Thursday, November 29, 2007

Giving Thanks, in general

For all of you wondering, yes, we got to celebrate Thanksgiving here, with turkey.

First, though, on Wednesday, I got to meet the infamous Mimi. She's from Osaka, but Jeff met her on a business trip to Hawaii. And hasn't shut up about her since. So I was glad I finally got to meet her when she came up to our bit of Japan for a wedding. Mimi's story is interesting. She was a Poly-Sci major in the States, which I thought was odd, as she is Japanese and would be living in Japan, so why learn all about American politics? She had an answer ready for that: she chose the major because her sister had the same degree, and still had all her papers. Anyway, Mimi did the salarywoman thing for years, until one day, while killing time before meeting someone for dinner, she had her first manicure. When it was time for dinner, she ignored her meal because she was too busy staring at her nails. Looking at her now-beautiful nails gave her such a happy feeling that she wanted to make other people that happy. She decided to quit the corporate rat-race and become a nailist (apparently that's a word, though my spellcheck doesn't like it. It also doesn't like the word "spellcheck") .

We went, with Macky, to a very fancy-looking restaurant in the Ginza called My Humble House. Dumbest name ever, but they had wonderful decor. Very 1940s nightclub. Our corner booth bore a very close resemblance to Jeff's favorite spinny green velvety chair. The food I think was meant to be reasonably-priced but "thoughtfully-crafted," but I was honestly unimpressed. It was good enough, I giess, but I am spoiled by the likes of Wild Ginger and Palisades and Marco's in Seattle. After, we went to some place Macky wanted to check out that had terrible wannabe hip-hop/trance DJs. One drink, then the rest opf the night was spent at our favorite spot in Rappongi (indeed the only good place in Rappongi), Mistral Blue. Old train car, not horrible (most of the time) music. Fun night out.

The next day was Thanksgiving. I don't remember what I did. I think I slept a lot.

On Friday, which is Labor Day in Japan and a day off for many, we had our Thanksgiving. This works for me, because since we're a day ahead, we had it on the right day, Stateswise. The base actually did a wonderful job cooking our gigantic turkey, and it was a hit with all our Japanese friends. The mashed potatoes also went over well, and Shingo was in raptures over the bread pudding (OK, so it's not traditionally American, but whatever). I did discover that you can't make American sweet potatoes (no, I'm not talking about the canned bright-orange things covered with mini marshmallows, gross) with Japanese sweet potatoes. The texture is too dry. Everything else was great, tho. I especially liked the conversation with OSam about why we always eat turkey. Jeff explained that it was part of the big, friendly meal that the Pilgrims and Indians had together, with an under-the-breath "before they starting killing each other." It was translated for him, just about the meal, and OSam replied "so basically, it was a big meal right before they started killing each other." Yeah.

Anyway, I had fun being inventive in getting rid of all the turkey over this past week. I did all the traditional stuff, like turkey sandwiches and turkey soup, but I also had fun doing some Japanese stuff with it, like turkey onigiri, turkey udon, and turkey curry, which was the yummiest.

Saturday, we drive down to Shimoda in Izu (that makes 3 times?) for Martine's super-secret kidnapping 40th birthday surprise party weekend. A bunch of her friends came down, as well as her brother and his family from Australia Tho I guess they came up, but it depends on which way your map is oriented). There were two boys, Fraser and Darcy, who are 9 and 11, with whom M&D got on famously from the get-go. The two Australian boys towered over the two American midgets despite the closeness in age, and they are more rough-and-tumble than our boys, but M&D took it in stride (surprisingly) and had a wonderful time.

There was a swell BBQ put on by Kenny at Paradise Cafe, and most of the party staggered off to bed early (many of them had done their heavy partying the night before), leaving me, Jeff, Kevin, and Martine drinking around the fire. Some Japanese girls wandered by, and Jeff naturally invited them to join us. At some point we discovered the hot tub in back was actually hot. I believe there are pictures, for which I will pay handsomely, Martine. Just kidding.

The next day contained a quick visit to the beach to watch the kids cavort under an almost painfully-blue sky. I got the opportunity to wander a bit and catch some stunningly gorgeous color combinations between that sky and the changing leaves. I hope your computer monitor shows this better than mine does.

What followed was quite possibly the best car trip our little family has ever experienced. The kids were utter angels for the whole 4 or 5 or 6 hour trip, just quietly playing their DS's or watching movies. No fighting. At all. It was eerie. I don't know what came over them, whether they were just happily exhausted from playing with the Cotton boys or what, but it was a joy. Especially since the trp took a lot longer than it should've, due to returning holiday traffic.

We had gotten started later than intended, but this turned out to be a very happy accident when we saw this:

Naturally, we had to stop and take a gazillion pictures (interestingly, my spellcheck has no problem with the word "gazillion"). I've never seen colors like that. And with Fujisan in there! As if that weren't enough, back in the car moments later, we saw a gorgeous harvest moon rising on the other side.

A double-blessing, impeccably timed. See lots more pictures of pretty colors and funny faces here.

So, in summary, I am thankful for good food, good friends, good family, blue skies, occasionally quiet children, breathtaking sunsets, and all those little moments of wonder.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tokyo Design Festa

Part Fremont Flea Market, part High School Art Show, part Harajuku Sunday, part colorful explosion, the Tokyo Design Festa is a feast for the eyes and proof that there is a lot of creativity out there.

It was held at a huge expo center in the area where all the cool new buildings are (no, not in this building, it's just a cool building)

It was huge and kind of overwhelming; there was a lot to see. There was plenty of painting going on, some by what Martine described as "rich Japanese kids who think they have talent." But some good stuff, too.

This reminded us all of Tim Burton's Stainboy:

It was easy to get the feeling that some people were just there to be seen. It didn't have much to do with the art, but it definitely added to the eye-candy.

We were afraid that the kids would get bored quickly, I mean, it's basically a big arts and crafts show, and they are small boys. They found plenty to interest them, however, so we were pleasantly shocked that they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Like the Skeleton on a Toilet That Poops Silver Balls machine. D wanted to stay and watch forever, and kept coming back to it. It was pretty neat, all made of paper.

The kids also spent a good period of time playing with these domino-blocks. We almost bought some, but then there was a tantrum, so it didn't happen.

This would make an amazing library kid-corner. Having a black thumb when it comes to houseplants, I considered buying some fabric ones.

There were a lot of gothic dolls. Love 'em.

And these are the coolest sinks ever.

Impressive prosthetics and special effects makeup:

It's the damn horse head again.

We also saw some of the weirdest media ever. You really can make anything out of anything. Like marshmallows, for instance:

And here we have more evidence of the Japanese obsession with bodily fluids:

Had to give this chick points for putting herself out there, but this was some of the most horrible video game-inspired music ever.

Jeff's favorite was the balloon-fashion show. The one in white made the trip out worth it all by herself, he said.

M convinced me that, since he is into drinking tea now, that we needed to bring some of this pretty tea home.

There was another show or two going on in the expo center. This one looked slightly less exciting:

We walked out of the festa foot-sore and eye-burnt, but it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Made me vow to do something creative every day, because if I learned anything at the show, it is that the world is aswarm with great ideas and readily-available materials, and I have no excuse.

See more photos of the Festa here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish

OK, first of all, I have to say that the weather here has been amazing this past week. The sky is ridiculously blue, and it's been pretty warm. I love that it's mid-November and we haven't turned the heater on yet.

We celebrated D's birthday in two ways this year: kid-party and family-party.

He invited a few friends to his celebration at the Negishi base bowling alley (all of 8 lanes), where we had the place to ourselves. There is nothing more hilarious than watching a bunch of little kids who have never bowled before, but what I really wanted to capture was D's awesome bowling style.

Someday someone is going to make him do it properly, and it's going to completely mess up his score. Or maybe he'll keep his wonderful style and be a maverick in the league.

We got a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake this time, because we were not about to get another inedible cake from the base. Naturally, we forgot plates and forks, but we knew we could get them at the exchange downstairs. Sadly, we also forgot to bring a knife, and they didn't carry big knives at the exchange. Luckily, tho, they did have electric carving knives. Good thing, too, because Jeff got to practice for Thanksgiving.

As his friends know him pretty well, D mostly got Pokemon-related merchandise for presents.

After it was over and we got rid of all kids but ours, we headed down to Club Lizard for the Buzz Buzz Anniversary Party. It was a great show for Macky, especially since some guys from Good Morning Garage, a radio show, were there. Macky now has a lunch date with them, and maybe he'll get on the air. Go Macky!

Jeff had Monday off, so we headed down to the Yokohama Art Museum for the Surrealist exhibit. They had some Magritte, some Dali, and some Max Ernst and Lam stuff we'd never seen before. That place is great. 2 great exhibitions in a row, and the next one is called "Goth." Can't pass that one up. It was also a gorgeous day.

We also got D's second birthday present from us:

Could be the start of a new obsession. The bigger sets get pretty huge and complicated.

The real crowning birthday event was at this restaurant that Jeff had driven past in Tsunashima, which is really close to our house, and that Macky, astoundingly, had never been to, though it is in his own neighborhood.

You get to catch your own fish! And depending on how you have it prepared, your fish may be brought to your table still moving. It isn't that easy. I mean, there are some fish just lying there in baskets you can catch, along with lobsters and oysters, but mostly the fish are swimming around in a giant moat that surrounds the fake boat dining area. You actually have to catch them. D, M, Macky, and I all caught our fish, so I am now allowed to go fishing with Macky. Jeff stayed out of it, as he is the Fish Jinx.

You gotta watch this video: D catching his fish, the fish showing up at our table still alive, M trying his first raw oyster, and other fun:

Macky gave D a 2000 yen bill, which I'd never seen before. I guess it's like a 2-dollar bill in the US. This is D's name in katakana, which came on the birthday cake.

I think D had a really great time. Happy Birthday, big guy.

Next event is Thanksgiving. Jeff found out that we can get the base to cook our turkey for us (I therefore take no responsibility for how it turns out; our oven is way too small for a turkey). And Val, Noelle, and Jen are rolling on planning the reunion party in Cleveland next month. If you're going to be around, please come!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Anything to entertain the kids

Jeff was out of town this week, so it was up to me to keep the kids from killing each other and me from killing them. In true Jeff form, he left me with suggestions. We had to leave the house, obviously, and I didn't know what else to do, so I followed them.

Saturday was Sports Day at the local elementary school. Jeff had done this with the kids last year, but he had a neighbor to take him under his wing and tell him what to do. I had Kumi, a nine year old girl, who had never been to this thing before (honestly, if she hadn't expressed interest in going, I would've blown it off completely). We walked over to the school, a little late, and were confronted by that corporate Japan cliche: synchronized calisthenics. Kumi sneered that it was for obasans (middle-aged women).

I was totally confused by what we were supposed to do, as we saw people lining up for a race, so I sent Kumi to get the lowdown. We got schedules I couldn't read and was informed that you had to rush and get limited tickets for each event, some of which were for kids, some for adults. Jeff, I found out, had all his tickets handed to him by the neighbor last year, so he had no worries about this. Kumi did manage to get us tickets for a couple events, like the Bread Race and the Beanbag Toss.

My team won the Beanbag thing, and I was rewarded with a box of clingwrap (which has joined the clingwrap Jeff won last year). The kids' team did not win, but they got prizes anyway: instant ramen. D was unthrilled by this.

I can't decide if I like the fact that everyone gets a prize. I guess it's good for the kids to just have fun and learn the "it's not if you win or lose" thing. We found out then that the boys were mysteriously signed up for the big relay race, but it wasn't going to happen for another 4 hours or something, so we went home for lunch.

Once we were home, the boys didn't really want to go back, and truthfully, neither did I, so we went shopping instead. When we got home, I surprised them with episodes of The Little Rascals (man, they are timeless, I'm telling you. I found a set of 88 episodes on Amazon, and I just have to get it) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I know I saw this when I was a kid, but I didn't really remember it. I think it's stupid that it was only OK for Angela Landsbury to be a witch when she was helping the War Effort and then she gave it up after she had Done Her Part, but whatever, we still liked it and its contemporary Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-like (Gene Wilder version) effects.

Sunday, I went off the really scanty information I had on a flier about some kind of performance art thing, but we took the chance and went down to Queen's Square at Minato-mirai to see what was going on. The whole thing only lasted like 5 minutes, but it was visually worth it to see these amazingly-costumed people running around on stilts or dancing.

When they went away, too soon! we went down to the steps to see one of the constant performances that go on there. We had seen this guy before, and he is pretty good at what he does, but something about his manner really bugs me. I don't know where he is from originally (not 100% Japanese for sure), but his Japanese is like auctioneer patter, punctuated with whines about how hard he is working and pleas for applause (don't need to speak the language to get this).

He did do some cool juggling of fire, with his chin involved

and combined three juggling standards (knife, fire, and apple to take bites of) while on top of his gigantic unicycle

but my favorite trick was the simplest: he took 4 guys from the audience and asked them their names, and then proceeded to call them some version of "Johnny" based on what they were wearing (I didn't quite get the jokes, I hate that the most about not speaking the language). He had them all sit on buckets, and then lie back on one another (I'm sure they loved that, being men and strangers),

and then he took away the buckets. Voila! They balanced that way. I thought it was cool.

We went back inside, as the sun was now behind the Landmark Tower and we were in chilly shade. The kids, of course, wanted to go to the Pokemon Center. Across the way is a store with a name that cracks me up.

I don't know if I've put this one up before, maybe I have, but it makes me giggle because I think of this:

Poor Tink. Snicker. Sure would solve Peter's issues with her jealousy.

On our way back to the train, we heard some cool live surf music being played in the mall, so we wandered over to check it out. I was surprised to see a rockin' preteen girl up there with these old guys. She was just playing rhythm pretty much, none of the solos or anything, but she was perfect. Impressive. The video quality is crap, I know, but I was filming with my little camera, over people's heads:

Then we went home and watched more Little Rascals. That's pretty much the weekend.

Oh, I did discover my new favorite nonalcoholic drink. It's "for grown-ups."

The next big event is D's birthday party. Also on the horizon are Show the Non-Americans How To Do Thanksgiving and our Christmas in Cleveland trip.

I'm gonna go download some more movies now.