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?