Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Trip to the Dentist, Japanese Style

Since we're not going Stateside this December, we won't make our twice-a-year dental cleanings at Dr. Kahan's office. We're pretty diligent about our oral health, so we decided to find a dentist here in Tokyo.

We found Dr. Suzuki, whose office is right up the street from where we live. A friend recommended him, noting that not only is he a great dentist, but he speaks perfect English, as does most of his staff.

There are a few things that are particular to dentists in Japan it seems. First of all, we took off our shoes at the door and wore the slippers that were provided. And second, we waited only seconds before the hygienist was ready for us. (Though that is common in the U.S. - I wait at doctors' offices, but almost never at the dentist's - hurrah for Dr. K!)

The best part about the experience was that they gave the children brushing lessons. First the hygienist took a cotton ball dipped in red dye and painted the kids' teeth. The dye is designed to stick only to tartar and showed them where they were missing spots with their toothbrushes - which of course was all over their teeth, especially at the gumline. Then they gave each child a toothbrush and literally taught them to brush so that they had to brush away all of the red dye. Only when it was all gone and the toothbrush cleaned did the hygienist proceed with cleaning their teeth.

As for Marc and me, the cleaning was pretty normal with a few noted exceptions. They measured our gumlines pretty precisely to make sure we didn't have bone loss or gum disease - each tooth was given a score not to exceed 4 or they'd have to treat the gums. They also put a towel around our heads as they worked on our mouths lest the light shine in our eyes to brightly.

It was an excellent experience overall and we'd go back again. In fact we have to go back on Thursday in order to consult with the orthodontist for Bailey. Yes, the office has an orthodontist that comes into the office weekly to see the dentist's orthodontia patients.

Enjoy the attached pictures. Be sure to note the bare feet or slippers as you look - and yes, Bailey's and Sydney's teeth were THAT red! Better oversight of brushing will now ensue.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Food Entry - Matsutake Mushrooms

Please see my photo of a Matsutake (Ma-Tsu-TAH-kay) mushroom here. It's a delicacy of a mushroom, and is harvested only in September and October in Japan. Every year Marc and I go to our favorite tempura restaurant, Mikawa, in Roppongi Hills to experience the Matsutake. It 's a large mushroom, not chewy and somewhat sweet. Tempura is one of those foods that is relative here - it's not fried nearly like it is in the U.S. It's light, sometimes with very little batter, and fried ever-so-gently with low heat. Most often we get the course menu at Mikawa - the dishes just keep coming until they're done serving us. It's called Omakase (oh-mah-kah-say) - chef's suggestions. They always start us off with shrimp, then give us the shrimp heads. (It's surprisingly delicious - popcorn-y) We get squid, fish, the special (sometimes the Matsutake, sometimes some other delicacy) and then yasai - veggies. We finish with Kakiage (kah-ki-AH-gay), which is several items - fish and veggies tempura-ed together in a ball then served either in soup (as Marc likes it) or over rice (as I like it) with soup on the side. They always serve pickles and beans in sweet jelly for dessert. It is the perfect meal graciously served by the chef as we sit at the counter. This is the branch restaurant of their main one but it is staffed by some of the loveliest and tradititional women we have met in Tokyo. They are always telling us of some event or another that is in Tokyo when we're there. We are greeted like family when we arrive - and they keep the sake flowing. One time we complimented the sake server and cups that they gave us, and they always remember it and give us the same cups when we arrive. (The restaurant, like most traditional ones, serve with an eclectic mix of table-ware - nothing truly matching.) A visit to Mikawa and the Matsutake celebreates the autumn for us.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Autumn in Tokyo

This has got to be my favorite season. In Tokyo, unlike in other places, it's not about leaves changing and the nip in the air or anything like that. It's about the heat and humidity releasing itself and the sunshine spilling all over the city. Buildings sparkle, streets shine and people BREATHE. Every breath taken in is a pleasure. The skies are cloudless and the temps are perfect. Often there's a breeze. Here are two sunny photos of neighborhoods near my house.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Random Matsuri

One of the reasons we love living in Japan is that we never know what we're going to see. This weekend, right in our neighborhood, we ran into a festival, a matsuri. The followers take the portable shrines (mikoshi) and carry them through the streets, shouting and laughing and of course, drinking. The bearers of each shrine each wear a different costume. All are jackets with white shorts underneath. Some men do not wear anything underneath except a sort of jock strap, which is interesting to observe as they bounce down the street wtih the shrine. It was a beautiful, sunny day, just perfect for a festival. The people were jubilant with their celebration and their voices rang from the rooftops, along with chantings and banging on everything from drums to simple pots and pans. It was quite a sight and we appreciate it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

American Culture Shock

One thing that struck me during my travels this summer was these two posters inside a restaurant called "Cheeburger Cheeburger" - it's a southern chain.

Basically if an adult eats a one-pound hamburger (approximately 450 grams) then the management will take your picture and post it on the wall. The kids section (under 12 years old) is for a half-pound of meat.

Yes, they are rewarding big meat-eaters - the very essence of American ethos.

Then again, the burger costs under $10 - and includes fries, something you cannot find in Japan. I suppose every culture has its advantages and disadvantages.

Make of it what you will.

But for now at least, I'm happy to be home in Japan.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer in the U.S.

The kids and I are spending the summer in the U.S. visiting various friends and family, having camp experiences, violin experiences, and more rental car and airport experiences than we'd care to admit. Here's a quick few pix from our American slice of life.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Novel Recycling Idea

Japan has always been on the forefront of the "green" movement. According to my friend Sora, when she was a kid, a truck would come around and shout out "Chirigami Kokan!" Chirigami is a combination of two words: "Chiri," meaning trash, and "gami" - a variant for the word paper, "cami." Kokan means "swap."

When the truck came around, Sora and her mom and siblings would run around collecting all of the newspapers and magazines of the week - and in those days there was a lot of paper reading going on - perhaps two or more newspapers per household. They would bring all of it out to the truck and the driver would weigh it with a special scale attached in the bed of the truck. Then, based on the weight of the papers, the driver would exchange the paper for toilet paper.

Yep, recycle papers in exchange for toilet paper.

This discussion came around because Sora, Jason, Marc and I were sitting in our living room and a truck was driving down the street with its driver screaming "saudake!" which Sora explained means "bamboo pole." Japanese use the pole to hang between two hooks on their balconies to dry laundry. There are trucks selling fresh tofu and grilled sweet potatoes. It's such an old fashioned yet personal way to do one's personal business.

This system is pretty much defunct now and there are more formal recycling venues, but the greening of a nation began years ago...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Interesting Afternoon

Today my friends Pravya and Nancy and I went to The Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills to experience a little decadence. We smoked cigars and drank red wine - at lunchtime. Nancy taught us to snip the end of the cigar, light it and draw on it to keep it lit. We puffed without inhaling. We enjoyed the looks from the Japanese men who were there for business lunches. And we laughed! What a life.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Random Silliness

What do you get when you cross a hamburger with a donut?  See the results as advertised by Mr. Donut in Iidabashi, Tokyo!

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Favorite Place in Japan

This is my entry into the Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by the Nihon Sun. (See this link:

My favorite place in Japan to visit is the Daibutsu Buddha in Kamakura; I could visit monthly and spend hours there and still never tire of it. Somehow its impressive and imposing position and serene countenance symbolize the peace that I look for inside of me. With most places, but especially here, I learn more and see something different every time I visit.

The Buddha is one of those common scenes - if you saw a picture of it, it would be something you would recognize as a symbol of Japan in general. It was built in 1252 and was originally enclosed in a temple, until a typhoon destroyed the temple. So since 1495 it has just been sitting in the open air with some surrounding areas for worship. The statue is 37 feet high. Just its eyebrow is over 4 feet long and the ear is over 6 feet. The area around it is tree-filled, and like Kamakura in general, the mountains are visible from at least three sides. Considering it resides in a small city, it is a true oasis. A few years ago when my friend, professor and mentor, Dulce, was visiting, she and I went and sat on a rock by the side of the statue and just stared up at it for what seemed like hours. By the time we stood to leave, it was after 5pm; the sun was beginning to set and the area was nearly silent so we didn’t need to talk. The serenity was palpable.

However, on that particular trip, as we got up, I happened to take one last look at the front of the statue – there were about ten or twelve people there, all of them staring upward, with one arm up, holding up their mobile phones to take a photo. It was absurd. Here was a figure from the 11th century, and people in the twenty-first century are flashing their mobile phones at it. Dulce and I sat down to recapture the mood and stayed until the guard kicked us out because the temple closed at 6pm. Tourists or not, no one was going to disturb our inner – and outer – sanctum.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Adventures of the Golfing Variety

The golf driving range at Jingumae, in the heart of Tokyo is a combination of Western and Eastern that golf enthusiasts from across the globe can appreciate. Its location next to the National Stadium, where the Yakult Swallows play their home games make for easy access via the subway. Upon entering, there is a pro shop that sells every golf notion from packs of tees to the most expensive and professional of clubs. Right outside of the shop, at a small vending machine, guests purchase a rechargeable card in increments of 3000, 5000 or 10,000 JPY and then turn around to get a “box” from the desk. There are three floor options – for one price, you can be on the first, second or third floors of the building. Of course the first floor is the most expensive since it approximates course conditions the most realistically. You walk from the desk down a long hallway which is open on one side to face tee boxes and the open range, netted in carefully from about 300 meters away. Each tee box is separated with a half-wall that goes only half the length of the box as well. In each box is a chair and a hanger from which you can hang your coat. To get started, you put your card into the machine near the entry of the tee box. Instantly, right on the green in the front of the box, a tee with a ball on it pops up. There are more than forty tee boxes lined up along the wall of what used to be a second baseball stadium. You can tell what its prior use was from the stands of seats that still exist to the side of the boxes.

The idea is to set yourself up and take as many shots as you’d like. You pay by the ball and the machine automatically deducts from your declining balance card. Every time you hit one ball, another pops right up. It’s easy to forget how many balls you’ve already hit! Thankfully, the machine keeps track of each one.

There are, of course, the omnipresent vending machines of every drink under the sun, from milk to water to cups of various sodas and sports drinks. Near the entrance however is an interesting vending machine that sells golf gloves. There is a ring of them on the machine to try on so that you make the proper choice out of the machine. Of course, this interesting vending machine is situated strategically adjacent to the cigarette vending machine.

No trip to anywhere in Japan would be complete without oshibori, the hot washcloth. Right before you leave there is a cabinet full of them and you can use one free of charge to clean up before leaving. After the exertion of the swing, the towel is most welcome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Adventures in Parenting

The other day Bailey had his violin lesson. The teacher often asks him to play with a cd for accompaniment, and this day was no exception. She asked him to first play the song by itself and he did a great job. She smiled and nodded and hit the play button on the cd player. Well, he screwed up the song completely. At the end of it, the teacher nicely said, "oh well, too bad, let's go on to the next one."

Bailey calmly looked at her and working very hard to control himself, practically whispered, "no, we'll do this one again."

There was something in his voice that said there was no arguing with him. I didn't intervene and the teacher, with raised eyebrows simply hit the play button on the cd player once again for the same song.

This time he played it perfectly.

I'm proud of him for his perseverence. I think that type of attitude: work hard until you get it right - will take him far in life. I just don't want him to be a little perfectionist or be too hard on himself. Would it have been better for him to have simply gone on to the next song? The teacher obviously knows that he can play that particular song very well. At what point do you have to say "oops" and simply move on? And how on earth do I explain that difference to my nine-year-old son?

When he was a baby and he would get hurt, I could kiss it and make it better and life was good. We have been learning of late that as Bailey grows, there are some hurts that even a mommy can't make better. This is hard work indeed. But I wouldn't trade it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Japanese packaging

Marc and I bought a coffee maker today (our old one died a terrible death - I'm in mourning - don't ask). This is a small and cheap one as a stop-gap measure until we find one as perfect as the one we lost. At the store, a large electronics shop, we paid for the purchases and they insisted on "wrapping" the item. It turns out that wrapping meant packing it perfectly with rope and istalling a handle for easy carrying on the train home. This is typical of Japanese service. Love it!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday morning flowers

It is a stunning Sunday morning in Tokyo. It rained for the whole of Saturday into Saturday night and the city has emerged from the wet with a shining face and breezy clime.

Sydney and I went out for a walk (okay - true confessions: destination Starbucks...but a walk nonetheless...) and found these stunning flowers. The flowers surround the traffic safety mirror and signal light of an apartment garage. It is the perfect combination of the mundane with the sublime - traffic safety and purple blooms.


Monday, April 20, 2009

An Ode to my Toilet

How I love thee, Toto Toilet. Thou art the comfort of my life. Your heat is so cozy in the dead of winter. Your control panel with its shining lights is a beacon of magnificence. The water that you spout keeps me clean and fresh at all times. The temperature guages let me set the seat and water temps to my current desires and the force gauge ensures that your trickle is soothing and never painful. Oh I know that there are more oppulent versions with the up and down seat feature or the big flush versus little flush options or air-dry button. I'm sure there are toilets in the clean-obsessed country of Japan that pat dry or auto-wash or even make coffee while you sit and wait. And alas, I cannot read the Japanese symbols, yet a kind friend mapped out the choices for me in English and said map is safely stowed. I am sure that English versions could avail themselves. But nevermind; you dear, simple Toto toilet with your promise of comfort and care is the kindest of all luxuries after all the brutality of life as an expat in Tokyo. Now if you'll excuse me, I have business to which I must attend.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The trip to Bali was, for lack of a better word, amazing.  It was the perfect combination of sightseeing and relaxing. We walked through ancient caves; we washed our hands in holy water; we walked through part of the Indian Ocean to get to the temple of Tanah Lot; we fought monkeys to see a cliffside temple; we crawled through bustling, teeming markets; we marveled at rice paddies terraced into the side of a mountain; we admired handmade crafts; and we even shopped a little.

There are just no words with which to describe the sunsets.  The red and gold sunk into the sky just touching and traipsing over the deep azure of the rolling waves.  Teh rays of the sun outlined the wispy clouds like gentle kisses of jewels.  

One great part of the trip was spending it with our good friends Charlene and Jamey Lamanna and their kids, Joey, Laura and Alex.  After a week together, I'm pleased to report that we're still good friends!

A highlight of the trip was the Dolphin Lodge.  We were able to swim with, play with and pet the gentle animals in their own environment.  It was an unparalleled experience.

In lieu of a bunch of photos, I've attached a short (I promise) slide show here.  Enjoy!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Third Culture Kids (From Thursday March 19th)

Today I am tired. I’ve been under a lot of stress vis a vis the Third Culture Kid Seminar, planning the Bali trip, Passover fast-approaching, (I’m doing it for the kids’ school too – 150 kids for a mock-seder) the JCC rabbi search and the charity essay contest on which I’m working. But the seminar today made so many relevant points that I want to mention a few of them so that perhaps the people around me will understand where I’m coming from.

The talk was by psychologist Elizabeth Gillies. She’s is a British woman who has been an expat in various countries for her whole adult life. She works with the local English-language counseling center and with international schools across Tokyo. Here are a few things that she pointed out:

First: the definition of a Third Culture Kid is any person under the age of 18 who has grown up in a culture other than that of either of his or her parents. Some researchers might add that the Third Culture Kid takes the best of the culture of his or her parents and the best of the “host” culture and then creates his or her own “third” culture.

  • There are many positive aspects of being a Third Culture Kid, according to the research. Among them are:
    1. Being smart, alert, and globally aware
    2. Mature, sensitive and excellent listeners
    3. Tolerance and cross-cultural understanding
    4. Flexible and open to change
    5. High achieving
  • Third Culture Kids are more likely to have an intact family where both parents have advanced degrees. Statistically the family moves for the job (government, military, missionary, business) of the father. Often the mother is a “trailing spouse” with perhaps her own issues surrounding that term.
  • The father for whom the family moved quite often has a high-level job and works long hours. Sometimes there are issues integrating him into the family after business trips or even on the weekend when he hasn’t been around all week. Patience is mandatory!
  • There are many drawbacks to being a Third Culture Kid. Among them are:
    1. They feel “different”
    2. They gravitate to those like themselves
    3. Delayed adolescence
    4. Migratory instinct
    5. Rootlessness, restlessness
    6. Unresolved grief
  • Adolescence is a time when kids typically rebel against parents as a way of asserting independence. In the case of the TCK, often they don’t feel the need to do it until much later – perhaps after they move out of their parents’ house even. It’s about identity separate from the family unit. The opportunities to rebel in a “normal” fashion are not present in the culture that is not the “home” culture. In addition, many TCKs have a lot of independence due to location and/or maturity, so that there’s not as much to rebel against.
  • Grief can be a large part of the TCK experience, unfortunately. The experience of leaving home and leaving friends can be traumatic. The transitory nature of the communities in which we live can cause grief with the constant loss of friends to new assignments. Teaching the kids about grief and that it’s normal to be sad is part of our job in parenting TCKs.
  • Resilience can be taught. There is such a thing as “the new normal” – and that’s what we focus our energies on achieving, even as many of our friends leave and rotate.
  • A common thread for TCKs is that they “feel” different from the rest of the kids they meet in their home countries. They often feel that they no one truly “gets” them. The same goes for adults who live in a foreign country.
  • Often the extended families of expats are thousands of miles away and in varying time zones which make communications difficult so the nuclear family becomes the focus.
  • Research shows that a family living abroad is necessarily more interdependent and tight-knit than the typical family living in their home culture. That is not to say that we don’t know some families with amazingly close nuclear families in the U.S. – it’s just to point out that many expat families don’t have the extended family around on which to rely, and often rely more on each other. This is also not to make light of our extended family.
  • Our children need their extended family relationships to be strong and stable. This was a big point of the seminar. We love the fact that we can call you and go to you in the summer. It makes the kids feel more grounded and in touch with their own culture.
  • Though we call Tokyo “home,” TCKs need a sense of home that is beyond Japan. For us it’s obviously America – we are American after all is said and done. For this we rely on our extended family and fantastic friends. Friends are a stabilizing force for our kids and they need to know that the people they loved and cared about when we lived there are still there loving them and caring about them. We are lucky that we have so many people who do love us and care for us.
  • TCKs need to connect with people like themselves and friends that they’ve had in Japan (or other host culture) who have moved away.
  • Whatever we do, we are doing our best. It is hard for you to understand the ups and downs of our particular life and we appreciate that you try.

    These are the main points of what I took away from the seminar today. We’re going to have a follow-on one about the idea of resiliency in the coming months. I hope it’s as successful as the one today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Art of Dining

The Upper elementary class of the kids' school was the international school of choice this year by the charity Refugees International to participate in their fundraising event, the Art of Dining. The kids created a table setting and then showed it at the Westin Hotel Tokyo amid other tables by organizations, chefs and artists. The Japanese Emperor's sister-in-law, Princess Hitachi, was on hand to view the settings. She stopped and spoke with the children and shook their hands. Bailey was simply thrilled! Enjoy the photos of the kids, the Princess, and a few of the other tables.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sport Stacking Japan

Sport Stacking is a great sport for eye-hand coordination, rhythm and other great skills. There are official stacks and times and "fouls" - rules and regulations. Bailey participated in an all-Japan tournament and did wonderfully - a medal and a trophy! He and his friend Shin-Won even did a doubles entry. Enjoy the attached photos.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bailey and Sydney this winter

Here are a few great photos from Bailey's ski trip and Sydney's two class trips to the science museum and to the base of Mount Fuji for "fun in the snow day." In the pictures of Bailey, please note that he is the one with a red ski parka and gray ski pants. The school took the kids to a ski area at the southern end of the Japanese Alps called Naspa. They stayed at the New Otani hotel and skied for three days. It was a fantastic trip and Bailey is quite the accomplished skier between the two trips we took as a family and this one. Sydney does quite well at it also! Her class trip to the snow was just for the day (7am to 5pm!!) and involved snowmen, sledding, a fun lunch and sleeping on the bus-ride home. (Sydney wears a yellow parka and beige ski pants) Her class trip was a little lower-key and involved a full day at an amazing museum of science. My favorite pic is the one of her and her girlfriends. Such diverse girls! Enjoy!