Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Snow in Tokyo!

The last week the girls were in school, Tokyo got quite a bit of snow (at least for Tokyo!). The girls even had a school day called, which was a first for us in Japan. I took the girls to the rooftop to play in it!

Smiling- this was right after she pegged me in the head with a snowball!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

LaTour Japanese New Year's Party

The last weekend that we stayed in our LaTour Yoyogi Uehara apartment, Sumitomo threw a traditional Japanese New Year's Party, with Mochi making, dragon dancing, Japanese food and drink. It was a party for the whole building, and was a lot of fun, and interesting as well.

Mochi are traditional Japanese rice cakes, made out of glutinous rice, pounded into paste and molded into shape. In Japan, they commonly come in Green Tea flavored, filled with red bean paste. You can also find them stuffed with strawberries, and in Hawaii, with chocolate malt balls and mini-snickers- some are even frozen with ice cream inside!!They are delicious and addicting!

We all got a chance to pound the rice into Mochi, which was fun (being that Scott is so big, everyone was like "ooohhh" and they gave him this really heavy mallet and didn't want him to stop pounding the rice!

Maya and Ainsley pounding the rice to make Mochi
After the Mochi making, we moved out to a Traditional Japanese New Year's dance, dragon and all!
Though not scary to us, it scared every kid in the building!
Scott and I with the dragon dancer after..the sign says prosperity and health in the new year (or something like that!)

Saying Goodbye

My Beautiful Sayanara Gift

With Jenny and Katie

The past two weeks has been filled with nothing buy goodbye breakfasts,  lunches, dinners, and small get togethers for both Scott and I. Last Thursday my friend Denise hosted a group of my really close friends at her home for a nice Egyptian lunch of beef spinach curry, falafel and shwarma sandwiches, tabule salad,  rice, pita bread, and of course, wine (and a vodka shot to kick it off!). As everyone who knows me well knows, I do not like big parties- I like small ones where I can talk and be personal, not big ones where you have such superficial conversations and only get to talk to everyone for a few minutes, so I chose not to invite all of my friends, just the ones I hang out with on a daily/weekly basis. I have been able to get together with other small groups of friends as well, and each one has been sad yet fun. This week will be a sad week, as we are going to have to say our final farewells to everyone...and frankly, that stinks. I think our girls are going to be sad daily, which makes me sad thinking about it.

Kim and I and our Vodka Shots

Scott receiving his gifts
Scott's work hosted a Sayonara party for both of us this past Friday. We went bowling at Round One, then on to a fabulous dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we had a beer tasting contest, gift presentations and a ton of laughs. You would think that in a place where the majority ONLY speak Japanese, and Scott and I primarily only speak English, it would have been uncomfortable, but it was not in the least. Scott-san placed third in the beer tasting contest (I didn't make it past the second round!), I won a prize for the person who had the most total strikes, with very few spares who didn't manage to make it in the final top three scores (pretty sure they just felt bad for me, and wanted to make me feel better!), as well as for the third place team in bowling. Our prizes- a lightbulb, an electric toothbrush and a bottle of wine! :)  It was so nice to see how much Scott enjoyed his team, and they enjoyed him. They gave a few speeches thanking him, which of course, made me tear up. Such a sweet ending to a wonderful ride- we couldn't thank them enough and be more grateful for the group he worked with, for his wonderful interpreter and friend Yumiko and for his overall experience- we have been truly blessed.


Sayonara to Japan

This week marks our last week of living in Tokyo. It has been something we have known was coming for the past few months, and have frankly, been dreading. When Scott came home three years ago and asked what I thought of moving temporarily to Japan I thought he was crazy. I said no. Didn't ask questions, wasn't interested in moving here and was fairly closed minded about it. My feelings were based on a few things- One, I  knew we had talked about living abroad, but when we did that, my thinking was it would be somewhere in Europe. At no time did Asia every enter my mind. Two, I was completely uneducated about Asia in general, and Japan in particular. All I knew was that the language was different and difficult and the culture was completely different from a Western culture. Three, we knew of no one who had ever lived in Asia, so we had no reference point or anyone to bounce questions off of. I was afraid of getting into something I would completely hate and have to muddle through for at least two years. Scott was really interested in the opportunity, and Stryker provided him with a list of people we could call who had lived in Tokyo for us to connect with. We asked those questions and got feedback. It was amazing, as we started telling people of the opportunity, how many connections we made through friends, or friends of friends to people who either currently lived in, or recently moved from Tokyo. We had been given a lot of great feedback, most of it being that each person who wasn't living in Japan anymore, wished they were.

Two years later, I feel it has been the best decision we have made, hands down. We have had so many unique experiences, met so many fantastic people from all over the world, had so many learning opportunities, learned (somewhat) a new language and a different culture, given ourselves and our kids an education on this part of the world that you can not learn in a classroom or by reading a book. Our kids have gone to one of the best international American schools in the world and have been exposed to so much, that it has completely changed their perspective on what they can do in their life- their options are open and they know they can do and be anything they set their mind to. We have traveled to places that we didn't know anything about, we have eaten foods that we never dreamed and we have definitely become a more open minded, caring and closer family because of it. Even going through the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake gave us the opportunity to see amazing things- people helping strangers, offering hot chocolate on the streets as people walked many miles in the cold home to their families and loved ones, there was no looting or crime- it was a community driven culture that stuck together, worked together and is recovering together- we in American and all over the world could and should use this as an example of greater humanity, caring and community. Sure, it was scary, but so many life lessons were learned by going through it and watching how this country came together.

I do not think our time here could be upstaged, no matter where we go and what we do. I do hope I am wrong (it would be sad to have the best two years of your life over at 38!), but I can't imagine how it could be any better. I only hope that we have this same opportunity to do this again in the future- I do not think you would ever hear me say "NO" to another opportunity to see the world, learn about the world and experience the world. We will miss our friends, coworkers, teachers, classmates, babysitters and neighbors more than anything- they have been amazing, and we hope to be able to keep many of them in our lives as we move on to our next adventure back in Michigan.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Korean BBQ

Scott in front of the Korean BBQ
This is the Korean BBQ that is a 2 minute walk behind our building.   It is our favorite place to eat. Hanna thinks everything is "chicken", while it is really chicken, pork, beef, venison. They have sauces, rice, salad with sesame, bibnbap, beer, and all the meats are cooked (by you) on a pot/burner right at your table.

Kushi-age Dinner and a little Japanese Gambling!

We had the chance to get together with our friends Yumiko and Dan Tanno who took us to another fun, first time restaurant and food type here in Tokyo called Kushi-age. Kushi-age is a Japanese style deep fried Kebob. In Japanese, Kushi refers to the skewers used. For Kushi-age, you take small pieces of meat and vegetables, place them on a skewer, coat them in wheat flour, dip them in breadcrumbs and put them in a deep fryer. We had deep fried cheese, asparagus, crab, broccoli, sweet potato, and meat. We also had a plate of sashimi (octopus, tuna, white fish and smoked oyster) as well as organic vegetables with a few different sauces to dip them in. Kushi-age is regional to Osaka, but you can find it in random places throughout Japan as well.

After dinner, we walked by what I would call the closest thing to a U.S. Casino. I have seen a ton of Pachinko places, but not many slot machine type places. I had to go in and take a few pictures for my parents (whose love of casinos is well known!), and we ended up playing for a little while.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Maya's 9th Birthday Celebration

This year I gave the girls the choice between having a birthday party with friends, or inviting one friend to spend the day with them at Disney. Maya chose to ask her friend Ainsley to go to Disney. Because Disney Tokyo is loved by all Japanese, we knew that we would have to skip a day of school to go, so we could get on rides and have a good day. We chose Tuesday, January 17th. Maya was nice enough to invite Hanna to join us, and Ainsley's mom Jenny also came with us. To our delight, Disney was not packed full of people. We were able to  go on all the rides we wanted to, some twice or three times, with no longer than a 15-20 minute wait. The weather was chilly (we had to wear our winter coats), the park was not busy and all three kids got along fantastically. It was truly a wonderful way to celebrate Maya's 9th birthday- one I do not think we will forget!

When we moved to Japan, Maya was 6, turning 7 in February. She had short blond hair, which she insisted on having me flat iron EVERY DAY. She had only lost a few teeth, she was super shy, a lot smaller and devastated that we moved to Japan. Now, she is nearly 9, has long, beautiful curly hair that has turned darker in color, is active in after school activities (Taiko and after school rec), has made a ton of friends, walks to the train station and the grocery store by herself, and is an overall wonderful daughter. She loves to spend the last 10 minutes before bed laying down and telling me all about her day, what she did at school, what she learned and the drama that goes on with girls her age. I love every minute of it and I love our conversations. She has definitely become a lot more fun to hang around and talk to, loves to sing (a lot) and is very into solving "mysteries" and playing school with the younger kids in our building. I couldn't ask for a more fun, caring, kind and awesome 9 year old daughter- we love her so much and are so grateful that she is in our family! We love you Maya!!