Tuesday, November 30, 2010

daily glimpse

This lovely lady was beckoning people to come stay at a small hotel…

What kind of hotel? I don't know and don't care to find out.

Monday, November 29, 2010

daily glimpse

Making cakes is obviously a pretty serious affair here in Japan…

and also a little confusing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

daily glimpse

This is a map of only the JR lines. It doesn't include all the subway lines and other private lines that can truly get you anywhere in Tokyo.

It is really an awesome public transportation system and you know if I can navigate it, it’s also idiot proof.

Friday, November 26, 2010

daily glimpse

I know they love their cute things here, but really?

Wouldn’t this make kids want to climb onto the construction heap even more?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

daily glimpse

Paper cranes a store owner gave to us as we were leaving...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but in truth it was the night before that I truly loved. Each year after school (although the tradition probably started before I was old enough for school) I would set off for my Grandma’s house to spend the entire night cooking in preparation for the next day’s feast.

The very first dish I ever learned to make was the Thanksgiving dressing. Standing on a chair and hovering over a huge silver tin, I put my tiny hands to work crumbling cornbread and biscuits. Grandma would add the chopped onions, eggs, giblets and seasonings and I would shove my arms elbow deep into the pan combining all the ingredients, laughing and talking while the smell of the poultry seasoning filled our noses. Before even being asked, I would step down off my chair and position myself at a safe distance as I watched Grandma pour in the still hot turkey broth. Wait, wait, wait for it to cool and then the real fun began as I plunged back into the very gooey mixture to incorporate the broth. Time for tasting…a little more salt…needs more poultry seasoning…that’s perfect! My grandma would then pull out two huge sheets of tin foil and we’d wrap the pan to sit overnight in the fridge before cooking it the next day.

As the years went by, I no longer had to use the chair or step away when the hot broth was making its way from the stove. My Grandmother patiently taught me how to peel an egg worthy of being deviled and how to use the ugly ones for the potato salad. She taught me how to chop cucumbers small enough for the macaroni salad, how not to burn the fried onions atop the green bean casserole and how to make pumpkin pie.

As I got older we started the tradition of me trying out one new dish each year. There were successes like my pumpkin bread, failures like my German potato salad and then the triumphs like the tedious and time consuming homemade crescent rolls that I was doomed to cook year after year. Eventually, I took over more and more dishes until I could practically cook the entire meal save the sacred sweet potatoes.

Thanksgiving Day would start early and within a few hours my aunts, uncles and cousins would arrive bearing their own tin foil covered dishes, crowding the kitchen, poking their noses into pots and vying for my Grandma’s attention.

It was okay though. We had had our time together, just me, my Grandma and all the love and warmth that filled her kitchen as we prepared for the holiday.

I called this morning knowing the time difference would mean I would catch Grandma in the kitchen. I could hear her wooden spoon stirring pots as we talked and I wished so much to be there next to her, elbow deep in the gooey dressing, laughing and talking as the smell of the poultry seasoning filled our noses.

It’s tough being so far away during the holidays, but along with so many blessings, I’m thankful for the memories.

I hope everyone has a wonderful day. Happy Thanksgiving!

As much of Japan as you can squeeze into a long weekend...

Thanks to a holiday and one vacation day we had a 4 day weekend in Japan. It felt like a month. We somehow decided that we should do as much as humanly possible and spent each day/night in a different city. I’m officially wiped out.

We started our trip with Hiroshima. I know, I know, I said that I was hoping for no more depressing weekends after Auschwitz. As sad as it was, I think a trip to Japan would be remiss without visiting the memorial park at Hiroshima. We made the time in Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor and I think it’s beyond important for people to see the true devastation of war. I actually think the world's leaders should be required to visit all these sites.

Did you know that not one sitting US President has ever visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Maybe Obama should have made the time to take Hiroshima up on their invitation on his last trip to Japan. Maybe after seeing the tattered bloody clothes of innocent children, some lucky enough to die instantly, others forced to live out their few final days with the majority of their bodies charred beyond recognition and in agonizing pain, would make him focus a bit more on working towards nuclear disarmament. For those of you who still think he can do no wrong, maybe you should visit too and read the letter from the Hiroshima mayor to President Obama regarding the nuclear testing we were performing just this year.

Needless to say, it was an emotionally taxing morning.

After walking through the grounds we caught a boat for our ride to Miyajima to visit the famous Shinto shrine and pet some insanely tame deer that wander around the town…

We had a train that night to Himeji and set off the next morning to see their famous castle. I still don’t think they should call it a castle, but whatevs. Well, it turns out that the main and most amazing building is actually under construction and completely covered with scaffolding. Whoops.

The area was still nice and best of all Jules got to dress up like a samurai…

From there we actually went back to Tokyo. We had a visiting wife to pick up and karaoke to sing in the actual room where the scene from Lost in Translation was filmed…

The next morning we surprisingly all made it to the train and were on our way to Haikone to visit the hot springs. Except when we got there it was raining and the springs were actually a lot farther than we thought they were.

Luckily the traditional room at the Ryokan we were staying was very nice, looked out onto the river and actually made a nice place to spend a relaxing afternoon reading and napping. Dinner was amazing that night and we enjoyed getting the traditional experience even if we missed the springs.

The next morning we walked through the town, did a little shopping and then started a series of train hopping that would eventually get us to Kamakura. We made it in time to see the great Buddha and one other shrine before closing times…

We decided to just call it a day since it was already getting dark and caught an earlier train back to Tokyo…where we all went to bed!

This weekend we’re headed to Fukuoka. Not the most exciting town in Japan, but that’s where the Grand Sumo tournaments are held in November! Cannot wait!! SUMO-SUMO-SUMO!!

Photos from the weekend...

daily glimpse

One of the stores on Kappabashi St. had a demonstration on how they make the plastic foods…

It really is an art form here…

Tell me that fish in the back doesn’t look real.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

daily (more than just a) glimpse

This commercial played continuously through a cab ride in Osaka...

Pure genius.

Monday, November 22, 2010

daily glimpse

I toy all the time with sharing our souvenirs from around the world with you. You know when you buy something new and the best part is showing someone what you got…”Look at this great whatshoosit I got on sale!” or having someone gush over your new purchase “Nice thingamagie, wherever did you get it?”

We’re going to have so many new things once we return they won’t garner the individual attention so many of them deserve. It makes me sad for my purchases. It also makes me sad for our friends because once we move back the first dozen or so times you’re in our home it is going to be show-and-freaking-tell-from-hell. Apologies in advance.

That said, some purchases are just too freaking awesome to wait for that day to come…

Yes, it’s an all-purpose silicone pig mat. Obviously I wanted it immediately, but when I flipped this bad boy over I was sold…

Oh yeah that’s right- to remove him safely from a pot of boiling food you just stick your chopsticks in his nose and lift.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

daily glimpse

The Japanese love their little dogs. They're mainly small breeds, always purebred and usually dressed better than I can ever hope to ever be in Gucci or Prada.

This guy was riding along with his dad, the cardboard recycling pickup man…

He’d raise hell barking at people on the sidewalk until he’d spot his dad coming in the rearview and quickly duck in pretending to be an angel.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

daily glimpse

Bottles of all sorts of marinating items at the rear of a restaurant…

Friday, November 19, 2010

daily glimpse

Random Pac-Man street in Shibuya…

flashback friday

Random (and quite impressive) singing we came across on a street in Lund, Sweden

In the U.S. if you want to get the crowd going with something everyone knows you'd probably go with something more like “Free Bird”. Not quite the case here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

homeward bound

We found out this morning that we'll be staying Round 1 which will have us home from Christmas until March 11th.

We're so excited to have the extra time with friends and family! Can't wait to see you all and meet all the new additions!!

Love you guys!

daily glimpse

I'm coming for you kitties...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

daily glimpse

As I mentioned yesterday you can get hot or cold drinks from vending machines here, which I find fascinating. You can even get hot soup…

Cool, no? Is it just me?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Credit where credit is due.

You may have noticed our new “tag line”. Taken from this post of a sandwich from a convenience store in Mt. Koyasan, an old friend (old as in I knew her a million years ago, not old as in old- because she actually looks amazing and even younger than she did in high school which seems completely unfair as I have wrinkles the size of the Grand Canyon, but I digress) suggested that this be our new tag line and I wholeheartedly agreed.

I mean, come on- we are totally a surprising deliciousness which you'll never forget.

daily glimpse

My latest addiction...

Thanks to the sheer awesomeness that is Japanese vending machines you can get it hot or cold. Like from the same machine. Hot or cold. How cool is that?


I NEVER buy new music. Yes, yes, I know I'm pathetic. Seriously, on average I probably buy around 2 albums per year. At least 50% of those will be a re-buy of some old fave from my childhood.

We've got one (mostly) English channel here and they play a commercial with this song for the new Ra Ra Riot album, The Orchard. I so need this album...

Of course Itunes has now decided I can't buy music from the US store when logging in with a Japanese IP address.

All together now...


Monday, November 15, 2010

daily glimpse

Drugs and freaky looking cats…

talk about one stop shopping.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

daily glimpse

Do they have these crazy sandwiches at the golden arches in the States?

BTW- after ordering a chicken finger snack thing for the train ride I learned a very important lesson for McDonalds in Japan- don’t order chicken. Period. You don’t want to know.

Friday, November 12, 2010

daily glimpse

Who needs to know what’s actually in the sandwich with a promise like this…

flashback friday

From our weekend in Edinburgh...

One of the things I dread most about moving back to Atlanta is that there aren't street musicians. I seriously delight in just being able to stop and listen to something beautiful for a few moments in my day. I mean, who couldn't use a little more beauty in their day?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

daily glimpse

The kind of organized religion I want to donate money to…

This was a sign one of the temples in Mt. Koyasan.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

daily glimpse

The Japanese culture is one of thoughtfulness. This thoughtfulness is really present in like every single aspect of their life, including the bathrooms. I love how you can find just about anything you could possibly need in the ladies room.

Like toothbrushes…

They even have the toothpaste already embedded in the bristles for a nice clean mouth after your meal…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Daily Glimpse

Most guilt-ridden t-shirts of all time?

We saw these in a shop outside Harajuku station. I mean if anything would make me a vegetarian I believe these shirts would be it.

Nope- didn’t work. Although I may feel a pinch of guilt the next time I have a pork chop...dang those sad pig eyes!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mt. Koyasan

There’s something about Japan that seems to allow a multitude of experiences to be somehow stuffed into a relatively short period of time. Each time I attempt to get my thoughts together about a weekend, a day or even just an afternoon I’m overwhelmed with how much actually happened, how much we saw, and how much I need to write about to really get it all out there. I’m going to really try to do justice to our first weekend outside of Tokyo, but it’s going to be an uphill battle so bear with me.

Our final destination was Mt. Koyasan, but Friday we were headed only as far as Osaka via the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train that goes over 160 miles per hour. Getting to the Shinkasen on time proved to be tough and we’d continue this "narrowly avoiding disaster" theme for practically every single dang train/cable car/subway/taxi we had to take all weekend. Being late is at the very tippy-top of my pet peeve list so how this happened I’m not sure, but each time my insides were a tangled mess of anxiety and frustration. I am always telling the Wife that God will continue to give her opportunities to work on her patience until she no longer lets things exhaust it. Apparently God really wants me to get over this being late thing. That or we just couldn’t get our shit together this weekend, but...


The bullet train was…well, fast. Like a bullet. And they serve beer. Score.

After wandering around the streets by our hotel we finally all admitted that we really didn’t want anything Japanese or even remotely Asian for dinner. In preparation for our vegetarian meals in the temple in Mt. Koyasan we decided on burgers. After which we went for a nightcap at a place called Beering Bon. I don’t know what were expecting, but we got a lady singing the Carpenters and a table full of insanely drunk businessmen who could barely stand. It was a perfectly Japanese night.

We had the next morning in Osaka and chose to see the “castle”…I had a huge problem with this place being called a castle. Why? I don’t know, but does this look like a “castle” to you?

osaka castle

I’m just saying. Castle or not, it was a beautiful day and the grounds around were lovely…

osaka castle

and fun…

and because it is still bizzaro world Japan, even had a random parrot…

It took us a few hours to make it up to Mt. Koyasan with the train and cable car from Osaka. It’s one of the most sacred places in Japan and home to over 100 Buddhist temples. Immediately upon stepping off the train you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and are overcome with a sense of peacefulness.

We were staying at a Buddhist temple for the night just outside the entrance to the ancient cemetery where over 200,000 followers of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism are buried. There are like 50 or so temples that offer up lodging which I suppose is a good source of revenue for the monks.

I don’t know how to explain how serene it was, but just passing through the gates we all became hyper aware of ourselves, our voices, and our actions. We immediately started whispering, tiptoeing and swiftly lifting our rolling bags and their seemingly roaring wheels off the ground. We quietly checked in and were escorted to our rooms. This was when my peaceful, quiet, temple staying self escaped me.

You have to remove your shoes before entering any temple and there were slippers provided at each door. Well, those “slippers from hell” as I later deemed them came flying off my feet as we were going up the first flight of stairs and I had a case of the giggles like no other. The more I tried to stop laughing about it the more I laughed. I was mortified, but the laughter only got worse. I seriously was crying I was laughing so hard. I’m laughing right now just writing about it. Let’s just say that I carried my slippers around most of the time instead of wearing them and never once attempted to wear them on the stairs again.

Our room was crazy traditional and looked out onto the beautiful gardens…

We took a brief walk around before our 5:30 dinner time. We ate alone in a private room and were served by one of the monks. It was strange in the most wonderful way and an experience I’ll never forget or really be able to describe because we could identify about 3% of the food items…

After dinner we headed out for a dark walk through the cemetery. Usually night + not well lit cemetery = no go in my book, but it was really peaceful and we walked all the way to the temple at the end before heading back to our rooms. They ask that everyone is in their rooms by 9:30 so it was an uneventful night after the walk which was a good thing considering our 5:30 wake up time.

Morning prayers were held by two resident monks Sunday morning at 6 and we were allowed to watch. I struggle to find the words to describe what it was like to bear witness to something so sacred. I suppose it’s the indescribable aspect that makes it so extraordinary anyway. I will say that it is moments like these that I’m most grateful for our life and for how insanely blessed we are to have this opportunity.

Breakfast was served in the same manner as dinner, except we weren’t really in the mood for cold tofu and unidentified objects that early in the morning. This is when you're most thankful for Japan's vending machine culture.

I wanted to go back to the cemetery in the light for photos so we made our way through the majestic cedars and moss covered tombstones one last time. It was the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen and truly one of the most special places I’ve ever visited. Truly breathtaking…

Traditionally bibs are places around statues of the Jizo to protect lost children in the afterlife and to pray for the long lives of living children. The practice has evolved and there were all sorts of robes and hats on the statues throughout the cemetery...

After the cemetery we spent the rest of our morning in the town visiting other temples and just enjoying the gorgeous fall colors…

I’ll refer to the second paragraph instead of going into detail about our harrowing experience trying to navigate the many modes of transport back to Tokyo. Let’s just say getting to the hotel in Tokyo never felt so good.

We’re still up in the air about our plans this weekend. After all the back-to-back travel weekends in Europe we’re feeling sluggish and living in such an incredible city like Tokyo makes it hard for us to want to leave in the first place. Maybe we’ll take a day trip; maybe we’ll stay and hit a cat cafĂ©. You just never know.

Photos from the weekend...