August 25

Our flight wasn't until 5:30 PM, so there was a sense that we could squeeze a little more out of the day and not sacrifice it solely to travel. After packing and double checking that we had everything, there was time for my wife to take the boys back to the windmill they had been pining to see again, and for me to show my mom the Finnish cafe and Scandinavian retail shop in its unlikely location on the main road half way between Sakura and Usui Stations. I had meant to blog about this great discovery three years ago, but never found the time to do so when Over a Hedge was still a going concern.

Sooooo, if you ever find yourself in Sakura, or more likely in Narita on a layover, make an effort to visit Cafe Sokeri and Kirkas. Are the prices high at Kirkas? You bet, but if you have the taste and money to afford luxury goods, you'll get an extra thrill from shopping at this hidden gem so far from Tokyo. Even if you are more of a browser like me, you might still like a branded sponge dish cloth as a memento. I didn't make it to Cafe Sokeri this time, but my last visit was well worth it. Prices for a coffee and cake set are a little high, but included in the price is the freedom to linger and visit as long as you'd like in a little slice of Helsinki.

The second part of our pre-flight experience was a planned shopping tour in the mini mall that Narita Airport has become. We remembered from our previous visit that there were enough stores like Muji and Uniqlo to make it worthwhile to arrive early, but we didn't realize the prices of souvenirs would be so high. I know airport prices tend to be higher in general, but I guess I was accustomed to Japanese prices being so consistent from store to store to assume that this would extend to the airport as well. To be clear, the big chains don't jack up their prices, but the airport-only shops do charge a premium, likely to make up for higher rents. We were able to pick up a few small items without getting gouged, but I'd strongly suggest completing your souvenir shopping before coming to the airport while still budgeting for last minute items that might catch your eye.

My only regret is that we didn't split the time better to allow for shopping on the other side of security. I'm not talking about the luxury goods or duty free stores either, but such cool shops as the kabuki store that was as much a mini museum showcase as it was a gift shop. The stage costumes on display were amazing and I wish I had more time to take a closer look instead of snapping a few quick pictures from the passage way. Speaking of duty free, I should note that they are not all created equal, even if many of them are branded as FaSoLa shops. The best of the bunch was FaSoLa Akihabara, which had the widest selection and price range of sake for sale. It could have been my first and only stop had I not been rushing to reach the gate for the beginning of boarding time.
Narita Airport Kabuki Store
I thought my Japan trip ended when we got on the plane, but that wasn't quite the case. I managed to watch not one, but two Japanese movies on the return flight. The first was a modernized samurai drama based on the life of Oda Nobunaga called Nobunaga Concerto. It was a fun, but ultimately lightweight throwaway type of film. The next was the family drama Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) by the well known director Hirokazu Koreeda. The story is about three sisters who adopt a younger half sister whom they've never met. The sisters fight among themselves in a believable fashion, but ultimately the movie is a tribute to the mystical bonds of sisterhood, a message which is underscored by making most of the men who appear in the movie seem next to useless.

Watching the movie was the perfect ending to the trip, because it was set in the Japan I had just lived in for two weeks; that is, domestic Japan in the middle of a hot humid summer. Near the end, the sisters watch a fireworks display, then finish with a backyard fireworks show of their own. I was not only reminded about, but felt the connection to my own backyard fireworks experience, participating in a kind of cultural communion that tied an emotional bow on the trip. The movie might not be perfect, but I think it has become perfect for me, for what it will represent for this summer's trip.

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