Our time in Japan so far has been swinging between busy, active days with lots of walking, and days where we stay close to home and do very little. We haven’t been able to find any sort of happy medium yet, but maybe this is the new normal for us. Every trip out of the house, no matter where we go or what we do, is still an adventure, whether we’re heading to Shibuya or over to our son’s house or just walking around the corner to the bakery. My inner travel sense is still vibrating though – I told Brett that even though we’ve been here almost a month and are enjoying ourselves, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s almost time for us to pack our suitcases once again and move on to the next destination.
Our life here will be changing though in a few weeks as we take on a more defined schedule. Our daughter-in-law has been offered a very good position (with the Foreign Ministry!) and we have offered to help by picking up the grands from their respective schools every day until we leave in May. YaYu will come over here and stay with them for the summer and work as their nanny (they will pay her). Our combined help for the next few months will give M & M some time to find a more permanent solution for childcare by next fall, when the kids go back to school. Child care in Japan is most often done by family members, so our DIL is very relieved that we will be able to pick up the kids and watch them until she gets home from work, and that YaYu will take over in the summer versus her having to scramble to find other childcare. Once she heads to work we won’t have as much time as we do now for getting out and about but we are extremely happy we can help, and YaYu won’t have to worry about finding a summer job back in the U.S. (which can be notoriously difficult in Portland – she has been very worried about not earning anything or much of anything this summer).
Finally, my annual round of insomnia has caught up with me here in Japan. For the past several days I have been unable to fall asleep at night, sometimes staying up until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning even if I have to get back up in a couple of hours. I know it’s a temporary thing, and so far I seem to be managing on little to no sleep, but this is not a good time for this! I’ve made all the usual changes but so far nothing has helped – I just need to push through it and remind myself that it eventually goes away.
This morning I am:
- Reading: I finished Becoming early in the week and am now reading the Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winning Less: A Novel. It’s another real page turner and a fun read. I am so far behind on my reading goal though and really need to catch up.
- Listening to: Brett is cutting up some fruit in the kitchen and making coffee, and our little washing machine is doing its thing. The heater fan is also blowing – it’s still quit cool here, although the past few days have been lovely. Rain is expected again tomorrow though.
- Watching: I started watching Designated Survivor on Netflix a few nights ago, and so far it’s OK, but I can see it possibly moving into far-fetched territory (which I’m not crazy about). Kiefer Sutherland’s acting can be somewhat intense for me at times but he’s not bugging me . . . yet. The show and his character sort of remind me a bit of his character on 24 (which we eventually gave up watching).
- Cooking: We’re going to our son’s tonight for dinner so no cooking today for me.
- Happy we accomplished last week: Brett and I made it to both Shibuya and to Gotokuji Temple, our destination goals for the week. We also made it to our granddaughter’s and our grandson’s schools on time and without getting lost, even with Google Maps’ best efforts to make neither of those things happen. We got our weekly shopping done and even though we spent a little more than usual, we still stayed within our budget.
- Looking forward to next week: Our plan we have for this week is a visit to Yokohama just to look around, especially in a couple of the big department stores by the station. We used to spend a lot of time in Yokohama during our navy tours, and it’s another place that’s interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. We may also try to get over to Kappabashi, Tokyo’s “kitchen district.” The area is filled with wholesale shops selling restaurant and kitchen equipment, dishes, gadgets and other accoutrement, and it’s where the realistic plastic food for restaurant window displays is sold. As always, we’re also looking forward to plenty of grandma and grandpa time again this week!
- Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful time taking on the challenge of getting ourselves to two unknown locations in Tokyo to pick up our grandkids for the first time. Both of them seemed happy to have us show up too – our granddaughter walked the whole distance from her little school back to the train station skipping and singing the whole way. Japan really knows how to make great tea drinks – I discovered a small, busy, tea shop just around the corner from our apartment called The Alley, and enjoyed a wonderful, warm Assam milk tea with tapioca bubbles – so good. I will be treating myself again soon but wish they also offered tea floats (tea floats really need to become a thing in the U.S.). We spoke with all three of our daughters this week – WenYu is currently back in Massachusetts with her boyfriend to help celebrate his birthday. He missed her so much that he bought her round-trip plane ticket from Cyprus so she could be there! YaYu is excited (and a bit anxious) about her upcoming summer in Japan. And, Meiling and boyfriend will be here in a little over two weeks!
- Thinking of frugal things we did: Although it would have been very easy to do so, Brett and I did not go crazy and buy a ton of stuff at Tokyu Hands or Muji, which is what we would have done in the past. Most of that is because we have no space to take a lot of stuff with us when we return to the U.S., but these days we can also look at things we might have bought in the past, admire them and then admit we don’t need them and walk away. It’s a very satisfying feeling. We had four no-spend days this past week and have been able to bring our daily spend average back below $50. Although we had nothing to do with it, because of the current exchange rate, our rent for next month will be $29 less it was this past month!
- Grateful for: I am so thankful I learned to read and pronounce hiragana and katakana, the two syllabary alphabets in Japanese because it allows me to interpret and understand simple words and expressions. Hiragana is the syllabary used for purely Japanese words or suffixes, while katakana is used to express foreign words or expressions. Any word, name or expression in a foreign language can be converted into katakana.
- Japanese word of the week: morijio 盛塩. Morijio is a compound word – mori 盛 means ‘pile’ and 塩 means ‘salt’ (shio) with the whole word taking on a somewhat deeper cultural meaning. I posted the above picture on Instagram on Friday, of a small bowl with a little mound of salt that was sitting in front of a ramen restaurant near our apartment. I had seen a bowl of salt before at a couple of other restaurants, and knew that salt is considering purifying in Japan, but had no idea what it was there for. Sure enough, it signaled purification, but my DIL said it’s often placed outside after the owner has had to deal with a difficult customer, in order to purify and cleanse the space, and erase the bad aura left by the customer. A pair of morijio are also sometimes placed on either side of a house’s front door in order to bring good fortune to the home. *The word for salt (shio) is phonetically changed to jio in morijio for easier pronunciation, something that happens sometimes in Japanese. You can see it happen in the words hiragana and katakana above. The suffixes –gana and –kana are the same word, with the spelling change to facilitate pronunciation.
That’s a wrap for this week! I’ve got my fingers crossed that my insomnia tapers off this week (I actually had a solid night of sleep last night), and we’re hoping the weather doesn’t stay completely lousy all week. How did your week go? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you?