Saturday, December 20, 2008

5pm on Friday in Tokyo

In Tokyo, timing is everything. You could run your watch by the trains; contractors and deliverymen give you a time that they will arrive and they actually do it.  Every single day at 5pm across the city, chimes play to let everyone know that it's, well, 5pm.  

Yesterday I was walking home from Roppongi Hills after getting my haircut and I noted a group of Japanese people waiting on a walking bridge that goes over the main slope.  Roppongi Hills is a new-ish area of town (circa 2003) and has upscale shops like Kate Spade, Tiffany's, Isaac Mizrahi and upscale restaurants like Il Mulino, Joel Rubecheon, and the like.  They have an outdoor arena that hosts concerts and festivals year-round.

I noted the time: 4:57pm.  

Taking my place with the small crowd, I looked over the side of the bridge down the slope.  Three minutes later, at precisely 5pm, the chimes started their ringing and at the same moment, the entire street below became ablaze and alive with blue and white lights sending a collective "ooooh" up from the people.  The chimes faded seconds later with the the last of the expressions from the people.

I waited a moment, savoring the beauty of the lights and the excitement of the people.  What they take for granted is not only the timing, but the magic of the city itself.  I have not been to another city that is as busy yet still as quiet as Tokyo. The city and its people are clean and kind. It is a miracle in modern society and it is the ambiance of the city that I love so much. 

As they all dispersed, on to homes or dinners or wherever, I  stopped into the wine shop that is at the end of the bridge and bought a half-bottle of champagne to share with Marc.  It seemed like something to celebrate.

Happiest of Holidays to you all - and may 2009 bring you peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bailey and Sydney's violin concert

Bailey and Sydney played in a violin concert last weekend.  Enjoy the photos!! 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Japan Times Headline on sex

I kid you not: here's the blurb from the front page of the _Japan Times_ for Saturday, November 22, 2008
All work, no play
The Japan Business Federation is worried the nation's workers aren't having enough sex and wants it member firms to start so-called family weeks to reverse a declining birthrate.

The article on page 8 of the newspaper, the business section, discusses how the 1632 member-firms of the organization are urging employees to leave by 7pm and get special permission before working on the weekend, all aimed at placing value on families instead of the traditional high value placed on hard work.  They believe that the average employee works so hard during the week that he has no time or energy to have sex and therefore procreate. In 2007, the birthrate in Japan stood at 1.24.  The article goes on to mention that many so-called "salary-men" or white collar workers, used some of the extra time off to arrange extra expeditions to favorite bars they frequent, but others are showing up early at home causing children ask fathers if they are ill.  There is a word in Japanese "karoshi" which literally means death from overwork.  It's an all-too common term.

But hey, I'm all for extra time for more sex!  Go Japan!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Last week the kids had an autumn break from school and my friend Kerrin invited the kids and me to go with her to her beach house in Shimoda, on the Izu Penninsula, about three hours south of Tokyo.  Shimoda is the official landing spot of the American Admiral Perry who in 1853 landed in his big black ships and demanded that Japan open its doors, which had been closed for over 250 years since the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate, to trade with the west. His arrival brought down the Shogun dynasty and made way for the Meiji Restoration and the re-seating of the emperor.

Marc decided to join us for the weekend, as did Kerrin's husband Steven.  In addition, another family from the kids' school was down there, so all three families had a wonderful time riding horses, going swimming in the Pacific Ocean (yes on November 1 - it was warm!) and just relaxing and enjoying each other's company.  On Friday night we all went into a local onsen, the Japanese hot spring bath.  This is my millionth time going, but the first time that I dared to bring a camera.  On Saturday night all three families had a bar-b-que.  Kerrin is South African and her husband is a Brit. In the other family, the Coppetiers, Adrienne is Austrian and Fredereic is Belgian.  There are some things that transcend culture, though, and one of them is roasting marshmallows.  Everyone knows how to do that!  On Sunday we were able to walk through the town a bit.  Enjoy the photos!  

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Special lunch with Bailey

Today Bailey and Marc went into his office to watch the Penn State vs. University of Wisconsin football game - on the brand-new 50-inch flatscreen into which Marc plugged his laptop loaded with the slingbox. One of the partners in the office is a Wisconsin grad, and obviously Marc is a Penn Stater, so they decided to watch together. An 8pm Saturday night game in Madison Wisconsin means 9am Sunday morning here in Tokyo! Afterward, Marc took Bailey to lunch. Later, I asked Bailey about it. "Mom!" Bailey practically shouted, "Dad took me to Burger King - the only one in Tokyo!" "What did you eat?" I asked, hoping to live a little vicariously through his onion-ring experience. "Dad let me have a junior WOO-PER!" Yes you read that right. Bailey had no idea it was called a Whopper; he called it a WOO-PER. It might have taken me ten minutes to stop laughing. Oh the things our children miss by living overseas....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who could resist one last photo op...

I was lucky enough to get to spend 10 days in September with my cousins Jenn and Dave and their newborn baby, Erin and their 3-year-old daughter Ella.  The flight to Virginia was worth it for these special babies! And a very very special sister/cousin...

Soccer (football??)

So the main reason we rented a car is to go to the Highland Festival in Makuhari on Sunday.  We could have taken a train, but the car was so much simpler in this case. Run by The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) it celebrates Scottish heritage.  One of the main features is a 7-a-side "football" (soccer to most of us...) tournament.  Anyone who wants to can put together a team.  One of our friends took it upon himself to do it.  They called themselves the "Azabu United" and recruited guys from our community.  Marc was one of the younger players.  What does that tell you?  Check out the team photo though - at the last second our French friends Denis and Pravya recruited three young Frenchmen who are studying abroad here in Tokyo.  That brought the average age of the players waaaay down!  Most of the men brought their families too, so the rest of us made up the cheering squad.  

The coolest part of the whole thing was the international flavor of the team - French, British, Singaporean, Finnish and American.  

The team did well - they won one game and lost two. Perhaps I'm prejudiced, but I think Marc was one of the best players on the field - and one of the most experienced.  But most importantly everyone had fun, and EVERYONE walked off the field under their own steam - they might have been tired, but there weren't any injuries.  Good news!

The festival itself was fun, too.  Bailey mostly watched his dad play soccer, but Sydney played some games and ate fish and chips for lunch.  None of us ate the Hagus.  What is that, anyway?  Check out the photos of the Japanese people in kilts doing the highland dancing.  Pretty wild!

There's no way to express how grateful we are for the life we are living.  Every day seems to bring something new or different.  And sometimes the day brings something familiar - like a soccer game - but gives it a whole different flavor.


This past weekend we rented a car.  I have a feeling that a car purchase is in our future, but that is another story.  Right now it's fun to rent one when we want it.  The weather was just stellar on Saturday - sunny and 75 degrees so we decided to take a drive to the Yokohama waterfront.  Technically, Yokohama is the largest port in Asia and the place where Admiral Perry landed and demanded that Japan open its doors to trade with the West.  Because of the old-meets-new atmosphere, it seems that ancient temples are directly juxtaposed with modern buildings wherever you look.  We had been to Chinatown here, but that was it.

We decided to visit the harbor and had the luck of catching a yacht show.  We had the opportunity to walk along the docks and board a number of the boats to look around.  Some of the yachts were simply stunning - three bedrooms, large deck, modern kitchen etc.  Bailey and Sydney wondered if we could just live on one and take it to visit wherever we wanted to go.  I reminded them that if we had this type of boat, we couldn't afford a house.  I'm not sure I convinced them.

The funniest part of the day was Bailey and the rock climbing wall.  We bought the ticket for him to take a try and he got all suited up in the harness and proper shoes.  As he climbed higher, we realized that people were gathering around to watch the little Western boy work.  Bailey climbed his heart out.  There was a huge bump in the middle of the wall to scale and he just couldn't get all the way over it.  He did the best he could and then felt finished.  He pushed away from the wall and started to rappel his way down.  All of a sudden applause burst out from the crowd.  I swear at least 50 people were clapping for him.  I think it made his millennium.  But that's why you see the photo of Bailey climbing the wall and with him off center in the photo - I wanted to show you the funny crowd loving the blondie.

The marina had an outlet mall attached with a few Western stores so we got to shop a little too.  All in all a fun day out!  This car thing could get addicting....

Tokyo at last...

Things here have been pretty hectic with the start of school, my trip to the U.S. to be with my cousin Jenn and her family and then the Jewish holidays.  Here's a quick pic of the kids in Ginza, one of our favorite areas to visit.  Great shopping - great food!  They block off the streets on Saturday afternoons to make shopping more convenient - the kids thought that was great fun. 

While we were there we noticed that a new clothing shop out of England, DHC, was opening.  I am not kidding you here: the queue to get into the store - yes just to get IN - was out the door and around the corner - a two hour wait.  A two-hour wait to get into the shop.  But if you got in,  you could say that you visited it on its first day open.  That cache only lasts the weekend, you know.   Only in Tokyo yet again...


Saturday, September 6, 2008

After a loooooong summer....

On the way to taking the kids to school we pass a large construction site every morning. In Tokyo, they always surround construction sites with large, white, temporary walls. The panels sort of resemble pocket doors and there is always a large opening in the wall through which staff and trucks can enter the site. The opening section always has its own real pocket-door, closable section to it. Often, one of the panels of the white wall is clear glass, allowing passers-by to see into the site and what's happening with the progression of the building.

The site we pass each day is just humongous - we cannot fathom what is being built. But we do know that the glass panel, as of Wednesday morning, the third morning of school, contained a window-box full of flowers. The windowbox was inside the glass and placed low so as not to interfere with a view of the site itself. The flowers are a jaunty mix of autumn asters and mums.

Only in Japan would there be flowers at the construction site. What a sense of renewal. It seems apropos.

Thank you to everyone who helped us make our summer spectacular, whether in person, by email or by telephone, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The photo here is from the start of the summer - the morning of our neice Alyssa's bat mitzvah. It was wonderful and joyous and the perfect start to a very long and merry summer of fun and visits.

More on that later; now I need to concentrate on being back in Tokyo - on being HOME.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Department Store Heaven

I forgot about the department stores here in Japan! The other day I had to go to buy a watch for Sydney for her birthday and I wanted a specific Swatch watch. The best place to get a Swatch is at the Mitsukoshi Department store in an area of Tokyo called Ebisu. I took the train to Ebisu on Wednesday morning after having coffee with my friends Amanda and Michelle. Nothing of consequence opens in Tokyo before 11am, so morning coffee was essential before doing errands.

I arrived in Ebisu about 10 minutes before 11 and sat on a bench in the sunshine. (We have had the worst spring weather-wise! It has been very rainy and quite chilly. I relished those few minutes of brightness with my face lifted to the sky, eyes closed.) At about a minute before 11am I stood up and walked closer to the door of the department store. There were a few people milling about with me, studying the window displays which were elegantly done with the latest styles of clothes, shoes, and handbags. At precisely the appointed time, a man from the inside walked toward the glass door and with a flourish of the keys, unlocked the doors. He stepped outside and, holding the door, shouted, “irrashaemaseh!” This translates to “welcome, please come in and spend money!” The people filed in the door and along the main walkway of the store, there were salespeople positioned every few feet, all of them bowing and saying “irrashaemaseh” as the people passed. After about five minutes of this greeting, the employees went about their business.

In Japan, every customer deserves a proper greeting and welcome into the shopping experience. It is part of the national ethos to revere the customer.
Downstairs in the Swatch area, the salesperson hovered quietly while I surveyed the merchandise. When I was ready, he showed me several selections, letting me turn them over and over in my hand while I decided. I finally chose a multicolor watch with a second-hand to make it easy for Sydney to learn to tell time. He rang up my purchase quickly, asking if I wanted a gift box. He was a bit confused with I said that I would wrap it myself – I wanted to show it to Marc before wrapping – but he complied and put the purchase in a lovely shopping back which he taped shut securely before handing over to me.

It was such a quiet and civilized experience. If all shopping was done this way then the world would be a much happier place.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's summer!

After an impossibly cold winter and rainy spring, it's all of a sudden showing signs of summer in Tokyo. It's hard to believe that in three weeks we will be back in the States for ten long weeks (email me for the schedule; it's too hard to explain!)

This past weekend, the kids put on their school play. It was quite a professional job with one parent who is an artist designing the sets. Another parent is a clothing designer and designed the costumes, while another is a movie director, so we will get a professionally done dvd of the show. The show was the musical "Shaharazade: 1001 Arabian Nights" and the kids did a wonderful job. There was not a missed cue or line in the mix. The elementary kids from grades 1 through 6 worked on it - Sydney was too young this year. Bailey had a small but pivotal role as the shopkeeper. He kind of brought everyone back to reality after the tales and he had the final lines of the play. He was calm and collected and did a wondeful job!

What I love most about Bailey is his diversity. He was just as excited about the soccer tournament last Wednesday and his violin concert next week. He's done so many wonderful things this year and learned so much. His Japanese reading and writing are coming along nicely as is his spoken ability.

But mostly I credit his teacher, Sainoor with giving him one specific gift that I hope lasts a lifetime: the ability to calm himself. Sainoor really has Bailey's number. She can see him out of the corner of her eye and if he is bouncing around, all she has to say is "Bailey take a deep breath." I have watched this happen. Immediately after she says it, he breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth and relaxes his shoulders. He emerges visibly calmer and can focus on the task at hand.

This came home to roost during the play. My friend, a Finnish woman named Riikka, came to find me before the show. She had been in charge of makeup. I had told her the story of the deep breath and it had impressed her. She told me that Bailey was like a jack-in-the-box before the show. She told him to take a deep breath and then he was able to sit down, sit still,and get his makeup applied. I was so pleased for Bailey that he has a tool like that to rely on in times of stress. I will encourage him to keep it up.

A few days ago we found out that Sainoor will be moving to upper elementary class (the Montessori school is organized in three year blocs so that there are mixed-age classrooms - ages 3-6, 6-9, 9-12) and since Bailey is moving up also, she will continue to be his teacher. Though we are sorry that Sydney will not have her as a teacher (Syd is also moving up to a lower elementary class for the fall) we are so pleased that Bailey will continue to have her influence. Sainoor has some challenges - she is the tough teacher at school and some of the kids are afraid of her (as are a few parents!) but she has done wonders for our child, and Bailey respects her and her methods. He works to please her, which pleases Marc and me, too.

It's been a wonderful school year. We have loved our first school year here, and look forward to seeing you Stateside all summer!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cruise from Hong Kong to Taiwan!

The flight to Hong Kong was merely the tip of the iceberg for a trip that had fun from all angles – kids, adults, rest and sightseeing.

For spring break this year, we decided to take a cruise. I found one that was family-friendly and also good for adults – a Royal Caribbean Cruise. We flew to Hong Kong on Saturday night and spent Sunday morning wandering around Kowloon, the area of Hong Kong across the Harbor from the center of the city. Hong Kong is a pretty typical Asian city except that everyone speaks English. It’s clean, steeped in Chinese tradition, and a slave to modern luxuries. They skyline waves across the atmosphere in a rush of interestingly-shaped buildings.
We were on the ship by about 2pm. Interestingly, they had to keep our passports for customs’ issues and we had to fill out all of the immigration forms for Taiwan ahead of time. Before boarding, we met our friends Kerri and Jeff Dube and their four kids so we could get on together. It was so fun to travel as a group – the kids really enjoyed each other and no one was lonely.

The first thing Bailey was dying to do was try the rock climbing wall, so we did that as the ship weighed anchor. He got to the top over and over again over the next four days. He’s a great athlete. But it was cool to see the skyline of Hong Kong recede from the back of the ship where the wall was located.

The next day and a half was a whirlwind of on-board activities. The kids loved the kids’ club – there was something fun to do for all age groups, so the adults could also enjoy their time. The best part was playing bingo with Kerri – she won the grand prize – and upgrade to the second largest suite on the ship. She is so lucky!

The food was great – we had a fantastic waiter at dinner each night who brought us a ton of things to try as well as everything we actually ordered. My kids ate things like steak, salmon, escargot and a lot of fruit salad. For breakfast and lunch we generally hit the buffet – there was every possible food imaginable – from tuna sandwiches to carved roast beef. There was smoked salmon and bagels for breakfast – boy have we missed that!
On Tuesday morning we docked in the port nearest to Taipei and took a 45 minute bus-ride into the city. Once there we went to the top of the world’s tallest building – Taipei 101. The view was mesmerizing. We could see the entire city! We even got to see the wind dormer – the ball that moves so that the building stays stable in the wind. For lunch we ate in a typical Chinese restaurant. It was delicious! The sauces on the shrimp were savory and the dumplings were larger and more loosely put together than dumplings we’re used to. The fillings for the dumplings were more rice-based than protein based, too.

After lunch we went to the Palace Museum, the best place to see all of the treasures of China. When Chiang Kai Sheck fled Mainland China, he took all of the treasures and art with him. This is his collection. We looked through some of the rooms of the ancient art and then took a stroll through the garden and fed the koi. See the photos! The city itself is nothing to write home about. Having lived in Tokyo for so long already, we have trouble with other Asian Cities. Taipei is dirty and disorganized. The people are nice enough, but they are not overly polite and they stare at foreigners. The museum was just outside the center of the city in what seemed like an oasis of green. Even that was incredibly crowded.

The next day, the port of call was Kaolung, Taiwan, the second biggest port city in the country. We went to the jade market and out for lunch – and then back to the ship – it was a very short port call. The jade market was interesting; we got to hold all of the jade, learn about qualities of jade and then bargain for the items we wanted. It was fun. But this city, too, was dirty and disorganized. The center of the city was nicer than the area of the market, but it was still not great. In the streets, women near restaurants crouched low on the pavement with bowls of soapy water to wash the dishes and utensils used inside. It was very old world juxtaposed with new world.

The funniest part of the second day was that we didn’t take the kids with us into the city. They really wanted to stay on the ship and play in the kids’ club, so we let them. They were happy and we were happy. In addition, they wanted to go to the evening party that night so we let them do that too, and the adults were able to have a drink or whatever until it was time to pick up the children. It was a lovely way to end the cruise.

Back in the port of Hong Kong, we disembarked as quickly as possible and then had dim sum lunch with our friends Samantha and Jonathan Kriegel and their two daughters. We know them from the years we lived in Tokyo before and it was just wonderful to see them. Dim sum is basically a meal comprised of Chinese dumplings. We have had it a number of times in the States and in Japan. There is a lot of pork and shrimp and rice noodles involved. You don’t order off the menu but women with carts of hot food come around to each table and the diners can inspect the food before choosing which dishes they want directly off the tray. It was a fun way to eat.

Hong Kong has this great feature called “in-town check-in.” We were able to go to the in-town airport station and check our bags for our afternoon flight, then go to lunch, and then go out to the airport holding only our carry-ons. Our baggage met us in Tokyo! It was remarkably easy. I wish Tokyo did that – or New York City!!

We had a great trip. I would take a cruise again in a second – it was good for all of us. I hope it’s the first of many trips around Asia over the next five years!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Here are a few pictures of the beautiful cherry trees in Shinjuku Gyoen (park). The custom is to sit under the trees as the blossoms come out and eat and drink and well, watch the trees. Very relaxing. Enjoy!


After a boring month of regular "life" stuff, I have to share my latest accomplishment.  I rode my bicycle through the city to the new Tokyo American Club (TAC).  (In case I forgot to mention, the TAC razed their building to the ground in January and is rebuilding from scratch - they are in temporary quarters in Takanawa for two years. The new spot is not within walking distance like the old one was.)

Anyway, my friend Amanda-Jane convinced me to try riding there.  I cannot believe I did it. I have been quite scared of riding the city streets.  I only had one near-miss with a child, and otherwise did quite fine.  If I can do this, I can do anything!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Weinsteins Ski!

This week the kids had Thursday and Friday off from school, so we decided to take a trip up to Nagano, about 4 hours north and west of Tokyo.  We rented a car on Wednesday and off we went! The Hakuba area of Nagano is stunning - adorable and everything a ski-village should be.  There were chalets next to the mountain, good apres-ski pubs, excellent hotels, and Japanese onsen (hot springs) all in a contained area near the mountain.  You might remember that this is the area that hosted the 1998 winter olympics - and in fact, was hosting a world-cup event for disabled skiers while we were there.  
Marc has been skiing since he was about 10 years old, so he enjoyed the experience from start to finish.  He said the snow was excellent and the mountain trails were terrific.  I, on the other hand, have just had my fourth skiing experience, so all I can say is that the beginner trails were nice and smooth!  I don't love it, really, but it is such a fantastic experience and a new way in which to use my body, so I forsee a few ski trips per winter for a while.
The best part of the trip was the kids, though.  Bailey took about 15 minutes to get his "ski-legs" back on after a few years, but he took off in a flash.  The instructors at the ski-school at which we had the kids enrolled nicknamed him speed-demon.  He and Marc spent Friday afternoon skiing together and Bailey kept up with him perfectly.  Sydney was the biggest surprise! She took a lesson Thursday morning and went to daycare on Thursday afternoon because I did not want her to get over-done or overtired.  Then she took lessons all day Friday.  By Friday afternoon she was going up the chair-lift and skiing right down the mountain! In fact, on Sat. afternoon, she and Marc got to ski together - and she really was proud of herself.  She did excellently and we were so proud OF her!
We stayed in a place called the Morino Lodge, run by a Canadian and a Scotsman who are total ski bums and they own the lodge to indulge their habits - skiing every day!  Craig and Matt were both relaxed and happy people who genuinely want their guests to have a good time.  They did everything they could to ensure it.  We were staying in one of their tatami rooms so our "beds" were futon on the floor, but the room was quite spacious and clean.  Breakfast every morning was nothing flash, but very filling coffee, toast, cereal and fruit.
The weather was absolutely perfect.  Both days were "bluebirds" - perfectly blue skies and just about at the freezing level.  The sun was so bright we had to wear our goggles to see properly from the glare off the snow.  Saturday was snowy - almost too snowy to ski, but we all did a bit of it anyway.  We came home Saturday afternoon after lunch.
After each day of skiing we went to a local onsen and relaxed.  Onsen are traditional Japanese hot springs.  Users take a full-on shower and then soak in the water which is over 100 degrees.  The baths are separated by gender and bathers are in the buff.  I swear, it is the reason the Japanese live so long - one soak and I can literally feel the stress melting off my body.  After the full day of physical exertion the water felt incredible and made us ready for the next day on the slopes.
The whole thing was incredible and I'm so glad we did it. Enjoy the photos!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Omochitsuki, February 11, 2008

Yesterday the kids had Omochi pounding at their school!  Omochi is a traditional Japanese treat for welcoming in the New Year - and we did it to celebrate the Chinese New Year, not the secular one.  Aren't we multicultural?? 

Omochi are sweet, sticky rice balls.  Rice is pounded by huge mallets in a ceramic bowl until it is extra-sticky, then balled and rolled into various toppings before being eaten.  Anyway, the event was under the purveyance of the parents' group - and specifically the Japanese parents who knew how to do all this.  They did it purposefully on a Japanese holiday so the dads could be there, too.

Each class got 30 minutes to complete the event.  First they put all the kids in traditional Hapi Coats and headbands.  Then each kid got a turn taking the long-handled hammer and pounding it into the hot rice. Think about it: SANCTIONED SMACKING!!!  Each time the kid hit the rice, the traditional shout of YOOISHO rose through the crowd.  Cheering and chanting abounded! The kids just loved it.  And according to the principal, we had just about 100% parental participation.  What a community!

The bowl with the pounded rice was then ferried upstairs to the big multipurpose rooms where Japanese moms stood at the ready to roll the balls and dip them into sauces.  There were three different ones: brown sugar, soy sauce and seaweed, and sweet azuki beans.  After the pounding the entire class trouped  upstairs for tasting. Each kid tried each one and there was so much that they could come back for seconds!

The parents were so great - they had prepared everything perfectly and stayed ahead of the pounding so that there were always plenty of omochi ready for the next class. As you can see above, Marc helped with a good deal of pounding himself.

The most interesting part of the whole thing was the coming together as an international community.  In addition to the Japanese contingent, there were Indian kids, French kids, American kids, Armenian kids, Korean kids - and the list goes on... All of those children and their families were uniting to take part in an ancient Japanese tradition.  Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hello Kitty Mania!

January 28, 2008

I don’t have pictures of this yet, but I will get them: we went to Hello Kitty Place in a mall here in Tokyo. This is one of those “only in Tokyo” experiences.

The kids had the day off from school last Monday and I wanted to do something fun and special for them. Bailey had a birthday party to go to (brave parents – 10 boys and fishing rods at a local pond – of course Bailey was the one who got the hook in his finger. Don’t worry – he’s fine) so he was busy. But Sydney needed a little distraction.

My friend Amy is Japanese-American and has a daughter in Syd’s class. Malia and Syd are really great friends. We also had another little girl from the class – a Finnish girl named Aura. All three are five years old and clearly spend a lot of time together in the classroom. It is so interesting to see this Asian, European and American trio interacting with their different accents. It does not stop them from talking a mile a minute! Amy suggested this mall, La-La Port. Just the name is a little odd-sounding, I thought. It turns out that the mall is geared toward mothers and children – stores, restaurants, everything with mothers and kids in mind.

Amy drove and it took about 30 minutes to get there – it’s in Odaiba, near where they have that replica of the Statue of Liberty. There were some American stores – The Gap, Lands End, Claire’s, but most were Japanese brands of jewelry, clothes and shoes.

Lunch was an interesting affair. The restaurant we went to had a big red chandelier made of poufy balloons. Everything else in the place, from the tables to the chairs to the floor, was pink. The omelet Sydney ordered was heart-shaped, as was the mound of rice of my curry-rice dish. There was squeaky, clappy music playing in the background. The girls loved it!

After lunch we went to the Hello Kitty playground. I could not believe this place! You pay by the hour per person and they just mark your in-time. It’s so easy to say that you’re only going to be there 30 minutes – and then you end up staying an hour. Again, the girls just loved it. They got to dress in frilly costumes, put on make-up, serve tea, participate in a live Hello Kitty show (given by a woman in a blue puffy dress with multiple crinolines, chunky heels and high squeaky voice – think of every stereotype you know of cutesy.) and then jump in a ball pit. For the parents – presumably moms – there are massage chairs and a coffee bar – all of which cost extra. The girls changed outfits three times, spent as long as we’d let them in the ball pit (which had the advantage of a big ship in the back of it) and put makeup all over their faces - literally. Luckily there were wipes for afterward. Amy and I bought a throw-away camera. As soon as I have it developed (remember that???) I’ll get the pix up on the blog.

Our final destination in the mall was a chocolate shoppe. Again with the cutesy! Malia had a teddy-bear shaped cake-let, while Aura and Sydney had mini-parfaits. I had a coffee in a teeny tiny pink cup and saucer.

By then the girls were tired and I don’t blame them. They were pretty quiet in the back of the car on the way home.

By the time Sydney and I got home, Bailey was there. His friend Kalani and he had gone to the park with Minnie after the party and Sora had just picked up Kalani before I arrived. So both kids were pretty whipped. Dinner was a small affair of pasta that night before an early bedtime.

All-in-all it was an excellent day off. I’m just proud of myself because in the midst of all that pink and cute, I didn’t throw up once. I just have this crazy feeling that that’s not the last time I’ll be there…

Monday, January 14, 2008

House Photos

Here are a couple of photos from our house in Tokyo!

Back in the saddle (queue the music here...)

So we have now been back in Tokyo for a full week, and it feels so wonderful to be here. I am pleased to report that this is home. Our beds are here, the kids’ school is here, and we have come home to a wonderful life full of friends and laughter.
Coming into Narita last Monday was quite easy. The flight was fine – though the kids didn’t sleep much. They’re excellent travelers though; they really know how to handle the long flight. When we got to Narita, we used a luggage delivery service. With four suitcases and still needing to get into the city by train, it’s the best option and not overly expensive. We took one valise with us and left the others for delivery Tuesday morning. We proceeded to get on the train into Tokyo. When we arrived at Tokyo station, we stepped out into the city and it was already dark. The lights of the city twinkled brightly as if to welcome us. You can imagine our surprise, however, when we got into the taxi that took us home and found that the taxi rates had risen as of January 1st! Instead of starting at $6.50, they now start at $7. (Though if the dollar got stronger, that rate would effectively go down…)
Jet lag hasn’t been too bad. The kids slept through the first night and Sydney had a bit of an issue with two 4am wake-ups, but other than that we’re fine. And now, a week later, everyone is settled. The kids ran to school and practically dove into their classrooms on Tuesday morning. They were delighted to see their teachers and friends and get back into routine.
Speaking of routine, this week we’re back to our usual round of activities – ballet, hula, Japanese lessons, violin lessons, and soccer. Bailey is starting Aikido and basketball, too. That kid would take a million activities a week if I’d let him!!
Several people have asked for pix of the house, and I’ll get to that right away.

In the meantime, thanks for your care and support and I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year! I look forward to sharing our 2008 adventures with you!