Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I can't believe how quickly November has flown by.  It doesn't seem like it should already be Thanksgiving, even though it's so late this year.  I also can't believe this is our second Thanksgiving in Japan.  This one feels a lot more real though, since we're living in our own apartment, not that tiny temporary place.

Our Thanksgiving dinner isn't going to be all that different than last year, though I'm attempting to mimic sweet potato casserole with kabocha - a Japanese squash.  Besides that we'll have rosemary lemon chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  For dessert this time I found some apple pie flavored ice cream at the grocery store.

As wonderful as the food is though, today is really about thankfulness.  This year I'm particularly thankful for the internet.  It allows me to stay in touch with friends and family no matter where they or I am, it lets me do research for my book so easily from any location, and it has been an invaluable resource over the last year for figuring out how to make our life here.  (Speaking of resources I recently had my blog added to the Japan Blog List, a great resource for people living in or interested in Japan)  I'm also very thankful for my friends and family back in the US who video chat me at strange times, mail me random things I can't find here, and provide me with so much love and support.  And of course I am thankful for the amazing friends and wonderful husband that I have here.

Lots of love to everyone near and far!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

White KitKats

Finally a KitKat flavor that's actually good!  White kitkats are dipped in a vanilla coating - there are even little vanilla bean speckles - and have chocolate wafers alternating with the normal plain ones.  I haven't seen them them in the candy bar aisle at any of the conbinis, but I picked up a bag of fun size ones at the grocery store.  The flavor is really good, and the coating isn't weirdly soft (maybe because it's not hot and humid anymore?)  This is the first novelty flavor that hasn't been really gross, so if you see them they're definitely worth buying!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Afternoon Tea at Hotel Chinzanso

Last Friday Raku and I had afternoon tea at the Hotel Chinzanso.  We had so much fun at the Mandarin Oriental back in July that we decided this needs to be a seasonal treat.  We've got a whole google doc going now with plans for all the different ones to do in Tokyo.  The Hotel Chinzanso, formerly the Four Seasons Chinzanso, has a beautiful garden on it's grounds that is supposed to be particularly nice during sakura and leaf season.  The leaves are finally turning, so we made reservations for Friday, and then it rained.  Raku was a very good sport about walking around in the drizzle, and the garden was lovely, especially the walkway under a waterfall, but due to the weather I didn't get any good photos.

But let's talk about tea!  This was a very different experience from the Mandarin.  The Hotel Chinzanso is in Edogawabashi, and it feels so removed from Tokyo.  The walk from the station to the hotel took about ten minutes and was so nice.  We walked past a number of shrines, several fruit trees in little yards, and an elementary school.  Le Jardin, the lounge where tea is served, was right where we walked in, and through the windows we could see bright fall leaves and a pagoda that was originally built in Kyoto.  I preferred the indulgent feel of the Mandarin but Raku preferred the Chinzanso, saying she felt so cozy and relaxed.  We both enjoyed the food and drinks, but agreed the Mandarin does both better.

We had the seasonal autumn menu which  was oddly called the "Very Berry Tea."  We started with the sandwiches: egg salad with coleslaw, turkey and cranberry, balsamic swordfish wrap, and a sweet potato, chestnut, and cream cheese sandwich.  The egg salad was surprisingly our favorite, with a bright crunch from a little shredded carrot and cabbage and a nice mustard-y tang.  The sweet potato, chestnut, and cream cheese concoction was creative, but not enjoyable at all.  Our scones came in strawberry, blueberry, and plain and while the strawberry were the most tender, all of them were pretty dense and dry.  For dessert there was a lime and raspberry jelly that tasted a little artificial but not bad, a beautiful raspberry tart, a white chocolate filled with cassis (currant) syrup, and our favorite a strawberry and white chocolate mousse.  The mousse was the most unassuming in appearance, but it was fantastic!

Tea is served by the pot, and you can order a different type each time.  We found each pot contained about three cups, but the leaves stay in the pot the whole time, so by the third cup it's really strong! Raku and I ordered different teas so that we could try two each round.  Both of our favorites were surprising (and both Raku's picks) - Irish Cream Tea and Green Rooibos Strawberry Cream Tea. Neither of them actually have cream in them, though you can certainly add it if you like.

All in all it was a very nice experience, and a great tea to have on a rainy afternoon.  By the time we walked back to the station the rain had cleared and we were able to see the sunset over the river.

Hotel Chinzanso Afternoon Tea
Hours: 12:00-6:00
Phone: 03-3943-1111
Address: 2-10-8 Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Friday, November 15, 2013

Funny Foods

I've seen some hilarious food lately.  The best was a package of "fried chicken and pepper" flavored cheetos that Raku got me as a gift for our anniversary with Japan.  In truth, they were better than I expected.  They definitely tasted like chicken, but once I was over the weirdness factor it wasn't so bad. In the grocery store last week I came across some sort of mushroom/fungus thing.  It wouldn't have been that funny except this store puts up English labels sometimes, but they're often a little off.  This product, whatever it is, was labeled a Medusa Head.  And I really appreciate that there was a face on the packaging.  The last was just a box of saltines, but I liked the way they were displayed to appeal to the Japanese palate.

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Year Anniversary

Today is our one year anniversary living in Japan.   In some ways it seems like it's been forever, but for the most part I can't believe the time has gone so fast.  My memories of our first month or so here are so foggy!  I was incredibly overwhelmed and such a swirl of emotions - excited, sad, homesick, confused, and trying to be brave all at the same time.  

There were so many times in the beginning that I just wanted to go home, or have John handle everything for me.  I used to compose about a thousand texts a day to him before deleting them and forcing myself to deal with whatever was going on.  It's been hard but it's made me a lot stronger and more confident.  I've felt confident and secure in myself before, but it's always been linked to a job I had or an achievement I  made.  This time, it's just me.  In the beginning I felt so off balance here because I wasn't working, and I wasn't sure of my purpose or my value.

Luckily I have a wonderful husband who is loving and supportive, and an amazing friend - Raku - with whom I have developed a pattern of daily life (and fun) that has been invaluable.  So here is something I've never said "out loud" on my blog before: I'm writing a book.  It's scary, and it's exciting, and in the beginning it almost didn't feel real.  Somehow it seemed like cheating that I was allowed to have all this time to just work on it - I didn't have to meet deadlines that anyone else set, or work a certain number of hours per day or week, I wasn't getting a paycheck.  Was I really allowed to do this?  What if it was all just a waste of my time and John's money?  It hasn't been a full year of writing yet, but at this point I honestly believe it's not a waste.  I've practiced self-disciple.  I learn more about forgiveness and compassion (towards myself and others) all the time.  I'm learning the importance of boundaries and how creativity can flourish within that space.  I've developed pride in my work, and I've developed pride in myself.  As hard as living in Japan is sometimes, I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity I have here.  There is almost no other way that I can imagine I would have allowed myself to take this risk.

In another year I hope that you're reading (and loving) my book.  But even if that doesn't happen, I'm really glad that I get to live here with John, have wonderful friends, and take the time to write - learning and growing through it all.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tokyo Design Festa

Last weekend we went to the Design Festa out in Odaiba.  I wasn't really clear on what the event was - a craft show? an art display? a giant convention? - but it seemed like something interesting to do anyway.  It was so fun though, I'm really glad we went!

In a big convention center the space is broken up into little booths that people can sign up for, and what they do there is sort of up to them.  Some people sell their wares, others spend the whole time actively creating art - painting or drawing, etc.  Some people are working on projects while selling their stuff.  It was really interesting to walk around and see so many things going on. We even did a little early Christmas shopping.

Meanwhile there's an outdoor stage with bands performing and an indoor area with dances, fashion shows, etc.  We even saw one group do a choreographed unicycle routine.  There are a lot of people and a lot going on, but it doesn't feel uncomfortably crowded the way so many events and festivals can.  Definitely something I would do again.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Yesterday John and I were watching the final game of the Japan Series (the Tohoku Eagles beat the Tokyo Giants) and I understood all of the dialogue during one of the commercials.  It was a great feeling.  A week ago John and I were out having dinner and we had an entire conversation in Japanese. Granted it was very short, but it was just us joking around in a completely natural way.  It's so exciting to have these moments when I can really recognize the progress I'm making.

I've recently started studying again, and I can already tell the difference it's making.  I quit studying almost immediately after we arrived, and looking back it was definitely a defense mechanism.  I was so overwhelmed and intimidated when we got here.  By refusing to try there was no way I could fail - this way at least I was in control of my inability to speak or read.  While it was probably something that I needed to do in the beginning I'm feeling my more settled and secure in my life and I'm ready to start learning again.  It's not easy and it's usually frustrating, but I think it will be worth it.  Otherwise it's been a good week.

Watch out for perverts on the train!

Healthy homemade lunch with Raku

Holiday cups arrived November 1