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.
- 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.
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!