Sunday Morning 2/23/2020: Week 5 in Japan

It’s Sunday morning in Japan . . .

It’s been a busy and tiring week with lots of pickups, schedule changes, and so forth. We ended up spending three days this week at the park with the grandkids where we usually just do one. Thankfully the weather has been beautiful this week, cold but bright and sunny. Monday it was actually quite balmy – even a light coat was too much! We’re in the middle of a three-day weekend here (tomorrow is the Emperor’s Birthday, a national holiday), so no pick-ups tomorrow, but we are going on an outing with our son and family today, to Chichibu, in Saitama prefecture. The area is new to me, but there’s an unusual museum there I read about that I hope we get to visit.

It was a great week for the kids to go to the park!

Brett and I had a day off from picking up the kids on Friday, so we went out and did a little more exploring in our own neighborhood. Our first stop was Mr. Donut to get ourselves some donut holes for a treat. Donuts in Japan are far less sweet than what you find in the U.S. but they were still good – the raspberry one was fantastic. Then we walked across the main road to check out a “dirty dish store” we had seen the other day. “Dirty dish store” is what we use to call a dish shop open to the street (the dishes get dusty quickly) that carries odds and ends of dishes for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere. These shops usually don’t look like much, but there are treasures to be found if you take your time (I didn’t buy anything, although I was tempted). Next, we stopped in a compact but interesting ¥100 store (currently 89¢ for us), called CanDo, and we bought coffee filters and a pair of silicone-tipped cooking chopsticks that we’ll carry along with us. Then it was window shopping down the road for a while, but eventually, we stopped into a well-known cookie shop called Tokyo Rusk and purchased some to take along with us on our outing today (three flavors: Earl Grey tea & orange, maple, and almond). Finally, we crossed the street to check out the Kaldi Coffee Farm store, which not only sells really good coffee but also foods from around the world at fairly reasonable prices. The selection of goods in that store was incredible, and we ended up buying four cans of Campbell’s soup, a small bottle of vanilla, a box of crackers and one of our favorite cheeses, Boursin black pepper, to have with our wine on Friday evening. Instead of making another long trip out to the commissary, we’ve decided we’ll replace the things we run out of at Kaldi – it won’t cost too much more and will be far easier and more convenient.

This past week at the park with our grandson, I got the chance to observe his bilingualism in action as he switched seamlessly back and forth between speaking with Brett and me in English and his friends in rapid-fire Japanese as he played a game on my phone. As a linguist, it was exciting to observe his code-switching as it’s something I had only read about but never actually experienced. Our granddaughter is moving in the same direction but is not there yet. For now, she understands us when we speak English to her but responds completely in Japanese. I can understand her (which tells you my level of Japanese is that of a three-year-old), but Brett can’t, so the other day when he was watching her she would eventually spit out a word or two in English when she figured out her Grandpa wasn’t getting the message in Japanese. 

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Hunting Party – it was good, but not as good as I had hoped – and am now reading American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. I’ve got five more books on hold at the library, but I’m not expecting any of them any time soon.
  • Listening to: It’s quiet inside and out – Brett’s reading, I’m writing, and our stuff is by the front door so as soon as our son calls and lets us know he’s downstairs we can slip on our shoes, pick up our stuff and be out the door to meet them. It looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day!
  • Watching: We finished watching The Stranger – a very surprising ending – and are currently looking for something new but are not in any hurry.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re going to have the fancy udon bowls for dinner that we picked up a couple of weeks ago. Otherwise, dinners this week will be CookDo sweet and sour pork; karaage, potato salad, and cucumbers; chicken yakisoba; spaghetti with meat sauce; tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) with shredded cabbage; and dim sum for dinner (shumai, gyoza, spring rolls and chili shrimp). The karaage will come from a shop near C’s school that our DIL has recommended. For our dining out this week we’ve decided that instead of going out to dinner we’ll go out to lunch instead. Also near C’s school is a restaurant called The French Toast Factory that Brett has been wanting to try because he loves French toast, so we’ll go there sometime this week before picking up C.
  • The olive oil orange cake – it came out looking good but tasted even better. C wants to help me bake a cake next time he comes over!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I successfully baked an olive oil orange cake, and it felt like such an accomplishment – baking is not something I do much of anymore, and nothing was familiar here. Although not as much as the week before, we again did a lot of walking every day. We averaged 6,500 steps per day, although I topped 10,000 steps on Thursday. We got the grandkids picked up at the right time every day, even though it was a different kid at a different time each day. Toward the end of the week I found a very good price to get us from Boston to Portland and got those seats booked.
  • Looking forward to next week: We are planning to visit Shinjuku tomorrow as we don’t have to pick up either of the grandkids.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Even though we didn’t get out much, everything that happened this week was good, even the weather!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Brett filed our taxes this past week, and we will be getting a nice refund this year, enough to cover our tickets from Boston to Portland. I bought a single cookie at Tokyo Rusk because I wanted to try the flavor (matcha-covered chocolate) and the salesperson gave Brett another one for free! We put ¥3000 back into the food shopping envelope this week (we used miscellaneous funds for shopping trips on Friday and yesterday).
  • Grateful for: I’m always thankful for the chance to see new places in Japan, and I’ve never been to Chichibu, but most of all I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend a full day with our son and family as these days it seems we see them more on the fly when they’re returning from work, etc. Their lives are so busy these days, so we’re glad we can help out for a while and enjoy time doing things with them.

Treasures at the “dirty dish store”

  • Bonus question: When it comes to spending money in Japan, what thing is the most “dangerous” for you? Hands down, that would be dishes, especially pottery dishes and some of the blue and white. It’s my favorite section in any department store, and my favorite place to visit in Tokyo is Kappabashi, the kitchen district, because of its vast selection of tableware and low prices (and it’s so close to us now and easy to get to). We bought some bowls and small plates when we were here last year, and I’d like to get some larger plates and teacups but we have no way to carry them back this time as we’re not returning to where we could put them into storage. Anyway, I have a hard time ignoring the dishes here – they’re beautiful, there’s an incredible variety, and all the different shapes, sizes, and coordinating colors and motifs (especially the different ways blue is used) speak to my personal dislike of matchy-matchy dish sets. The second most dangerous thing would be unique Japanese sweets and snacks, things like Hato Sabure (bird cookies), Tokyo Banana, Tokyo Rusk, and so forth.
Our yummy roasted chicken dinner – we will DEFINITELY be going back for more of this!

One thing I love about Japan is that there are so many small (tiny?) businesses that take a simple idea and then execute it perfectly, whether it’s serving ice cream, selling clothing or flowers, opening a cafe or tea shop, whatever. I was completely exhausted and sore on Thursday evening after my 10,000+ steps and really didn’t feel like cooking dinner, so we made a command decision to “dine out” that night and stopped at a little hole in the wall place selling roast chicken that we pass every day on our way to and from Sangenjaya station. All the place sells is roast chicken, roasted potatoes, and green salads, all made in the place’s tiny kitchen. We bought a half chicken along with roasted potatoes for ¥1500 ($13.40) and practically inhaled it because it smelled so amazingly good. It was absolutely delicious too – the chicken was perfectly roasted and the potatoes were as well, lovely and crisp on the outside but tender inside. I love the Japanese ethic that if you’re going to do something – anything – you do it well or you don’t do it at all. We see and experience it everywhere we go.

Finally, one more accomplishment: yesterday Brett and I rode over to Tokyo Station and purchased three new KitKat flavors, all from Tokyo Banana, a famous snack in Japan. We got the regular Tokyo Banana flavor, and also caramel banana, and banana milk. The last two are limited edition flavors and will be gone in March. We had to go to three different gift shops to find them, but we now are up to 22 different flavors of KitKats! We also purchased a small package of the original Tokyo Banana cakes (sponge cake filled with banana creme – yummy) because we had never tried them before, and we also bought a five-pack of Hato Sabure (bird cookies). We can’t be here and not have a bird cookie!

That’s all for this week! We’re leaving to go over to our son’s in just a few minutes and then off on our adventure. I hope everyone had a great week with lots of good things happening, and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up!

20 thoughts on “Sunday Morning 2/23/2020: Week 5 in Japan

  1. I too enjoy shopping at the “dirty dish stores” and Kaldi is great. My sons lives close to a shopping street with these shops and lots more – including Mac Donald’s. We are very spoiled in Japan with things so close.

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    1. We’ve been in Kaldi before but never really done an indepth look at what they have and their prices, so it was an good visit for us. We never got out in our own neighborhood all that much last year, so it’s been fun getting to do that this year.

      Sadly, dirty dish stores are a dying breed. It was fun poking through this one though although I don’t need or want anything. It is only through sheer force of will that we haven’t been to Kappabashi (Brett knows I wouldn’t be able to resist buying stuff).

      The only thing I ever get at McDonald’s anywhere is the teriyaki burger in Japan – I love it!

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  2. Oh, I hear you with the love for dishes…I too would have a hard time refraining from buying them.
    Spring has come to Sacramento, next week we expect temperatures in mid 70s. The trees are frantically blooming and the allergies are ramping up LOL.
    I hope you had a great outing with your son’s family. It’s nice to give them some time to catch their breath, I’m sure they appreciate it very much.

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    1. Dishes are my one true weakness in Japan, and there are still many good deals to be found. I got rid of over half of my Japanese dishes when we moved from Hawaii, but decided it was time for something new, and I was happy to pass them on to someone else to enjoy.

      We’re heading out in just a couple of minutes – oour son rents a minivan so we can all fit in together. I will write about it after we get back!

      Temperatures will be near 60 degrees today – almost balmy for Japan. I’m taking along a coat but don’t think I’ll have to wear it.

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    1. We did have some good food this week, especially that roast chicken. Why did it take us so long to go there? is what we’re asking ourselves now. So reasonable and so good!

      We had a GREAT time with our family on Sunday too!

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  3. Oh!!! The dishes. I hope I am not tempted – hope I only go to touristy places so there won’t be the range and at a price I can easily ignore.

    So I will be arriving on the public holiday for the emperor’s birthday!?! How exciting. Hope they do something special – like fireworks.

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    1. Remember that everything at the touristy places will. cost. too. much. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to ignore most of it, although I’ve sort of decided that Japan doesn’t make ugly things, at least not for their own citizens. There is stuff produced for the tourist market and it can be very kitchsy and unattractive. Anyway, have a wonderful time, even if you don’t get fireworks for the Emperor’s birthday.

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      1. Saw beautiful dishes. But resisted. The weight! And where would I put them. But I will buy some of those tea towels, wrap, table runner things. You’ve written about them previously. Will look when in Osaka.

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      2. Dishes here are gorgeous. It is only through a supreme force of will that I am not buying any.

        I think you may be talking about tenugui, the cotton hand towels? They are another beautiful and practical item, and yes they do pack well. I know there is a famous shop in Kyoto, if you get to visit the Gion area, but otherwise they can be found in lots of places. The designs are unlimited.

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  4. I love your photos of the small details of life. Thank you for taking so many and explaining what they are. I can’t even figure out most of the gadgets in that one photo – is the pink nail thing for holding a bottle of nail polish?

    How very cool to witness your grandson’s linguistic abilities. I’m sure spending time with you and Brett is helping both grands understand the “benefit” of speaking different languages – even if they aren’t conscious of it.

    We’ve had a few super cold days here in New England, which is good as we need them to help kill off ticks, but today will be 50! My car is covered in frost and the furnace is buzzing away this morning though.

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    1. Some of those gadgets gave us a good laugh. The pink nail thing not only holds your bottle of nail polish, but it has spaces for you to put your fingers through (sort of like a giant ring for your whole hand) to keep them spread while you paint your nails!

      We needed a coat on our trip on Sunday – it was chilly – but today all Brett and I have needed to stay warm are light cotton sweaters. I almost can’t believe it’s still February.

      Our granddaughter has now spontaneously used English with me a couple of times, so her linguistic code-changing is getting started!

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  5. Two days of cold in Delaware, but beautiful today. I am struggling with my love of dishes. As we have chatted before, it is time to give some away. I have some fun ones from the dirty dish store in Hong Kong. Going to Chinese markets in large US cities are always a treat, but I don’t take my purse in!
    I love linguistical gymnastics. Kids are amazing! Your grands are precious in every way. What a joy that you all get to know each other through these stays.
    Off to the beach today. Ahhh- I love being retired.

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    1. We got rid of so many of our Japanese dishes when we moved from Hawaii, but the woman who bought them was so happy to get them, so that made me happy too. We’d had them for over 25 years, and I was just ready for something new. But of course now we cant get anything because we have no place to put it or store it, and we don’t want to carry it around in our suitcases.

      I’ve shopped at a few dirty dish stores in Hong Kong! My favorites were some low, wide bowls (pasta bowl size), white with blue fish. Those got used for so many things, and were so sturdy.

      Kids pick up language so fast. Adults always worry about the rules, or if they’re saying or writing it correctly, while kids just dive in. I’m having a blast listening to them, and my granddaughter’s three-year-old’s Japanese is perfect for me – I can pick out tenses, etc. because she speaks slowly enough and without slang or abbreviations.

      Hope you had a good time at the beach. I absolutely LOVE being retired!!

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  6. I too would have a tough time in the dirty dish store. Those bowls are calling my name. 🙂 And I haven’t tried the Boursin with black pepper. Looks awesome. As does the chicken dinner. Yum…lots of great food treats this week!

    We have had sunshine for a few days running, and it’s amazing how uplifting it is. It’s not usually this sunny in winter here for days on end. Loving it!

    Taking my daughter to the airport tomorrow after a great three week visit. And now we go into mad prep for house sale, which is coming in a couple weeks. Crazy but fun times. And I’ll be in England in a few months for the new grandbaby. Yikes.

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    1. When we were stationed here, I quite literally never met a dish store I didn’t love. I used to collect hashioki (chopstick rests) and loved to go into the stores and search for those. We were also fortunate to make several trips to famouse “dish villages,” home to some of Japan’s most famous kilns. There were rows of streets where shops sold dishes and we bought A LOT. Those were the days!

      The Boursin combines two of my favorite things, pepper and cheese. I’ve found it’s difficult to find in the U.S. though but I can always find it overseas for some reason. It’s delicious!!

      I honestly don’t envy your doing a house sale, but I hope it goes quickly and easily for you. It would be lovely to have that all set and done before your new grandbaby arrives.

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      1. Yes, not all that excited about the selling process, but hoping it goes fast. It’s a seller’s market here right now, so fingers crossed. Would love to have it resolved before I fly across the pond!

        Also, forgot to say the bird cookies brought back great memories of winning your giveaway. They’re yummy!

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      2. I will have my fingers crossed for you as well. One of the reasons we don’t want to buy again (admittedly a small one), is that we don’t ever want to go through the buying and selling process again!

        I still feel so bad that you got broken cookies! Lesson learned though – only bring them back if they’re in a tin. We saw at the store the other day that you can now purchase a tin with 48 cookies inside. Tempting, but that tin was HUGE!

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    1. Brett and I are still asking ourselves why it took so long for us to stop at the little chicken restaurant. We walk past it every day, and never stopped there last year. Now we can’t wait to go back! It was incredibly delicious, and perfectly cooked. We were smart to set up a dining out budget because there is so much good food available here, and for some very reasonable prices.

      I think the coronavirus is going to slow us down a bit, but I’ll keep documenting what we’re able to do and see as much as I can. For now though everyone has been advised not tom make unnecessary trips (i.e. sightseeing) in Tokyo.

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