Welcome Home: おかえりなさい

Our flying visit home is over and where did Saturday go? We left LAX on Saturday afternoon – flew 12 hours and landed on Sunday evening. We felt a strange and reassuring sense of familiarity as we flew into Narita airport early in the evening on Sunday, you can see all the rice fields from the plane window and a vague outline of Fuji-san in the distance. Back in our apartment, and time to sleep. Not much in the fridge but we made coffee and okonomiyaki for breakfast, with bonito and nori topping.

We are excited to be back and have 6 more weeks to spend here in this endlessly fascinating country. Naganuma School starts again for Michael, another 4 weeks of classes. And Fiona is off to do what docents do: see at least one museum a day! Explore Tokyo and try out all that Japanese grammar on the city. More to follow!




Walking Around, Stopping and Seeing

Naturally I stand in the correct place – and read the sign: STOP.

And I wouldn’t dream of doing this.IMG_4874

A Friday Night Out in crazy Shinjuku – saying good luck to Niko and Rei who are going to San Diego to live for a while.

How could you disobey this sign to keep off the paved area? Behind the pink kitties is one of the glass enclosures where smokers to go for a cigarette!  And how about a rest? So convenient……

Toby and Michael: the new lunch box look, teddybears and strawberry cream sandwiches – and a fruit gift for $340. Bread is expensive, so here is a carefully packaged set of 6 , crust-removed slices.


Safety First. California, take note of this sign when the next earthquake comes because it may rearrange the furniture. WOW! Just had a pretty strong shake, honestly! As I wrote this. It was a 5.6 in Iwai just 40 miles north of Tokyo. Serves me right for being flippant.

Outside busy Shibuya Station I counted 7 uniformed security guards. Whenever a truck needs to cross the sidewalk into the loading zone they start up a chorus of  calls and march out to escort it in, and to keep us pedestrians from walking into it! I love this dramatic performance:


However, nobody wears helmets and there are so many kids’ seats ingeniously attached to the bikes.IMG_6620

Stopping for a quick drink/snack/dinner after school. Of course the pizza comes with sides of pickled Japanese (!) eggplant, onions + sesame and a baked tofu with bonito + ginger.

This was a surprise! The Hoppy came with a tankard of……..strong clear shochu! Knocked that back thinking it was H2O.

Buy a ticket to go into lovely Shinjuku Gyoen Park, but remember it closes at 4:30pm. Strange timing because sunrise is at 4:40am, sunset at 6:40 or so! No changing of the clocks in Japan. There are 4 park attendants waiting to collect and sort the trash – and we didn’t see anything dropped, or left behind to spoil our peaceful enjoyment!

I miss walking my doggies – but these made me laugh! A rabbit, matched outfits and a small round ball of fluff on a wheel, a star and lastly, why walk?

Next time: we go to a professional soccer game with a young college baseball player, and enjoy a day in Kamakura with our friend Natsuo’s daughter, younger son and his wife. And do our mid-terms!

Tea Time, Springtime

We are coming to the end of Golden Week, the week when Japan incongruously has major public holidays on the last Friday in April and then on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the first week of May, leaving everyone to work, or, in our case, go to school, on Monday and Friday.

Japan, unlike Southern California, is a land of seasons.  Two months ago, when we got here, the cold was quite sharp, relieved only by the arrival of cherry blossoms in late March.  Now, it’s May and the weather is pleasant indeed.  The rainy season and the beginnings of a hot and humid Tokyo summer await us next month, but for now, we are happily venturing out without sweaters, umbrellas or Uniqlos .

We have used some of our time off to catch up with our studies – the Naganuma School isn’t kidding when it calls our course “intensive”.  But we have also had a few outings into this city of contrasts.

Saturday, we paid a visit to the Riviera Sports Club, where we swam laps in a pool that looked like the set of Scarlett Johansson’s swim on Lost in Translation.  (That actually took place at the Tokyo Park Hyatt.)  Here is the sign at the entrance.  Most of it is in Katakana, the syllabic alphabet with which foreign loan words are adapted into Japanese.  We have added transliterations – remember, these all started out as real English words.  See if you can guess what they mean!  At the end of this post, we have added a version with actual translations.


OK, on to other activities.

On Sunday, we went for a walk in Aoyama that began with a close-up view of political protest, Japanese-style.

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to be invited to a tea ceremony, conducted by a renowned tea master (or mistress, I suppose).  One of the staff at our school happens to be a friend of the tea master and asked us to accompany her to the ceremony, which took place at the at the Tokyo National Museum of Art, Tokyo’s equivalent to the Met or the National Gallery of London (or LACMA!).  This was quite an honor and so we donned our Thursday best and zoomed across central Tokyo on the Ginza line to Ueno Park, scene of some of our more spectacular cherry blossom viewings six weeks before.

Tokyo National Museum: Fountains and Haniwa – Kofun period clay figurines from the 6th century placed on top of tombs.

Ueno Park – late March – early May.

Children’s Day is celebrated this week and there was a Book Fair in Ueno Park which showed us that children’s books are a thriving business. So many wonderful and beautifully illustrated books! Michael is now reading his favorite Babar, in hiragana.


Here are some random things from our life: our local flower stall; our low maintenance garden; vending machines: is this meal hot or just casually cold?; slippers provided whilst shoes are mended; how to time the tea infusion; poster for a great exhibition of 19th century woodblock prints, we spent hours there (loan from the MFA, Boston).

And the maple leaves are out; the trio of my no-English, fabulous hairdressers; how much more traditional than a Japanese lantern?

And finally, here is the Riviera Sports Club sign, translated.


A Brave Post-Script

Try googling pictures of Merida, the Scottish heroine of the delightful Pixar movie, Brave, and you will find no shortage of red-headed look-alikes.  But being a redhead in Japan is different.  During her stay, Laura was approached, more than once, by little Japanese girls pointing at her and crying “Merida, Merida”, to the point where I think she ended up having to sign autographs.  I guess you can see why.

And in our apartment building, a little boy from South Africa, Leo, concluded that Laura must be in need of a bow, and offered to give her his.  Here he is:

Now the world (or at least the Oakwood Apartments) is safe from big bad bears.

We miss you already, Laura and Isak.

Bye bye at Gaiemmae Station! We are thrilled that you had so many wonderful adventures in Japan. Here are a few of the things we enjoyed together.