Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I can't believe it's already the end of the year!  It's been over a week since I've blogged too.  I've just been at home with John enjoying some time off.  He's got this entire week, and at the last minute was able to take Christmas day off as well.  I mentioned before that I was feeling so blue about the holidays, but they turned out pretty nicely.  Nothing super exciting to report, just a quiet relaxing time with good food, lots of FaceTime, and celebrating later with friends.

Now that it's the New Year's Holiday most people are off visiting family, so Tokyo feels very quiet and emptied out.  Traditionally on New Year's Eve Japanese people will eat noodles (soba in particular) to symbolize longevity in the new year.  John's not a big fan of soba (though I love it) but we had our favorite ramen, so maybe that counts?

I want to thank everyone that reads this blog, it's meant so much to me to have this outlet, and it makes me so happy to know that people out there are reading.  I've grown and learned so much in the past year, and tried to share a lot of that through this blog.  I hope that 2014 brings wonderful things to both you and me.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christmas Spirit

Can you believe how soon Christmas is? The past couple of weeks have been a flurry of Christmas shopping and mailing heaps of packages (receiving them too!) We have our Christmas tree up and our building has some cheery lights up, which is fun. It's strange to think that this is already our second Christmas here. I've been trying really hard to get into the Christmas spirit, but it's been a pretty up and down sort of week. I'm so lucky to have the friends and support here that I do, but a friend moved back to the US today. Raku, of course, has been wonderful putting up with all my moods and cheering me up with her kindness, shopping adventures, and when all else fails with chu-hais in conbinis. Part of me is glad to be settled and really appreciative of the life I have here, but part of me is so sad to not being going back for Christmas.

I've done a lot of really great shopping lately, and have several fun posts coming soon about it all, but for now here are some Christmas-y photos.

Home Sweet Home

Our Christmas Tree!  (The same one I've had since I was 22) 
S'mores - One of the only things worth making in a fish oven

Getting all our packages ready to ship

Some days you just need to drink a Sparkling Rose or a Sparkling Nouveau in the Family Mart

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Visiting a Japanese Dermatologist

Since coming to Japan John and I have both had some flare-ups with our complexions. I don't know if it's from stress, or differences in the water, or adjusting to a climate that swings from incredibly humid to incredibly dry. I've spent a lot of time trying to find good face wash that would help, which I've detailed here, but I recently read a little about dermatologists here and was really excited by what I found. I told John about it, and we went to one today.  He did the test run, but I may go myself in a few weeks.

In the US I have always thought of going to the dermatologist mostly as a luxury, though they do treat a lot of real conditions too. I certainly never wanted to spend the money just to go for acne. But here it was supposed to be very common to go for acne treatment and very easy, affordable, and covered by national health insurance. I talked to John about it and he found a place in Hiroo, The Hiroo Garden Clinic, that took national health insurance and spoke English.

We were surprised to learn that we could just walk in rather than needing an appointment. When we got there it was pretty crowded, but they saw people very quickly. Both the receptionists and the doctor spoke English and John was also able to fill out all the paperwork in English. The actually appointment probably took less than 5 minutes, which startled John, but it was very efficient. He was given a prescription for an oral antibiotic as well as a topical antibiotic and an acne cream and asked to come back in a week to see how it was working. The total for the visit was 1020 yen (about $10).  We then went to the pharmacy which was just downstair and next door where John was also able to fill out his paperwork in English. It took about 10 minutes for them to be filled, and each one was labeled with dosage instructions in English.  The total for the two creams and a week's worth of oral antibiotics was 1500 yen (about $15).

The clinic is about a 10 minute walk from Hiroo station. It was very clean and pleasant inside and I would definitely recommend it. While we waited we got to watch Toy Story dubbed in Japanese.  Neither of us has spent much time in Hiroo, but the walk to the clinic was very pleasant and the neighborhood seemed really nice. There were lots of cafes and shops that would be nice to visit before or after a doctor's appointment.

Hiroo Garden Clinic
Hours: M-W, F 10:00-1:00 & 3:00-6:00, Sat 10:00-1:00, Closed Thurs, Sun, and holidays
Phone: 03-6427-9198
Address: 7-14-7 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Signs That Make Me Laugh

How is it already mid-December?  Other than the days flying past and the beautiful leaves falling off the trees not a lot is new.  My writing has been going slowly (but not badly) and I've been able to FaceTime with my family a lot recently which has been nice.  I've been compiling photos of funny uses of English lately.  They don't shock me as much anymore, but they still make me smile so I thought I'd share them.

How is this really a flavor?

Only a Quasi-National Park, so sad.

No you're not!

I can just picture my mom's face reading this.

Turkish, not Turkey!

I'll take bets on what this tastes like.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Feeling at Home

I can't believe it's already a week into December.  It's hitting me more now than at our anniversary that we've actually lived here for a whole year.  This will be the first time since starting college that John or I have lived in the same house/apartment/dorm room for more than a year.  It's nice to feel settled, but it's also sort of strange.  I'm feeling more settled and even alright about being here for the holidays this year, but there's still a sense of impermanence.

This week I've been doing a lot of Christmas shopping, getting packages ready to send back to the US. It's been fun to buy some of the traditional Japanese crafts for people that I normally just admire.  I also bought a Starbucks Christmas ornament.  It might be a little silly, but I've spent so much time writing in them this year that it seemed appropriate.  And it's really cute.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Midtown Christmas

Tokyo Midtown has a bunch of funny Santas set up for Christmas with instructions on how to pose with each one.  Raku and I didn't always take the advice, but we had a fun time playing around with them. Raku thinks she looks like a vagrant in the one where she's pretending to sleep.  My favorite was the nerdy Santa with the argyle socks.

Hours: 11:00-9:00
Address: 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hiking Mt. Takao

The fall leaves have been so beautiful lately.  I was in such a daze trying to get over jet lag and find an apartment that I didn't even notice them last year, but this year I'm loving them.  Some places even have an illumination weekend to display the leaves at night like they do for cherry blossoms.  I'd been interested in hiking Mt. Takao for a while, but was waiting to go during leaf season.  Finally, Raku and I went last week. 
It takes about an hour on the train to get there from Tokyo, but it doesn't really feel that long.  We caught a really nice view of Mt. Fuji on the way out - the best I've ever had, though we weren't able to see it from the top of Takao.  At the mountain there are a number of different trails you can take as well as a cable car and a chair lift that go halfway up.  When we arrived there was a forty minute wait for the cable car, but almost no line at all for the chair lift!  Of the three trails that go the whole way we decided to take the Inariyama Trail on the way up, which runs along a ridge and is supposed to have the best views in fall.  In spring and summer the Biwa Waterfall Trail is recommended for flowers.  On the way down we took the Omotesando Trail, which is the main path and paved all the way.  The official website was really helpful in figuring out the best course for us to take.

The way up was so peaceful and beautiful!  I had been worried that even though we were going on a week day a Friday at the peak of leaf season might be too crowded.  When I saw the line for the cable cars I got really worried, but this trail was great.  We were never out of sight of others, and we did pass a number of people, but it was never annoying.  The trail was steeper than I expected, particularly the first kilometer had a LOT of stairs, but it wasn't too strenuous.  It was really great to be so far away from the city.  I was reminded a lot of the forest at home, and honestly from the trail we could have been in the woods anywhere in the world.

On the way down we took the mail trail partly out of curiosity and partly because we thought it would be easier on our knees.  It's paved the entire way, and this is the trail that the cable cars and chair lifts meet up with.  Because so many people were going back to those the first thirty minutes felt like we were walking down a busy street in Tokyo!  Luckily there was a man with a dog in his backpack that kept us entertained. Once the crowds thinned out it was better, but there are a number of snack stalls, temples, and bathrooms along the way, so there's no getting lost in the nature, you always know you're in Japan.  The temples are really beautiful though and I'd recommend checking them out.  Even though the path was paved it had some really steep parts as well, and by the end the arches of our feet were aching from the descent.

The summit was probably the least exciting part of the whole trip, which is a little sad.  It was just incredibly crowded and dusty.  The views were nice, but not fantastically better than the Inariyama Trail.  We ate our picnic lunch and took a few pictures but hurried back to the trail pretty quickly.