Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tokyo Disneyland

Chris and I went to Tokyo Disneyland yesterday :)

We were both surprised the Tokyo Disneyland had most of the U.S. Disneyland rides. We thought it would be a much smaller version of the U.S. Disneyland, but it was very similar...minus some of the authenticity and magical atmosphere of the U.S. Disneyland.

It was a spur of the moment decision to go, and we actually only stayed till around 4:30 in the afternoon because it was so cold outside. It started out to be a warm sunny day, closer to the afternoon the wind started picking up, sky turned dark in some areas, and it became cold very fast. Also, it was very crowded. It was as crowded as a weekend day during the summer at the U.S. Disneyland. We were able to buy churros (20 minute wait), ride the Pirates of the Caribbean (45 min wait), eat lunch at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (only 20 minute wait), and ride the Buzz Lightyear ride (1.5 hour wait). We had fun while there, but after the Buzz Lightyear ride we decided we should cut the day short and come back on a weekday when it's not so crowded and a little warmer. The cold winds and long lines made it an easy decision to head off early.

Entrance area for Tokyo Disneyland; Castle in the background

Blue Bayou restaurant overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride

cold, windy, sky darkening; Chris trying not to get dust in his eyes

Space Mountain in the background, waiting in line for Buzz Lightyear

On the train home, were packed in like sardines waiting inside the train for 45 minutes before it left the station. Since we didn't speak Japanese and no one around us spoke English, we couldn't understand how long the delay would be and what the reason for the delay was, nor were we able to successfully ask anyone around us the reason for the delay. We watched an episode of 'Chuck' on Chris's IPOD to pass the time. After calling Honda, he was able to find out that the strong winds were keeping the train from leaving, but thankfully we did finally leave the station towards Tokyo station. From the Tokyo station we transferred on another train leaving for the Yokohama station.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

El Torito and Pottery

Chris and I went to El Torito last night. ...I have to say's up there with some of the best Mexican food I've ever had. Chris and I both had low expectations going there. We were thinking, how would a city with only a few Mexican restaurants actually have really amazing Mexican food? But sure enough, we were amazed at how good the food was. I promise I am not exaggerating when I keep saying much of the food here is really good--it really is good! The quality is just so much better than in most restaurants in the U.S.. And this El Torito was even cheaper in price than the California El Torito...that was an unexpected surprise. And it's on the 28th floor with a view of the city. Now we have someplace to go when we want good Mexican food.

Today I had my first pottery class. It's about a 20 minute train ride and 10 minute walk away. The instructor spoke English very well. I don't know if he understood everything I said to him, but at least he can speak it well enough. The other students included a 70 year old woman and a 60-something year old woman. Both women were very kind, and spoke no English. Smiles go a long way when you can't communicate. But this is a great way for me to learn Japanese in the class and motivate me to learn more Japanese on my own. I spent about 3 hours in the class working the clay by hand. I made 5 different cups (errr...clay vessels that hopefully resemble cups ;) ). Next week I will "carve" (I don't know what the pottery terms are yet) the clay cups so they look more like the shapes I want. I've signed up for lessons until the end of March. We'll see if it might be something I'd like to do long-term.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

at the zoo

I took the train to a different area in Yokohama, and checked out the local library and the zoo. Normally I can't take going to zoos--I get very sad seeing animals penned-up in small spaces! But decided to go anyway since it was in the area, and yes, it was still sad to see all of these beautiful smart animals in confined spaces.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunshine on the Water

It's morning. Sunny. Water glistening. Piano music playing in the background.

I came across an interesting site lately, some here may know of It's like eBay, but everything that is sold is handmade. I love anything artistic so this site is a lot of fun for me to look through. For those who enjoy making items it might be a great site to sell your "artsy" items on if you are looking to sell (e.g. paintings, soap, jewelry, almost anything!). I also came across a piano CD made by someone named Justin Geer (22 years old). I have the piano music playing in the background right now from his site, I love piano music, and this music definitely ranks among the most relaxing piano music I've heard out there.

Speaking of art, I finally found an open pottery class in English in Yokohama! I've never taken a pottery class, but it sounds like it will be fun. I love almost anything artistic and this might be a good chance to meet other people too. I'm hoping to start class on Thursday so you should hear from me by the end of the week on how the first class went.

This past weekend, Chris and I headed over to Ginza--another famous shopping area--big surprise there huh? ...Sorry to sound a little cynical, I'm getting a slightly skewed (or maybe not?) view of Japan as shopping-centric...We need to go see some non-shopping areas of Japan (e.g. temples, parks, etc). Oh, and we also got to see the Tokyo station (very big!) and I had my encounter with a Japanese toilet in the Tokyo station... If you are really interested in seeing what a Japanese toilet is you can see a picture here: I prefer the western toilet version. Anyway, we mostly walked around a little in Ginza, ate lunch and headed back home, but here are some pics from our day there:

Friday, February 15, 2008

What to do, What to do

I had a job interview today!

Unfortunately I can't say it went well...I did everything I could have done, but before I could get very far into the interview it felt I was being dissuaded from working there. It seems many of the Japanese have a way of saying no without actually saying "no." How do they say no without saying "no"? I was given handouts of other English schools to work at and told I should call them, I was told there are other employees that need the money more than I do since my husband is supporting me and because my husband is supporting me I would only be given a couple days of work at the most, I was told the pay was minimal (which it is) and given subtle hints that I would get better pay elsewhere.

Even though I believe I was discouraged from even wanting to take the job. After interacting with the kids, I realized how "out-of-practice" I am interacting with kids. I really enjoyed working with autistic pre-school aged kids when I worked for the school district in the U.S...but somehow I'm thinking "teaching" English to young kids is different. I'm not a super talkative person, and the manager made it out as though you need to constantly talk to the group of kids so they will pick up English. I do great one-on-one, constant talking is a bit hard for me even one-on-one, but leading groups of kids...not what I normally like doing...or should I say, slightly out of my comfort zone.

I'm also in the middle of a quest for classes to take... Pottery, painting, tai chi, wind surfing, almost anything! The hard part is finding classes where they are taught in English in Yokohama, and finding the one's in English that are still currently offering classes. I'm getting closer to finding one at least, but in the meantime, I'm running into obsticles. The time-at-home is starting to wear on me (having little 'scheduled' time gets old quickly) so I need something soon!

Ahhh, enough writing for now. Time to do dishes.

Arabian Night

I was looking for a unique restaurant for Valentine's and came across an Arabic restaurant in Yokohama. A short train ride and 10 minute walk led us to the below-street-level restaurant Al Ain. It was a quiet night--only us and two other couples in the restaurant.

The chef took our order, and over the span of a couple hours we got each course of our seven course meal. The food was very good! Each course had a distinct taste. Overall it was just a relaxing night to sit, eat and talk--we left full and happy. You know the feeling when you're full from eating really good food, you've had a fun night and you are getting really sleepy because it's late?

restaurant web site

each bite had very distinct tastes
(but...I think I ate a couple before taking the picture..sorry)
lamb and chicken
pilaf dish

just enjoying the night

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day <3

A very happy Valentine's Day to everyone :)

Japan does 'celebrate' the American equivalent of Valentine's Day, but the women give the men chocolate (not the other way around). Then there is "White Day" where the men return the favor (March 14th). This morning I gave Chris chocolates and a card I made. We'll go out to eat tonight--maybe that Mediterranean or Spanish restaurant.

I have to say, even though I don't like it so cold outside, I really do like the weather here so far. Some days we wake up and it's really foggy outside. Other days we wake up and it's really sunny. The next day it could be snowing, or raining. I like the variety :) I especially like the sunny mornings though--throwing open the drapes and the sun just streams in--it's gorgeous! Sun streaming inside your house in the morning is a definite luxury--I'll remember that when we seriously look to buy house. It has slowly gotten warmer outside, no vagrant snows recently, and walking outside with just a few layers and a wool coat is enough. Spring may be on its way...

our first houseplant

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunny Holiday

Chris has today off from work because today is 'National Foundation Day' in Japan (commemorating the crowning of Japan's first emperor in 660 BC). We spent a little time walking around various stores in the area.

"Toy" dogs are very popular here. People carry around their dogs in designer handbags or walk them around the local stores. Dog clothing is also very popular here. There are at least 5 stores solely dedicated to dog clothing right below where we live! There are even a couple of cafes where you can bring your dog to eat alongside with you inside the cafe. I assume they provide dog food also. Some of the more interesting stores contain all sorts of unique items you wouldn't normally find in department stores, but only in small boutiques. There is a Hawaiian store here with unique Hawaiian items and other stores with a variety of colorful and beautiful items for your home. There are several stores that are fun to just browse through because the items are out-of-the-ordinary whether in color, design or purpose. One of the stores Chris really thought was cute was the computer monitor store. You can see the picture below with all the computer monitors exclusively for kids, or for an adult who loves themed monitors :)

Friday afternoon I spent a few hours just going over Hiragana (one of the Japanese writing systems--kind of like the alphabet) and I was able to learn pretty much all of the Hiragana in one afternoon! I can learn very quickly just by using flash cards. This coming week will be spent learning Katakana (another Japanese writing system). Once I am able to quickly identify all Hiragana and Katakana, I'll be able to read many of the foreign words I run into everyday. Besides Hiragana and Katakana, the Japanese also use Kanji. Unlike Hiragana and Katakana there are 1000's of Kanji. Although I won't be able to learn Kanji as easily as Hiragana and Katakana, hopefully I'll be able to learn a few here and there as the year progresses. One thing that makes the Japanese language a bit complicated is that the Japanese mix Hiragana and Kanji together within the same sentence, so even though you know the Hiragana unless you know the Kanji, you might not be able to identify what the true meaning of the sentence is. :P Oh well, baby steps.

Saturday Chris got his hair cut. The hair stylist was English speaking (recommended to us). Afterward we took a taxi to a nearby Greek restaurant I found online. This was our first Greek restaurant experience, and in Japan of all places! The food was really good! We will definitely go back when we are in the mood for Greek food. I also found some Spanish and Mediterranean restaurants that we'll check out in the coming month.

Sunday we spent some time with our friend Honda and a couple of his friends. Honda is determined to help us learn Japanese, so we played quite a few games of UNO--calling out the colors of the cards, Skip, Reverse, Draw 2, Draw 4, etc. all in Japanese. So at least we can play UNO in Japanese :) But he has been really helpful too as we have many other questions on how to say various things in Japanese.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Foggy Wintery Day

It just started to snow! It's light right now, and may be a little too warm outside for it to actually stick to the ground, but it's nice to see falling.

We just got the TV and the DVD player that we rented. Right now we have about 7 local Japanese channels. We have the option to get "Cable" (for English channels), but I think we'll stick to what we have. We will likely use the TV for movies mostly, and we'll get to learn some Japanese from watching the local channels.

Good news for me, making dinners has come much easier lately! I still "throw" things together, but everything has been really good. I've been buying more seafood. Our stove comes equipped with a fish griller. From what I understand, most Japanese households have a fish griller. For our fish griller, we sick the fish in, press a button and it comes out perfectly every time! We've come to realize our stove (stove top and griller) is pretty smart. It knows when a pan is getting too hot and regulates itself. It also knows the exact amount of time the fish needs to cook in the griller. ::Jetson's theme song running through my head:: Ohhh, side note, I made pasta last night (yes again) with Gorgonzola sauce and baby sea scallops--a cool tip: dill is a great seasoning to go with this dish!! I have Trader Joe's dry dill seasoning, but I'd imagine fresh dill would give even more of a fresh kick to the dish. Anyway, it was very good. A white pasta sauce with dill seems to be a good combination.

This past weekend, Honda (our friend from the Tokyo area) came over and brought a lot of snacks with him. Here are just a few for those interested in seeing some of the Japanese snacks:

Freeze dried? Apples with Styrofoam consistency--still taste good

Cream of Corn potato chips--yes, they taste like cream of corn

Very similar to Cheetos, but more flavor


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Choices and all our STUFF

Ever get tired of all the materialistic "things" and feel that living off the land would be more natural? Yes, much harder, but more natural (however you want to define natural). I think most of us at one time or another get passing thoughts of wanting to move to a country setting, grow all our own food, and just have enough to sustain ourselves. Who needs the office job when we could be working the land? Why should we push for executive positions or work our whole lives to save up enough money in order to have a quieter life in the country to have more time to do what we enjoy? I realize this is a sort of pipe dream in many ways as it isn't completely thought-out and many (I'm sure) have tried to live this dream without much success or finding they didn't enjoy it as much as they thought they would. But it's still a passing thought...

I sometimes think of possible scenarios for where Chris and I could go in life. I know we would be happy on the road we're on now, or many other roads for that matter. So it's not so much about being happy, but knowing we could go in a completely new direction and the directions are many. There is something about knowing you have lots of choices in life that makes life exciting, or at least gets me fascinated. I admit it can be a little debilitating there is more we are aware of to choose from.

I don't think there are necessarily completely opposing wrong and right choices. That probably goes against many beliefs, but I've tried to shy away from dichotomizing everything...putting everything into an either-or (good-bad) category. An important disclaimer here is that hopefully we stay away from choosing things that are going to hurt ourselves or others. I do believe there are smarter choices than others, and choices should be thought out with the future in mind. But I think there is a line between thinking our choices out and over-analyzing our choices. In over-analyzing (which I have done many times!) we forget that many of the choices we are choosing from would be great, a "perfect" choice is all relative, and we can always decide to go in another direction from the choice we just made. Most of the time the hardest thing to do is to choose something.

...........................A different tangent..............................

Back to my original thought on materialism... My thoughts on materialism are most likely contradictory because I too enjoy material things (as many of us do), but I feel like ranting a little, even if it is contradictory. I am often in the same boat as many, so this rant is equally aimed at myself.

I get sick of all the strip malls and endless stores! Why does anyone need so many things? And where are all of these things made? It baffles me that there are factories that make all our stuff! Can you imagine how many factories exist to keep these strip malls and stores filled? Think about the most insignificant items...napkins, straws, plastic bags, cheap toys you pay 25 cents for in a vending machine...everything has an original source. And where does all of it really go? How much of our stuff is really recycled? Imagine all the things that are not biodegradable...they exist and will most likely always exist in some form; piling in landfills because we couldn't do without them. Since everyone else has "one" we need "one" too. When I really think about it, it makes me sick thinking about all the consumer items out there, and how people as a whole buy TONS of stuff they just don't need.

Living in a culture and world where money is used beyond necessity into extravagance, it is hard to get away from it or to convince yourself, "No, I really don't need that...It's not necessary." This is a culture that convinces themselves that pleasure can be gained only through the use of money and purchasing power. Can we get back to simple pleasures that aren't reliant upon money? Can we cut back to only what we really need? Are these also pipe dreams? This momentary rant and fervor for the simple life usually dies once we realize...oh, our tv broke we need a new tv, oh, a new IPOD just came out, I need the new one, or oh, I can never have enough purses or shoes or .... you name it.

When do we pay way less attention to all the stuff around us and concentrate on what really matters to us? If we were to loose everything tomorrow except our own life, what would we morn the loss of most? The stuff shouldn't matter as much as the people we surround ourselves with. Why do we spend more time wrapped up in our stuff than the people we care about?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Another snowy morning

We woke up to snow again this morning!

The snow hasn't let up yet. There are still snow flurries.

Parking garage attendant staying busy

Chris busy with homework

We're going to head outside now before it turns to rain!


It's an hour or so later, we just finished playing in the snow, and it is still snowing outside right now. The snow was great to make snowballs and a snowman with, but after slipping and sliding and getting wet, we were ready to head back inside. Very cold outside!

Snow within the walls of our building

someone's little snow people

snowy park across from our building

Chris wrote my name in the snow

the snowman we made :)