Sunday Morning 1/26/2020: Week 1 in Japan

Well, it’s Sunday morning in Tokyo – I’m not sure what time it is elsewhere!

Gong xi fat cai! 新年快乐! Happy New Year! Welcome the Year of the Rat! The rat is the first of the twelve zodiac animals, so this year should be one of renewal and new beginnings. As rats are highly perceptive and intelligent, a rat year is also considered an auspicious one. Obstacles will not become problems, and challenges will bring the best out of everyone.

We are off to a good, if slow, start on this visit to Japan as we’re both still suffering from jet lag nearly a week after our arrival. Our trip over from Honolulu was easy, albeit long, and we actually arrived in Tokyo nearly an hour ahead of schedule! The thing about arriving at Narita though is that if you’re going on to Tokyo you’ve got at least another two-hour journey ahead of you, or longer if you take something other than the express train. With our son’s help, we eventually made it to his house for a happy reunion with our daughter-in-law and the grandkids. We had a light dinner and passed out gifts, then our son drove us and our luggage over to our apartment as we were about ready to collapse!

We really, really like our apartment this time. It’s a bit smaller than the one we had last year and more minimalist, but it’s bright and has a nice kitchen (with a window and an oven, very unusual in Japan) and a real sofa instead of those two slippery chairs we had last year. The bed is very firm, but we’ve been sleeping well on it. It’s so nice being familiar with our location and how to get places versus how confused we felt last year. Other than going to the grocery store, over to our son’s home a couple of times, and walking around the neighborhood, we haven’t been out much. It’s quite cold here now, with rain off and on, and next week there may be snow! We are getting in lots of steps and stairs climbed – last Wednesday, for example, we took 9,000+ steps and did 19 flights of stairs climbing in and out of subway stations; we did 6,500 steps yesterday and 12 flights of stairs. We are sadly very out of shape but that’s going to change.

Next week we begin “grandparent duty” and start picking up our grandson from school a few days during the week. He is involved in several after school activities (basketball, swimming, etc.) so we’ll be figuring out his schedule and where we need to be when in order to get him home.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I am back to reading Killing Commendatore and am now almost a quarter of the way through it. Like many of Murakami’s books, it’s gotten sort of weird but in a good way, if that makes sense. I need to step up my reading though if I’m going to get through 52 books again this year. Our grandson and I are reading The Sorcerer’s Stone together – we read Chapter 1 together yesterday morning.
  • Listening to: It’s very, very quiet here on a Sunday morning. The only noise outside is the sound of rain falling. Brett is up and fixing our morning coffee in the kitchen making some indoor noise. Don’t know if we’ll get out today or not because of the rain – we may just stay indoors and rest one more day before the week’s busyness begins.
  • Watching: I watched one movie on the plane, The Farewell, and enjoyed it. So very, very Chinese, in its story, the relationships, and the resolution. Otherwise, no TV as we can’t understand anything here. 
  • Cooking: Besides karaage, potato salad, and fresh cucumbers for our first meal in the apartment, we also had mabo nasu with steamed rice and cucumbers on Thursday; took our grandson to McDonald’s on Friday for burgers and then to Baskin-Robbins; and were going to have a Chinese-themed meal for the New Year with shumai, gyoza, and chili shrimp along with a cucumber salad, but we were invited for dinner at our son’s so will have our Chinese meal tonight. Other meals during the week will be smoked sausages, broccoli, and dinner rolls; CookDo stir-fried pork and cabbage with steamed rice; chicken vegetable soup; pork cutlets (tonkatsu) with rice and shredded cabbage; beef curry with vegetables and rice; and takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from the corner stand with some sort of side dish for our Friday dining out. One goal this visit is to eat no more than 1/2 cup of rice with our meals and try to have it only three times a week to help keep our carb intake down. The apartment rice cooker is thankfully a small one and able to make just a cup of cooked rice at a time.
    Getting ready to unpack and put everything away – the best part of a long stay
  • Happy I accomplished last week: After a good night’s sleep on Tuesday, we got up Wednesday and got everything we needed out of our suitcases and put it away (followed by the suitcases). We brought along a few personal items this time, such as our own coffee mugs, to personalize the place a bit as well. We’ve loaded up our PASMO cards for the month, bought food for the week including some pantry items, have figured out the stove and oven (with the help of our landlord), and have also rested up so we’re really ready to get going next week. Our monthly allotment of ¥80,000 has been withdrawn and sorted into envelopes for the month (our month goes until February 20). We discovered the fee charged by the 7-11 ATM (¥220) is the same no matter how much we withdraw (up to ¥50,000), and as we also pay an international transaction fee to our credit union for each withdrawal (1% of the transaction) and an additional $1 for using a non-credit union ATM, we plan to only make two withdrawals per month, ¥30,000 and ¥50,000. We use a 7-11 ATM versus going to a bank because the fees are the same and the 7-11 ATM is closer and more convenient!
    The nearest 7-11 and its ATM is about a two-minute walk from our apartment. I have no idea what all the signs around it are saying, but the instructions on the screen can be accessed in English. Other convenience stores have ATMs, but many won’t accept a US debit card, while all 7-11 machines do.
  • Looking forward to next week: If it does snow, we’d like to revisit the Todaroki Ravine Park again – when we went last year we wondered how it would look in the snow, and now we may get our chance to find out! We’re looking forward to establishing a routine for picking up our grandson from school – we can’t get over how much he has matured over this past year. Our son will continue to pick up our granddaughter every day, but we’ll get to see her and spend some time with her when they get home and before we head back to our apartment. We are looking forward to having takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from the stand just around the corner from our apartment for our dining out experience this week. They’re one of our favorite things, and at the stand we can watch them being made, and it’s close enough that when we get home the takoyaki are still hot. We’re also looking forward to going to the commissary next Saturday to get some American things and get our son stocked up with Diet Coke.
    K named her new Bitty Baby doll “Marion.”
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful reunion with our son and family when we arrived, and all the gifts we brought along were a hit. C is already halfway through building the crane from his Erector set – we thought it might be difficult for him and he might need his dad’s help, but so far he’s managing on his own and enjoying the challenge. We had a fun time with our grandson on his first sleepover with us and look forward to many more. When our DIL dropped him off she brought us a package of Fuji apples, some more strawberries, and a box of some delicious Japanese rice crackers! Several of the Japanese words I learned last year, especially those used in train or subway stations, have come back very quickly and I can easily recognize what’s being said – yeah!
    C had the first of hopefully many sleepovers with us on Friday. He’s developed an appetite too: last year we were lucky to get him to finish a burger but on Friday he ate a full meal (burger, fries, and drink) from McDonald’s along with an order of sweet corn and then two scoops of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins for dinner. And, he ate six big pancakes in the morning! He’s also eating vegetables – last year nothing green would cross his lips.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: The dollar to yen exchange rate is currently very favorable for us, which means we are not spending as much US$ when we exchange for yen. For example, our monthly budget of ¥80,000 only cost us $728.47, so that’s $71.53 that’s staying in our bank account. Our Friday night dinner with our grandson from McDonald’s and Baskin-Robbins (called “31” here) cost us just ¥2,220 versus the ¥3000 we budget for each week, so ¥780 will be rolled over for future dining experiences. Both Brett and I were surprised to discover our PASMO cards had over ¥1000 left on them from last year so we are starting off a little bit ahead on transportation costs. Using the card also saves a few yen each trip (our son added yen to Brett’s card as well to cover our extra expenses in picking up C). While we spent over our ¥10,000 limit for groceries this week, we were able to use the extra ¥4,000 YaYu gave us so we still are within our Japan budget. I think we will be a little over our $35/day budget for January however (up to the 20th), but not by much.
  • Grateful for: This week I’m very thankful for our son taking time off to meet us at Narita and get us back to Tokyo and moved into our apartment. I don’t think we would have managed without him helping us get all our luggage onto the express train, then off the train and through Shibuya station (which is still under construction!), into a cab to his house, and then finally driving us over to and moved into our apartment, especially at night. We arrived in Japan feeling very tired and his help made a huge difference.
  • Bonus question: Is everything this same this year or have there been any noticeable changes? Mostly everything in our neighborhood appears to have stayed the same, although the big house next to us that was getting started when we left last year is now completed. We actually think it may be a house on the ground floor and a separate apartment on the second, but don’t know for sure. Most of the other stores and restaurants seem to be the same although we discovered a few new places that have sprung up. Some prices have increased, but most things have stayed the same. The big baseball stadium that was being built in the park across from our son’s home is complete. It’s huge, quite attractive actually, and according to our son, incredibly loud and noisy in the summer when games are being played. Anyway, it’s nice to walk around and recognize things again and know where we are.

I somehow managed to hurt my back moving my big suitcase the day before we departed Hawaii (when will I ever learn?), so I’m still dealing with a bit of that, but it’s getting better and I didn’t do as much damage as I have in the past so it should be well soon. Furniture in Japan is closer to the floor compared to the U.S., things like chairs and sofas, so getting up and down can be difficult, but we’ll eventually adjust. My stomach is also doing better and seems to have finally settled down. So, all is well and we’re very happy to be here again. Japan remains our favorite place of all.

This restaurant is located about halfway on our walk back to the subway station from our son’s home. It always catches my eye, a lovely little bit of tradition tucked in among modern Tokyo. The flower arrangement is different every day. Also, I have no idea what this place serves as I can’t read the daily menu.

I hope everyone has had a great week, and I appreciate your patience as we get things up and running again on this end. Here’s looking forward to another great week of good friends, good books, good food, and adventure!

18 thoughts on “Sunday Morning 1/26/2020: Week 1 in Japan

  1. I always love how detailed you are, Laura – it really makes me feel like I’m right there! And the photos complement your journal perfectly.

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    1. Thank you for saying this – I always worry that I put in too much detail, way more than people want to know. And I’m glad I get the photos right, too. I am ALWAYS taking photos these days because I know I always enjoy blogs with lots of photos to go with the text.

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    1. She is definitely a cutie – very petite but very feisty as my grandmother would have said. She understands English but still answers in Japanese – I’m surprised we can communicate but we do.

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  2. I agree with Claudia! The detail makes me feel as if I am there experiencing right along with you two.

    I cannot imagine how exhausted you both were with the travel. Must be nice to know with your extended stay you two can take the time to recover and acclimate. I’m looking forward to enjoying your thoughts and photos on your stay in Japan.

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    1. Thanks, Sonja. This really helps me to know I’m getting right the amount of information I include (I usually always pull out some before I publish).

      We took today (Sunday) off – we’ve been resting and relaxing and hopefully will feel ready to go tomorrow when we check out some more of the neighborhood and then do our grocery shopping for the week.

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  3. The grandkids are so cute! And, I hope you are coping with the jet lag. Working out & sunshine help me the most. I went for a run today while the kids were at running club. It helped. My goal is to get a regular night of sleep tonight, with just one Tylenol PM. 🙂

    The AirB&B looks really nice. Which general area is it in? I always stay at the Grand Hyatt (the gym is nice, and opens at 5, and I can get breakfast starting at 6:30 – both of which are essential, given jet lag), but some coworkers prefer AirB&Bs.

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    1. We’re resting today, but got up at a normal time this morning versus in the middle of the night so maybe we are finally over the hump.

      We were very (happily) surprised by the changes in our grandson – he so much more mature. Our granddaughter has gotten a little bigger (she really is a very petite little thing though) and is talking a lot more, although always in Japanese. She’ll begin preschool later in the spring though – they’re hoping for a spot in an international school so she gets more English and has to speak it.

      We’re staying in Sangenjaya, just three stops from Shibuya on the Den-en-toshi line. We really like it here, and our particular neighborhood is very quiet. The apartment is no longer offered through Airbnb; the owner rents privately although we initially connected through Airbnb. I know the Grand Hyatt well – it was a 10-minute walk from where our son and family used to live in Nishi Azabu, near Hiroo. Love that neighborhood too!

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  4. Your grandkids are so adorable! I too enjoy your details and pictures. So many blogs sound interesting and then are just short little posts, or sponsored posts – blech!! Also, I’m wondering if the Google translate app would help with translating?

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    1. Thanks, Denise! We are so happy to have this time with them. We’re also glad to be able to help out our son and DIL while we’re here with pickups, sleep-overs, etc. and give them a little breather.

      I do use Google translate, but I usually use our son or DIL to translate while we’re here! I know there’s that app I can hold up to the thing I don’t understand and it will translate, but I can almost always figure out enough to know what something is about (but that’s as far as it goes).

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      1. I have the Translate app, but most of the time I just can’t be bothered. I should use it here though, although I can understand quite a bit, and it seems English is everywhere and on everything now in preparation for the Olympics. I can think of places where it would have been nice to have, especially as you say, for menus.

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  5. That apartment looks wonderful for your stay. And your grands are so cute…they’ve grown! I love that the doll is named Marion. Any idea why? That seems like it has a story behind it.

    I also saw The Farewell and enjoyed it. Loved the grandmother! haha

    As others have said, your detail is always interesting and I learn from every one of your posts. Kudos!

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    1. Marion was my mother’s name and is now her middle name (she was born shortly before my mom died). I think it was adorable that she chose it (and I have fun calling the doll Marion).

      The apartment is very nice. There are always a few quirks at any place we stay though – with this one it’s that the shower tends to leak around the edges of the shower curtain and gets the floor and rug wet – we’re working on a solution for that. Otherwise everything is just about perfect! For some reason, even though it’s located just next door to the apartment we had last year, this one is far more quiet.

      I loved the Grandmother too – and loved the surprise at the ending!

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  6. I think its so cool that you can spend three months a year with your grands. Such a positive way to create bonds and long lasting memories…and that Japan is your favorite country is just a cherry on top!

    The apartments look small to my American eyes 🙂 but having a big sofa sounds much more comfortable than two slippery chairs. The dining chairs look large and comfortable too.

    Is there any cause for security concerns using a non-bank ATM?

    The details and photos are great!

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    1. We have been very lucky to be able to come to Japan for two years now. We’re already thinking another visit next year won’t be possible, but we’re hoping to meet up with our son and family somewhere else. We’ll see. We’d still love to do an even longer stay than three months, but until we get YaYu out of college that’s not going to be financially possible (well, it would be possible but difficult).

      I guess our apartment is small by American standards, but actually quite large by Japanese standards. Brett and I have found though we don’t need a whole lot of space – we’ve stayed in studio apartments and been very comfortable. We’ve become very good at carving out our own spaces so never feel cramped.

      Japan is a VERY safe country (which is one of the reasons we love it here). We have absolutely no concerns with using the ATM in a 7-11 as they’re bank-related (7-11 has their own bank in Japan believe it or not). The only place we won’t use an ATM is in a bar, but then again we don’t go into bars.

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  7. Ill chime in on loving the attention to detail that you provide in your posts! It indeed makes me feel as if I am right there along with you. I would imagine that when you read your posts back someday it will be very nice as you recall each trip!!

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    1. Thank you! Lots of detail will be coming up next week!

      I have greatly enjoyed going back through our posts and reading about our experiences and impressions. I’m grateful for the detail I’ve included as well.

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