Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sushi 101

What a great opportunity to have our children at international schools. Their friends and teachers come from all over the world. It was the number one selling point when deciding whether or not to take this job opportunity. But, there are also perks to being a parent of a child attending an international school. We are offered the chance to take classes or go on tours around the city, have someone explain a Japanese grocery store; there is always something to sign up for. I signed up for an informal cooking class organized through the social committee at Connor's preschool. Three Japanese moms demonstrated how to make a few simple, (there is nothing simple about making sushi rice) kid-friendly, Japanese foods. It was a great experience as we were in the comforts of someone's home and the moms/instructors were super.

In order to remember the necessary ingredients I learned to take pictures, so that when I am at the grocery store I break out the camera and look at the pictures to make sure I pick out the right item from the shelf. Someday I hope to be able to recognize the characters and figure it out, but for now I will rely on the camera. I have also learned that once you find some Japanese food item you want again, you simply bring the packaging with you to the store. Seems obvious, but I wouldn't have thought of that little trick on my own. It reminds me of working with my special education students and bringing them with their pictures to the grocery store. Let's just hope I don't throw a tantrum when I can't find what I am looking for. It's these pieces of information that we gain from others who have been here even a few months longer than us to help make day to day life manageable.

Below you will see the women 'fanning' the sushi rice to cool it down before handling it. Next, I am a little stressed as I press the rice onto the nori, but at the same time trying not to smoosh it, just move it across - really not possible. And finally, a much easier task - squeezing rice into a ball or triangle (onigiri) with salmon flakes in the middle and then punching out nori shapes to make it kid friendly. Unfortunately, Nicholas and Connor couldn't be fooled.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Food and Fortune

Jack's parents are here and we had a chance to sightsee for a day sans kids. They all had school, so Jack took the day off. We visited an older part of Tokyo called Asakusa. I read about getting your fortune at the Temple for 100Yen. I was game. I threw my coins in a slot, shook a metal box until a wooden stick came out. Of course I watched a Japanese guy do this first before I attempted it. On your stick are some Japanese characters which you then match to one of the drawers you see behind me. You open the drawer and pull out the piece of paper with your fortune. Mine read #3 Bad Fortune Luck. This ought to be good. As I read it, it just kept getting worse, so I'll give a few highlights:
First sentence, 'Although you do your best and sincerity to others, it's useless just like burning incense to the sky.' Great. There's more. 'Your wishes will not be realized. Making a trip will not be good. Building a new house and removal are both half fortunate.' I am doomed.
Here I just read the part of my fortune that said, 'Marriage or employment must be stopped.' And then, 'The person you are waiting for will show up after a long while!'

When people are unhappy with their fortune, they tie them on these bars. Mine was too funny to hang.

The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa - the oldest in the world ( I think I read that), built in the 7th century although this one needed some rebuilding post WWll.

Here is our lunch - literally. We went to a Japanese sushi place where all the food passes by you on a conveyor belt and you take what you want. Maybe these are in the states, but I never ate much sushi before, well, I still don't. I am really trying, but I ate the sushi with the fermented bean something and almost gagged, and all I had to wash it down with was hot green tea - so green - green like the grinch green. You can watch a little video down below, not of me gagging. When you finish one plate you stack another plate of food on top of it. When you are finished they use some gizmo with one click that calculates how much you ate. I had four plates, most Japaneses were pushing stacks of 10 or more. Baby steps. It's only been 3 months.

By the way, I thought the tank of fish was for decoration, then I watched them scoop out the fish. We didn't see how they altered the fish before it passed by us nicely filleted over some rice.

You know what your plate of food costs based on the plate it sits on - see wall hanging. I think the woman was not happy I was taking a picture of her.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


My friend Sarah in Minneapolis brought the website to my attention. It's quite funny. The Japanese don't use 'l's'. They replace the sound with an 'r'. Jack and I were ordering drinks the other night and I asked the server what was in a Gin and lime from the menu. She looked confused and then said,' Gin and rime?' I am laughing while I am typing because it is kind of comical, not in a rude way of course. Instead of Hello - they say, Haro. Sometimes it sounds a bit like you are talking to Scooby-do. Ruh-oh.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I decided my hair was driving me nuts and as women we know the minute that happens you can't get to the salon fast enough. I knew of two people that tried the Aveda salon next to our building that had okay experiences, so I went ahead and made an appointment. Why I was nervous I had no idea - it was a hair cut for crying out loud and if it didn't turn out as I wanted it to, my hair would grow back. I check in at the desk and they said I had to go back outside and downstairs, I thought it was because I wasn't Japanese. I never figured out why, they cut hair upstairs as well. I had a few pictures picked out from a Japanese hair magazine and showed it to my person. I had no idea how much English she could speak. I was showing her layered short cuts, she said 'bob.' I said, 'Yes, but with long layers." as I am touching my hair and trying to show her what I mean.

Another woman then escorted me to the hair washing station and after a lot of gentle adjusting, hot towels and covers she began to massage my scalp - which I thought was just a really nice shampoo. But after 15 minutes or more she applied the shampoo. Bonus. I could now justify the cost of this haircut as it wasn't just a haircut, I also got a massage. Almost a half an hour later she thanked me gracefullyand gave me a little bow, "Arigato." They do that. They thank you for EVERYTHING, even if you should be thanking them for their service. Where can the US get some of that?

Next, the chopping chair. We agreed on a length - don't need to speak Japanese to do that. She finished and yes, I had a 'bob'. I said, "Hmmm, layers? more layers?And again started grabbing the ends of my hair." I imagine I looked a little worried. She brought over another woman for me to explain what I wanted. She said 'Ah, no layers, ah, your hair too thin.' I said, 'Thin? No. Hair thick. Something at the bottom, not straight...texture, long layer...' If I return to the states and don't speak in full sentences, please be patient. So we agreed on something, I don't know what, but she spent another half hour snipping at this angle and that. I was happy, maybe I didn't look like the picture, but we never do.

As I went over my experience with some seasoned expats, they recommended Fabio at another salon. He'll do a fabulous job, speak English and he's easy on the eyes. I'll bring my camera.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our backyard

I have to assume this is the Japanese Maple

Connor and I were at Arisugawa Park today, the one right across from the apartment. I was wondering if the trees were going to change colors and I was pleasantly surprised. It finally feels like fall here, albeit still on the warm side most days. So Connor and I were up by the playground and somebody starts talking over a loudspeaker, in Japanese. I wondered if maybe there was an emergency, like an earthquake, although I didn't feel a tremor and no one seemed alarmed, so I waited. And as usual after this woman spoke for a good 30+ seconds she said one brief sentence in English. "Please take your dog's droppings from the park."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

In order to survive each weekend with the kids home from school in the apartment, we are learning how to pass the time in our new city. Yes, there is so much to do, but really only so much you want to do with 3 kids in tow - particularly our 3 kids. Today I decided that we were going to the Miraikan Museum of Science and Technology. When I suggested this to Nicholas (the one who would seem to enjoy this the most), I got the typical response, "I don't want to go! Do we have to take the subway? Can we take a taxi?" Ahhhh!!!! But, after figuring out the number of subway transfers and time it would take (Jack calculated one of his mini spreadsheets), Nicholas won. Yes dear, we are going to take a taxi. I always forget though, that I am the one who gets to sit crammed in the back with the kids and Jack rides up front - cause, uh, yeah, I'm so much smaller? So, yes, the museum. We are in Japan - where they basically invent everything - so we had the opportunity to see a demonstration of Honda's robot ASIMO. There was a note listed for certain programs at the museum saying, 'You can still enjoy this program even if you don't speak Japanese.' I thought that was funny. For the planetarium show, I'd have to disagree, but for ASIMO, definitely. It was incredible. See for yourself.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Potatoes instead of Apples

While some of your kids took a field trip to the the apple orchard this fall, Connor's preschool took them potato digging at a tiny local family farm.
Alright, that large vegetable is not a potato. It's called a daikon (sp?), it's part of the radish family. I donated ours to the school. What was I supposed to do with that? Gretchen, don't answer that question.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Repair work

I just wanted to follow up on the water leak damage from a while back. They sent someone to clean a spot on the rug from the leak. They worked on this little quarter size spot that is otherwise covered by the ottoman for an hour I think! It still didn't come all the way out, and I tried to tell them that really it was okay...had they seen the rest of the cream colored carpet? It's now polka dotted from the children, so it really was okay, I didn't care about the stain. At the same time I didn't want to offend their efforts. Very tricky.

A week later they came back to repair a stain on the ceiling. Everything in these apts are wallpapered including the ceiling. So, they needed 3 hours to take down a section and put up new wallpaper - or ceiling paper. Again, they are so polite and apologetic and there are usually 3 or 4 men accompanying the job: the worker, the supervisor, the guy from the rental company and the doorman (mostly for translation, I think). When they showed up to repair the ceiling - they brought a gift to apologize for the inconvenience. Seriously! They hand to us this tin of cookies, nicely packaged with thick wrapping paper and gold twine...all because they were fixing something for us and had to be in our way - although they never were. It felt very awkward. But, after I bit into one of these flaky, sugary, buttery leaf-shaped confections I was grateful for the Japanese way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Okay, so people ask, "So what was it like being in Tokyo for the election? What was the reaction?Did you vote?"

Yes, we both voted. After we had our ballots emailed to us, Jack took them back to the states in October while on a business trip and put them in the mail, just to be safe. We had an invitation to go to the US Embassy to watch the returns. We were really excited about this. I asked a few Americans if and where they were going to watch the results. Surprisingly enough, I didn't receive the enthusiasm I would have otherwise expected. Some were off to school to volunteer, some were going to a party, no one I talked to was going to the Embassy.

We considered going to a Democrats Abroad party, but from what we could tell online the tix were sold out. So we headed to the Embassy. There was a long line, but interestingly enough it was not filled with Americans. It was almost all Japanese. Hmm. Not what we expected at all. So after a long wait for obvious security reasons we were in. There were Americans there, but still far outnumbered by the Japanese. There were a lot of students who we figured were there for the experience. They were holding a mock election and had some trivia game going on while we watched the large screen with CNN. After about an hour, we decided we would rather be at home watching this unfold. So, the Embassy was a bit of a let down, or simply not what we expected, but that all really didn't matter in the end. Instead on my couch at home, I was in tears pretty much the rest of the time. We didn't bother searching for the Japanese news, duh, because it's not in English, so you really couldn't get a sense in that way. After Obama's speech I left the apt. to take care of something at the bank just down the street. It was the strangest thing because although I didn't expect to 'see' anything or 'hear' anything out my front door, it was as if nothing monumental had just happened. I walked down the street searching for someone who looked American, just to see if they looked affected. I realize that's a bit strange, but again it was one of those desperate moments in this foreign land. Did this really just happen? Or was I dreaming? This was of course a time that I wished we were at home in Minneapolis. Incredible.

The next day, Jack brought home 3 newspapers - each with Obama's face on the front page. That was reassuring. I'll post those pics when he returns from Saigon with the camera. Yeah, just a little business trip for him. Maybe next time I'll get to go!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One serious manicure

No, these are not my hands. My friend Sue and I were at a florist in Azabu Juban and saw this woman -actually we never really looked at her face, just her hands! I had to ask her for a picture and as you can see, she was probably some kind of manicure model. She has fruit on her fingernails!
Connor is standing in front of one of our neighbor's parking spots. This guy has two of these yellow banana mobiles and the white sporty Honda. We are not sure exactly how they work, however he does wear a helmet when he takes them out for a spin. Our parking spot is full of bikes.

This is another neighbor's spot. They have some elaborate alarm system with some sort of AstroTurf on the top of the car and a sensor thing as well. Nice car.

I am crazy when the kids ride their bikes into or out of the garage for fear that they will run into one of these cars.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Yes, they do celebrate Halloween in Tokyo

Halloween is pretty big here. The stores are decked out in pumpkin decorations and they were selling pumpkins at the Market near our house. However, this is the first year we didn't have/carve a pumpkin. A small one was going for 12 - couldn't even carve the thing. There was also a giant one on display for 25, 000 Yen (250 smackers), didn't buy that one either. Next year, I'll plant them in our window box. We did celebrate with 5 other families from the kid's school and followed them through the designated trick-or-treating neighborhood. We live in an area called Minami Azabu, but the place to be and get treats was Moto Azabu and Nishi Azabu, just on the other side of Arisugawa Park. We wandered in, out and around little back streets while apartment buildings set up shop with decorations and bowls of candy to hand out to passersby. It got a little scary trying to keep track of everyone. As always we - uh - lost track of Connor - that third child thing...We did have a chance to go to an actual house, through a Japanese entrance, into a beautiful garden and perched up on this little hill was this beautiful home, right out of a magazine. It's these little treasures that are everywhere and you don't even know it. Although the kids didn't come away with 10 pounds of candy it was just as well. They ate their way through the streets and then wondered why their tummys hurt. As for the pictures below, they are completely out of order as I still don't know how to arrange them once they are uploaded.
One stop trick-or-treating

Typical displays at a florist

TAC (Tokyo American Club)Party on the 25th

TAC Party

Taking the bus to the TAC Halloween Party

One of the stops during Trick or Treating in the neighborhood

Kate and Nick at our apartment

Some of the gang we went out with on Halloween

The end of Halloween night - quick rest at somebody's house on the walk back home