One of these things is not like the other…

Things that our Tokyo neighborhood has that our Portland neighborhood doesn’t:

A government employee who is the weekday school-hour crossing guard:

Every morning from 7:50-8:10 and again in the afternoon! Except on Japanese holidays.

Every morning from 7:50-8:10 and again in the afternoon! Except on Japanese holidays.

6 vending machines within a block of our front door (7, if you count the cigarette machine):

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Several shrines and temples, including two that we walk by on our way to school every day:

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And this one in the other direction:

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A tatami repair shop–the smell of tatami wafting out of that place is so great!

This shop doubles as parking for the owner's car.

This shop doubles as parking for the owner’s car.

Public Japanese toilets–I’ve never had to use these particular ones, since my house is only a block away!

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I’ll just hold it, thanks.

 

A taxi passing by at least every 3 minutes–due in part to the aforementioned public toilet and cigarette vending machine in close proximity.  We never have to wait for a cab!

A bell melody that rings over a loudspeaker every day at 5:00 PM announcing cocktail hour testing the emergency response sound system

These bottles of water around planters all around the neighborhood (what is that for, anyway?):

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Also note, in the photos above–bikes just sitting there, not locked up, and not getting stolen.

The Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and even plain old Porsches, driving around or parked in open garages and alleyways.  We’ve seen a few more rare beasts too, like a McLaren and a DeLorian.  This place is car-crazy!

A Buddhist cemetery in our backyard:

At yet another temple than the ones pictured above!

At yet another temple than the ones pictured above!

A new discovery around the block–a fishing pond? Tucked away at the end of a block in central Tokyo?

No idea this was at the end of a block near our house!

No idea this was at the end of a block near our house!

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The English sign pretty much says if you would like to “play fishing” and don’t speak Japanese, please bring a Japanese-speaking friend with you because the rules of the fishing pond are delicate and hard to explain in English.

 

People walking around with umbrellas…both in the rain AND in the sun!  The sun umbrellas are lined with reflective material.

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And a couple of weeks ago, it was election season, so for a few weeks there were campaign things going on, like political candidates driving around in vans, spouting their messages through a loudspeaker.  We easily saw 5-10 LOUD vans per day, and heard even more in the distance:

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This guy parked his van to speak from a platform for a while.

 

Also election related–these giant billboards sporting glamour shots of all of the candidates:

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The kids’ additions to the list:

Lots of people speaking Japanese (my observation–lots of other languages too!  We live in a very international area.)

Kids walking around/playing at the park by themselves without grownups

All in all, it’s pretty different living here!

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Sakura!

Today, it snowed.  It’s April 8th!  And it actually snowed!  Luckily, most of the cherry blossoms had finished their run so the  rain and cold and yes, even snow, didn’t have too much to do with their demise, but still.  As I’m looking out my window today I can hardly believe I took these pictures just last week.  I must say, I am ready for Spring to begin in earnest!

The blossoms are really amazing.  I knew the Sakura (cherry blossoms) were a really big deal here, and I knew they were pretty, but I was kind of thinking, well, I’ve seen cherry blossoms before, and I love walking down at Portland’s waterfront while they are blooming, so it will be nice to see in Japan too but nothing I hadn’t seen before.  Um, I was wrong.

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These trees are HUGE. And OLD.  And EVERYWHERE.  And the whole city is celebrating.  People wait for the blooming to be announced so that they can start celebrating Hanami (flower viewing) on picnic blankets in the parks around Tokyo.

Our family visited a popular Hanami spot on the Meguro-Gawa (river) when the flowers were blooming but not quite defined as “full bloom.”  The weather was great, the crowds were friendly, there were food and drink stalls all along the river–it was so nice!

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The next day, we also walked around near Tokyo Tower and the nearby Zojoji Shrine.  The weather wasn’t as cooperative that day but at least the rain held off!

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And a few days later, once the blooms were completely open and pink-tinged, I walked around the Imperial Palace by myself one day while the kids were at school and Colby was at work.   The pictures at the top of the post are from that day, as are the photos from here on out:

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This was the line that I  stood in to take a photo of one of Tokyo’s most recognizable landmarks, Tokyo Tower, surrounded by cherry blossoms.  Everyone was very amiable and patient and polite, snapping their photo then getting out of the way. Nobody was in a hurry so there wasn’t that sense of claustrophobia that sometimes exists when a lot of people want to do the same thing.

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The money shot

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I felt like I just wanted to take it all in, since who knows if I’ll ever have the chance to participate in Hanami in Tokyo again?  We found out a few weeks ago that we will be finishing up here in Tokyo this summer, and returning to Portland in August rather than next May, so we won’t be living here for Hanami next year!  But I tell you what–we will definitely be taking cherry blossom walks out on the waterfront in Portland next spring, and remembering how different our life was in 2014!

Trust Exercises

The other day, a neighbor girl dropped by to play with our kids.  She is the same age as The Boy (actually a little younger, as she won’t turn 7 for another few months), and she is also an expat, having lived most of her life in Iceland and the last couple of years here in Tokyo.  We met her a few months back in the park by our house.  She often plays there by herself after school, and sometimes (especially when it’s cold out) she’ll come to our door to play instead.  At first it seemed so crazy to me that this girl was constantly playing without supervision.  And that she comes to our house to play, without me ever having met her parents (although I do see them walking her to school occasionally).  She does have a cell phone (that only calls her parents), but otherwise she is taking care of herself most afternoons, and doing it quite well as far as I can tell.

So as I was saying, she came by the other day just as we had been planning to head out to a different park, further away from both of our houses.  We abandoned our plans and the kids played well inside for the next hour or so, but then we decided to run around at the little park down the street for a bit.  The Boy and our neighbor girl were ready to go almost immediately, but Little Sister needed to use the bathroom and get bundled up, and I knew it would take us a few minutes.  The Boy asked me if he and his friend could go on ahead to the park.  Which meant going outside, walking past two apartment buildings, and entering the park.  Without a grown-up.  And I gave him the go-ahead, meaning I wouldn’t be supervising this short walk along the edge of the road, and that Little Sister and I would catch up with him in 5 minutes or so.  SUCH a small thing, you guys, but it felt like a really big deal to me.  And everything was totally fine–and so far, he hasn’t asked me to go anywhere by himself again (phew!).

In other news, Colby and I took the kids to an outdoor antique fair/flea market last weekend.  Colby and I got to go to one a few weeks ago when he had the day off of work for a Japanese holiday but the kids had school, and we had a great time and found some major scores–several scrolls, including a calligraphy one done by the former governor of Tokyo and a couple of landscapes (for 300 YEN!  That’s like $2.50!), some vintage kimonos at 3/1000yen, an antique japanese sewing box that works perfectly for my jewelry, and a functioning antique wall clock.  We wanted to check out another one, but this time it was on the weekend.  We debated getting a babysitter so we could peruse the market in peace, but decided to try letting the kids do some shopping too. We gave them each 1000 yen (a little less than $10, currently–and much cheaper than a babysitter!) and split up at the market–Colby took The Boy and I went with Little Sister.  And we had so much fun!  The kids were so careful with their shopping, and carried their own money, and handled the transactions when they were ready to make a purchase.  Most of the sellers were enamored of Little Sister and gave her a gift when she bought something–she ended up making out like a bandit!  Next time we go I will let her hold my money too, maybe I’ll get a better deal on some antique furniture if she tells the person she likes that table but she only has $50!

The kids' treasures

The kids’ treasures

For the record, The Boy purchased a large antique ceramic Maneki-Nekko (lucky cat) bank.  He was a very deliberate shopper and wanted to find an item that would remind him of Japan.  He even resisted the large Han Solo action figure that he found!  Little Sister wanted something pretty, something to play with, or something to wear, and she ended up with all three!  She found a decorative Japanese doll with a ceramic face and a red and gold kimono for 500 yen (and was given two mini-dolls made from kimono silk and bamboo as a gift), we bargained an 800 yen plastic Native American doll down to 500 yen since that’s all she had left, and then the shop owner gave her a 50 yen coin back as a gift, and then she found a sparkly necklace that she got for 120 yen instead of 300, since she had put a few extra coins from her piggy bank in her purse.  Oh, and a tiny ceramic puppy as a gift with the necklace!  I tell you, bring a 4-year-old with you the next time you go antiquing–she’s irresistable!

The other bonus is that now we have taught the kids that it is FUN to go to an antique market and it is WORTH IT to be patient while mom and dad look at things.  We’ll see how it goes next time, but for now the kids are looking forward to another chance to go antique shopping!

Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival

I read online that this week was the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, and I thought it might be interesting to check out.  And oh my gosh, were my expectations exceeded!  I walked around gaping at all the amazing handwork–this was better than many museums that I’ve been to!   The show runs through this Wednesday, so Tokyo people, you still have a chance to check it out if you’re interested–what’s pictured below is seriously only a fraction of what is on display!

This post will mostly be pictures, because that’s what’s most impressive.  I didn’t know much about what was going on–the signage was in Japanese, and although most quilts had titles in English as well as Japanese all the other information was not in English.  First of all, you should know that this is the biggest quilt festival in the world!  If I had realized that, I probably would have planned for more time there, but I went for an hour and a half, and I did see everything (I think!)

I got my first glimpse of what this festival was like when I entered Tokyo Dome, looking for the quilt exhibit entrance:

That's a lot of quilt enthusiasts.

That’s a lot of quilt enthusiasts.

Luckily, most of them were tiny Japanese ladies, so I could see right over their heads.  I loved watching these groups of women examining the quilts!

Taking a close look at the quilting

Taking a close look at the quilting

There were several sections of displays–the traditional quilts, the free design quilts, something called “Wa” quilts which Colby said means Harmony (and which makes sense–many of them were tonal designs), a junior quilting display, and this year’s theme area, which was Little House on the Prairie–the TV show, not the books!

I started with the free design quilts.  Everything I saw was such a work of art, but I just love the creativity of the free design pieces.  Here are a few examples:

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Look at the details in the quilting!

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This one blew me away.

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I love the textures in this one.

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I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s cool!

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So pretty…

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I just had to show the detail on that one–look at that cutwork!

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I love the colors in this one!

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This one is gourds!

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I mean, come on now with the detail. Every cornice of every building, intricately embroidered and quilted.

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This one was very popular for up-close viewing, so I couldn’t get a photo without spectators in it. I can see why–it’s so unusual!

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Ha!

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Can I pause for a moment to note how amazing it was that I managed to get so many pictures of just quilts in that crowd?  People were so polite, stepping back if they saw that you were trying to take a photo.

The traditional quilts were just as amazing.  And what qualified as traditional seemed to have a lot of wiggle room, which was cool–there were some very modern takes on traditional designs.

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The Wa section had some really interesting quilts too–many were a completely different style than I was used to!

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No, it’s not underexposed–this was a very dark and subtle quilt!

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And here are several more that I honestly can’t remember which category they fit into!  There were several quilts displayed around the edges that were maybe featured, or some other unknown category, or I just wasn’t paying attention–but still worth a look!

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This one features a traditional Japanese style of embroidery.

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This one had screen printed photos quilted into it, which were then embellished with embroidery.

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I’d believe you if you told me I was looking at a tile mosaic.

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Oh, there was a whole section of these little framed quilts as well, but I didn’t spend much time in there:

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And a massive display for the Japanese winners:

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First prize! This is where it came in handy to be tall–I couldn’t get in any closer!

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The 2nd place quilt.

Oh, and here’s a look at the Little House on the Prairie display.  This part of the arena was crazy crowded, with lines to get up close.  SO you’ll have to trust me that there was a covered wagon and a log cabin, as well as a general store.  You can kind of see them in the lower right corner of the photo at the top of this post.  And don’t forget the TV screen playing old episodes, dubbed into Japanese!  Here’s the best pic I got of the log cabin:

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There were quilts all over the inside and draped on the fence and walls all around the outside as well.

I think I read somewhere that there were a dozen quilts inspired by episodes of the show.  I didn’t count, but that sounds about right.  Here were a few I could get photos of:

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I walked through as many of the vendor areas as I could before I had to leave, but didn’t buy anything–I was too overwhelmed! Plus, nobody was selling anything that was actually quilted–it was all quilting supplies.  So I’d see a beautiful handbag, but it would turn out to be a sample for a quilting kit!

I’m getting ready to attempt my first quilt, and I thought this visit might be inspirational, but really I’d prefer to just stick with appreciation at this point.  If I try to be inspired by anything I saw here today, I might just give up before I even begin!  But I think I will have fun trying my hand at a very, very simplified version of the amazing artwork I saw today.

Have You Seen Totoro?

The Boy has been learning about creating his own blog at school, so when he found out that we have a family blog about our Tokyo experience, he wanted to contribute!  So here is The Boy, with a topic that has interested him since moving here.

Have you seen Totoro? He might look like a big bunny to you but not to me!

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Totoro is a movie from Japan,it’s OK if you haven’t seen it.

Ok, now it’s Beth again–The Boy would love to hear from you in the comments, about Totoro or anything else!  He looks forward to writing more posts and will probably keep me motivated to write more myself as well!

My First Movie Theater in Tokyo!

Last night, I went to the movies for the first time in over 6 months!  I love going to the movies, even though I rarely go even in the states.  So I was really excited to see how the movie theater experience compared here in Tokyo.  I went with some girlfriends to see Gone Girl, the first English Language movie that has made it here since I arrived that I was actually interested in seeing.

I will preface this by saying that I haven’t really visited big-city fancy theaters, so some of this may just be par for the course, even in the US, if I was going to the movies in New York or San Francisco.  Or even the downtown theaters in Portland, for the most part!  But here are the things that stood out.

1. The ticket price was slightly higher (1800 yen, which in my mind is about $18 but in reality is less right now since the dollar is strong compared to the yen), but the concessions were much more reasonable than I’m used to (I paid 600 yen for a small popcorn and soda combo, which was plenty, or I could have sized up to medium for only 670 yen.)

2.  We got to reserve our seats!  This was probably my favorite part.  This meant that even though it was opening night, we didn’t need to rush to the theater early to try and snag good seats.

3.  The theater was really nice with steep graded seats, so there was no worry about a tall head in front of you blocking your view.  It was also immaculate–both before and after the movie.  EVERYONE brought their garbage out with them, and right outside the door there were three movie theater staff taking our trays from us and sorting the trash into plastics, combustibles, and food scraps.

4.  People were soooo quiet.   Our group was chatting before the movie started, but we were the only ones.  We quieted down during the previews and managed only a few hushed whispers during the movie, but couldn’t help ourselves once the credits were rolling.  But we were the ONLY ONES making a sound.

5. Actually, nobody even moved as the credits started up–we were a little anxious to get out of there, as it was almost midnight and we were all moms who had to get up with kids the next morning, but nobody got up in the theater until the credits were completely finished and the lights came on.  Then everyone was up in a smooth movement and we all made our orderly way to the door.  Quietly.

Anyway, it was such a nice, peaceful movie-going experience, and I will be on the lookout for another English Language movie to make it over here so I can go again!

Oh, and if you were wondering–I enjoyed the movie, but having read the book was probably a detriment in this case because if you already knew what was coming it definitely messed with the suspense.  The other woman in our group who had read the book felt the same way.  I felt like it was really well done, but it moved verrrrry slowwwwwly in some parts, and a lot of the music really bugged me.  The women who hadn’t read the book were riveted though.

Sports Day!

Today was Sports Day at the kids school, which was sort of like Field Day in the US–at least I think so, since we missed Field Day last spring at The Boy’s kindergarten when we moved before the end of the school year.  This was a fun day, and we had amazing weather–even more amazing since we had been worried it might be canceled due to a typhoon! Anyway, this will be a quick post with lots of photos–when it seemed like too many photos for a Facebook post I thought I’d just do a quick blog post instead.

The kids were both assigned to the Green Team, which was nice since it made it easy for me to decide who to root for.  (Spoiler–Blue team won in the end, but I don’t think it dampened anyone’s enjoyment of the day).

Go Green Team!

Go Green Team!

Little Sister didn’t own anything green, so I made her this sporty little dress (here’s a link to more info about the dress on my crafty blog!)  I think it turned out so cute, so I hope it gets worn even when it’s not Sports Day!  The Boy wanted head-to-toe green, so he wore his Halloween Peter Pants and some penguin print Christmas socks to complete the outfit!

Here are a few shots of the events:

Target practice

Target practice

On standby for his next event

On standby for his next event

High roller

High roller

Speed stacking

Speed stacking

Nice form!

Nice form!

Running

Running

Zig zag course

Zig zag course

Grade 1 green team huddle

Grade 1 green team huddle

Telling jokes to the ring toss supervisor

Telling jokes to the ring toss supervisor

He hit 3 out of 4 rings!

He hit 3 out of 4 rings!

The award for the event with the funniest name goes to "Big Pants."

The award for the event with the funniest name goes to “Big Pants.”

Interesting egg and spoon method

Interesting egg and spoon method

I rode the Tokyo Monorail to get to the stadium, which was a fun trip–I ran into a couple of other moms at the transfer, so we got to ride and chat together and enjoy the view from the monorail.  I hitched a ride back to my neighborhood with a mom who has a car–still totally amazed by the people who are willing to drive in Tokyo!  We met up with a few other moms for a really lovely lunch at the Tokyo American Club.  And now I’m off to pick the kids up from school and start our weekend!