Saturday, August 6, 2011

Final Thoughts for the Summer

I can't believe how quickly these 10 weeks have flown by.  We're all packed up and leaving for the airport in less than two hours.  Actually, it's funny, but I'm writing this at 9:30 am Saturday in Tokyo, and we will be landing at exactly the same time in California.  Lucky us, we get to do Saturday twice!

I remember at the end of last summer how desperately ready to come home I was.  And to be fair, I'm sure a big part of that was visiting 4 places over the summer rather than one, combined with how difficult our trip in China was.  But this summer, I feel a lot more settled, and a little sad to be leaving, although I am really looking forward to seeing family and friends.

This summer, I feel like we proved that we could live here in the future and be really happy.  We made friends (that got job offers last night, so they'll definitely be back next year!!), found favorite restaurants, and starting making a little place for ourselves in Tokyo.  So, whatever happens I believe that John and I have a beautiful future ahead of us, and I know that we'll keep working to make Japan a part of it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cake Buffet!

Japan is full of amazing things.  Most days I discover at least one thing that I love.  One of these discoveries was the fact that cake buffets exist.  You pay 1480 yen and get 90 minutes of all you can eat cake.  But besides cake they have lots of drinks and real food like pasta and curry to keep you from going into a sugar coma.

Weeks ago Raku and I decided we needed to go, but we finally got around to it yesterday.  That reminds me, I haven't talked about Raku yet have I?  One of the other summer associates working with Grant is here with his fiance, so we were introduced.  And we have so much in common.  Not only are we in the whole coming to Japan with a significant other situation, we could totally relate to the whole being in a relationship with a law student/future lawyer thing.  On top of that she just graduated with her MSW, but most importantly she's super fun!  Basically we were destined to be friends.  And it's been so great.  We go running together (she is an excellent motivator) and have all kinds of fun adventures.  We also plot together to figure out what to do with our lives once we actually live here.

Anyways, enough gushing about Raku, on to the pictures!

I think this pretty much says it all.

There were probably 30-40 types of cake, as well as jello, gummy things, and ice cream.

Our first selections.

Raku decided to go healthy with her next selection.  (And I'm sorry this picture is sideways, I've tried uploading multiple times, restarting my computer, etc. and it will not upload in the correct orientation no matter what I do).

Again, sorry it's sideways.  But, as you can see, I obviously know what the priorities should be at a cake buffet.

After our culinary adventure we set off to buy fake glasses.  There is this hilarious new trend where girls are wearing super thick black glasses.  My favorite ones are the kind that don't even bother to have lenses.  So, we clearly needed some.

I really loved these, even though I don't look like it in the picture.  But sadly, they were sunglasses, and that is just not good enough.

Raku's final selection.  We seriously spent about 2 hours trying on glasses searching for the perfect ones.

Mine!  I thought they were great because they combined 2 trends (floral print on everything and huge glasses), but John was horrified because he is a purist and thinks ONLY black frames are acceptable.  (let's just take a second to remember that we are wearing huge fake glasses without serious do we need to be?)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Setsuden aka The Brown Out

Before John and I came here we were hearing all sorts of things about how there wasn't going to be enough power in Japan this summer because of the nuclear plants that are off line.  We heard that there might be rolling blackouts in the afternoons or that trains might not be running normally and that it was basically going to be a disaster.

Well, electricity is a big concern, but so far there have not been any black outs.  Instead, campaigns have started up, and everyone is voluntarily conserving as much power as possible (in the majority of cases) in order prevent black outs and to allow trains to function normally.  This is especially important to a lot of  tech companies because they say that having to turn computers and servers off for 3 hours would basically be devastating to their work.  (John can explain this better than me).  So, this electricity saving campaign has been named Setsuden.  I don't think anyone really loves it, but it's better than the alternative.

I've been taking pictures of everything I can to illustrate it, but I always seem to miss the TV screens that show current electricity usage.  Earlier in the summer consumption was at about 70-75% of what can currently be provided during peak times, but as it's gotten hotter consumption has increased to about 85-88%.  I haven't seen numbers hit the 90's yet, but I'm sure it's coming.

This is the main logo for the campaign that we see all over the place.  Lights are being left off as much as possible.  Air conditioning is being used sparingly, government offices (including schools) are required to keep it at 28 c which is 82 f and many other offices are leaving theirs that high voluntarily!

This is one of the subway ticket machines.  They've turned about half of them off to use less power.

Some vending machines have been turned off completely (notice the tape over the places you would put money in) while other are now set to turn off at night or to not light up.

Almost all down escalators (and some up) have been turned off.

There are also many encouraging signs.  This one says Genki for Japan, which sort of means health or energy for Japan.

A sign at a restaurant.

Well, you can't really read the sign hanging up here (blame John's iPhone), but it says Cheer Up Japan, and has a lot of signatures on it.

At Shrines, people will often buy blocks of wood and write wishes on them.  This one isn't in perfect English, but the sentiment is clear.

So, I'm not sure if I've covered everything you're all wondering about what it's like here in regards to the recent disaster.  But if you have questions or want to know more, just leave a comment!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ao Oni (Blue Demon)

I'm sitting here, having what is in my mind a delicious beer (but apparently not according to the users on BeerAdvocate), but perhaps my tastes have been tainted by the lackluster Japanese market.

The beer is unfiltered and has a full bodied taste unlike many other beers on the Japanese market. The nose is malty with some hints of citrus (but mostly malts). Once it hits your tongue its still pretty malty (as far as west coast IPAs go) but has a good amount of hops to balance it out. I would comment on the mouth feel, but no one cares.

Apparently the owner of this brewery worked at Stone Brewery for three years, which means this beer is very bitter by Japanese standards. Importantly, this actually tastes like an American beer and is not as light and "empty" as many other Japanese beers I've had. Even the very hoppy beers I've had that are trying to copy the West Coast IPA style seem to go just for insane bitterness and forget that there are other tastes that one might like to find in a beer to balance the tastes.

I only bought one can of this (for 410 yen which is more than it goes for in America) but I think I'll be buying some more in the near future.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


While perhaps a 5.0 earthquake does not warrant three exclamation marks, a 5.0 earthquake felt while in Tokyo tower does.

We went to Tokyo Tower for Wendy's birthday because they have a birthday deal that involves free cake. We actually live kind of close, so we just walked there from our apartment, waited in line for tickets, purchased them, rode the elevator to main observatory, and observed the view.

Turns out that Tokyo Tower is a hot date spot so there were many couples enjoying the view. This, and the fact that the windows were slightly dirty, made taking pictures difficult. Here's one I took from my phone. It's pretty bad as far as picture go, but you get the idea. I took some with my real camera, but my netbook can't process them (and I forgot the appropriate cable).

Anyway, after enjoying the views from Tokyo Tower we then went to the Tokyo Tower Cafe where they presented us with a free piece of (chocolate) cake. We sat down to eat the cake and suddenly the whole tower started to shake back and forth. The shaking was significant enough to cause the light hanging from the ceiling to noticeably shake back and forth. This went on for perhaps 3 minutes (longer than the earthquake because of the residual motion) and then stopped. No one else seemed that concerned. We then got on the elevator and went to the bottom.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Big Earthquake!

There was a 7.0 earthquake this morning a little farther out in the ocean from where the the original one was in March.  We're fine (and it appears that was no significant damage), but we definitely felt it.  The US Geological Survey is reporting that it happened at 10:57am, but they're wrong it was actually 9:57am.  I was lying in bed trying to decide if I should wake John up to go to church or just let him sleep all day, and then the earthquake hit and woke him up for me.  This one lasted longer than any of the others we've ever felt and it was the first time that I was absolutely certain it was an earthquake, not just my imagination.  We thought it must have been a big one, or else the epicenter must have been extremely close to Tokyo.  So we got up and went to church, and when we came home it was on the news.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Apartment Update

Alright, as promised, I'm putting up pictures of the new apartment.  As it turns out, our first night here was a freak occurrence, and there have been no more loud nights, so we're quite pleased with the place.

We now have a super high-tech bathroom.  This is the little control panel (on the wall about the toilet paper) that lets you have multiple flush options, multiple bidet options, and a bunch more stuff that I haven't even figured out yet.  There are also multiple control panels (two in the bathroom, one in the kitchen) to control water temperature and fill the bathtub automatically.

From the door this is the view down our apartment.  The first doorknob you see goes into the bathroom, then the hallway has closets on the left and the "kitchen" on the right.

Yep, this is my kitchen, still.   I'm getting bolder in it though, I think I'm going to attempt some beef bourguignon this week.

Underneath my one burner is our evil washing machine.  I am now able to wash and dry clothes like a pro (well...) but when the cycle is finished the door stays locked, and even when I push the buttons that are supposed to unlock the door, it still doesn't open.  John says I need to be more scientific in my approach, but what normally happens is I push the unlock button, nothing happens, I turn the dryer back on, push unlock again, turn it off, push unlock, turn it on, push ever button on the machine, yell at the machine, lie down on the floor in defeat thinking that our clothes will be trapped forever, sit up, and realize that it has miraculously unlocked.  I'm starting to think that there might just be a time delay from when I push the button to when it actually unlocks...

Here is our living room area.  It's still all one room, but having this much space is a HUGE deal in Tokyo.  The couch is even long enough for a person to sleep on!  If only we were living here when Christian came to visit.

This is our little table where we eat breakfast every morning!  In the old place, we always just ate it in bed, because as John said, it felt like the bed was most of the apartment anyways.

Here you can see the little divider that separates the living room area from the bedroom area.  It's also a dresser, so most of our clothes are stashed in there.

And we have a KING sized bed.

But, maybe best of all is our view, as you can see here, it is a normal out a window view, as opposed to our old view (below) that looked straight into an office that was about 6 feet away.

It was super creepy.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

See Don Quixote on TV! (kind of)

Ok, pics of the new apartment and a blog about the brown out coming this week, I swear!  But for now, I have your weekly Don Quixote update.

A couple of days ago I had MTV Japan on, and saw the new Black Eyed Peas Video.  They filmed it in Tokyo, and there is a super short little clip filmed from the building right next to ours (ok, it's diagonally next to our...but seriously, it's like 35 steps from our apartment) AND it's facing Don Quixote.  So, enjoy the whole video please, but especially from 2:22 to 2:26.  Don Qui is the building with the bright yellow sign.

On a side note, until watching this, I didn't even realize how many of the lights are off at night, because a good number still are on.  And if you go up to an observation deck the city still sparkles at night, but it's nothing compared to what it was.

Three Pictures and a Comment

The following are three pictures which I have taken in the last couple of days. They are not related to each other in any way, except perhaps that they were all taken in Japan.

First we have a mural. This decorated the wall of a 9 story karaoke building. Each floor was "fairy tale" themed. I'm guessing this was inspired by Pirate of the Carribean. Doesn't this guy look reminiscent of Orlando Bloom?

Just when I planned to start my own business selling teacup poodles the apartment complex slapped this sign up on the wall. I knew I should have read the contract more carefully. I guess I'll have to outsource the breeding to China.

Third, we have an anti-nuclear power plant demonstration. These protesters, led by a van with a bull horn were shouting such things as "lets close all the nuclear power plants" and "there shouldn't be nuclear power plants." The reality is that Japan gets about 30% of its power from nuclear sources so any change will be very difficult.

There are actually power problems in all of Japan right now because people are scared of nuclear power. Japanese law requires that the reactors be inspected every 13 months. Before they can be restarted the plants must get the approval of the local government. Now local governments are refusing to give there approval (citing safety concerns) and so more than 60% of Japanese nuclear power plants are offline even though many of them are completely undamaged.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Like a Hurricane

Apparently Wendy promised you weeks ago that I would write a blog detailing the dinner that I went to. Well here it is:

One of the other summer interns that I work with is from Japan and so her father invited me, and another summer intern, to have dinner with him and a few people he works with. This began by going to his office, taking a short tour, and then going to a resturant. We apparently rented a room in the resturant (pretty common in Japan) and then we started the dinner. Keep in mind that the entire time the interns father is attempting to embarrass her, but only speaks Japanese.

The first thing on the schedule was to order some wine. However, it would take a minute to chill the bottle (or something) so we, of course, had to order a beer to drink while we waited for the wine. Eventually the wine came and then the food started. There were probably seven different courses of food. All of them very small and most of them having something to do with a sea creature. About halfway through, the main dish came out - a complete fish.

This fish still had all the parts of a fish such as the eyes, the gills, the fins, the tail, the rib cage, the heart etc, but it was also cooked all the way through. Armed with only two chopsticks, I began by making an incenscion from the from behind the gills to the tail on the top of the fish. Then I opened it up and tried to excavate whatever meat could be found. The edible portions had to be sorted from the inedible portions (or at least those portions which I was foregoing e.g. The heart) before I could eat them. In the end, it worked out to about one bite of food for every 30 seconds. Delicious.

Unfortunately, we then ran out of wine, which meant we would have to move on to something else. Turns out something else was sake. Then out came a plate of breaded fried things. One of them was a sea urchin. Having never eaten a sea urchin before I couldn't decide if they would be classified as shell fish (they are it turns out), so I didn't eat it even though apparently its a delicacy. I tried to get someone to look up sea urchin for me on their phone but no one really wanted to.

Finally at about 10:30 they threw us out of the resturant because it was closing. This, however, is not the end of the story. In Japan, after a dinner such as the one I've just described there is the nijikai (which means the second party). So the night was only half over. We then had to go to a hotel bar close buy and continue socializing until 1:15. Then I had to go meet Wendy and Christian at a club close to our house.

Japanese clubs are an interesting thing. People don't actually dance together, they just sort of stand in lines and dance by themselves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Apartment

I don't remember if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but part of the deal with our apartment was that they couldn't give us the place we really wanted until late June, so we would have to stay in another apartment for the first month.  So, yesterday we got to move into the new place (which I haven't taken any pictures of yet, partially because I'm doing laundry and there are piles of clothes all over the place, but I will soon).

For the most part, it's great.  The apartment is much bigger, we have separate-ish bedroom and living room areas, way more closet space, a fancier bathroom, and a much better view.  The kitchen is about the same, except that the washing machine is under our one burner, rather than in the bathroom, like it was in the last place.  And speaking of washing machines, this one is much less user friendly, and I have now managed to wash a load 3 times, only once on purpose, the other 2 attempts were supposed to result in drying (the machines here wash and dry, rather than requiring 2 machines...which seems efficient until you realize it takes twice the time to do one load...or when you can't decipher the options and keep accidentally washing the clothes).   The only real downside is that it's a lot louder at night, and we imagine it will be worse on the weekends.  But I guess that means we'll just have to take a trip to Don Quixote (like I need an excuse) to buy the loudest fan we can find to run at night.

I think that John is enjoying work, and I really will try to get him to write a new post soon.  We went to St. Albans, the only English speaking Episcopal (maybe Anglican) church in Tokyo on Sunday, which happens to be just a 10 minute walk from where we live, and liked it a lot.  They were doing a joint service with a Japanese congregation, which made it a little more scattered than I would assume it normally is, but I think we'll definitely go back.  And I found out about some really interesting volunteer opportunities that I hope I can get involved in.  More on that as it develops.

And finally, we found out that there is a holiday in July that John gets a day off work for, Marine day which is the Monday after my birthday on Friday, so we are trying to pick somewhere fun in Japan to take a long weekend trip.  The front runner right now is Hakone, a hot spring area a couple hours from here, in the direction of Mt. Fuji.  But more on that as it develops as well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Southern Food in Tokyo or Adventures Cooking in a Japanese Kitchen

So, last summer I had a kitchen with two burners and a fish oven (a toaster oven, basically) and I don't think I ever made anything beyond penne or gnocchi, thinking "who can cook in a kitchen like this? even Sarah has an oven in Tonga!" This summer, I've got one burner. But I've been reading a super awesome Tokyo food blog lately, and I've been wanting to "get better at living here" so after making nothing but pancakes or eggs so far, I decided to cook dinner last night.

I was also inspired by the fact that one day browsing in our little Media-Ya I found 'corn grits!' Now, when I bought them, I wasn't convinced they were real. It seemed like it might be some sneaky trick where I would actually end up at home with corn meal or corn starch or something. But I just couldn't resist. Over the past year John has developed a deep love for grits, thanks to the fabulous brunch at Watt's Grocery. And at our wedding I had a bite of goat cheese grits that I've been dying to recreate. I didn't succeed in a recreation, but I made something pretty awesome on it's own, adapted from a recipe I found on the NY Times.

First I got all of my ingredients together.

In the grocery stores they're currently listing where all produce was grown, because everyone is so worried about buying anything contaminated with radiation. The jalapenos were grown in Okinawa!

So then I sauteed the asparagus.

At the same time I cleaned and chopped the mushrooms.

Then I put the asparagus in a bowl to wait while I sauteed the mushrooms, and seeded a jalapeno. After that I put the mushrooms to the side and cooked the grits (which took forever to thicken up enough, and were a little different than normal grits) with the jalapeno and some garlic. Once it was done, I reheated the mushrooms and asparagus while stirring butter and goat cheese into the grits.

Here's the finished product!

John thought it was pretty awesome, and if it can please such a tough critic, I must have done something right. We're moving into a new apartment in a week or two, and I'm hoping for a little more of a kitchen, but even if we don't have one, I think I'm going to be able to make this work.

In other news, Christian has left us for China. I think he had a great time here, and I got do a lot of the things John's already done and didn't want to repeat, so it worked out quite well. I'm sure Christian is glad to not be sleeping on our floor anymore, but I really wonder if his bed in Wuhan is any better? I recall my bed in Hong Kong last summer feeling like plywood.

John had a hilarious night out with some people (kind of) from work that he promises to write about soon, so look forward that!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adventures in Being a Tour Guide

Sorry it's be so long since I've blogged! Christian's been here, so I haven't wanted to waste any of his time here (not that I've totally succeeded). But we're taking a break this evening before meeting John for dinner.

I've been doing my best to show Christian all the best of Tokyo, and be a perfect tour guide, which is complicated at time, because a lot of the things we're doing I've never done before, and because Christian can actually read Japanese better than me. But so far, we're doing a great job.

As you can see, Christian is fitting in perfectly here in Japan (except for the fact that he's nearly a foot taller than everyone). But we've been having a really good time, I think. We went to Asakusa, which has the biggest temple in the Tokyo area, and the Meiji Shrine, which is wonderful. Asakusa is pretty touristy, with tons of shops with souvenirs and ice cream and silly things, but it seemed like a very "japanese feeling" thing to do his first day. And the Meiji Shrine is fantastic, because one minute you're in the middle of a tons of people in harajuku, and then you're walking along a beautiful quiet path through a forest. With all the enormous trees and the stone lanterns you can almost imagine what it was like in Japan hundreds of years ago.

Besides that we've gone to a see X-Men, and believe it or not, seeing a movie in Japan is a very different experience. When you buy your ticket, you reserve your specific seats (this can be done days in advance), everyone is always very polite and quiet during the movie, and everyone stays to watch the credits out of respect. We also went to Akihabara, which is the electronics/nerd area, the Ueno zoo, Shibuya crossing, the observation deck in Shinjuku, and Studio Ghibli, which is the museum for the Miyazaki films (I've never actually seen any, but I plan to after this!).

The maid cafe was something I was sort of interested in, but also kind of dreading, because it seemed like it would be sooooo awkward. For those of you (most I would assume) that are not familiar, a maid cafe is a little coffee shop like place where young women dress like sexy maids. They use very formal language and greet you as "master" or "mistress", give you extremely attentive service (not the norm here), and pretty much act like you are amazing. You, of course, are paying for this. These places are generally frequented by awkward young men who don't really know how to socialize with the opposite sex, and are more familiar with girls in comic books than girls in real life. Some of them are weirder than others (I've read at some places you can pay for them to spoon feed you). We went to one that seemed fairly low key. Christian got a tea and I got a melon soda. We had to make heart shapes with our hands and say "cute" words to make them taste better. The our maid mixed the milk into Christian's tea, and he had to say "nya nya" and make hand motions when it was enough milk (nya nya is the japanese version of meow meow). So after that, Christian had chosen to take a picture with the maid. She made him wear a head band with bunny ears, and signed the photo for him. I had chosen to play a game with our maid, and I chose one that was basically rock 'em sock 'em robots. She let me win, but kept it almost suspenseful the whole time, and was very impressed every time I beat her. Then we got some souvenir candy to take home. It was definitely a weird (and pricy) experience. But the maids were really nice, and really good at making the whole situation feel more like a game than an awkward social encounter. I've actually had much more awkward experiences just trying to make myself understood to a waiter in Japanese. So, all in all, a success.

The zoo was also really fun, partly because Christian had never been to a zoo before, and partly because they had just recently gotten new Pandas, so everyone was still really excited and enthusiastic about them.

I got a panda cell phone charm to commemorate the experience (although the charms at the zoo were no good, so I ended up buying it at the observation deck in Shinjuku).

Studio Ghibli was more than anything, beautiful! The building had such interesting and fun architecture (sadly photography was not allowed). Every room was so colorful and fun, and there was just incredible detail to everything we saw. Some rooms had fun little optical illusions and animations, and some showed sketches and tools. We got to see a cute little 10 minute original film too. Even the tickets were awesome! We had to buy tickets on a machine in a convenience store (which was a totally debacle, and we actually ended up buying them for the wrong day and not realizing it until that day). But when we arrived, they exchange the ticket for a souvenir ticket that has 3 film frames from one of the movies.

We're not totally sure, but Christian thinks mine might be from Grave of the Fireflies. I definitely want to watch at least one or two of the movies now, so that I will have a better idea about what I saw. But it was definitely fun not knowing anything.

Whew, well, that probably doesn't sound like all that much, but it sure feels like a lot. Tomorrow we are going to maybe try and see the imperial palace, and a history museum. Plus John and Christian's cousin Lindsay is supposed to be here for a day, so hopefully we can meet up with her. On Friday, we are going to Kamakura, which is supposed to be a beautiful place full of temples and shrines and history. I'll be sure to take lots of pictures of all that! So, all of you wonderful readers can look forward to these fun opportunities (as well as many more, like cake buffets!) when you come visit me and John in the future.

One last things, that I have to note before ending this post is about Don Quixote. I know I already devoted an entire post to the store, but at the rate we're going, it may require a weekly update. One day Christian and I made the amazing discovery that they have a ROLLER COASTER on the roof! This is totally for real, although apparently the neighborhood protested it, and so it's never been run. Also, Sunday morning we saw a man standing inside with his pants and underwear pulled down to his ankles....doing we're not sure what. This morning, there were film crews inside. You really never know with this place....



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bubbles in a Glass or An Adventure Proving that Roads in Japan Really Should Have Names

I know your not going to believe it, but this is John - checking in for the first time.

I just finished my second week of work which ended the slow progression of getting into the swing of things. My first week was slightly slow with training etc. The fax/copy/phone system I find incomprehensible since I see these as instruments of bygone days not really worth my time to figure out. However, I also find the computer system slight incomprehensible because its all based on early 2000s technology that its just too expensive to upgrade. Therefore I have learn/remember how to do everything in Word 2003 and learn all the special add-ons that were created to "enhance" Word because Word 2003 is so terrible. There is, in fact, a separate add-on to make bulleted and numbered lists because occasionally Word 2003 will "corrupt" a document if its too long and has lots of numbered sections. Luckily, we're upgrading to Word 2007 (not 2010) in the coming weeks.

So it turns out that there are two other summers here, one is Japanese and the other is American. The Japanese one really wants to work in America and the American one wants to work in Japan. Perfect. However, the American one is strikingly like Will. He loves movies - complains about how no one actually knows how to work a projector in America and how something is always messed up - and likes amusement parks - he told me we should really go to Disney before June 20th because space mountain was going to be shut down for extended maintenance. I'm not sure about his love of beer, it would be better if he didn't like beer because its very expensive to purchase good beer in Japan.

Speaking of, we went to a beer bar called "craftheads" about 20 minutes away from our house a few days ago. It was the day that Christian got here so I planned to come up with something to introduce him to Japan and keep him awake. This bar was in Shibuya, which is the part of Japan that is always shown when you see a picture of Japan (kind of like times square or something). We got of the train, went out the gate and suddenly there are 40 story (read really tall) buildings everywhere, lights, sounds, and hundreds of people crossing the street. Now, the complicated part emerged: getting to the bar. Now, on google one address was given and on their website a different address was listed. Armed with two separate hand-drawn maps leading to the two possible locations we started out. First we to find a McDonald's which was a landmark on the hand drawn map, unfortunately there were two very close to each other, so from that point on it was all guess work. Very soon we were on dark streets with people standing around smoking and I was pretty sure we not going to find it. Therefore we headed to the other possible location. However, all we found were some very stern looking parking attendants that had no idea were this bar was. Desperate I stopped an asked at a Starbucks if they knew of a bar called Craftheads located at 1-13-1. They didn't, but they had a map.

Now for a brief digression to explain the dilleman. In Japan, for all its efficiency, roads don't have names. Instead blocks have numbers. I've heard it explained that in the west blocks are the space between roads and in Asia roads are the space between blocks. I'm not sure how true this is, but it kind of makes sense. Unfortunately, the numbers don't go in any order. Block 1 will be touching block 2, but it will also probably be touching blocks 3 and 4 and maybe 5. Therefore you have to just look around. The above address (1-13-1) meant that we were were trying to find block number 1 and then sub-block number 13 and building number 1. Also, to make things more interesting, buildings are assigned numbers based on when they were built so there is no order.

However, the man with the map in Starbucks said he thought it was over in "that" direction. Well, we heading in that direction and found sub-block 13. We were so close. The street we found ourselves on was very dark and I saw no sign of a bar (e.g. smoke, noise, music, sounds of a good time). Then, up ahead, we saw a sign that said "Beer?" and had an arrow pointing forward and to the left. Since beer was what we were looking for, we decided to follow the sign. Aligning myself with the direction of the arrow I headed off in search of glory. Soon (about 10 steps) I ended up at a building that was closed except for a hair salon. I turned around and went back to examine the sign for more clues. Taking another look at the arrow I decided that it did indeed point to the hair salon. We were almost out of options. Then up a head, not in the direction the arrow was pointing we saw a small sign that read "Craftheads." We had arrived. There were, however, none of the signs of a bar I had been looking for because it was a Thursday. In fact, there were only three other people in the bar when we got there. We perused the menu and there were a surprising amount of really good American beers that, thanks to Congress, we can't get in NC because bars can only by from distributors not directly from the brewery. The rest was really down hill. We got very small beers that cost 7-9 dollars, ate a pizza, went home, and went to sleep. It was really all in the journey.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is going to be short...

But Christian is here! And we're going to have wonderful adventures. Tomorrow we're going to see Asakusa, which is supposed to be the best temple we're going to find inside Tokyo.

In other exciting news. I have a new friend, Raku. Her fiance works with one of our good friends, and she just graduated with an MSW, so we actually have a lot in common. She also speaks Japanese, which is awesome because she can explain things to me, and teach me stuff. I'm definitely hoping to learn a lot from her. We went running earlier this week, and plan to keep that up after the week of adventures with Christian comes to a close.

Johns has also agreed to do a post soon about work and the neighborhood, etc. so look forward to that.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Our First Aftershock!

This morning I was lying in bed g-chatting with Kyle, when suddenly the bed shook. It sort of felt like someone else had flopped on the bed (considering that our mattress is not very springy), except I was the only one home. And then it happened again. Nothing else in the apartment moved. My cup of tea didn't even rattle. My first thought was, is this an aftershock? And then I decided I probably imagined it. But being the daughter of a geologist, I went to the US geological survey website, and yes it was! Now, I don't know if I should be calling it an earthquake or an aftershock (Mom, feel free to enlighten us in the comments), but I know after an earthquake as large as the one in March, aftershocks are expected for up to a year, so I'm thinking that's what we called it. Lots of people have been asking us what it's like after the earthquake, and I promise I'm going to write a post about it! I just wanted to spend a little more time here first, to make sure I had a better sense of it first.

In other news I found a fantastic grocery store just a 10 minute walk from our house! It puts everything I ever found last year to shame. I forgot to buy eggs though, and they were like $12 at the Lawson by our apartment, so I'm going out to find some more reasonable ones.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Don Quixote

This morning I set out on a mission to find ice cube trays. So far I had been able to find everything else that we wanted. But the process of shopping where you only recognize about half of anything in a story gets to be overwhelming. So let me tell you a little about my shopping experience.

The store front, really doesn't do the insanity justice. I think it used to have flashing lights, but those have been turned off to save energy.

We live very close to the most bizarre store, named Don Quixote, which is often shortened to "donkey." It is basically 6 floors of absolute insanity. And while I've been able to buy anything I could think of there, I think the experience really deserves it's own post.

Every few feet there is a small tv or netbook playing a video about why you should buy the product it's advertising. This means you are being assaulted by screens and noise the overlaps everywhere. On top of this, every section of the story is playing different music. On four different corners of the same floor, all at the same time I heard Kanye, the Japanese version of something like Boyz II Men, some girly pop band (maybe Korean?) and Lady Gaga. So, it's quite the auditory experience. On top of that there are Christmas lights flashing everywhere.

Infomercial for cleaning products

Don Quixote also carries every object you've ever wanted to buy, or even imagined might exist.

Simple things, like school supplies

Weirder things like costumes, many of which are basically lingerie

Or perhaps you need an ear cleaner?

Maybe a raincoat for a dog?

But if that's not high-end enough for you, don't worry, they also sell designer good, new and second hand!

I did finally find the ice cube trays! And of course, once I found them I got to choose between normal ice cube trays, circular ice cubes, or jewel shaped ice cubes.

Now we can make gin and tonics!

And one last picture, just for fun. I got noodles from the convenience store for lunch today, and they gave me this fork to go with them.

Maybe the zigzags make it easier for people unaccustomed to forks?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Made It!

We’re here! John is at his second day of work right now, and housekeeping is cleaning our apartment right now (fancy right?), so I thought now would be a good time to sit in our little common room and finally write something.

Our adventure started Thursday morning when we woke up at 4:00 AM to go to the airport. I thought it was John’s alarm that woke us up, but actually it was United Airlines calling to tell us that our flight from Asheville to Chicago had been canceled, and there was absolutely no way we could leave before Friday morning. So, we had an extra day in Brevard to relax, and as a bonus our flight left later on Friday, so we didn’t have to get up quite so early. On Friday we took the shortest flight ever, Asheville to Charlotte, and when we landed we learned that our next flight had been canceled. Again, they told us there were no flights until the next day, but we pleaded our cases, and the amazing woman at the ticket counter worked some magic, and suddenly we were on an Air Canada flight connecting through Toronto that only landed 20 minutes later than the flight we should have been on. So we landed the next afternoon in Narita, wrestled our bags through multiple subway connections, and then walked what felt like forever (probably only 6 blocks) in the pouring rain. But we found our apartment building with no problem. It’s slightly bigger than last year, and it’s definitely fancier than last year, although it has a little bit of a hotel feel.

This is the entrance to our apartment. On the left the first doors are the shoe closet. That's right, we have a closet specifically for shoes. The next door is for the toilet half of the bathroom. On the right the door you see is to the shower/bath room. Then we have a tiny kitchen.

Seriously tiny. It's basically a sink and one heating unit. We've also got a rice cooker, a microwave, and a large dorm sized fridge.

Then there is a door we can close to separate the hall/kitchen/bath area from the bed/living room. So here you can see the bed (a double this time!) and our little couch and coffee table

Standing where the bed is, you can see the rest of the room. We've got a little table, and dressers that hold the TV, and also serve as a desk. All in all, pretty fancy.

We’re living very close to where we did last summer, but the neighborhoods are very different. This summer we are in the heart of everything Roppongi, which is basically the foreigner/nightclub district. Within a block or two of our apartment are a McDonalds, a Starbucks, a TGI Friday's, an Outback Steakhouse, and a million clubs. Last summer, we were in an area with more residences, and the closest things were a tiny grocery store, some Japanese fast food places, and the AM/PM convenience store (my favorite!) which has sadly turned into a FamilyMart, we discovered.

John started work yesterday, but it was only orientation, so there’s not much to report there. He’s got an office this year, and a secretary, which is fun. There is one other intern, but he started last week so he’s already been through orientation, so John didn’t have much of a chance to meet him. It turns out that it’s just as fast to walk to work as it is to take the subway, so John walked this morning, and I went with him to see where he works. The building is not as impressive as Mori Tower, where he worked last summer. But apparently that building is supposed to be cursed, so it’s probably better that he’s not there anyways. Maybe John can write more about work at the end of the week.

Last night we met up with Grant and Tim, another Duke student, for dinner. We ended up going to a Korean place that was really good. And it was nice to get out do something fun after two days of setting up the apartment. So now I just have to figure out where I’m taking Japanese lessons, and plan lots of fun things to do while Christian is here, because he arrives in just a week and 2 days!