Sunday, February 22, 2009


With another 4 day mid winter break we decided to take the kids on a quick one-nighter ski trip. This time to Yuzawa, a 75 minute train ride on the shinkansen (bullet train). We left early Friday morning to allow for a half day on Friday and full day on Saturday. Although we allowed enough time to get to the train station we had to change our tix as the travel agent booked us for the wrong dates. By the time Jack finished with that exchange we had 1 minute to get on the train...and a lot of stairs to climb up to the track. The train was not going to wait. Poor little Connor was crying and I'm just urging him to hurry hurry. We literally got on and the door shut. There were a few other Japanese in the car out of breath as well. It was nice to see we weren't the only ones cutting it close.

Kate and Nick far more confident early on this time.
We got a nice dump of snow Friday night that carried over into Saturday. Kate catches a few flakes below. Jack and I took turns hanging out with Connor. I tried to get him down the hill at the kid's park. We lasted halfway and I told him to take off his skis and walk down. Later I learned that Connor had Nick's skis on. Do you think that was part of the problem???? The photo below is of a far more patient and eager parent helping Connor to ski. I think I used up all of my patience while teaching prior to having children.

Connor looks like he should/could be skiing.

It's been a while since they have seen this much snow.

Jack decided to pound them with a few snowballs.

A wonderful Italian restaurant on the hill. We ate lunch here both days. It was also the only English menu we found. Best pizza in Japan so far.

Nick is on a mission to see how long he can grow his hair...I have become the mother who continues to say, "Move your hair out of your eyes! How can you see through that? Don't you want to get your haircut?"

My favorite pics of Kate. Although the one below makes me a little nervous as she looks like she is about 16 and drinking a beer.

Connor at the end of the second day. Not sure why he is so tired, as he skied down the little hill 1 time - you saw it above. I guess it was walking around in those ski boots all weekend. Notice the required slippers he is wearing? Before we went to dinner at the resort the kids were giving me a hard time because I wouldn't let them wear the vinyl slippers supplied by the hotel for the guests. They had baskets of them stashed all around. Anyway, we went to dinner and EVERYONE had on the slippers, but us. There's something a bit bothersome about these slippers that you often see in many public places. I am not really interested in putting my foot, even with a sock on, into a plastic shoe that many other people have put their sweaty feet into as well.

At the train station eating dinner.

I bought some yakitori at a little stand in the station. I thought chicken? beef meatballs? and probably some chicken nugget things. There were other choices...squid, octopus, whole fish, unidentifiable pieces of meat, but I played it safe. We tasted each one and the consensus was that the chicken nuggets were the only things we all really liked. The meatballs, as Jack put it, were probably meatballs but with crushed bones or something unusually crunchy and the other chicken was basically fat. Yum. Could you pass me the peanuts instead? be continued below. Don't ask.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The ride home from Yuzawa

This is what happens when you think your train leaves at 8:20, but really leaves at 8:04 - not my fault, and this is what happens when you realize this but can't speak Japanese and you don't know which track your train is on, but a conductor tells you to get on this train even though you are pretty sure it's not your train and you don't know why you are on this train because you can't ask anybody because nobody speaks English, but you are happy to be going home even if there are no seats - at least you think you are going home.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smaller and smaller and smaller

One more story - a quickie. I had coffee with a mom from from Connor's school today. We started chatting about Chicago/Evanston as she grew up in the suburbs and went to Northwestern. I told her Jack and I were married in Evanston, she said so was she. We were both married at the Alice Millar Chapel on Northwestern's campus and she had her rehearsal dinner where we had our reception! Crazy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We heard plenty about how safe Tokyo is...for children and for us. It was great to come out of a movie tonight with some girlfriends at midnight, say good-bye, and take the 15 or so minute walk home, alone, and feel completely safe.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More potty talk...

I happened to see this instructional video that may interest some of you, especially if you plan to visit. Or it may answer a few of your questions - including yours Gretchen from a few months back. I couldn't get it to upload so you'll just have to follow the link. Sorry. As far as the Western vs Japanese toilets go, you usually have your choice, unless you are at the park, but at least there is a toilet there. When we were visiting the Buddha in Kamakura there was a man in the ladies room sending people into stalls as they became available. But when he saw me and my mother-in-law he made us wait until there was a Western style toilet available. He wouldn't let us use the Japanese toilets. Now there are a few things wrong with that scenario. First of all, what is a man doing in a ladies public restroom? And was he being kind and respectful or discriminating and assuming we couldn't squat? I'll never know. Finally this past weekend, I had another new toilet experience. Pardon the graphic explanation, but there really is no other I began to 'relieve' myself, I heard this waterfall sound. I turned around and there on the wall was a motion sensored noise maker. When I finished, it stopped making noise! Is that for my comfort or to mask the sound for my neighbors next door? Maybe both.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

First Blooms

Kate was very excited to notice some of the first (and I believe quite early) blooming Cherry Blossom trees in Arisugawa Park. Shortest winter of my life.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Will you be mine?

I think this is the first time in many years the kids did not exchange Valentines, not a problem for me. That's not to say that Japan doesn't celebrate the day, Valentines were everywhere. It's just done a little differently. Here in Japan the rule is that only girls/women give chocolate to the boys/men. There is something called Giri chocolate typically given to men who are not love interests. So I was told that the admin assistants at work will give this gift of chocolate to their boss. Then the return is expected one month later on March 14th, called White Day. The men give a gift of white chocolate to the women. Now, either Jack's 'person' doesn't feel obligated to him or he ate all the chocolate before he came home because I didn't see any?!?! At least Connor brought home some very sweet heart origami from preschool.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I promise it won't be Japanese

Connor is at that wonderful age where he is trying to make sense of the world he lives in. Random comments come out of his mouth that have nothing to do with what's going on at the moment, but they are well thought out and intuitive. But tonight - tonight's comment was a keeper. He has been thinking really hard about living here in Japan, living in Tokyo, his home in Minneapolis -references these things ALL the time. He actually never stops talking. So tonight he is upset. He is upset because he said that if we have another baby (or kid as he put it), he said that he wants it to be English, not Japanese. Hmm. Too young for the talk - so I just said, it would be American, just like him. He disagreed, no it would be Japanese and he didn't want it to be Japanese...and just kept rambling and grumbling as he left the room. I think I'll just let that one be.

No, we are not having another baby.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sumo Time

I was looking forward to the Sumo Wrestling tournament and I wasn't. Who wants to sit and watch a bunch of large almost naked men bounce off of one another in a ring for 5 hours? While we Americans have our favorite baseball, basketball, football players, the Japanese have their favorite sumo wrestlers. Kate and Nick passed some of the time on their Nintendo DS's and somehow connected with a 10 year-old Japanese girl a few rows away who was also on her DS ( I don't get how this happens). It was actually pretty cool. They kept writing back and forth, exchanged seat information, school information, waved to one another and then the girl started writing about all of the wrestlers...she knew all their names and had opinions about them. She was our private announcer for a while as we didn't understand anything being said over the loudspeaker.

We arrived 3 hours into the 6 hour event, just in time to see the special Kid's Sumo Tournament - they hosted about 15 kids from TIS, Kate and Nick's school. Anyone (boy) could sign up ahead of time. No surprise that Nick didn't sign up, but his good friend from school was out there. It was hysterical. Kudos to those kids who were willing to get up in front of all those people in less than a diaper- the mawashi belt, not to mention having to stand up against the real deal. See below. It was great.

The actual matches were very fast- 10-15 seconds. The first man to go outside of the ring - dohyo - won. There were a few things I wish that I better understood. At the start of each match they grab some talcum powder or something and then throw it in the ring- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Then they lift one leg - like a dog peeing, and bring thit back down giving it a slap. Then they get into position, but stand up and go back over to the talc - or whatever it is...sometimes they would get ready, get set and not go 5 or 6 times. Never understood. And in the proper Japanese way, when a competor lost he calmly walked out of the ring after bowing to his opponent. As the wrestling group narrowed down it got more interesting and the crowd got a bit more intense. We decided to stay until the end because we wanted to see who would win. The crowd became very vocal near the end and we could actually figure out what name they were chanting. It was very exciting - definitely recommend this.

Our 3 little sumo's

Three kids from TIS go for it

Although blurry, you get the idea - the crowd loved this! Bit of a wedgie I imagine?!?!

The sumo guy did not budge.

The Contenders

The big guy.

Typical match

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just another lunch date

I am beginning to feel a bit spoiled. We had a lunch get together for the parents in Nicholas's class. The room parents at TIS set these up a couple times a year, usually just a casual gathering. There is no shortage on lunch dates in my life. I think I have gone out to lunch more in the last 6 months than in my entire adult life. However, I was a teacher for 9 years, so I was brown bagging it for quite a while. Again - the expat community came through nicely. One of the dad's in Nicholas's class is in Hotel Management - for Ritz Carlton. So, we had a nice table for 12 on the 45th floor of the Ritz at Tokyo Midtown not too far from where we live. After the husband said hello and welcomed everyone, he excused himself because he had to say good-bye to a guest. Will Smith. Unfortunately, Will couldn't join us for lunch.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tokyo continues to get smaller and smaller...

So I am at a fitness class talking to this girl/woman that I have talked to before. Her t-shirt catches my eye as it said Max's 5k Run. I thought, isn't that from Minneapolis? No, there are probably other Max's runs in other cities. Then I stepped closer and said, "Is that a picture of Lake Harriet on your shirt????" She was of course surprised and said "Yes?!?!" She was from Minneapolis and before moving to the burbs she lived on 55th and Penn. We lived at 51st and Penn. I guess the first time we talked we must have skipped questions 1 and 4.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Kate's Girl Scout troop back home is participating in 'Thinking Day,' where each troop picks a different country and shares the information on a particular day. Kate's group chose Japan. We mailed a package of origami, pictures and chopsticks back to Minneapolis. And then she and I put together this little video for them as well. There is also a 'Thinking Day' here, on the same day, but I haven't figured out how to get Kate involved in the Girl Scouts yet.

She's a little quiet here - nothing like the true Kate who we could usually hear screaming 3 houses away back home.

Small Talk

The 5, sometimes 6, questions expats ask one another upon meeting...

1. Where are you from?
2. How long are you going to be here?
3. Is this your first assignment overseas?
4. What company brought you here? (not always in the mix...or may come later)
5. Where do you live in Tokyo?
6. Where do your kids go to school?

Then apparently you are friends. Just takes a little more effort than a facebook friend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Expat Express

No, I did not buy that dress for the ball here. I didn't even bother to look. In my crazy bargain hunting ways I waited until the 1st of the year when dresses were marked down and looked at all the major department stores online - I mean ALL. I found a safe fitting dress...girls, you understand. Then we have this fabulous thing called Expat Express. You can shop from any store online in the states and have the store ship your stuff to them in Utah. They combine all of the purchases in as few boxes as possible and for a small fee ship it to me in Tokyo. There is still duty to pay, but far less than what one would have to pay if you had the store ship directly to you. Don't ask me why. So in my last box I had Lands End, Dillards, and Nick's Birthday presents. Opening the box was a bit like Christmas. Sometimes when the box is small, the delivery guy doesn't ask for any duty. Again, we don't know why. I made a mistake early on and had Land's End ship the kid's uniforms directly to me. When the guy showed up at the door he wanted 8000 Yen. I said no and started freaking out. He left and came back later that night when I was able to get some cash. When it's convenient I can also just have stuff shipped to the next Tokyo visitor and let them bring it to me for free. So please, do not send me anything - ever.

The Australian Ball

Jack and I have some friends who asked us to join their table at the Australian Ball at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi. The night was quite entertaining. The people watching was great and I always love to dance to live music - maybe a little too much. I think I scare Jack sometimes. But, late into the evening, he was the one who actually suggested I jump into his arms during the Dirty Dancing song - The Time of My Life. I declined. The prom, I mean Ball, was a lot of fun, but it was basically a prom for a bunch of 30/40 somethings. And it looked like everyone was having a great time. It was a fundraiser as well for two Tokyo organizations, but during the live auction we couldn't even consider bidding on any of the opening bids. It never ceases to amaze me how much money exists in this city. Uh, yeah, let's bid on that hotel room at the Ritz for 4,000,000 Yen ( move your decimal), cause they are throwing in a massage as well. And that wasn't close to the final bid.

And apparently 7PM-1AM isn't long enough for a party anymore now that we live in Tokyo. I knew better, but we headed down the street to a dive bar called Heaven. I had actually been there before, but not Jack. It is very tiny with only seating for about 20? if that. We took up the last seats. This place is all about classic American rock, decorated with many familiar bands' memorabilia. The best part is that you can pretend you ARE a classic rock band. And so Jack got to pick up some sticks and play for a while. I think it's actually the first time he's played in a bar since we dated in Chicago. Another friend grabbed a guitar as well as one of the Japanese guys who worked there and then another Japanese guy sang - and as Jack put it, although he wasn't quite 'on', he sang better in English than we would have sung in Japanese. Rock on. I left at 3. I left Jack there with some of the others. The next day was very slow.

Facebookers, you can skip the photos. You have already seen them.

The beginning

Our group - 3 from the states, 1 from Australia and one from UK/Australia

The middle

The end