Sunday Morning 2/2/2020: Week 2 in Japan

We headed back to Shibuya station across the famous Shibuya zebra crossing on Friday. It was as crowded as ever.

This past week went nothing at all like we thought it would. Our son and family all came down with a stomach virus beginning last Sunday. It started with the grandkids, so they were home from school for a couple of days meaning no school pick-ups for us. Then the virus hit our son and DIL hard on Tuesday night, so we went over and got the grandkids on Wednesday, took them out to lunch and spent a couple of hours in the park with them before taking them back home and helping them play quietly until their parents woke up and were functional again.

The weather was pretty crazy this past week as well. On Monday, when we headed over to the New Sanno Hotel and the National Azabu Market, the weather was very cold and overcast, and it felt like it would start snowing at any moment. But rain showed up instead in the evening, and on Tuesday it rained. All. Day. Long. Seriously – it never stopped for even one moment. We stayed indoors and read and stayed dry and warm. But on Wednesday we woke up to bright sunshine, blue skies and temperatures more normal for April than January. Thursday and Friday were also very nice, but nowhere as warm as Wednesday; in fact, by Friday night it was bitterly cold again. Yesterday was sunny and clear again, and fairly warm again, and I can see blue skies outside again today.

Other than Tuesday and Saturday we’ve been out walking every day, racking up the steps (anywhere from 8,000 to over 10,000 per day) and climbing stairs (at least 14 flights per day). On Wednesday we went with the grandkids to the Olympic Memorial Museum in the Komazawa Olympic Park (which was built as a secondary site for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics). The museum is one of the free places listed in Secret Tokyo. It’s a small museum primarily covering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but it had some interesting displays and activities. For example, visitors can walk around with one of the actual (unlit) Olympic torches that had been used by runners, see different uniforms the Japanese team had worn, and see medals awarded that year. We picked up both kids from their respective schools on Thursday and got them home with lots of train riding and stair climbing and walking but zero complaints! Brett and I went to Shibuya early Friday afternoon to check out a new-to-us discount market, Don Quixote, famed for their supply and selection of KitKats, and then picked up C later on and brought him back to our place for a sleepover. While we were in Shibuya we also went over to the nearby Tokyu Hands store so I could have a tea float (iced tea with a scoop of ice cream – absolutely delicious) while Brett enjoyed some hot cocoa. We made a trip out to the Atsugi base yesterday and stocked up on American foods and supplies that will help get us through the next three months.

Hot cocoa and a very delicious tea float. I still think these need to become a thing in the U.S.

Overall though it was a very good week. Our son and family are well again, Brett and I didn’t get sick, we did and saw some new things as well as some old favorites, got some other things accomplished and had fun as well. We’re looking forward to resting and relaxing today though before starting in again next week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I honestly thought I was going to get to the end of January without finishing a book, but I finished both Killing Commendatore and an Inspector Morse book, The Wench Is Dead this past week. I’ve started the next book in the Inspector Morse series, The Secret of Annexe 3, and I’m also reading the second book in the Harry Potter series, The Chamber of Secrets (while still reading the first book with our grandson). It appears this year is going to be one of nostalgic reading, at least for a while. I’ve also been considering rereading John Le Carré’s George Smiley series later in the year. We’ll see.
  • Listening to: Brett’s rustling around and making coffee in the kitchen but otherwise, all is quiet – I love it. I thought we’d be hearing more noise outside because of the nice weather this morning, but there’s been nothing but silence from out there.
  • Watching: I watched Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse with C on Friday night but that’s all.
  • Cooking: The chicken soup and beef curry on last week’s menu plan didn’t get made, so we’re having the curry tonight, and the soup tomorrow, both with some naan bread we got at the commissary. We bought an inexpensive Crock Pot at the exchange and got a pot roast at the commissary, so I’m going to fix a Mississippi pot roast later in the week along with some roasted potatoes, and we’ll use the leftovers for French dip sandwiches on another evening. I’m also planning to make CookDo sweet and sour pork along with some rice this week, and maybe spaghetti with marinara and sausages one evening. The whole family is planning to go out for udon with us on Friday. There’s a very good restaurant down the street from us where they serve some amazing housemade noodles and we’ve all been looking forward to eating there again (our DIL said she could eat there every night and never grow tired of their noodles because they’re so good).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: See all the above. I accomplished everything I wanted to and then some.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than doing school pick-ups every day, Brett and I are planning to visit a couple of nearby places in the Secret Tokyo book. Also, we want to do a bit more exploration in our neighborhood and go check out a few alleyways that look interesting. We learned that our neighborhood is apparently one of the hippest in Tokyo, especially because of the little bars and gastropubs (izekaya) that line the alleys.
    My seafood doria – it wasn’t very big but it was very delicious and satisfying. I want to try making one of these – there are many variations.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I got to try a delicious new Japanese dish when we took the grandkids out for lunch on Wednesday: a “seafood doria,” a combination of shrimp, scallops, and rice in a delicious cream sauce and topped with cheese. I had no idea what a doria was before this, but have since discovered it’s a Japanese-style casserole made with seafood, chicken, or other meat along with rice and put together with a cream sauce and a small amount of cheese. I am now collecting doria recipes! We had another great time with C when he slept over on Friday night – we really enjoy spending time with him. We hit the KitKat jackpot at Don Quixote and found 11 more flavors, so we’re now well over halfway to our goal of finding at least 18 different flavors!
    We bought four special regional flavors from different prefectures, including autumn leaf manju (Hiroshima), strawberry monaka (Hokkaido), Shinshu apple (Shinshu), and purple sweet potato (Okinawa) . . .
    . . . as well as bags of custard with caramel, strawberry, cherry blossom and kinako, roasted tea, strawberry daifuku, party ice cream, and tangerine flavors!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than buying food and the KitKats this past week, we spent very little, or at least it felt like we did (our son paid for our lunch out on Wednesday). We budgeted $400 for our shopping at the exchange and commissary but only spent $253.50 The Navy Exchange is running a scratch-off coupon event right now, and we won 15% off our entire purchase there, the highest amount off available! Although we saw several things in Tokyu Hands that we thought about buying, we were able to walk away and didn’t spend anything there other than for our drinks. We spent only ¥580 ($5.32) for our takoyaki on Friday, and even with the addition of some potato salad for us and a beef korokke (potato croquette), cherry tomatoes, a dinner roll and ice cream for C’s meal that evening (he doesn’t like takoyaki), the total for everything was still only ¥1843 ($16.92), so ¥1200 went back into our dining out envelope.
    Watching takoyaki being made. They were the perfect meal on a cold night!
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I very thankful we didn’t pick up the stomach virus from our son, DIL, or grandkids. I don’t even want to imagine.
  • Bonus question: What won’t you eat in Japan? There are only two things I can think of that I absolutely won’t eat in Japan: natto, fermented soybeans, and niboshi, tiny, infant sardines used as a condiment. I have tried to eat both and just can’t do it even though natto is considered a superfood and is beloved in Japan. I can’t get past the smell of natto (like rancid, old socks to me) and with the niboshi it’s the hundreds of tiny eyeballs staring up at me as I bring the fish to my mouth. There are other foods I avoid, but I could still eat them if I have to, but these two are absolutely not happening for me.
    The much-dreaded natto . . .
    . . . and the equally disliked niboshi. Those eyes! (They look sort of big in this picture but the fish are actually about an inch or so long.)

Although it can be tiring sometimes, Brett and I are very happy for this opportunity to help out our son and daughter-in-law when we can, even if it’s just for a few months, and of course spend time with our grandchildren. With our DIL now working (a fairly intense job, it seems), and with our son’s and the kids’ busy schedules, we are thankful we can give M & M a breather now and again, and serve as a back up when needed. It may be a while before we can get back to Japan again after this visit, but we’ve seen and done so much here already and are happy to make the most of our time with them and help as much as we can.

We experienced our first earthquake very early yesterday morning, a little after 2:00 a.m. We’ve been through several earthquakes here in the past, but this is the first time we’ve been awakened by our phones flashing off and on and blaring “Alert! Alert!” We were curious how they knew to call our number but our son said as long as we are connected to any Internet network we will get an alert. The earthquake was a small one, just 2.3 on the Richter scale and very short, but all earthquakes here are taken extremely seriously.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. I hope everyone had a great week with lots of good things happening for them and is looking forward to the week that’s coming up. For now, Brett and I are looking forward to a well-earned day of rest!

21 thoughts on “Sunday Morning 2/2/2020: Week 2 in Japan

  1. I can’t believe they have so many kitkat flavours! Amazing how emergency messages can be pushed to mobile phones.Enjoy the time with your grandkids – I know it will go quickly!

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    1. I can’t remember now how many flavors KitKats here have come up with, but it’s well over 100! They’re very popular here, and even have “gourmet” KitKat stores that feature special (and more expensive) flavors. The strangest flavor I’ve ever tried is soy sauce, but it wasn’t bad at all – I’d love to find it again but I think it’s out of production. There’s been a pumpkin flavor, peanut butter & jelly, blueberry, raspberry, and all sorts of others.

      We were surprised by the earthquake warning. It’s actually a “pre-warning” because with a quake, the actual big shocks come later – the warning goes out at the first instance so people can prepare as much as possible.

      We have a busy week coming up with the kids – looking forward to it. The time does go too quickly too.

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      1. The warnings give people time to take cover in their homes, businesses, or at schools, especially those on higher floors or turn off gas appliances (newer buildings have automatic shut off for gas lines when an earthquake is detected). It gives those outside time to find a place to shelter. It’s not a lot of time, mind you, but every little bit helps.

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  2. Everything is so new and interesting to me! I had no idea that KitKats are all the rage in Japan. I also wonder if you’ve noticed any preparations for the upcoming Olympics this summer.
    It seems like many countries have a national alert system for earthquakes and other emergencies. When we were in Europe 2-3 years ago, we downloaded an app and we’d be notified on our phones about weather alerts and such. The app would know in what country we were and pick up only the alerts that were relevant. It’s good to have even few seconds to find shelter in an earthquake situation.Do the apartments have certain more secure areas marked? I have no idea how they build there but I’m pretty sure they mind the earthquakes a lot.
    Anyways, glad you’re in good health and spirits! Here there is a bruhaha with that coronavirus, although they say the risk is low for us.

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    1. The preparations for the 2020 Olympics are impressive, but there’s still work ongoing. There is a lot more English signage around and information for visitors. It’s still going to be very, very crowded. At first I thought I’d like to come, to see any event, but now I’m glad we won’t be here. It will be taking place at the worst time of the year, weather-wise, and it’s already crowded enough here as it is, let along adding hundreds of thousands of visitors and athletes.

      The earthquake alerts seems to be a fairly new thing – they didn’t have them last year. Apparently when there’s an earthquake there’s an initial shock wave that happens a few seconds before the major waves begin, and that initial wave is what sets off the alarm. Not a lot of time, but apparently those few seconds can make a difference in getting prepared. Tall buildings here are built to sway to better absorb the shock, but I would not like to be up in a tall building during an earthquake (our DIL was in their 26th floor apartment during the 2011 major quake; our son was on the 35th floor of his office building. Not fun, but thankfully nothing was damaged. They did get shook up quite a bit though).

      KitKats really are a thing here – we love it, and are always looking for new and interesting flavors to take back with us. Last year we ate them during our stay; this year we’re going to take them with us and open them at our next destination.

      The coronavirus has hit here too as they get quite a few visitors from China. The last I heard there have been two confirmed cases in Japan, and 17 people are in quarantine. You can’t help avoid crowds here although we try. For example, our son has asked us not to take the kids through crowded train stations but use buses instead.

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      1. Oh, I believe it’s going to be crazy crowded once the summer comes around, so it’s good you’ll be out of there by then. Good thinking to keep the kids and yourselves away from major crowded areas.

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  3. I’ve only experienced one earthquake and it was a minor one. That was bad enough! The warning system sounds like a great idea and I bet they’ll find ways for it to give a warning even more in advance in the future.

    The Kit Kats are fun. There are some Asian markets here that sell a few of the varieties, but nothing like what you see in Japan. The seafood doria looks delicious! I’ve never heard of it, but I’d like to try it. It kind of looks like a casserole. Is it creamy? The udon restaurant sounds amazing as well.

    The weather is very warm here for this time of year. It should hit 60 on Monday. Crazy.

    Enjoy!

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    1. The worst earthquake I’ve felt was a 6.4 – very strong but thankfully very short. I think the Japanese are way ahead of everyone else when it comes to earthquake detection and warning, but they’re still very random and nearly impossible to predict.

      The doria was very creamy. Even that small dish was very filling, but very comforting and delicious. I am looking forward to making them in the future.

      I often wonder why the U.S. hasn’t gone the same route with KitKats – they’d be a huge hit there. But so far I’ve only seen a couple of different varieties.

      It’s much warmer than usual here – very weird. My coat is usually too warm, and I didn’t really bring anything lighter along this time.

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  4. Can’t believe how big your grandson is now. Glad you are having a good time. Love all the kit kat flavors. I hate crowds so if I ever get a chance to go to Japan it will have to be in the countryside. Great pictures.

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    1. He really is getting big – I think he’s going to be tall, while our granddaughter is very small for her age.

      We are having a good time. This trip is less about sightseeing than it is helping out our son and daughter in law, and spending time with the grandkids. We still plan to get out and see and do things, but not as much as we did last year.

      The crowds here are for the most part very polite and easy to deal with. The only time I don’t like it is during a festival or rush hour, so I avoid both of those.

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  5. Hi Laura, I’m a bit behind in commenting. Firstly, so pleased to hear that you have decided on settling back in Kauai as you always sounded so happy and engaged when you were living there. I think we have taken the where to live decision out of the too hard basket and will be moving to Honolulu which I am excited for.

    I do have a couple of questions which are Japan related. Have you read the book by Richard Parry related to the aftermath of the tsunami and how traditional Japanese culture played into decisions that were made, often with tragic consequences. If the voices of women hd of been heard, there may have been different outcomes Do you observe this kind of behaviour in Japan. Personally I find Japanese culture extremely interesting though I really do not comprehend most of it.
    https://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Tsunami-Death-Japans-Disaster/dp/0374253978. My other question is I was wondering how true it is that Japanese are not keen on foreigners taking up residence? Was your DIL’s family happy for her to marry a westerner?

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    1. First, thank you for the book recommendation! I have done a lot of reading about the 2011 tsunami, but this is one I’ve missed. I do think women are listened to, but more in the private versus the public sector, but that is changing, maybe not fast enough though. I would like to read this book before making further comments about what happened and what could have been done, and women’s roles in all of that.

      Japan is still a very insular country in many ways, and “works” because it’s very homogenous. Everyone knows the cultural rules, so to speak. So while foreigners are welcome, in my opinion they are still treated with some wariness in the overall scheme of things. I’m not entirely sure how our DIL family felt about her marrying our son. I know they did expect him to have a certain standing economically (he has exceeded their expectations), and he was in a different position because when they decided to marry he could already speak Japanese fluently and could converse with them. Our DIL is also the most “Western” of their children, and had lived and studied in the U.S. They love our son now; I don’t think they think about his being Western anymore, but I’m sure at the beginning they had their worries over whether cultural differences could be overcome.

      Japanese culture is VERY different from the U.S. I know many people who have lived and worked all over the world that have come here and suffered deep culture shock compared to living in other places.

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  6. Hi Laura & Brett, your grandchildren are beautiful. Lucky you two getting to spend so much time with them—and how nice you two could pinch hit when the parents were so ill. Your daily lives while there to interact with the family and provide support is a win win for everyone.

    I agree the US population might have a surge of interest in KitKat if there were different options. Presenting an old favorite in different flavors would be interesting.

    Stay warm and healthy in February! Happy Travels, Sonja

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    1. We have another busy week coming up with the grandkids! We won’t have as much time this trip for sightseeing and other things as we did last year, but that’s OK because we’re happy to help out. Friday looks to be our only “free” day, with no pick-ups, so I guess that’s when we’ll get out to see things. Otherwise we plan to hang around in our neighborhood more.

      We’ve had some lovely spring-like weather, but it is supposed to get very cold again beginning this week! Lots of sunshine is still predicted though, thank goodness.

      We know of at least six more different KitKat flavors that we can easily pick up so I think we will pass our goal this time. The flavors they come up with really are original and fun.

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  7. Great pictures, as always. I can only imagine how happy your son and DIL were to have relief when they were sick. And lucky you didn’t catch it!

    Love the Kit Kat flavors. I had no idea those were a thing in Japan until I read your blog. Some of those flavors look amazing.

    We had a small (4 maybe?) earthquake while we were living in the Bay Area. I really didn’t realize what it was until it was over. But I do remember having to attach all the bookshelves in our office to the walls to hold our binders. You just start to think differently when you live in earthquake country.

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    1. I am sort of amazed we didn’t get sick from them as we were around them so much right before it started. We’re more concerned right now about the coronavirus. A week ago our son thought it was a big nothing, but now he’s worried about our taking the kids through crowded train stations, etc. and wants us to walk more and ride and the busses. There’s no sense of panic here yet, but we’re seeing a lot more people wearing face masks. I’m more concerned about touching things and picking things up that way as it can’t be helped on trains and in stations.

      You do think differently when you live in earthquake country. My big thing is having kitchen cabinets that lock when you close them, so dishes are less likely to come tumbling out. What sort of scare me are the huge apartment blocks, whether they will stay together or come crumbling down. Some in Tokyo are build on reclaimed land, and liquifaction can happen quickly those areas meaning they’re no longer on “solid ground.” Last year we didn’t feel a thing while we were here – hopefully that will be the same for the rest of our stay.

      I don’t think there’s a KitKat flavor that would shock me any more. Once I had a soy sauce one I knew they could pretty much do any flavor. We’re looking forward to finding lots more new flavors this year. We goaled ourselves with 18, but would love to go over 20 different flavors this time.

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  8. So glad you are able to spend so much time with the kiddos! Have you thought about purchasing cotton gloves before everyone else thinks of it (virus and touching things like handrails)? They are saying that first world country people are much more likely to have problems with the current flu. I know we all did.
    I’ve lived through a number of earthquakes from small to 6. Cyclones, actually, drove me a bit crazier. Maybe it was because the worst was in Hong Kong and our tall building swayed for hours? WE did move to Monterey month after the Northridge quake in the 90’s. After shocks were common. The kids had to have a food/water/clothing kit at school. That was a bit unnerving.
    Hope you have another great week!

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    1. No cotton gloves yet, but we did hear supplies of face masks are starting to dwindle. I think the ones here though are more for keeping your own germs in and aren’t that great for keeping things out. When are son says “buy” we will. In the meantime, I should have bought a gallon of Purell or such when we were at the commissary to use on our hands, especially since I always have to hold a rail going down the stairs.

      Interesting about first-world people having more problems. Is it because we’re more lacksidaisical about these things, or ???

      I agree with you about the cyclones. We went through a couple of big ones when we were stationed here (and one in Hong Kong when I met Brett there – we had a day together before the ship had to pull out of the harbor and head out to sea to avoid the storm) and they about drove me mad, all that howling, whistling wind. Our grands have earthquake kits at their respective schools (our girls had to have them in Portland as well – it’s also earthquake territory, and they are due for a big one there).

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  9. Most US airlines have cancelled all flights to and from China until the spring. US has also instituted mandatory 14 day quarantines for travelers coming from China.
    https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/02/us/coronavirus-us-travel-restrictions/index.html

    Two years ago I read The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – an historical fiction story of a village in England during the middle ages and how the village quanrantined itself when the plague hit. Its amazing that one of the best tools is still this.

    I remember the days of living with “little petri dishes” and the germs. So glad that your family is all on the mend and you were able to enjoy the beautiful weather!

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