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Wednesday, December 2

Yabusame: Round Two

Let me be completely upfront and say that this post is going to be mostly pictoral. Every year, there is a yabusame parade and then event on the beach in Zushi. (Learn more about it in this older post.) We had gone our first year here, but had been busy for the past two. This year, we thought it might be something that the Peanut would enjoy seeing. I mean, there are big horses with colorful riders on top and they run really fast. I know he is still wee and doesn’t get most things, but I thought the visual would be fun for him. Alas, I was mistaken.

We got there early enough to get a parking spot directly across the street. It was cold, but we were (I thought) sufficiently bundled. Just like last time when I thought we had dressed warmly enough, alas, I was mistaken again. I was fine. KH was fine. But KP was like a popsicle fifteen minutes into our time there. We put him on top of his daddy’s shoulders for the best view, but all he would do was sit up there, looking surly and throwing out fantastic screeches every so often. We thought, maybe it will get better when the event begins. Alas, we were mistaken yet again.

We waited long enough to watch the only girl I have ever seen trained to do this make her first bolt down the beach. I thought she hit all three targets, but KH said she didn’t. Who knows. We had had enough of the screeching and KH was already on his way to the car with the baby, before the commentators could ever give out the score.

At least we saw it once, I thought as we were leaving. And at least there is hot chocolate at home. Alas…

A Day Spent With Norway

Every November, the Kamakura Chapter of Ikebana International travels to one of the many embassies in Tokyo. Personally, these outings are a favorite of mine. Not only do I get to spend the day with my Japanese friends immersed in their culture, but I get join that with an introduction to a new culture. This year we visited with new Norwegian friends at their embassy and their personal residence.

As we got off from the final train stop in Tokyo, I realized that I should have doubled back to the house to get my umbrella as the drizzling was just beginning. I actually use the Japanese as a guide on whether to bring one or not and when I got to the train stop near my house and saw few to no people with one, I figured I was safe for the day. How very wrong. Fortunately, the walk from the station to the embassy was only about ten minutes so I wasn’t soaked to the bone before arriving.

The embassy itself is as nondescript as any other Japanese building in the neighborhood. Only a small plaque identifies what lies behind its solid gates. The first buildings on the grounds were built in 1977, but construction difficulties and earthquakes proved challenging. A new architect was chosen who built two buildings, one four-story part housing the chancery and apartments for embassy personnel and a separate one for the residence. Since those were built additional stories and extensions being added through recent years. The most recent architectural work happened to be the room where we began our day – a multifunction hall that glides up two stories with a second floor gallery to overlook the entire room. It’s a very good thing this was built or I’m not quite sure where they would have put the hundred plus members who came that day. Their coat check had never overflowed like that! In this room, we spent several hours hearing all the ins and outs of life in Norway.

While this is a country that had never entered my radar for possible vacations before, it has certainly been added high on that list now. Not that I am into adventure skiing, dog sledding or ice fishing, but the magnetic beauty and aurora lights are enough to get me there. Our speaker was none other than the Ambassador’s wife, Madam Anita Pratap, an award-winning author and journalist who has worked with the impressive likes of CNN and Time. As you can guess, she is not actually Norwegian, but met her husband when he was assigned to her native country of India. Her stories of things that she has seen in this world…ethnic war in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Asian nuclear testing, conflict between India and Pakistan, just to name a few… are truly amazing and heart-wrenching. But what totally struck me is her love for her new home country in Norway. She wasn’t making it up! She felt deeply for the land and its people and it conveyed enough to make me want to see it for myself.

After her speech, she surprised the I.I. chapter with a little fashion show. Two models dressed in traditional Norwegian wear. One word to describe those outfits – warm. Most pieces were made of wool and layered one on top of another as if they were trying to rival the layers in a kimono. We bounced a few questions off of the models and as they exited, the next highlight arrived. Tae Sakai and Natsuho Taira, two pianists from the Japan-Norway Musician’s Society, both of which have studied at the Norwegian Academy in Norway, provided a piano duet concert full of music from the late great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Not a head in the room didn’t end up swaying to the musical crescendos that echoed through the room.

As they completed, their program, we exited to regroup in the private residence where lunch was to be served. First, and much to my delight, cocktails were being offered in the main room. I snatched a glass of red wine and began to make my way around the large rooms to locate the Edvard Munch’s Madam Pratap had said we would find as well as some other original Norwegian pieces. I didn’t get too far, only scoping out one of the Munch’s before getting caught up in conversations and never beginning my search again.

Madam Pratap had discussed how salmon was a huge part of Norwegian cuisine, so we were prepared for a buffet of multiple styles of salmon. Surprisingly, I only recall two dishes with salmon and the rest covering every scope of the palate. A friend that I had traveled with and I had placed our purses on seats, just as the Japanese do, to hold them until we had full plates. In usual Japanese fashion, it would be rude for anyone to take these spots, which made us completely shocked to find our seats taken and two women sitting on our purses. While they did offer to move, we just politely took our purses and made our way out of the room to see where else we might find a seat. This was much more difficult than expected. As I said, this was a private residence, and one I don’t think has often seen so many visitors at once. In the end, my friend and I decided to place ourselves on the circular stairway that led to the inner parts of their home. Don’t think I didn’t think about peeking, but I didn’t. As it went, some other Japanese friends who had been balancing plates and drinks laughed as we sat on the stairs, but it only took second before we were squeezing in to make room for them. Just as we were finishing, dessert was being served. One of the cakes being served had also been talked about during the earlier speeches, so we had to go see what it was all about. We were expecting some monster of a cake with so many layers that it would be impossible to cut into without knocking it over. Nothing of the sort was displayed. Sure the layered cake was there, but I think our minds must have hyped it up a bit too much. Still, we filled our plate with various samplings and headed this time to the sun room that overlooked a Japanese garden behind the house.

While we were standing there chatting, a man came our way. It’s always unusual to see men at these things. It is a club of all women anyway. But this man was also definitely not Japanese. And he definitely wasn’t the kind of man that I typically get the chance to hang out and chew the fat with. We recognized him immediately from his picture in the program, the Norwegian Ambassador H.E. Arne Walther. As polite, charming and interesting as you would expect such a worldly man to be, Ambassador Walther totally fit the bill. He was open to all of our questions, including my nosiness when asking how he and his wife met. He had previously lived on the U.S. west coast many years before so we chatted about the differences in the places we all have lived. Only when the meeting was being called to a close with group pictures did we end our conversation. I could have gone on and on with him. I was only getting warmed up when it ended all too soon. We did have to laugh while we were on our way back when we thought of why he would single out the two most non-Japanese women in the room... he knew we would speak English and he likely wouldn't have to work so hard at his Japanese.

Sad for the ending of a great day, we made our way to our coats. This time, I really could have used that umbrella. It was pouring. At least I had been smart enough in the cold weather that morning to wrap a scarf around my neck, which now served as an impromptu rain bonnet. I’m sure it looked ridiculous to every umbrella covered person we passed on the street to see a white lady with her hair smooshed back from her forehead by a cashmere cap, but it was better to be laughed at than to be totally soaked. Next time, maybe I will dress myself appropriate for the weather at large.

Friday, November 27

What’s A Peanut To Do In Japan?

As it has been noted, I am a bit of a homebody since the peanut arrived. Often I get slack for this, slack that I have learned to completely ignore. Frankly, my child is one of the happiest wee ones I have ever seen, so I must be doing something right.

Despite my propensity for my own quiet domestic quarters, I do like to get the Peanut out and about on a daily basis. We do a daily walk, either to the market or the park or sometimes even aimless wanderings around the narrow neighborhoods in the area. Sometimes we just sit in our tiny yard and play with the sticks, the leaves and whatever bugs we can find. And then there are the days where we venture much further out.

It is harder to find places to go with kids in Japan than you might think. Sure, there is Disneyland, DisneySea, Fujikyu, Sanrio Puroland, and many other big ticket parks filled to the brim with huge mechanical rides and funny characters. These amusement parks are aplenty and very easy to find. But if you are looking for something a little less formal and grand (read: less over-the-top and pricey), it can be a bit trickier. It isn’t like I can Google these smaller places and then expect to be able to read about anything I find. If it is smaller, it is probably in Japanese or lacks a website altogether. But besides all this, I just sometimes want a fun and different place to spend a nice afternoon at with my Peanut baby.

Recently, I kind of fell into a play group. While I despise the whole ‘play group’ idea (we didn’t schedule play when we were kids… we just did it… but don’t get me started…), the people I have met have been lovely. Through this group of about ten, there are always ideas being thrown out about what to do that doesn’t cost a fortune, but the kids’ will all have fun at. Plus, usually the one with the idea also knows how to get there and plays director for the day. Handy when you have your hands full with your own wiggling kid and therefore don’t really have time to consult the map at every turn.

The first place this group introduced me to was a farm in the southern part of the Miura peninsula called the Tsukuihama Tourist Farm. Throughout the different seasons of the year, they grow various fruits and vegetables which you can spend a day picking and then picnicking amongst. The drive to this farm was something else. It’s out there. We convoyed our way there and back or else you might never have seen or heard from me again. After parking the cars, we began a long walk up the mountainside where the grove was located. The seasonal pick while we were there was mikan, similar to a mandarin orange, but even sweeter. The trees were grown in lines, but over the years, they had squeezed themselves together making for narrow walkways. For a tall person like me, with a runt attached to my front side, we warily bumped and bounced our way into the grove until we found a good picnic spot to squeeze ten people and their infants into. Lunch was whatever you brought for yourself, plus as many mikans as you could eat. The Peanut and I ate quite a few! We thought we would be able to pick a few and take them home, as it was when the leader of the group who had been there before had done, but the rules had changed for some unknown reason. This didn’t stop a few of us from popping on or two into our diaper bags.

Now, most of the girls in this group have babies under five months old. Mine was by far the oldest. He had fun trying to crawl around the infants laying on the picnic blanket and trying to steal their rattles. He also tried to sneak off the blanket a few times, but I did have to stop this. While I had thought there might be a grassy knoll somewhere, there was no grass in sight. Just dirt and rocks. And do you know what a one-year-old does with dirt and rocks? He eats them. So letting him crawl his little heart out didn’t really work here, but I did let him pull all the mikans off the trees that he could. That Peanut is a strong one, I tell you!

Once again, my lovely neighbor has also been a wonderful friend to the Peanut and I, and a great source for places to go. She does have two grandsons who are in school now, but not so long ago, she would take them to these many wee-kid friendly places. So we started with the Kanazawa Zoo. It is only recently that Peanut has taken note that there is something at the zoo to look at. Previously, he couldn’t have cared less if a crocodile came up and licked him. Now, he actually is starting to note that what he is seeing is a critter and not just something fun to chew on. We were able to drive to the zoo and park there, making it easier for my older neighbor, than dragging the baby in a stroller with all his gear to and from our destinations and the train stations. At the parking lot, a little bus actually drives you up the winding mountain-side path to the zoo. Peanut sat with our friend in the front seat behind the bus driver with a big grin on his face the whole time. Before pulling away from the garage, the bus driver passed out whistles that he had made from a local nut, so it was a cacophony of shrills as we made our way to the zoo at the top. I whistled for the amusement of my own since he is a bit too wee for it yet.

Once arriving at the top, the ups and downs were only just beginning. The entire zoo consists of these walking paths that would challenge even those most fit. With every upward slope, I would take over the stroller pushing. Out of breath at the top of every hill, it was a very good workout. The zoo has all the usual sorts… elephants, birds, giraffes, koalas and even some American deer. It’s always funny to see stuff like that behind bars in a zoo, when I can see them standing in my parent’s backyard every time we are in Pennsylvania. The Peanut was enjoying himself, pointing to this and that, and listening to mama make all the different animal sounds in the hopes of a reaction. We paused for lunch at a picnic area and dined on seaweed-wrapped rice balls, broccoli with mayonnaise, boiled eggs, mikans, and cookies that our neighbor had prepared for the day. When we were full, we set off for the last half of the zoo.

Now, I do like spending time with my neighbor, but sometimes the language barrier is difficult and does limit the conversation at times. But humor translates into any language. As we paused to look at an Indian Rhinoceros, it immediately came to our attention that underneath this weather and gray animal was something long, thick and bright pink. We were at a bit of a distance, so we weren’t sure we were seeing this correctly. Not wanting to seem inappropriate, we both avoided one another’s eyes for a few seconds. But when we looked at one another, the laughter burst out. You see, the enormity of what was hanging down from this creature and seemed to be sniffing left and right then up and down was just too much. I have never seen anything like that in my many years. And I pray I never do again. God pity the poor female that has to endure that.

Speaking of her… as we rounded the corner of the same cage, we see her bathing in a large pool. Two little Japanese kids that were also gazing in couldn’t help but excitedly share with us that there was a baby in the corner too. Well, her man certainly had gotten to use what the good Lord gave him. We laughed all the way down and up the next hills.

As we were coming around one corner, we heard what we all thought to be kids screaming. It was a strange sound, starting off short and low and crescendo-ing into loud screeches. To all of our surprise, we came to discover a White-Handed Gibbon sitting at the front of his cage, giving the crowd in front of him this uproarious song. While my neighbor and I started yet another fit of hysterical laughter, the Peanut could only sit there with a very shocked, and slightly freaked out, look on his face. His face made us laugh even harder. Sides splitting, we had to call it a day before anything else could happen to make me possible pee in my pants from laughter.

And there is still more that a peanut can do here in Japan! Last week, again with our neighbor, the Peanut hoped into the car and headed off to the seaside in Yokosuka. All we knew as I drove was that we were going to a park. Sometimes trying to get a description is too difficult, so it is better to just be surprised when you get there. The place ended up being a French-themed kids land called Le Soleil. The place is really for both big kids and little kids. As you enter, you pass through the gardens where golden sunflowers were blooming beautifully on this sunny day. There is no entrance fee here, and each ride or activity has its own small cost. To start, there was a huge playground with perfectly sized slides for the Peanut. He happens to love them. My neighbor was shocked when I would put him at the top, give him a little shove and let him reach the bottom to her arms all on his own. He is a big boy in comparison to Japanese at the same age. Plus, I think Americans tend to let their littlest kids grow up a little faster than the Japanese do.

Next stop at the park was to pet and feed the many goats. Peanut didn’t help much with the feeding, even though I tried, but he did let the goats lick his legs and hands. Don’t worry, I cleaned him very well afterwards. And as far as I know, there is no such thing as goat flu… yet. There also was a little wooden structure that happened to be filled with school children, all with a guinea pig sitting in their lap to pet and hug for a spell. We continued our walk around the large, open park, passing several rides and things to do that are just a little too big for the Peanut yet. There was a fake grass hill that several kids would slide down on using sleds. There seemed to be no control of the sled, much to their delight, causing the kids to come down in every which direction. There are all sorts of bikes and go karts, motorized and some not to ride. A large pond to canoe in using these huge swan-shaped boats. An amphitheater overlooking the pond where huge groups of school kids with their brightly colored hats had taken up residence to have their packed lunches. A train made a loop around the entire park. The peanut almost passed out on us here and would have missed the rest of the excitement if it didn’t stop just before he was fully out. A restaurant in the middle of the park provided us with delicious curry for our lunch, after which we strolled in and out of several bakeries, grocers and toy shops located there. For things to do, especially for the toddler crowd, this place was one of the best we have been to yet. I think I can even drive us back there on my own!

So these are some of the things that a Peanut can do in Japan! I am always so appreciative when someone tells us about or shows us a new place to try. Thanks to friends and word-of-mouth, I do believe my kiddo isn’t missing out on a thing! So keep those suggestions coming! And we’ll keep a day free each week to check them out!

Monday, November 9

Kadou Honnoji School Comes To Kencho-ji Temple

The new season for Ikebana International started in September, but my first program for the season was October's. Held at one of my favorite temples in Kamakura, it was a perfectly sunny and warm day as I rounded up my friends and drove us all to the Kencho-ji Temple. The meeting was to be held in the Hojo (main hall), where we had to remove our shoes before entering the sacred room. An image of the Shakyamuni Buddha looks out over the room from the alter area where Ikebana artist, Tenshin Nakano, was to arrange for us. Nakano-sensei is the son and grandson of famous flower masters of the Kadou Honnoji School of Ikebana, located in Kyoto. After college, he began to study flower arranging and now says of himself, "Ikebana is my life itself." His passion for Ikebana centers on arranging not to express his own ideas, but to do it for those that will be around his flower arrangements. He aims to inspire others, particularly the young, so they might understand how nice life is with flowers by creating arrangements of evolved, new styles from his family's school.

One of the things that always impresses me the most about younger Ikebana artists is their wish to pass along a love for flowers and arranging to the younger generations. In a world where technological advances easily infuse other cultures directly into our own homes, it is tremendously important that the most beautiful parts of our individual cultures not be lost in all this melding. Artists like Nakano truly want to pass along a love for Ikebana, an ancient and very important part of Japanese culture, to their fellow countrymen as well as to the world at large (he has demonstrated in such faraway places as Italy, India, Australia, China and the Ukraine). They see the importance of maintaining the past, but also realize that the past must be altered in some ways to accommodate for their ability to maintain a place in the future. While Nakano's background is in his father and grandfather's school, he shows a very wide range of the past, present and future in his arrangements.

While I am impressed with his vision for flowers and Ikebana of the future, what made the greatest impression on me was his actual demonstrating style. It was unlike anything I have ever encountered before.

The rules for the demonstration: no pictures during the demonstration and no talking or noise at all. This means no questions and no documenting his arrangement style except for my attempt to do it verbally. Nakano had two assistants, also students of his school. They took turns bringing out large scale plants and flowers for the arrangement, with each plant being displayed on its own. For example, one type of tree branch would be held up, all pieces together for Nakano to choose from, while the other varieties would be kept aside. Nakano would study each
branch and choose one. Very quickly, he would then begin to snip away, almost as if just snipping away whatever happened to be near his scissors, but in actuality, each move was very calculated. Usually when you arrange, you stand in front of the arrangement, the side of which the arrangement will be viewed. Nakano, however, has learned to arrange from the back of the arrangement. Somehow his mind's eye can adjust his vision to see the front and yet to create from the back... an impressive trait, if you ask me. He continued snipping away at his accelerated pace and quickly place each piece into its perfect positioning. His first arrangement was more traditional, with each subsequent arrangement becoming progressively futuristic. He created five in all, with one of those in the middle actually created by one of his students. I could see the progression of traditional to modern easily. Each arrangement was beautiful, but I must admit that it wasn't the arrangements that left their impression on me, but his style of creating and the message behind his work.

Once all the work was completed, we were allowed to ask questions. There were many... too many for me to recall. I was still wondering over his message and probably didn't have my mind altogether in those final moments. Sadly, my camera stopped working on this very day. A friend who had come with me had hers and did capture many shots from the day and those are what are presented here.

After all was said and done, we headed to the second floor for a bento box lunch and snack of mochi sweets. A silent auction was in progress, my favorite kind, so I did place a bid on a few items. One in particular really had my interest. I
do hate to keep bidding over others, but I was willing to do it anyway for this piece. I heard a comment as I stood off to the side that "Karen must really want this." I did. And it paid off. I came home with a beautiful, lacquered, wooden tray for only 1,200 yen. While I have no idea what I will do with it, I hope one day to have a bit more room that I can at least display it.

My friends and I took a short walk around the grounds of the
temple before we headed back to the car and home. It was the last time my one friend would join me at an I.I. program as she moves to her new home in Hawaii this very week. At least I have some place beautiful to visit, but going to these programs just won't be the same without her. For now, I will get ready for the next program in November. It should be a wonderful one, held in Tokyo at one of the embassies. More to come on that!

Saturday, October 31

Tokyo Times

Every once in awhile, KH and I just want a bit of American normalcy without dealing with the base. There is a haven for us. And we only have to go as far as Tokyo! It's the New Sanno Hotel. Stuffed full of normal sized bedrooms, normal styled meals, normal shopping and normal salon services. Okay, a bit of Japan seeps in, but overall the place perfectly fits the bill when we want a homestyle getaway without paying several thousand to actually go home.

We picked a random weekend and headed up on Sunday morning. This is an extremely important day at the New Sanno because of one very important event... BRUNCH! This is a brunch like you have never seen before. Ice sculptures grace the several buffet tables. A man sits at a baby grand. Others stand behind waffle stations, meat carving stations, pasta making stations, fresh sushi stations, and that doesn't even begin to tell you all this is on the menu here. I tend to eat very small meals, but when I go here, I always make it to a third or fourth plate. It's just that damn good.

To arrive on a Sunday is wise. Otherwise leaving on Sunday means you have to lug your bloated self into the car and try not to fall asleep from your severe food coma while crossing the Rainbow Bridge. We've made that mistake in the past three years more times than I care to admit before we finally figured out a better way.

So this long weekend began with a brunch. It was too early to check in, so we decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood or Hiro-o, checking out some shops and temples in the area. A motorcade of black and white vans and cars zoomed by us with speakers blaring some message and music. We would love to know what it was all about, but couldn't begin to tell you what the message from the speakers was. By the time we got back, our room was ready for us to collapse into. However, I had planned on treating myself to something else from back home... a massage. And while this seemed like a really good idea, it turned out to be one of those strange Japan experiences. I made my way down to the salon early and ready for those weary muscles to be soothed and pampered. It was only moments before they called me back. At first I stepped into the room, but my Japanese male masseuse called me back to remove my shoes at the entryway. How very Japanese and my first clue that this wasn't going to be exactly like I thought. First, I had never had a male masseuse before, but secondly and more importantly, I couldn't imagine a reserved Japanese person (a guy at that!) rubbing my defiled, tattooed body. For those long time readers, tattoos are a no-no here, despite the fact that most youngsters have them these days just like any American generally does. Another point on this - the New Sanno is a military hotel, running strictly for those associated with the military to use. How many people in the military DON'T have tattoos? We tend to like our ink. Back to the point. So this Japanese guy is getting ready to rub down my towel-wrapped body? Alright... if you say so!

I ask him where do I undress, but his English is rather limited so either he didn't understand the question or was too embarrassed to answer it if he did. He only says something about the sheets on the table and how I should lay under them, face down. It was very clear at this point that there would be no articles coming off. How do you massage if you can't dig in to those raw, naked muscles? I was going to find out.

Now I'm on the table, face down, sheet over my jeans and blouse. I expect he will at least lift the sheet off of the part he will be massaging, but no! Not so! The whole reservedness that is the Japanese way, they take it to extreme here. He massaged through the sheet, through my jeans, and while it felt good, it also felt... odd. It was as if he feared to touch any inch of my unclean skin! I took a shower! I swear I was clean! But he massaged up and down, always through the sheet and my clothes. When he got to my feet, he actually wrapped them in the towel so a tricky wouldn't dare slip out and touch his precious skin. As strange as all this was, I was pleasantly surprised that when I stood up (a bit rushed after a massage if you ask me), I actually did have that light headed and floating feeling in my body movement. I guess the massage did what it was supposed to, but I still miss stateside where they strip you down and dig deep into those tissues. Ahhh.

I headed back up to the room to rest for a bit with my boys. There wasn't much rest as it was getting close to dinner and we had big plans. We had made reservations at the front desk to go to Gonpachi. Have you seen Kill Bill? Do you know the fight scene with Uma Thurman where she kills the Crazy 88's? "Silly Caucasian girls likes to play with samurai swords." That Gonpachi! Well, the inspiration behind the scene anyway. Tarantino thought it would make a great place for a fight scene, but the movie was actually filmed in China. I like to think it was the same place anyway. Gonpachi is also famous because it is where our ex-President George Bush went when he visited Tokyo. It's located in Nishi-Azabu, just a tiny walk from Roppongi. Sure it's tourist-y, but some place that you should definitely visit when here. KH has actually been several times, but this was my first.

We started the meal off with drinks, mine a mikan-sho, basically an orange shochu drink that didn't taste like much, but sure snuck up on you. KH went with the lemon sour. Both were gone too fast so we ordered a large Kirin to share. On the dinner menu - tempura, tomato and tsukune yakitori, some type of clams, some type of beef and potato and orange chicken. I forget which dish it was, but I was asked if I wanted egg with that. "Sure! Why not?" is always my answer. So she brought a raw egg placed into a bowl with the dish. Only problem... I never figured out how to get whatever it was we were to eat it with into the tiny bowl of egg. So that untouched egg sat on the table the entire meal. Not one server would remove it when they cleared each course of dishes. We eventually left it on top of the signed credit card receipt.

I wouldn't say the food is much to write home about, but we have more often paid for ambiance in Japan than for food. In case you are wondering, Kimono Peanut was with us doing his usual charm act on everyone around him. He giggled and smiled and nibbled on bites of whatever we put in front of him. If one thing is for sure, we are definitely encouraging this kid to be open to all kinds of experiences! It was early, but that doesn't mean a thing when it comes to KP's bedtime, so we paid our bill and caught a cab back to the hotel. It never fails that no matter how many times we take a cab from Roppongi to the New Sanno, each driver has gone a completely different way. I have yet to ever figure out what roads we could take on our own to get there.

For Monday, we didn't have any exact plan. I had always wanted to go to the oldest Kabuki theater in Tokyo, so we decided to head in that direction. With KP in his stroller, we made our way down to the subway station that would take us to Higashi Ginza. What I didn't tell KH is that
there usually isn't an elevator at these smaller train stations, so we would have to carry the stroller down several flights of narrow stairs to get to the train platform. My usually very even-keel husband was really not so even-keel on this day. In fact, he was damn mad when I explained the situation at the top of the stairs. He let me know exactly how mad he was the entire shaky walk down the stairs with the stroller balanced between us. I tried to tell him that this was way better than when I have to do it on my own, but he really wasn't in the mood for that. What's worse is that to get to the platform we needed, we had to go back up another set of stairs and down again to get to the other side. KH didn't speak to me much while we rode the train, nor while we hiked back up the stairs once we arrived at the Ginza station. He only began to talk again when we arrived in front of the theater. It's just as amazing as I expected. The sad thing is that it is scheduled to be torn down. Like all Japanese structures, it is cheaper to tear down and rebuild than to fix up an old one. I personally don't get the need to tear down all these old beautiful buildings. I would preserve every aspect of this amazing culture! The new stuff is way too Western! I fear that some day, all these beautiful and ancient cities are going to look exactly the same as any other city in the world.

While I would have loved to have gone in to see one act of kabuki, we did have the peanut with us and I wasn't sure about his tolerance for the apparently long wait until the beginning of the next act nor his ability to be quiet during the performance. The last thing I ever want to be is that American who can't obey the rules of decency here and not make even a tiny peep, so we skipped going in. I have seen kabuki at least, just not in a theater such as this. We're debating a babysitter and heading back up to Tokyo to see one, but honestly I can think of way better shows to see if we are going through that kind of hassle. To be frank, kabuki is really boring. One small scene is stretched into an hours worth of acting. A man could seriously be taking his final breathe for a half an hour. I seemed to have found a patience reserve when it comes to being a mother, but just haven't found it for kabuki or many of the Japanese theatrical arts.

We'd never really looked around Higashi-Ginza, so we decided to do that instead. What we discovered? There ain't much there. It's essentially a business district from what we saw, so the restaurants are cramped and cater to the in-and-out crowd and close as soon as the lunch rush has passed. We found a fast food soba place that looked promising and stuff our two American sized bodies and a stroller up to a table in the back. It took us a few minutes to pick meals out of the electronic board, written (obviously) all in Japanese. We both kind of guessed in the end, punched a button and hoped for the best. Not bad. Nothing to write home about.

October is just gorgeous in Japan. Warm and not humid and this day was no exception. We decided to just begin walking in the direction of the famous Ginza district, where all the big shops all. It's like Rodeo Drive, but add in some ritzy Japanese department stores. I'm not the kind to splurge on designer clothes nor could I fit in anything there anyway, but the window shopping is always fun. And then we kept walking. We passed a flower shop dedicated to making only arrangements that look like Hello Kitty. If you live in Japan long enough, you can't help but fall in love with her. We walked and walked and walked some more. All the way to the Imperial Gardens, which we hadn't find impressive the first time, so we didn't feel the need to try again. What did amuse was a sign showing paths all through the Gardens and surrounding area and there in the middle of the park was a spot that said "Shelter for people who cannot go back home". Who are these people and why can't they go home? And why are they living on the grounds of the Imperial Gardens? It seemed like a pretty strange place for a homeless shelter, if you ask me. We walked some more, now in the direction of the hotel. We basically were following the path of the train below us that would take us back to the hotel. I suggested taking the train back, as I could see that KH and KP were both done with the walking. You can probably guess the response I got from KH in regards to carrying the stroller up and down the stairs at the train station again. It wasn't nice. Instead, he hails us another cab for us all to jump in. Hey! He makes the money in this household, so I guess he can spend it any way he wants to.

It being our last night in the hotel, we were all for staying in and getting more of that delicious American cuisine. I wanted wings to be exact. We pondered room service, but decided to drag ourselves downstairs to the restaurant instead. Surprise, surprise, it was another buffet! We went for it! And some wings. And then I died from all the food I had consumed in two days. Or maybe I just collapsed back into a food coma until morning, but I don't remember much of the rest of the night. It poured the rest of the night and as we were heading home the next day thanks to another tropical storm that was headed through. Fortunately all the fun was had long before that first drop was felt!

Now all that is left to do is plan for another long weekend up there!

Tuesday, October 20

To Neighboring Town Hayama With Our Neighbor!

I've talked before about how the Japanese like to keep their lives so separate and private from everyone around then. Our house is the only one on our narrow, but long street that doesn't have a wall surrounding as if we were trying to live in some ancient samurai fortress. But that is only because it was built specifically for Americans, who have the big government bucks behind them and can easily afford a nice big, modern and entirely open house. (Thank you taxpayers!) The one side of our house is completely open, thanks to the likes of four large sliding glass doors. They can be covered with the large pull-down storm doors, which all Japanese dwellers would pull down at the inkling of evening darkness or the possibility that someone might peep inside their home for a second. For a major peeper like me, this was difficult to get used to. Even more difficult to get used to was the idea of pulling our own storm doors down every night. For the first two and a half years we lived here, I can honestly say we never closed the storm doors except if there was an actual storm coming. I know people thought we were nuts and quietly clucked their tongues and shook their heads behind our backs, but I simply refused to lock up the house so tight when, instead, we could have a nice breeze blowing through the house. It was only when the baby really started to become active and focal did we finally do it their way and shut the house up. I wouldn’t want the police to show up for noise disturbance simply because there was one Japanese rule that I lacked in following.

After all of our time here, though, I think our neighbor has become most accustomed to our way of life. We usually roll the doors up and fling open the curtains to let in the sunshine the minute we are up and downstairs… generally around 6:00 a.m. Our neighbor seems to now look for this cue, which means she is doing her own faux pas and is actively looking our way to see what we might be up to. We’re pretty darn lame when we are around the house, so the answer is generally nothing of interest. Most interesting in her embracement of our way of life is that she assumes that if the storm doors are up, we are open for business… no matter the time. Thankfully, I now make it a habit to change out of my jammies every morning before I get the baby from his crib so I am, by and large, dressed and presentable. This totally isn’t a complaint or a problem, because when she knocks, it is always for something good. Last week she brought freshly made pickled plums one day and another day it was an invite for a day out in Hayama.

We headed out late in the morning and began our excursion at the Hayama Shiosai Park and Museum. The gardens were actually a former part of the Imperial family’s Villa Gardens at their summer home in Hayama. They are kept as immaculately groomed as ever. The only difficulty we found is that the gardens were not stroller friendly. We had to skip some rocks at one point to cross a waterfall. I carried the stroller across while a few other strollers looked on and just prayed the whole way that I didn’t lose my footing, sending both baby and me into the stream of koi below.

In the middle of the garden is a tea house, where we did stop to enjoy traditional sweets and matcha tea, a thick green tea used in many Japanese ceremonies. I don’t know if I can say I like the taste, but I also don’t dislike it. Nonetheless, I keep drinking it in the hopes of finding out what I think of it some day.

After tea, we strolled through the small museum to see exhibitions of things that Emperor Showa extracted from the Hayama shoreline, as well as many exoskeletons of deep sea creatures I hope to never meet and which will probably keep me from ever diving in the waters of Japan. KP held little interest for all the tiny things behind glass which kept his tiny hands from checking them out up close, so we didn’t linger.

Instead, we headed down the street a bit further to a seaside park I had been to long ago, which sits next to the protected grounds of the Imperial Villa. With baby, baby bag, blankets and lunch tote, we hiked up some steps, down some steps, across many meters of soft sand, over a bridge, finally to rest on a grassy knoll overlooking Hayama and the ocean beyond. Despite the windy coolness of our chosen lunch locale, we all enjoyed the afternoon out of doors. My neighbor had made homemade Japanese sandwiches: egg salad, ham and cucumber. She had also made rice balls wrapped in seaweed and bought a baked muffin for KP as she wasn’t sure what he was eating these days. No lunch is complete without dessert, so she had also brought buttery cookies. All of which, there was not a morsel left when we were done.

We decided to make one more stop before heading home in the afternoon. I usually use the fish shop on the corner near the train station, but my neighbor explained that there was one with much better fish that she always shops at. Hidden in an area of Zushi I have never before been too, quite close to the marina, was a tiny shack where people seemed to be pouring in and out. The fish found inside are dredged from the local seas daily, cleaned up and sold, I swear, before they are truly even dead. I only have one major difficulty with the fish sold here. These are entirely full fish… scales, tails and all. I have absolutely no idea how to clean a fish. Of course, I could always cook it up all together, just as the Japanese do, but that is just not one of those things I would chose to do often. My neighbor noticed my worry over this and proceeded to do the most wonderful thing… she went to the lady at the counter and told her to pick out her best slice of sashimi tuna in the case at her side. The lady wrapped it in paper, placed it in a bag, and my neighbor handed it directly to me. The only instruction for cooking this? Don’t. Make rice on the side, a dipping sauce of soy sauce and wasabi and call it a dinner. Perfect if you ask me! However, KH does the raw stuff only on raw occasions… and sadly this night would not be one of them. He balked and I told him to make himself some dinner. Mean, maybe. But I was surely going to eat the tuna. If only I could have eaten the whole thing. But who wants to eat a few pounds of raw tuna all by their lonesome? I ate what I could, while it was fresh, and hoped with all my might that my neighbor wouldn’t notice a bit of it in the trash a few days later. So sad. I guess I could have cooked it the next day, but I got lazy and never got around to it. I am pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog, but if she does… please don’t hate me for the lacking taste buds of my darling husband! I really do feel very bad about it.

My neighbor… she is just one good lady. The other day we awoke and opened our glass doors to take in the morning sun and air. While she hung out her morning laundry, she could hear and see Kimono Peanut and myself playing in the living room by the open door. I hadn’t seen her, so it was quite a surprise to hear someone say ‘ohayo gozaimasu!’ (good morning!) from the side of our house, by the open door. I relaxed as I realized who it was and then got even more excited over her reason for calling.

She was inviting us away again... this week, it is to the zoo we go!

Wednesday, October 14

No Boundaries

All sorts of people knock on our door every day. I can understand what about fifty percent of them want in my broken Japanese. KH tells me not to even bother answering the door since I can't understand half of them anyway. He prefers to turn the television and lights off and pretend he's not home. They do eventually go away. True. True. But where is the fun in that? It is much more fun to answer, if only to amuse myself for a few minutes. One of my favorite games starts with me saying 'I don't understand' and other bits in Japanese just to have them go into an extended conversation in Japanese, because they think if I can say that much, then surely I can understand more than I am letting on. I don't. But they don't know that. The second reason I like to answer the door is because I like all the bowing. It's great exercise! They bow to say hello and then bow to say thank you for your time even though you haven't understood a word the other has said. Then when you bow afterwards in thanks to their politeness, they bow again to thank you for your politeness... and you can see how this goes on and on for sometime. Saying goodbye to someone in Japan is just simply one of my favorite things to do here just because the repetitive bowing seriously amuses me.

I digress. So who creates all this foot traffic at the Kimono household? There's your common traveling vegetable vendor, not to be confused with the traveling fruit vendor. There's the Jehovah's Witnesses. There's the utilities people who knock just so they can ask if they can check your meter... which is on the outside of the house, so why bother to ask? There's often a person who will knock and ask if they can park in KH's empty parking spot. When your street is the size of an alley back home and the majority of the people who live on it have no parking spaces because they don't own a car (another 'why bother' with the amazing train networks in Japan), then that parking spot is highly coveted when you have someone that needs to do something on the street that will take more than a few minutes. Otherwise, they could do the usual Japanese thing and just park in the middle of the street, but that causes some hassles in these narrow neighborhoods. Overall, I get what these people want. But then there is the other fifty percent. Of which is where my point to all this drivel is.

Yesterday, my neighbor dropped by to see if some tests I had done recently had gone well. After she had left, another knock came only seconds later. I assumed is was my neighbor who might have forgotten something. Instead is was this little old lady, small in stature and wearing a pretty but quaint flowered dress and giant spectacles. She carried only a small bag with her so I couldn't begin to guess what she wanted. She only spoke Japanese and my language skills just couldn't fill in the blanks. So after our ongoing polite and confusing conversation, she began to say her goodbyes. It was at this time that Kimono Pipsqueak came tearing around the corner on all fours. The woman who had been standing outside of the door heard him so she popped her head in quickly. It took her only a second to see my smiling little devil baby. Before I knew what was happening, she had brushed me aside and was now inside of my house! She knelt at the step in our entryway where KP sat giggling away for a few seconds of stranger attention. It was only another second that she had now scooped my darling blue-eyed baby into her arms. Here is this strange lady... in my house... and grabbing a hold of my baby. Now in most cases, this situation would totally have me freaked out. But here was this little old lady, all alone, and I was pretty sure I could take her down if she tried to get past me and out of the door with my baby boy in her frail arms. I didn't really know how to respond to this, since no one who has ever knocked on our door crossed its threshold without explicit permission. Do I yank the baby from her arms and give her the boot? Or do I remain calm? Utter confusion about the situation led me to the latter. She gave him a few squeezes and kept telling me 'kawai', which is cute, and then she placed him back on the step she had plucked him from. As I put myself between her and the baby, she began her series of bows with mine in response. As she backed out of the door, I closed it as quickly, but politely, as I could. Another knock came only second later. The pamphlet she initially wanted to give me was in her hand. Printed on orange paper, all in Japanese. Only the date was I able to read. She thanked me for taking it and tried to explain what it was. Then she abruptly and seemingly gave up, turned around and was around the corner before I finished closing the door.

If she could move at that speed, maybe I should have been more concerned that she could have made off with KP. Thankfully, we will never know.

And we will never know what she wanted either. I trashed the pamphlet only minutes after she left. If I can't speak Japanese, then why would anyone begin to believe I could read it? I'll never understand.

Wednesday, October 7

Going Postal - A Comparison

The other week, I had two boxes to ship out. One to my stateside nephew for his birthday and one to a friend here in Japan for her soon-to-be-here baby boy. Now I rarely use the Japanese postal system for more than sending a handful of New Years or thank you cards, so I had no prior knowledge of how that shipment would go. I figured it would be expensive, possibly even close to 5,000 yen (about $56 American dollars at today’s in-the-toilet exchange rate), like everything else here in Japan.

I bought two identical boxes and packed everything into their respective box. At the US Military Post office on base, I shipped the first stateside. It cost $56 dollars and took about a week to get to its destination. At the Japanese post office, I filled out a lengthy form of which I barely understood and braced myself for the shipping amount due. 1,200 yen. That’s about $13 bucks. At first I thought I had done something wrong, but since no one spoke English at the post office, I just had to have hope that it was indeed going to the right place and arriving sometime before next year. I chanced the language barrier and went ahead and asked the woman in English, “When will it get there? Next week? Two weeks?” She took a minute to punch in some things on her computer and comes back with a hesitant, but what seemed clear enough, “Tomorrow.”

Then I knew I had done something wrong.

Because how in the world can a simple post office deliver as fast (if not better) than Fedex can back home?

Turns out that a simple post office can indeed knock yours socks off in Japan. I emailed my friend to be on the lookout for the package over the next few days and, lo and behold, she said it arrived by 10:00 am the next morning. I had only been to the post office around 2:00 pm the prior day.

Gotta love these ultra-efficient Japanese.

Thursday, October 1

I Eat, Therefore I Am

Oh, man… has it been that long? I’ll tell you… I don’t know how mommy bloggers actually blog about their lives and still live those lives. Not that I am a mommy blogger, but a blogger who happens to be a mommy and just doesn’t see where to fit it in.

Our Kimono Peanut is nearing the year mark and is busier than ever! When awake, he is resolved to his daily search and destroy mission in between my attempts to entertain and educate him. When he sleeps, I run around trying to clean up the wake of his path. Also to be tended to, there are the mounting dishes (in a house that doesn’t have a dishwasher besides my own two cracked, little hands), the ever escalating laundry pile (in a house that has a godforsaken itty-bitty Japanese washer and dryer which takes at least five hours to do one load), and dinner preparation (in a house where someone is either wrapping himself around my legs as I try to chop and dice or attempting his first successful mounting to the top of stove). Seriously. Where do mommy bloggers find the time?

Don’t get me wrong! I love every single minute of it!

I used to love the challenges that awaited me at the office every day. I loved creating the spreadsheets that would determine and hopefully resolve each problem that arose. I loved the phone calls to clients and vendors. I loved coming up with new ideas or solutions or even just resorting to the tried and true resolution.

Now I look forward to the first sounds that come from the crib every day. The chatting to himself and friends. I believe there may be even ghosts of family passed he spends time with. I love sliding the door open and surprising him and getting hugs and smiles in return. I love spending all of my time with him, whether it’s quiet time at home or out and about. And that husband… he’s pretty darn awesome too. I love taking care of my family! I love knowing that whatever they need or wish for, I have it covered.

So why would I want to take a single moment away from that to write about it? I know, I know… everyone tells me that I should journalize this time of my life… whether it is Peanut time or Japan time I am writing about, I should just get it into words. I stick by my original words that I don’t intend to become a mommy blogger, so I keep the Peanut notes in a handy, dandy calendar of his first year which is much easier to write in since you don’t even have to write full sentences. And when I have the time, I write about Japan.

Now after all this digression, I shall move on to the topic of today. One of my favorites – FOOD! I just want to document our favorites so years later, I don’t forget where we spent so much of our time… and money.

When KH and I first moved to Japan, we thought the food was basically fish, sushi, sashimi and a little more fish on the side. We were so pleasantly surprised! One of our favorite things to do is still head out to our favorite restaurants as often as possible. So today, I want to talk about a few of the ones we frequent. Let me preface this by saying that I might not be able to use the name of the restaurant and may call it by describing the building or the food. I still haven’t learned to read kanji and I honestly never intended to.

First we have the Chinese place down the road. Well, we think it is Chinese, but it seems an awful lot like Japanese to us. I actually have learned the name of this place several times and have forgotten it each and every time I walk out the door. We go there at least once a week and the owners, a husband and wife team and a sister-in-law, may not yell out ‘NORM’ as we enter, but they certainly know who we are. On the menu: tonkatsu (breaded pork), ramen, gyoza, stir-fries, tempura, gingered pork and so much more. We’ve been going there for over three years now and they never fail to give us something extra special. Sometimes it’s an upgrade from the regular soup you get in a set to a special ramen. Sometimes it’s a special pickled vegetable. When I was pregnant, they always brought me more food than normal and when we first took the baby, they sent us home with a fruit basket as a gift. None of them speak English and my Japanese only goes as far as food, money and a few other conversational pieces, but that never stops this family from treating us warmly. They chat with the baby and squeeze his hands and cheeks and now that he is eating table food, they are trying to share all new things with him too. Fortunately, he is quite fond of the taste of Japanese foods… and well pretty much all food, if we are being open here. He gets it honestly!

Then also here in Zushi is our favorite soba place, which we call the wheel place because it has a big mill wheels spinning out front. Inside, you can choose traditional Japanese eating or Western table seating, but the floor tables are perfect for a wee peanut. On the menu: many, many kinds of soba (Japanese buckwheat noodle) served both hot and cold, tempura, and this appetizer that KP likes. It’s basically these gooey balls of soba-like matter in a clear broth. The kid digs these and can keep him busy chewing (and out of trouble) for the length of a good meal.

Last week, a friend asked us when the last time was that we went out for dinner without KP. Finding a babysitter is really not so simple here in Japan for obvious reasons and made especially hard with a husband who refuses to allow anyone that he has not done a background check on watch the baby. So the last time… was back in July when we were stateside and went to our friends wedding, staying overnight in a hotel while my parents watched him. She jumped at the chance to kick us out of our own house while she stayed with him so we could have a grown-up meal. We actually started out for our old favorite, Matchpoint curry restaurant and bar, but when cutting across a side street, we happened on a restaurant we have often talked of trying. El Barco, is a tapas restaurant on a second floor directly above a Japanese restaurant (of which we haven’t even begun to figure out what they serve). It’s been years since we had tapas, so we bagged our original plan and hiked up to the second floor. The menus were in Spanish and Japanese, but thankfully I can speak and read the first language. We started with some glasses of sangria, strong but potent, and then went to town ordering everything from squid to paella! It definitely did not have the ‘kick’ of some tapas places in the states (the Japanese aren’t big on spice), but it was heavenly nonetheless. Fresh, garlic-y, aromatic, and just truly delicious! We left a few hours later, stuffed and buzzing, just the way a good meal should end. As soon as our friends drops by again, we’re leaving her behind with KP and we’re off again!

If you are up for Indian and don’t feel like going the whole way to Roppongi for some of the best at Moti’s, then we highly recommend Appughar. Located along the beach and with a view of Fuji-san (well… when it cooperates anyway), we pulled together several new-in-town friends for a night out of tandoor-grill, curry, naan, chapati, puri, paratha, and basmati rice. This place never disappoints, although I somehow think I ordered mine at the hot-hot level. My gums hurt for two days. But it was worth it. We actually have a ‘frequent flier’ card from here and with only one more meal, will receive a nice sized coupon.

And then there is our favorite shabu, shabu place in Kamakura, Kura-Syabu-Tei. We first went to this place with a group of friends when KP was only a few months old. One friend reads and speaks Japanese so she was able to easily order off of the totally Japanese menu. Now we can’t do the same, but we know enough about the place and what they offer that we can struggle through with placing an order. Shabu-shabu is basically meat and vegetables cooked at your table by yourself in a flavorful broth. Kura-Syabu-Tei has the best broths I have ever tasted! We always go for the hot pepper and coconut based sauces. We may not be able to specify meats perfectly, and may end up with tongue or other random meat parts, but they all taste just as good when cooked in the broth and then dipped in either the soy or peanut-based sauces. At the end of the meal, we are always left with a surprise that the total wasn’t half as expensive as we expected… surprising when you have no idea what the hell you ordered off the menu. KP is always a hit here too. People will stop by to chat him up and someone always comes with a basket of toys for him to choose from and take home. He isn’t very fastidious in his choosing, so I try to pick out the most appropriate and put it on the top for him to easily grab. He generally more interested in chewing on the plastic bag than what is inside at this point anyway. But that is fast changing!

Now this may not be a frequent stop – actually it was a first for me – but while shopping with friends at Grandberry Mall last week, we did finally try Vietnam Alice for lunch. One the menu: lots of noodle soups. I didn’t really take the opportunity to study the menu, but the lunch specials were wonderful! I added a steamed spring roll to my spicy noodle dish and a glass of mango juice. The combination was enough to make me want to go back soon! Well... I guess I should admit that there also happens to be a Cold Stone Creamery at this mall that I just couldn't resist. An authentic taste from home is not to be passed by!

In the market for the best burger you can find in Japan? Head down to the truly gorgeous area of the Zushi Marina and stop at their snack shop. This burger seriously cannot be beat by any of the Japanese burger chains like Freshness Burger or Mos Burger for either cost or taste. They even had sliced fresh potatoes to make their fries, skin on... just the way I like 'em!

While we do have the navy base nearby which gives up some options for American food, sometimes you just want something else. This is exactly why we took the train to Yokohama to hit Hard Rock CafĂ©. Pulled pork sandwiches, nachos, fries and a pink lemonade. Man, do I miss those really unhealthy meals. We’re heading to Tokyo for a few days coming up and I may just have to make a trip to the one there too.

So as I said… I eat, therefore I am. Still on the planet that is. Still in Japan. Still enjoying it.

Monday, August 17

The Bullets of our Summer

It has been the perfect summer so far. Busy… but not too busy. Hot… but not too hot. In honor of this perfect summer, I have been very lax about updating. The funny thing is that, for once, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about that.

There’s been a lot going on. Much of it was actually quite noteworthy and deserves more attention than I plan on giving it now. It’s a gorgeous day out. The baby is taking his afternoon nap. In the essence of continuing to enjoy my summer, this will be an update strictly by bullet point.

  • We spent the early weeks of the summer traveling back to the states. First Massachusetts to visit Kimono Hubby’s family and friends and then on Pennsylvania to visit mine. We spent roughly a month stateside, the longest we have been able to experience American normalcy in over three years now, and it still seemed like the usual one week trip. It just goes too fast. In MA, there was both the fun stuff: met our niece, went to her baptism, hung out with friends at old favorite restaurants, shopped (oh God, how I shopped.), visited Quincy Market and the North End with our friends Lisa and Kyle whom we met in Japan but had since moved to Germany, saw normal Fourth of July fireworks on the New England coastline, visited the Children’s Museum in Providence. Then the not so fun stuff: dentist appointments for KH and myself (it had been more years than I care to reveal) and an appointment for a missing immunization for KP at the Naval Clinic in Newport.

  • On to Pennsylvania, where the fun stuff began immediately with one of my very best friend’s wedding. The rehearsal dinner was at a local pub, brunch at the kind of diner I miss so much, the wedding at an old mill where the bride had chosen one of the most flattering bridesmaid’s dresses I have ever worn. (And I’ve been in nine weddings, ten if you count my own, so I have a good handle on bridesmaid fashion.) More fun stuff: a party where all of our closest friends came from miles around to converge on my parent’s house, more shopping (seriously… oh God, the shopping), more favorite locales visited with friends and family, and a long weekend trip with my immediate family to Ocean City, Maryland. We all used to go every year, but for obvious reasons it has been again over three years since we last made a trip. Three extra grandkids have been added to the mix since our last trip. Somehow we still managed to go to our past favorites like Brass Balls Salon, Mug and Mallet for crabs and beer and Seacrets for de Pain in de Ass. Not to mention, it was my baby’s first time in the Atlantic. He ate plenty of sand, washed down with loads of sea water. It’s really hard to teach a baby not to eat the freaking sand. Who knew? We also had some not so fun stuff there too: a vet appointment for our other baby, Bruiser, who seems to be living high on the hill. He’s gained a few pounds in my parent’s care and was even more fun than usual to drug and take to the veterinarians. Yes, you have to drug him or there would be another bloody, wet, furry scene like at his last appointment. No, I am not exaggerating. I can’t even go back to that vet out of absolute embarrassment. Sadly, my parent’s cockatiel Janice Joplin had gotten sick right before we came so we had to find a special bird vet and spent many hours driving there and back nursing her back to health. Sadly, JJ ended up passing away a few weeks after we returned home. But despite sick animals and our own medical quirks, everything was just too perfect and ended all too quickly.

  • Since we returned home, there is the fun but boring stuff that I wouldn’t bother writing about… lunches with friends and a pool date. Of which, there will be only one because with only two hours at the pool and most of it under an umbrella and wearing sunscreen, I still ended up getting sun poisoning complete with nausea and fever and itching that has been left ever since. Stupid sun. We now are content to wait for the afternoon, when the sun hits the other side of our house, where KP is content to spend forever playing in the baby pool and I can sit there with my feet cooling at the same time.

  • Then there was the big news (literally) for KH. While I am not at liberty to talk about his work on this forum, he was asked to be interviewed by Fox for a show called Backstage Pass. It’s the Entertainment Tonight of Japan. My dear husband is no stranger to the Japanese media, but this was quite an honor. It was a full day even that began early on the morning of Friendship Day on Yokosuka Base. On this day, the Navy opens up the gates to the Japanese public to visit designated ships and to enjoy many entertainment festivities and American food. They go wild for the pizza and it ain’t even the good kind. KP and I got up early to watch the man of the house in action. We had no idea how big the interview was going to be until the film crew and the hosts arrived. The Japanese certainly knew who these two gorgeous women were though. They flocked to be around them! KP and I only left because we had late lunch plans with some friends, who were in town for the week, followed directly by dinner and drink plans with other friends. The whole crew was just so wonderful and friendly. We were told repeatedly that we would be hooked up from here on out with invitations to the big movie premiers in Tokyo. Can’t wait! Most importantly… it just never ceases to amaze me how awesome my husband is not only at home, but at work where he is truly valued, appreciated and respected.

  • I also got to see my first retirement ceremony for a naval officer. One of my dear friends in Ikebana International has been enjoying their second tour in Japan and had come upon that revered day of his career when he gets to say his official farewells. His speech, the CO of the base’s speech, the passing and honoring of the flag, the Colors… all of it brought me to tears. This is the kind of event that KH gets to go to often, but I would never have had the opportunity without having become friends with this amazing woman. I’m so happy for both and them and so proud of their serve and sacrifice for our great country.

  • In the midst of all of this, I turned another year older and closer to dead. While I can’t seem to get KH to honor the whole concept of a “birthday week,” he and some Japanese friends made sure it was a perfect weekend. For Saturday, my friends took me to a bakery style restaurant where we feasted on multiple courses, made even more special by the next-to-last course of Kobe beef. They treated me to a unique Ikebana artful container made of wood and pottery, of which I can’t even begin to tell them how much I will truly treasure. For Sunday, I spent the day hanging out with my boys at home, made complete with gifts of an uncut peridot necklace from KP, a wooden and glass Japanese candle container from KH, and a divine strawberry and white cream Japanese cake. I was willing to make dinner, but at KH’s insistence, we ended up at my favorite Thai Erawan in Yokosuka where I ordered way too many dishes, but it didn’t stop either of us from near licking those plates clean.

  • Then there was the Bon Dance Festival at the Shinmei Shrine here in Zushi. We walked over, hiked the steps to the shrine where a ring of Japanese and even a few American dancers in kimono circled a high stage crowned with a man playing Japanese drums. We would later meet the first player, a grandfather who proudly told us that the next drummer up was his own grandson. We left the festival gifted with bags of snacks and more good (continuing really) impressions of our Japanese hosts. My only sadness on this night was that I had left the camera on the table at home and didn’t get a single picture of this hot summer night scene.

  • We do not live on base, but we are obviously associated with the Yokosuka Naval Base. Typically, my only visits there are when I need American goods from the Commissary or Navy Exchange, but on one particular night, the base didn’t something I haven’t seen in all my time here… they got one fantastic and currently relevant bands to come and put on a completely free concert for the sailors and their families. The All-American Rejects put on one fantastic show! I’m not sure that they knew what they were in for, however. Many people brought their young kids, making the scene way more family than fan-based. References to drinking and partying, along with the numerous swear words that flew from their mouths, was not entirely appreciated by all of the audience. I tend to be of the thought though that the parents should have known better and not that the rock stars should be something other than who they are. I believe that events like these are essentially for the sailors, and not as focused on their dependents. Unfortunately, most of the big ships happened to be out to sea and missed the concert. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to hear GOOD, live music again and get a little taste of stateside normalcy that is so often craved. I personally thought their comments were stinking hilarious.

  • The beach bars are back up and obviously have been for some time now. Last night, we waited for the late afternoon sun to come out before making our way down. It turned out to be yet another perfect night in a long summer of perfect nights. We dined on curry and ramen, washed down with chu-hi, while the sun filled the sky with the fiery colors of evening. In the distance, Mount Fuji made a glorious appearance for a full beach of revelers.

I felt like Fuji-san came out just to show us how quickly the summer was fading away from us. While the heat will remain here much longer than it would back home, the Japanese live by the calendar and not the outside temperature. Soon they will be again wrapping themselves in scarves, coats and hats. This is probably my last summer here in Japan. There is just so much to say about that. But for now, I’m going to get back to enjoying the day, leaving these many mixed feelings whirling in my heart for another day.