Saturday, May 31, 2008

My boys...

Just cause they're so cute!

Yokosuka in the rain


On Thursday we had planned to drive to Lake Kawaguchi in the Fuji Five Lakes area, around the base of Mt. Fuji. It's a beautiful area that we visited briefly in...October I think, on a tour up to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji.

It started raining on Wednesday afternoon (it's Saturday now and it still hasn't stopped!!!) so we decided to drive down to Yokosuka Naval Base, south of here, on Tokyo Bay, instead. Their American shopping and dining options are 100 times better than ours; the stores are bigger, have way more selection and the prices are cheaper. And they have all the fast food places that we don't: Long John Silver's, Manchu Wok and Dunkin Donuts just to name a few. They have a Chili's on base too, one of only TWO in Japan! The other one is on a base in Okinawa. We're getting one on Yokota too, it's supposed to open in early 2009 I think.

Yokosuka is only 45 km (28 mi) from here, but it took us 2 hours to get there. I've never heard from anyone who's been able to get there any faster, and it can easily jump to 4 + hours, like it did when I went on the tour to Kamakura.

Yikes! Updated!

I completely forgot that I took a few pictures on my Ebisu adventure.


My train approaching Seibu-Tachikawa station.
This is a good station to use if you want to park right at the station, and it's really cheap, only 100Y/hr with an 800Y maximum. All the other stations around the base require walking for several blocks from where you park; it's not terribly far, but if you've been hoofin' it around Tokyo for 8 + hours or hiking Mt. Fuji, those 4 - 5 blocks back to your car at the end of the day can feel like miles

I forgot to add this in my Train Riding Tutorial. These were the next 3 trains arriving at Platform 3. The first 2 characters in each line tell you whether the train is a local or an express: red for express, orange for local.


Crane chain.

After I finished my orientation I wandered up and down a few alleys on my way back to the train station. I found a small shrine down one. It's kind of hard to tell, but this chain is made out of 1000 origami cranes. Japanese legends say that a person who folds 1000 cranes will have their wish granted. The little wooden boards are called ema, you buy one at the shrine and write your prayer on the back, then hang it here for the gods to read.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yikes!

My title header is very obviously a work in progress. Equally obvious is the fact that I still have no clue what I'm doing with this site! Be patient with me, I'll get it eventually.

Double Yikes! I haven't updated in nearly two weeks! Nothing much going on, just wrapping up with all the kids' end-of-year junk.

I finally made it to Tokyo for the orientation at Gaba, it was really disappointing. It took about a week of planning to get everyone's schedules arranged so that I could be on the train by 2:45p to make the 5:00p meeting.

I didn't have any problems finding my trains or making my connections and had planned to be in Ebisu (the area of Tokyo where Gaba is headquartered) by 4:15p, in plenty of time to grab a bite to eat at Wendy's (only the 2nd one I've seen in Japan!). I should know by now that no matter how well I plan, I'll never make it anywhere on time! There was an accident on the last train line I had to take, my train was delayed almost 45 minutes!!! That was 45 minutes spent standing on the train, wondering what was going on, checking my watch every 2 minutes, knowing I'd never make the meeting on time, wishing I could understand the steady stream of announcements, despairing over whether or not I had time to run back to the ice cream vending machine for a frozen Crunky.... The Japan Rail service is notorious for it's punctuality! The trains are NEVER late! Until I get on them!!! So I made it to the meeting with only 5 minutes to spare, sweating like a stuffed pig!

There were about 12 people at the orientation: a couple of Americans, some Aussies, a few Brits and one or two other nationalities that I didn't find out. First we had an overview of the company and the teaching program, then we were given a screening test....did you know the verb teach can be conjugated 13 different ways???? Crap! Then they tell us that you only get paid 1500 yen, around $15 per 40 minute lesson. The going rate around the base is $30 - $45 per lesson!!! Next, I find out that you only teach at Gaba learning centers, the closest of which is easily a 45 minute commute from my house. On top of all that, you have to wear a black suit whenever you teach. Quadruple crap! It cost me $16 (parking + train) and 5 hours to do this orientation, I'd have to spend another $16 going back next week for a 2nd interview, then another $48 to go back for the 3-day training. When it's all said and done I'd have to teach at least 10 classes before I make any money! As you've probably guessed by now, I won't be working for Gaba.

We're heading for Lake Kawaguchi in the Fuji Five Lakes area tomorrow (on our own!!!). So I'll have an update and pics soon!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Be prepared for photo overload!


Yesterday was my trip to Kamakura with some of the girls from my YOSC culture group. We left at 7:30a and got back at 9:30p!! We spent about 10 hours travelling around on the bus: 2 4-hour stretches and about 2 hours getting between destinations, which gave us about 4 hours spread between 5 different stops.

Our first stop was Misaki, a little fishing town on the very tip of Tokyo Bay where it opens to the Pacific ocean. First we stopped at a park over looking some bluffs, then a little lighthouse where there were some shops and we had a yummy lunch, and finally a big fish market. Next we went to Kurihama Flowerworld in Yokohama. Our last stop was the Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura. It was a long, exhausting day, but we had so much fun. The Japanese ladies are really great and we always have a good time with them.

I'm going to do 5 seperate blog entries, there's just too much to tell and soooo many pictures (I took 130!) I'd end up with one looooooong entry! So I'll keep this one on top and the other entries will follow, it will probably take me a couple of days to get it all up.

The culture group is officially over for now, but will start up again in October. I think there usually 4-5 groups to choose from, but I'm definitely joining this one again. Most of the same Japanese ladies come back every year to their same groups too.

Jogashima Island

Our first stop was the park on Jogsahima island near the port of Misaki on Sagami Bay. It took us about 4 hours on the bus. The weather was absolutely perfect.


The views were spectacular. It's been 9 months since I've seen the ocean. I didn't realize how much I missed it!

This was our tour guide in the park, Matsu-san. He graduated from Michigan State University 20 years ago and still speaks perfect English.


We didn't have nearly enough time to spend here, it was so beautiful, we all wished we could have stayed longer.

Jogashima Todai

The next tour stop was Jogashima todai (lighthouse). The views from the top of the hill where the lighthouse was perched were well worth the 90 steep steps we had to climb to get to the top! Only 5 of us ventured up.


We climbed down the other side to the rocky beach, again it was all just so beautiful.


My tootsies in the Pacific!

A small shrine in a cave below the lighthouse.




My yummy lunch! Fried tuna and a jumbo shrimp. The big, covered bowl is rice. The small bowl nearest the plate is raw tuna balls marinated in some kind of sauce (yes, I ate it!!!!)





Mixed in with the pictures from Jogashima below is a picture of our cutie patootie tour guide, Yamada. It was his first day on the job. And a pic of a Japanese-style toilet, a squatty potty (for those of you who've never seen one).






Misaki Urari

Our third stop was the Misaki urari (fishmarket). The tour bus had coolers and dry ice in the luggage compartment for anyone who wanted to buy any seafood. On a side note not related to the trip, all the grocery stores provide dry ice if you need it for your frozen goods and have hot and cold lockers at the front of the store where you can put your food while you do other shopping.

A massive tuna head

Me and a fish seller. I asked him if I could take his picture, but he grabbed someone passing by to take the pic and insisted that I be in it with him. He even grabbed that fish to pose with us.


Kurihama Hananokuri



We moved on, again much too quickly, to Kurihama Flower World, a beautiful park with a huge field of poppies in full bloom. The poppies bloom from mid-April to early June, in the fall they're replaced by cosmos. The park was huge with lots of stuff to do, but of course, we didn't have time to do more than hike to the top of the poppy field, but it was so pretty and we took tons of great pictures.



At the very top of the next picture you can see an electrician checking the power lines. He was on some kind of two-wheeled conveyance that was attached to the lines below him and he was pulling himself along, by hand, on another wire. The poppy field was about 300 yards wide and he pulled himself across the full length! At first I thought it might be some kind of crazy amusement park ride!

The view, looking down torwards the entrance, from about halfway up the field. I'd love to go back in the fall the see the cosmos.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Our last stop was the shrine. This was my first visit to a shrine, totally worth the 9 hours it took to get there! Above is the tori gate at the main entrance.



This is where you wash your hands before entering the temple.


These are omikuji (fortune) machines. You put in 100 yen and get a printed fortune. The Japanese ladies were all very surprised at this, none of them had ever seen a machine dispensing omikuji, usually there's some kind of big jug or something that you pick up and shake your omikuji out of.


This was my omikuji. "Kyo means if your are careful now your fortune will improve in the future." That sounded pretty decent to me, but Kaori said it wasn't.


If your omikuji is good you keep it, if its bad you tie it on one of these ropes so the gods can take it back.



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Praying in the temple. You toss in your offering (coins), clap two times, bow and say your prayer. You can toss your coins or clap first which ever you prefer.








Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jusco Bakery

The girls and I went to my favorite department store, Jusco (short u like just, long o), to shop for a birthday present, and had to stop at their yummy bakery.



As with nearly every bakery and donut shop in Japan, this one is self service. You pick up a tray and a pair of tongs at the front, make your selections and take them to the cashier. At this bakery they indiviually bag each item, then put them all in one big bag.

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I love croissants so that's what I got, planning to butter them up for b'fast the next morning. Imagine my totally scrumptuated surprise when I took them out of the toaster oven, stuck in my knife and melted chocolate oozed out!!!! Yummy!!!

My future Solid Gold dancer

I haven't thought of that show in ages! Anyone else remember it? I found some clips on YouTube, so corny! It's hiliarious to remember how cool we thought those dancers were. I showed the clips to the girls and they were literally rolling on the floor laughing!

It appears Ethan may have added a few new moves to his dance repertoire, some head bobbin', a little shoulder shruggin'...either that, or he's have some sort of spastic seizure.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Hootie! Shibuya!

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Gabi turned 14 today. I have to keep saying that over and over: Gabi turned 14 today! Several of my Japanese students said they couldn't believe I was old enough to have a 14-year-old! (Yes, flattery will get you everywhere and they're all getting A's! ) We didn't do much, just presents, pizza and cake. Gabi's best friend turned 14 today as well and they've planned a big sleepover and cookout for the weekend at Kelekah's house.

A few years ago I started the tradition of decorating the kids' bathroom mirror the night before each one's birthday so my birthday wishes would be the first thing they saw when they woke up on their b-day. I think I started it with Isiah because Otis and I left for work before he woke up every day but I wanted to wish him a happy birthday before he left for school. The tradition continues, even though the bathroom mirror here is 1/4 the size of the one we had in the States!


On a cute note, we always sing the chorus of 50 Cent's In Da Club "Go shorty, it's your birthday..." replacing the shorty with the b-day person's name. For the longest time Ethan couldn't say "It's your birthday" it would come out "Shi-boo-ya!", so that's what we all started saying: "Go Ethan, shibooya, shibooya!" when we got to Japan we found out there's a section of Tokyo called Shibuya. Weird.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Brothers

Ethan loves Fen so much, he calls him "my brother". Anytime Fen lays down Ethan lays across his front legs and says "Look! My brother's holding me!" Fen loves him too, they play together all the time. Ethan doesn't like it when Otis and Fen rough-house, he screams "Papi, don't touch my dog!"




It's Over!!!

What an absolutely miserable day!!!! It started raining last night and hasn't stopped yet, but neither girls' events were cancelled. Gabi had to be at the track at 7:30a (thank God she rides with the coach!) and Megan had to be at her field at 9:30a. It was really cold, only 44 when we left and both of their uniforms are shorts and tank tops! Megan's team had to forfeit because they didn't have enough players, but the coaches decided to go ahead a play a full 1.5 hour game, in the rain, "just for fun".

Then we headed over to the high school to catch the rest of Gabi's meet. BIG MISTAKE! Today was the final meet, there were 10 schools, each with at least 1 highschool and 1 middle school team, a few schools had both Varsity and JV highschool teams, in addition to a middle school team. That meant upwards of 20 teams!!!!!!!!! Competing in 15 events! I never got a total count, but there were 13 school busses for the away teams. Otis stayed home with Ethan b/c he's got strep throat, but he came out around 3:30 to bring us all dry clothes, towels and coats, Gabi changed socks 4 times because she was so completely soaked. Megan went home with him, but I stuck it out 'til the end......6:00pm! Gabi was out there for 10.5 hours in the cold and rain, but she ran well and is really looking forward to being on the highschool team next year.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Gabi Tarantino

This is what you get when you give a 13-year-old a cell phone with a video/camera:

Gabi's best friend Kelekah


Gangsta' Gabi


* Note how the middle seats in my van can swivel around backwards






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Gabi at home babysitting Ethan, she was the only one who didn't have plans that night.


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She comes home everyday with 20 minutes worth of pictures and videos that we all have to sit and watch. For her birthday Otis got her a bigger memory card for the phone and an adapter that lets her hook it up to her computer (right now mine is the only computer that can retreive stuff off her phone) I'm thinking about setting her up a blog of her own to post her "masterpieces", some of it's actually pretty funny.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Akiruno Community Center

This is the Akiruno community center where I teach my English class. There's a 3-story wing to the right that I couldn't get in the picture, my classroom is there on the 3rd floor. It's going really well. One lady plays tennis competetively, another golfs all around the world, one's a competetive ballroom dancer and the only guy in the class is a retired fisherman. Several of them have kids living in other countries, one has a daughter in Arizona, another has a son in Germany. They're all really interesting and ask great questions.

So far we've just worked out of their workbooks and then had lots of discussions about the topics. They were very surprised to hear the term "hands of the clock" none of them knew they were called hands. They were also very interested in s'mores, another thing no one had ever heard of. Our topic this week was vacations, so I bought a bunch of American travel magazines and brought them to class, which sent them into an absolute tizzy.



Next month they're taking me out to a Welcome lunch. A friend of the girl I took this class over from teaches a Thursday morning class here as well, I think she may be leaving soon, I'd love to take her class too.
There's a big company called Gaba that specializes in English classes and all sorts of English translation activities that is currently hiring instructors. The only thing is that I have to be able to get into Tokyo by 5:00p on a Wed or Thur for an orientation, then do a 3-day training workshop in Tokyo. So far it's been tricky trying to get it coordinated with all the kids' schedules and Otis' various after work meetings and commitees, but this is Gabi's last week of track practice, so maybe next week we can work something out. Otis might have to take 3 days of leave for me to be able to get in for the training, I'm sure there's some sort of plan that will require me to spend the night in Tokyo (wink, wink) ....I'll keep you posted.

Shake it baby, shake!

Another earthquake! And at least 2 aftershocks! This was the biggest one I've felt so far! I say that everytime, I think they're getting stronger. This one hit around 2:45a, it woke me from a dead sleep and was strong enough to make me get up and check on everybody; no one else felt it. This was the 4th or 5th one I've felt since we got here. With the exception of one that hit one night around 8:00p, they've all hit in the very early morning hours and no one but me has felt them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

This is the label on a bottle of Dr. Pepper that Meg got from the soda machine at the ball field after practice today.

She's saying "It's Showtime!" and yes, she is pulling a Dr. Pepper gun from betwix her more than ample, less than clothed bosom. There's no indication on the bottle who she is or what it's for.

Katakuri Park

Japanese schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday for Golden Week. On Tuesday Ethan and I went to a really cool park with my friends Jan and Tomio. Jan's two kids go to Ethan's school and Tomio's 3 boys used to, now they go to a preschool closer to the base and a Japanese elementary school.




The park was beautiful with miles of hiking trails, a series of ponds with boardwalks and bridges and a really cool obstacle course going all through the hills. It's not far from the base at all, I can't believe I never knew it was there. We're definitely going back soon with Otis and the girls.


I was just trying to take pictures of the park, but you know I can't resist shoving my cute kid in front of the camera.

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Ethan and Tomio-san coming down the big slide.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Japanese vs. American Preschool

Just a few differences I've noticed so far.....



*This is Ethan's outside hat and his inside shoes. Anytime the kids are outside, on the playground or on a field trip, etc., they wear their colored hat. Each class is a different color, so the teachers are able to easily identify the kids in their class. Everytime they enter the building, they take off their regular shoes and put on their inside shoes. Yes, they look a little girl-y to American eyes, but they're absolutely non-gender specific and nearly all students at all schools wear them, including high school, I've even seen some male teachers wearing them. Everybody has a little shoe bag to carry them in that matches the backpack.

*Lunch is catered 3 days a week by an o-bento company, it's traditional Japanese food; 2 days a week they cook at school, its almost always Udon, a ramen type soup with fat noodles. Once a month they have a birthday party for all the kids whose b-day is that month, the kids bring thier own lunch on those days. We have to provide the kids' own cup and utensils everyday and their own bowl on udon days.

*There are no paper towels. Each kid brings their own cloth towel for drying hands, they come w/ a little loop sewn on and hang from a big rack in the hall.

*As with many Japanese buildings, there is no central heat or air conditioning, Japanese schools are notorious for being freezing cold in the winter, and it's recommended that you send a bottle of water in the warmer months to help your child stay cool.

*Saturday care is available every weekend (for an fee), they take field trips and do lots of fun stuff. And nearly all functions that parents are asked to attend (performances, etc) are held on Saturdays.

*Several times a year they have Observation Day, also on Saturdays, where parents come and observe the kids as they go through a normal school day; I'm very curious to see "normal" the day will be with 400 parents and assorted family members hovering in the background and 200 cameras and camcorders rolling.

*If your child attends a daycare/preschool in the same city you live in, you can get childcare assistance money from the city government.


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The Emperors of Customer Service

The one thing that Japan absolutely excels at (not the only thing of course), or maybe its the one the the U.S. totally sucks at, is Customer Service. Go in any store in Japan and you totally get the feeling that every person working there wants nothing more in the world than to make you, the customer, happy. At many department stores, every morning all the store managers line up at the doors to bow and great customers as the store opens, and as the first customers make their way through the store, all the employees are lined up in front of their departements, bowing and welcoming everyone. As you enter any store at any time you will never fail to hear a chorus of "Irasshaimase!" Welcome! and you'll hear it 10 more times as each employee sees you while you're walking through the store.

Today I went to the Daiei (kind of like a Super Wal-Mart), as I was getting in line to pay it was really busy, I was 9th in line and there were only 6 registers open. Suddenly a bell rang and swarms of employees came running from the back of the store. They opened every single register!!! All 14 of them!!! They have a double cashier system that's used when its extra busy, the first cashier scans your items through, then the second one takes your money, the first cashier can start ringing up the next person while you're still paying and getting your change. They had managers and guys from the produce and meat departments running the second registers and I was out of there in under 10 minutes. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tama Time


Tunnel to nowhere


We spent the weekend at Tama Hills. They have a lodge, single family cabins and huge four-family cabin that you can rent, we went with 4 other families, I think there were about 22 of us all together, including 12 kids. They all stayed in the big cabin and the 5 of us ended up staying in the lodge instead. We had a huge mess of grilled up meat and tons of other food and just sat around eating and talking, we played cards and did a little dancing (with a bit of alchoholic assistance, of course). The kids built a little fire and we roasted marshmallows and made s'mores. We all had a really great time.
The lodge has a nice restaurant and I was so excited about getting to eat breakfast there, I miss my IHOPs and Waffle Houses so much, breakfast is my favorite meal to eat out. Unfortnately, the "assistance" I'd received Saturday night turned out to be quite a bit more helpful than I needed......I'm sure you can figure out where I spent my morning.

The Girl Scouts are having summer camp at Tama in June, 5 days/4 nights, Megan is going (Gabi has decided GS isn't her thing) then the high school and middle school cross country teams are having sleep-away camp up there in August, I think it's 4 nights this year, Gabi and Meg will both be going.



Check out the rest of the pictures in the next entry.

Tama Time Pix

I figured out how to do this after I typed the whole Tama entry and really didn't want to re-do the entire thing, so, here are the rest of the pix from our weekend. If you get a prompt to register and create an account, just X out of it and it'll go back to the pictures.

Friday, May 2, 2008

All praises to the donut deities!

Holy hot n' glazey Batman! They've built a Krispy Kreme in Tachikawa station!!!!!!!!!!!
I stopped and called Otis immediately; it just opened last weekend!


Sadly, a box of one dozen donuts was 1600Y (about $16.00)!!!!! And the wait was nearly 1.5 hours long, so I opted for a stop at an almost as tastey Mister Donut instead. They make a yummy donut with a caramel/almond glaze.

I stopped to eat my donuts at this cute little park on the walk home from the train station.