Sunday Morning 5/19/2019: Week 1 in Portland

The adults walked to Komazawa Olympic Park; the grands got a sweet ride in the wagon. Our son and daughter-in-law spoiled us rotten while we were in Japan, and gave us so many wonderful experiences and memories.

It’s almost hard for us to believe but just a week ago we were still in Tokyo and celebrating Mother’s Day with our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids. The day was absolutely lovely, and we walked over to nearby Komazawa Olympic Park and enjoyed the wonderful picnic lunch M had had catered by a nearby department store. M & M surprised me with a strawberry cake for my birthday, and gave me a teacup patterned with the symbols of each of Japan’s 47 prefectures which I absolutely love. I also received a small cloth bag with a chidori (plover) design and a small inu hariko charm for my purse. It was an all-around lovely day and a great last outing with our family. Both Brett and I even managed to get a little sunburned!

Our tasty picnic lunch had something for everyone.
Our beautiful daughter-in-law and granddaughter – we miss them terribly.
Miss this guy so much too.

We picked up our grandson from school one last time on Monday afternoon, and once M and M both were home from work we said our (very tearful) goodbyes and rode the train home for the last time. Brett and I enjoyed a delicious sushi dinner at a restaurant near our apartment, and then finished the evening with sesame soft ice cream from the shop on the corner. It was a lovely way to say farewell to the neighborhood – we thoroughly enjoyed our time there and the location. After we finished our ice cream it was back to the apartment to finish up the last of the packing and get some sleep before having to be up early the next morning for the trip out to the airport.

My surprise birthday cake . . .
. . . an my prefecture cup. Learning the kanji will be one of my summer challenges; I only know about three or four right now (I know the kanji under the maple leaf is Hiroshima, for example).

We’re still settling in to our apartment in Portland’s West Hills, but so far we’re quite happy with it. Our first apartment on the east side was the absolutely perfect place to pull ourselves together for a couple of days after the long flight from Japan, but our permanent place for the summer is pretty wonderful too. We have a well-equipped kitchen with a dishwasher (yeah!), the bed is comfortable, we love the mid-century decor and furnishings, and we even have a guest room! We are completely unpacked and it will be nice to settle in for a while.

I will be holding the first of three giveaways next week beginning on Thursday! While I think all three are great I am going to do the “big” one first so that everyone who wants can participate (the winner of each won’t be able to enter the other two). Each giveaway will run for two weeks, and you’ll be able to enter once every day with the winner chosen at random. I’m pretty excited about all of them, but especially the first one and hope you’ll be motivated to enter!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I’m reading another Val McDermid mystery, Insidious Intent, while I wait for another library book to come off of hold. Her books are real page turners and fun to read. Reading has been sporadic the past few days though because my jet lag made it difficult to concentrate, but thankfully that has passed (somewhat).
  • Listening to: Brett’s the only other one up because it’s early in the morning here: 6:30 a.m. I am never up this early, but thanks to the magic of jet lag, here I am. I’ve actually been up since 2:00 a.m., but have spent my time reading and working on this post. Anyway, I’m listening to Brett making coffee, but otherwise YaYu is still asleep and it’s quiet outside. It was raining earlier this morning, but it seems to have stopped for the time being.
  • Watching: We have a quite extensive number of cable channels to watch here, so Brett and I are thinking we might binge-watch Game of Thrones on HBO this summer – we’ve never seen any of it. Crazy Rich Asians is available too whenever I need a fix! Not sure what we’re watching this evening – we’re letting YaYu choose.
  • Cooking/baking: YaYu will be with us for another 10 days and has asked me to fix several of her favorite things, but tonight she’s doing the cooking and making fried rice (I’ll be having fried cauliflower rice!).
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I don’t really count leaving Japan as an accomplishment, but the journey was a long one and I’m glad we’re through it. Brett and I have shopped at Costco, Trader Joe’s, New Season’s and Target and we’re well stocked for the summer (although we’re going to Fubonn Asian supermarket today). I found a great pair of trail shoes that I’m looking forward to breaking in, and Brett also found a new pair of shoes at Costco that he’s thrilled with (his pair of Skechers also gave out). I visited the walk-in clinic of our former healthcare provider and got my prescriptions refilled for the summer, just in time as I had just three tablets left. The doctor also ordered another bone density test to be done to make sure I really need the medication I was taking for osteoporosis. Both Brett and I will see the doctor in July for physicals, etc. and to get our prescriptions set for the year. I need to have my cholesterol levels checked, and a mammogram done before we take off for England.
  • Looking forward to next week: Next week is all about relaxing and spending time with YaYu, and getting to know our new location. Hopefully I can also start managing this jet lag a little better – I see improvement every day, but I’m still on a wacky sleep schedule (actually no schedule at all). We plan to do some hiking this week on one of the trails in the forest near the apartment, and also walk down the hill into downtown and see how that goes. Brett and I are going to get senior Tri-Met passes so we can get around town using public transportation, and we’re also going to investigate signing up for Zipcar for those days when we need to have a car.

    We’re here long enough this summer that we can unpack and use some of our Japan things, like these two Kutani porcelain coasters we found at the Kubota museum. The designs remind of us the stunning kimono we saw there.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I am still a bit stunned that we made it to Portland with all our stuff – I kept thinking if one of our suitcases was going to get lost, this would be the trip but even though they arrived on different flights (Brett’s suitcase came in on an earlier flight for some reason and was waiting for us), they both arrived safe and sound. I love that our summer apartment has lots of storage space – it was easy to unpack this time and get everything put away. I’m very happy about the great lightweight trail shoes I bought this past week and am looking forward to breaking them in this summer so I’ll be ready for some serious walking when we get to England.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was not a frugal week. We bought A LOT of food and supplies for the summer, and along with my shoe purchase we really messed with our daily spending total. On the plus side, we won’t need to shop for quite a while, for anything. I was going to buy an Instant Pot this summer but the apartment has both a slow cooker and a rice cooker so I will forego the Instant Pot for another few months. We’ve started saving our change and $1 bills again – I’m hoping to save enough this summer to cover one of our train trips while we’re in England.
    Our summer apartment is decorated simply in the mid-century style – I love it! The sofa is very comfortable.

  • Grateful for: While I enjoy traveling, I’m very thankful we have a nice, affordable place to stay for the summer, and the chance to unpack once again for a while and unwind before hitting the road again. We’re here long enough that I can set out some things we bought in Japan to enjoy them and the memories.
  • Bonus question: What has your best travel experience between locations and what has been your worst? Hands down taking the train between Perth and Sydney was our most amazing travel experience. It was comfortable, the food and serve was great, the other passengers were nice, and the scenery and outings magnificent. Train travel throughout Europe was pretty great overall too. When it comes to flying the best trip was our flight from Hawaii to Portland in first class – absolutely wonderful! That’s not going to happen again though. Our best economy flight experience was the one from Gatwick to Boston last December on Norwegian Air. We had loads of legroom, the food was very good (the first perfectly cooked chicken breast) and the service was amazing. The worst travel day? The journey from Bordeaux to Florence was a very long and difficult day, and I think we used every form of transportation to get there except for a donkey and a bicycle. We made it but really had to be on our toes the entire time as there was lots that could have gone wrong. The (thankfully again) short flight on Iberia Airlines from Lisbon to Madrid on our way back to the U.S. was absolutely miserable. We are not tall people and our knees were pressed up against the back of the seats in front of us – I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for taller people. Plus, once the plane took off we never saw a flight attendant again until we landed. The most awful flight though, hands down, was the one from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Paris. It was extremely long and extremely crowded, and departed late so full of lots of unhappy people. The minute the plane took off the women in front of us reclined their seats and we couldn’t move (and if I reclined mine the woman behind me pounded on the seat to put it back up!). The only way we survived those flights was to keep reminding ourselves that they would eventually get us to where we wanted to be.

We have another busy week ahead: Later today we are taking YaYu around to several thrift stores so she can look for things to take to Japan this summer, and we’ll also stop at Fubonn supermarket to get some other things she wants to take along, like hot sauce. Brett is taking her to get her military ID card renewed tomorrow morning and we may visit some more thrift stores; the car goes back to the airport on Tuesday; and I will be setting up appointments to get my bone density scan done (I can walk to the hospital from our apartment though!); and I will also be calling the dentist to get the rest of my dental work finished while we’re here. Brett is going to register to take a Japanese class at the community college along with his calligraphy class. I was going to enroll in the Japanese class as well, but decided to stick with Memrise and use along with a text as the classes offered this summer are beginner level, and below where I’m already at. We’re hoping too that the weather will cooperate this coming week so we can get out for some hiking on the nearby trails.

I hope all of you had a very good week, that lots of good things happened for you and that you’re looking forward to what’s happening this coming week. I hope you’ll stick around for next week’s exciting giveaway too!

Sunday Morning 5/10/2019: Week 12 in Japan

We’re going to miss this little pixie so much! She is such a happy, even-tempered and contented little girl.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Today would be my traditional Day of Doing Nothing, where Brett and the girls take care of all the chores and wait on me hand and foot, but this year there is too much going on for that to happen (and no girls around to help Brett). We’re relaxing at home now, but in a little while we’re heading over to the park near our son’s place for a picnic with them. Yesterday we handed over the few last things we had in the cupboards and refrigerator to our DIL so the apartment is ready for cleaning and last minute packing on Monday.

This is it though – our final Sunday in Japan. What an absolutely wonderful time we have had here! We are so, so sad about going but have enough to do before we leave on Tuesday that we hopefully won’t sink too far into melancholy. The only thing we are looking forward to leaving behind is our apartment. While the location has been superb, and the apartment clean and the kitchen well-equipped, it’s otherwise been a somewhat stressful place to live with very uncomfortable furniture, funky decor, and a so-so bed and bathroom. We realize that the apartment we had originally requested may have been too small to host Meiling and her boyfriend when they came, but it would have suited us far, far better in the long run. We’re apparently leaving at a fortuitous time as well as a new house is being built right next door (and I mean up close next door) and the construction noise during the day is becoming annoying. There are also other noisy tenants in the building now, including a group of some rather loud American college students.

Doing some homework at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s – we’re going to miss our fearless skateboarding boy too.

But, we’ll be back to Japan soon – we already have plans to come at least for a month in the fall of 2020 to be here for our granddaughter’s fourth birthday, but hopefully we will be able to stay longer. We had once dreamed of being here for the Olympics, but have now rethought that idea: we don’t really want to deal with the huge crowds along with Tokyo’s sweltering summer head and humidity.

Walking through the wetlands at the nature park in Saitama Prefecture last weekend. It was lovely the day we visited but I imagine the park would be beastly during the summer humidity.

Everything is ready for us in Portland – we will be staying in one Airbnb for three nights when we arrive, and then move to our long-term rental in the west hills on the 17th. Before we move over there, and in between bouts of jet lag, we will shop for food and supplies for the summer and take care of a few other errands on the east side of the city. YaYu arrives late at night on the 17th, and will be with us until the 25th (I think) before heading over to Japan for the summer. Meiling’s graduation happens mid-June, and Brett’s sister will hopefully be able to join us for that and stay with us for a few days. Brett is planning to continue his calligraphy lessons throughout the summer, and we both intend to sign up for Japanese lessons – our time here has shown us how woefully inadequate our language skills are. We are also going to somewhat try to be tourists in Portland this summer, and visit places and do things we normally never did there, or at least didn’t do very often.

Anyway, this morning I am:

  1. Reading: I finished two Val McDermid mysteries this past week (I read Broken Ground in two days!) and am now just about finished with The Library Book by Susan Orlean. I’m not sure what I’m going to read next.
  2. Listening to: We’re enjoying a very quiet morning – there’s not even a sound outside. The leaves aren’t moving on any of the trees either which means it’s going to be another hot day. It’s almost hard to believe how bitterly cold it was when we arrived back in February, and we’re now wearing summer clothing.
  3. Watching: Remember all those movies I planned to watch last week? I didn’t watch even one of them because I was too busy reading! I’m hoping I get to watch Crazy Rich Asians once again on the flight to the U.S. – love that movie!

    The only thing missing on my plate of pancakes from Butter was actual butter! The squares on the right were crème brulée, but Brett took my ice cream and syrup (in the back) and I somehow ate all the rest – it really wasn’t as sweet you might imagine. Brett and I are both going on a carb moratorium when we get back to the U.S. though. The only reason I’m still able to fit into my clothes now is because of all the walking we’ve done here every day.
  4. Cooking/baking: There are no longer food nor supplies in the house to do any sort of cooking so we have been eating out the past few days. We had okonomiyaki, Japanese savory pancakes, on Friday evening; McDonald’s last night (one more Teriyaki McBurger for me) because we were feeling tired and lazy; and tonight we’ll probably pick up a bento somewhere or maybe get one last order of takoyaki. We’re going out for sushi tomorrow evening, will have something from the bakery on Tuesday morning before we leave the apartment, and finish our Japan eating odyssey with lunch at Narita before we depart.

    Brett’s final calligraphy work product after four weeks of instruction. The characters represent the four seasons.
  5. Happy I accomplished this past week: This past week has been a series of chores necessary for moving on and we’ve mostly gotten them accomplished; thankfully there are just a few more small things left to do. We’re down to the last few items to fit into the suitcases and we have our fingers crossed that everything will fit. Brett had his last calligraphy lessons and did OK on his final work product. It has been a challenging endeavor for him because he has to use his right hand (he’s left-handed) but he enjoys it and is looking forward to continuing to learn. I also found and booked an Airbnb in Portland for us to stay in when we return to Portland next December to get us through Christmas there once again.
  6. Looking forward to next week: The only thing I’m looking forward to next week is that I will be able to once again understand what people, signs, magazines and newspapers around me are saying. I am not looking forward to the jet lag I know is coming – I think it’s going to be brutal this time.
    We enjoyed getting together with M’s parents last weekend. (And yes, I am growing out my very curly hair, and am in currently in my “old lady pouf” stage.)

    M’s mother’s garden is even more gorgeous this week as everything is in bloom!
  7. Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful time last weekend with our daughter-in-law’s parents. We started out with snacks at their home and toured her mom’s beautiful garden (she’s a master gardener) before going out for lunch at a restaurant in the countryside. Afterwards we spent some time walking through a lovely nature park and wetlands near to the restaurant – it was an all around great day. Brett and I had a fun trip to Sogo’s food gallery in Yokohama on Tuesday. We bought a few items and then finished with fancy pancakes for lunch. The restaurant was named Butter, but I think butter was about the only thing I didn’t get with my pancakes! We were so glad to have finally eaten at the okonomiyaki restaurant last Friday. We have walked by it nearly every day we’ve been here and alway said we’d eat there “one of these days.” The restaurant was small but the food was fantastic and I’m sad we didn’t get to eat there more than just this once.
    The okonomiyaki restaurant had a nice old-school ambience.
    Our okonomiyaki getting started on the griddle, with the pancakes topped gererously with cabbage, ginger and chopped shrimp. That mound was then topped with several larger shrimp and pork belly slices. The cook expertly flipped the pancakes a few times as they cooked and didn’t spill a thing!

    The pancakes were finished on a hot metal plate before a scrambled egg, seaweed, sauce, mayonnaise and dried bonito flakes were added on top. The pancakes were then served to us on a wooden charger.
  8. Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve done an outstanding job of using up all the food we had here in the apartment if I do say so myself. Very little went over to our son’s. Last Wednesday Brett went to the grand opening of a new 7-11 store that opened just down the street and scored some nice discounts on several items that we have eaten this past week or used for our grandson’s after-school treats. I reserved a hotel room for an overnight stay near Eugene for Meiling’s graduation and saved $40.47 off the price using my Expedia reward points. And, we’re leaving with a daily spending average for our entire time in Japan of $45.75 per day which makes us very happy (currently $43.75/day for May).
  9. Grateful for: Both Brett and I are so very, very thankful for the extended period of time we have been able to spend in Japan near our son and his family. It’s been all that we hoped for and more.
  10. Japanese word of the week: sayonara さようなら. While sayonara means good-bye, it also carries a sense of finality, and is used in situations where one will never be returning or not for a very long time, much like the word farewell in English. Sayonara is often used casually in Japanese speech, but you really don’t hear it much in regular conversation. We will be using the more informal jā matane when we say our goodbyes tomorrow, which means “see you again soon.”

Tuesday is my 67th birthday and Brett has been joking that I will get to enjoy it twice this year – thanks to the miracle of international travel it will be Tuesday morning once again when we arrive in the U.S. Not funny though – on Tuesday here we’ll be running the gauntlet to get out to the airport onto the plane, and all we’re going to want to do once we get to Portland on Tuesday is sleep. Oh well, there’s always hope for a special birthday next year!

I’d like to wish all of the moms a wonderful, wonderful day today! I hope everyone had a great week and that lots of good things happened for you, and that you have a great week coming up. See you back in the U.S.!

Sunday Morning 5/5/2019: Week 11 in Japan

What I love about Japan #3,692: This house has no yard, but a lovely garden has still been created out in front.

It’s almost impossible to think about, but we have only 10 days left to go in Japan (counting today)! We haven’t figured out how we’re going to accomplish it, but on May 14 we and all our luggage will head out to Narita Airport and leave for the United States in the late afternoon. We’ve seen and done everything we wanted to here and then some, spent loads of wonderful time with our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, eaten all the food, accomplished everything else we set out to do while we were here and even a few things we hadn’t planned on. Our three months in Japan has been everything we hoped for and more.

The main building of the Tokyo National Museum – there are four more.
We visited a special exhibition of treasures from Tō-ji temple in Kyoto. This sculpture is from the 9th century, and is a National Treasure of Japan.

We’ve had a relaxing and not too busy week: we returned from last weekend’s Golden Week getaway on Monday evening; unpacked, did our laundry, and rested on Tuesday, visited the Tokyo National Museum on Wednesday; Brett went to his calligraphy lesson on Thursday; and on Friday we did a self-guided walking tour of the Yanaka neighborhood. A little later today we’re going up to Saitama Prefecture for a visit and lunch with our daughter-in-law’s parents, and are looking forward very much to seeing them again. Because of Golden Week every place we’ve gone has been quite crowded, but we decided that’s just part of the experience.

From the Imperial Household display, a magnificent porcelain plate.
Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan, and their small population currently resides in the north, on Hokkaido. The applique and embroidery on these coats are exquisite; the fabric is hand woven and dyed.
An old corner building in the Yanaka neighborhood has been turned into a shop.

One of Brett’s and my big jobs this summer will be to inventory all of the things we’ve been traveling with and get rid of or store what is unnecessary and replenish or replace things that are needed. For example, my trusty Skechers have to be replaced – the memory foam soles that were so comfortable at the beginning of our travels have completely broken down, the inside fabric is falling apart, and both pairs are now quite uncomfortable. I must have taken nearly a million steps in them though. I think I have worn the pair of clogs I brought along all of two times, so they will go into storage and be replaced with a good pair of walking/hiking shoes for treks while we’re in England. I also have a couple of jackets that have turned out to be impractical, and can see that a lightweight rain jacket would take up less space and get used more, so I’ll be on the lookout for one of those as well. Some of my clothes I’m just plain sick of at this point and want to swap them out, but thankfully I still am happy with most of them. Brett is in a similar position and wants to change out a few things and add a couple of things as well. We’ve started on a list but will get serious about it all once we’ve settled into our Portland apartment later this month.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished up another one of Susan Spann’s mysteries, Blade of the Samurai,. Because of the amount of historical detail she includes, I was able to appreciate much more many of the things I viewed at the National Museum this past week. I am still waiting for a couple of books to come off of hold at the library but was able to download a book by one of the authors, Cross and Burn, by Val McDermid. She’s a new-to-me mystery writer from Scotland. So far the book I’m reading now is a real page-turner and I can’t wait to read more of her work (and she has written a lot).
  • Listening to: Our grandson slept over with us last night, so he and Brett are chatting right now. We’re getting ready to go up for lunch with his other set of grandparents in a short while. Otherwise it’s very quiet here – not many people outside. The sun is shining brightly too – it’s supposed to up to 77º today!
  • Watching: I watched a couple of favorite movies this past week on days that I wasn’t too tired or reading: The King’s Speech and Lincoln. This week I am going to choose between Doubt, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Apollo 13. Neither Brett nor I have missed not watching television while we’ve been in Japan, and at this point doubt we’ll get a television again when we finally settle down.
  • Cooking/baking: I’m not sure what we’re having tonight as I’m fairly sure our DIL’s mother will feed us well for lunch. The freezer here is now cleared out, and we’re going to start stopping by the grocery store each day to pick up what we need for dinner rather than do a weekly shop and end up with any leftovers.

    There’s a lifesize statue of a blue whale outside of the national science museum in Ueno Park.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I had a lot to write about after last weekend’s travels, and got four blog posts done. Writing is a genuine effort for me (I am never satisfied), so I’m glad I was able to get last week’s posts done in a timely manner. Even though we were tired, Brett and I both were glad we made the effort to go to Ueno Park to the National Museum and to the Yanaka neighborhood. Believe it or not, even after all my time in Japan, this was my first trip to Ueno Park! Other than those things, I don’t think I accomplished all that much other than the regular everyday stuff I do around here.

    We gave up counting all the old temples and shrines in Yanaka.
  • Looking forward to next week: We are heading back to Yokohama again to visit the Sogo department store food gallery in the basement. We want to buy a package of bird cookies, and a kind of Japanese green tea “pudding” I love, made with kudzu starch as the thickener. Brett has his final class and will take his first calligraphy exam this coming week! We’re also hoping for better weather this week too – we’ve had quite a bit of rainy weather this past week, including a major thunderstorm yesterday. What we’re not looking forward to is dragging out the suitcases toward the end of the week and getting started on the packing.

    We’ve been happy to ignore these for the past three months.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our visits to the Tokyo National Museum and the Yanaka neighborhood were the last two items on our list of things we wanted to see and do during our stay in Tokyo. I think the only thing we missed out on was our visit to Shinjuku, but it will be here when we come back. We’ve heard from all three of the girls this week: Meiling is getting ready for her last set of finals; WenYu is currently in Florence, Italy during her spring break (and eating gelato every day); and YaYu is finishing up her first year of school and not looking forward to her finals. We stopped at a shop selling traditional Japanese sweets when we were in Yanaka to pick up a small gift for M’s parents, and the shop carried another one of my favorites: mochi filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a fresh, aromatic bamboo leaf. They were every bit as good as I remembered them.

    Mochi wrapped in fresh bamboo leaves – very delicious!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We didn’t spend much this week – just two small trips to the grocery store, the present for M’s parents and mochi for me, and a stop for lunch when we visited Yanaka. We have done a good job of eating out of our refrigerator and pantry this past week and had no food waste. Both of us are very happy with our April spending totals, and hope we can keep it up in May, although we have some big grocery shops to take care of in Portland as we set up for the summer.

    We ate a late lunch at a ‘fast food’ tempura restaurant near Yanaka, and got lots of tasty food for the two of us for just $15.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are extremely thankful for our son’s generosity throughout our stay in Japan, and for the wonderful time we had with them last weekend on our getaway. We are glad we have been able to give back just a little by picking up and watching our grandchildren in the afternoons, a pleasure for us and a small way to make their lives easier, especially with our daughter-in-law returning to work outside the home.
  • Japanese word of the week: yada やだ. This is an expression my grandchildren use over and over, and although I understood it to mean “no” or “don’t” more accurately means “I don’t like that!” or “I don’t want to!” Children often use it to mean “Stop it!” Yada is often compared to the word dame だめ, which generally means “wrong,” “no good,” “useless,” or “hopeless.” Dame is usually said to stop an action immediately, especially when said to children.

Ten days to go . . . I almost can’t believe it. I’m pretty sure from here on out it’s all going to fly by, and the next thing we know we’ll be on our way out to the airport. It’s all been wonderful though, the visit of a lifetime and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I hope all of you had a very good week, and that plenty of good things happened for you!

Sunday Morning 4/21/2019: Week 9 in Japan

Spring has arrived, and azaleas are in bloom everywhere.

Wishing a Happy Easter to all who celebrate! And, for those celebrating Passover, chag Pesach sameach!

The design on the back is the same, but with the colors reversed.

The grands colored eggs yesterday and had a small egg and candy hunt this morning (we supplied the egg dye and some Japanese Easter-themed KitKats). In a short while we are going to get together with our son and grandson for lunch in the Hiroo neighborhood to celebrate Brett’s 69th birthday, which is today. When we were at Tokyu Hands the other day I bought him a lovely, big, blue and cream pillow cover that says “Hokusai Japan” in beautiful calligraphy. Hokusai is one of Brett’s favorite artists, and is also a play on our family name, so I hope he’ll like it. Plus, it will easily pack into his suitcase when we leave Japan, still a consideration these days.

This week definitely didn’t turn out anything like we hoped for or planned. On Tuesday we were going to head to Shinjuku to check out Bingoya and a couple of other places, but I woke up with a sore throat and feeling deeply tired, with absolutely no energy to do anything or go anywhere. So, we stayed home – Brett picked up our grandson from school on his own while I rested all day. Thankfully I was fine on Wednesday, but we still decided that other than our usual pick-up duties we should stick close to home. Brett went to his shodō lesson on Thursday, and on Friday we were ready to get back out there, but instead we were up early to watch our granddaughter for the day – she has a very bad cold, so couldn’t go to her hoikuen. Yesterday we stayed close to home again and took care of some errands in the neighborhood, did three loads of laundry, and cleaned the apartment. It was a nice week off, and we’re hoping to do the activities and errands we missed this coming week but we may need to watch our granddaughter another couple of days so will work around that if it happens.

Brett and I had a nice day out running errands yesterday, and ended with a coffee and juice break at Starbucks. As is typical for a Saturday, the neighborhood was crazy busy with long lines everywhere, but today will be even more crowded. Oh, and I can’t believe this guy is 69 years old today!

I found some clothes here that fit! For the past few weeks I have had my eye on a lovely full cotton skirt at Muji, and yesterday I finally decided to try it on . . . and it was too big! Actually, the skirt fit but the look of it added another 20-30 pounds on my hips, so . . . nope. I love Muji’s simple clothing – it’s all made from natural fibers and favors a loose, comfortable style – so I poked around while I waited for a dressing room, and ended up buying a lovely black linen sleeveless shift (size L), and a light grey French terry topper (size M/L) that I found on the sale rack. I know that not everything they make would fit me, but it was gratifying to discover that there is at least one place in Japan where I could find some things if I had to.

Edinburgh has been on my bucket list for a long while . . . and we’re going at the end of September!

YaYu will be coming over to England in mid-October to spend a week with us (fall break at Bryn Mawr), so I reserved a stay at an Airbnb in London for the three of us – we’ll spend three days poking around London before heading back to our place in the Cotswolds. Brett and I also picked out dates for our visit to Edinburgh, and I made an Airbnb reservation there – our apartment is just a short walk from Edinburgh castle! I still need to make train reservations for the trip up to Scotland – fellow passengers from England on our Australian train trip recommended we ride up from Kings Cross station in London as that trip has the best scenery – but that task can wait until later in the summer. I also purchased YaYu’s plane ticket to come to Portland in May. She’ll spend 12 days with us before heading over to Japan for the summer.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished We Were the Lucky Ones (a great read), and am now reading Heart: A History, by Sandeep Jauhar. It’s filled with all sorts of interesting information about things like advancements in heart surgery, changes in the treatment of heart disease, and how the heart came to be seen as the core of being human, among other topics.
  • Listening to: We’re enjoying a quiet morning here, just reading and writing with our cups of coffee. I absolutely love mornings like this!
  • Watching: I watched The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix this past week – very creepy and scary at times. I loved it! The backstory of the family dragged on a bit too much for me at times, but the last episode brought it all together. Apparently there’s going to be another season in 2020 – yeah! I’m thinking about watching Beyoncé’s Homecoming tonight.
  • Cooking/baking: Since we’re going out to lunch for his birthday celebration, Brett and I will probably just have leftovers tonight. There’s yakisoba from last night, or we can make quesadillas. I did buy a small orange poundcake at a nearby bakery for his cake, and we’ll have that with ice cream tonight.
  • Happy I accomplished this week: I went through all of the several ziplock bags we carry that hold things like medication, toiletries, etc. and reorganized and downsized those to give us more room in our suitcases. I’m glad to have gotten the Airbnb reservations done for this fall, and have YaYu’s flight to Portland taken care of. Otherwise I don’t think we really accomplished anything.

    We had a delicious lunch with Eriko and her husband Jun and son Joe (I love how he’s showing us his food – 110% boy). The cacio e pepe I ordered was just like I had in Rome.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a fantastic Italian meal with my former student, Eriko, and her family on Sunday afternoon, and got ourselves caught up with what’s been going on with each other. In spite of this not being a stellar week for us in many other ways, the weather has been glorious and quite warm. We’ve even had to open the windows in the apartment a couple of times to cool things off, and have not had to turn on the heater for a few days. While the cherry blossoms have now almost completely disappeared, the dogwoods and azaleas are blooming, so there’s still more beautiful color around. Meiling had her first job interview the other day – she thought she did OK but not great, but was happy that her resume was interesting enough that the company wanted to interview her. However, on Friday she was asked to do a second interview so now we’ve officially crossed our fingers!

    Dogwoods are now in bloom all over!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This wasn’t a particularly frugal week, although we didn’t go crazy either. Our daily spending average though is where we want to be ($50.07) so we’re doing OK.
  • Grateful for: I adore spending time with our grandkids, and am so thankful we have been able to have so much time with them. I had a wonderful time raising our own four children, but at the same time I am also thankful that that part of my life is finished. Brett and I live very simply and minimally now, and I am happy not to have to deal with all the accoutrement that comes along with kids (toys, clothing, books, paper, art supplies, and so forth), the food and other childhood issues, and all the scheduling that goes along with having children in the home (school, extra-curricular stuff, etc.). I just don’t have the energy I once did either – I had a good time taking care of our granddaughter on Friday, but even though she was sick she almost wore me out!

    Even when she’s sick she still is full of energy!
  • Japanese word of the week: Chigau 違う. I had always understood this word to mean “wrong,” and I often overhear it in conversation which seemed strange. I’d always thought it meant “you’re wrong” or something similar, but in fact chigau has several meanings, such as “to be different or differ,” “another,” or “something else.” In conversation chigau can mean “that’s not how it is” or “that’s wrong,” with chigau being a softer word than “no” is in English. I’d heard it said that having the word “wrong” equaling “different” was a cultural link to Japan’s homogenous society, so that no one stuck out, but there’s been pushback on that interpretation. Anyway, I feel like I have a better understanding now of chigau and how and why it’s used (not that I’m confident enough to use it properly).

Just three more weeks in Japan to go! Next weekend we’ll be visiting Hakone with our son and family for a two night stay, so I won’t be posting until we get back. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, so we’ll get to see Mt. Fuji up close, as well as many other interesting sites in the area like Lake Ashi and the geothermal valley. Hakone is noted for their natural hot springs, and we’re looking forward to taking a couple of good soaks while we’re there (although the water is so hot in places that I once actually burned myself climbing into a tub!).

I hope you all had a good week, had lots of good things happen, and are looking forward to next week!

Sunday Morning 4/14/2019: Week 8 in Japan

Legend says that if you see Mt. Fuji you will return to Japan. We had amazing, crisp views all morning while we were at Soleil Hill Park, but by the time we left in the early afternoon the view had disappeared behind the clouds.

We have only one month left to go in Japan! When I wrote the date in the title, I realized that in less than 30 days we will be packing our bags once again, and hauling them out to the airport for our flight back to the U.S. on May 14. That’s as much as I’m going to think about leaving for now though because I know it’s going to be very emotional for us parting from our family here, and leaving a place we love so much.

Brett took K for a spin in a go-kart at Soleil Hill park.

This past week was mostly a nice, relaxing one for us: picking up our grandson every day from school, running our regular errands, enjoying the Todoroki Ravine Park, and going out to dinner with our son and family. Yesterday we headed down to Yokosuka to spend some time at the wonderful Soleil Hill family park with our son and family, and then do one last shop at commissary. The park, located in an agricultural area near Yokosuka, had all sorts of fun and interesting activities for the whole family, including go-karts, swan boats, several amazing playgrounds, an amusement park, and a petting zoo (we got to pet a capybara and some kangaroos!). The park was also decked out for spring with beautiful flower beds throughout the park. Getting on base though was easier said than done because it took us nearly two hours to get our son a pass to bring the car on base! Nothing was wrong other than there was a long, long line at the pass gate for some reason. It was dark when we finally left the commissary to come home, but the trip back was easy with no traffic, and we are set with food and supplies.

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We received a surprise windfall this past week – a check for $1250 from Wells Fargo Mortgage. We sold our house five years ago, but apparently Wells Fargo had never given us back the mortgage insurance we had overpaid by several months (we thought we had received it in the settlement). In the load of forwarded mail from Brett’s sister was a check for the overpayment plus the interest earned on the amount over the past five years. The money more than covered our income tax payment this year, and the rest went into savings.

Anyway, this week I am:

  • Reading: I finished Educated (couldn’t put it down), and am now reading We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, a novel about an extended Jewish family in Poland that somehow managed to survive the Holocaust. It is based on the actual story of the author’s family. I’m still waiting for my books to come off of hold at the library.
  • Listening to: Our little washing machine is going with a small load, but otherwise all is quiet here this morning.
  • Watching: I didn’t watch anything this week – I was too busy reading!
  • Cooking: We’re going out for lunch today with a former student of mine, and having tacos tonight, to finish up some leftover taco filling. We were going to have them last night, but we got home too late from Yokosuka and ended up eating other leftovers.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I finally found a birthday present for Brett (his birthday is next weekend). The gift had to be something he would enjoy that would also fit into his suitcase, so it was a bit of a challenge. Brett filed our taxes yesterday evening – we waited until almost the deadline because we have to pay a small amount this year.
  • Looking forward to next week: Brett and I are going to Shinjuku this week to visit Bingo-ya, a store that showcases Japanese folk crafts of all sorts, from pottery to dishes to fabric and more, and also to go out to lunch. We’re going to go back to the Sogo department store as well later in the week, although to one that’s closer to our house than Yokohama. We’re hoping they carry the items we want so we don’t have to make the longer trip.

    Look who stopped by Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house for a while last Wednesday!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our visit to the Todoroki Ravine Park on Tuesday was one of the nicest outings I’ve ever enjoyed in Japan. It was a beautiful spot, and the weather was perfect. Brett’s enjoying and doing well in his calligraphy class, and we got him the necessary tools and paper at Tokyu Hands so he can practice at home between classes. On Wednesday evening we went out to dinner at a wonderful noodle restaurant down the street from our house with our son and family (we ate there last week with Meiling and K before they left). I enjoyed what I think is my favorite meal in Japan: katsudon, a breaded pork cutlet cooked in a soy broth with onions and egg, and then served over a bowl of rice. The meal came with a small bowl of handmade udon noodles, tofu, and some tasty pickled vegetables. Our DIL ordered the same meal and had this to say about the food: If this restaurant was near our house I would eat here every day.

    Delicious katsudon
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We did not spend a whole lot of money this week (well, until we went to the commissary yesterday), and have managed to get our daily spending average down to $48.61 for the month. We’ve also done a good job of eating up all the leftovers so there has been no food waste. I had been watching the J. Jill sales section for some warm pieces to take to (chilly) England this fall, and this past week ordered a sweater, sweatshirt and poncho at 40% off the sale price. The total for all three items was less than $100, including shipping, and like all J. Jill items they will last a long time. All my other clothing is hanging in there, although I will need to get new socks and shoes when we get back to the U.S.

    Some cherry trees were still in full bloom last week . . .
  • Grateful for: While we have greatly enjoyed the cherry blossoms this year, I am also thankful to see green leaves replacing the flowers – spring has arrived (although we had a couple of days of very cold temperatures this past week that made us wonder). The sight of fallen blossoms on the ground is a reminder to fully enjoy and appreciate all that is good and beautiful in life because like all things it will eventually change or pass.
    . . . but many have almost lost all their blossoms and are leafing out.

    Fallen blossoms are a reminder of the impermanence of all things in life, and to appreciate and enjoy the good things while we have them.
  • Japanese word of the week: mingei 民芸, meaning folk arts or art of the people. There is a great appreciation in Japan for the beauty of everyday objects and the arts and crafts of average people, things that are practical and can be used in daily life. Mingei are not “one of a kind” pieces of art but items produced in quantities by hand. They should be inexpensive, simple, practical in design, and are meant to be used and represent the region of Japan they comes from. There is a Museum of Japanese Folkcraft nearby us that I hope to visit before we leave. By the way, the kanji 芸 in mingei is the same as in geisha 芸者, which means person who does art.

We’ve got our fingers crossed that this week will be another relaxing one. We’ve made a casual list of things we want to get before we leave, and places we want to see (like the Museum of Folkcraft and the National Museum of Japan in Ueno Park), but we don’t want to feel rushed. Our time here has been wonderful, and we want it to stay that way right up until we leave.

A melon soda float for spring – the soda really tastes just like melon, and the ice cream from Hokkaido was the richest I’ve ever tasted.

I hope you all had a great week, and that spring has finally arrived wherever you are.

Sunday Morning 4/7/2019: Week 7 in Japan

We pass by these old, magnificent cherry trees on the walk to our son’s home. We have sometimes seen people picnicking underneath (ohanami: flower viewing).

While not as busy as last week, we still had a semi-crazy week of activity, culminating with day at Tokyo Disneyland yesterday! Lots of our activity this week has centered around picking up the grandkids from school, and getting out with Meiling and her boyfriend a couple of times before they left on Wednesday.

Tokyo Disneyland was an experience from start to finish. The day couldn’t have been better weather-wise – temperatures were in the 70s, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Brett even got a bit of a sunburn on his face! Our DIL had thought the crowds wouldn’t be as big as last weekend’s, but Saturday’s attendance broke records, with online ticket purchases shut down early, and people turned away at the entrance because the park was at capacity. It was crowded. The shortest line we stood in for a ride was 45 minutes, except for the one Fastpass we were able to score – they were sold out for all rides by 11:00 a.m. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain had waits of over three hours, and many others had lines of over an hour. There were even lines of around 10-15 minutes to use the women’s restrooms! Lines at restaurants and snack carts were for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour – crazy! Still, we had a great time and were able to go on several rides during the day with our grandson. Brett and I ended up walking six miles, and I took nearly 18,000 steps. Today we are resting our weary feet and bodies.

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Our school pick-up duties are going well, although our son or DIL usually pick up our granddaughter from her hoikuen (nursery school) – they rented a parking spot right by her school, so our DIL parks there for the day after dropping both kids off, then takes the train to her workplace (our son goes to work super early in the morning, before the rest are awake). In the afternoon, one of them picks our granddaughter up and drives home, and the other takes the train. We pick up our grandson earlier in the afternoon and bring him home. If both our son and DIL are busy however, we can pick up our granddaughter before getting our grandson. The only downside to that, if there is one, is that we have a semi-long walk from the bus stop to their house, and last Tuesday I was reminded of what it’s like to walk with a curious two year-old who refuses to be carried! Needless to say Brett and our grandson were at the house long before K and I arrived.

Sensō-ji Temple
Cherry blossoms and lanterns lined the final approach to the temple.

On Monday we visited Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa with Meiling and K, and were fortunate to have good weather for most of the time we were there. We visited with YaYu when we were here in 2017, but the pagoda was completely shrouded for painting/repairs and we were about a week too early for the cherry blossoms, so it was exciting to see both the pagoda and the blossoms this time. Meiling and K loved the Asakusa area so she and K stayed on after we had to leave. Brett and I each bought another omamori (amulet) from the temple – Brett’s was for “successful study and learning,” to give him a little boost for his calligraphy class, and I got one for “wishes come true.” I now have the trifecta – good luck, good fortune, and having my wishes come true!

The five-level Sensō-ji pagoda
We saw many women (and men) in rented kimono. Dressing up enhances the experience for many visitors.

Finally, we had an unexpected glitch during the week when our refrigerator stopped working for a couple of days this past week (the freezer continued to work fine though, thank goodness). We contacted our host, who had just arrived home from a trip to Europe, and were instructed to unplug the fridge for a couple of days and let it sit with the door open. One of her other apartments was empty though, the one located right next to ours, and we were able to store our food in the fridge there so we didn’t lose anything. It was interesting getting to see the other apartment – it was much smaller than the one we’re in, with less sunlight, but we liked the furnishings better and the kitchen had an actual oven! We never could have hosted Meiling and boyfriend in that space though, so we were glad we were given this apartment. Anyway, after two days we plugged in the fridge and it’s working fine now (the compressor apparently needed to rest and restart).

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I just finished a wonderful medical mystery/thriller set in Victorian Edinburgh, The Way of All Flesh, by Ambrose Perry, and have started Educated, by Tara Westover. However, I put six books on hold at the library the other evening, and if any of those come in I’ll have to put Educated on hold to read those so they can be returned on time. I also picked up another of Susan Spann’s mysteries when it was on sale for $1.99 from Amazon, so I am set for books for few weeks at least. I probably won’t see a couple of the library books though until late summer – the hold lists are l-o-n-g.
  • Listening to: We’re enjoying a very quiet morning here! The heater comes on occasionally, but that’s the only sound.
  • Watching: I watched The Highwayman on Netflix last week (I thought it was very well done), finished After Life and a series called Delhi Crime, and have been filling in with episodes of Father Brown. The show is filmed in the village where we’ll be staying when we go to England in the fall!
  • Cooking: We don’t have much food in the house right now but we’re going shopping this afternoon, and I’ve got everything on hand to make tuna melts and a salad for dinner tonight. We discovered a discount grocery store in our neighborhood the other day, not too much further away from our house than the Tokyu store, so we’re planning to start shopping there this week.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We were on time every day to pick up the grands, and we learned to ride the bus back to our son’s home versus taking the train. I’m a bit afraid of buses here as I never know where they are taking me, but we were able to figure out this route in a couple of days. I finally enjoyed a teriyaki burger from McDonald’s. I always have one when I’m in Japan, and still can’t figure out why they’re not a thing in the U.S. because they are so simple (burger with teriyaki sauce topped with mayonnaise and lettuce) and so good.

    My one teriyaki burger plus a small strawberry shake. Love, love, love them, but one is enough for each Japan visit.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than picking up the grands, we don’t have anything specific on our calendar, and we’re looking forward to sleeping in most mornings. Weather permitting, I’m taking Brett on a mystery outing on Tuesday, and we may go back to Tokyu Hands on Friday.

    The same trees from the top picture, in full bloom a couple of days later.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett’s first calligraphy class went well and he enjoyed it immensely, but he’s got his work cut out for him (and is looking forward to it!). We were sad to see Meiling and K go but she admitted that she had fallen in love with Japan and can’t wait to come back. We’ve enjoyed great weather this week and actually had a couple of days where we didn’t need a coat or jacket. The cherry blossoms continue to bloom spectacularly. Brett picked up a branch of cherry blossom buds for me the other day from a nearby flower shop and I’ve enjoyed watching them open this past week.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We finally got Pasmo train and bus passes with some encouragement from our son and Meiling. The pass saves a few yen over regular tickets, but as we weren’t riding the trains every day we were fine with buying individual tickets. However, now that we’re picking up the grands every day the passes are far more convenient. We figured that all what we would have saved from the passes during the first six weeks would have added up to around 100¥, or a little less than a dollar. Every little bit helps though. We watched our spending at Disneyland, and bought one item for each grandchild, some bottled water, and a couple of snacks for ourselves but nothing more.

    My favorite oldest daughter!
  • Grateful for: I’m feeling very thankful that we got to spend time with Meiling last week – she will be going out into the world very soon to make her way and we both know it might be a while before we see each other again. We’re also glad we got to spend some time with her boyfriend. We enjoyed his company too, and loved seeing them together.
  • Japanese word of the week: kakueki teisha 各駅停車 I finally figured out that these words mean ‘local train,’ or a train that stops at every station versus the kyuukou 急行, or express train. Kakueki means ‘every station’ and teisha means ‘stop.’ For example, the station closest to our granddaughter’s school is a stop on an express train, but our grandson’s stop (the next one on the line) is not, so we always have to be careful to catch a local train versus the express. Our station, Sangenjaya, is a stop on the express, but our son’s stop, the next one down, is not. The kanji for the express or the local are typically displayed above one door of each car the train and I found out the hard way that it pays to look for them – the week before last I stepped on a train without checking and found myself on the express, watching our son’s station and three more go by out the window before the train finally stopped and I could turn around and go back.

Life here returns to “normal” tomorrow. The last couple of weeks almost wore us out, but we’re catching up on our rest today and will be ready for the more relaxed week that’s coming up. We’re still so happy to be here, and are still pinching ourselves that we have gotten to spend so much time here in Japan, and with our son, DIL, and grandchildren. Life is good!

I hope you all had a wonderful week, full of good things and tasks accomplished!

Monday Morning 4/1/2019: Our Wonderful 6th Week in Japan

Warning: LOTS of photos!

At the Nijubashi, in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

What a wonderful week we’ve had!

From the top floor of the Aeon mega store, looking out over Tokyo to Shinjuku.

The week started off with a visit for me to a “mega store” – think Target, but instead of one floor the store takes up seven, starting with a huge grocery store on the ground floor, and finishing with several restaurants on the top. The store literally sold everything – you could buy what you need for dinner, pick up some socks and underwear, get your hair cut, and plan your own funeral before choosing a restaurant for lunch. Our daughter-in-law bought some new socks and pants for the kids, and some school lunch supplies, and then we enjoyed a tempura lunch on the top floor as we chatted and looked out over the city at Shinjuku’s skyscrapers in the distance.

Tempura shrimp, egg, and vegetables over rice with miso soup and pickles.

Monday was the beginning of spring break throughout Japan, and Brett and I met our grandson at a large park close to our house in the afternoon and watched him at the skatepark for a while and then brought him home with us for dinner and a sleepover. Tokyo can seem at times to be nothing but a sea of concrete, but there are all sorts of wonderful parks, both large and small, throughout the city with all sorts of activities and attractions. Setagaya park, just a 15 minute walk from our apartment, has several sculptures, walking, jogging and cycling paths, a full-size steam engine and rail car to explore, a playground, a miniature train ride through the park, and another (very popular) play area created completely from recycled materials.

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On Tuesday afternoon Brett and I went out to visit the Imperial Palace and the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo. We strolled through the East Garden of the Palace to view the cherry blossoms, and walked from there to Nijubashi, the double bridges that lead up to the palace. Visitors are only allowed to visit inside the palace grounds as part of a reserved guided tour, or on December 23 (the Emperor’s birthday) or January 2 (New Year’s). On the last two dates visitors are handed a small paper flag when they enter to wave as “banzai” is shouted three times when the Emperor and his family appear (we got to do this two different times when we were stationed here). The palace grounds are quite large though, so the distance between the garden and the bridges required quite a bit of walking. We have a real appreciation now for the distance our son walks each year for his Imperial Challenge fundraiser.

Entrance gate to the East Garden of the Palace, the only area open to the public.
The palace walls are made of massive stones
Part of the palace can be seen from outside the Nijubashi.

Afterward seeing what we could at the Palace, we walked across the street to view the Dai Ichi building, which served as General MacArthur’s headquarters during the U.S. occupation of Japan following WWII. The building was considered huge at the time, but these days it’s dwarfed by the skyscrapers that surround it and tower over the building. We then took a short train ride over to see the Yasukuni shrine and the Budokan. We were feeling very tired and hungry at this point though, so only viewed the outer walkway and small memorials outside of the main shrine complex before deciding to come back to see the main shrine on another day. Yasukuni is the memorial shrine for war dead who served the Emperor during wars from 1867–1951, and fourteen Class A war criminals, including those like General Tojo, are enshrined there, which has caused controversy from time to time. The shrine also has a museum that is a must see, so Brett and I are looking forward to returning when we’re not so tired and have time to take it all in.

The Daiichi (Grand) Torii at the entrance to the Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine celebrates its 150 anniversary this year, and work was going on all over to get everything updated.
The Irei no Izumi memorial is a spring dedicated to those who suffered from or died of thirst in battle.
The Budokan, a huge indoor arena built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and later home to many famous concerts, is located across the street from the Yasukuni Shrine.

The highlight of the day though was meeting author Susan Spann, who helped us when we couldn’t figure out which exit to use after we arrived at Ōtemachi station. She has written a series of novels set in the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868) that feature a samurai (who is a shinobi 忍び – similar to a ninja. It’s my Japanese word of the week; I only knew about ninja). He works with a Portuguese Jesuit priest to solve murders. Susan is currently writing a book, Climb, about her experiences climbing mountains throughout Japan. I am reading the first in her series now, Claws of the Cat, and am having trouble putting it down – I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series. Another happy offshoot from our conversation with Susan is that Brett is going to begin taking Japanese calligraphy (shodō) lessons this week! Susan told us about her experiences and recommended an instructor, so when we came home he contacted the school and signed up. He’ll do five lessons and be able to take his first examination before we leave Japan. If he enjoys it, there are shodō classes available in Portland and he can continue through the summer before we leave for England.

Blowing out the candles on his 8th birthday!

We had pizza and birthday cake with our grandson on Thursday for lunch before heading out on the long ride to Narita to meet Meiling and K. Their flight arrived on time, we got them their round-trip tickets to and from Narita and made the long ride back home, went out for a quick bowl of ramen, and then they promptly collapsed as they’d been awake for nearly 36 hours! They’ve been having a grand time since though and have gotten around on their own to visit Akihabara (anime and geek stuff) and Shibuya, view cherry blossoms, and went out for a wagyu beef dinner on Saturday. Yesterday our whole family (well, minus WenYu and YaYu) got together for the fabulous Sunday brunch at the New Sanno Hotel, and then afterwards we went with Meiling and K to the Meiji Shrine followed by a walk down Takeshita Dori in Harajuku to check out the 100¥ store and eat crepes. This morning we’re going with them to Asakusa to visit Sensōji temple, and then they’ll continue on their own to Ueno Park because we have to get back for our first day of picking up the grandchildren from their respective schools. Meiling and K will attend an immersive art experience tomorrow and then will fly back to the U.S. on Wednesday.

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Early Friday morning Brett and I left with our son and family for an overnight birthday/anniversary getaway in Odawara, located on the coast just southwest of Tokyo. We spent the morning touring Odawara Castle, the 7th largest castle in Japan. It was originally constructed during the Edo Period (1603-1868), but was severely damaged during the Great Earthquake of 1923, with the remainder destroyed during WWII. It was rebuilt following the war using the original plans and now holds exhibits of items discovered during archeological digs on the castle grounds, and visitors can also climb to the top for spectacular views of the surrounding area. There is also a wonderful exhibit of samurai armor that we enjoyed.

Heading up the stone steps to enter Odawara Castle
Exquisite decorative work on a samurai’s helmet (kabuto).
Looking out over Odawara from the top of the castle to the mountains north of the city.
To the south, the view from the castle top takes in Sagami Bay, Ōshima Island and the Izu Penninsula.
Pieces of the original castle foundation slid down the hill during the 1923 Great Earthquake and have been left where they stopped.

After spending time at the castle we headed up to the posh Hilton Odawara Beach Resort which sits on top of a hill overlooking Sagami Bay and Odawara. Our room had two parts, a regular bedroom for Brett and me, and a tatami room where M & M and the kids slept. Along with two restaurants, the hotel and grounds also have every amenity you could think of: swimming pools, spa, a bowling alley, karaoke room, a huge game arcade, miniature golf, shopping, hiking paths, etc. All six of us bowled a game on Friday evening, and then on Saturday morning our son’s family went swimming and played miniature golf, Brett went on a hike, and I relaxed and did some reading. Saturday was Brett’s and my 40th anniversary, and M & M presented us with a bottle of wine and a coupon to enjoy the hotel’s fabulous afternoon dessert buffet. We learned a valuable cultural lesson too: Japanese women will take you out if you get between them and their dessert buffet experience! They were almost aggressive and definitely very assertive when it came to getting their sweets. When we told our DIL how surprised we were by what we had observed, she laughed and said, “now you’ve seen the real Japan.”

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Today marks the halfway point of our Japan stay – we have another six weeks to go before it’s time to head back to the U.S. for the summer. We have another busy week coming up as we put on our grandparent hats and pick up the grands every from school so our DIL can begin her new job. Other than today’s visit to Asakusa, Brett and I plan to stick close to our neighborhood this week. We discovered there’s a Muji store just a couple of blocks away so we’re going to check that out. On Saturday we’re going to Tokyo Disneyland for the day, a surprise trip for our grandson for his birthday. We’re looking forward to that outing, and to again see what’s the same and what’s different with Disneyland over here.

We are ready for a new year! Brett and I each got new amulets for good luck (red) and fortune (gold) at Meiji-jingu. The shrine had a special area where we could thank and get rid of our old amulets.

Finally, this week has been all about the cherry blossoms:

A tree in full bloom at the Imperial Palace.
Cherry trees in various stages of bloom.
Delicate sakura blossoms
Looking down from the top of Odawara Castle.
Mono no aware: the transience or impermanence of things. Cherry blossoms are already beginning to fall, and soon they will be gone, until next year.

I’ll be taking one more week off and then will be back to more regular blogging. Thank you for sticking with me – I hope you’re enjoying some beautiful spring weather these days!

Sunday Morning 3/24/2019: Week 5 in Japan

The raisin bread from Suwamura Bakery is life-changing. I was able to buy a whole loaf last week – usually all the bakery has available are half loaves, if they have any at all.

We’ve had a busy, wonderful week! On Monday we went to Hiroo, our son’s old neighborhood, to pick up a loaf of tasty raisin bread and to get some yen at the New Sanno Hotel. We also went shopping at a Costco with our daughter-in-law on Friday, an interesting and fun experience; took care of our grandkids for a few hours and spent an afternoon with them at a park on Wednesday; went to see a puppet show our grandson was part of at his school (very fun!) on Thursday; and Brett spent yesterday afternoon watching our grandson skate and then C came over to our place and spent the night. And, of course we finally reached a decision on where to settle next December, a big relief for both of us. The insomnia is gone.

Doesn’t this big slide look fun? Two levels! It was very well monitored, and kids of all ages loved it. Little ones always went down with an older child.
She just had to sit in the “pink chair” that was sitting in front of a restaurant we walked past, and she was pretty satisfied with herself for accomplishing it.

The trip to Costco on Friday was fascinating. Inside it looks much the same as a store does in the U.S. I was surprised by the number of U.S. products available, but most of the merchandise, around 70% or so, is still Japanese. Annual membership costs less than it does in the U.S., only around $41/year, and they also have a credit card that gives back rebates (there is no executive level membership). Prices were for the most part slightly higher than in the U.S. but low for Japan according to our DIL. M was especially thrilled by the number of organic products available. And, of course there was a food court, with prices about the same as in the U.S. – we had hot dogs before we left!  My one disappointment was that their sample game was weak – I had hoped to try some interesting things but that didn’t happen. And, I still have no idea where people store the big packages they buy there. Perhaps much of what is bought is shared with friends and/or family, but otherwise I have no clue. Thankfully our son’s house has quite a bit of storage space for all that M bought, and maybe others who shop there do too.

Costco in Japan pretty much looks like Costco in the U.S.
However, in Japan they carry things like large tubs of miso . . .
. . . and Lipton cherry blossom tea (which we were almost tempted to buy).

What did we buy at Costco? I found the giant bag of mugi-cha tea bags that I was looking for, more than enough to get me through the summer back in the U.S. They will be divided up, repacked and tucked into both Brett and my suitcases when we go back to the U.S. We also bought organic bananas, big packages of blueberries and raspberries, a large bag of Australia-made granola, a bottle of red wine for Brett, a box of organic Medjool dates, a case of bottled water and a case of bottled (caffeine-free) rooibus tea. We also divided up a dozen of Costco’s huge muffins, a big package of dried prunes, and a box of wonderful goat’s milk soap bars with our DIL, and we bought our son a big bag of Cretor’s Chicago mix popcorn. The store was running a fabulous promotion on Nespresso machines, and Brett and I both said that if there had been a way to get it back to the U.S. we would have bought one.

Only in Japan: dorayaki pet beds. Dorayaki are a popular snack made of two sponge cake pancakes filled with sweet beans.
Costco hot dogs are just slightly over $1.50 in Japan, and come with the same fixings and a drink. They also serve the same pizza as they do in the U.S.

A few cherry trees have started blooming, but the best is yet to come. Up until yesterday the weather had been warm, to the point that we didn’t even need sweaters and could leave the heating off in the apartment, but yesterday snow was falling parts of Tokyo! LOL – welcome spring!

Cherry blossoms ready to burst open

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I got a lot of reading done this past week. I finished A Rising Man, read The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz in just two days (I could not put it down!), and quickly read Super Cheap Tokyo by Matthew Baxter to see if I could learn of a few more fun and low-cost things for Brett and I to do while we’re here. I’m now reading Strength of What Remains by Tracy Kidder, the inspiring story of an immigrant to the United States.
  • Listening to: Brett is reading, and C is playing games on my phone and talking back to phone, or singing or asking me questions. In other words, a typical seven year-old boy,
  • Watching: I started Ricky Gervais’ After Life, which is good, but haven’t gotten back to it for a few days because I’ve been reading so much.
  • Cooking: Brett made Lucky Charms pancakes for our grandson this morning (plain ones for me, thank you), and tonight we’re going to have leftover spaghetti with marinara, so no real cooking for me today. All I know about the rest of the week is that tomorrow I’m going to make Caprese-style eggs for our dinner, and we’ll be having stir-fried pork with cabbage and chili shrimp for dinner on another day.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I don’t feel like I “accomplished” anything special this past week – I just did the things we set out to do. Nothing was big or special, but all of it was fun.
  • Looking forward to next week: Meiling arrives on Thursday! Brett and I will get ourselves out to Narita to meet her and her boyfriend and get them back here and settled, and then on Friday morning Brett and I are going with M & M and the grands to Odawara for an overnight visit (Meiling will be fine on her own here – her boyfriend has visited Japan before and knows how to get around). On Sunday morning we’re all getting together for the fabulous Sunday brunch at the New Sanno Hotel to celebrate Brett and my 40th anniversary, and then we’ll visit the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku with Meiling and K. Brett and I are going over to the Imperial Palace on Tuesday (weather permitting) to walk the path around the palace and to check out the cherry blossoms.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The whole week was just a nice one, with lots of time spent with family but also enough time on our own to relax and read and get things done here in the apartment (there is always laundry to do every few days). We finally got around to picking up some takoyaki (octopus balls) from the corner shop – they were delicious and affordable, and the shop is close enough that the takoyaki were still hot when we got it home. WenYu messaged to let us know she had been visiting Israel for a few days – they had a long weekend and a classmate was going and asked WenYu to go along with her.
    We splurged twice last week: cherry blossom cookies and . . .

    . . . hot, freshly made takoyaki. Inside the crisp balls are small tender pieces of octopus (tako). Takoyaki are traditionally served with dried fish flakes, seaweed, takoyaki sauce and . . . mayonnaise. They are delicious!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We did not spend a whole lot of money this week and even with our Costco shopping we are still under our daily budget. The only extras we bought this week were some special cherry blossom cookies in Hiroo and the takoyaki. We were tempted to buy a whole lot more at Costco but we didn’t. We have also been doing a good job of eating up our leftovers, and making sure food in the fridge gets eaten on time so nothing gets thrown out.
  • Grateful for: I am thankful that we will be in Japan this year for the cherry blossoms because we just missed seeing them on our last two visits. Also, Meiling will get to see them as well. She is the last of our children to come to Japan, so I’m hoping this is one of the things that will help make the trip extra special for her.
  • Japanese word of the week: Gokigen ikaga desu ka? ご機嫌いかがですか Well, that’s more than one word, but the phrase I learned this week is how you say how are you? to someone of higher status (which is something I totally don’t understand how to judge). I’ve always said Ogenki desu ka? お元気ですか and thought that was polite, but learned this past week that’s what you say with someone you see regularly (because if you’re very familiar, as with a family member or close friend, all you have to ask is Genki?). Having to always figure out you position in relation to someone else and then choosing the right language is one of the biggest reasons Japanese is so difficult for English speakers.

While I was reading Super Cheap Tokyo, I found myself thinking again and again, I’ve already done this or I’ve been there. It was amazing to me to see how much I have done and seen over the years in Tokyo and the surrounding area. Our visit this time though is all about getting a feel for what it would be like if we could live here versus us doing a lot of sightseeing, so while it’s still fun for us to go out and do things, we don’t have an urge to see or do everything – daily life here is interesting enough. However, I did find a couple of cool things in the book that I didn’t know about and want to check out – one is going to be a mystery outing for Brett!

I won’t be posting again until next Monday as we’ll be out and about all day Sunday. In the meantime, I hope you had a great week, and that plenty of good things happened for you!

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!

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?