Search This Blog

Monday, July 31

Officially Allowed on the Sidewalk

Yet another bus drops us off in front of the Japanese DMV.

We walk in rather confused of whether to sit or stand or jump up and down on one foot. After standing cluelessly for a few minutes, we are called to the desk. Our information is entered in to the computer. Once completed, I am told, "eat line 8."

Huh? "What?"

"Eat line 8."

Kimono Hubby chimes in with "read line H."

"Where do you see a line H?" I ask him.

"On the wall... the eye chart."

"Oh, okay."

I see the eye chart but no line H. I see a normal everyday eyechart and figure, what the hell... and I read the lowest line on the eye chart back to him. The man never really responds. Either he thought I was a complete idiot or he just didn't care that I just read whatever line I felt like.

The man asks KH to read a line and he does so with no problems.

So what? He understands directions and I don't. This shouldn't be any sort of revelation.

Another man pops in the front door and tells me to "come along and wait" and then pops back out of the door. Again, I didn't quite understand so I just sit back down. And wait just like the man said. A few moments later, he is back and this time I understand that he wants me to follow him and says he "didn't mean wait but wait". I am now utterly lost but following in his footsteps.

He walks to a car and gets in. I play more monkey-see-monkey-do and get in the back seat. The woman in the driver seat begins her driving exam. She pulls out of the parking lot and immediately pulls onto the right side of the road... the wrong side here! He tries not to get excited but urges her back into the left lane and out of oncoming traffic. She drives under his direction and ends in a parking lot where he tells us to get out. I think we have already failed and has decided he won't take us back now. But really it is only for us to switch.

Into the drivers seat I go and fasten my seatbelt. He tells me to adjust the mirrors... I say they are fine because I have no idea how to adjust them. Except the center. (Am not that dim, thank you very much.) We pull out of the space and I actually have the turn signaling thing down! It's on the right, not the left as usual, and only once do I try to switch it on but because of the way I am pushing up, the windshield wipers do not go on and no one seems to notice. Then it is time to park. Everything is back in parking here because the spots are so tight and that you would probably die if you tried to back into the busy streets. So I go to switch us into reverse and hit the door where the gear shift should be. That's right! It's now on the left, I tell my dumb self. I back in with much trepidation and get myself into the tight spot in front of the DMV office. He says get out.

Have we failed? We aren't really sure because he never says. But Kimino Hubby and another person get in the car and he pulls away. We stand there on the curb trying to figure out what just happened. It's hot outside and I am melting so we decide to go back in and wait for his return. As soon as we cross the threshold, the man briskly commands us to the counter.

After confirming my name, he hands me a white plastic card with information printed in black. No picture on it. No congratulations-you-passed. Just a here-is-your-damn-Japanese-license-now-get-the-hell-out-and-try-not-to-kill-anyone-on-our-streets.

Thank you very much, sir! I will do my best!

Sunday, July 30

Temples, Shrines and Buddhas... Oh, My!

Kimono Hubby, myself and a friend who moved here from DC at the same time we did, all made our second trip on the trains to spend the day in Kamakura. You might say we are serious experts on Japanese mass transit now. Then again, you may be very wrong. We did do well enough and didn't get lost. We are just painfully slow to make a decision and hop on a train still. Looking forward to a bit more confidence.

Off to the Hase Station and from there we walked down the narrow streets in search of lunchtime nourishment. There were colored curtains hanging from every third building but we have yet to figure out which color signifies which type of food so we still go by the "ooh... that food looks pretty in plastic" approach. Taking into consideration the red sign with dragons on it, we think we found a Chinese place. However, Chinese here is not like American Chinese. It's much, much better! We were handed our menus and thankfully they read like a picture book... with very tiny pictures. You can't really tell what the food is so it is constantly a gamble. Today, we all faired well. Even when the food came to the table, we still had to guess what some of it was. Actually that is pretty fun and a great way to amuse yourself. The other way to amuse yourself is to watch people that can't eat with chopsticks. I will admit I giggle at first but then I do always try to help... I would hate to see anyone starve. I ended up with a dish made of some type of meat (would one ever really know if it was cat?) in a sweet and sour sauce, rice, tofu and soy on the side, Japanese pickles and another brothy-type soup. Everything was truly delicious and presented just as beautifully as ever on about five different plates all set into a large black box. The woman running the restaurant spoke very limited English but my Japanese is actually getting to a point where I can order different items, thank the presenter properly and pay without any serious problems.

We left the restaurant and headed further up the road to the Great Buddha (Daibutsu). Before you enter a shrine or temple area, you must first cleanse your hands which siginifies cleansing your spirit. There is a covered fountain and it has long handled large spoons resting on a bar above. You take the spoon and pour water over your hands and then can proceed to the temple. The Japanese also cleanse their face and palate (yes, I mean put the water in your mouth and spit it out), but most foreigners will have none of that. The hands were good enough to pay our respect to their tradition and most Japanese do not expect to see you even doing that much.

On with the show. As we walked towards the Buddha, it was just as one would expect... a VERY BIG Buddha. Bronze and covered in patina from years of weather ailments. Truly magnificent. We walked around him, staring up in awe from all angles. This is some place that I will make sure our visitors see and experience for themselves.

Then, as I have mentioned bathrooms here before, I couldn't leave without visiting them here. Inside there were "European" and "Japanese" style. Want to take a guess which one I used? My first experience in the Japanese style and - no - I did not pee on my pants. Not even a little! It is much easier than I even expected and the funny part in this one was that it had an automatic flush. When you stood up and stepped away, it did all the work for you. Very sanitary as you really don't touch anything but the handle. I had TP in my purse but this place did provide. Not all do so I am always prepared. (For those of you sickos... yes, of course, I took a picture... before I used obviously.)

We left Daibutsu and headed back down the street, stopping along the way to have Kamakura's famous purple ice cream. The flavor... potato! It is actually quite tasty and just what we needed for a day that was sweltering us.

Further down the street, we made a turn and headed toward the Hasedera Temple. This was the highlight of my day. A place exactly like you dream exists in Japan. First, the cleansing of the spirit. Then we walked all around the lower gardens and observed its beauty. We took paths of stones that crossed directly over a small waterfall and into a basin where foot-and-a-half-long goldfish swam in serene waters. We climbed the first set of steps to a small temple where thousands of small, stone Buddha sculptures lined cut ledges in the surrounding hillside. The smell of incense and candles filled the air while people made their prayers to the Buddha. Another stone stairwell led to the main temple which housed about a twenty foot tall gold Buddha that shined brightly in the dimness of the temple. We passed through to a small, two room museum where another twenty Buddha sculptures sat behind glass and showed the viewer how he has changed and evolved over the years. We quietly left the main temple and walked back through gardens to see a spectacular city view of Kamakura below and what I believe to be Sagami Bay. We started back down the steps and discovered there was an entrance we hadn't gone into. It appeared to be a cave with candles glowing inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the candlelight, we could see that Buddhas had been carved into the stone walls of the cave. Under each one were candles that you would light and the pray at that Buddha. Each Buddha and prayer would have different purpose but our knowledge of hte religion just isn't extensive enough to understand what it could be. As we went further into the cave, there was another entrance that took you deeper into the hillside. The passage way entrance was only waist high so to pass through, we had to bend at the waste and squat down. The caves walls around us were wet from the waterfalls that streamed down they outside of the hill and the caves themselves were cool compared to the humidity outside. Into a deeper chamber, we found more carved statues in the walls. Even more interesting, were the hundreds of tiny, yellow Buddhas that could only have measured about an inch tall covering the sides of the floor and stuck into the crannies of the cave walls. They appeared to be the room's light source as they reflected the dim candlelight. Another low tunnel that we essentially crawled through and we came out on the other side of the hill. I could have stayed all day at this temple and just sat in the gardens and reflected... exactly the purpose for which it was built. It just felt entirely natural to want to do so.

But we had a train to catch so we headed back to the station and on to our final destination of the daytrip, the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine. From the train station, this is a very long walk. Well, let me be honest and say that it was probably because we completely... more than once... went the wrong way. It is honestly quite difficult finding directional signs. I did ask a few people and we were close, but always somehow on the wrong street. Once we did find this Shinto shrine, it was not as I had hoped and far from the Buddhist temple we had left.

The shrine was built in 1063 by the first Samurai who declared Kamakura the capitol of Japan in his time. In that period of Japanese history, the shrine was the center of politics and culture and is, therefore, an important part of the country's history today. It is a large red building with a gently sloping roof built on yet another hill that required walking yet another hundred stone steps. The lower grounds are surrounded by lotus ponds that were sadly just past their primary blooming time. While I appreciate the history of the shrine, I think I am more interested in seeking out the serene gardens that Japan is famous for.

Back to the train station and one train switch later (they apparently shut the train we were on down for maintenance) and finally home-sweet-hotel.

This was a place that I had been hoping to visit while I was here. It is only twenty minutes away and I will be going back as much as possible. There are still about fifteen other temples and shrines in that area alone that we didn't have time to explore.

For now, I am heading back to my room and will begin to prepare mentally for the driving part of my test tomorrow. Maybe I will sit on the bed and pretend I have a steering wheel in front of me. That should definitely make me an expert on the Japanese streets, right? We also begin our house search tomorrow. I will consider this to be my fulltime job for the time being and intend to get us into something very soon. I am already feeling terribly claustrophobic and need to get us out of the hotel as soon as possible and into our own digs... or who knows what we might try to do to one another.

Friday, July 28

Perhaps The Japanese Should Stay Off The Sidewalks

We spent our last day in class today and took the written part of the Japanese license testing. Of which, we only got to start studying yesterday. Or should I say... we were given the materials to study yesterday... and had every intention of doing so... but come 9 o'clock, we just went to bed and watched The Today Show live instead. Did I mention that The Today Show is on at night and Jay Leno and David Letterman are on starting at 6 a.m.? I love starting the morning out with sick humor instead of that fluffy crap. Anyway, I digress. So this morning, I had to study like mad. I have honestly learned nothing from my friend back home. (JoLynn, will you maybe call me and give me a boot?)

As we took the test, I seriously believed I had failed. Everyone had told us how easy it was! Big. Fat. Liars. And we weren't the only ones concerned. I think even the instructer thought he had a room full of lost causes.

He called out the ten numbers of the people who had failed and KH and I let a shout of joy out to hear we weren't on that list.

Now comes the funny part. The driving part is on Monday afternoon. Can anyone guess how many times I have been behind the wheel since I got here? Did you guess none? Good for you. Now can you guess how many times I will be behind the wheel by Monday afternoon? Again none? Man, you're good. Give yourself a cookie.

Do you not think that it is rather ridiculous that the first time I will be behind the wheel, driving on the wrong side of the road and in the wrong side of the car will be for my actual Driving test?? I love how the government works.

Do keep your fingers crossed. I need that license or I think I will die. I am not exaggerating either.

Since we got here, we don't have our own home, our own stuff or our own car. If I don't get something to give me a little bit of that old independent feeling back, I am packing what little I do have here and heading back to the U.S. We still have a home there, remember?! Oh, I didn't mention that... the condo is still not sold. Talk about stress. And halfway around the world, there ain't nothing you can do about that. (Unless you know of someone who would like to purchase a pretty little condo in northern Virginia? No? Then what good are you?)

On a more fun note though, it is the weekend! And everybody is working for the weekend!

We actually have plans, too! Which means more nonsense to spout out on the internet. And who doesn't love nonsense on the internet?

Thursday, July 27

Operation: Navigation Tokyo Trains

A mild success!

Even more important than that... I have conquered the jet lag! And I slept through one whole night. Last night was the first time that I wasn't out on the hotel computer at 3 am writing to everyone back home. Please don't be offended by this when I say that... it was wonderful! I even slept right up until the alarm went off at 6:30 am. I'm so glad to be on schedule again.

And just in time! We had field trips today. We were taught how to navigate the train network here. This is seriously no small feat. Take the Metro, add another twenty lines to it, give it thirty different names and then put them all in a writing that looks like chicken scratch... backwards. We have learned how to read the name of our city in Japanese characters and that is about it. Despite all of this, we made it the whole way to Akihabara in northern Tokyo, about an hour from our home base. We have never been so proud. (Although still feeling a bit like big idiots for moving to a country where only about 30% of everything written or spoken is in English. Would someone please tell me when this feeling will go away? Pretty kudasai?)

The trains are speedy to say the least. Much faster than the Metro could ever dream to go. When you pass an oncoming train, you actually get a whoosh! and then a pop in your ears and the train rocks a little. I jumped more than once when I didn't see the uncoming. Trains are above ground here. We didn't even attempt the subway system which has almost as many lines as the trains but is underground. They say once you can navigate one, you can navigate any. But I don't feel very confident with that. At every train station, the ticket computer is different than every other station. They do have an English button you can push and you can be damn sure that we did so. The problem is that you have no idea what the fare is unless you can read the Japanese on the billboard above you. So while you can read the screen, there are fifteen fares listed and it is a tiny bit of a guessing game to know which one. Basically, if you didn't pay enough, the boxes at the exit won't let you out. So pay enough! Pay over! Do what the heck you gotta do to get the heck outta there.

Outside of our window on the train we could see the houses in all passing towns... Yokosuka, Yokohama and then Tokyo. The cities here are pretty much one long string and only the people living here know where one stops and the other starts. You know when you are in Tokyo because they have the most highrises and sykscrapers. The outskirts have houses that generally appear taller than they are wide. Very box like with small windows. And very plain in most cases. There are the occasional slooped roofs that you see in pictures but most homes are not built that way. On the inside, I do imagine they are quite beautiful. But as Kimono Hubby asked me to refrain from going up and pounding on doors, demanding to be let in, I cannot give you any clear knowledge on their insides. I can tell you that some houses have yards only as big as an apartment balcony. In their yard, you will typically find a stone path surrounded by bonsai looking trees and bushes. Houses without yards have only a narrow walkway that saparates them from their neighbor. As I described before, there are peaks of mountains that jut out all over the outerlying cities. So even if you don't have a yard, there could be a steep mountain right outside your front door, covered in lush greenery which would make it feel so much more open.

As we approached the city, housing turned to basically all highrise apartments, some over twenty stories tall. They all have balconies and laundry hangs on every other one, drying in the hot, humid breeze. No space is left unused in this area.

The people are not as short as I expected. There are some. But in general, they are my height. I only saw one other blonde woman in Tokyo today. I'm sure there are more, but they are definitely the hot commodity as I got many looks, even some once-overs.

Men dress very importantly... suits or pants. I didn't see anyone that wasn't foreign wearing shorts. KH, though melting the entire day, stuck with the pants on my earlier recommendation. Women wear the most interesting clothes. Pretty much anything goes. They were a lot of layers... a printed t-shirt with a lacy camisole on top, double camisoles, TRIPLE camisoles! They were more casual on the pants rule and I saw everything from minis to capris to pants. Still no shorts. Only on children did I see those.

Cars are mostly van-like. Very compact but you will find a few larger. Nothing completely fullsize though. They wouldn't fit on some of these narrow streets or make some of the hairpin turns.

Akihabara is the electronics district that you may have heard about. It is pretty much like a Japanese Times Square. And very, very busy. We pretty much spent the day staring around as we had no idea what half of the technology could do and no one could tell us in English.

We had been warned about trains at rush hour. They literally have men who wear white gloves and stand outside of the train, shoving people on literally like sardines. If you had something in your hand and got on a train at these times, dropped it, you would have no fear of losing it because the people are crammed so tightly together that it would never hit the ground. When we were told this information, you can just imagine that I was gung-ho to try it. Again, Kimono Hubby talked sense into me and we hightailed it out of the city before that time had come. Maybe I will try when he isn't with me some day. Please don't tell him this plan. I don't need his silly sense talking all the time. Ruins my fun! All joking aside, it does sound like a scary time and they warned us not to take children on the train during these times. Is any mother stupid enough to even do that, I wonder?

Let me not forget to mention dinner last night and lunch today! Last night we walked to a nearby mall to get some Japanese food finally. If you haven't heard, restaurants here have plastic food in their windows of which to chose from. This plasty-food we are told looks pretty much like what you get if you order it. They weren't kidding.

After checking out all the windows in the mall, we settled on a restaurant and went in and took a seat. The written menu was all in Japanese. The waiter came by and since we couldn't read the menu and he couldn't speak any English, KH took him outside and pointed into the window what we wanted to order. You laugh but this is seriously how they do it. I swear! I even watched a Japanese man do the same thing. Or at least I thought he was Japanese. Who cares, though? It made me feel better! I ordered basically a bowl of ramn noodles with some things on top that I didn't recognize but guessed it was tofu. The tray came with a salad, utterly recognizable, and a dessert which looked like clear gelatin cubs, some fruit and a brown mash on top. I tired to order Sapporo. It didn't go well. It took me two tries but he did eventually understand. Maybe it was when I pointed to the poster on the wall? Nonetheless, food comes and we start to cchow down... slurping our noodles loudly as you are supposed to. This actually take a conscious effort as it is EVERYTHING against what your mother taught you. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. The noodles were great... broth on them was great... the meat inside, yummy but unidentifiable, even by taste... the stuff I thought was tofu in the plastyfood... not tofu! But some fish substance. I let it sink to the bottom of the bowl after the first bite, hoping the waiter wouldn't notice that it was left behind. The salad - great! Can you screw up lettuce and dressing though? The dessert. Gelatin of some sort it was. However, it definitely wasn't Jello brand. It has no flavor at all. I couldn't eat it. And the brown mushy stuff on top was maybe mashed prunes and chocolate? Whatever it was, I couldn't eat it either. There were however two peaches which I ate, a cherry which was seeded and I only found out after I swallowed and a little tiny dollop of whipped cream, which I also ate. My assessment of my first Japanese meal is this... do not take a huge initial bite. Nibble and if you like continue. Or else a gag relflex will kick in. Also, I think it will be important for future meals to learn how to at least read what the meat is in Japanese. I may not honestly want to know, but I am thinking I would smarter to do so. Not bad in all. I will give my meal last night a solid B.

Today in Tokyo, we went for Japanese pizza. Does anyone want to take a guess what kind of pizza Kimono Hubby ordered? No? A freaking Margherita pizza. That's right, kids! Cheese, tomato sauce on dough... just like we eat back home. He really needs to shake it up a bit more. I on the other hand went for it. I had a potato, corn and mayo pizza... traditional Japanese pizza. And it was good! Yes, a little weird... but definitely worth trying. Would I order it again? That would be a maybe. I would however give it an A-.

On the way home, I tried to get a water out of a vending machine. Let me tell you again that if you can't read Japanese, what looks like water may not entirely be water. Lesson learned. God knows what it was. Some crazy power drink? I won't be pushing that button again.

Just think... this is only my initial impression of Japan! I have so much more to try and learn and experience. We have yet to partake of a rotating sushi bar but that will probably be tomorrow. We did check one out and it looks fabulous! A much bigger selection than back home and it looks even better than back home. Odd, but I wouldn't have believed that if you had told me before.

Day five is winding down. I still can't believe I am here. I am about this close (shows very itty bitty space between fingers) to getting a cell phone of which whoever would like to call me on, can. Until then, please keep writing everyone! I miss you all and I do love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 25

Guests of Tradition

Who knew that I would show such grace and poise on my second full day here?

After we left the library yesterday and began our walk back to the hotel, I step off a curb and fell flat on my face. In the road. Where cars were driving. And did I get up right away? Hell no! I cried (again!) and laid in the street until Kimono Hubby finally dragged me back onto the curb, bleeding, swollen knee and all. I have scrapes down my toes on my left foot and I won't be able to wear a skirt for weeks thanks to the ashpalt filled hole that has replaced my kneecap. Thankfully my pants took a lot of the damage themselves. Although, now I am down to one pair of dress pants and no end in sight for when the rest of my wardrobe will arrive on its slow boat.

How nice are people here though? A Japanese lady saw me wipe out, pitied my clumsiness, turned her van around and came back to offer us a ride. I think through the tears, I thanked her. (I really hope I did because I don't need to add rudeness to the list of mistakes I have or will make.)

And this was all only hours after we got the speeches on how we are the ambassadors of the U.S. here. We should be an example. Some freaking example my grace and sobs make.

She dropped us off at the hotel and we were greeted in the lobby by our dinner host for the evening who had come to pick us up. What could I do but wipe my tears away, change my torn clothes and head out for the night? Kimono Karen just couldn't miss an invite like this.

We drove off base and into the town. I do not have the words to express how I felt driving through town. It is something like being in a major city and seeing all the usual city sights and hearing all the usual sounds but also throwing in these lush green mountains that you are constantly driving up and around and back down again. The roads are very twisted and the cars drive mostly on the correct left side, but if someone is parked in the street, you don't get angry, you just drive around them by scooting into the oncoming lane and no one gets irate at you for doing so. The streets are incredibly narrow and what was pointed out as a two-lane major road, I am quite certain that even the tiny cars here would only allow one to pass at a time. The Japanese utilize every little bitty bit of space that they can. Parking is virtually impossible unless you buy it with your home. Thank goodness we are going to learn how to use the train system in a few days. Building signs flood the crowded streets. All are in Japanese but you can determine the type of food in restaurants by these colored curtains that hang in the doors. I think WE will be able to figure it out mostly by just peering in the windows to see what is sold inside.

We pull up to our friends house and park in the garage under their home and walk the winding steps up to the entryway. As we enter their home, we remove our shoes. Now... our hosts are American and Russian... but the house is still Japanese. Which means they have tatami mats that cannot be walked on with shoes. So socks or barefoot it is.

We are greeted by the hostess and her children and mother-in-law and then we are escorted on our first Japanese home tour.

I. Was. In. Awe.

We started by heading up stairs to see the bedrooms. I don't recall exactly but it was either four or five. Some with tatami mats. All with huge closets and plenty of space, little hidden nooks and crannies that seemingly have nothing in the room but the bed. Every room shows you another exceptional view of the surrounding city. Some doors in the rooms are of the sliding paper shoji screen type and the other are as you would see at home. Everything was open and spacious. The house had a garden like what you would see in a movie of Japan with shaped trees and shrubbery and they are planning on planting flowers soon. A stone path leads you through the garden. Downstairs in the home is an overly large dining room, tv room where you sit on the tatami floor to watch and then a screened in room that seems simply for the purpose of enjoying viewing the garden outside. The kitchen has all the usual amenities, some of which they did have to bring in to Americanize the room a bit. Two bathrooms with traditional Japanese showers and a separate room for the toilet, of which was American style but still with the odd flusher. (No, I haven't figured it out yet.)

Dinner is served and our hostess has prepared a traditional Russian meal. Crepes with a mushroom sauce inside or Russian red caviar and sour cream in them. Both of are delicious. The caviar was much different from what I have had before. It was a very salty salmon type that is typical of the hostess's homeland. The other dish is a baked porkchop with cheese and cauliflower on top. Everything was delicious. To follow the meal was a black tea and cookies.

An amazing and lovely experience though we did have to laugh a little at the fact that we have still not had any Japanese food. Well... other than that Teriyaki Mc Burger which I am guessing doesn't really count.

As we sat and talked about being here and what to see and do, they received a call from a neighbor and friend. They immediately invited her over. We had our first experience with talking one on one with a new Japanese friend! I was able to use some language skills and she didn't laugh... not even once. When she was introduced and said her goodbyes, we bowed as is custom. And when she offered us her business card, we did as you should and honored it by inspecting it all over before placing it safely away.

The whole night was a truly perfect first home experience.

We left at about 9 to head back to our room. But not before we walked to the top of their street and saw yet another amazing view of the city.

Just being in their home and listening to someone who so recently went through the househunting experience, I am truly eager to get started and find my own perfect new home.

Of course, of all nights, last night was the night I forget to carry a camera. Which is probably okay because I pretty much just walked around with my jaw on the ground and was a little too distracted to be snapping pictures anyway. But I will do better next time.

The Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday morning we awoke to face a brand new chapter in our lives. We placed our final things into our luggage, checked ourselves out of the Embassy Suites and found a cab to take us to the airport. As we drove there, the cab driver mentioned that we must be going away for some time with the amount of luggage we had. (Is eight bags really abnormal for two people?!)

"Yes, to Japan," we tell him.

"Do you know someone there?" he asks.


"Have you been there before?"


"Do you even speak the language?"

"Another negative."

And thus began the moment of my intense shock. How could I have made such a hasty decision.

But hasty it wasn't. We had thought about this and rehashed it in a million different ways and on so many different days. To hear a cab driver ask such basic questions and us respond with such ridiculous negatives... we were really starting to question our own judgement. And perhaps our sanity.

As the plane took off and Washington and Alexandria disappeared out of our window, everything became pretty blank. I didn't cry like I thought I would. I did get, well... anything. Just a big fat nothing. Where was the big emotion that leaving was supposed to invoke?! I barely cried saying goodbye to my friends and family. I just felt so flat everytime I heard those words. I had a few outbursts but they were always when I was alone and when nothing was really happening to set them off. Maybe keeping myself so busy the last week erased what emotions should have been there. Maybe I was just a cold bitch like I always feared I was deep inside. I couldn't grasp what my problem was.

DC to Chicago and then Chicago to Tokyo. Before the trip, I kept thinking that the flight would be difficult but not unreasonable. Kimono Hubby was dreading it much more than myself from day one. In the end, he slept and I tried without much success. I drugged myself. I drank. I did everything I could to knock myself out. But all I had was that constant flat feeling.

I made my first Japanese faux pas on the plane. I forgot the cardinal rule that the Japanese don't get sarcasm. I made some stupid crack about having so much space to eat in and all I got was a very blank stare from an older Japanese gentleman. I'm pretty sure he understood what I said and it wasn't the language thing. He just didn't find it funny. How am I supposed to survive without sarcasm? Poor KH is going to drown in it at home if that is the case.

We arrive in Japan and I have only slept less than two hours of the fifteen hour flight. We are bleary eyed and extremely stiff but excitement is starting to quell somewhere way down deep. The weather is very gray. Almost threatening us. It is rainy season here. How could I have forgotten that? They don't call it typhoon season for fun.

We go to get in the car and KH tries to get in on the passenger side. We have already forgotten that that would now be the driving side. This will take some getting used to and we are likely to be laughed at for awhile.

It is another three hours of a drive to the base. We head through Tokyo, Yokohama and then the countryside outside of the city. The city skylines we only see from a distance. The highway takes you through the very industrial part of the both cities. But they seem to hold so much promise and adventure nonetheless. Everything looks so clean and modern. Cars are small but look more American than I was expecting. There seem to be a ton of mini-minivans. (My heart is sold! I never wanted a soccer mom vehicle but these mini-minis are so damn adorable!)

Out of the city and approaching the base, the surroundings change to lush greenery. As if we just landed on some tropical island. We are told that it is pretty much like this all year round and that only some trees actually lose their leaves. I can only imagine how beautiful winter will be. Houses are built on what look like impossible mountain sides. One can only begin to guess how roads reach these homes.

We pass through toll booths and when the window opens, I hear something similar to a locust. As we head deeper into the wooded surroundings, it gets louder and louder... like the 17-year cicadas back home. Almost like these tiny insects are greeting us and saying, "see? We aren't that very different, America and I!" The trees that they live in are small and remind me of enlarged bonsai trees. Did someone actually come out and shape these or has God really created the perfect tree in nature? I keep looking for Mr. Miyagi to be hanging from a tree with big clippers.

We arrive at the main gate and get our first tour of the base and it is so much larger than I expected. I already have no idea which way is out. All I know is that our new hotel home is located directly on the Tokyo Bay! Sure it is just another waterfront... but one on the opposite side of the world! In Japan!

I think I am going to throw up now. No, seriously.

We get checked in and head to our room. Once the bags are off the carrier, we realize one is missing. Of course it is mine. We have to call our driver back as we are certain that it is still in her back seat. Our first mini argument in our new home but it quickly subsides as we both know that it is just exhaustion and shock talking.

I sit down on the bed and look around. A big deer in the headlights kind of look. That is how you could have described me. I didn't feel strong or brave or adventerous. I felt stupid. Horribly, horribly stupid. And sick. I have never felt a sick like this... like something is stuck in your throat and is strung the whole way into your stomach. Nothing came come up or down.

Except a sob.

At first, Kimono Hubby has no idea how to comfort me. As I sit there sobbing harder and harder, all I can think about is how badly I want to go home. How I hope this is some terrible dream. Kimono Hubby kisses my tears off my eyes and cheeks and tells me that everything will be okay. He's scared too but we are together and we are ready for this. It takes a while but the sobs and hiccuping do subside. I am still absolutely shell shocked. But I am headed back to the flatness. I guess I finally had that moment.

This is what happens when you bottle it up inside of you and don't show your true feelings to anyone. For the past month, I feel like that is all I have been doing. Hiding. Not because I thought I would look weak or be made fun of. It just did it. I'm still working out why I handled moving this way. I still have a lot to learn about who I am.

I called my mom ever though it was about 4 in the morning her time. I just needed her. She didn't hear the phone because of the obvious sleep. But she called back a few hours after I passed out. It made me feel so much better just to hear her voice. I called again in our morning time and got to speak to her for some time. She made everything right with the world. I was feeling stronger again. She always knows just what to say.

And then dad got on the phone. And he made me cry again. He said that now that I am in Japan, be IN Japan. And that they will be there when I come home. What a wreck I was again! I just isn't that easy yet.

Once I calmed down, he also told me that every country has a smell and asked me what Japan smelled like. Well, either my nose is broken or it is just that the base smells just like home because I couldn't answer. But he's been here before. He should know what the hell it smells like.

It is now Tuesday. I have been here two and a half days and I am feeling almost completely back to normal. I'm very excited again. Still exhausted but I just need to keep fighting the jet lag. We met Kimono Hubby's new work family so far and had our first orientation. We even spent a little time looking at cars this afternoon and think we almost have ours picked out.

This is going to be great! As strong as I fell my marriage is, I am absolutely certain that this will make it even more wonderful. Not to mention all the other multitude of other benefits to living here.

The Japanese may call this the Land of the Rising Sun (which by the way, Japan... 4:30 am sunrise is a little ridiculous, don't you think??) but I call this the Land of the Rising Opportunites.

And I'm so happy to be here.

Thursday, July 20

Computer Access Has Forced A Hiatus

How I wish I could write something worthwhile! But I am typing on a dinosaur computer in our lovely home we like to call "Embassy - How We Love That Free Happy Hour of Yours" and they are charging me by the minute so this will have to be short.

We have been here for over a week now. It is so nice having someone clean up after you and reinforce your diva habit. During the day, I hit the gym, run last minute errands and usually get in an afternoon nap. I guess I have finally achieved "lady who lunches" status. And I am LOVing it! In the evenings, we can either be found at parties or going away happy hours or just dining with a group of friends. It's damn tough being me.

Oh, how I would love to tell you about these evenings! However, those stories will have to wait for the time when I am back to free internet usage. Just a snipit... there has been drama and fighting and crying... and for once it wasn't just coming from me!

But alas, I must move on. Time to go work the beers I drank last night off my middle section.

Just to let you know, we move on Saturday morning. Arriving in our new home country of Japan on Sunday late in the afternoon. (Actually very late on Saturday in the U.S. for those of you that are counting.) I won't be writing much until we get settled. I so wish I could tell you all the crazy emotions that I have going on, but I'm sure you guessed what kind of a mess I am already.

So this is a tiny goodbye for now! Or just a see you on the flip side!

Thursday, July 13

All’s Right In My World

Guess what I did last night… I slept! In a bed! And it was truly wonderful. I had no idea I really missed it that much. It makes the world such a sunnier, nicer place to be.

Overall, it was a really great night. Originally, I had made a plan to partake in the **FREE!** hotel happy hour every day for the next ten days. Did you hear what I said?… **FREE!** Angels in heaven, thank you!

Then the fact that I have been missing so much sleep and just been so anxiety-ridden for weeks now, I had made up my mind to skip it for the first night. I am quite the slacker some days.

Now guess how weak I am. I walk in the hotel door and Kimono Hubby says… “hey, let’s go to happy hour.” My response… “um, okay.”

Really took a heavy arm twisting, wouldn’t you say?

Precedence has been set and now I have to go every night. It’s rough being me.

And after every **FREE!** happy hour, I get to go sleep in a bed again! Life. It is good.

Wednesday, July 12

In Over My Head

Let’s play a little guessing game today, shall we? Now – Refer back to your school days and choose your answer wisely on this short quiz.

Which of the following did Kimono Karen do today?
a) Wake up in tears and call Kimono Hubby begging him to change his mind and ship our stuff back so we can say pooh-pooh to this Japan nonsense and stay right where we are at.
b) Eat a small jar of maraschino cherries for breakfast and then promptly throw them up.
c) Drop a large and heavy suitcase down the stairs assuring that her downstairs neighbor was alerted of the pretty sunrise taking place.
d) Back her monstrous rental car into a pole while pulling out of the hotel lobby area.
e) Take a shuttle bus the whole way around the airport only to go one level up… when she could have just used the stairs that she didn’t open her eyes to see.
f) Lean over to get a napkin and drop a ketchup and mustard smothered onion off her Whopper into her white leather Coach purse.
g) All of the above.

And only half a day down so far!

I have had my moments where I am overcome with emotion about this move. They have generally snuck up on me and gave me a big whallop in the back of my head. Like when the movers came to take our storage stuff away. It was the first time that something made this all very real.

Imagine my agitation when I woke up this morning and all that was left in our condo was me on an air mattress. KH had nicely moved just about everything to the trunk of the car already, quietly kissed me goodbye and headed off to work. It took a few minutes when I heard the downstairs door close to wake myself up and look around. He was probably no more than ten minutes down the road when I called in tears to tell him I changed my mind. A little too late now, he says. Says who?!?

Isn’t life all about these moments where we challenge ourselves to be greater than we are? To reach higher than we thought we could and do more than we thought we would? But what if everything we have been stretching and grasping for was always at our own front door? Does that make it a mistake then to be chasing a chance for something bigger half way around the world? Will this just prove that we already had everything we wanted or needed right here and didn’t need to reach more than an arm’s length away?

I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed. Which, in a way, is a really good thing. I was starting to feel rather like an apathetic b*tch. Especially when people would break down in their own tears and tell me how much they will miss me being around and all I could respond with was an “oh, really?” It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was just that this only feels really real on some days. And today… it felt totally real. In the here and now, baby! With ten days left to go, I’m feeling a little beleaguered. And a little sad. And perhaps a LOT terrified.

In the next week and a half, please keep reminding me that this was a good thing! Pretty please?

Monday, July 10

Back and Forth and Back and Forth Again

My head is spinning and my shoulders have now accumulated so many knots that I can’t put my arms down by my sides anymore.

I had it all together. I was in control. Ok, so maybe I yelled at a cop on Friday who made me turn left when I wanted to go straight. And maybe he threatened me a little. But did he scare me? Not in the least! I think I may have even yelled a profanity at him. But not until I was out of earshot. Am still a slight sissy.

But I am actually quite the maniac these days. I want to rip the heads off of baby squirrels. I want to drive 102 miles per hour in my rental care that I hate-hate-hate (needs to be said in threes) and weave in and out of traffic just daring someone to get in my way. I’m sure my insurance got cancelled at the time I requested and didn’t possibly get screwed up along with everyone else. I’m covered! I think! I just want to give a big flip off to every person that does me wrong. And most of all, I really want to scream.

And scream I did while driving down the parkway on Friday night. I screamed so long and so loud that I lost my voice. But damn did I feel better. Friday was just the accumulation of a long, hard, confusing week. Oh yeah, and I was hungover… again. Well earned if I may say so myself and a reminder of why I quite tequila years ago.

Really things weren’t going so bad. I was knocking things off the list left and right. I was saying fun goodbyes. I felt empowered. And even happy and excited for the end result of our efforts to be so near! Yet I wake up today on the very loathed airbed and realized that for the first time… that was STRESS... in my shoulders!… and not just that the damn mattress went flat in the middle of the night again.

What is the best cure for stress? Write a list of all the things you need to do and in what order and how they should be done and everything will be better. But noooo! Not today would it be easy. The list only made me throw in my mouth a little.

Then all day today, we went back and forth. KH calls… let’s keep the house and rent. He calls again… let’s sell because the bank says we can’t. Then another… but this bank said we could if we do a, b and c. Then… but we would have to pay x, y and z. Then… but we would make it back in taxes. Then… but does it really make sense to rent. Then… ok let’s sell.

Since the time we have found out we were moving, we have only changed our mind about selling about 300 gazillimabitchon times. (And yes that is a damn word. Want to make something of it?) We have even changed our minds more than five times some days. Do you know how ridiculously crazy we must sound to our realtor?

I am not a person who can handle indecision. I make a plan. I stick to it as if it were fly paper and I the Brundle. Once the plan is made, all that happens if a change is made is for me to wither into a kicking and screaming, psycho puddle. One might say I am inflexible. Really, though, I do have to disagree. Would someone inflexible decide that it was a good idea to move halfway around the world? Not a chance! Well… not unless they were aiming for life in Bellview.

So round and round we go and where we stop nobody knows. As of five minutes ago, we are selling. With only one week and five days left, there has to come a point that this madness stops. I vote today, dammit!

Of course… don’t be surprised if I change my mind tomorrow.

For now I am going to go home and clean out the rest of the liquor cabinet of the stuff that the movers wouldn’t take. To hell with mixers. Then when I throw up, there will be no telling if it was the stress or if it was the booze. Totally makes me less of an alcoholic, wouldn’t you say?

Thursday, July 6

Musing Massachusetts

We spent the holiday weekend saying more goodbyes. I have to be honest though and admit that I didn’t cry on this one. I promise I am not being callous. Just more accustomed to this situation.

You see, we were saying our goodbyes to Kimono Hubby’s family. They live in Massachusetts so it isn’t like we get to see them a lot of time at any rate. Maybe two trips a year up there at most. Over time, they have gotten used to him not being around all the time either. We love them. I love them. But this almost felt like just another bi-yearly visit, albeit we will be going a little further away afterwards this time.

What hurt the most about this goodbye was seeing his mom saddened. It isn’t easy on her – or on either of our moms. They definitely are feeling the impact of this move the most outside of ourselves. We both talk to our moms almost every day and it seems natural to us, even though some of you right now are thinking that we are seriously batty mama’s babies. It just has always been that way and neither of us have ever questioned it. Now to see them tear up when we walk away from them is so much to bear. It feels like the first day we left our home lived all over again. It will never get easier.

And please don’t tell me… but technology!... You can email and talk on the internet and of course the telephone! Yes, this is true. But it isn’t just the communication. It’s the distance and not being able to make that fast trip home when we just need to feel the comfort and safety our homes provide us. And what about the trips we make when we just need to feel their loving arms around us? What if they are ill and just need us be at their side, holding their hand and helping them through? KH’s dad has been sick for some time and no one can tell him what is going on. I honestly don’t want to even think about how much this must weigh on both of their minds. Because when I do, I feel like cancelling the whole stupid move thing without another thought and heading straight to Massachusetts to help his family do every thing they can and get these doctors voicing a diagnosis and a cure.

I’m still hurting because I can’t be there for my mom to hold her hand while she moves past my grandmother’s hopeful recovery. I only pray that all understand that we are together in thought every single day, no matter where we… or they… are. If I think for even a moment that they don’t know that, I may cave and stay right where I am at and deny ourselves this opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone understands that this is a great opportunity. And not a soul would deny us this chance to live somewhere so extraordinary. But why does it have to be so hard to make that step and say adieu to the ones behind us?

We did have a lovely time up north visiting. We spent most of the time just with the family, while they stuffed us full of all of our favorite local foods. There was stuffed lobster, Portuguese biscuits, Portuguese donuts, Portuguese steak… those people can seriously cook! Of course, I couldn’t fit in anything when we got home and am now bound to stretchy pants and a strictly lettuce diet. There was a cookout on Sunday where we spent the day out in the sunshine under a canopy of grape vines and enjoying an afternoon and evening with friends. We even managed to swing a little trip to Newport in and toured the Breakers. I think I was born a Vanderbilt and somehow switched at birth. Someone get on with checking those old records out for me, will ya'?

We got home Tuesday afternoon. Back to our empty condo, that is yet so full of possibilities. We bring home with us visions of our family’s first trips over to see us and we are praying that it is soon.

And dear sister, you can stay however long you would like and no matter what KH says… even though I may regret saying that later on.

Much love until we see you all again!

Wednesday, July 5

Nation Automation

Let’s just say that I am thrilled that we live in a time where you can get away without touching anything in a public restroom. Hooray to automation! Mostly.

In the Logan airport yesterday morning, prior to my lovely Diet Coke and therefore prior to any level of actual alertness, I had to use the restroom. As I walked in, I was happy to see that there was no door and just a series of tunnels to protect the innocent ears from flushing rackets. So only one door to touch before enter your own private chamber. And really… shouldn’t that be automated as well if everything else is in the damn bathroom? Someone needs to get on that. I digress.

I know that everyone has a routine to handle these unseemly public outhouses. I personally like the seat wipe and protector approach if the bathroom is relatively clean and relatively unused. Any other situation, I am the hover queen. In this instance though, I was TIRED! I couldn’t make my poor little chicken legs responsible for holding up any junk without its morning energy drink. So I spit shined away and unfolded my precious protector neatly placing it, followed by a second one for good measure. All set. Pants down and I am just getting ready for my business when…


I removed myself just in time before being sucked into the vortex. Unfortunately, it ate my protectors in its haste and it gave me a slight bidet splash.

Still groggy, I didn’t immediately get irritable that Sir John just tried to eat me and sucked down my precious papers. I patiently (yes – me!) just got another two out and started over with placing my shield.

Laid the replacements down and ready to just make contact when what do you know…


You would think I might have learned a lesson the first time. I didn’t, but with a stamp of my foot and slightly less than a patient attitude, I prepared another two replacement replacements. This time staying far back from the automatic detector.

I finally achieved full success.

I’ll give you one guess what wouldn’t happen a third time, though. That’s right. Apparently, it quit! I waved and waved and waved in front of the malicious blinking dot. Nothing. Waited a minute and waved again, even giving it a little flick this time. Nothing.

I finally had to actually flush the maniacal machine myself!

At least the sink and towel dispensers worked in the proper way… if you call gesticulating madly, and flinging water onto the other people gathered at the sinks, proper. Perhaps there are few more kinks that need to be worked out with these machines. Make them smarter but not necessarily Terminator smart?

Anyway, so much for our nation’s automation.