Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Everything's coming up roses for me and for you!

Yesterday, I went back to Kamakura for the first time since our first week in Japan. While I had a great time on that first trip, I was still overwhelmed by the newness of everything, jet lagged, and, consequently, tired. Blake probably felt the same way. Neither one of us felt very confident in our abilities to conduct transactions or understand things.

My experience in Kamakura yesterday was completely the opposite. After six weeks of living here, I returned to Kamakura and felt complete confidence in my abilities to handle bilingual conversations (where we both spoke at least a little of the other language), manage transactions, order food, bow and thank people properly, and find my way around all the shops. I didn't go there for that reason - to test how my abilities to really live in in Japan were coming along - but it was a nice side benefit.

I was actually there to do some Christmas shopping! We want to get things shipped off this week, so I headed to a place where I knew I could find some really fun things from Japan. Komachi-dori, the popular touristy street in Kamakura, has the usual wide range of souvenir shops and eateries like you would also find in the states - from kitschy and cheap to super nice and expensive. I did most of my shopping yesterday in the mid-range of all that. Of course, I won't be showing you photos of what I purchased, because certain blog readers are also gift recipients, but let's just say I'm really pleased with what I found. And kind of happy that one shop lady recognized me again today when I went back for someone I forgot, even after going three times to that shop yesterday, (sorry all three of our grandmothers!).

Side note: Because we are on a military base, shipping things to us and from us is just like shipping in the US with two major differences - time and packages need customs forms. It takes just a little longer (priority is more like 5-7 days instead of 3) and you need to fill out a form because things are still moving internationally. The cost, however, is the same, which is so helpful.
Turned out to be a box mostly of bathroom storage drawers, some of which contain hair things, so probably actual hair tumbleweeds did exist in this box.

Another awesome thing about this week is that our household goods shipment arrived today! This also is a nice topic to have for my NaBloPoMo wrap up when I spent the month discussing my move to Japan. In a little over three hours this morning, four guys got everything into our home and unpacked and, if necessary, reassembled. Everything is close to where it's going to end up for good, but I do have my work cut out for me for the next few days.
We left these packed - Christmas (which we have time to decorate for!) and general decor. Where I'm going to hang things is probably the biggest mystery right now.

Close enough for today

This box was labeled towels, which did make up a third of it.

We did get our bedroom set up as much as possible today, still waiting on our rug and dresser, and I'm really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight! We got a new mattress in August, and I've missed it. Also, putting the quilt on the bed that my mom gave us for our wedding kicked up the home feeling about a million notches.
Malcolm will still have to sleep on his own bed tonight.

Malcolm is also quite pleased that his favorite chair has returned. He was stuck outside on the patio all morning, and he much prefers being closer to his people.

When I moved to DC, I packed my Volkswagen Passat to the gills, had my mom mail me a few things, and stored a few more things in Utah. I've acquired a lot more stuff since then, not just counting things that are mostly Blake's. Not having all of it for six weeks has given me reason to ponder on what of it I really need, and the answer is not a lot. Blake and I joked that if the shipping container fell in the ocean on its journey (which happens!) that we'd be sad, but not devastated. We are not heartbroken over the loss of a couple of our bookcases that were not shipped well, but we'll submit a claim and get reimbursed soon enough. This will be helpful, as our 24 boxes of books and games need to go somewhere! I still may get rid of a few things as we get it all moved in - I've already tossed a pair of flip-flops. But having it all here is reminding us even more that we have moved here, this is our home, and we're sticking around awhile.
Sweet and tangy Japanese herb juice (that was the description on the sign). So pink! So tasty! Incidentally, we had a pink drink with dinner last night too.

It may be November, but it's not too cold for lemon ice pops!

Minced pork steamed bun. I tried a seafood one when I went back for the grandmas gifts today, and I definitely prefer the pork.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

You used to call me on my cell phone

Blake and I have been asked a few times how our families felt about us moving to Japan. Truthfully? They have been nothing but fully supportive. While we were waiting to hear our orders, there were some not so subtle hints that West Coast duty stations would be well received, but as soon as the word came down, everyone has been excited for us!

What helps is that we had already moved 2000 miles away. Now it's more like 6000 miles, but we've already been working to maintain that long distance family relationship. Of course, the 13-16 hour time difference (depending on location and time of year - Japan doesn't do Daylight Savings Time) doesn't make it easy, but we've still been finding ways to keep in touch and be involved in each other's lives.

One of the most useful tools for that has been WhatsApp, which lets us text and voice call using our data or over wifi, instead of using our cellular network. I even saved the icon on my phone screen in the same place I had the onboard text messaging on my American phone because I use it that often. We have a few stragglers who haven't joined us there among our most contacted people, but most of our family and most frequently texted friends are there.

We're also a big fan of video chats, whether it's via Skype, FaceTime, or Duo. Recently, I was hanging out with Sisterpants and my nephew on Duo and he pulled out some books to read. One was about learning animal sounds, so my sister read the text and I made the animal sounds. Somehow my sister didn't know what a goat says, so she was surprised when I got it right! Later in the same call, I "read" Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? for my nephew. In truth, I pretty much have it memorized, so it was just a matter of using the visual cues to remember the order of everything. We've also sung songs and made a LOT of faces at each other. Apparently, the nephew is pleasantly surprised when anyone else but his parents knows the song "Popcorn Popping", and now I know what his face looks like when he is requesting it! He opens his mouth to make the "Iiiiii" sound and starts sort of making his hands pop. He's apparently pleased if you sing anything, but Popcorn is one of his favorites.

When I moved to DC, Facebook still had a "the" before its name, and I didn't even sign up for almost another year. Even then, I got in with a .edu email address because they hadn't quite opened it up to everyone yet. Now, I can keep up with people all over the world and even stay connected to a lot of happenings on base.

I still remember when long distance calls were expensive and rare. My grandmother once called us from a phone on an airplane. Even when I was in London in 2004, I used calling cards to talk to my family. So, I'm certainly glad for modern technology that keeps me in touch with people I love! I'm still exploring other things, so if you have any tips or ideas, I'm all ears!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Harajuku Girls you got the wicked style

Friends traveling through DC for work, family, or just fun was not a terribly uncommon experience. We would meet up with them if we could, and were always glad when we did. Friends coming through Japan? That's going to a lot more rare, so we will absolutely jump at the chance to meet up with people, even if they aren't coming to visit us specifically!

My first such opportunity happened this weekend. Some girlfriends I had known in DC but had since moved to Utah were traveling through Japan for the Thanksgiving holiday and were spending their last few days in Tokyo. The best day to meet up was Sunday, so I left Blake to the mercy of subbing for the 4 year old children's class at church alone (he found another guy to help out), and I went up to Tokyo for a girls day in the Harajuku district! As usual, we will do our best to make it our church meetings as much as possible, but I think Heavenly Father understands the need to maintain friendships as well.

Harajuku is amazing. I'm sure we didn't explore everything, but what we explored was just as cool as I had hoped. We met up at the train station and our first stop was the Meiji Shrine, one of the biggest and most popular in Japan. I was able to teach my friends a few things I had learned about Shinto lately, and we all enjoyed the three different wedding processions we came across!

Then, it was off to Kawaii Monster Cafe for lunch. Oh my goodness, you guys, I want to go back very soon. It was so colorful and bright and trippy and I loved it! Even the food! And I want the rainbow tile they had in the restroom that I really should have taken a photo of! I played it cheap with some chicken and waffles, but it did come with monster dip (multi-colored dips) and tried some of the more psychedelic things my friends ordered - all quite tasty. We were in the Milk Stand room, which we got to by walking along Choppy's tongue and into his mouth. This room is supposed to be his stomach.

You can check out more the menu here, for even more pictures of colorful food!

We then headed down Takeshita Street for shopping and people watching. There weren't as many cosplayers (people in costume or just super dressed up) as there have been in the past, or so I am told, but we saw some really good ones. I will definitely be back, and not just because I found a small treasure trove of panda things. I also taught my friends how to do the holiday Coca-Cola bottles.

This was about half of it.

Harajuku Station

I did get these socks.

And these!

I am so happy to have spent time with these friends! Harajuku is such an interesting mix of the old (the shrine) and the new (kawaii everything!) and a place for a group of girls to hang out. Blake will enjoy it too, but I'm actually glad I saw it with female friends first. Thank you ladies for letting me tag along on your vacation!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Kanshasimasu, we thank thee

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

While some go out shopping all day, my day after Thanksgiving tradition since 2007 has been to attend the temple. We are very blessed to have a temple quite close to us in Tokyo and Blake and I took the day on Friday to visit it!
If I can find this Nativity in a personal size, I would love it for my home. 

I've written a little about temples before here, but for us it is a chance to make certain covenants with Heavenly Father and receive religious instruction through specific ordinances that can only happen inside of the temple. Unlike church attendance, which is expected weekly, temple attendance can be as often as a person chooses. Blake and I have, thus far, tried to attend once a month and we'd like to continue that tradition here in Japan. The Tokyo temple is about 90 minutes away on the train, well, three trains, so our monthly goal should be quite doable.
The grounds are small, but so lovely.

We arrived midday on Friday and were greeted with a beautiful sight, just around the corner from our subway exit.

While the session we attended was in Japanese, we were able to use headsets for translation into English and speak with English-speaking temple workers when necessary. There are enough similarities between all the different temples that we were able to navigate some on our own too. Obviously, the ordinances are the same, but there has been great effort on the part of the church to design many temples to reflect the area where they are built. The Provo City Center temple, for example, has many references in its architecture to its pioneer heritage as a tabernacle first, while the Sapporo Japan temple has a zen garden!
There is also bright, colorful stained glass in the celestial room, which is really gorgeous with the sun shining through in a room that is otherwise all white or cream. Of course my heaven, which the celestial room is supposed to represent, will have some color to it!

Many temples also have cafeterias, or at least vending machines or microwaves and some tables to eat at, so workers and patrons can fuel up while serving in the temple. I had actually never eaten at a full service temple cafeteria before, so that was interesting. What was also interesting was that it was vending machine ordering! Not the temple one, since you can't take photos inside, but as a reference:

There was also a vending machine for beverages, which are all over the place, but at least we knew everything in this one would fit into our Mormon dietary guidelines!

This was also the same vending where you pay for any clothing you need to rent (we wear all white in the temple), in case you don't have your own. If you order food, you take it to the food counter, but you'd take your clothing ticket to the clothing counter down the hall. We were particularly delighted by this.

The curry had been recommended to us, so that was lunch for us after our session, and it really was so good and only 350 yen. This may become a tradition for us. On our way back to the train, we stopped at The Little Pie Factory. Also tasty, but we'll try another pastry shop or the Baskin Robbins we also spotted next time.

Apple cream cheese

It was a lovely day, and one I look forward to repeating soon!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

It's a beautiful life, oh oh oh oh

Adventuring is really great in Japan. There is so much that is new for us to see and do and experience, and we should. But, we also live here, and sometimes that means we have to spend some time doing the business of life.

Our household goods shipment should be coming next week, so we decided that today was the day we'd finally bite the bullet on some rugs we had been eyeing on base. After a morning spent at home, sweeping, putting things away, cleaning the kitchen, FaceTime with my brother, his wife, and their menagerie (a dog and two bearded dragons), we set off to main base for an afternoon of errands.

We did stop for sushi first at a kaiten zushi, literally "rotation sushi", which is a sushi go round or conveyor belt sushi. As mentioned in my food post, this is where sushi comes around on a conveyor belt and you pick what you want as it goes by and then pay by the plate. Certain colors of plates cost different amounts, and we had a guide at our counter of both price and types of sushi. I also was able to ask for water in Japanese. "Sumimasen! Mizu kudasai."

I felt pretty good about that, and really enjoyed the cold water since the texture of the sushi I'd just tried (the squid above) and I didn't get along for a moment. Ultimately, we like the other kaiten zushi place we went to more, because price and variety of non-sushi foods are better, but this was pretty good.

Then it was on to base! We have been told that we have one of the better, more comprehensive bases, with so much to do on base, lots of different Navy Exchange stores all over to cover a wide variety of needs, and so many other services to support the military and their families. You can actually spend all of your time on base with how much there is there, but why?

Still, today was a day we needed to. For fun, we did go look at the USS Reagan, the aircraft carrier stationed here, since it returned just before Thanksgiving. We also stopped by the USO, to ask about a particular service they provide. Then it was shopping time! With the traditional post-Thanksgiving sales, it went better than we thought it might, but we probably also picked up a few things we weren't expecting. We managed to find new shoes (two pair for me, one for Blake, since I needed new walking shoes and Chuck Taylors were on sale), new socks (didn't need them but I guess a three pack came free with women's shoes, and it felt like she just kept tossing some in our bag, so okay), gym shorts, Christmas lights, personal care products (body wash and the like), groceries, the aforementioned rugs (four of them!), and a dresser. It was busy day. The rugs and dresser will get delivered, but everything else we carried on the train home.

We'd worked up an appetite, so we stopped at the Taco Bell for burritos. We also have a McDonald's, Chili's, Popeye's, Manchu Wok, Sbarro, A&W, Starbucks, and a few galleys and other eateries. We'll try not to eat at these places often, but they're convenient and today it was close. We were planning to go see a movie, but the line to get in was long and we were tired, so we checked our mail and headed home.

So even though we live in Japan and have lots of Japanese fun, today had a distinctly more American flavor to it. And that's okay too! Not everyone living abroad with the military or foreign service or any other reason has these amenities, but we do and we're grateful for them. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Look at this stuff, isn't it neat!

Because I am not working right now, I have a lot more time on my hands to go wandering about Japan. On one hand, that would be so much fun! On the other, I don't want to see cool stuff without Blake!

So, I'm still working on a middle ground to that dilemma. If I do go out, I can find cool things and take him back to them, or learn how to do certain things and then teach him. I think I will venture out more as we've been here longer, but so far my solo adventures have been minimal.

One thing I did was go on the Zushi city tour, hosted by some Japanese locals through our Fleet and Family Services office. Ikego is technically in Zushi, so it was basically a neighborhood tour, which is useful. It will be Zushi beach that we get to take Malcolm to when the weather warms up. While it was fun to get out and see Japan, and the people were nice (locals and other transplants like me) a lot of the tour was parts of Zushi that Blake and I had already seen on our own wanderings. That's okay though, because the more familiar we get with the area, the better. One tour guide did help me get a loyalty card to a local grocery store, so that will come in handy! That was also the outing on which I went to a more traditional Japanese restaurant and had to put my shoes in a locker. The following are from the Zushi adventure with Blake.
Japanese architecture is fascinating!


If you look very closely or click to embiggen, we caught our first glimpse of Fuji! It will look even better on a more clear day.

Another day, I decided to get off at the station where we usually just change trains and see what was around. First, I turned left out of the station and found the Seto-jinja Shrine. There was one bigger shrine and a handful of smaller ones. I really love how many shrines there are around that give people a chance to pray and worship in the middle of their busy days.

Further up the road, I wandered a mall. Nothing terribly interesting, but that's okay. I turned back around and walked past the station, and found a cemetery. We Americans aren't really supposed to go into the cemeteries, but they are certainly intriguing from the outside. For lunch, I was going to attempt a konbini where they would heat up the food for me, but I chickened out and just bought a CupNoodles and onigiri to take home. Next time!
Entrance to the cemetery

I have yet to walk to the closest grocery store on my own (haven't needed to), but together, based on recommendations, we discovered the canal path this week, which is a much nicer route, and there are koi!
Sorry it's sideways

While we are definitely looking forward to more of the big adventures, little ones are great too!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

You light up my life

 2016 has been a big year. What I am most grateful for today is that we are here! We all made it to Japan on the same flight and began this crazy adventure together. There was some concern in all the preparations that we might not. My medical took longer than we anticipated. I wasn't actually on the original hard orders (the papers order we use to show many, many people that we're assigned to be here together - soft orders are by word of mouth). Malcolm had lots of paperwork on his own. 

But we did it. Paperwork was done. Screenings were completed. Travel was traveled and we are here. 

For five months, we'd occasionally look at each other and say "We're moving to Japan. Weird." Now we still look at each other and say "We live in Japan. Weird." Weird, but amazing, and the longer we are here, the more we get accustomed to everything and settled in, the more amazing it will be.

Here are some other things I am grateful for this year:

Japanese humor (Sadly, this is way too small for Malcolm.)
Delicious Japanese snacks - so much better here, and more variety.
The view from our dining room balcony, especially with the first November snow in the Tokyo region in 54 years this morning. I predict even more leaf color explosions within a few days. 
That I can listen to BYU football on KSL radio anywhere, including lunch breaks. I've even been to watch some. Thanks internet!
Funny things at the 100 yen store

Being able to share Thanksgiving dinner with friends new and old. I have loved the just us Thanksgivings of the last few years, but this was pretty nice too.
Working for the United States Navy

Of course, there is the usual family, good health, home, and more. I am truly blessed in this life. Lisa and Heidi and I did a thing where you type "This year for Christmas I want" and then push the middle button until you have a sentence. My phone gave me: "This year for Christmas I want a new house for Christmas but I'm also a good person and a good friend and I love it so far and I'm so good with this beautiful life."

For a phone I've only had for five weeks, that pretty much sums it up! And I already have my new house!

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Many Americans are familiar with instant ramen - it's cheap, fast, and doesn't taste too horrible. Maybe you've jazzed it up with vegetables or an egg. Or maybe you've had it in a styrofoam cup with some rehdryated vegetables.

Well, did you know that the creation of instant ramen was the brain child of one man? I sure didn't! That is, until we visited the CupNoodles Museum in Yokohama and learned all about Momofuku Ando and the history of his most successful inventions - Chikin Ramen, CupNoodles, and even space ramen!

It was a silly and highly entertaining outing. We watched an animated film (using headsets for English) about Mr. Ando's story, visited a replica of his first kitchen, and checked out a timeline of instant ramen history.

Instant ramen history!
Momofuku Ando's kitchen

The best part of the whole experience was getting to make our very own CupNoodles!
First, you pick your cup. (Actually, first, you clean your hands, so technically this is the second step.)

Then, you decorate!

I wore my panda noodle shirt for the occasion. You are also supposed to write the date on your cup, since these actually do have a shelf life.

Instead of noodles going into the cup, the cup actually goes onto the noodles. You get to the turn the crank on the machine!
Chikin wafers? Whatever they are, they are in Blake's cup.

You get to pick a broth flavor and four toppings. Blake got curry broth with chikin wafers, shrimp, corn, and green onion.
I chose seafood broth with shrimp, egg, crab, and green onion.

Add the lid

Vacuum seal the whole thing

And then pick up your cup!

So proud!

To get it safely home, you put it in an air pillow bag!

Home safe! 

We will be eating them tomorrow night. Our Thanksgiving dinner plans are more of a lunch, so we'll probably need just a little something later in the evening, and a good CupNoodles should fit the bill. We've enjoyed a few other varieties from the konbini (convenience stores), and they are definitely better than the ones you'll find in the states! Oh, and slurping your noodles is absolutely encouraged here. Hooray!