Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hanami

Of course! What else would a blog from Japan be about this week?

I have major hanami plans. With that damn "leaving Japan" clock still relentlessly ticking away in my head, and my chronic worrying and obsessive planning, I've got it in my head that I must treat this spring as if it were our last in Japan. We actually still have one more spring, but who knows what could happen between now and then? I'd hate to put things off until next year, and run the risk of something happening, and we end up missing sakura season next year!

I plan on visiting a different place everyday, for as long as the blossoms last. Although within Tokyo, I can probably visit several places in one trip. Here are my top choices.......we'll definitely be going to Kamakura (on Alisa's recommendation), Shinjuku Gyoen, Aoyama Reien (it sounds crazy, but I love this cemetery! It's really beautiful, but I've never been in the spring, so I'm super excited), around Naka Meguro, I'd also love to do a river cruise like Amy suggests, and we could do Sumida Park too, Chidorigafuchi and Yasukuni Shrine, Shiba Park, I know there was someplace else........can't remember now.

But I'm so torn about the timing! I watch the news every night to find out about blooming, and have been using the trees on base and in Fussa as a gauge, but I'm worried the flowers in Tokyo maybe blooming earlier than ours and we'll miss them! But I also don't have time to re-arrange my schedule for additional trips to the city if we go and the nothings blooming yet.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Read the fine print!

On the last day of school, E brought home all his stuff, like his craft box, communication notebook, lunch book, etc., he also brought home his tuition stamp card. Every month, an envelope was sent home for tuition, it had a stamp card in it that would be stamped on the date tuition was paid.

I noticed last night that there was a break down of the tuition expenses on the back of the card (you could only see the front of the card in the envelope, and I never had any reason to take it out). Turns out I've been paying Y6500 every month for lunch!!!!!!! The lunch he NEVER eats! I've been making his bento every day for.....at least 4 months! Damn it!

I was a bit disappointed that they continued to take my money for a lunch they knew wasn't being served, but I'm hoping it was mearly an administrative oversight. I know, I know, I should have been paying closer attention, I should have read the fine print, but I didn't realize, and wasn't expecting, a break down of expenses like that :( Fortunately, when I asked about it today, the principal told me that of course I didn't have to pay if E was bringing a lunch from home, and that I could just send Y300 on udon days when I know he'll eat the school lunch. No mention of reimbursing me for all those lunches he didn't have, but at least this year's tuition is down Y6500/mth, and BONUS: today we got our childcare subsidy for the 2nd semester, Y39,000! Woo hoo!
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I'm a little embarrassed by E's bentos. Japanese moms have honestly turned lunch making into an art form, some of the box lunches they make belong in a museum! And they use the cutest little bento boxes and bags, and adorable little accessories. Ethan will have none of it! His bento box is compliments of Tupperware, it's one of those little divided plates with 3 different sections for food, with a lid. And he has THE EXACT SAME LUNCH.EVERY.SINGLE.DAY: half a bologna & cheese sandwich, no crust, cut in triangles, goldfish, a cheesestick and half a banana. I can only imagine what his sensei must think of American moms when she sees Ethan's lunch. But if I try to change even one little thing, like pretzels instead of goldfish, or God forbid, cutting his sandwich in a cute star shape instead of triangles, he won't eat it. But hey, it's super cheap, and super quick, so I really can't complain!
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

At last, we meet

I didn't go to E's last parent-teacher conference this year, what's the point really? I won't understand anything that's being said, and how important could it really be? It's pre-preschool for goodness sake!

So imagine my surprise when E brought home a 3-page HAND WRITTEN letter (6 pages actually, 3 in Japanese, 3 of the English translation) from his sensei! She went into lots of detail telling me about E's progress, blah, blah, blah, it was super nice, and apparently he falls just short of sainthood and is nearly a genius, which is actually Japanese code for: he doesn't bite his classmates or pinch the heads off lizards, and hasn't yet eaten his jar of paste. She told me he's speaking quite a bit of Japanese, loves to sing and knows all his classmates names (and can hand out their notebooks to the right kid, so he's memorized all their stickers too!). She also mentioned his girlfriend: "For some reason, he calls Mitsuki-chan his girlfriend." No idea how he came up with Nani-chan a few weeks ago, unless this is another girlfriend?

Although the school year is over, E's school offers daycare during the break, so E will still go to school on the days I teach, but they only have a few kids, and they're all in one big class together. I took him for the first time today, and he was not a happy camper! He's such a creature of habit, he wants everything exactly the same, all the time. He doesn't like change at all. He was very upset that he couldn't go into HIS class, with HIS sensei and HIS friends, even though he knew all the kids and teachers there today. He was crying as I was leaving so one of the teachers brought over a little girl and said "Look Ethan, here's your girlfriend! Here's Mitsuki-chan!" M-chan patted his back, then took his hand and led him to the sandbox, she was speaking to him in Japanese the whole time, but he didn't say anything back(!) It was so freakin' adorable, I nearly puked! I guess he talks about her enough that everyone at the school knows she's his "girlfriend". She was so cute and sweet, I can see why he likes her!
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George Washington and General Tso

Last week (or was it the week before?), I took myself down to Yokosuka for a little retail and culinary therapy.
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I've posted before about how much better the shopping and food options are on the Navy base than they are here, and I just love everything about the base and the area. I love, love, love that it's on the water (the one thing I really miss about living FL).
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I hit the NEX (base department store) first, they carry the make-up and hair products I like, but can't get up here, as well as a better selection of undies and socks. And then, there's the shoe department. Our's is a tiny little corner in the very back of the store, Yokosuka's is easily 4 times that size, with 10 times the selection.
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Next I headed to Chili's. I don't crave American food as badly as I used to, feeling like I'd die if I didn't get a blue cheese burger and garlic mashed potatoes every week. But I still love Chili's and am happy to have it whenever I can.
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I love the Yokosuka Chili's because it sits right on the water.
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The view from my table

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I'll put this out there right now, before you scroll any further: I made a total and complete hog of myself! In my defense, in preparation for this binge, I ate very little dinner the night before, and had no breakfast, so I was totally starving by the time I got there. And I ended up taking more than half of it home, to finish over the next 2 days. So it really wasn't as bad as it seems!

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The orange goop in the bowl is Skillet Queso dip, basically melted cheese mixed with chili. It's one of my two most favorite things at Chili's, I've gotten it every single time I've ever been to Chili's. I also had honey bbq ribs and sirloin, garlic mashed potatoes and fries (w/ honey mustard for dipping)

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This is my absolute favorite food in the world. A hot fudge brownie sundae, in any variation or flavor. The one at Chili's is absolutely divine, it's called Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie. I ate every scrumptious bite, nearly licked the plate! Ooooohhh, I'm drooling just looking at it!

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After stuffing my face, I rolled myself out to the van, and took a drive around the base.

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Hooray! The USS George Washington was in port! The GW is a Nimitz class nuclear-powered supercarrier (the largest aircraft carriers in the world)

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I see these subs every time, or at least some subs, not sure if it's always these, but had never gotten up close. I was surprised to see that they were Japanese submarines.

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Before I left I also stopped a LJS, Otis' fave, and got him two fish combo meals, one for now, one for later.

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And I stopped at the Manchu Wok to stock up on American Chinese food. For those who don't know, American Chinese food is very different from Japanese Chinese food, or Chinese Chinese food. It's more...fast-foody, it's sweeter and has loads more sauce (you can never have too much sauce!). I got General Tso's chicken, sesame chicken, orange chicken, black pepper chicken, 3 orders of lo mein and 6 egg rolls (fast food Chinese egg rolls are the BEST!) This all lasted nearly a week, Gabi took some to school for lunch several times, so did E and we had it for dinner a time or two.

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I can't wait to go back in May for Girl Scout training!
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grrrrrrrrrr

Sorry! Some of the pix in the marathon post are messed up, but I'm too tired to fix them tonight. I'll take care of it tomorrow!
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Marathon Man

Wow! What a day! The marathon was totally awesome! We left Yokota at 6:15a, driving to Roppongi to meet up with the running club from the base, M was going to ride the train into Shibuya with them, since many of them are old pros at the T-Town marathon. Our cheering squad included M's wife H, his cousin S and our friend C.

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Some of the Yokota Striders running club.

M is kneeling on the far right.

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We got to Roppongi in record time, arriving at exactly 7:15. We parked the van at the Hardy Barracks (a tiny Navy outpost in Roppongi) and jumped on the subway at Nogizaka. I spent most of the night with a pile of maps and good ol' Google Earth, figuring out which places would give us the best vantage points and which trains to take in which direction.

Our first stop was going to be the 10k mark at the intersection at Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace. We got there a few minutes after 8:00 and headed to McD's for some oh-so-yummy b'fast and made it to the intersection in plenty of time to see the first wheel chair racers and runners. M hit the 10k point at 46 min.

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Runner's computer chip.

This is how the runners' times and locations were tracked.

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The first pack of wheelchair racers

The front runners at 10k.

In the lead is Kenyan Salim Kipsang, who won the marathon in an astounding 2hr 10 min!

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Japanese runners love to dress up in crazy costumes when they race, and today was no exception! There were tons of very colorful characters! (Lots of...........penial (?) costumes) Most of the really funny ones were way in the back, so we never saw them because M stayed in the first 1/4 of the pack for the entire race.

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This guy wasn't racing, he was on the sidelines next to us. When we walked up, he pointed at his hat and emphatically declared: "This is T-rex, not Godzilla!" Um, okay dude.

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From Hibiya, we walked about 4 blocks to Ginza 4 Chome, and up Ginza Dori, saw M pass in both directions, then headed to Ginza Itchome station.

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Runners on Ginza Dori, on the left, runners heading towards the turn around in Asakusa, runners on the right have already turned around nearing the 34k mark.

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M at 34k

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We got off at Toyosu to switch to the Yurikamome line, but M had already passed this point, so we watched for a few minutes, then headed for Ariake and Tokyo Big Sight, to the finish line.

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Italic

A giant saw stuck in the ground at Tokyo Big Sight

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All marathon finishers received a medal
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M finished the marathon in a blazing 3 hr 33 min!!!! Way to go Marathon Man! We're so proud of you! He really felt like crap immediately afterwards, he was in a lot of pain, nauseous and completely exhausted both mentally and physically, he was nearly in tears, cursing himself for doing something so stupid, swearing he'd never run another race. But 2 hrs later, after a beer and a sandwich, he was telling us about all the mistakes he'd made that he'll be sure not to make next year!

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We had an awesome time! I've decided to run the 10k portion of the marathon next year! But tonight my feet are so sore, I feel as if I ran the marathon myself!

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Runnin' with the BIG DOGS!

More like, the HUGE dogs! Tomorrow, my friend and next door neighbor (and the dad of Meg's BFF) will be running in the Tokyo Marathon!!!! It's his first marathon, and he's been training hard for about 6 mths. His goal is to run it in under 4 hours!!! Can you believe that? 26 miles/41 k in less than four hours!!!
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To give you an idea of just how huge this race is, last year the famous Boston Marathon had about 22,000 runners, the Tokyo Marathon is restricted to 30,000! This year, over 220,000 runners applied!!!!!!!!!!!! A group of us will be heading to T-town to cheer him on. Should be an exciting day!
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GANBATTE M!!! YOU CAN DO IT!
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GNO

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Last Friday was my friend Amanda's 30th b-day. Her hubby is deployed, so she's doing the single-parent-thing with their FOUR kids! Yikes! Understandably, she was feeling kind of blue on her b-day, so a bunch of us decided to take her out for dinner, then for drinks and slots at the Club on base. It's been soooooo long since I've had a Girls' Night Out! We had a really great time!
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We headed to Gratzie Gardens in Hamura for dinner. I didn't get any pictures, I was starving! By the time our food arrived, I was too busy stuffing my pie hole to take pictures. But it was totally YUM! I got the cheese fondue appetizer, the spaghetti carbonara and garlic breadsticks.
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After din-din we headed back to the base to the Enlisted Club for a few drinks and to play the slot machines. I'm not a big slots player, gambling makes my stomache hurt! Risking all that money for just the slightest chance of winning? I played $1.00 on the penny machine.
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We had a great time and I think we took Amanda's mind off missing her hubs for a little while. >
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I can't remember the last time I actually sat a bar!

The legal drinking age in Japan, both on and off base, is 20.

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We toasted Amanda's b-day with a shot called WTF (Most of you probably know what that stands for!) it was soooooo good! We were very responsible, you can see our desginated driver joining the toast.

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We had 3 more shots before the night was over!
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My slot machine. I didn't win a single penny!
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Friday, March 20, 2009

MORE Girl Scout training!

Party! Woo hoo! I mean...umm....I'm really glad that the Girl Scouts are so conscientious about insuring their adults are throughly trained and qualified to lead the organization.

This time it's 3 days in Yokosuka! Chili's, here I come!
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Umemi

Last week I ventured out to Ome, to Yoshino Baigo, to see the ume, or plum blossoms. They look pretty similar to cherry blossoms, and come in lots of variations of pink. This was my first time going out to Ome for the blossoms, it's the best place in the Kanto area for umemi (plum blossom viewing) and only about a 30 min drive from my house.
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The blossoms didn't peak until this week, with the plum blossom festival running from the 15th - 22nd, but they were still really pretty. Even though the festival wasn't starting for another 3 days, there were still lots of food stalls and vendors set up. The post office was even out there, selling some very nice ume stamps.
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To get to the park you wind your way through some neighborhoods where all the farmers had stands set up selling fresh produce and ume yummies.
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The weather was perfect, a little windy in the morning, but bright, sunny and cool, perfect weather for hiking through the blossoms.
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I had a great time and enjoyed myself alot, I thinking about going back out on Monday to see how the blossoms look.
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Entering the park, looking towards the top. If you look carefully, just below the highest tree line, you can see the guardrail of the hiking trail; that was where I was headed.
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Enjoying my bento under the blossoms
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View from the top
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WARNING!

Just in case you're thinking that because your tongue is a wet, slick surface, super glue won't stick to it.........let me warn you now, it will! And not only will the super glue adhere to your tongue, it also transfers with lightening speed to your lips and the roof of your mouth!
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Okay, I've warned you, what you choose to do with that warning is entirely up to you.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Udon

Two weeks ago, one of my culture groups gathered at one of our members, Midiori's, house to learn how to make udon. Midori's husband Saiki to the day off of work to help us, since Midori says she doesn't know how to make udon!

There were 11 of us crammed into Midori's tiny Japanese house. We had three udon-making stations set up, two on the floor, one on the table.
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Udon is made of flour and salt water
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Next, place the dough inside two plastic bags and knead it some more, with your feet !
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Next comes rolling, rolling, rolling, until the dough is really smooth and flat.
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Fold the dough back and forth over on itself to form 4 layers. You use the small piece of wood, sort of like a trowel, to help make straight cuts and keep the noodle size uniform.
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Fresh noodles ready for boiling
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Saiki-san grilling some tuna on the hibachi
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We cooked the noodles in the back garden, in a huge pot over an open fire
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We also made tons of tempura: shrimp, egglant, sweet potatoe, some green stuff
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The finished product!
The broth is just hot water, soy sauce and boiled pork
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We had a great day! Making udon is really hard work, but knowing how much work we'd put into it made our lunch even more delicious!
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Am I a complete idiot?

We all know about the "economic crisis" in the U.S., and the ripple effect it's caused all over the world. Okay, maybe "know" about is a little strong, at least we've all heard about the crisis. It's on the news all day, everyday, with all kinds of charts and graphs and stories and arguments and solutions, blah, blah, blah. But I just don't get it. I don't understand what's happening, why it's happening, or what needs to be done to fix it.

Then I saw this video on several blogs:



The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
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Everyone's going on and on about what a great video it is, how it does a great job of explaing the credit crisis in simple, easy to understand terms, with pictures!
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Yeah, I've watched it 8 times. I still don't get it. It's almost like people are speaking a foreign language. I understand the words they're saying, but I don't know what any of them mean, and when you stringing them all together in sentences, I'm totally lost.

I understand that 10's of 1,000's of people are losing their jobs, 1,000's of people are losing their homes, even people with excellent credit are having difficulties getting loans and credit. But those are just results of the crisis. I have no idea what the actual crisis is, or what started it, or how to fix it. I know about the bail outs, and why people are so angry about them, but why were they necessary in the first place? What would have really happened if the government had done nothing? I know about the Stimulus Package (the main thing I know is that it does not give me a check in my hand! Just a lousy tax break that will basically equal nothing in my hand!) and that some view it as a "pork-laden boondoggle" (that's an actual quote from the Gov. of South Carolina) Am I the only one who's completely clueless about this?
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

So weird, but sooooo funny!

I was organizing my pix and videos tonight, and came across these from our Thanksgiving trip to Tokyo that I didn't post.
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We went to Odaiba one night, and at Aqua City mall, there was the crew of guys, one in a white body suit (he looked like a giant sperm in tennis shoes) doing all kinds of crazy stuff all over the mall, another was filming him and two others were "wardrobe", getting him in and out of the suit as they ran from place to place. It was hysterical!
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They were running all over the mall, and I was following trying to get some video with my own camera. We finally caught up with them in Toys R Us, Sperm Guy was going all over the store, playing next to kids, they'd be totally oblivious to him, then suddenly realize there was a huge, white freak playing beside them.

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We never really figured out what they were doing, I've tried searching YouTube, but what on earth would you search for? And I'm sure if it's there, it's titled in Japanese, so no hope with that. But the little bit of clipage I got is so funny!

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Girl Scouts in Tokyo!

Finally, the Girl Scout Winter Conference!
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Back in Feb, I went to the GS Winter Conference in Tokyo, at my favorite place, the New Sanno! Woo hoo! The conference was for all adult GS leaders and staff in the West Pacific region: mainland Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Thailand, China, etc. The conference was Feb. 19 - 21, but I went a day early, then O and the kids came by bus on the 21st, and we stayed one more night. 5 days at the Sanno, absolute paradise!
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When I arrived on Wed afternoon, I headed of for my new "usual", a frap and chocolate chunk scone at the Starbuck's up the street, then went to run some errands: paid my cell phone bill at a combini, shipped a package via Black Cat, bought some stamps and mailed some postcards, got a new battery for my watch. Man, was I ever feeling metropolitan, cruising my way around Tokyo, breezing in and out of shops. I walked all over Azabu and Hiroo, down lots of streets I'd never been before, exploring lots of different neighborhoods. It was so great to be out on my own, no worries about anyone being bored by just wandering aimlessly around town, which is my absolute favorite thing to do.
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After walking for literally hours, I was headed back towards the hotel, planning to get dinner on Hiroo's shotengai, a cute little street filled with tons of great shops and restaurants. I passed by Queensway Reflexology, a foot massage place. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how heavenly at foot massage sounded at that moment, after 4 hours hoofing it around the city! They had a huge menu board outside and I saw I could get a 45 min massage for only Y2500! Yes! The lights were really low inside, with a few candles lit and soft music was playing. There were 6 recliners, all empty. My masseuse directed me to a recliner, gave me a warm buckwheat pillow for my neck and a warm, scented eye mask. I relaxed back in chair while he worked his magic on my barking dogs for the next 45 min. I think I even dozed of once or twice! Pure bliss!
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After my wonderful massage, I headed further down the street and decided to eat a Zest Burger. There was a huge window where you could watch the burgers being made from huge slabs of meat. I just had a regular cheeseburger set w/ drink bar. Really yummy! I headed back to the hotel and met up with a bunch of other early arrivers at the bar. We hung out for a few hours, sampling drinks and munching on bar food. It was the perfect ending to my perfect day!
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The next morning there was an opening/welcome ceremony at 8:30, but my first class wasn't until 10:00, so I slept in (hey, I paid to attend this conference, I'm damn well going to enjoy myself!) then went down to the Emporium for a of delicious french toast b'fast.
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I'm going to become an Adult Facilitator (adult trainer) for the GS, so I registered for a 4-part "Train the Trainer" workshop. The first day we had two 1.5 hr classes, with a 2 hr lunch break in between. I slipped out at lunch to grab a bite at Yoshinoya, had a yummy beef bowl.
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We were on our own for dinner that first night, so a group of us decided to head to the Outback Steakhouse in Roppongi. Oooohhhh yeeeaaaah, bring on the Chocolate Thunder from Down Under! We had a great time and really enjoyed our dinner.
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After dinner, we stopped by Lush, a great store with "natural" and "vegetarian" handmade soaps, cosmetics and other bath/beauty products. I bought some yummy honey soap and a pig-face bath bomb. Back at the hotel, I was in bed and asleep by 10p!
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You're not allowed to take photos inside the Lush store (?)(!), so I had to step outside to take this shot.
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Friday morning......I slept in again and skipped the GS continental b'fast in favor of a huge stack of pancakes with a side of crispy bacon, AND sausage! Yeah, I'm wild like that.
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Part 3 of my workshop, lunch with a couple of girls at a soba joint up the street, then a yoga class. Well, I signed-up for the yoga class, but ended up taking a nap instead! Went to a Mgmt Team (I'm on the Girl Scouts Overseas Council) meeting from 3-4p, then went to get ready for our big dinner. The theme of this year's conference was "Leader of the Pac" (Pac, as in Pacific). So we did a 50's sock-hop; the conference shirt was a hot pink and black bowling shirt, really cute. There were lots of ladies in poodle skirts with big hair and all that jazz. I went a little more low-key, with just the bowling shirt and blue jeans rolled up at the bottom and a big ponytail with a pink scarf. Dinner was typical hotel banquet fare, pretty gross actually. Then we had a silent auction with items donated from all the different Pacific GS sites.
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We hit the bar again for an hour or so, then I went back to my room for a long, hot soak with my piggy bath bomb and a good book.
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Saturday morning.......you already know how this part goes ;) Another scrumptious french toast b'fast, then off for my last training session.
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There's a bus that runs between the base and the Sanno 3 times a day; since I drove, Otis came on the bus with the kids, plus Meg's BFF, Saturday morning, they arrived about 10:30. Kudos to O for not only venturing into Tokyo on his own (well, on an American bus, but still......huge for him!) but with 4 kids as well!
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The conference ended around 11:00, I met up with O and the kids and we went to the pool for a while. Then the kids headed a few blocks up to McD's to get some lunch. I have absolutely no qualms about sending my kids off alone in the middle of Tokyo. Granted they've been to the same McD's a gazillion times with me, it's only about 3 blocks, and they don't have to cross any streets, and Gabi is nearly 15 now, but it's something I'd never even consider doing back in the States!
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We relaxed in the room the rest of the afternoon, then O and I headed to the shotengai for dinner. We decided on La Jolla, a terrific little Mexican place. It was the first time I've had Mexican in 1.5 years! It was so awesome!
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We had a great table at the window on the second floor, overlooking the shotengai
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Our appetizer, a huge plate of nachos!
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My dinner, a cheesy chimichanga, refried beans and spanish rice
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Sunday morning, I took the kids down for the b'fast buffet, while O slept in. We went for a walk around the neighborhood and stopped at Arisugawanomiya Park. Then we headed back to the hotel, rounded up O and headed home :(
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A very small part of Arisugawanomiya Park
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It was a really great 5-days, with a few pesky GS meetings mucking up my flow, but I really enjoyed myself. It was over much too quickly! Last year's conference, which I missed, was in KOREA! I was hoping for somewhere super cool this year, but was plenty happy with my five days in T-town. I'm really hoping next year's will be in Okinawa!
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A special thanks to the hubster for taking 2 days off of work and for wrangling the kids for 4 days, so I could go to the conference.
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