The Million Dollar Question: Decisions Have Been Made

They say you can’t go home again, but I’m going anyway.

LOL – I said I wasn’t going to write this week, but guess what I’ve been doing!

For the past several weeks, day after day after day we have talked and talked and talked some more about where or whether to settle, have over and over the pros and cons of each option again and again, have made lists, and have debated whether we wanted to buy a house again or not (we even went so far as to get a pre-approval from our bank to see how much house we could afford) or buy a car.

We changed our minds several times, and went back and forth, with a new option added to our list at one point, not that we needed another one in the mix. But, eventually we were able to come to a decision.

I now believe that our indecision is what brought on or worsened my insomnia – once we made up our minds all of that went away (well, that and a drastic reduction in the amount of caffeine I consume). All I could think about every night was where should we live? What’s the best location for us? It was driving me crazy and keeping me awake.

The order of our final list feels right. Nothing has been chiseled into stone yet, but we can finally start thinking more about and working toward what comes next.

Here is the new list, and how we ordered our choices:

  1. San Clemente, CA. I’m still a California girl at heart. And, I’ve always loved San Clemente and the surrounding area (Dana Point and Laguna Beach) – back when we decided to leave Portland, it was the #2 area on our list after Hawai’i. The opportunity to live there now ticks off a lot of the most important boxes for both of us though: warm, sunny weather, low humidity, being close to the ocean, and friends living nearby to name a few. It’s eas(ier) for family to get there, and a place people love to visit. Our biggest hurdle will be finding an affordable place to live – coastal prices in California can be like Hawaii’s, or higher, but we’re into living small and simply these days so that will help us find something affordable. We’ve definitely decided we don’t want to buy again, and we’ve also pretty much decided that we’re not going to buy a car, and that we’d like to try to get by without one for as long as possible. However, there’s a trolley service in the San Clemente area that can get us around somewhat and otherwise we will use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft, or we’ll walk. If we want or need to take a longer journey we’ll rent a car. Also, Amtrak connects San Clemente to both Los Angeles and San Diego – San Clemente is located halfway between the two cities.

    The town of Laguna Beach is connected to San Clemente via Dana Point by the trolley service.
  2. Another year of travel. This option sort of popped up unbidden, but once we started talking about it we became interested in the idea, and realized we could continue if we wanted.  There are still many places we want to visit, and we’ve come to see that a longer stay in each place works best for us rather than moving around ever few days or so. However, while the thought of spending time in new places is motivating, it also feels a bit exhausting right now. To be honest, I am more enthusiastic about the idea than Brett – he would rather settle down and then travel once a year or more, staying in a place for a month or so and being Occasional Nomads versus Full Time Nomads.
  3. Northern Arizona. This was our mystery location, another choice that just sort of popped into our consciousness, but once it did it really took hold. We liked the area a lot when we visited in 2017, and there were several locations to consider: Flagstaff, Williams, Prescott, and Sedona. The big drawbacks for us were the extreme dryness and lack of water, and the cold winters, but we otherwise love the natural beauty of the area, and the proximity to the Grand Canyon and other areas in Arizona and the southwest. We’d absolutely need to purchase a car here though, something that eventually made this location less appealing.
  4. Strasbourg, France. This option went to the bottom of the list not because we don’t love, love, love Strasbourg, but because as we talked it over and got into the weeds, we could see how complicated it would be, from the language to applying for a visa to finding housing to the kids visiting and so forth. A move there is really more than we want to take on at this stage of our lives.

One of the biggest factors contributing to the order of our list as well is that beginning in 2021 we will need to contribute somewhat significantly to the cost of YaYu’s education at Bryn Mawr during her last two years there. While all the girls currently receive generous financial aid because of all three being in school at the same time, that number dwindles to two next year because Meiling graduates this June, and beginning in the fall of 2020 it will be just YaYu attending college. She’ll still qualify for aid, but it won’t cover the full cost, and we want to help her through enough that she won’t need to take out student loans, or at the least, borrow very little (both Meiling and WenYu will graduate with no debt). After crunching the numbers, a simple life in Southern California actually puts the least amount of strain on our income, even with the high rents. Although California has high taxes, we’ve done the calculations with our income and ours shouldn’t be much, especially if we don’t own a car.

We also want to set aside money every month to cover the cost of a long-term visit to Japan every 15 months or so (for at least a month) and for other travel as well, and we have to buy some furniture too, so all those are some other financial considerations.

Anyway, a decision has been made and we can now move on to planning what comes next and when. It is a big relief to us to finally have a decision, and we’re feeling very good right now about where things are.

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!

Shopping In Tokyo’s Kitchen District

A giant chef statue marks the entrance to Kappabashi.

One of the most interesting and fun places we visited back when we were stationed in Japan was Kappabashi, or Tokyo’s “kitchen district.” The district is actually a long street lined on either side with stores that provide supplies to restaurants, bakeries, tea and coffee shops, noodle stands and home kitchens – anywhere food is prepared and served in Japan. You can find everything kitchen-related here: dishes, pots, pans of all shapes and size, baking pans and supplies, utensils, knives, glassware, uniforms, cookie cutters, every kitchen gadget imaginable and anything else a cook might want or desire. There are also stores that sell lanterns for the front of restaurants, signs for restaurants, uniforms, and realistic plastic food samples used for restaurant display windows.

Brett and I told ourselves when we went last Tuesday that we were only going to go and look, but I tucked some extra yen into my purse in case we saw something we had to have. We have been planning to buy some plates and soup bowls while we’re here in Japan, and I knew there was a chance we might find something we liked in Kappabashi.

We had an easy train ride to the area, about 35 minutes from our station, a big change from when we lived here before and our train trip was nearly 1 1/2 hours each way. Two Japanese men stepped up at our station to help us buy our tickets when we couldn’t find the stop on the station map (if you look confused in Japan, someone will always step forward to help you). I remarked to one of them that he sounded like a native English speaker, and it turned out he had been born and grew up in the Los Angeles area, in the next town over from my hometown!

This dish store had beautiful and affordable items. Japanese dish stores are dangerous places for me because I’m the proverbial kid in the candy store and want almost everything.

Coming out of the station, we turned to the right around the corner and headed down the street until we saw the giant chef statue, the sign that we had reached Kappabashi. Of course, the first shop we came to when we arrived had to be a large dish store where I could have happily spent all our money before looking at another thing because they had good prices and a big selection of beautiful dishes. However, I was able to restrain myself and only looked, and then Brett and I headed across the street to look at the rest of the shops.

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We did well fin keeping our money even though we saw many tempting items, but finally met our match at a large all-purpose kitchen store that catered not to restaurants but to home cooks. This place had everything for the kitchen it seemed but the kitchen sink, and in every size, color, shape or design imaginable. Brett and I strolled around and ended up with a small stainless steel mesh basket (for washing rice), a six-pack of microfiber cloths, and a pack of bamboo chopsticks (with a twist at the top, my favorite design), all things we need to replace and could easily fit into our suitcases.

After walking for a while we turned down a side street when we spotted a huge temple sitting just a block off of Kappabashi Street. We had seen on an area map that lots of temples and shrines were in the area, but were surprised to see one this close. The little street also was home to a small antique store with a beautiful blue Imari hibachi sitting out front. Back in the day I would have probably picked up one or two things from there as well, but I restrained myself this time.

Higashi-Honganji Temple is one of the oldest temples in Tokyo, established in 1651.
I could have happily taken this beautiful hibachi home with me but didn’t think it was fair to ask Brett to carry it.

We crossed over to the opposite side of the street after a while as we could see several dish stores (the side we started on had more pots, pans and other cooking implements). Dish stores are always fun for me to go into because I absolutely love Japanese dishes! We eventually found some reasonably priced pottery salad plates in one store that called our names ($8.60/plate) and bought five, and then found even more reasonably priced pottery soup bowls ($2.88/bowl) in another store and bought five of those. Both were carefully wrapped up and will be carried onto the plane with us when we fly home. We also found and bought two packages of our favorite toothpicks – we’ll never need to buy them again in our lifetimes.

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One of the most interesting things to check out on Kappabashi are the stores selling plastic food samples. We wandered through a couple of them with large selections of plastic food and were amazed by the skill and artistry of the work. I’ve added a video below of how plastic food is made – it’s quite amazing. Plastic food is not cheap either – pieces of sushi start at $5 and go up from there, and an item like a fancy ice cream sundae or bowl of ramen can cost over $100. The video below shows how a couple of different items are made (it’s in Japanese, but you don’t need the sound to understand what’s going on).

We had a great time visiting Kappabashi and we’d like to go back once more if we can – we think we’d like to get two dinner-size plates, and some dessert plates if we can find some we like. The train station for Kappabashi (Tawaramachi) is also just one stop away from Asakusa, where Sensoji-Temple is located, and we could make a day of it. But for now we’re happy and satisfied with our purchases and the items we bought, and glad we made the effort to go again to Kappabashi.

Food Shopping In Japan

Although we have access to the commissaries and American-style supermarkets and products on several bases in the Tokyo area, Brett and I decided we wanted to do as much as possible of our food shopping “out on the economy” (the military expression for anything off base). Not only would it be more convenient, but we wanted to see what it would cost to feed ourselves if we lived here, and what and how we eat might change.

Japanese shoppers typically only buy enough food for a couple of days at a time so that they are getting the freshest food possible. And, because Japanese meals usually consist of small servings of several different items, and kitchen storage space is minimal compared to the U.S., product sizes are much, much smaller than what Americans are used to. There are no big family packs of anything, no big cuts of meat, or five-pound bags of fruit. Loaves of bread have maybe six slices at most.

We did our weekly food shop at the Tokyu supermarket this past Saturday. We feel very lucky to have such a big supermarket nearby as they offer store brands and regularly have sales going on. Shopping carts, as I’ve mentioned, are just a standard plastic shopping basket on a trolley, but because the sizes of everything are so small we can really pack a lot into one of those baskets.

We spent a little more than we usually do last weekend, but that was due to the addition of a few items we don’t regularly buy, like two bottles of wine and a bag of flour. We also purchased a couple of splurge items, and spent more on one item because we decided to buy the more expensive “American” name brand (Johnsonville sausages) when we couldn’t figure out any of the similar Japanese products.

Our haul from the bakery – all of this deliciousness cost around $8.

We began our shopping trip with a visit to the bakery just down the street, where we bought two raisin rolls, an onion and cheese roll (for me), a cinnamon doughnut (for Brett) and a matcha cookie (for me). The raisin rolls were deliciously yeasty and light and we ate them for breakfast on Sunday morning along with some fruit. The onion and cheese roll was my breakfast this morning.

Below are pictures of what we bought this week at the supermarket, a fairly typical weekly shop for us. It was an all-food shop as well – we didn’t buy any toiletries or other non-food items. To give an idea of how small the below items are, everything fit into one standard size plastic shopping basket. 

Our produce purchases included a small head of broccoli; a bag of small eggplants (for mabo nasu); a carrot and a potato for curry; red, yellow and a bag of small green peppers for a pork & pepper stir fry; two tomatoes for BLTs (we have some bacon in the freezer, and lettuce in the fridge that needs to get finished); half of a cabbage for another stir fry and some cole slaw; and bananas and strawberries.

Our meat purchases were beef stew meat for the curry; ground pork for the mabo nasu; thinly sliced pork for a stir fry; a bag of frozen shrimp for chili shrimp; and Johnsonville sausages. We’re not exactly sure what type of sausages they are but we’re going to have them for breakfast. None of the meat packages weighs more than a quarter pound. The beef was the most expensive at $7 for that tiny package while the pork for stir fry was around $2.89. The seafood selection at the store is immense, but there are many things we don’t recognize. There are also several cuts of meat we don’t recognize either.

We bought two bags of raisin cookies (there are only five packages in each bag and the cookies are tiny); a package of sesame biscuits; two bags of soy peanut crackers, our favorite snack; two matcha cream cookies that we want to try (they were very good!); a bag of cheese snacks for the grands; two individual containers of purin (a flan-style custard) for dessert one evening; a package of Boursin pepper cheese, a surprise find as well as a total splurge for us; and wheat crackers to have with the cheese.

Beverage purchases included a small container of fat-free milk to use for pancakes and cereal; a bottle of unsweetened iced tea for Brett; two bottles of French wine, one red and one white (both are from Bordeaux, are delicious, and were surprisingly affordable); and two bottles of water. The bottled water is for drinking – there are still lingering concerns because of the Fukushima accident. All plastic bottles in Japan are recycled – we have a separate container for them in the apartment.

Miscellaneous items include three Cook Do sauces (chili shrimp, mabo nasu, and pork and cabbage stir fry); a box of curry sauce cubes; a small bag of flour for pancakes; and a bag of Chinese steamed pork buns (nikuman).

Tokyu supermarket, like almost all markets in Japan, has a wide selection of high-quality, affordable prepared foods for sale. We bought two katsu (panko-breaded fried pork cutlets), finely-shredded cabbage, and tonkatsu sauce for our Saturday night dinner – all I had to do was make rice and we had a delicious restaurant-style meal for around $8!

Everything we bought is recognizable to us, and we know what it tastes like and what to do with it, but about 75% of what’s available in the market are things we have no idea about how to cook or what they are (even if I can read the label). So, we are fairly constrained in what we buy compared to what’s available although we try to push our boundaries from time to time.

Food is expensive in Japan – there’s no getting around that – and we’re fortunate to not have to feed a family over here, at least not cooking the way we do now. For just Brett and I though the expense hasn’t been bad. The total amount spent this past weekend was $123.76, more than usual but still within our food budget of $500/month. Brett would like us to segue into more frequent shopping trips so that we don’t have to carry several heavy bags of food back to the apartment, but I worry that doing so might mean we spend more. Maybe shopping twice a week might be the answer though.

Some of what we bought will segue into next week’s meals as we’ll probably have dinner a couple of times with our son and family. Still, we’ve got everything we need for some tasty meals this week!

Sunday Morning 03/10/2019: Week 3 in Japan

Brett had never seen the Hachiko memorial before, and hasn’t seen the movie either, but we’re taking care of that soon.

Our time in Japan so far has been swinging between busy, active days with lots of walking, and days where we stay close to home and do very little. We haven’t been able to find any sort of happy medium yet, but maybe this is the new normal for us. Every trip out of the house, no matter where we go or what we do, is still an adventure, whether we’re heading to Shibuya or over to our son’s house or just walking around the corner to the bakery. My inner travel sense is still vibrating though – I told Brett that even though we’ve been here almost a month and are enjoying ourselves, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s almost time for us to pack our suitcases once again and move on to the next destination.

No self-respecting Japanese student of any age goes to school without a pencil case. Tokyu Hands had over 100 different varieties to choose from. Above are the soft cases but there’s an equally large display of different hard-sided cases as well.

Our life here will be changing though in a few weeks as we take on a more defined schedule. Our daughter-in-law has been offered a very good position (with the Foreign Ministry!) and we have offered to help by picking up the grands from their respective schools every day until we leave in May. YaYu will come over here and stay with them for the summer and work as their nanny (they will pay her). Our combined help for the next few months will give M & M some time to find a more permanent solution for childcare by next fall, when the kids go back to school. Child care in Japan is most often done by family members, so our DIL is very relieved that we will be able to pick up the kids and watch them until she gets home from work, and that YaYu will take over in the summer versus her having to scramble to find other childcare. Once she heads to work we won’t have as much time as we do now for getting out and about but we are extremely happy we can help, and YaYu won’t have to worry about finding a summer job back in the U.S. (which can be notoriously difficult in Portland – she has been very worried about not earning anything or much of anything this summer).

Finally, my annual round of insomnia has caught up with me here in Japan. For the past several days I have been unable to fall asleep at night, sometimes staying up until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning even if I have to get back up in a couple of hours. I know it’s a temporary thing, and so far I seem to be managing on little to no sleep, but this is not a good time for this! I’ve made all the usual changes but so far nothing has helped – I just need to push through it and remind myself that it eventually goes away.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Becoming early in the week and am now reading the Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winning Less: A Novel. It’s another real page turner and a fun read. I am so far behind on my reading goal though and really need to catch up.
  • Listening to: Brett is cutting up some fruit in the kitchen and making coffee, and our little washing machine is doing its thing. The heater fan is also blowing – it’s still quit cool here, although the past few days have been lovely. Rain is expected again tomorrow though.
  • Watching: I started watching Designated Survivor on Netflix a few nights ago, and so far it’s OK, but I can see it possibly moving into far-fetched territory (which I’m not crazy about). Kiefer Sutherland’s acting can be somewhat intense for me at times but he’s not bugging me . . . yet. The show and his character sort of remind me a bit of his character on 24 (which we eventually gave up watching).
  • Cooking: We’re going to our son’s tonight for dinner so no cooking today for me.

    Gotokuji is near the top of my list for favorite temples to visit, and I want to go back when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
  • Happy we accomplished last week: Brett and I made it to both Shibuya and to Gotokuji Temple, our destination goals for the week. We also made it to our granddaughter’s and our grandson’s schools on time and without getting lost, even with Google Maps’ best efforts to make neither of those things happen. We got our weekly shopping done and even though we spent a little more than usual, we still stayed within our budget.

    We don’t buy just any curry in Japan; we only buy THE curry!
  • Looking forward to next week: Our plan we have for this week is a visit to Yokohama just to look around, especially in a couple of the big department stores by the station. We used to spend a lot of time in Yokohama during our navy tours, and it’s another place that’s interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. We may also try to get over to Kappabashi, Tokyo’s “kitchen district.” The area is filled with wholesale shops selling restaurant and kitchen equipment, dishes, gadgets and other accoutrement, and it’s where the realistic plastic food for restaurant window displays is sold. As always, we’re also looking forward to plenty of grandma and grandpa time again this week!
    The Alley tea shop isn’t any wider than an actually alley. It’s always busy though, and their tea drinks are delicious. I’m not getting the giant buck logo, but it’s Japan and I know it makes sense to someone here.

    My big cup of Assam milk tea with tapioca bubbles cost around the same as a tall latte from Starbucks.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful time taking on the challenge of getting ourselves to two unknown locations in Tokyo to pick up our grandkids for the first time. Both of them seemed happy to have us show up too – our granddaughter walked the whole distance from her little school back to the train station skipping and singing the whole way. Japan really knows how to make great tea drinks – I discovered a small, busy, tea shop just around the corner from our apartment called The Alley, and enjoyed a wonderful, warm Assam milk tea with tapioca bubbles – so good. I will be treating myself again soon but wish they also offered tea floats (tea floats really need to become a thing in the U.S.). We spoke with all three of our daughters this week – WenYu is currently back in Massachusetts with her boyfriend to help celebrate his birthday. He missed her so much that he bought her round-trip plane ticket from Cyprus so she could be there! YaYu is excited (and a bit anxious) about her upcoming summer in Japan. And, Meiling and boyfriend will be here in a little over two weeks!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Although it would have been very easy to do so, Brett and I did not go crazy and buy a ton of stuff at Tokyu Hands or Muji, which is what we would have done in the past. Most of that is because we have no space to take a lot of stuff with us when we return to the U.S., but these days we can also look at things we might have bought in the past, admire them and then admit we don’t need them and walk away. It’s a very satisfying feeling. We had four no-spend days this past week and have been able to bring our daily spend average back below $50. Although we had nothing to do with it, because of the current exchange rate, our rent for next month will be $29 less it was this past month!

    The label on this package says “parumezan chiizu” and “nachuraru chiizu 100%,” which means”parmesan cheese” and “100% natural cheese.” I have no idea how the topmost line actually reads, but it means “grated.”
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful I learned to read and pronounce hiragana and katakana, the two syllabary alphabets in Japanese because it allows me to interpret and understand simple words and expressions. Hiragana is the syllabary used for purely Japanese words or suffixes, while katakana is used to express foreign words or expressions. Any word, name or expression in a foreign language can be converted into katakana.

    One of two morijio I spotted in front of a neighborhood ramen restaurant.
  • Japanese word of the week: morijio 盛塩. Morijio is a compound word – mori 盛 means ‘pile’ and 塩 means ‘salt’ (shio) with the whole word taking on a somewhat deeper cultural meaning. I posted the above picture on Instagram on Friday, of a small bowl with a little mound of salt that was sitting in front of a ramen restaurant near our apartment. I had seen a bowl of salt before at a couple of other restaurants, and knew that salt is considering purifying in Japan, but had no idea what it was there for. Sure enough, it signaled purification, but my DIL said it’s often placed outside after the owner has had to deal with a difficult customer, in order to purify and cleanse the space, and erase the bad aura left by the customer. A pair of morijio are also sometimes placed on either side of a house’s front door in order to bring good fortune to the home. *The word for salt (shio) is phonetically changed to jio in morijio for easier pronunciation, something that happens sometimes in Japanese. You can see it happen in the words hiragana and katakana above. The suffixes –gana and –kana are the same word, with the spelling change to facilitate pronunciation.

That’s a wrap for this week! I’ve got my fingers crossed that my insomnia tapers off this week (I actually had a solid night of sleep last night), and we’re hoping the weather doesn’t stay completely lousy all week. How did your week go? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you?

Gotokuji Temple

Gotokuji Temple is believed to be the place where maneki-neko originated.

It took us three tries this week, but Brett and I finally were able to visit Gotokuji Temple, located just a short distance away from our apartment by train and on foot. We initially set out for a visit on Wednesday, but had a disagreement over getting to the station that heated up to the point that neither of us was in a mood to go anywhere with each other that day (sigh). We got that settled though, and were ready to try again on Thursday, but just as we were heading out of the apartment the heavens opened up, so not a good day to be outside visiting a temple. We went over to our son’s instead. But, this morning we woke up to blue skies and warmer temperatures, so off we went!

The Senmon (main) Gate of Gotokuji.

According to Japanese legend, Gotokuji Temple is where maneki-neko (lucky cats) originated. During the early Edo period (1603-1868), one night a cat supposedly led a feudal lord to shelter at this temple during a fierce thunderstorm, beckoning with its paw to show the direction. Because he was able to stay safe and warm during the storm, the lord donated rice and land to the temple, and chose the Gotokuji cemetery for his family burial site. Later, it began to be said that the cat brought good fortune, and it was given the name of maneki-neko. These days maneki-neko cat figures always have one paw raised to beckon, either the left or right, but Gotokuji specializes in the lucky right-pawed version of the cat.

A large bronze vessel sits in front of the main temple.
The beautiful pagoda – the sight of one always make me catch my breath.
A look under the eaves of the pagoda shows the amazing woodwork and design of the roofs.

We were a bit surprised by the size of the temple and its well-tended grounds when we entered – we had been expecting something much smaller. The temple complex contained several buildings, including a towering pagoda, the main temple, a meeting hall, a temple shop, and several smaller temples and pagodas. We were not the only visitors either – there were also a few other small groups while we were there.

One of two large boards hung with ema (prayer boards).  The little boards are stacked several deep.
Each ema was adorned with a picture of a maneki-neko, and many also had a pig (boar) because it’s the Year of the Pig. Prayers or requests are written on the back of an ema and left at the temple to be carried to heaven.
Bad fortunes are tied to the branch of a pine tree and left behind at the temple; good fortunes are taken home.

Walking over to the cat temple we spotted two large boards where hundreds ema (prayer boards) were hung, each with a picture of a maneki-neko on the front. Visitors purchase a board, and write their prayers and wishes on the back to leave at the temple – these can include requests for healing, to pass a test, to get a promotion, to have a safe childbirth and so forth. There was also a small pine tree with omikuji (fortunes) tied to the branches. Good fortunes are taken with you, bad fortunes are left behind at the temple.

So many cats!
Maneki-neko figures ranged in size from large to very tiny.
A small shrine is being engulfed by maneki-neko figures, but room has been made for a few more down in the lower left.

We finally came upon the collection of maneki-neko figures – there seemed to be more than a thousand of them arranged at the side of one of the smaller temples, and seeing them all together was quite impressive. The maneki-neko figures ranged in size from large to extremely small, and most were neatly arranged on wooden shelves provided for them, but others were tucked into small shrines or even into the big stone lanterns around the temple. The cat figures are purchased at the temple shop, and visitors can either leave their figure at the temple (along with a wish) or take the figure home and return it to the temple when the wish has been fulfilled.

Smaller maneki-neko figures were also placed in and around small shrines or inside lanterns.
The entrance to the Gotokuji cemetery.

Beside the temple is its cemetery. Usually cemeteries are closed in Japan, but this one was open. Filled with towering trees, it looked very peaceful and interesting, but we decided not to go in.

Our train arrives to take us home! The line was really more like a tram with just two cars, and which wove though mainly residential neighborhoods versus stopping in commercial areas.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover it was just a short walk back to the station from the main gate as we had accidentally gone the long way around the back of the temple when we arrived. Before boarding the train Brett and I stopped at the convenience market next to the station and picked up a couple of bentos to have for dinner. We left almost feeling glad we had failed to make it to Gotokuji earlier in the week as we ended up getting to visit on what turned out to be the perfect day for it.

A Rainy Day Outing

The calm before the light changes at the famous Shibuya Crossing.

Cold rain was falling once again when we got up on Monday morning, and at first we thought we just stay in for the day. We did a couple of loads of laundry, but by early afternoon we were starting to go stir crazy so we grabbed our coats, gloves, umbrellas and our trusty canvas shopping bag and went to visit Shibuya, two stops away on our subway line, and one of Tokyo’s busiest major transit, shopping, and nightlife areas.

Welcome to Tokyu Hands!

Our plan was to spend some time checking out the Tokyu Hands flagship store, and then head back to Shibuya station to ride one stop to Ebisu Station so we could visit the Muji store, which had been recently expanded.

The crowd begins to head out into the crosswalks the second the light changes. Even on a rainy there were a LOT of people in Shibuya. These BIG crosswalks go in three directions.

Shibuya is always busy and full of people, and the fact that it was raining didn’t change that other than everyone was carrying an umbrella, so walking around was a bit of a challenge. The Japanese seemed to do it effortlessly while Brett and I struggled to not bump into others with our umbrellas. Thankfully the walk from our subway exit to Tokyu Hands was easy, and only took a few minutes.

Does anyone need a pen? This floor was dedicated to writing instruments and notebooks.
My favorite floor is always 4C, kitchenware. I could happily wander around here for ages, checking out all the gadgets and dishes.

Tokyu Hands has been called the ultimate DIY store, but it also showcases plenty of Japanese design and innovation. The flagship store has seven floors, plus two basement levels. Each of the floors (other than the basement) is divided into three levels – A,B & C – so combined with the two basement levels there are 23 floors, each dedicated to a different theme, from tools to interiors to kitchen to bathroom to paper to crafts to stationery and so forth. It can take a while to go through each floor, but it’s still a lot of fun and a good way to spend a couple of hours. We found a few things we had been looking for, like 3M Command hooks for the kitchen, an over-the-door hook for the bathroom (there are no hooks in this apartment), a notebook for Brett, and a new rice paddle for the rice cooker (the one in the house had melted and didn’t work very well). I also restrained myself in the kitchen section and only bought two small Japanese dishes (that I can use in multiple ways).

Our swag from Tokyu Hands – we were happy to finally find 3M Command hooks there. The little bird design on the dishes, chidori (plovers), is one of my favorite Japanese motifs as is Mt. Fuji.

At the top of the store is a small snack bar where we took a short coffee break. Well, Brett had coffee but I decided to try a “tea float” – iced Earl Grey tea with a large swirl of soft ice cream. It was amazingly delicious and refreshing, and I will definitely be going back some day for another!

Brett said his coffee was just OK, but my Earl Grey tea float was out of this world!

Leaving Tokyu Hands, we walked back to Shibuya station by a different route in order for Brett to experience the famous Shibuya crossing in front of the main station. After making it across we stopped in front of the station to check out the Hachiko memorial statue, hero of one of the most beloved stories in Japan. Hachiko (an Akita) used to walk to Shibuya station every day to meet his owner, a doctor, when he came home from work. Sadly, the doctor died one day while at work, but Hachiko continued to come to the station every single afternoon for 10 years to wait for the doctor. Hachiko is still honored and remembered for his perseverance, loyalty and fidelity, and the statue is a must-see for anyone visiting Shibuya. It’s a well-known place to meet someone, and these days there is usually a long line of people waiting to get their picture taken with the statue (even in the rain).


Japanese train stations are usually not merely places to get on and off, or change trains – in urban areas they are typically surrounded by large shopping districts, especially in the busier parts of the Tokyo area, like Shinjuku or Yokohama. Many larger stations have one or two levels underneath like giant shopping malls as well as stores above and around the station. Ebisu is surrounded by a huge shopping venue called Atré, consisting of eight floors with all kinds of stores, including food shops and restaurants. There is a huge escalator in front of the station that takes shoppers up to the fourth floor, where the entrance to Muji is located as well as several different food-related shops.

Our purchase from Kyo Hyahashiya is ready to face the rain!
Matcha roll cake is a very special treat for me, and no one does it better than Kyo Hyahashiya in my opinion. 

Our first stop in Atré was Kyo Hyahashiya, a Japanese confectionary, for one of their scrumptious matcha (powdered green tea) roll cakes, a splurge as they are not cheap. Their cakes and sweets are made in the Kyoto style and most feature matcha in some form. The roll cake is made from an incredibly light matcha sponge and filled with a rich matcha cream and a touch of red sweet bean paste – it’s my favorite Japanese cake. Besides receiving lots of bows from the staff following our purchase, our clerk also wrapped our bag in a plastic cover because it was raining – Japanese service at its best!

Our BIG D&D cinnamon rolls were an affordable, delicious and special breakfast. The raisin-creme cookies were very good too.

Brett had spotted some large cinnamon rolls in the window at the nearby Dean & Deluca store along the way, so we went back there and bought a couple of those for today’s breakfast (they were surprisingly affordable), and at the cash register we found my favorite Japanese cookies, raisin-creme sandwich, so we bought a couple of those as well. Raisin-creme sandwiches were a very popular cookie back in the early 1990s, during our second tour, but not so much these days so I am always happy when I can find them.

The Muji aesthetic is one of simple, affordable function.
The Muji food and kitchenware section – I had to restrain myself.

Our final stop for the day was the Muji store, which used to be located on one floor at the top of Atré but is now a full two stories in a newly built annex. Muji is something like a Japanese IKEA, but besides simple, stylish and affordable housewares they also carry simple, and stylish clothing and books, and have a nice food section as well. I could happily live with just about everything in Muji, but Brett and I restrained ourselves and only bought a few items from the food section.

Our Muji purchases were inexpensive treats to go with our afternoon coffee as well as two packages of crab bisque, and bottle of delicious peach green tea.

Then it was back to Shibuya where we caught a very crowded, packed express subway back to Sangenjaya station for our short walk back to the apartment. In spite of the rain and the crowds we had an absolutely wonderful day, found things we needed, and didn’t spend much!

Sunday Morning 3/3/2019: Japan, Week 2

Airbnb life: These IKEA coffee mugs have been in literally EVERY Airbnb apartment we’ve stayed in.

Brett and I did very little this past week. All of our activities and busy-ness caught up with us and other than going on one big outing in the middle of the week we have mostly stayed home in our apartment and read, cooked, did laundry, and took care of some odds and ends that we’d been ignoring for a while. It rained a couple of days which gave us a good excuse to stay indoors, but otherwise we just didn’t feel much like going out. We did walk over to our local supermarket and pick up some things on Friday afternoon, and we went to our grandson’s basketball game on Thursday evening, watched our granddaughter on Friday morning while our DIL went to a job interview, and we went over to our son’s home and watched the grands on Friday evening so M & M could go to a reunion (and spent the night over there). Otherwise it’s been a very quiet week.

A shopping cart at the supermarket is just a regular basket on a trolley. This is about a week’s worth of food for the two of us, about $70. Clerks ring up your food, but don’t handle cash – that’s done in a machine that we quickly figured out.

Our big outing on Wednesday was a trip down to the Yokosuka navy base to get Brett a new debit card, and to the BIG commissary there to pick up a few things. We had planned to take the train, but our daughter-in-law volunteered to drive, and we had the grandkids along as well that day. The drive took just a little over an hour and was an easy trip. We enjoyed seeing what had changed around the base (mostly the housing) and what was the same. The USS Ronald Reagan was in port getting some work done so we got to see that (although we couldn’t get up close). Brett and I couldn’t get over how BIG the Reagan is compared to the carrier Brett served on (USS Midway) during both of his tours in Japan.

Well, she was thrilled to see him.
You need a regular-size U.S. shopping cart at the commissary – American product sizes and packaging are much larger than Japanese ones (and most other countries, for that matter).

After getting Brett’s debit card (which was made on the spot) we let the kids choose where to have lunch and they picked McDonald’s (ugh). Then it was over to the commissary, these days a massive supermarket like Winco or many big “lifestyle” grocery stores. There wasn’t a Starbucks inside (it was just across the street), but there was a deli, bakery, sushi bar, and several other specialty areas in the store. In the past we had to show our ID at the door to get in a commissary, sort of like Costco, but now it’s presented at checkout so our DIL was able to come in with us, and we scored one of the carts that had a little car in front which kept the grands happily occupied while we shopped. I would have just about died for a commissary even half the size of this one when we were in the navy, but I think M had the best time overall and was sort of amazed by the quantity of products available as well as the prices. Organic products are not always easy to find in Japan, but the Yokosuka commissary had numerous organic items so she was able to find things the kids enjoy and that she can feel good about. The only kerfuffle happened as we left the store – our granddaughter did not want to get out of the little car and pitched a fit! It took a few minutes but she eventually decided she wanted to go home with us rather than stay in the car.

Our low-key week has also allowed my toe to heal up a bit more and it is feeling much better. The swelling remains on my leg, but the bruising has disappeared completely, so I guess that’s progress. I’m beginning to think though that the swollen area might be permanent.

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m a little over 75% of the way through Becoming, and still enjoying every word.
  • Listening to: The only sound around here this morning is the heater fan blowing! It’s working hard this morning as its raining and cold outside.
  • Watching: I’ve been watching The Big Family Cooking Showdown (another British cooking contest) on Netflix and like it pretty well – tonight I’ll be watching the final. I’m still looking though for a good British mystery/detective procedural though – it feels like we’ve seen them all.
  • Cooking: We are going over to our son’s again tonight but I will be the cook – I’m making chili pork burritos. When I made them during my visit in 2014, I priced out the cost for the burritos: approximately $40 for our dinner! Ridiculous, but that was the price we paid then for “exotic” foreign ingredients in Tokyo. This time I picked up everything I need at the commissary – the cost for the burritos for the six of us should only be around $8.
  • Happy I accomplished:  Getting Brett’s debit card taken care of was the big accomplishment – neither of us liked traveling with just one card and no back-up. Not my accomplishment, but Brett got started on our taxes. We are missing one important document which is on its way, so once that arrives he can finish up and submit them. Fingers are crossed for a refund, even a small one. We also got a few other business odds and ends taken care of that we had been putting off. I don’t think I accomplished much of anything else this past week other than the trips to the base and supermarket and watching the grands.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have nothing on the calendar next week, so Brett and I are going to try to get out to do a couple of outings, weather permitting. There’s an interesting temple near to us we want to visit, and we’d also like to go over to Shibuya and walk around there and see if we can find our way to the Tokyu Hands store. There’s also a Muji store (simple lifestyle) at the station next to Shibuya – I always love to look at their stuff.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We got to spend some wonderful one-on-one time with the grands this week, and our granddaughter was fine with staying with us when her mom headed out, so we have made progress. Brett and I greatly enjoyed the morning she spent at our place – she is such an easy-going little girl and we had a great time playing with her (I just wish I could understand more of what she’s saying). Our grandson is a typical eight year-old whirl of energy, but lots of fun too. We love watching him practice skateboarding –  he is fearless!
    C takes off down the side of the biggest half-pipe in the skate park. He is almost always the youngest skateboarder there, and practices almost every day to get better at what he has already accomplished while challenging himself to do a little more.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had five no-spend days this past week, which greatly helped our daily spend average at the end of February. Although it was tempting, we did not go crazy at the commissary, and stuck to basic and necessary items only. The prices were low enough though that our final bill was over $100 less than we estimated it would be as we rolled up to checkout!  We were a bit shocked by the cost of our little basket of food at the Japanese supermarket, but it’s more than a week’s worth of food so not as bad as it initially seemed.
    The right side of our kitchen with the microwave oven on top of the fridge and the rice cooker on top of the microwave . . .

    … and the left, with its very nice cooktop. For an apartment the size of ours, this is quite a spacious kitchen.
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful to have a very nice kitchen (daidokoro 台所) in our Tokyo apartment, much larger than I expected. There are lots of dishes, plenty of cutlery, a large assortment of cookware and utensils, and a good amount of cupboard space. It’s very Japanese (no oven) but the cooktop has three burners and a fish broiler, and everything is perfect for cooking and preparing our own meals. We have seen some kitchens in Japan that are positively microscopic, with just a sink, hotplate, and micro-fridge, so we’re very happy with the size of our space.
  • Japanese word of the week: Atatamemasu 暖めます. I have heard this word over and over in convenience stores and finally figured out this week that it means “warm,” as in “Can I warm this for you?” (Kochira de atatamemasu ka?) which is what the store clerk says when anyone buys a bento. Atatameru is the infinitive form (to warm) – the character 暖 means “warm,” and -memasu is the Japanese verb suffix conjugated for the present tense.
These big, colorful flower arrangements from various neighborhood businesses offer congratulations on the opening of a (tiny) new ramen restaurant near our son’s home. The arrangements lined both sides of the sidewalk and went on for quite a while.

One thing I love about being in Japan is that every trip out of our apartment is an adventure, whether it’s going across town or just down the street. There’s always something new to observe or learn about, or something new to try so it’s never boring. I always feel like I’m working on an interesting but very challenging puzzle when I read signs (or try to read them) or listen to an announcement. There are many reasons why we’d love to live here, but this is one of the main ones.

That’s it for our second week in Japan. How was your week? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you?

Closing Out the Books on February

Two trips to the commissary and one to the Navy Exchange in the past two weeks exploded our daily spending average for February. The commissary on the Yokosuka base was huge, with many affordable temptations but we stuck to necessary items only (I consider Diet Coke necessary).

February was not a good month, budget-wise.

We always knew that our stay Japan would be expensive and push the boundaries of our budget. Following two weeks in Sydney and New Zealand, we arrived in Japan slightly over budget. Our first two weeks here ratcheted our daily and monthly spending up even more. With a few no-spend days so far this week we have managed to get our daily average back down to a more acceptable level, but we’re ending the month with a daily spending average of $56.93 ($194.04 for the month). Ouch.

The biggest reason for our higher average in Japan were trips to the commissary and exchange at NAF Atsugi and another trip this week to the commissary at the Yokosuka naval base. Although prices were low we bought a lot of stuff to settle in and replenish supplies, as well as things we needed in the apartment, like food storage containers, extra toilet paper, and laundry supplies.

The upside is that we are starting March with a comfortable amount of yen in our wallets, and we are well-stocked with essentials and pantry basics. We will need to buy produce, meat and other smaller items (i.e. butter, yogurt) from the Japanese supermarket in the next few days but otherwise spending should be at a minimum.

February – not our finest month when it comes to staying on track with the budget. I tell myself that it could have been worse, and that we’ll hopefully see a better monthly average at the end of March.

The Million Dollar Question

At every stop since we began traveling we have been asked: Where are you going to settle when you finish? The answer is always the same: We still don’t know.

I almost can’t believe we haven’t decided where we want to end up when the Big Adventure is over. I made a list this past fall of possible locations and ideas, but after some more travel we’ve decided against some of those. We had thought Seattle might be a great place to land, but after a month in Portland in December we were reminded of why we left the Pacific Northwest, so that idea fell off the list. After just a 10-day road trip around New Zealand, and never being able to unpack our suitcases, our idea of a long-term driving trip around the U.S. felt a whole lot less interesting as well. We thought for a while that Tucson, Arizona might be a great place to end up – it ticked off a lot of boxes, and we could afford a house with a pool there! – but then we stepped off the train in the middle of the Australian desert and realized we did not want to deal with the climate, pool or no pool. Just as we would be stuck indoors during the winters in Seattle, we would be stuck inside during the summer, or trying to escape.

So, since time is becoming more and more of the essence, we’re still talking about what is important to us, and getting those things on a list. In no particular order, they are:

  • We are happiest when we’re near the water, especially the ocean, but lake or rivers make us happy as well.
  • Abundant sunshine is a must, although we don’t like dealing with extreme temperatures or humidity. We don’t mind cold weather, or snow once in a while.
  • We enjoy city life, but don’t miss it or need it as much as we once thought we did, especially big cities. We’re OK living near a city, but not necessarily in one.
  • We would prefer not to own a car, but can see now that we will probably need to have one no matter where we live, with a couple of exceptions. This will be specially true if we don’t live in a city.
  • We like locations where we can walk, even if we own a car and it’s just for walking’s sake.
  • We need to live where it’s easy and somewhat affordable for our children and their (eventual for some) families to come visit, or for us to visit them. This is the primary reason we decided not to return to Kaua’i, as much as we miss it and would love to go back.

There’s a few more things, but we are clearer now about what we’re looking for in a location, and have narrowed it down to three options. We are still doing our due diligence on #3, so I’ve left off the name of the place for now:

  • Strasbourg, France. We’re still in love with this city and it still has a lot going for it. Pros: The size is manageable and there’s lots to see and do; there is great public transportation (no car necessary); it’s flat and very walkable and also a great place for bike riding; it’s quite affordable; the food is wonderful; it’s in a great location for travel to other places we want to see; and, as for water a river runs through the middle of town. Also, our family have all said they would come visit us there as we’d only be 1.5 hours from Paris. Cons: The visa process (mostly time consuming), and the big one: we don’t speak French! We would have to spend a lot of time and money on French lessons before we go and after we arrived.
  • San Clemente, California. This charming beach town was my home away from home growing up, and is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego in Orange County. Even though I know it’s not the same now, it still holds a special place in my heart (along with Laguna Beach and Dana Point). Pros: The weather and the beach are the primary ones, and it’s a walkable town if you’re located on the west side of US 101 (El Camino Real). We also know people who live in the area, a big plus for us. Cons: Housing costs are very high (think Hawaii high), and there is not a lot available in our price range. We would have to have a car again, and Southern California traffic can be hellish at times. Also, California is not a great place for retirees when it comes to taxes, although we’ve crunched the numbers and our tax burden wouldn’t be much. Living in San Clemente would be all about location, location, location, and because we no longer have children living at home it’s something we can afford to do. It also costs a LOT less to get to and from here than it does from Kaua’i.
  • Mystery Location, USA: We’re still doing research, but this small town is fairly near a couple of bigger cities with a university and medical facilities but without being too close (i.e. not a suburb). We’d have to drive to those cities though for many things though, including some of our groceries and such, so we’d definitely need to own a car if we settle here. The area gets plenty of sunshine overall but without high temperatures in the summer, and humidity is low year-round (it does get some snow in the winter though). The area is affordable, and it’s an OK location tax-wise for retirees, and is located near some beautiful natural areas that we love to visit, so some more positives. There are a few small lakes in the area, but not really a lot of water around which is a bit of a negative for us.

We have no need to buy a home, at least not initially. We enjoyed not owning a home when we lived in Hawaii (in spite of our awful landlord), and we’ve gone over the numbers and with new tax laws in place having a mortgage no longer makes much sense for us other than we wouldn’t have to worry about rent increases. We recognize that we are still “restless people” at heart and would prefer not to be tied down with all the many things that home ownership entails.

We’ve committed ourselves to a firm decision by the time we leave Japan in mid May so that we can start working toward that move. In the meantime we will continue to research our options, consult with our son (who is no longer quite so opposed to us living in France), and think about what will be best for us and our family in the long term.