Thursday, December 31, 2009

And just like that...

...we are gone. The final moments on the Friendly Limousine Bus and taking off from Narita were not so heart wrenching. I had the kids to distract me. Then, at 1AM we land in Singapore. We head down an escalator and the kids automatically get in single file on the the left hand side - but this time I said, 'Guys, you don't have to do that here, we're not in Japan anymore.' But I said it quietly because I liked this obedient way that they have adopted. We took a cab from the airport and fit ALL of our bags into one cab and 5 of us in the backseat! We are definitely not in Japan anymore. Upon arrival at the hotel Kate and I waited patiently while everyone piled out and then I remembered, 'Kate! You can open your door too!' We are allowed to get in and out on BOTH sides of the cab here. I wonder how quickly they will forget all these little pieces of Japanese etiquette we have been drilling into their little brains.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End

The end of our time in Tokyo has arrived. Unlike some of my messy goodbyes here I am keeping this short and simple. Thank you to all of you who have followed this adventure of ours. I am not sure I would have kept blogging if there wasn't an audience. I thought it would be appropriate to end with my attempt at a Haiku.

Tokyo thank you

Everlasting memories

So... sayonara

...maybe more to come in January before we return to Minneapolis at the end of the month. Our travels begin tomorrow and include: Singapore, Bali, New Zealand and Australia. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blue Man Group

As with every job we witness here there is a certain dignity and respect that people are given and by all means deserve, whether it's the garbage guy, the combini cashier or my favorite - the men of the Blue Man Group, aka road construction guys. There is never a shortage of construction and unlike the states they are very efficient. Usually they seem to be repairing something that doesn't seem to need repairing. You won't find a pothole or uneven sidewalk anywhere. But whether I am riding my bike, jogging or walking, when I approach a 'construction site,' the ever so polite workers bow, wave their wand and guide me over what feels like a red carpet, but in reality it's a green rubber mat getting you safely from the beginning to the end of the danger zone. I will admit I always wanted to step off the mat and see what would happen.

The Green Carpet
Blue man is watching this guy walk off of the mat - maybe the exception to the rule is if you have a rolling bag you don't have to stay on the mat...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Xmas

The Japanese love to decorate for the holidays that they technically don't celebrate. But more often than not they hang signs that say - Merry Xmas. Maybe it's a space saving thing...they are efficient and use their space so wisely. Adding 'Christ' just might take up too much space.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good Stress

Just trying to keep a little perspective here in our last week before leaving this amazing city and country. My head is in overload trying to take it all in from our simple walks in the neighborhood, staying clear of the bikes on the sidewalk, enjoying the dogs now with their fur lined coats on, absorbing the Japanese conversations that I still don't understand (after 4 lessons), people watching and people watching me, saying goodbye to so many new and forever friends. Should I stroll through the park just one more time? Can we squeeze in one more night out, have one more bowl of ramen with a little gyoza on the side? How should we spend our last days?

It's stressful, but the reality is that this is good stress. Many men will come and politely pack up our apartment in a timely manner with much wrapping. In the meantime we will stay at our friend's home and relax. Christmas will be spent with friends that have not yet left for their holiday. Then we will leave quietly (okay, maybe not quietly) and find our next adventure. In such an enormous and different city, this short time here as an expat was quite easy and quite nice, but also life changing - the best choice we could have made for ourselves and for our family.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Family Karaoke

I mentioned in a previous post about how karaoke is synonymous with the Japanese. For me, I can take it or leave it, but the experience is worth it even if you only do it once - here. You can find a karaoke bar on almost every corner. Our friend booked a private room at Pasela in Roppongi on a Friday night and got 3 other families to join them. She does this on a regular basis with her girls or with her husband and anyone else she can grab on any given weekend night. I've got to admit that although it was loud, really loud, and crazy with 11 kids - everyone had a blast. You can spend hours searching through the phonebook like catalog of songs (yes, there is an English AND a Japanese version) and then punch in your choices on the computer. See the dads in action below. Kate did not want to go. Kate did not want to leave.

It's alright - stand on the furniture - make some noise! This must have been Taylor Swift. This is where the Japanese let their guard down, behind these closed doors.
If only I could remember what they were singing...although I am pretty sure it was a Police song. My choice was 'Do They Know it's Christmas' and of course everyone sang.

Now everybody! And throw a few tambourines in there as well...

And if you are nervous that your breath really stinks while you are belting out your favorite song into the mic, the Karaoke bars will have mouthwash in the bathroom for you.

Good times.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Opening Ceremony

I had a little shopping to do in Ginza -one of the many areas with all of the top end stores, not that I was shopping in any of them. I did want to go to a department store right when it opened. It's done a little differently here. I chose Mitsukoshi. There were people gathering outside as it was just before 10AM.
I kept checking the time on the clock at the top of the WAKO building - another landmark in Ginza. It was right across the street from Mitsukoshi and of course in a timely fashion a woman in full uniform arrived at the doors - but stayed behind the red ropes. She chatted away into a mic for about two minutes, probably telling everyone not to rush the store, maybe to wash their hands before entering, and to stay in a single file...okay, kidding. But what could she possibly have to say? Maybe the sales of the day? No idea.

She then moved the ropes, but nobody moved. How are we supposed to know that we can go in????
The clock struck 10 and then the people began to move forward. I followed. The salespeople bowed and welcomed us as we walked in, Irasshaimase!!! Then I turned the corner and walked along the cosmetics and perfume counters and each and every salesperson (and there were a lot) was standing in front of their counter bowing and welcoming me as I walked by. It was almost embarrassing, I think I was blushing. I wanted to shout out, 'I'm not worthy! Stop bowing!' I felt so important. Incredible.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Monthly Message

These posters are placed in all of the train stations. I believe they always say 'Please do it at home,' regardless of the behavior. Every month or so they change the message. The pictures are classic. At the bottom of this one it reads 'Please refrain from drunken behavior.'

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One month later...

So it's about one month later since my last post regarding our plans and I can only offer a bit more. We will be out of our apartment officially on December 24th, yes Christmas Eve. Remember...that's not important to the Japanese. However, our dear friends who will have headed home to Australia for their holiday, have offered us their apartment for as long as we would like. Who knows...maybe we'll still be there when they come home. We will have a homey situation for the kids on Christmas rather than a sterile serviced apartment and that makes me happy. After that? The plans, or ideas, change every day. We are entertaining various travel options before going home. As of today, Minneapolis is our final destination. But before heading back to the tundra for 4 more months of winter we hope to see a little bit more on this side of the planet because there is a pretty good chance we may not be back here again. But never say never right? And since Jack has 'some time off', I have designated him as our travel agent. We decided we could 'home school' the kids for a couple weeks in January while we expand their geographic and cultural knowledge just a bit more. Nicholas, can you tell me the difference in the average temperature for January between Bali and Minneapolis? Kate, how many miles is it from Australia to Minnesota? Connor, how many shells did you find on the beach today, can you arrange them from smallest to largest? Sounds like home schooling to me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Our tree lot

I know I posted my reaction to the cost of Christmas trees last year, but I am still having sticker shock this year and decided to post photos because seeing is believing right? As much as I have gotten used to spending more money for most things, I still cannot bring myself to rationalize buying a tree at these prices no matter how sad our artificial tree is...

The tree lot near National Azabu Market

This tree is only 18,900 Yen - (roughly 200 bucks)

Here is a little reference as to it's size...this is Connor's 4 year-old friend. Not a very big tree. My friend did point out that you can replant this one, but I would need a yard first.

A beauty of a tree

Here, let me get a little closer...
Yes, that's about 450 smackers in USD.
I think I'll just pass through the lot each day I go to the market and inhale deeply for my Christmas tree fix.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Packing it all in

I was talking with a friend trying to make some plans but as I told her we were headed to Kyoto and then to Mt. Takao, she sighed and said, "You are doing all the things that people do before they leave Tokyo." Kyoto is a must when in Japan. My parents came to visit and graciously agreed to mind the children for a couple of days so Jack and I could take off and visit this city known for it's temples and shrines that were spared from the bombing of WWII. Autumn is the ideal time to see Kyoto, so I mentally prepared myself for the crowds. My sister Jill visited Kyoto in June and my parents were going to take their own trip, so between those two I had a semi preplanned itinerary as they enjoy spending time pouring over information and finding out what to see and where to eat. It saves me quite a bit of time.

Kyoto is a 2 1/2 hour ride from Tokyo on the shinkansen(bullet train).

It almost looks like the train attendants are boarding a plane.

I was happy to see the changing leaves. The Japanese maple leaves are so tiny and delicate.

We had only a day and a half so we hit the main temples and the crowds really weren't too bad. This is the Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji

At the Golden Pavilion you could light a candle for a personal prayer.
It was an easy decision for both of us. Jack chose 'Find Employment' and I chose 'Alleviate Stress'.

Have faith in the burning candles...

Next was the Silver Pavilion or Ginkaku-ji. Unfortunately it was under construction, but these grounds were the most beautiful to me. Below is raked white sand, known as kogetsudai, designed to reflect the moonlight and beauty of the garden at night.

This man was sweeping the leaves off of the moss and rock. I personally think the colors of the leaves looked beautiful lying on the ground, but things are always very tidy.

Perfectly Japanese.
From the Silver Pavilion we headed down Path of Philosophy- very quaint stroll with the canal on one side and shops and cafes on the other. At the end we caught a glimpse of some sort of photo shoot.

Nanzen-Ji Temple - Enormous!

This is a typical fence for the Japanese to wrap their unwanted fortunes that they received at a temple or shrine. We chose not to get another one as last time our fortune read that our marriage was doomed, our house would be lost and a number of other tragedies were going to occur.

Fushimi Inari Shrine
There are 40,000 orange tori gates covering 4 km in the hills. We did NOT see all 40,000, maybe a few hundred??? Very cool sight. It might have been helpful to be able to read Japanese here.
This dog - or this princess was almost more eye catching than the Kiyomizu Temple we were at. The dog had an elaborate outfit on that you can't quite see. Too funny.
Kiyomizu Temple Grounds

Following Kyoto we took our friends advice and ventured with the family to Ukai Toriyama near Mt. Takao (1 hour away and 4 trains that should have been only 2). The dining experience is ultimately Japanese. The clincher for me was that we had not only our own private room, but our own private Japanese House - perfect when you plan to have a 2 hour plus meal with your children. The grounds with the fall foliage, lanterns and Japanese Houses scattered around was really beautiful.

The lobby with hot rocks to keep your hands warm. Keep your feet OFF of the tatami mats!
Our house for dinner
Walking around among the various houses. Great at night as you could look in upon others enjoying their meals.

Our house again while we were in it.

Sake served in bamboo

One hour in...starting to lose control
Our wonderfully sweet Japanese server. She tried so hard to explain the unknown foods to us in English.