Sunday Morning 3/17/2019: Week 4 in Japan

Seen at the Sogo department store: an elegant deep blue silk obi, embroidered with gold and silver threads. If I had had a couple of thousand extra dollars to spare it would have come home with me.

This past week was all about shopping, or at least it seemed that way. We did a big food shop last weekend, went to Kappabashi on Tuesday, to Yokohama on Thursday with our daughter-in-law, and yesterday our son took us to the Camp Zama commissary. We were going to go the bakery on Friday to get some raisin bread, but our grandson called us in the morning and asked us to come over and spend time with him because he was home sick from school, and we obliged. Anyway, it was a fun, busy week, and we are very well stocked now for both Meiling’s upcoming visit and have plenty of after-school snacks for the grands when we start picking them up in April. And, we did not decimate the budget either!

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Tuesday’s visit to Yokohama was very special because our daughter-in-law took us out for a special treat: an eight-course kaiseki lunch. Kaiseki cooking is at the top of Japanese high cuisine, incorporating seasonal foods, and we dined in the Yokohama location of a kaiseki restaurant that has been operating in Kyoto for nearly 300 years. The theme for our meal was “first cherry blossoms,” and every course revolved around a spring theme. We ate in a private dining room, and the entire meal was exquisite from start to finish, with each course both visually beautiful and wonderfully delicious. Although the servings in each course were small, we left feeling very satisfied and full. After our lunch we went to the Sogo department store food hall where we purchased a box of Hato Sabure (bird cookies), and some Japanese green tea “pudding,” thickened with kudzu starch. It was one of my favorite things when we lived here, and I was so happy to find it’s still available. I also bought one sakura mochi (pink mochi with a sweet bean filling, wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf), available only in the spring. The department store was offering a bonus with each purchase that day and we earned three portable drip packets of coffee too.

Several displays in the Sogo food hall celebrated the imminent arrival of the cherry blossoms.

Our trip to the Camp Zama army base and back yesterday was tiring, but we needed to go to get after-school snacks to have on hand for when we start taking care of the grands, and our son wanted to restock his supplies of American junk cereals, Pop Tarts, and Diet Coke (all things he wasn’t allowed to eat growing up LOL). Meiling and her boyfriend will be arriving week after next and we also bought a few extra things to have on hand when she’s here. Camp Zama was yet another place where there had been many changes along with some things that hadn’t changed at all in the past 24 years. M spent some time walking through his old middle school there which he said was mostly the same as it had been. It was sad for me to see that the old base gym had been torn down, the former site of the monthly Zama bazaar. Friends and I went every month and would make a day of it, always eager to see what treasures we would discover at the bazaar with lunch together afterwards – those were always some good times.

I did splurge a little on this pair of tabi socks at Camp Zama for our ramen queen, YaYu.

I gave up all caffeine this week other than one cup of coffee in the morning (I’m not even drinking Diet Coke – sad!), and it seems to have nearly cured my insomnia. I’ve been drinking mugi-cha, roasted barley tea – instead. It’s caffeine free and very refreshing. The first time I had mugi-cha, back in 1971 when I came to Japan as a college student, I gagged when I tasted it. Now it’s one of my favorite beverages, and I’m already plotting how I can take it back with me when we head back to the States (I can apparently find it in bags, like tea, for cold brewing).

We are grieving today for New Zealand, one of the most beautiful countries in the world filled with some of the friendliest people we’ve met during our travels. At times I wonder if the whole world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket these days with all that’s going on (don’t even get me started on the college cheating scandal). I am glad we were raised to do the right thing, the honest thing, and although it doesn’t seem like it at times, that love is far stronger than hate. We pray that we all get through these troubling times.

Finally, for the next two weeks (at least) I will only be posting on Sunday mornings. We are going to be quite busy with family activities, and I also feel like I need a little bit of a break, a “spring vacation” so to speak.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Less: A Novel this past week and just started A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee a few days ago, the first in a three-book series about a British detective in Kolkata, India, just after the First World War. So far it’s quite good, and just a short bit in and I’m already thinking of when we can visit India again!
  • Listening to: Brett is currently in the kitchen making pancakes this morning! Not only can I hear him bustling around, but it smells good too. Otherwise it’s very quiet – our apartment must be soundproofed or something because we rarely if ever hear any noise from outside.
  • Watching: Thanks to reader Kay’s recommendation, I’ve been watching Secret City on Netfllix. I’m about half-way through the second season, and although I’m not enjoying it as the first, it’s still a very good show. I’m going to check out Rectify next.
  • Cooking/baking: We’re enjoying pancakes and sausages for brunch this morning, and tonight it will be all about the leftovers: I’m making a pan of fried rice to use up our leftover rice and the odds and ends of some vegetables in the fridge. I bought a small package of ham at the market the other day and will add some of that too.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I put in a long afternoon of childcare for our DIL on Wednesday, who had a doctor’s appointment followed by a school conference to attend that day. I got all my tasks here in the apartment caught up, and am glad we got the trip to Zama taken care of – we are ready for the grandkids! Otherwise, all we’ve done this week is a lot of running around!

    One cherry tree in our neighborhood is getting a head start! It will be lush and full of blossoms by the end of the week.
  • Looking forward to the is week: Cherry blossoms are scheduled to begin blooming this week! According to the forecast (which is a science here), they will begin opening on the 21st, with the peak bloom occurring on March 29. A few trees have already started to bloom – just a taste of the beauty and magnificence that is soon to be upon us. Brett and I are hoping to go with our DIL to the nearby Costco this week, which should be interesting because I am very curious about what people here bulk-buy (and where they store it).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our kaiseki experience on Thursday was incredible, something we’ll never forget, and Brett & I are still talking about it, and the tastes we experienced. We discovered that Yokohama is very easy to get to from our station – we thought it was going to be a slog, but we only had to make one train change in Shibuya station. We also had a great time shopping in Kappabashi, another trip that was easier to make than we imagined. We ate dinner over at our son’s three times this past week, so we will not have to go grocery shopping this week other than to pick up some produce and milk as we still have so much on hand. And, we have bird cookies! No stay in Japan for us is complete without them.

    We purchased a box of seven bird cookies in the Sogo food hall along with one piece of sakura mochi and five bags of green tea pudding. We were rewarded with three drip bags of coffee!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We shopped a lot in the past eight days (groceries, Kappabashi, Yokohama, Camp Zama) and yet because we stuck to planned items only, and needs versus wants for the most part, our daily spending average is still under $50/day.
  • Grateful for: This week, we received help twice from Japanese people when we were confused or lost in a couple of train stations. I am so very thankful that someone will always step up to help or assist you here, even if their English is limited. In the past I have had people get on the train with me to make sure I got off at the correct station, or even walk with me to my destination to make sure I didn’t get lost.
  • Japanese word of the week: yappari やっぱり! Yappari is the colloquial word that substitutes for the word yahari やはり, which means ‘I thought so!’ or ‘I knew it!’ I know two other similar words: mochiron, which means ‘of course’ or ‘certainly,’ and naruhodo, which means ‘I get it!’ or ‘Aha!’ but yappari had always escaped me until this past week. Interestingly (well, to me anyway), I also learned that yappari is usually written using hiragana, the syllabary for Japanese words, but there is a kanji form 矢張り. However, the characters together don’t have any meaning, they were only chosen because together they’re read as yappari.
You can get an idea from this photo of how deeply black Japanese funeral wear is. It sucks the soul right out of you.

Finally, I had a very strange, “only in Japan” moment this past week. While we were walking through Sogo, I asked M if we could take a look at the black clothing that women wear for funerals and formal events, like weddings. The dresses and suits are always beautiful, often designer made, but the fabric is always the deepest, darkest, blackest black I have ever seen and I wanted to show Brett. When we came around a corner and saw the formal section ahead of us, my blood actually ran cold and my hair stood on end – seeing all the dresses together actually caused a physical reaction. Brett said it felt for a moment like we were approaching a room full of Dementors! I’ve never seen that shade of black anywhere but in Japan, and it’s frankly creepy.

I hope you all had a great week, and that plenty of good things happened for you. I’ll be back next Sunday!


8 thoughts on “Sunday Morning 3/17/2019: Week 4 in Japan

  1. How interesting that the funeral color is black. In Hong Kong it was white. Shockingly white at times. We lived across from the cemetery, so we often saw processions.
    What a delight that you get to spend so much time with your son’s family. It just makes me smile!
    We are headed out to Israel this week. You helped inspire us enough to finally leave the country after a 25 year break.


    1. Israel – how exciting! A friend of mine is there right now and from her pictures she’s having a very good time, and seeing and doing so many interesting things. How long will you be there?

      I did not know until last week that the same black is worn as formal wear to weddings! At funerals, a string of pearls is the only adornment considered proper; at weddings, women will wear pearls AND a corsage. It sort of makes sense – the formal kimono for married women is black, with a design at the bottom. But still, the shade of black they use is eerie.

      We’re loving our time with the grands. I am looking forward to spending even more time with them in a couple of weeks, when our DIL begins work.


  2. Yes, to the second season not being as good, but I sure hope they decide to make a third! All around I just like this series-visually, acting, plot.
    I am envious of all the cherry blossom activity it really seems so delightful. And those socks for YaYu are perfect! I myself am trying not to eat ramen anymore, and spice for that matter *sigh, getting older.


    1. It’s rare that a second season is as good as the first – viewers know too much and expect more and it’s very difficult for a show to deliver.

      We are going on an overnight getaway with our son and family weekend after next – the blossoms should be in full bloom by then so I’ve got my fingers crossed. But otherwise just walking around should be gorgeous.

      YaYu loves the socks! For her the spicier the ramen the better – she especially likes the super hot Korean varieties.


  3. I’m so excited for you that you’re there during cherry blossom season! Looking forward to seeing the pictures. That reminds me that there is a huge cherry blossom festival in Philadelphia every year that YaYu may be interested in. It’s in early April. I went a couple of years ago and ‘almost’ felt like I was in Japan.

    Let us know what Costco is like there. I always find that sort of thing fascinating. I also love how everything in Japan comes in elaborate packaging like you have in the photo of the Sogo food hall. I bought a box of cookies and the woman at the counter wrapped them like a present.

    Reading your posts really makes me want to get back to Japan soon. Enjoy!


    1. The last two trips we made here we missed the cherry blossoms by just a few days, but this year they are a little earlier than usual. In the past I could never figure out what the big deal was about cherry blossoms, but once you see them everywhere in full bloom it makes sense. Cherry blossoms are perhaps the ultimate expressions of mono no aware, the transitory nature of things, that everything eventually changes or disappears, so enjoy and savor what you have at any time.

      We’re looking forward to seeing Costco as well. We heard its mostly like the U.S. stores except the food is about 75% Japanese. My son jokes that everyone leaves there with a bag of dinner rolls. So, we shall see – I wonder if they sell the $4.99 roast chickens? The only thing I will be looking for is a large box of mugi-cha bags. And, you are so right about the packaging! It is an art form here.

      At first our time here seemed to be moving slowly – now it seems it’s picking up speed.


  4. That obi is so beautiful. Gosh, they have beautiful textiles in Japan. And bird cookies! I remember those from winning your blog giveaway. Yum! I also have a daughter who loves sox – those are a find! 🙂

    We left Sedona today and I’m in mourning. 😦 But we’re in Phoenix for a few days before flying home. It’s nice to be where it’s warm, although it’s already too hot for me, and I know I wouldn’t like the summers at all. But we love a blast of heat while getting through the dregs of a Midwest winter. Of course, it is finally warming up at home (which is relative, of course…haha).


    1. Even my daughter-in-law, who doesn’t wear or own a kimono, was enthralled by that obi! It was stunning – the photo doesn’t do it justice. The kimono section is always one of my favorite things to check out when I visit a Japanese department store – not only are the kimonos gorgeous, but I enjoy seeing how they put the obis and kimono together – there is a very different aesthetic going on than what we are used to.

      No trip to Japan is complete without bird cookies! And, our daughter is thrilled with the socks, so they were a good purchase.

      We fell in love with northern Arizona and Sedona as well when we went in 2016 – we could have stayed a LOT longer. But, it was awfully dry for us, and we were there about the same time you are – we know we couldn’t have tolerated the summer heat.


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