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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.