Monday, December 27, 2010

First Christmas in Tokyo

I knew going into the holiday season, that this one would be a bit strange.  New country -one that does not acknowledge this Christian holiday, first Christmas without my Dad, no family or friends and only about 3.5% of our worldly belongings - mostly clothes.  I wasn't bah humbug, but nor was I singing Jingle Bells at the top of the lungs either.  Needless to say, my expectations were low but I'm very happy to report that Christmas Eve and day were actually really nice.  Surprise, surprise. The husband and I made a joint decision to not worry about exchanging gifts this year (this NEVER happens) and instead wait until the dust has settled a bit to do some shopping.  After a few glasses of wine, he did mumble "wow, I really owe you big time this year..." To which I replied, "cha ching".  I kid, somewhat.  Hence, there is a pair of very large pair of diamond earrings out there with my name on them.

Christmas Eve was low key and at home.  I made lasagna, Caesar salad and we had a delicious Pinot Noir that G and I had procured from a local wine merchant earlier in the day.  Apparently feeling sorry for me trying to keep a 2 year old from picking up every stinkin' glass bottle in the store, the merchant offered me a rather sizeable taster of champagne.  Note to self: look frazzled more often.  He also gave G a sample of the sparkling apple cider to which G loudly replied "YUCK!" as I choked on my champagne.  However, G then proceeded to use his "outside voice" to talk about the "good wine" that he just had to drink as we walked home.  argh, thankfully the masses of people going to the Buddhist temple by our apartment didn't seem to hear him or fingers crossed, they didn't speak English.  Is there a Child Protection Agency in Japan?  Must check into this....

Christmas morning dawned bright and sunny and 55 degrees.  Hmmm, decidedly non Christmas like for this Wisconsin girl, but I'll take it!  We had shipped a few gifts over from London in our air shipment for G, so he spent all of 10 minutes opening his presents and he seemed most impressed with the remote control car and the pop up tunnel and tent from Grandma M.  At one point all you could hear was hissing from the tent as the Husband decided to torment the cat with the remote control car and had him cornered in the tent.  You see what I'm dealing with here.  A good time was had by all.  We knew that we were going to the Tokyo American Club for dinner that evening, but in the interim had a few hours to spare -what to do, what to do??

Go to Costco of you do.  Let me reiterate, Christmas isn't really acknowledged amongst the Japanese - people may get together for dinner but there is no religious aspect to it.  Not really so different than in many households in the US or UK.  But, all the shops and restaurants are open!  I had read that a Costco membership is almost required for a US citizen living in Japan if you want to avoid giving up your first born in order to purchase some goods from off we went and it was a madhouse!!  The equivalent of $250 and 2.5 hours later and we were home with economy sized goldfish crackers, Skippy Peanut Butter, M & M's, Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn and enough facial tissue and paper towels to last us through our 3 year stint here in Tokyo.  I'm addicted. Must.go.back.soon.

We were home just in time to shower and get ready to go to the Tokyo American Club for Christmas dinner.  Again, we weren't quite certain what to expect but we were seated at a table by ourselves (bonus) and the spread was very impressive.  There was turkey with mashed potatoes, sage stuffing, green beans almondine, prime rib, sprouts, mac and cheese and a salad bar with the usuals plus shrimp, octopus, scallops and a few items that I could not readily identify.  The champagne was limitless, there was a make your own sundae bar for the kids (and the Husband) and a very believable Santa made an appearance.  G did not lose his sh*t as he has done in the past when confronted by Mr. Claus and he even high fived Santa when presented with a cookie and candy cane.  I was content to sit and sip my champagne and people watch but when Satan's minion , all hyped up on sugar (see photo attached) decided to make a bee line into the industrial kitchen area and "help cook", we took it as our cue to leave.  A very Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Can't wait to see what New Years Eve brings....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deep Thoughts Wednesday December 22, 2010

1. The title of today's blog is completely sarcastic.  There really is no point, just some random thoughts and observations.

2.  I really need to hire a cleaner.  This flat is way too large, there is cream/white carpeting throughout and I'm losing the battle with clutter, 2.5 year old and the puker (aka Riley the cat).  Also as my friend Jaime so wisely pointed out - if I live in a residence with a certified "Maid's Room", I should not be expected to clean my own house. Right?  Right?

3.  We live in a neighborhood of Tokyo called Hiroo (pronounced Hero-ooh) that is home to the University of the Sacred Heart, an all girls Christian University.  Everyday, I push G's stroller past throngs of college age girls dressed very similarly; short shorts (jean or otherwise), tights (fishnets or sparkly silver preferred), high heeled boots (over the knee is a fave), topped with a short  jacket or cape and if at all possible a furry hat that resembles an animal (a cat seems to be the most popular).  Full makeup including false eyelashes and gel nails - never dark, always pastel, sparkly and/or with rhinestones on the tips.  Anyone that knows me, understands that I am DYING inside, biting my lip, wanting to speed dial What Not to Wear and I have absolutely nobody to discuss this amazing fashion with!   In my head, the Pretty Woman (as in Julia Roberts) theme song plays.  I'm not judging, I'm just sayin'....
Get back to me in 6 mos...perhaps I will be sporting the nails pictured below.

4.  1700 yen is far too much to pay for maple syrup.  This is $20. By they way, this is not the gallon size, but rather a regular glass bottle, smaller than Aunt Jemima equivalent in the US.  I thought London was crazy expensive, but Tokyo beats it.  I've been told that I will eventually become accustomed to spending 800 yen ($10) for 2 perfect, delicious apples but I'm not so sure about that.

5.  There is no tipping in Tokyo - not in restaurants, bars, taxis or for services rendered.  I prefer to think that the "tip" is built into the astronomical prices being charged.

6.  I have 12 channels that I can watch on my television read: are in English.  These include but are not limited to 3 sports channels, 1 disney channel, MTV, a movie channel and two channels that alternate between Boston Legal, The Ghost Whisperer, and any/all CSI, American Idol and So you Think You Can Dance.  All of the shows are at least 1 if not 2 seasons old.  I'm not bothered as I'm not a big TV watcher but have noticed that Roy is doing alot of research on Slingbox.

7.  People here wear facial masks not necessarily to prevent getting ill but to prevent spreading the illness or germs that they may have.  I answer this question at least twice daily when G asks, "MOMMY, WHY MAN WEARING MASK?" while pointing and staring at the person sitting right next to us on the train.  I remember when I use to get flustered and embarrassed...G has cured me of this.

8.  Japanese women wear high heels.  And skirts.  With pantyhose.  Possibly leggings with a tunic top.  No jeans.  My loose fitting boyfriend jeans, motorcycle boots and Gap sweater is really not cutting it here.  I am a Glamour Don't in Japan.

9.  On the trains, people either sleep or check their phones or play hand held games.  There is no eye contact, definitely no talking, thus making G's observations (see number 7 above) all the more obvious.

10.  It does not matter how intelligent you are or how advanced your degree, unless you can read Japanese, you will be unable to determine whether the milk carton that you are buying is pasteurized, non pasteurized, low fat, full fat or goats milk.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Love Hotel - December 20th, 2010

So last Friday, I was able to pick up our membership cards for the Tokyo American Club, commonly referred to as TAC.  For the past 3 years they have occupied a temporary facility on Mitsubishi's corporate land so that an entirely new club could be built  that will open mid January.  The new facility looks AMAZING and contains the following: a rooftop pool, kids splash water park, salon, spa, work out facilities, rooms for rent if visitors come to visit in Tokyo, multiple restaurants, bars, library, creche...and the list goes on. They offer classes, lectures, tours and of course have their very own Women's Club.  No, I will not be vying for the President's role anytime soon as much as I loved my stint with Hampstead Women's Club.  Plus, this might actually lead to a divorce. The  membership was included in Roy's job offer as a tool to assist us in settling into this country/city. We will be partaking in their Christmas dinner on December 25th at the old club, which will then close until the grand opening of the new facility on Jan 19th - I absolutely cannot wait! Santa is making a surprise appearance, so I'll make sure to take and post some photos.

On Saturday, the husband and I decided to celebrate my 29th birthday a bit early by hiring a sitter and going out to dinner at a restaurant with real plates, utensils and *gasp* candles.  Wisconsin born sitter, Gabby, shows up and we manage to escape the apartment with nary a whimper from G although he had spent most of Saturday repeating the mantra of "No Gabby, no Gabby".  As anyone that has spent time with a 2 year old can tell you, this could have manifested itself into a full blown, head spinning "NOOOOO GABBY!!!" while clinging to my ankles that evening...but it did not.  The restaurant, Legato, is in Shibuya ward (same ward that I reside in), but near Shibuya station - one of the busiest train stations in Tokyo and an area that can only be compared to Times Square or Leicester Square in London.   Complete madness ensues as we exit the train station and then we are swept away in a tidal wave of young people making their way to restaurants, bars, clubs.  The husband and I are momentarily lost and make a left turn down a seedy sidestreet that is host to numerous peep shows and a Love Hotel whereby you can rent rooms for a "rest" for 1-3 hours or for the night.  My attempt to ask for assistance at the Love Hotel (thereby horrifying the husband) is futile as there is no front desk staff (to be more discreet).  You select the room you desire from a panel of lit up buttons and then payment is made by pheumatic tube -ala drive through banks back in the day.  Must keep this Klassy establishment in mind for Valentine's Day.  This is a joke Mom.

We traipse back to the main street and eventually locate our restaurant on the 15th floor of the Espace Tower.   It's lovely, views are fabulous and our food is delicious as is the Dom Perignon (it's my birthday dammit) and the wine.  Roy's assistant has apparently relayed to the restaurant that it is my 25th birthday - no Christmas present for her, and the staff brings out a lovely dessert with candles and sparklers in it.  They however, did not sing to me so there is a god afterall.   Dinner is somewhat uneventful except for the trip to the toilet, please see earlier blog entry regarding toilets.   The problem actually resided in what door to enter - I now know that a red light indicates Ladies facilities whereas a green light indicates Men's room.  Seriously - no signage, no verbiage - just 2 damn lamps with different colored bulbs.  I chose correctly but refused to pass along the vital lighting information to the husband which was not very nice but had me laughing hysterically to myself at the table nonetheless.  Great night all in all although I was rueing Dom P and wine the next morning as G shows to mercy to the hungover and was bouncing on our bed at 7:17 am requesting the Wiggles.  Shoot me now.

I am resolving to return to this area of Shibuya as there is a ginormous department store called Isetan- complete with "learn to ski" facilities on the roof top as well as 7 levels of goodness - home goods, clothes, shoes, food, restaurants.   Cue Hallelujah chorus please...I just may like it here after all.
Until next time....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dec. 14th - In sickness and in wealth, or is it health?

Totally random title - am delirious due to not being able to ascertain the correct dosage on the Japanese cold medicine that I picked up from the pharmacy.  It's been a few days since my last post but that is because I  have been sick.  Sick as in I don't want to get out of bed, coughing up a lung but still need to take care of a 2.5 year old who refuses to nap - sick.  Being ill in a country that you are familiar with is bad enough, but feeling like crap in a new country whose language is not familiar to you is just downright torturous!  Enough woe is me.   Am supposed to be going to the Dr. this afternoon.  He allegedly speaks English so am hoping to convey "bronchitis" and the need for an inhaler to him.  Wish me luck!

G did a test run at his the nursery he will be attending in January last week.  He was a superstar - settled in without a whimper and loved his new school and new friends.  It also gave me a couple hours free to get a Starbucks soy chai tea latte - yay and go to the store without my "assistant".  Over the weekend, we interviewed a potential sitter for G.  She is a college student and ironically is from Kenosha, WI.  Was a little taken aback when she asked out Parenting Philosophy - huh?, but decided to stay true to my cheesehead roots and hire her anyway.  The best part was when she asked if we eat organic and how strict we are with G and his diet,  Again, I could not plan this -   he wonders out munching on a bag of cheddar cheese goldfish, wearing only a nappy and tee shirt and carrying my handbag.  Yeah, we're really strict around here and super organic too,  ahem. She's through an agency here in Tokyo and the payment scheme is amazing. This is not the "here's your $2/hour cash" from back in the day when I babysat.  She charges extra if she cooks a meal - 1000 yen = $10, we pay her transportation to and from our apartment and there is a charge, albeit reduced if we come home earlier than anticipated, or later of course.  After midnight, we must offer her a bed or pay for her cab ride home.  I had a momentary flashback  to babysitting in the late 80's and being driven/walked home by drunken dads who promised they would be home  hours earlier and me falling asleep watching SNL (when it was still good).  Waking up with a start when I heard the parents come home and trying to pretend that I had not been sleeping/drooling on my textbooks even though it was now 2 am.  ahhh, good times and I went home with $12 in my pocket too!  Although hiring a babysitter, for the Japanese is very unusual, I'm willing to go through the pain of the paperwork & payment scheme if it means dinner out with the husband at a restaurant that does not have a menu on which you can color and we can eat later than 5:30 pm.

This morning we were able to pick up our Alien Registration cards.  As I mentioned previously we must carry with us at all times or risk a beating-joking! But we will have to write a letter of Japanese.  Perhaps the beating would be easier.

I also sorted out, with the help of our relocation assistant, what to do with the god forsakin' wooden crate that Riley (cat) was transported in from London.  One would think you could just place said wooden crate out for collection with other rubbish, and you would be wrong.  Oh no, this entails a trip to the convenience store to purchase a collection ticket for large items (which I need to ask for in Japanese - I have it written phonetically), and then a collection date of January 4th.   In another post, I will enlighten you on the recycling system in Japan, read: Michele's daily dose of hell.  I understand that we're on an island with not a lot of landfill space.  I also understand that 4-6 different containers for refuse in my kitchen take up a lot of space.  More on that to follow....ciao for now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eau de Toilet, yes toilet.

Look away now if you're delicate in nature and are prone to "the vapors" as this post isn't for you.  For you, I will blog about Hello Kitty in the very near future.  Fot others, read on.  I feel like I can't be a good gaijin (foreigner) in Japan without blogging about the amazingness that is The Toilet here in Tokyo.  Not a pretty subject, but necessary in nature.

First some background info.  There are 3 types of toilets that I've encountered  around the city thus far.  We'll call them 1. The Squat/Japanese style , 2. The Western Style and 3. The Cadillac.   Number 1. is exactly as it is named.  For most of us, read: me, this means that I will abruptly turn on heel and walk out of the restroom upon encountering this beast as there is just no way in hell that is happening.  Hole in the ground people.  Go to this website for full instructions on how to use this lovely model although you don't need to be a genius to figure it out.

Number 2., The Western Style as the name implies is what most of us are used to - no fancy gadgets, but a bit more civilized than a hole in the ground.  Western-style flush toilets in Japan commonly include water-saving features such as the ability to choose between a "big" flush and a "little" flush. Many toilets also route the water to fill the tank through a faucet over the tank allowing users to rinse their hands as historically,  the toilet and wash basin were in separate rooms.  Although this is not the case in our master bath, we do have this feature on our toilet.  To give you a visual, it's like a water fountain (or a "bubbler" if you're in WI) on the top of your tank.  As you can imagine, this water feature provides hours of amusement for the 2 year old who utilises it as a matchbox car wash. Why this strikes me as all kinds of wrong, I'm not sure but I look the other way as it does keep him amused and out of my makeup while I am in the shower.

Now onto Number 3 or The Cadillac as I like to call it ,also known as Super Toilet or Washlet.  While this bad boy may look like the Western Style, it is far superior and in a league of it's own.  First of all, it has it's own control panel on the wall.  Now these instructions will be entirely in Japanese, thus you will not know what button you are pushing which gives the term "living dangerously" a whole new meaning.  Features include, but are not limited to:  toilet seat heating, blow dryer, water stream adjustments ala a bidet - you can choose a "posterior" wash or the "feminine" wash.    You can then chose heat of water and strength of stream.  There is also the automatic lift and close of the toilet seat lid and of course the  air deodorizing feature.  My fave  feature is the automatic sensor that starts a flushing noise as soon as you enter the stall.  Apparently women, in particular are so horrified by any sounds in the toilet, that is is better to have a continuous loud flushing noise going on in the stall while you do your business. Thereby calling more attention to the fact, yes?  Or perhaps that's just my take on it.  FYI - more than 75% of Japanese households have this style toilet so come to Japan, and you'll most likely experience The Cadillac.  I should mention that nowhere on above mentioned all Japanese control panel, is there a button to flush so you'll spend approx 5 minutes frantically scanning the toilet, stall, seat, buttons looking for this necessary feature.  Since I don't want to spoil all your fun, I'm not going to tell you where to find it.

Sayonara for now....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Imperial Palace - Dec 5, 2010

Yet another bright and sunny day in Tokyo and the husband and I decide that we need to do something touristy today.  I had read that you can "rent" bicycles for free on Sundays at the Imperial Palace and that there are even road closures to ensure that you cycle in safety while touring outside of the grounds.  Sounds like a win-win to me.  We set off with G most excited to be going on the train again.

The current Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan's Imperial Family.

Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country's capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.

The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor's Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.

There are over 250 bicycles to chose from and an army of elderly green jacketed gentlemen to assist you in choosing the right bike for you.  Since I've been coveting a Mama san style bike, I decided to put the almost 40 lb child on the front of my bike and give it a spin, if you will.  No problems at all except G screeching "faster mommy, go faster!".  Kid - I haven't been to gym in months, this is as good as it gets.   This country is nothing if not orderly and systematic.  That being said there were cones, arrows and strategically place green jacketed men along the route to ensure that you don't veer of course.  Which I did, much to chagrin, rapid fire Japanese and whistleblowing of route attendee....whoops.  The husband proceeded to cycle past and ignore me, for which he'll pay at some point in time.

We had a lovely ride and afterwards decided to roam the grounds a bit and take a few photos.  No less than 3 individuals took photos of G-blatantly, no requests. hmmmm, tried valiantly to quell my high pedophile alertness and we deduced that the Japanese were either taken in by 1. his blonde hair, 2. his Beatles tee shirt  or 3. the fact that he resembles and Anime character (I was told this by a Japanese friend in London).  If this attention continues for the next 3 years, the kid is going to think he's a rockstar.

We head home on the train and opt for sushi for lunch - where our very limited Japanese vocabularly is severely tested.  Since G will only eat Edamame at this point (and an occasional cucumber roll), I head to a convenience store nearby for his lunch.  Ritz bits, strawberry milk and an apple is not going to win me Mother of Year anytime soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Going Postal Friday December 3, 2010

First let me begin with the good news that my 15 year old, bad ass shelter cat from Chicago arrived safe and sound at Narita airport yesterday and was delivered to my doorstep last evening.  He appeared a bit shellshocked after his ordeal and after I  ascertained that the red/pink splotch on his leg was only newspaper ink (from paper lining his crate) and not a mortal wound, we all settled in for a semi restful nights sleep.  Semi restful as he  found 3 am the most appropriate time to explore his new surroundings and comment upon them.  Read: howling, meowing and running.  I have found a use for the maid's room - it now contains a litter box.  It may soon contain a cat.

We have been blessed thus far with amazing weather and G and I have made at least 1 if not 2 trips to nearby parks on a daily basis.  With park, lunch and nap, our day is pretty much taken care of. Today we woke up to galestorm winds and rain and I had to check to make sure that it wasn't typhoon season.  Crap...what to do today??

Conundrum is solved by husband who needs to apply for international driver's license in order to drive company car waiting for him at his office.  I need to find a. located Post Office, b. purchase necessary envelopes from non-English speaking postal workers and c. mail in his AAA application for the international permit.  After consulting a plethora of resources, I find there is a Post Office within walking distance of our apartment, next to the Red Cross Hospital.  I will address (pun intended) the address system here in Japan in another post.  Suffice to say, it is impossible for a westerner to figure out, so I go by landmarks.  The Post Office building is designated by symbol that looks like a "T" with a line over it.  Miracle of all miracles, I locate said building and manage to convey, in sign language, to the attendant, what I need.  He even helps me go through my coins and pay for it as I'm a bit distracted by  G who is standing in front of the sensor for the automatic door, making it open/close at least 30 times during the transaction - as you do.   Bolstered by my sense of accomplishment (don't mock, it's the little things) and my new found postal worker friend, I even purchased stamps for Christmas Cards.  I think this may be a bit ambitious, but a girl can dream.