Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A gift

Jack came home from work the other night and shared with me the gift he received from one of the Japanese men that works for him. It was a white towel, simply wrapped in white paper, about the size of a hand towel. I said, "I don't get it, did the guy say anything about it when he gave it to you?" Jack said that he just gave it to him right before a meeting and there wasn't much time for discussion. It's not even the sweaty season when most people carry around a towel to wipe themselves down, but this towel was too big for that. Maybe it's the clean, white, new thing- symbolizing the New Year? Anybody?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Comfort Foods

One of my initial concerns prior to moving to Tokyo was, 'What am I going to feed my picky eating, I like processed snack food children?' Before we arrived we talked to a woman who was here working for NWA and had a bunch of questions for her. I believe Jack's first question was something about electronics. My first one was "What do you put in your kids lunches?" Priorities! We would be arriving on Saturday, the kids were starting school that Monday and I was supposed to pack a lunch for them! I don't even remember what she said it was all a blur. When we got here, I realized I had nothing to worry about. I couldn't believe the things that were on the shelves at our international grocery store, National Azabu, the one right by our apartment. Here are a few items that keep us close to home - for a small price, yeah right.

Oreos - much smaller package
Ritz - ditto
Premium saltines
Goldfish - only cheddar, thank god - who needs 10 choices and colors?
Campbells soup
Kraft Mac n Cheese - for 4 bucks a box
Sargento Cheese slices
Kraft Cheese slices
Kit Kats are big here
Jennie-O Turkey franks in the frozen section
Johnsonville Brats - this one is the funniest I think - and more than one variety!

There a tons of other products from the US as well as other countries so I love to go to the store, EVERYDAY! We go through stuff quickly due to all the small packaging. I realize I could buy more at one time, but I buy what I can carry home, unless I am buying wine, then they deliver it :) When I don't feel like going to the store, or if I want something from the US that I can't get at the store I can use a few different websites that will deliver. And yes, there is a COSTCO here. I haven't been as it's a trek and whenever a friend is heading out it's hasn't been a convenient time for me. But I can buy online through The Flying Pig who sell Costco products, and Kirkland has a few bulk items on sale as well at National Azabu.

There are also plenty of American cleaning products. But, I am taking my chances with less expensive Japanese laundry detergent and dishwashing soap. I am still guesstimating how much soap to add since I can't read the bottles. So far things look and smell clean. I wanted to buy some of that fruit and vege cleaner, but wouldn't buy the American brand because of the cost and saw what I thought was a much cheaper Japanese brand. I tried to ask the sales guy - same-0? ( I know this is not the Japanese word for same) clean? and held up both bottles. He shook his head and kinda laughed - no...and that was it. Still don't know what the other product was, but I am glad I didn't wash my strawberries with it.

Those of you who visit will have a few things to bring along, things I refuse to pay for here or things I simply want or cannot get. Some of our requests so far have included: wheat thins, cheerios, lucky charms, teddy grahams, cheeze-its, clif bars, mac and cheese, granola bars, jello and generally food that will also not get crushed in transit.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sign of the Day

Harajuku - Anybody got a smork?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A taste of Australia

Kate is off for a 'play' today (as the Aussies call it) at her friend's home - at the Australian Embassy. Jack is off to Sydney for the week for 'work.' And upon his return Friday we will be attending the Australian Ball. For obvious geographical reasons there is a large Australian expat community here. And who doesn't like to listen to an Aussie speak?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The dressing room

I never intended to buy any article of clothing while I was here. I couldn't imagine they would have my size. I played it safe and bought some socks in Harajuku (some rather tame ones for that part of the city). I went with the largest size, which I think was still smaller than my foot according to the chart. Surprisingly, they fit. Maybe that's what gave me the courage to take it to the next level. I simply wanted some layering pieces and headed to a store I have been told is similar to a Gap. I found my pieces, but had absolutely no idea how many centimeters I was in a shirt size, so I played it safe and went with the XL. Well, a little bittersweet as it fit. Now the socks and the camis were a 'buy without trying on sort of thing' and I got lucky. I then thought I would try on some pants. I never liked trying them on in the states and I definitely won't be trying them on again in Tokyo. I remember Jack tried on some pants at H & M in Omotosando and he said he couldn't even get them over his calves - haha, made me feel slightly better. Into the dressing room I brought some pants and a sweater, the sweater at least would be a bit more forgiving. As I stepped in past the curtain, the attendant said,"Excuse me, please take off shoes." Oops. Then she handed me a thin folded paper towel. She said this was for my face. My face? Ah! So my make-up doesn't rub off onto the clothing. Quite smart, because how many times do you go into a dressing room with a piece of clothing and see someone else's make-up smeared onto it? So I unfolded this towel and draped it over my head, feeling absolutely ridiculous even though no one could see me, and pulled the sweater over my head. Whaddya know? It worked. When I came out of the dressing room, returning all of the clothes, another woman was waiting for a room. The attendant offered her the towel, but instead she pulled her own out of her purse!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

English speaking people!

My friend Sue and I were trying to find some children's clothing stores in Ginza today. We were walking down the street chatting and a girl hollers at us, "English speaking people!" Looking desperate, she asked us if we could direct her and her friends to a particular train station. She had her map, I pulled out my Tokyo Atlas ( I am learning to love this book of neighborhood maps) and together the three of us sent them in the right direction. She was so grateful and I knew exactly how she felt. It was nice to be on the other side for a change.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The 'Club'

Connor and I headed over to the Tokyo American Club (TAC) today. I think I have mentioned this place before. Unfortunately, the location isn't ideal. Its a 17 minute bus ride to the train station where we pick up the shuttle that takes us to the club. So it's about a 40 minute journey door to door. They are in the process of building a new facility that is much closer to us. I imagine it will be finished when it is time for us to leave Tokyo. It's a great space to hang out, especially if you need to just be someplace where everyone speaks English. It's a one stop shop, restaurants, hair cut, spa, fitness center, UPS center, childcare, library, and all the signs are in English. They offer so much for the expats, it's really great. Anyone can become a member, it's not exclusive to the expat community.

Fortunately, our membership is paid through Jack's work, one of our benefits. But, everything else still costs money - childcare, fitness classes, sports programs for the kids (ouch, this is not the YMCA), so I choke a bit as I am still trying to get used to the cost of living here in Tokyo. So after childcare, fitness class and lunch, the day is starting to add up. At least I took the bus here and avoided the 1500 Yen cab ride. We head up to the library and video center. It's great! Packed with tons of stuff. We check out our books and videos and then I learn that the videos cost money - ugh. Of course I had to add up our day, and in retrospect it wasn't that bad - compared to what? I don't know.

Connor and I had a great day. My main goal was simply put him in childcare, work out and have lunch together. We accomplished that. Lunch was interesting as I watched a Japanese mom eat with her toddler and then another Western mom eat with her toddler. The Japanese child was fully clothed covered in a smock, arms and all. His mother placed a few pieces of pasta in his dish as a time as he pierced a piece with his fork, but occasionally used his fingers. She then proceeded to clean his hands with a new wipe almost after each time he ate with his hands. Then there was the other child. His mother gave him the full plate of pasta which he happily dug into with no bib or utensils. Upon finishing, his mom pulled him out of the high chair and a pile of spaghetti fell off of his body. She pulled out one wipe and gave him a quick swipe. Too funny. Two different worlds.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


We were happy to break up our holiday with 4 nights away in Hakuba. We decided not to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) and get there quicker as it required a change along the way. And as I always say here in Japan the fewer changes the better. So, we took the 'limited express' train. The train is such a nice way to travel. It was a simple taxi ride to the train station, two taxis because taxis are smaller here, and we can't all fit into one with our American baggage. Westerners, maybe just Americans, always have not only larger bags, but many more than the Japanese. It's just another way we stand out. We had seat reservations and we were supposed to stand in a certain spot in line waiting for our particular car. It's the rule. Problem was that there were many signs with many numbers, but it wasnt clear which train/line belonged to which number. Jack darted all over and we eventually figured it out, a little stressful.

So, we get on the train, equipped with a woman coming down the isle with her food and drink cart every so often; Kate wanted the beef jerky - until she learned that it was beef tongue. I am glad the woman spoke a little English. Four hours later we arrived in Hakuba. The property manager (Australian guy) from our hotel picked us up at the station, sent our bags ahead to the Alpine Chalets, and took us to rent our skis and equipment, including a coat for me. I realized on the train that I left my new ski coat at home - a Christmas gift from Jack. And of course Jack tells me later, "You know Brigitte, renting this coat cost more than what I payed for yours."
So then Kevin, our guy, takes us to a place where we can eat and then shop for some basics to have back at our place. Nice service.

As most ski vacations go, they all probably don't differ that much. I do love that we can say that our kids not only learned to ski in Japan, but on Happo One, the slopes from the 98 Nagano Olympics. But, as with most Malone vacations someone got sick - Connor. He came down with a pretty good fever after our first full day and was out of commission for the remainder of the trip. After being stuck in our simple, tiny quarters with him for one day, downloading many itunes videos, we brought him to the hill and traded off hanging out with him in the lodge.

The lift passes were a new thing for us. Maybe it's not new to everyone else as we haven't been skiing since Kate was 4 months old. But here they give you this square plastic computer chip thing that the regulars put in a little pocket protector and strap it to their arm. Then you wave it at the lift entrace it lets you through. The beauty of this for us was that while Connor was sick, we just passed the chip back and forth. Always trying to save a buck - or some Yen. Speaking of Yen, MUCH cheaper here. That was nice.

I did find the town of Hakuba feeling more like a European town in terms of the buildings, inns and hotels. We really enjoyed getting out of the city, walking the quiet snow filled streets at night. We are hoping to go skiing again. We learned of a place that is less than an hour on the train and it takes you literally to the resort, an easy day trip. Well, maybe not with our family, but still a day trip.

The kids before their first ski lesson. They are in front of the Alpine Chalets

Me and my rental.

The only day Connor was out.

Nicholas was great out there - really enjoyed himself. Phew.

Except when he fell down and had a tantrum and then unsuccessfully tried to put his skis back on while vertical to the hill despite what I was hollering at him from further down...

I read that if we were there at Christmas we may have seen Santa and a Sumo wrestler on the mountain as well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

25 Days

I am finishing day 23. Many have heard me say over and over that the kids were off of school for a total of 25 days, add two more for Connor. It is logical. Most families go to their home country during winter break and this allows them time to get there, stay for a while and return and adjust to Japan time. We chose to stay here, to make it seem more like home instead of rushing back when we just got here 4 months ago. So no Japan blog info for the last week because I am just too damn tired, even though I am up writing at 12:30. It's quiet, nobody needs anything from me, I am not fighting to get the kids away from the TV, computer or their DS's . So I am up, but only to vent for a short time. In all honesty it was a pretty good break. Who doesn't love staying in their' pj's half of the day most days? No alarms or lunches to be made. We had a nice trip to Hakuba, did a little skiing. More on that later - after the kids return to school. I love my children. But I don't need to spend every waking moment with them for almost a month straight. It's just not healthy for anybody. But now I have officially made it to the weekend and Jack and I will get through it together. We will also begin to plan our trip home for next winter break.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sogatsu - The New Year

Shimekazari - To keep evil spirits away - placed at the doorway of a home. Typical decoration for New Years. On our neighbors' doors and around town the Christmas decorations came down on the 26th and these things sorts of things went up. You can bet Santa came off our door as well the day after Christmas.
Kadomatsu - Bamboo is for strength and pine for longevity. The three shoots represent heaven, humanity and earth. They are usually placed on either side of an entrance representing man and woman.

New Years is Japan's most important holiday celebrated for 3 days. It's a time for wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. I believe they make their resolutions at the shrines and temples, and they ALL go and pray for good health and fortune, something we all look forward to. It's more of a custom than a religious thing. Instead of Christmas cards, they send New Year's cards. They have their traditional foods that are all prepared ahead of time so that come the New Year they are relaxing, not working, and having a quiet peaceful time with family. Kate desperately wanted me to buy two of the traditional foods, mochi (for pounded rice balls) and soba noodles. Apparently the rice after it is prepared takes a long time to eat. You chew and chew and chew. So, I looked for that for about a minute, didn't find it. I did buy the soba noodles. Soba noodles are eaten in hope that your life is as long as the noodles. Mine are still in the package on the counter. I went with the traditional southern American dish and prepared black-eyed peas. As I write this 10 hours later, the soup is not finished. Hmmm. First time with my slow-cooker in Japan - it must be REALLY slow. Our electronics are not quite up to speed here. I am going to be up for a while.

On New Year's Eve, instead of the ball dropping they ring the bell at the Buddist temples 108 times. Each bell represents an earthly passion that the people need to overcome in order to attain enlightenment. That's a lot of passion. At the popular Meiji Shrine, 3 million people will visit over the 3 day holiday. No, we won't be 5 of that 3 million.

We were invited to an open house (a family from Connor's preschool) on New Year's Day. Although our neighbors in our building didn't have the same age kids, this open house did. It was an extra treat. We had a really nice day/evening talking, eating, drinking, meeting people all with their own interesting story from their travels in the world. Between the 5 or so families there, we were from or had lived in France, London, Egypt, Turkey, Japan, US including Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, California, DC, NY, and of course Minneapolis. I am beginning to see how people catch the expat bug.