Monday, June 28, 2010

Numbers 15,14, and 13...

The next few on my list don't need much explanation so I have decided to include them all on one entry. I think this may be my M.O. for the next several posts so that I can get them all in before we leave Japan in 18 days!! What?!?! How did time sneak up on me so fast? I'm not ready in so many ways, but time marches on, as they say, and there is no stopping it. Anyway, back to the list....

#15: Walking Everywhere
On average I walk about a mile or two a day. It's about a 12 minute walk to the train station, about a 10 min walk to the grocery store and about a 15-20 minute walk to some of our favorite places in Jiyugaoka (the name of the area where we live). If it's raining and you run out of diapers you have no choice but to get out there. I put the rain cover on the stroller, pull out the umbrella, and if it's really coming down I put on the rain boots (gum boots, galoshes, or whatever you may call them in your country) and off we go. Also, we don't walk just in our neighborhood necessarily but where ever you end up you walk a lot there too. In the US, if you want to go to the movies the process may look like something as follows: walk to your car, drive to the theater, get out of your car and walk 100 meters or so (but if it's too far we shamelessly ask the driver to drop us off at the entrance...no sense in the whole group having to exert a little bit of effort) to the entrance. Going to the movies here requires a lot more than just that. It's not exhausting it's just...different. You walk...you walk to the station, you walk from the station to the theater and all that walking will take around 20 minutes or more... it's just the way things are.

At night people are walking all through out the neighborhood. This is somewhat of a strange sight for this American at 9pm when you come across about 10-15 other people on their way home at night from their various activities in the day. I just never saw this when I lived in the US. In the states I remember feeling a little scared and apprehensive and wondering if the person who was coming up behind me or coming toward me had ill thoughts towards my well-being and I would begin to think out my plan of escape if I were to be attacked. I made sure I left my house with pepper spray in hand. Here that just isn't the case (in entry #3 will be missing the feeling of safety). I will miss walking everywhere. In the states (New York city excluded), if you want to walk you have to carve some time out in your day. Here it's just part of the normal goings on of life in Japan.


# 14: Our Grocery Delivery Service
Delivery services are common in Japan and a rule of thumb in the "mama" realm in Japan is once you have a baby you get a grocery delivery service. The reason being is, again, you don't drive...you usually either walk or ride your bike to the store and with a little one in tow this makes for quite a tricky journey.

Once a week my fruits, vegetables, milk, break, eggs, tofu (hey, this is japan), diapers, specialty items for baby, and other japanese items comes to our front door. It is fabulous. The cost of delivery...a whopping $2 and the prices aren't much more expensive than that at the grocery store. If any of you reading this blog know where I can get good grocery delivery service I would be more than happy to know. There is a big difference, however, in the frequency of trips to the grocery store in Japan in comparison to that of the US. It is common to go once, maybe twice a week to pick up items you need for that night or the next day's meals. You don't buy in bulk. You buy a little but go often. I don't like going to the store that's why our grocery delivery service makes my countdown. Yes, I will miss this for sure!

Our frozen items, cold items, and dry items come in these nifty little bins that the delivery man will pick up the following week so they can be reused.


My order forms...you name it they've got it. Stuff for babies, clothes, shoes, household items, cleaning items, and food. The pink form below the catalogs is my order form. Thankfully they also have English assistance available. Lucky me!



#13: Small Portion Sizes
I heard it once said that the Japanese only eat until they are 80% full. That's smart eating right there! It shows too.

When I lived in the US I was diagnosed with IBS (irratable bowel syndrome) and it sucked! My stomach ached ALL THE TIME!! Once we moved to Japan, however, my stomach troubles ceased to exist! It was incredible and such a relief to be living free of stomach/intestinal pain. When we would go back to the states to visit my stomach troubles would return again. This can only lead me to conclude that American food is bad for my health! We eat tons of red meat and smother our food with cheese and then we deep fry it all. UGh...just the thought makes my stomach hurt. Plus, we eat REALLY BIG portions. The portion sizes in Japan are considerably smaller...and it's wonderful. I have never left a Japanese eating establishment overly stuffed and in pain because I gorged myself on too much food. Plus, the presentation of the food is simply beautiful.

I am nervous about leaving this style of eating. I am going to have to really exercise self control and restraint once I move back. It is all too easy to fall back into the eating habits of the good ol' U.S. of A. Jesus, lead me on!

The next two pictures are from one of our favorite restaurants. Don't you just love the presentation. So pretty and everything on the menu if very healthy.




Sigh....pushing out all three of these items made me sad. Oh, Japan, how I will miss you and your ways. Hopefully, one day, we can come back to stay. :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

#16: Public Transportation

Here in Japan we don't own a car. Really, there's no need and that freedom is nice. That is why I have put public transportation on my list of things we are going to miss about Japan. It's somewhat convenient and earth-friendly. :)

Deacon loves the trains!


A rare occasion....a bench all to ourselves. :)


This is the inside of the station we use the most, Den-en-chofu.
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Figuring out the train system in Japan is a daunting task. But, once you've accomplished it everything starts falling into place and it's quite easy from that point.

A map and the listings of how much it costs to get from where you are to where you're going. Underneath the map are the ticket machines.


In America a teenager looks forward to the day they turn 16 because with it comes a driver's license and with that, a new-found sense of freedom. Here in Japan that just isn't the case. Many people don't even have a driver's license, or if they do they got it much later in life than 16 years old. They don't need it. Getting somewhere one doesn't need to rely on always having a licensed driver. Just hop on a train. You can get almost anywhere in Japan via public transportation. Be it train, bus, taxi, and/or ferry.

Little guy waiting for his train to get to school.


We have been able to go to a lot of places in Japan thanks to an amazing rail system. Here we are on a shinkansen (bullet train) with our friends.




My wonderful and dear friends, Jennifer and Evonne, came to visit us in Japan. We took a trip out of the city and I was asking them where we were going. As you can see, no one was all that excited that I was taking this video. :)
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Trains have a lot of great amenities. We took a trip down south to the Izu Peninsula and on that train ride our train had a children's play room. Deacon had a blast. :)


One thing, however, I WON'T miss about public transportation is crowded trains. They are AWFUL. Seriously, packed. Just when you think no one else can get on five more people seem to fit! It puts the stuffing-clowns-into-a-car feat at a circus to shame. It's that bad. If you have ever heard rumors of people having to be pushed into trains by station attendants just to get the doors of the train to shut because they are so crowded the rumors are true. I have seen it only once (it's mainly during the morning rush hour which I try to avoid) and it makes me stare. Even though my mama taught me that staring is rude, I just can't help it. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. I have posted a video below from youtube.com. We have never taken a pic...I think we were too busy staring in amazement to think about pulling out a camera.






I posted this on a post a long time ago but I figured it needed to be re-posted for this entry because it's just so funny. This happened to me after we had been here maybe two months and hasn't happened since. I'm so glad we got it on video.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

#17: Mt. Fuji

The first four months we were in Japan the majestic Fuji was elusive to us. We even went to a spot where it was almost a guarantee we could see it but it never appeared. I like to think the mountain is shy often hiding behind clouds. My first glimpse of Fuji was in May of 2008. It was breathtaking. It's like I was looking at a painting or a picture or huge backdrop or something. It just didn't seem real. I took a pic that day but as always with majestic scenery the pictures don't do Fuji justice.



Jason has climbed this beast and we hope to do so again at the end of July just before we leave Japan. I can't not climb this thing! :) This mountain (or dormant volcano) is beautiful. I love it because it stands alone and it ascends gradually when you look at it from far away. I am so thankful that I have been able to see it on just more than one occasion. I will miss having the possibility of seeing it. Seeing Mt. Fuji is not part of our daily life but it is one of those things that have made this place, this country, beautiful for us.

These pics below aren't ours but I wanted to post some that showed a more "thorough" view of Mt. Fuji and some with cherry blossoms (also one of my favorites).





#18: Seto

Tucked away on a very tiny street is a small restaurant named, Seto. Seriously, it's tiny. There is only space for about 7 people to sit down at a bar. The chefs, a precious little elderly couple, have a very small space in which to maneuver. This place is fabulous for more reasons than just delicious food. The atmosphere is comfy and familiar. People come in and talk to one another. It's the Japanese version of the local dinner/coffee shop of the U.S.

Whenever we go we always get the same thing...chicken katsu. Basically, fried chicken but not fried chicken like in the U.S. There are no bones just succulent chunks of chicken, battered in a flaky breading and smothered in a delicious sauce that is common to Japanese katsu. This sauce, however, is homemade and better than any other katsu sauce I've had in Japan. The rest of the dish is served with a cabbage salad (love cabbage now thanks to Japan), the best miso soup, pickled daikon (a root vegetable that is a staple in Japanese foods), and a bowl of rice. I will most certainly miss this little place, the people, the feeling of it, and the food.

The front of the restaurant. This picture shows the width of this place...see, it's tiny.


The precious elderly couple who own and run this place. It's just the two of them. :)


Jason took this pic from the outside looking in. Where the picture cuts off on the right hand side is where the wall is. Walking between the wall and the stools is like scooting between people in rows of seats....slide front foot out, bring the back foot to the front foot and repeat the shuffle as you scoot along to your stool.


Enjoying some fabulous food. Jason's cousin, Ryan, was in town visiting us. Jason took this pic from the outside, through a little window, looking in.


After the meal Deacon and I hop onto the bike to head home. He loves riding in the bike and where his helmet...or "hat" as he calls it. :)








Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hiccup in the countdown....

We lost our camera on our trip to China in March. Hence, I have been delayed on my countdown. Having no camera to easily tote around to capture the shots necessary to document all that I need/want to has caused me some slight delay. However, there is good news...we have just received our new camera in the mail. I have been taking pics and so the posting will commence. Hopefully at a some what rapid pace because I have a lot of catching up to do.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

#19: Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)


One of my favorite Sakura trees in our neighborhood. Pic taken 2008

We left for Indonesia and China on Friday, March 19th and the cherry blossoms ("sakura" in japanese) were still tucked away in the buds. When we returned on April 1st they were in full bloom here in Tokyo! Their beauty is breathtaking to me. I could stare at them for hours.

This is our third Sakura season. During Sakura '08 it was just Jason and myself. Sakura '09 I was 9 months pregnant making us 2.5. Finally, Sakura 2010 there is three! Jason, myself, and our beautiful baby boy, Deacon who will be one year old on the 15th of this month! Is that for real?

I will greatly miss the cherry trees of Japan. I know there are cherry trees in the US but it's just not the same. The Japanese gather friends, and food, and booze and sit underneath the trees enjoying the beauty and taking in the nature. There is even a word for this experience... ohanami. I think literally translated it means to view the flowers. (Japanese speakers please correct me on this if I'm wrong.) I will miss the picnics and the time spent with friends underneath these trees. It's not only about the blooming of the flower but also what this time of year seems to do to this culture. Like the blossoms, people seem to open up a little more themselves.

Jason and me in Ueno Park. Sakura '08


Jason and me and baby in Naka-Meguro. 2009


This is a cherry blossom tree outside of our school. This pic was taken 2009.


View of the Sakura trees in Naka-Meguro this year, 2010.


Jason and me in Naka-Meguro 2010 and Deacon asleep in the stroller.


The Kuiper Fam in Yokohama 2010!

Monday, April 5, 2010

#20: Customer Service


Our recent trip to China has made me VERY aware of the next item on my list of things I will miss about Japan...FABULOUS customer service. I mean simply awesome! Yes, of course, there is the occasional establishment that makes me frustrated but our experience, as a whole, has shown us that Japan takes care of their customers. Let me give you an example, our friend told us this story about a year ago. He and his family had order McDonald's for take out. They got their food home and realized they didn't have their french fries. My friend called McDonald's and told them they had forgotten the fries. After numerous apologies on the phone a McDonald's employee then DROVE the fries to my friend's house! This is good customer service! Stories like this are not the exception but the rule.

I will greatly miss the customer service here. Another small example, when you leave a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) they will sometimes come outside to wave, bow, and see you off until you are out of site. When Jason took a trip with the school down to Kyushu there were several staff members of the hotel where they were staying lined up waiting outside to greet the buses as they pulled into the establishment. You are always greeted when you enter a store and always thanked when you leave a store....even if you didn't buy anything.

Also, when unexpected things happen such as a poopy diaper explosion on an airplane seconds before take-off they react with patience, kindness, and a desire to help in any way they can.

If you have to wait in line to give your order or check out at a register, you are apologized to for having to wait. And if you have to wait for a little longer than the norm (about 3-5 minutes) they apologize for the hard wait you had to endure...seriously, they say that....in Japanese, of course. Sometimes we get a waiter that bows to us before he takes our order (kinda like a greeting) and after he takes it before he walks away and this is at a cheap restaurant.

Requests from customers is expected unlike in the US when you feel like you almost have to apologize for asking the staff to help you with something.

We were talking to some people from the Netherlands when we were in Indonesia and they had lived in the states for a time and they said that the US had very good customer service and I thought to myself, "Have you ever been to Japan? Because if you had, you wouldn't be saying such things."

Monday, March 15, 2010

#21: The Onsen



Doesn't take me long, does it? Yep, I am already behind...sheesh! Well, anyway, without further ado I give you #21...THE ONSEN!

I LOVE the onsen. I will GREATLY miss the onsen. If I were doing this in order of things I will miss the most with the most being at number one the onsen would easily be in my top five. Going to the onsen is a great past time for the Japanese people. It's not just about relaxing but also hanging out with your friends.

So, what is an onsen exactly? The onsen uses water that is pulled up from the earth directly underneath the building that is above it. The kicker, that is difficult for most North Americans to handle(other countries possibly too), is that you go in the buff. That's right, NO BATHING SUITS ALLOWED! Yes, you have to go with a mixed crowd, men and women in the same area......haha...no, that parts not true. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. :) The baths ARE separated into men and women. There are all different kinds of baths. Certain waters are known to have great minerals. Certain areas of Japan are known more for their onsens and people make special trips just to enjoy them. There are baths inside and outside. My favorite experience was when we went to an onsen that was outside and along the ground there was snow and it ran along side a river. Beautiful. The last picture posted in this entry is from that particular onsen. Some of these onsen are a couple of a hundred years old. The atmosphere and landscaping is often very natural looking...lots of wood and greenery. Some of the waters are different temperatures and may vary from bath to bath and location to location.

Here's the process:

Step 1: go into the changing room and strip down.

Step 2: take your very small 3ft X 1ft towel with you that is just big enough to hide the essentials and walk to the showering area. in the showering area there are no such things as stalls...you're naked! what's the point in stalls?!? Also, you sit down on a little stool to bathe. see below pic.


Step 3: bathe yourself...head to toe.

Step 4: circumspectly stand up from your bathing stool and embrace the fact that you are being seen (but, the japanese are polite, they don't stare...too often anyway)

step 5: make your way to soak and relax in the wonderfully hot waters of the japanese bath. but, be sure NOT to get your bathing towel in the water...this is seen as rude. As that is the towel you just washed your body with...don't put that dirty thing in the clean water! Most people fold the towel and put in on their head (I do this. But first, before leaving the showering area, I get it wet with cold water. I place it on my head to keep me cool) or fold it neatly and place it out side the onsen water.

step 6: SOAK and RELAX..dab yourself with cool water so you don't pass out (Alina Croall! :P) as necessary then go back to.....SOAK and RELAX, SOAK and RELAX.

I never feel quite as relaxed and rested as I do after I get out of the onsen. Not sure what it is about this style of bathing but it is so relaxing. Well, it is for those who can get past the fact they are naked in front of everyone.

I have posted some pics of some of the onsens we have been to. The first four pics shown aren't ours. They were taken from the website of the location. The last one is of Jason and two of our friends, Bernie and Mike.

Inside at one of our favorites: Shiraku Onsen in Yakou (15-20 minutes from our house)


This is from the Hotel Green Plaza in Hakone (about 2 hours away). Yes, you can see Mt. Fuji from the bath outside. It doesn't seem real.



Another outside bath, at the onsen we went to just this past weekend, in Shimoda. It was a great vacay away from Tokyo. (Will blog about that trip later)


The inside of the onsen at Kanaya Ryokan in Shizuoka. Same onsen as the pic above.


In Gunma in the snow. disclaimer: I, Abby, a female, did not take this pic. :)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

#22 Free Health Care for Deacon...

It's hard to figure out what to tell you I will miss because the activities I have on my list aren't particularly exciting. But, they are things I will miss none the less. So, to kick off my list of things I will miss I have chosen this one (btw, these are in no particular order)....

Free Health Care for Deacon

All I have to do is to take this little orange piece (i would take a pic but it's got some personal info on it that I would rather not show) of paper with us to the doctor. I have no idea what it says but all I know is that I need to take it. One particular procedure that had to be done on Deacon's eye would have cost about $300 US dollars was free!

This is a great thing about national health care here in Japan. We had to make numerous trips to the hospital and even one to the ER when Deacon got the R.S. Virus and we left without having to pay a dime (or a yen). Immunizations, Check-ups, etc...all free. AND, to top it off, for the first year of Deacon's life the government gives us about $100 US dollars a month to cover any other expenses. Amazing.

I think the price of medical expenses will be one thing for me that I might experience as reverse culture shock when we return to the US. Not looking forward to that. So that makes this one thing I will absolutely miss.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

22 things in 22 weeks...

I did a count the other day and we have 22 weeks remaining of our time here in Japan. That seems like such a long and short time all at once. Thinking about leaving has got me pretty emotional and trying to take in all that we have done here and all that we love about this country. So, I have started to make a list of things and people we will miss here in Japan. HOPEFULLY, I will give you 22 things we will miss...one for each week. But, if I am on the ball, I will possibly throw in a few extra here and there. My goal, however, is 22. It's not that it's hard to come up with 22 things it's just that it's hard to document all the things and people I want to tell you about in this place.

Topics will cover our favorite foods and drinks, our favorite activities and places, and, most importantly, our favorite people. I will try to post one tomorrow. I am looking forward to sharing this all with you!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

To Get Dinner...

Sometimes we like to go out to eat...who doesn't, right? I recently wrote a post about going to the grocery store that was done via pictures. So, this time I thought I would step it up a notch and give you some live action shots of us out and about again in our neighborhood. This time we bike our way from our apartment to Jiyugaoka (about 5 min bike ride) to go get some yummy dinner. I took this video while I was riding my bike...no, it's not the safest way and yes, i did almost wreck and/or run over people a few times, one of which I catch on video. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did the challenge of biking at night while videoing and simultaneously weaving around people and cars.


I have been trying to publish this video for the past several days and have been unsuccessful. But, after clicking on a few things and hitting the "ok" button when prompted whether I knew I needed to or not, I got this puppy saved, edited, and uploaded to "YouTube". I also came to the realization that I WILL be one of those people when I am older who can't figure out how to operate all the new gadgets and will need to rely on the experience of my grandchildren. Sigh, my life is flashing before my eyes.... Anway, back to the topic, here's the video......

We went to our favourite (for some reason I felt like typing British English there) obento shop, "deli breeze" and rented a movie from "Tsutaya".



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some Deacon Videos...

Here is Deacon meeting his cousin Marcus for the first time. Marcus is 4 months older than Deacon. Deacon was excited...Marcus, not so sure.

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We ride on trains A LOT here. Deacon sits in front of us in his stroller. Just decided to capture the moment.
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Deacon and Daddy playing around...
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grocery Shopping

When you travel to another country as a tourist there are things that you get to experience that are geared toward just that...tourists. However, when you travel to another country and get to be in someone's home who lives in that country, you can experience a part of the culture that tourists don't see fully...the daily aspects of life. So, instead of giving you landscape or traditional Japanese pictures and experiences I am here today to give you the mundane. And what could be more mundane than going to the grocery store?

This is the street that we walk down to get to our local grocery store. Armed with our shopping bags we make the 7-ish minute walk to Coop down this narrow strip of pavement and pass many shops and people along the way. A french restaurant, a dental clinic, a sewing shop, a liquor store, an electronics store, a sushi restaurant, a pharmacy, a few houses and apartment complexes, a tofu store, an ice shop....basically, a wide variety of establishments all along this street!


Inside the store....

I am as tall as all the shelves. In front of me is a wide selection of green tea!


Many varieties of rice from which to choose. I have no idea what makes one different from another or why different ones are so expensive. We just grab which ever bag it seems most people have taken. :) That method has served us well.


The checkout....
Do you see how small the shopping baskets are compared to those in the States? This is as big as they come in Japanese stores.


After our stop at the grocery store we make our way to the vegetable and fruit vendor. We can buy fruits and veggies from Coop but the produce isn't as tasty and the prices aren't as cheap.


A loaded down stroller with all our goodies!


Then back home to unload it all and we will make the trip again next week or sometimes later in the week.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Christmas recap....

Deacon and I spent from December 1st-January 10th in the good ole' U.S. of A. It was nice to be home. Jason came later because he had to stay in Japan for work. He arrived on the 19th of December. After two and a half weeks apart it was beyond wonderful to see him again!

Here's our time at home in pictures!

We spent a couple of weeks in my stomping grounds...Boyd, Tejas.
Deacon got to hang out a lot on this trip with his great-grandparents! Dee Dee and Papa Bill!


With Aunt Mary and his Santa suit his great-aunt Christy gave him.



Time back to the US wouldn't be complete without a visit to Lubbock to see the Lathams! We LOVE THEM A LOT! Too bad Papa Scott is missing from this picture.


We then went up to Nebraska to see all of Jason's family. In spite the three of us being sick for a majority of the week it was still a good trip. I wish we'd had more time there.

Deacon got to meet his cousin Marc for the 1st time at Christmas...well, all his cousins actually. Marc is 4 months older than Deacon.


All bundled up to brave the Nebraska cold!!


Kuiper Christmas Eve celebration. We read some scripture, sang some songs, and even had a snippet from Shakespeare preformed by my 8 year old nephew Braden.



Here is Braden preforming a monologue from Julius Caesar. My niece, Samantha is a dead Julius Caesar. Braden is Marc Antony


The Babies...Marcus and Deacon


All the grandkids.


Leaving Nebraska and saying good-bye to grandma and grandpa Kuiper very early in the morning.


After Nebraska we headed down to Florida for some not-so-warm weather. That was a bit of a bummer. However, it didn't stop us from having a good time at Disney World. We did 5 theme parks in 5 days!! Phew...we were worn out!

Family pic in the Magic Kingdom


The Kuip-RRRRs after Pirates of the Caribbean


Everyone needs a pair of mouse ears!


All tuckered out. Love his little feet sticking out from underneath the blankets.


Florida was great. Then, we went back to Texas to relax a bit before heading off to Japan again.

We got to spend some time with the Reeves and Deacon got to meet his new friend, Lily!!


We loved our time in the states and we are ready to move back. We will be making our final trip across the pacific in july. It will be here before we know it.

Getting "excited" for the long plane ride.


We were very blessed to get the bulk head seat where we could use the bassinet for Deacon. I think he liked being up high.


What a wonderful trip! The time went fast but we will be back in the US before we know it.