The next morning, our host family introduced us to their neighbor who has a small son. Behind us is a display of warrior gear including a helmet, sword and bow (Move your mouse cursor over the picture to see a different angle). This is set up to celebrate Kodomo-no-hi or Children's Day which takes place on May 5th. It is also called Tango-no-Sekku, the Boys' Festival. Up in the corner, not pictured, is a row of Koi-Nobori, carp streamers, which symbolizes courage, strength and determination. The celebration for daughters takes place on March 3rd and is called Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival).


For our first day in Japan, our host family took us on a tour of downtown Tokyo. At my request, our first stop was the manga store.

For the uninitiated, manga  is Japanese for comic books. The Japanese have taken animation to levels that are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. This is an art that goes far beyond what most people might expect from simple cartoons. There are stories here that would satisfy any palate. From the heart-wrenchingly tragic (Grave of the Fireflies), to slapstick comedy (Ranma 1/2), to bittersweet romance (Video Girl Ai), this genre has something for everyone, regardless of age.

Move your mouse cursor over the picture for a close-up of the vending machine to the right. I noticed hundreds of vending machines of all kinds in all areas of Japan, even in the residential neighborhoods. In particular, Jennifer and I became enamored with Pocari Sweat, a pale-green drink that tastes a bit like Gatorade.

Note, there will be many pictures like this that you can mouse over and see a zoom-in or different angle.

This was but one of many shelves of manga. The store stocked not only new manga, but old volumes as well. I ended up purchasing several volumes of Urusei Yatsura and a special children's edition that was translated into English.


Upstairs could be found a wide selection of anime (Japanese animation) on DVD, models, calendars and even more goodies. We spent about 45 minutes browsing before continuing on our way.