping is EASY with kids

For instance, shopping carts with the little cars or characters on the front? FREE. You know? The ones that are usually like $5 to rent at malls in the states? Yep, totally free. They also have infant carts that recline perfectly for your baby to sleep when they are little.

This seems like a silly point, but my kids LOVE the mall because of this. Most shopping malls also host grocery stores- which makes this an even bigger point for our family personally. Happy kids while grocery shopping= happy mom all day.

In addition, refrigerated lockers are available at lots of malls and shopping centers, so if you purchase your groceries first but need to do other things, you have a cold place to store them so you don’t have to lug them around with you.

12. Restrooms are catered to children & families

This was one of my favorite things to find upon entering a restroom in Japan for the first time. There will almost always be a tiny toilet sitting next to the regular sized toilet in the family/handicapped stall. Toilets here are ultra interesting to kids, with all their buttons and strange sounds, so potty training is usually a little more interesting if you are out and about in Japan.

Changing tables are available everywhere, including in men’s rooms, and even on the Shinkansen train, which has airport sized bathrooms. Everywhere you go, you will find a family restroom, equipped with a changing table, a baby holder, and often a small toilet or tiny urinal.

And might I also mention… TINY URINALS IN THE WOMEN’S RESTROOMS.
Uh… what?

Yeah, that was my reaction the first time I walked into a women’s restroom in Japan and noticed the 1/2 size urinal on the ground before the stalls.

Why?
Well, because women have sons, and sometimes sons have to pee too.

Brilliant, no?!

13. It’s always easy to find food and snacks

Can you say, “the land of vending machines?”

Because they have EVERY kind here, and they are on every street. Hot drinks, cold drinks, soups, snacks, ramen, ice cream, full fledged meals… even cigarettes can be found in vending machines. They are at every building, on every floor, even on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. You will see residential homes with vending machines attached to the side of their garage if they reside on a main street. Your kids will NEVER go thirsty, because you are always 130¥ away from an apple or grape juice.

Red colors indicate hot drinks, blue indicate chilled ones.
You can guarantee that any time that ramen is sold from a vending machine, there will be a hot water dispenser nearby for free.

14. Japan is SAFE.

Let me just say this- I would take my two kids off base and explore just about anywhere in Japan without fear and without my husband, and I am a CAUTIOUS human. I can’t say that about many places in the world, to be honest- and definitely not about many places in America. Nearly every Japanese person you come in contact with is more than willing to help, and even with the language barrier, I feel the safest I have felt in my life since moving to this country.
The Japanese police rarely have to intervene with regular life, but when they do, they mean BUSINESS. Crime is not taken lightly here, and you never see crimes happen.

If you are looking for somewhere to raise kiddos where you can likely go without locking your door, Japan is your place.

I sincerely hope you find the same incredible pro-kid factors if you visit Japan someday, too. Was there anything I missed? Be sure to tell me below, or head over to my Instagram and be sure to use the hashtag #takeyourbabieseverywhere if you post photos of your adventures so I can see your kiddos loving Japan as much as we do.

Happy exploring with your babies!

 

Japan Life · Travel Guides

Tenno Shrine | Azalea Festival – May 12

This was our second year visiting the azalea festival, and again, it didn’t disappoint. We even went before the azaleas were in full bloom this year, and it is SO worth the short trip from base. Located maybe 3 minutes from Namiki gelato, it really makes for a great day trip for families or even single service members.

Here is the pin directly to the parking lot: 40.697251, 141.151309
(If you go on the weekends, typically there will be city workers directing traffic.)

Here is the pin directly to the main shrine:
12ー1 Tenno, Shichinohe, Kamikita District, Aomori 039-2525

Here is the pin to the small park with playground equipment & other couple shrines:
30 Shichinohe, Kamikita-gun, Aomori 039-2525

There is LOTS of open space for kids to run, just please be respectful as the shrines are a place of worship. We brought our two year old and 8 month old, no problem. But we do make sure to keep them quiet and not let them run right next to the shrines.


The azaleas bloom in mid to late May, and usually there is a pretty good update on when they are fully flowered posted on Out the Gate. Most of these photos from this past weekend are when the blooms are only around 50-60% bloomed. Last year we went at full bloom- both trips were absolutely beautiful.

From Spring 2018, when the azaleas were at full bloom.

The shrines right around the big hill of azaleas are absolutely beautiful too, and it is worth climbing the HUGE hill to the left of the main hill to see a couple different shrines.

 

Even at partial bloom, the flowers are gorgeous!

After parking, there will be a small walk to the hill that the majority of the azaleas are planted on. Before you reach this, there is a small road to your left that will lead to a couple other shrines- this is where the tiny azalea trees are sold, as well. If you go under the big arch and up the big hill, there is also a small playground area for the kids. There are water fountains, porta-potties, and plenty of room to sit out if you decided to have a picnic as well. I recommend you wear bug spray though, because last year the mosquitos were pretty bad. This year we didn’t notice them.

Nothing better than good friends that will wrangle your toddler.

Would be a very pretty place for a picnic, but this area is PRISTINE, so PLEASE make sure to clean up after yourself!

We kept Henry (2.5) to the smaller wooden playground, but there are a couple pieces of equipment for bigger kids, too.

From 2018, at full bloom.
From 2018, at full bloom.

Definitely a must-see during the Spring. We always hit up Namiki afterwards, and did this day too- but I have SO many photos from this day, that I will save that for another post. Stay tuned.

azalea pin.jpg

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)


 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.


Lastly,
Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.


We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.

Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides

Morioka {Iwate, Japan} – January 4-5

Drew randomly mentioned leaving home for a little getaway this weekend, and if I’m being honest, I really was dreading going on Friday night. My husband is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy, while I’m a planner. I wanted to have our hotel and train tickets booked a week in advance, and when we didn’t, I assumed we weren’t going. Friday afternoon rolled around, and Drew simply came home from work and asked when we would be leaving.


That’s one of the greatest things about Drew- and just one reason I’m so glad I married him. With two kids under three, he doesn’t even think twice about loading everybody up on a train and taking a fun weekend trip in the dead of winter.

And I’m so glad he thinks like this.

Morioka is a gorgeous little town surrounded by mountains. The weather this weekend was PERFECT (upper 30’s) and we were able to have the kids outside for most of the weekend without worrying. I wore Ellie in my LilleBaby, and Henry rode around in his stroller.

Man, I’m telling you. Traveling with kids is really not nearly as hard as you think. I’m definitely exhausted after this weekend- but when you take the right steps to prepare for having little ones with you, traveling is so much better with them than it would have been alone.

We only spent two days in Morioka, and we visited a few different coffee shops and restaurants (I shared a bunch of them on my Insta Story highlights under the explore Japan tab) but two main things stuck out to me from the weekend.

If there are two things you need to do in Morioka, these are them:

Round 1

If you go to Morioka, especially if you have kids, you shouldn’t leave without visiting  here. Honestly this is where we spent the first half of the day on Saturday, and I could have spent the entire day there. In a nutshell, Round 1 is a massive indoor play arena, with SO many different games and activities to enjoy. It’s like an amped-up Chuck E Cheese that is also fun for adults.

It has like 6 or 7 stories of bowling, batting cages, soccer fields, ball pits, bounce houses, skating rinks, pool halls, and arcade games.

We spent 3 hours in there and could have spent a solid 3-4 more, since we only explored like two levels of the place.

On top of that, it was only $30 for Drew, Henry, Ellie, and me. Once you get your bracelet inside, every game and activity is completely free, and honestly it wasn’t that crowded at ALL. Talk about cheap fun for your kid, right?

There is all sorts of food there, and again in regular Japan fashion, you can buy beer right in the middle of the place. So funny to see the equivalent of an American Chuck E Cheese selling steel cups of beer.

There are lockers on the first floor that you can utilize for free, and since we walked from the train station, we also had Henry’s stroller. Japan is amazing in the fact that we just left his stroller on the first floor by the lockers for three hours, and it was completely untouched when we came back.

Wankosoba

I was SO confused at first when I started hearing about this soba restaurant. I assumed it was just like yakiniku or shabu shabu (which are both all-you-can-eat style restaurants.) In reality, this restaurant was more like a game.

We had somewhat of a language barrier at first- but in hindsight I much better understand how to do it.

The object of the game is to eat 100 bowls of soba. When you walk in, you will see the Japanese people sitting at the low tables, absolutely inhaling bowl after bowl after bowl of soba.

You will walk in, and take a seat at a low table. You are assigned one server who will be at your table for the duration of the meal. The server, as seen above, brings out around 20 bowls of soba at once. These are bite-sized bowls of noodles. As soon as your bowl is clear, they will pour more noodles into your bowl.

Most of the Japanese that we saw eating would swallow each bite of noodles whole, then immediately raise their bowl in the air for more.

You will continue having your bowl filled immediately until you place the lid on your bowl. Once you place your lid on, the game is over.

The object of the game is to hit 100 bowls.

Sounds easy, right? After all, those bowls are teenie, and each bowl is only like one bite of soba!

Wrong. Not a single one of us made it past 75 bowls. I ate a solid 65, and as soon as you hit that wall, you are so done. We made the mistake of buying the regular soba, while Clint chose right with buying the deluxe. When you buy deluxe, they pile your bowls on the table in front of you. With the regular, you have to just keep track of how many you have consumed by yourself. If we go again, we will absolutely choose the deluxe option.

Because we had the hardest time finding this place- it is directly across from the Morioka train station on the SECOND story! Message me on my Instagram account for the direct pin- but if you search Wankosoba, you should find it immediately!
So worth it, although we all almost died leaving that place with how full we all were.

A few random tips:

• If you have kids, I really think it’s worth it to pay the extra $10 for the “first class” Shinkansen tickets. Green car tickets are maybe $10 more per person, and they are SO worth it. Kids are free as lap children until age 3 on the trains almost everywhere in Japan, so we got the bigger, comfier seats, since we chose to have the kids sit on our laps. Henry fell asleep within 4 minutes of boarding.

• If you have kids and plan to stay in a hotel pretty much anywhere in Japan, get a double room. Honestly, even if you don’t have kids… get a double room. We stayed in the New City Hotel (not sponsored), and while it was very very nice, Japanese hotel rooms are TINY. Having two beds was a lifesaver, and allowed one kid to sleep in each bed with us. The last time we stayed in a hotel, we made the mistake of trying to fit into one “double” bed. Unfortunately double beds in Japan are somewhere in between a twin and a full sized American bed. Not quite what you need for two Americans (one of which was pregnant at the time) and a toddler, right?

Overall, it was a fabulous trip. Totally worth the bullet train tickets to not have to brave the snow, and totally worth a little walking to do a few fun things close to the train station! Easy with kiddos, and a blast for everyone involved!

 

Ellie · Japan Life Updates

Two, Three, and Four Months- Ellie

Two, three, and four month updates… Isn’t that title just the epitome of second children? I always swore I wouldn’t be this mom, but here I am, making one blog post update for three months. Oops. At least I have 14,000 photos of my kids on my phone.

So here is some photo dumping- mostly month four, but also a mix on months two and three.

Ellie girl is four months old!
Weight: 13 lbs, 3oz.
Eye Color: Pretty darn blue! I keep saying I’m not convinced they will stay blue, but I somewhat am now. Ask me again at 10 months, they will probably be brown by then.
Hair: A little thinner than before maybe, and a little lighter too! Don’t worry, mom’s hair is thinner too. #postpartumhairsucks
Size: 3-6 months

  • Ellie girl started sucking her thumb around 5-6 weeks old consistently, and is still doing it daily at 4 months.
  • She ONLY sleeps on her stomach. We lay her on her back to go to sleep, and it takes about 6 seconds for her to roll to her belly. If you lay her on her back when she’s already asleep, she will 100% wake up. She sleeps on her belly with her thumb in her mouth. I.e. don’t touch my kid’s hands. Ever. Ha. (I only somewhat kid there, they are ALWAYS in her mouth.)
  • Poor little lady has battled thrush since around 6 weeks old. Seems like every time we get rid of it, she passes it to me or I pass it back to her. I think we are finally near getting rid of it for good at 16 weeks though! She has been very cranky for a couple months now, and understandably so, because that thrush is brutal.
  • Ellie has pretty severe “stranger danger” and hates big crowds. We are working on it. She only loves her thumb and her mama, and she’s not sorry.
  • She loves car rides still, and almost always goes to sleep in the car.
  • Girlfriend rolled for the first time around 8 weeks, and both front to back and back to front around 11-12 weeks, and does both with ease now. She has been scooting around and rolling where she needs to go for several weeks. She mostly sits up on her elbows, and raises her legs completely off the ground. I’m guessing crawling will happen during month four.
  • Baby girl is getting some chunky legs, and I’m not mad about it. Chunky thighs and pretty eyes for life, right?
  • Ellie 100% prefers tummy time or to be sitting upright. She HATES being on her back.
  • I’m predicting she will walk by 8 months like her brother. (Which is both really cool, and terribly frightening. You don’t understand until you see an 8 month old walking upright with their tiny, squishy little heads…)
  • Ellie is more of a mean-mugger than anything. She smiles every once in a while, and definitely has her favorite people that she grins at, but she’s usually just quietly watching and listening.
  • When she laughs, she almost never smiles. It’s kind of the funniest sight ever.
  • The baby mullet has arrived. I’m hoping her hair grows fast. Her brother had already had a haircut by this time. Her hair is definitely much lighter than her brother’s was. I can’t wait for baby piggy tails, for real.
  • Baby girl had her second heart checkup. Unfortunately she still has a hole. Thank goodness though, it has not enlarged any- praise Jesus for that!
  • Henry acknowledges her more lately, and likes to drop things on her face while saying “here you gooooooo!”
  • Baby girl is about a week or two from consistently sitting up. She tripod sits with ease and unassisted sits frequently too. She LOVES to sit up and watch her brother.
  • Ellie loves Henry and me. That’s about it. She sometimes decides that she loves Drew too, but mostly she’s a mama’s girl. That’s okay, because Henry has decided he is 100% a daddy’s boy.

Our babies are sweet, beautiful, funny, kind, and darling little ones. They make life so fun, and it’s hard to believe Ellie is almost through her first year of life. I really can’t imagine what life was like before these two existed, and I’m pretty blessed for their existence.