Saturday, August 30, 2008

Stimulation overload

We went to an area known for it's reasonably priced electronics in Tokyo called Akihabara. Each store is about 6 or 7 floors packed with everything from rice cookers, washing machines, computers and TVs. And for some reason everything is turned on. I noticed this also in a discount shop on a separate day. In all of the stores, not only is the overhead radio playing something such as the theme from Taxi or Brittney Spears, but every device is making some sort of sound. It is so loud which is a bit ironic because it seems to me that the Japanese are a quiet sort of people, at least that's what I keep telling the kids when they are yelling at one another in public. The department store floors are filled with products making use of every centimeter (notice I didn't say inch) of space here. We thought the kids could find different electronic games to try out, but it was just too much. We ended our day on the 4th floor of one of these buildings where they had some tables set up to make your own fan - basically taking two large fan shaped stickers and applying them to a plastic fan. Also, and a bit more interesting was the paper activity where you cut out an glue a premade house, car, plane, boat and made a 3-D thing....having some word finding difficulties there. It looked simple enough, but it took me about 30 minutes to make the car and then the guy had to glue it together for me because I couldn't figure out all the tabs. It didn't matter as Connor was happy with the finished product, even though he said it looked weird.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


We are slowing getting used to staying to the left when walking down the street or riding an escalator and then remembering to stay to the far left so that people can walk past you on the skinny escalators. Connor learned his left from his right this week after many reminders -
'Stay to the left..left...LEFT!' In tunnels there are often arrows on the walls or ground reminding you to stay to the correct side. But then you find yourself walking down the stairs to the subway and now the arrows direct you to the right side. A friend informed me today that she learned you stay to the right when you are walking East and West. You are kidding me! I can't even figure out which way to turn out of my apt. much less know what direction I am going. For that rule, I may just have to rely on the arrows.

Recycling is taken seriously here - which I am happy about. I haven't completely figured it out. For starters, the garbage is divided into burnable and non-burnable. Most things like foil snack packets and plastic baggies fall into the nonburnable or even recyclable - I think. See, I really am not sure. Is recyclable the same as non-burnable? I don't think so. Then there is the other recycling such as cans, plastic bottles and glass and combustible and non-combustible which I thought would be the same as burnable and non-burnable - so confusing. I don't expect anyone to follow my babble. Anyway, we were at McDonald's last weekend and when I went to throw the trash out I had to separate everything from the straws to the ketchup packets to the paper wrappers and cups. It took me five minutes to throw everything away.

I just got back from picking up Nick and Kate at the bus stop, but they preferred to go to staight to another boy's house and play - that is 3 times now this week. He is an only child there with his nanny and apparently well stocked in the Wii and other electronic games that we have yet to fill our lives with. When Jack walks home from work, he swings by their friend's building and picks them up. So nice!

Connor finished his first full day of school today - 8:15 to 2PM 3x/week. He loves going to school - and I love that he is going to school. So I was able to attend a coffee meeting at the kid's school today - alone. Everyone new and not so new were incredibly friendly and helpful. One woman said it perfectly, 'The interview for a friend here is quite short.' So true. It seems we are all in this together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

0 for 4

If you are keeping track - because the kids sure are, we have basically killed a fish a day over the last 4 days with the latest fatality being tonight upon returning from our meeting. Ugh. I am much better with a dog.

Now that's a babysitter!

Jack and I had our first night out - albeit to a school function, but it was one less crazy bedtime for us with the kids. The meeting at school was in regards to the protocol in the event of an earthquake. They shared information about what emergency procedures were in place and tried to ease many parents' concerns if the unthinkable should happen. Common building requirements here include reinforced concrete foundations, shatterproof windows as well as tying everything down so that it doesn't tumble on top of anyone. They recommend that each family has their own emergency procedure - including a contact back home so that they can be the ones to let everyone else know we are okay. Judy and Jerry - I designate you. The man leading the meeting mentioned there were some 3000 earthquakes in Japan last year. That's about 8 or so a day! He said we may feel them at night. Maybe I should get a refill on my sleeping pills.

On a lighter note, we hired a Philippine woman to babysit for us while we were out. She sat for my friend in the building a couple of times who had learned about her from someone else. I deliberately did not clean up too much before she came, because I understood that the nannys/sitters did more than just put the kids to bed - who by the way were all in bed and their own beds I might add when we came home. I quickly noticed how tidy everything was including a clean kitchen! She offered to come again, and there is no doubt in my mind she will be back. Next time I'll make sure the ironing is left out as well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm tired mommy!

My body aches. We walk most everywhere with the exception of the subway and a taxi here and there. Although my feet are always sore, it's not the walking, but Connor's endless demands to be carried. We leave the apt. and he collapses on the floor and whines, "I'm tired!" I give in because when I don't, he lies down and starts crying or screaming. We are always surrounded by people. So I am tired, like Connor. We think we decided on a school today for him, however the walk involves hills, up and down, both ways. All I could think about was 'How am I going to carry him?' Jack and I decided a bike with a seat is probably in order. Then I was at the kid's bus stop this afternoon and I asked about where to buy bikes and a woman suggested the electric bike. Hmmm...the walk to school isn't sounding so tiring after all.

When Connor isn't crying to be carried he is running! Between our apt. and the current bus stop there are a total of 10 escalator rides there and back. Connor is fearless and causing everyone around him concern including me, but I have realized it doesn't really matter how much I tell him to be careful, to hold on, not to walk/run up and down the escalator, he's going to do it anyway. He's not so much of a cute little celebrity here with his blond hair when he's running like a maniac through the subway passageways and lobby hallways. I just stare straight ahead and try not to imagine what everyone must be thinking. I certainly can't pretend he is not my child...that would be ridiculous here. It's these moments when I wish we could blend in a little more.

As for the other two little people here, Kate is doing beautifully. She is comfortable, confident, and making friends. It's so great. Nicholas is struggling, which isn't a surprise to us. Our greatest challenge is getting him on the bus each morning. I think he has willingly gotten on the bus 2x out of the 6, so it's quite painful each morning. And when he doesn't get on the bus, I can't just throw him in the car and whisk him off to's either the subway or the taxi. The school is being supportive and as helpful as they can. I forget it has only been 10 days although it seems longer, so we need to give him time. He is excited everyday when he gets off the bus as the bus monitor gives them all some sort of origami piece. And today he is at his first play date. It's just a few escalator rides, through the neighboring tower, down the hill and over to the 12th floor of another building :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Golden Umbrella

So far the weather is either ridiculously hot and sweaty or rainy. I haven't decided which I prefer. The umbrella though accompanies one in both situations here. Most everyone is carrying one in the sun to keep cool and in the rain to keep dry. They are sold everywhere and apparently according to our real estate guy, Tomo-san, there are two things that are stolen most often here, umbrellas and bikes. I have seen umbrella dryer stands everywhere, which I have almost mistaken for a trash can because there was not an umbrella in it at the time. I have even seen something you lock your umbrella in at a public place. I am buying more today - we have 3, one is black and you don't see many black umbrellas here, one more reason we don't need to stand out. Their umbrellas are all pale, light colored and clear. It is raining today once more. I think I am ready to put up with sweating again.

Minnesota State Fair Tokyo Style

There was a popular festival or matsuri in a nearby neighborhood, Azabu Juban, this weekend. We finally got there today - in the rain, but we had talked about these goldfish catching games and Nicholas was not about to let us forget to go. The neighborhood was decorated with paper lanterns and it was packed! Most everyone carried an umbrella which was a challenge in and of itself. Everything was on a stick! I felt like we were at the MN State Fair except here all of the vendors are hollering at you as you pass to buy their food. It was quite loud. Now we spent a fraction of the time there due to the rain and the crowd, but it was well worth it. We managed to eat a few things - chicken, beef, hot dog in some not ketchup sauce, awsesome fried potatoes, Kate may have sampled some seafood thing without knowing it, and chocolate covered bananas with sprinkles, all on a stick and some of these sticks were serious. We then spotted the turtle catching game - oh no. Poor Nick. Jack squashed that pretty fast - and I had to agree, but I felt badly. Nicholas would do anything for a turtle, so we had to tell him you weren't allowed to take them home, just catch them and move on...which we did until we stumbled upon the goldfish catching game. I had read about this and was skeptical. They give you two paper nets that pretty much dissolve in the water almost immediately, so your chances of catching one were slim to none. Fortunately, Kate caught one pretty fast, but Nick went through 4 nets with nothing but a lot of tears at the end. The guy gave him a consolation goldfish - thank god! Now as I sit here and type, I pray that Max and Bennie, swimming behind me in our water pitcher, make it through the night.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I spy Connor

We took the subway to one of the many aquariums yesterday. There is a tool on the computer that gets you from point A to point B via subway. It's basically the same as Mapquest, but it tells you which stations to go through, how many transfers you need and how much Yen it will cost. It's wonderful for a directionally challenged person like myself. The trick is which exit to leave the station and then how to find the place you are going...The aquarium wasn't so difficult as I suggested we follow the people with children. So we walk in this building, following signs with a fish and find ourselves in a line, that I believe are for tickets. When we get to the front we see it's not for tickets, but for the elevator because the Aquarium is on the 10th floor! Everything goes up...even on the 10th floor there is an outside area for the typical seal show and other animal attractions. We realized today that Nicholas never knew that we were not on the ground level. Although it was a bit crowded, I never worried about losing Connor or Nicholas as they strayed away - they were the ONLY blonde children there. We were the only Westerners there.
And the cake? I must say that Betty Crocker and I can make a tastier cake, but it was a nice lookin' drawing on the cake and Connor did say, "This is so awesome!" So it was worth it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Other Westerners?!? To Market To Market

I find it so interesting to walk down the street or be in a shop and gravitate towards those who look like me. There is almost this look of desperation to connect with another westerner. If I hear someone speaking English, I quickly turn to have a look at them. Crazy. I feel like I should say something to them, but I don't.

I literally ran out of the apt. tonight to go to the market as soon as Jack walked in the door. The kids were all home today, the first of many days off. I was done being mom, I actually was done about 3 hours before Jack came home. Anyway, I love going to the markets and this was my first time out alone! I wasn't sure how late it stayed open when I got there, there was some announcement over the loudspeaker and I doubt it was about today's specials, so I tried to hurry in case it was closing. It was still great to check it out without kid's in tow. There were 4 floors, all very small with different categories on each. I was looking for some ground beef, but nothing was in English and although I thought I found it I was too much of a wimp to buy it and so I passed. Next was the milk - all Japanese characters, the only giveaway was the cow. The other milk I have purchased was at an international grocery store and it has some English labels, but not this one -so I will pour it into Nicholas's Japanese Cocoa Crispies tomorrow morning and hope he doesn't spit it out. I was thrilled to buy a bottle of wine there as well. I realized that I have not had a drink since the plane ride over here - that's almost a week now. What have I been thinking? I do pass out quite early from sheer exhaustion - with the exception of tonight. It is interesting that I get a second wind when all other bodies are asleep...

Tomorrow is Connor's 4th birthday. Thank god he is easily entertained with a sign and a paper hat! I found a bakery, Kyles Good Finds, that will deliver his cake tomorrow with Lightning McQueen for a mere 8800 Yen (88 US dollars). And this is the small sheet cake. So the cake is pretty much his party because now we can't afford anything else.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Now, although most Japanese are overly friendly, I think the taxi drivers are not fond of Americans. Every time I get into a cab and hand over some directions in Japanese they seem confused. They punch the address into the GPS and then say something to me and I just say yes or "HI" which means okay or yes. We start driving and when we arrive at the destination, it usually isn't it...they point and I say no and then we both sit there. I repeat myself 3 or more times thinking the more I say it maybe he'll get it, but no I should know better. They often drive on and try again and eventually I spot something and say "Yes" with quite a bit of excitement. At least they have automatic doors that open and close for you. No surprise there, it's just like the toilet in the apt.

The subway is far better and not so stressful, I just need to learn my way around - at least it's in English.

Fires and Earthquakes

So here we go...

Tuesday 5AM

Yesterday at 5 in the morning some bell/alarm starts going off and I am the last one still in bed - everyone else had been up for hours. I thought it was the washing machine or some other appliance playing it's daily tune announcing the cycle is over - but no - then some Japanese woman starts talking and she goes on for some time. Following her announcement, somebody says about 5 words in English and then it just cuts off. I then remember that I thought I had heard quite a few fire engines a few moments ago...I quickly got out of bed. Jack comes in and says, "I think the building is on fire (we are on the 22nd floor)! Get the passports and get out!" The kids start going crazy - not upset - just excited crazy! We go out into the hall and there are a bunch of firefighters at our neighbors door. We learn in the lobby that some other American's washer/dryer started sparking and smoking. Everything was fine and under control, but apparently there were a lot of fire engines and there were people everywhere for sometime. I guess that's a good thing - they take there smokin' appliances very seriously. So, I sat and chatted with a woman over the complimentary coffee and returned to the room to get the kids off to school.


It's around 3 PM today and I am on the computer because the kids are at school and Connor is catching up on some sleep on the couch...when the ground beneath my feet starts vibrating! I thought - really - no way, we just got here. I started to panic a bit, snagged Connor off the couch and went out to the lobby. All 3 people at reception were simply going about their business - so I figured maybe it was nothing. Jack calls later and said, "Did you feel the earthquake?" The kids were all there by that time, so I tried not to sound alarmed. Jack said apparently it was a bigger one than normal. And what is normal?!?