Faux Japan … In Phoenix

I wasn’t kidding in the last blog when I said we needed to go somewhere to make up for the loss of our trip to Hawaii and Japan. With Emma feeling a little better, we decided that we could take off for a 3-day weekend in Phoenix.

This became one of our non-Airstream trips. Eleanor booked us into a downtown hotel and we just decided to wing it from there, with no particular plan. As it turned out, the weekend has been a tiny taste of the trip we had planned, kind of like visiting Epcot Center is like traveling to foreign countries. Certainly not the same, but at least you get to eat the food.

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The first stop was the Japanese Friendship Garden, called Ro Ho En. It’s a tiny oasis that sits almost above the sunken part of interstate 10 near downtown Phoenix. Inside the garden fence is a beautifully landscaped 5 acres with pond, waterfalls, koi, and desert-adapted plantings. It invites pausing and contemplation. I particularly like the way that the landscaping is designed so that every fresh angle of view provides yet another perfectly proportioned composition.

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We were riding Phoenix’s smooth and modern streetcar system, which connects downtown Phoenix with Mesa and Tempe. I noticed that the streetcars themselves were Japanese, made apparently by Kinkisharyo. We might as well have been riding the trains of Tokyo, if we sort of squinted and pretended that our fellow riders were fashionable Shinjuku girls. At this point it seemed we had a theme going, so I pointed this out to e&E and we resolved to keep it going all day if we could.

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From there we rode another 3 stops to downtown, and walked over to the Science Museum to take in an IMAX movie. The title was Coral Reef, and the underwater sequences reminded me that we would have been snorkeling on Oahu or Maui if we’d gone. I couldn’t decide if this was a sad thought or a happy one at first, but ultimately I realized I was happy to see colorful reef fish even if I wasn’t actually dipped in salt water myself.

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At this point we weren’t going to let go of the Japan/Hawaii theme, so I pulled up the Yelp app on my iPhone and found a sushi restaurant nearby. Sorry that all the good stuff was eaten by the time I got around to shooting a picture with the phone. I warned Emma that our next steps might be to sleep on tatami mats on the hotel room floor, and order raw fish for breakfast. She drew the line at that.

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Instead we decided to take the train back to our hotel, and the car across town to the Chinese Cultural Center. This was the closest thing we could find to a Japanese market. Eleanor spent a happy half hour browsing the aisles and then we hit the bakery for dessert. Actually, several desserts: red bean paste mochi, custard cream filled cream puff, flaky lotus yolk pastry, red bean sesame bun, cream horn, mango mochi, and something called a flaky wife pastry. (Yes, we made all of the obligatory jokes.) We took them all back to the hotel and shared them with hot green tea.

I would happily have sushi for breakfast tomorrow, but the hotel’s breakfast buffet comes with our room and the offerings are entirely American. But perhaps tonight we will dream of adventures on the other side of the Date Line, and at least have a few hours more of our faux Japanese vacation.

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