No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

20 December, 2008

A Tokyo Merry Christmas Postcard

First day into Christmas break and we are doing nothing---it's a wonderful nothing. We haven't done nothing in months. We leave for Thailand on Monday to do more of nothing, but on the beach this time. We'll be back on January 5th, just after the Japanese New Year festivities are over. Next year I think I'd like to be in Japan for the new year when they eat noodles, throw beans and go to temples all dressed in Kimono. For now, here are a few pictures of Tokyo daily life. I think they give a nice sense of the intensity of the city.Inside a tall building in Futako-Tamagawa, the shopping mall/train station/neighborhood near my house. You can see all of downtown Tokyo from here.

A cosmetics/pharamacy shop in Shibuya.

Shibuya at Christmas. I'm not a Christmas purist, but there is something about the Japanese celebration of Christmas that seems really hollow to me--it's even more consumer driven than the US.
James took this cute pic of the girls at their Choral Night concert. Love it.

900 yen per beer is the going rate for a pint (or smaller). Thats about 10.00 US these days.

Another train shot

Another Shibuya intersection

peaceful sunset over Fuji from home

03 December, 2008

Half Fast Cyclists (and one Mostly-Slow one)

We had a grueling 3 day teaching workshop on assessment from last Thursday to Saturday that required full working brains. By Saturday night my brain shut off. Thinking our bodies could use a workout after all the mental lifting, we went on a Sunday ride with a group called the Half Fast Cyclists. Its a bunch of gaijin and a few locals who get together for cycling, beer and tomfoolery. We thought it sounded like us. Little did I know I would need a full working body and not my mama-chari trained body. I'm amazed that these guys can ride 55km, stop for smoke breaks and school me on the hills. At the least, it was great to get out and experience Japanese countryside with the leaves in full color. We saw cranes, temples, shrines and gorgeous Japanese maples. It was a "wow, I'm in Japan," event.
Monstrous statue on a hillside next to a few large temples--someone said it was a sort of superwoman who protects the community

Our bikes in bags on the train. Like usual, everyone kept their distance on the train

lunch stop

the pack leads, Jesse follows way behind...

after a long, steep hill climb

James's mustache handlebars come in handy on the train. In the station, a friendly Japanese fellow stopped James and I, whipped out a camera and asked to take our picture because he loves bicycles (and probably blondes, too).

22 November, 2008

Trapped in the Train

I didn't think I would fit in the train before the doors closed.  One foot still out the door.  At least 8 more people got on after I was pushed in.  Just a little visual of what we experience on the train.
Where's Jesse?

Gaming and not swaying.  Even if you were to lose your balance, there is nowhere to go.


Friday night, the art teacher at our school sponsored a trip to the 100 year old Showa Grand Theater in Ginza to see 3 Kabuki plays.  She is a Kabuki fanatic and one of the founders of the English ear guide system we used to understand what was going on.  Needless to say, she knows a lot about Kabuki and she opened us up to a beautiful art form.  It dates back to the time of Shakespeare and the stories are almost always tragedies.  Traditional Kabuki acts out Japanese folktales that usually involve spirits, honor, warriors and courtesans.  Each movement is slow and deliberate and is steeped in meaning.  The costumes are the most glorious part--traditional garments, hair and makeup.  They are breathtaking.  The stage scenes are simple and balanced.  Ninja-like stage hands help the actors change costume or remove props on stage.  It was such a fascinating way to learn about Japan's stories and histories.   

The customs of Kabuki are to yell out the actors family name at the correct time so they will strike a pose, eat and drink in your tiny, japanese size seat and don't take any pictures.  Here are some pictures James took:

Not part of the show--we just loved seeing a Japanese Miss Piggy.

The courtesan had just transformed into a mountain woman with superhuman powers.  The stage men change her from a woman into kimono into this in a split second.  The whole audience cheered.

This actor is an onnagata, a male actor who specializes in female roles.  If you were unaware that all Kabuki actors are male, you would be surprised because the men move so gracefully.  Our "Kabuki Expert" said these men are very revered in Japanese culture and are usually around 70 years old.  One of the actors we saw is considered a Living National Treasure.

Here, the courtesan is battling off the evil spirits with the princess by her side. 
She has changed costume this time and is gracefully defeating the warriors with ease.
A traditional bento box--very common to eat at Kabuki theaters, which allow you to bring in your own food.  This one has the "sweet" bean paste pastry, rice with pickled plum, salmon, sweet egg, a sort of chicken yakitori meatball, something fried, eel, tempura shrimp, more rice and a bunch of pickled vegetables which I don't really care for.  They are beautifully crafted, but one does the trick for a few weeks.  I guess my western palate isn't used to it.

Outside the Showa Grand Theater.  It will be torn down this year to make way for a high rise.  Ginza is the place of all things Japanese and very expensive.  

19 November, 2008


Every morning I step onto the balcony to see if Fuji-san will show himself that day.  This morning was gorgeous--I've never seen the hills so clear and the mountain so defined.  

18 November, 2008

just living...

I would post something if there was something exciting to write about or show...but we've been working too much.  Worked through our 4 day fall break (workshop), working through Thanksgiving and next Saturday (another workshop) and working for 4 weeks after that until Christmas.  You know how we are, we like to really "understand" the local culture.  We are going to a Kabuki show on Friday night, so if I can take pictures I'll post those.  

Otherwise, life has been a daily stream of work, yoga, cooking, the occasional shopping trip, dinner and drinks with friends and more work, none of which we take pictures of.  We have found a great neighborhood noodle shop that serves huge, piping hot bowls of ramen.  They are heaven on a cold night and its a great time for us to practice our slurping technique and Japanese.  We've started studying Hiragana, the syllabic alphabet (there are at least 3 other ways to write Japanese, but this is the most necessary to learn).  Sunday night we went to a party for a nun to commemorate her 60 years in Japan.  Rockin' evening.  Actually, it was cool to listen to the stories of a very wise, 86 year old Spanish nun who has made her life starting and running the school we work at now.  She is and still kickin' and has a lot of great wisdom to share.  

living abroad makes me feel like this

07 November, 2008

Listening In

I love "adult" conversations by little kids.  With the election, so much of their parent's opinions came into the classroom.  My girls (especially the ones who have 1 American parent) were all giddy about Obama.  Except one "maverick" who said, "I'm voting for McCain because Obama doesn't know what the hec he's talking about!"  Remember, these girls have been in the world for all of 7 years.  Oh how I wish I could have had a recorder for this conversation today, 3 days after the election:

Girl 1: "Do you know that the vice president of McCain has been to only one place?  I'VE been to more places than her!"
Girl 2: "I love Obama."

Girl 3: "Who do you think Ms. Latter voted for?  
Girl 1: "....McCain..."
Girl 3: "...Yeah, I think McCain, too...."  NOTE: This was said very sadly  (what, am I not hip enough???)

Girl 1: Are you a republican?  
Girl 2: "I don't know!!!"
Girl 3.  "You're probably a republican.  I'm a democrat.  If your mom says you're a democrat, you're a democrat."   

05 November, 2008

Global Victory

This is the first time I've ever been abroad for a major US election and today was an eye-opener to see just how influential and global this election has become.  Throughout school Wednesday (remember the 15-17 hour time difference) every computer was tuned to a news station to watch the map colors change from gray to blue and red.  Australians, Indians, Irish, Brits,  Canadians....everyone was talking about the possible outcomes and the excitement of Obama's win.  The outcome of this election has so many implications around the world, but I have to say, as an American living abroad, I'm proud to now have a president whom the world respects.  I definitely don't envy the job he has before him.

31 October, 2008

Tokyo Disney!

What to do with a day off in the middle of the week?  Tokyo Disney!  For only 5,800 yen, you too can spend all day with Mickey-san.  Kat and I relished in our childhood dreams and enjoyed people watching on Thursday.  So close to Halloween, visitors were encouraged to wear their favorite Disney costume (but if you wore a Pixar costume, you might be kicked out---ever so politely, of course!).  The Harajuku crowd left Meiji park and found their way to Disneyland to show off their cosplay.  It made people watching even more fun.  James couldn't be bothered with the 90 minute lines for Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise to join us. 
Tim Burton's Haunted Mansion--the coolest of all rides, so well done it made you feel like you were in the movie. 
I'm not happy with the hat selection---apparently Asian fans of Disney embrace the new, and not the traditional personalized Mickey ears.  Couldn't find one pair of regular Mickey ears in the whole park!
Just like the original!
Great costume...or is it really a costume?  Hard to tell.
In Minnie-san's fridge
Kat throwin' the peace sign at ya.
Such a Japanese scene.  We chased this Cinderella around trying to get her picture as she moved away.  Imposter!  
School children in a line going into the park.  Most Japanese children do wear these uniforms everyday---knee socks, school girl skirt and sailor shirt.

27 October, 2008

Hiking on Mt. Takaosan

Feeling a little city weary, we tried to get out all weekend.  Our first attempt to go to Nikko failed miserably (no places to stay, missed trains while we were standing on the platform!), so we ended up with a hike on Sunday.  Mt. Takao-san is just about an hour from town by train, but still considered part of Tokyo.  The air was crisp and clean in the mountains and the leaves were just beginning to change.  IT was really beautiful.  The mountain is a spiritual place for Buddhists---the highlight of my day was seeing a Buddhist monk taking his leashed pig on a stroll.  
Apparently there are monkeys all around, but we didn't see any.  
Do you think the monkey's are mad?
Don't know what these little guys represent, but they are cute and everywhere.
Fuji is off in the distance.
Little Buddhas around the temple.

When this guy stretched out he was over a foot long---we couldn't believe how much he moved like a snake.

15 October, 2008

Cultural Quote of the Day

Teacher giving the test: Choose the word that doesn't fit: taco, burrito, sushi
Class:  What is taco?
Irish-Japanese girl: It's octopus!

12 October, 2008

Strange things that have happened since we moved to Tokyo

  • A man wearing a sick mask rang Jesse's doorbell at 4:30 a.m.
  • In a culture where public displays of affection are taboo, we saw a couple sitting on a bench on a busy street, sitting bolt upright, with one breast out while they made out.
  • Jesse saw a dead woman laying on the street
  • Japanese women have told Jesse she looks like Cameron Diaz (huh?) and sounds like Jessica Simpson (double huh??)
  • James took out a scooter rider on his bicycle

Japanese Oktoberfest

Cost of one beer: 1300 Yen (about $13)
Cost of German brezel: 300 Yen 
Cost of train travel to Yokohama: 1000 Yen 
Watching the Japanese congo line to Oompah music: priceless


James gets down with the locals

the new friends we vowed to meet at the same table next year

Harajuku Lovers

Harajuku is the home to the Tokyo teen craze Cos-Play. Girls dress like dolls, goth or Little Bo Peep. Boys dress up in mismatch baggy clothes, trucker hats and anything that is the latest craze. They hang out at the edge of Meiji Park and Shrine and sing, dance and just oggle each other. Tourists oggle with their cameras, too (we are no exception). This Sunday it seemed that all things 50's is the latest craze. The park had multiple groups singing and dancing to Grease and even a group of regulars who dress like Kenickie and the Burger Palace boys, with sky high sculpted hair that the do in the park as part of the spectacle. Takeshita Street is crammed with stores to buy costumes, 8 inch platform shoes and $90 t-shirts. After a day with the shopping masses, we joined 20,000 more people at the Radiohead concert at Saitama Super Arena. The Japanese fans are so polite and subdued, if I were Radiohead I wouldn't have come back for that lackluster encore request.

the crowds on Takeshita street
getting just the right amount of height
a little more hairspray, bob

watch them perform!

James got the internet!

Only problem is the cord is in the bathroom. He looks right at home, though.

28 September, 2008

My Class

Here's my class this year. I have 16 girls from mostly Asia and Europe. All girls is a unique dynamic that I'm still getting used to.  You would expect them to be little angels....but these girls can talk!  In this picture we had just finished making o-nigiri, a sort of Japanese sandwich that is rice and some sort of filling (tuna, umeboshi, salmon, roe) wrapped up in nori.  We eat them often because they are yummy and cheap.

Got a door that just won't stay open?

Afro Boy can get the job done!