Monday, March 12, 2012

I've realised that.....

The following is a list that came to me this evening as I was making dinner - 10 Realizations that I've recently come to - some relating to Japan, others not so much.  Knowing that I couldn't possibly put all of them onto a Facebook status update, I am forced to return to my ever neglected blog.  Here goes....

  1.  Pinterest is a newly acquired unhealthy obsession.  It is here that I can create bulletin boards for clothes that I will never purchase, recipes that I will most likely not try and party ideas that would rival Martha Stewart - who am I kidding??  I'm sure that I'll eventually grow weary or discouraged (am I the only one who doesn't scrapbook or knit?), but in the interim it's a fun way to live vicariously through others.  When I create a board for a child or pet that I do not have, please encourage me to seek professional help. 
  2. Date night is crucial.  Preferably at a restaurant that does not give you crayons to color the (paper) table covering while you wait.  The Husband and I have date night every Saturday evening.  He (un)willingly is dragged to any restaurant in Tokyo that has been recently reviewed or raved about by friends.  This past Saturday we ventured out for Mexican food not far from our casa.   I was beyond excited as it's been a loooooong time since I've had  margaritas, chips & guac and enchiladas.  The food?  Not so great.  I'm being very kind with that review.  Margaritas = better although slightly lacking in tequila.  I don't think that it's too much to ask Rick Bayless to open a Mexican restaurant in Tokyo.  Can anyone help with this?  Desperate times.  
  3.  To pee or not to pee.  G has recently acquired the skill of peeing while standing up.  This is huge news in our house.  Unfortunately he cannot comprehend why I can't do the same and I endure a daily earnest request to "just try Mom, you can do it, just watch me!".  
  4. To quote Kate Moss (bitch, please) - Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.  Unless the skinny is referring to jeans.  I discovered today that I will never have a skinny jeans wearing hipster son.  My impulse lunch time purchase of a pair of grey Zara skinny jeans was met with "I'm not wearing those, I don't like them - too tight".  Once I did manage to get him to try them on, well repeat after me "skinny jeans are not for everyone".  No, I did not take a photo.  Dammit.  
  5. Nihongo wakarimasen - I don't understand Japanese.  I heart my new iPhone as much as the next person and there's even a Softbank (Softobanco) store in my 'hood whose employees can speak English - all is good right?  No.  All of my text messages from Softbank are in Japanese as are the voicemail prompts.  Tomorrow's Japanese class will entail reviewing all text messages as well as the voicemail prompts so I am not reduced to randomly pushing "1" "3""5" after a message in order to delete or save it.  
  6. I am addicted to Bejewelled Blitz.  "nuff said.  Other than the fact that every time I get a new high score, it is mysteriously beaten the next morning.  Unless the cat has acquired opposable thumbs  and the ability to work an iPad, the Husband is also an addict.  
  7. Planning a 4 year old's birthday party in Tokyo would challenge the most seasoned party planner. Especially when the birthday boy in question is requesting a Fireman themed party.  Due to language barrier, there are approximate 3 entertainers available to us - a magician and 2 clowns who also can dress in pirate gear and do balloon tricks and magic.  Also, the thought of 19 three and four year olds in my house sends shivers down my spine.  My newest idea is to  tour a local fire station - this is basically unheard of here in Tokyo, but am willing to beg.  But not in Japanese.  So this lovely job (begging and pleading) will fall to my husband's new assistant.  I know how to make friends.  ahem. 
  8. I own a Kindle but I much prefer an actual book.  There, I said it.  I was at the Tokyo American Club library today requesting the new book "Unorthodox - the scandalous rejection of my Hasidic roots"  A natural reading choice for a midwestern, Catholic girl I know.  Anyway,  little known fact:  growing up I was desperate to be a librarian.  Imagine my excitement when upon overhearing my book request, I was asked if I cared to join the library committee at the club.  We'll be reviewing best sellers lists and deciding which new books to order for the library, writing reviews for the monthly newsletter and generally making sure the clubs diverse membership is reflected in book and magazine choices.  Made my day.  I'm such a nerd. 
  9. We have become tourists in our own city.   In the past 3 weeks, we have been to Tokyo Tower, National Maritime Museum, and Ueno - Museum of Science and Natural History, Roy's office  and Costco.  So I kid (a bit), however I am making a concerted effort to take advantage of this amazing city and I'm taking the Husband and G along with me for the ride.  Did you know Tokyo Tower (over 1000 feet) has an amazing observation deck and 360 degree view of the city?  Of course.  However, did you also know they have a bouncy castle/play structure/ball pit/video arcade within the tower?  Highlight of the trip of course. 
  10. Yesterday was 3/11 - it's been 1 whole year since the awful earthquake, destructive tsunami and terrifying nuclear crisis struck the pacific coast of Tohoku.  Over 15, 000 people died with over 3000 still missing. The day passed quietly yesterday here in Tokyo with a memorial service attended by the emperor and empress and a moment of silence observed at 2:46 pm - the time the earthquake occurred.   Japan has worked diligently to reconstruct the damaged areas, provide humanitarian relief and of course control the nuclear power plants.  The before and after photos available in a google search, are amazing.  I will never forget that day 1 year ago - where we were, what we were doing, how frightening it was for us in Tokyo.  But more importantly, I hope to remember the resilience of the  Japanese people, their dignity in the face of disaster and their heroic efforts to return to "normal".  Hope for Japan. 
Until next time...


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tokyo Fire Musuem visit

If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.  ~Edgar W. Howe

On that note, the 3.5 year old angel has no school this week Weds - Friday due to parent teacher conferences.  In an attempt to save my sanity, today we decided to explore the Tokyo Fire Museum.  One bicycle ride and 2 subway trains later, we arrived at the Yotsuya Sanchome subway stop in Shinjuku.  Conveniently you can enter the museum directly from the subway stop and better yet, it's FREE admission!

The museum consists of 6 floors that describe the different stages of Japan's firefighting history - beginning with samurai era firefighting on the top floor and descending to modern day equipment on the first floor.  Highlights include a firefighting helicopter that sits outside on a rooftop that you are allowed to crawl into and "drive", many interactive displays - in both English and Japanese, a fireman dress up area and then Mecca itself - the bottom floor with all the trucks.  Red and shiny - old and new, G was in heaven.  

After spending almost 3 hours in the museum, we headed up to the 10th floor where there is an observation deck with vending machines (and furniture circa 1975) to grab a juice box and take in an amazing view of the city before heading home.   All in all, a fantastic day and a museum that we will surely visit again.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hello, remember me?

Yes, I's been way too long.  To make a very long story short, G and I had an amazing summer back in the United States.  He got a taste of Americana at its best and I got to spend a ton of time with friends, family and of course shopping.  After the husband dragged me kicking and screaming back to Japan, we are full speed ahead in Tokyo again.  G is attending the American School in Japan's Early Learning Center and (again) after a brief adjustment period, is loving it.  Roy is immersed in work and I'm trying once again to establish a life here.  I'm back to my Japanese lessons twice a week, taking a core conditioning class at the Tokyo American club, joining in a book club and a cooking club and becoming very active in G's school.  I've taken on the role of Social Coordinator for his class and have also volunteered for the spring gala (Havana Nights) committee as I cannot lie, I love me a black tie event.  Oh and I get to buy a new dress. 

Last weekend the forecast called for lovely weather on Saturday, so being true to our "explore more of this city" mantra, we decided to....go to Tokyo Disneyland of course.  We checked the website (in English - woo too!), verified the address, packed snacks and at 6:45 am on Saturday we were out the door en route to "Mickey Mouse's house" which conveniently is just 1/2 hour drive away.  The park opens at 8 am, however by the time we arrived at 7:15, there were already quite impressive lines at the entrance.  Families had obviously been camping out for some time already.  We purchased our tickets and then waited with the masses for the gates to open.  And open they did, at which time people were running full speed ahead towards the attractions.  While we stood gaping,  still trying to open our map of the park -not good planning by the Wilmoths. 

Finally we just decided to conquer the attractions in a clockwise fashion - Adventureland, Westernland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toontown and Tomorrowland.  Making a point to watch the main street parade - Halloween themed at 11:00 am.  Early in the morning we were able to visit most attractions with very little wait, but by noon, there were 2 hour lines at most of the popular rides.  Seeing the Husband and G on the Flying Dumbo pretty much made my life.  My fave ride?  The spinning teacups - hysterical!  Had a brief moment of "OMG, is this ride age appropriate?" on a roller coaster (c'mon, he made the height restriction) but it turned out to be the highlight of G's visit.  Mother of the Year award still in tact. 

The park itself was immaculate , no trash to be seen anywhere on the grounds.  The only drawback?  Food and snacks were few and far between and/or had huge lines.  I should clarify - you could purchase Mickey Mouse shaped popsicles and caramel/curry/chocolate/green tea flavoured popcorn in the park quite readily and it appears this is what most people ate throughout the day.    Although the crowds were huge due to it being a holiday weekend, the Husband and G were quite easy to spot as I think we were 3 of perhaps 6 gaijin (foreigners) at the park that day.  G is starting to think that his name is "Kawaii" pronounced like Hawaii - it means "cute" in Japanese and is generally uttered while simultaneously touching his hair.  A definite no-go in the U.S, but here quite acceptable.  

We called it a day around 3:30 -tired, crispy from the sun but all happy that we had finally experienced Disneyland.  We plan to return this fall - I am dying to try Space Mountain Tokyo style.  

Until next time...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday, June 27th Things I've Learned

I can't believe that we've been in Tokyo over 6 months already.  Coming up at the end of this week, G and I will be headed back to the good ole' U.S. of A for 6 weeks  to see friends and family.  And to shop.  At Target.  The mass exodus of wives and children from Tokyo began a few weeks ago when the American School in Japan let out and many left immediately for their home countries.  I've been told that the summer here is unbearable due to the heat and humidity and this year there is the added bonus of an attempt to conserve power as this country recovers from the devastating earthquake of March 11th.

G's last day of school was on Friday.  During good-bye circle time (parent participation), I couldn't help but tear up as this little international school and G's teachers have been so fantastic to us as we were complete newcomers to the city and to the school.  In the fall, he will attend ASIJ - the American School in Japan whose curriculum, activities, vacations etc. mirror the school system in the United States as well as the other American schools worldwide.   One day we'll be back in the U.S., I promise!

During our remaining days here, G and I will be a fixture at the Tokyo American Club swimming pool, outdoor play area, library and restaurant.  This all in one entertainment complex (complete with bowling alley and billiards!) has become a lifeline for us for all things familiar and convenient and we never fail to run into someone that we know there.

As I was wrapping up loose ends today, I was thinking about the completely random things that I've discovered during my past 6 months here in Tokyo and I came up with the following list(absolutely not all inclusive as I'm sure I'll post this and think of 10 more): 

  1. Byoin and byoin mean either beauty salon or hospital depending on which syllable you place the accent, this can prove slightly problematic leading me to my number 2. 
  2. Most taxi drivers speak little to no English.  The words for right, left, straight and stop are the first Japanese words that one should master if planning to visit this country. 
  3. The 100 yen shops are fantastic for souvenirs, knick knacks and household items - all for just 100 yen.  Thus far the 4 story shop in Harajuku is my fave and is the reason that we are the proud owners of Hello Kitty chip clips, plastic hard boiled egg container (with smiley face) and chopsticks with every design imaginable. 
  4. Not all sake is created equal.  Enough said. 
  5. Try as I might, I do not love green tea ice-cream.  Same goes for the sakura/cherry blossom latte. 
  6. Number four is considered very unlucky, as are all even numbers to some extent.  The Japanese word for the number four is shi which also means death.  You won't find room 404 or 414 at a local hospital.  When giving a gift of, for example, wine glasses, the preferred number to give is 5 - not 6 and definitely not 4!
  7. Although blowing your nose in public is frowned upon here, when walking past one of the numerous public restrooms (door open natch), you are likely to witness a local man using the urinal or even better, the public park bushes.  So boogers = bad but full frontal male nudity = okay. 
  8. Traditional Japanese kitchens do not contain an oven.  Cooking is done on stovetop, with ricecooker and via microwave.  
  9. It is next to impossible to find self tanning lotion or bronzer here in Tokyo.  But I can find a plethora of whitening cremes. 
  10. My three year old now screeches "no shoes on carpet" to anyone who visits our home in Tokyo.  That's right, no shoes on the carpet or actually anywhere in the house.  Slippers, socks or barefeet only.  In some homes (not ours) there are different slippers to wear upon entering the bathroom versus the rest of the house. 
  11. Bathrooms are generally not heated. To compensate, there is either underground heating in the flooring or heated toilet seats.  Please see previous blog post regarding the other amazing features of the toilets.  
  12. Watashi wa nihongo wa muzukashi desu.  I think Japanese is difficult.  But I am trying and have to give big kudos to my teacher who has the patience of a saint with this gaijin (foreigner) who doesn't do her homework. 
  13. Doors are opened and closed automatically (by the driver) in a taxicab.  Do Not Touch The Doors.  Seats are covered in a white cloth material, oftentimes a white lace material -just as practical as it sounds.  Even during a torrential downpour in rainy season, carrying 2 umbrellas, a handbag, a backpack, Curious George and wearing muddy wellies, you should not allow your child to put his boots on the seat and soil the white lace.   This is your challenge.  
  14. Japanese women over the age of 19 do not wear shorts.  Skirts or capris are okay.  Generally with stockings.  In 85 degree heat. 
  15. All things considered....despite the cost of living and the language barrier and despite the earthquake and aftershocks, I really really love this city.  The people are lovely and gentle, the food is top notch as is the public transportation, the customer service cannot be beat, and it's been an amazing cultural experience thus far for all three of us.  
Until my next blog post, from the US, have a wonderful summer!!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

March 11th - all about the quake

Some of you already know the story, but for those that don't here goes....

Friday March 11th began quite typically - took  G to nursery via my bicycle, ran errands,  met a new girlfriend for lunch and a chat, picked G up from school, stopped at Baskin Robbins for an ice cream and cycled home.  After so much sugar, there was no nap to be had, so G was buzzing around our apartment on his tricycle while I unloaded the dishwasher, dryer, cleaned cat litter box - basically being my daily glamorous self until 2:46 pm.  Initially I thought the dizziness I was feeling was internal - perhaps I was ill, had an ear infection?  But no, when the kitchen blinds began banging against the window and I heard framed photos falling from shelves, I knew that it wasn't just me and a simple problem with equilibrium.

Realizing that we were in the throes of a rather large quake, I yelled for G to stop  cycling immediately fearing that one of our huge bookcases or wine cabinet would fall on him.  With all of the assistance that we had received during our move to Tokyo, nobody had thought to brief us in What To Do During the Largest Earthquake in Tokyo's Recorded History.   I knew that our building was built in the 90's and thus allegedly "quake proof".  That's all fine and good until you are sitting on the floor in your living room (away from windows) watching books fall off the shelves, motorcycles tip over outside and telephone pools swaying to and fro and your entire apartment feels like it's on "vibrate".  Pulled G onto my lap for the duration and we just waited it out..."Mommy everything is shaking!!" repeated at least 15 times doing nothing for my slightly frazzled nerves.  Sirens began going off and announcement were being made on our neighborhood public address system - all in Japanese.  I am able to order in a restaurant, give the cabbie directions, but I am not yet advanced enough with my Japanese language skills to decipher an emergency warning over a fuzzy speaker during a time of crisis.  What to do, what to do?

I tried calling the Husband in his (16th floor) office to no avail - phones were not working, cell phone lines were jammed.  I remembered something about a local disaster center at a nearby kindergarten,  so I decided to venture out of the apartment and go to the center - if only to be around people and not alone in our apartment.  Grabbed shoes, bag, jackets, G and Barney the stuffed dinosaur and walked the 2 blocks to the kindergarten - not quite knowing when we would return to the apartment.  There were at least 300 people gathered in the playing field of the school - open area, nothing to fall on us should another quake/aftershock occur - which of course it did.  Reactions were varied - an expat near me with her two children and nanny was sobbing, people were holding hands, some appeared to be in thought and/or praying and a few school children were laughing and joking.  G sat on my lap and fell asleep - so much for his stress level.  I sat on the grass in the playing field for about an hour, kicking myself that we did not yet have our "earthquake survival kit" assembled, trying in vain to use my cell phone, and then decided to head home.  Very surreal - it was a ghost town in our neighborhood, apparently most Japanese people do not in fact leave their homes, duly noted for future quakes.

Thankfully when I returned home, I was able to contact the Husband's assistant and was told that he left work immediately following the quake and was driving home.  On a sidenote, she (assistant) along with a number of his colleagues, opted to stay the night in the office rather than try to get home as there were no trains running. I then made the mistake of turning on the news and surfing the internet (still working!).  I was horrified by the devastation in the northern part of Japan - the tsunami footage seemed almost unreal.  It was at that point that I realized how large of a disaster had just occurred and quite frankly, how lucky we were in Tokyo.  The Husband returned home, avoiding road closures,  around 5:30 that evening.  We were very lucky all in all, some of G's teachers were trapped in a subway for almost 8 hours and many friends here, unable to get taxis or the subway, resorted to walking for hours to get home.

A month plus on and we're still experiencing aftershocks - sometimes quite strong, that are admittedly a bit disconcerting.  I have friends here that are experiencing difficulty sleeping, some that will not be alone in there apartment or refuse to ride the subway and there are quite a few in the expat community that returned to their home country and will not be returning to Tokyo in the future.  We have elected to remain and are doing our part to help  the country that we now call home.  There are food and clothing drives to help with, fundraisers to attend and benefits to organize.   I will say that I have been truly amazed by the resiliency of the Japanese people and the grace and dignity with which they conduct themselves during this time of tragedy.  I am confident that this country will recover and will once again prosper and flourish.  I do want to thank everyone for their kind thoughts, words and prayers - we really do appreciate it.  

Am off to hide Easter eggs....Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kamakura Japan April 16, 2011

First - I know that it's been awhile.  With the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation fears of the past month I've been a bit lax about updating my blog, apologies.  I'll try to revisit some of the events of the past month in future blog posts (including my almost 3 week unexpected trip to the US)  but for now, I'll start with details from our day trip yesterday. 

We decided to venture out of Tokyo to the nearby city of Kamakura, Japan - a small coastal town about 1 hour south of Tokyo.  We contemplated driving, but since our satellite navigation system - that speaks in English, but must be programmed in Japanese (ha!) is virtually useless to us, we decided to take the train instead.  After a one hour train ride, we arrived in the city of Kamakura with our mission being to visit the giant Buddha Daibutsu- the 2nd largest in Japan (largest is in Nara).  

Kamakura was once the political center and capital of Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo chose the city as the seat for his new military government in 1192.  The Kamakura government continued to rule Japan for over a century, first under the Minamoto shogun and then under the Hojo regents.  After the decline of the Kamakura government in the 14th century, the capital of Japan became Kyoto but Kamakura remained vital as a political epicenter for Eastern Japan for many years thereafter.  
Today, Kamakura is a small city that has been referred to as a little Kyoto due to the large number of temples, shrines and historical monuments.  

We arrived just after noon so our first order of business was to find lunch.  We started walking down Komachi Dori - a very popular pedestrian only street lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and stands selling traditional rice cakes, dolls etc.   FYI - we were the only gaijin (foreigners) to be seen anywhere although we did see a few other (German tourists) by the Buddha later in the day.  Lunch was amazing, although we erroneously ordered the chicken skin skewers (what the heck??) instead of chicken breast skewers for G.  He shared my miso, rice and teriyaki chicken instead.  Roy's lunch is pictured below. 

After lunch we set off for The Great Buddha via bus as G was not about to make the 1/2 hour trek on foot.  In Tokyo it is not uncommon to hear English spoken in shops and restaurants, in Kamakura this was not the case at all so the Husband and I tried out our Japanese 101 (not pretty) in an effort to navigate the bus.  We arrived at The Great Buddha in one piece, so considered ourselves successful.  The seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai is known by the familiar name of the Kamakura Daibutsu and was once housed in a temple that was swept away by a tsunami and thus now stands alone.  Construction began in 1252 and took about ten years.  It's height is approximately 13.4 meters (44 feet for my american peeps) and it is awesome when you first see it.  We washed our hands (left, right, left and then cleanse mouth with water from the left), threw coins into box (see G below) and after paying 20 yen (25 cents?), we even went inside to see the construction.  Too dark for photos.  

Stopped for ice cream at a local shop where ironically they had a "hablamos espanol" sign out front and had delicious ice cream cones before our trip back to Tokyo.  G crashed out immediately upon entering the train and I spent the almost hour long trip speaking with an older Japanese woman who expressed her 1. surprise at seeing a family of foreigners on the train and 2. her gratitude and appreciation for American support and aid in this time of Japan's need.  She was lovely - so gracious, well spoken and again so appreciative of all the support from the US and she asked me repeatedly to convey this to my American friends (here you go..).   All in all, a great day trip and I'm looking forward to our next adventure.  Until next time....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life in the Fast Lane

Somewhere in between Japanese classes, workouts at TAC, Gavin's school + extra curricular activities, a newly founded book club and the day to day grind, I've actually acquired something that I've been missing for awhile - a social life!!  I won't bore you with the gory details, but am slowly but surely meeting some great new women and exploring Tokyo in the process.

One of the highlights of the past weekend was going to see The Eagles live in concert at the Tokyo Dome. I had booked the tickets months ago and really had no idea what to expect.  I last saw The Eagles at the O2 in London when I was 8 months pregnant with G(3 years ago) and  loved the show.  The Tokyo Dome hosts a number of concerts, events and exhibitions throughout the year but primarily functions  as a baseball stadium for the local Yomiuri Giants.

After leaving G with his fave babysitter (a teacher from his school), the Husband and I jumped on the train for the 30 minute journey to the Dome.  The doors opened at 3:30 with concert to begin at 5 pm.  We had been briefed in advance, that this timeframe would hold - there would be no 3 hour delay in the performance. Apparently I had not received the "no camera in the Dome" notice, or I did and it was in Japanese.  Either way, I had my camera confiscated (along with about 500 other people) as we entered the Dome and was told that I could pick it up post concert ala the style of a coat check.  Fabulous and oh so convenient considering this is a building with over 40,000 seat capacity and The Eagles sold out the majority of it.

Seats were good, food was not.  I was actually surprised at the popularity of this early to mid 70's American country rock bank in Japan.  When Joe Walsh played the opening riff of "Life's Been Good (to me so far", the crowd went wild.  Well, as wild as they do here - basically a few hoots and hollers and clapping with some bobbing of the head.  Definitely a more "restrained" crowd.  Was coveting a concert tee but could not bring myself to spent 4000 yen (over $50) for it.  The band played for close to 3 hours with a great mix of old and newer songs from their Long Road out of Eden album.  I successfully retrieved my camera post concert as the Husband and I sprinted for the train during the first encore.   I had a great time and on the train ride home, perused the upcoming concerts:

 Night Ranger, Toto, Mr. Big and Maroon 5 are all scheduled in the next few months with ticket availability - shocker I know.  In case you were wondering, Justin Bieber is sold out.