The other week, we went on vacation. With Ultra Golden Week looming, our intent was to go before everybody is going. We went to the seaside town of Shirahama. The family trip did not just include my wife, our daughter Hana, and myself, but also my parents-in-law. If traveling with an energetic four-year-old and your parents-in-law does not sound like much of a vacation, I can assure you that the local Nagisa brewery offers several ways to take the edge off, from a refreshing mikan ale to a strong-ish India pale ale.

The weather was still better fitted for the local onsen than the local beach, which was no problem at all. Our main reason for choosing this particular location, however, was neither, but the nearby Adventure World, a zoo and theme park boasting an impressive panda population including a panda puppy, obviously the biggest draw for the crowds trembling in anticipation before the gates well before opening time.

Everyone’s a Critic

Adventure World had something for everyone. As a devoted admirer of maverick filmmaker John Waters, I was especially endeared by the pink flamingos. Waters had named one of his earlier, more provocative films after the creatures. Just when we came to their fence, the tallest of them defecated with pistol-shot speed and accuracy. Hana and I were delighted. “What a beautiful John Waters moment!” I enthused. Unfortunately, neither my wife nor my parents-in-law share my love for Mr. Waters and his philosophy of good bad taste, so we moved on.

Slowly. We needed to see the youngest panda. Hana had been talking about little else for weeks. Others had the same idea, as it turned out. We were extremely lucky to have picked a rainy weekday for our visit, so we queued only for about half an hour before being allowed to see the little one for a couple of seconds behind glass.

By then, of course, Hana’s impatience had turned her into a cranky mess. While we were waiting in line, the panda baby had often engaged in cute behavior. I could tell by the joyful shrieks and the raised smartphones in front of us. When we were right in front of it, however, it had grown tired of being a crowd-pleaser and mostly hid under his bench or his less cute mother. Hana had stopped caring one way or the other. “The panda is a bit scary,” she declared and hurried us on.

Scare Tactics

“A bit scary” is her sneaky way of getting out of any situation that isn’t to her liking. She knows we don’t want her to see anything scary. “Please tell me immediately when something scary comes up,” I tell her when she is indulging in YouTube. Naturally, parents should always, always, always monitor everything their children are watching, but who are we kidding? Her tablet’s protective filters are cranked up to 11, so scary content rarely slips through. Just once I had to rush to her side, when I heard a dramatic voice proclaim: “…and his name was Jeffrey Dahmer!” I quickly switched back to My Little Pony.

Hana’s unexpected dislike of the little panda didn’t stop her from letting her grandmother buy her a stuffed approximation from the cavernous gift shop, as well as a pair of fluffy, panda-faced slippers. For myself, I would have liked one of the very instragramable Panda Burgers or Dolphin Hot Dogs. They were shaped like the titular animals, yet I doubt they contained any part of them (Japan’s sometimes controversial dietary habits offer a multitude of jokes here, but, for once, I refuse going down the obvious road). Unfortunately, mostly due to the demographics of our three-generational travel group, we settled for one of the more standard, grown-up restaurants.

But We Get What We Need

Sometimes we can’t get what we want, and sometimes we change our minds about something we thought we wanted after closer inspection. Against my better judgment, I grew quite infatuated with the theme park’s theme song that blasted from the park’s many speakers over and over and over, an upbeat pop tune with female vocals. I made out the English words of the chorus as: “Shame on you! Shame on me!” I thought: What a delightfully odd choice for a family-friendly leisure facility – a joyful song about infidelity. I had to buy the CD, and I was sure I would find it somewhere in that vast store of theirs.

I was correct. Alas, I had been mistaken about something else. There was no shame in that song; it was called ‘Shine on You.’ On the CD cover a somewhat random picture of a dolphin in captivity. This wasn’t the glamorous, sexy disco record I had been hoping for.

So, Hana and I both had our disappointments. But we both overcame them quickly. Hana had her stuffed panda (and her panda slippers). I had my locally produced India pale ale. It was a nice day, and a blissful evening.