Thursday, December 18, 2008

Random Winter Thoughts...

So, even though I love the smell of a fresh spruce in the house during Christmas time, I will pass at $410 (of course this is sold at National Azabu, the most expensive grocery store I have become immune to).  I think they import them from Oregon...but even the ones cut down in Japan are still 2/3 of the cost.  This has forced some to go the fake Costco route. Sorry, I will never, ever buy a fake tree.  Anyway, we will be in Dublin for Christmas so maybe Santa will give us a tree in our hotel room...

Another picture I attached are the strange floral/Christmas creations that the caretaker has been inserting into the pots in the front of the house. It started with a few golden ornaments, which have progressed to plastic grapes and  pomegranites. The American flag is my doing, stolen from the Obama victory party that we attended here when I felt very nationalistic. Perhaps these artistic creations are those an artist trapped in the body of an 80 yo cute Japanese man.

On a totally different tangent, I need to sound off on the ridiculous outfits on these poor little school boys. Apparently when you attend a very prestigious school here, boys are forced to wear short shorts in the middle of winter. So I see groups of 6 yr olds in their bowling hats, enormous leather backpacks, and shorts while their parents are in winter coats, scarves and pants. Can we do something about this please? Is this not some sort of neglect...I'm calling SSI.  On the SSI front, Japanese parents and Britney Spears (the old bipolar one) have something in common. They don't believe in child seats, and you often see children just sitting in the front in the passenger seat.  This used to shock me, that along with seeing gorgeous 5 year old girls walking home from school by themselves. You know that would never happen in America, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Onsen Action

Japan is famous for its onsen, natural hot springs.  Since my arrival, I have heard of nothing but these onsens, so finally I have experienced what everyone is talking about. We took the kids to an onsen hotel in Hakone this weekend. We decided to train it since Conor really loves riding the trains and I thought it would be less work, sit back and enjoy the scenery...MISTAKE. We had two squirmy little guys who would not sit still and wanted to run all over the train. At least in a car, they could be strapped in the back and maybe even fall asleep. Lesson for next time.  After we got off the first main train, we took a second local train that meandered up the mountains to the hot springs area. You know you have arrived when the smell of sulfur assaults your senses (smoking areas in the mountain pictures). 

Our hotel was very traditional yet very modern. Each room had a private tub off the balcony, so of course we all jumped in and had a very refreshing outdoor soak. Conor had an ongoing joke in the tub where he would take the wooden bucket and put it over Paddy's head and ask, "Is this a hat?..No, its a bucket." It gets old after the 10th time. After that, I asked Paddy about all the etiquette involved in the public onsen and ventured outside to explore, dressed in my yukata, slippers and bath basket that had a face towel and bath towel. There were written instructions about what one should and should not do with the face towel.  The so called face towel is actually the "private parts" towel that one discreetly covers with before sliding into the onsen. However it should never go into the water. Go figure, because your private parts are in the what's the difference? Anyway, after being shown which one was the men and women's onsen (signs not so clear by the way), I timidly entered to find full on nudity walking around me in all ages, shapes and sizes. What happened to the so called face towel?? There are young women friends. There are grandmother friends. There are mothers and daughters. This strikes me as funny because Japanese people are so modest that you wouldn't think that they love onsen so much. The other funny thing is that there are quite a few boys running around with their mommies. Some are probably a little too old and should be with their daddies. This particular onsen had a misty room with many open stalls equipped with little stools and showers where one scrubbed before entering the onsen. There was both an indoor and an outdoor onsen, which had a protective roof for discretion so one was not actually looking at sky but there were natural rocks and waterfalls and maple trees to help you relax. I was definitely the oddball tiptoeing around with a towel wrapped around me before actually entering the water. Hey, it's my first time. 

After that we had an early dinner in the hotel in a traditional sunken table which winded up being another challenging time with the boys since no high chairs equals free for all to run around. They were the worst behaved children as far as I could see. Next to us were twins who looked 2yo who were quietly sitting eating their shabu shabu. Then to rub it in, one even fell asleep on his sitting pillow after he had eaten. Next to them in the next sunken booth, similarly well behaved Japanese children. Then there are the Hogan boys escaping into the hotel lobby foyer to run up and over the fake bridge again and again. We basically had to take turns eating. Then to top off the end of the night, Conor ran into the elevator and before I could rush in, the doors closed so there he was in there by himself, screaming. Since the hotel is only 5 floors, we found him in the hallway of the 5th floor, of course crying hysterically. Incidently we were staying on the 5th floor so I wonder if he knew to get off on that floor, but the 5th button was too mystery remains.  He needed to do a few elevator rides to regain his confidence. 

The next morning we all took another outdoor bath and then headed to breakfast and again were shown to a sunken table (my heart sank, I was praying for a normal table), but luckily there was a sliding door where we could trap the kids inside. The Japanese breakfast is like a mystery food tour. I don't know what half the items are. There are all very small and pretty though. Most likely pickles and tofu, yummy. And lots of fish and egg. So of course, Conor ate nothing but Pringles for 24 hrs.  Tough to take that kid anywhere.

To end the trip, we went to the Open Air Museum on the way back, which I had gone with my sister and mother and Conor in September. With the leaves gone and the grass yellow and the air crisp and cool, it was a different experience.  Conor enjoyed running amidst all the sculptures.  Luckily, the boys were better behaved on the train back and we were back in Tokyo by 1p Sunday.  And straight to McDonalds for you know who!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Toddler Birthday Parties

For those of you with young children, you can relate to the craziness of the toddler birthday party. These parties just seem to get more creative; there has to be an activity to keep them occupied, then there is food, but with all the different allergies, you have to report them to the party mom or else have an Epipen ready. Then there is the goody bag and thank you cards that each child gets. I recently got a thank card with photos of us taken at the party.  The girls want princess theme parties (thankfully the boy don't get invited). The boys want ....actually I don't know what they want. For Conor's 2nd birthday, we did do a Madagascar theme because that was all he was watching then. Anyway, this gets back to the party that I dropped Conor off at on Friday for his classmate Aidan Lin. It was on the third floor rec room at his school. It was a Kung Fu Panda theme and conveniently, Aidan's uncle is a black belt in karate. Of course he is. So all the boys got dressed up in Chinese outfits and beat the crap out of each other. Conor, as most of you know, is a shy boy so kung fu is just perfect for him. He has a bestmate Leo, seen here literally holding his hand and dragging him to all the activities. Leo is already 4yo and is huge. I want Conor to eat what Leo's eating (minus the eggs, fish, and milk). I snuck away after 15minutes but actually saw Conor running up to the front to see what the big boxing gloves were all about. By the way, Aidan's uncle rocks, I wouldn't want to face him in a dark alley.  I  think I may have found a new activity to toughen our young lad up. 


Well, we certainly we have a lot to be grateful for this year...Paddy is still employed, we are in family expansion mode and we have our health and our family and friends are safe. The Mumbai attacks brought it home for me that the world is really unpredictable and becoming unsafer. At least in Tokyo, I feel that we are very safe from crime and terrorism.  

So, unlike other years when I have been on call for Thanksgiving and we eat at the bar at Gotham Bar and Grill, Paddy mentioned we were having guests over for Thursday, two of his work colleagues and their partners. They have been very welcoming to us since our arrival here.  Three of them are even American!  It doesn't feel like Thanksgiving here because there are no decorations up for it and the day doesn't start with the Macy's Tday Parade.  But we persevered. The mental process of cooking and planning is painful but actually doing it as long as you are organized is very relaxing, and there is nothing better than the smell of a turkey with four sticks of butter roasting in the oven. I went for the smallest one at the international store, which was 15lbs. I think we made a good dent in it, as evidenced by my before and after photos. Hope everybody had a wonderful day and didn't overstuff.