Saturday, October 29, 2005

Soon You'll Find Me At...

Time recently put out a Top 100 Books list, that is, all the best books since 1923. Huh? Why 1923? If I was bothered to read the commentary in the side bar about why they chose what they did, perhaps I would know.

In any case, I've read 12 of them. And none recently. I like the challenge of working my way through a list, which is why it pains to me to depart this country tomorrow without triumphantly completing the Metro stamp rally (that's right! I'm linking to my own post! *victory dance* thanks, erika!).

Back in AP English, our teacher gave us a five-page double-sided list of "books to read before you die"; that wasn't the exact title but the solemnity with which we were urged to read these books was correspondent to such a title. Well. For several years after, whenever I would come across the list, my waning interest in tackling the list would be re-kindled, and I would read frantically. That is, until I hit a "classic" or what should more accurately be termed a "snoozer". Then the list would go back to the "book" file and I would return to the Life of Willy-Nilly Reading.

I'm not sure that I should fling myself into Time's list, or dig out my tattered AP English list even. But I do feel sure that when jet lag subsides, you'll find me here.

And now, please excuse me. My last night in the Room will end like most others, with me tucking myself into bed with this, the Best Book of All. Sweet dreams to you and me!

24 Hours to Room Departure

We've been inspected and found lacking three glasses and one bowl. I broke them all, but none deliberately. The company will cover for my clumsiness, and thankfully so, because though this was not the china pattern I would have chosen, it was certainly just as expensive.

So the packing is done! You're suspicious, so I'll admit that it's not a completely finished job. There's some LC (little crap, you know, that stuff that you don't want to throw away but doesn't quite make it into the suitcase either...about half of it will probably be in the trash by tomorrow morning) around, but other than that, our pajamas, our clothes for tomorrow and Koji's bed, everything is in a box or bag or suitcase. Much of it is already on the way to the airport, bless you, efficient Japanese delivery company.

Though we haven't left the room yet, our aura has already gone out ahead of us with the pictures and toys that I packed away, so I feel a bit out of body, like I'm still here but I should already be there. And I'm not making sense, but that's to be expected at times like this.

Some have expressed a desire to continue reading of the adventures of these Room Occupants, though they return to their House. Glad to oblige! I may have to alter my title accordingly...or not? In any case, thank you for praying, loving and encouraging us during these eight months in the Room.

It must have been fun, because the time flew! 行ってきます~

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All I've Got When I'm Packing Up:Randomness

Those of you who know me well will refuse to believe this, because it's not yet the night before we're leaving Tokyo, but it's true: I've started packing. Don't worry too much though; I'm not nearly finished and if I don't pick up the pace, I'll be on schedule for the usual all-nighter that I have to pull just before departing on a journey/move. Note that I NEVER successfully pulled an all-nighter back when I was in university and actually needed to...

So, in the spirit of the state of this room I present you with a few connected-to-nothing-but-me photos from the last couple of weeks.
On the left you see a sandwich, but perhaps if you peer closely, you will note that the bread is an alarming hue of grayish-black. No, I didn't burn the toast, though that talent does run hot in my veins. Rather, this was a special bread that I ordered from the
co-op grocery delivery service I've praised here before (and as I've also mentioned before, if I wasn't such a doofus I would know how to link back to my own words about it...some day I'll figure out how to use this site, and then it'll be time for me to switch to another platform I don't understand...). The package said something that looked to me like 炭 which means coal. Hm. Well, it didn't taste like coal. My ham and cheese with Maille Tarragon & White Wine Mustard was delicious. Alas, the piece of toast at the bottom of the page that I slicked with blueberry jam for Koji was not as happily eaten. Sure, he claimed, 黒いパン食べたい! [want to eat black bread!] before-hand, but when it was right in front of him he was more content to pick the blueberries off and then lick the out of two ain't bad.

To the right, we note Koji's propensity for arranging objects--in this case, his car collection--into rows. This night he was feeling especially particular, so he went on to top each car with a triangle, heart or circle. Thanks to Grandma Jane for supplying the shapes!

Left: we see Mr. Arranger hard at work on an onigiri, which is the Japanese version of a sandwich. That is, it's a ball of rice with something hidden inside, or sometimes mixed through out the rice and then, often but not always, covered with a sheet of seaweed. Does anyone care to speculate about how it could be that a small boy won't touch anything called "vegetable" but peels the nori (seaweed) off his onigiri, ingests the entire sheet with an enthusiam usually reserved for cookies, and then begs for another? Me either.

Here's the aftermath of Koji's first experience with face painting, and I suppose it was riotously sucessfully. That is, this red car caused two riots: first one after Aogu washed the car away for bed-time. Second, the following morning when I wasn't able to respond affirmatively to requests for the red car to be put back on.

Last and certainly least, here is a photo of the inside of our closet before I started packing. It's not noteworthy for the stellar organization found within; rather, I'm impressed that this is the space in which I've managed to cram all of our in-season wardrobe items for all three of us for the last eight months *pat self on back*.

Finally, a quick follow-up on my last post: I'm famous! I didn't think that Kate would notice my reference to her Kit Kat info, but she did, and she went on to mention me and link here. Thanks, Kate! And, just when I thought I didn't have time for such frivolity as KitKat tasting, when I was at the conbini (convenience store) this morning grabbing some milk and juice, what should grab my eye but the latest limited edition KitKat in grape! I'll get back to you on the taste...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Who Knew?

When I found the following information at Accidental Hedonist, I immediately interpreted it as an urgent challenge.

Only a few more weeks before I return to the land of the Hershey's Kit Kat, and the Nestle Kit Kat seems infinitely more interesting. Conclusion: must buy and try many kinds of Kit Kat, to the peril of my waistline.

First, I tried the Maple Syrup Kit Kat. Eeww. I really like maple syrup and most maple flavored items, but not this time. The outside was white-chocolate looking, but efforts to render this coating maple-ish just left it sweet. Duh. It's a Kit Kat, it should be sweet, but this was really too much. I wanted to drink black coffee with it, and normally black coffee and I don't keep company.

Not to be put off, I went out and snatched up Yogurt, Wine and Noir Kit Kats, as pictured at right. Yogurt is so-so; it almost has the same problem as Maple Syrup, ever so slightly tempered by the essence of yogurt. Still need black coffee.

Perhaps I should have pictured the Wine Kit-Kat naked; it's pink! Though I've heard of Strawberry Kit Kat, I've never seen one, so this was my first encounter with a pink Kit Kat. Now, I'm no sommelier, but I thought this attempt to marry Kit Kat and wine was respectable. There was actually a wine taste to it, which was thankfully not overpowered by the sweet that screamed through Maple Syrup and Yogurt. And as with Noir, perhaps the best thing about this Kit Kat is the size: tiny! Yogurt is two fingers, though shorter fingers than a standard Kit Kat. Wine and Noir, if to be compared to fingers, would maybe only match up to my pinky?

So it's OK to eat two.

Or three, in the case of Noir: I saved the best for last. Turns out "noir" is French for black. Accordingly, the chocolate was squarely in the dark and bitter camp, and each tiny Noir is even covered with a fancy sprinkling of dark cocoa powder. Bring on my usual latte, and wish me luck as I enter the last week of the Kit Kat Hunt!

P.S. Reluctlantly, I confess that I also tried a "Giant Kit Kat". Something like that. It was like one finger of a standard Kit Kat that had passed through some kind of Willy Wonka contraption to become a behemoth candy bar! Balance between crispy inside and chocolate-y outside is important, and this one was way off. Great for milk chocolate fans who like a little crunch, I suppose. In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I did eat the whole thing, because I was hungry, except for that bite that I had to give Koji when he figured out I was eating chocolate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Photo Shoot in Karajan Plaza

Recently, after church and after an impromptu al fresco dinner on the plaza next to our building, we decided to take some photos with our beloved friends pictured here. We caused a bit of a commotion; people were standing around gaping at us like we were celebrities or something! Maybe they just thought we were ridiculous, trying to make a pair of two year olds stay in one position next to one another with a nice facial expression for more than a nanosecond?
Kid group
posted by jcm

Yuko, Ray, Meg (2.5 years) and Kai (0.2 years)
posted by jcm

Mother group
posted by jcm

Father group
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First prom picture
posted by jcm

Saturday, October 15, 2005

If I Was a Book of the Bible...

You are Ephesians
You are Ephesians.

Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hmm. I really like, even love Ephesians. Every former member of FamEx can testify to that, as we spent a WHOLE YEAR discussing it...but I'm not sure about this explanation of why I'm Ephesians. In any case, I saw this here and somewhere else but now I can't remember. Oops.

Forgive me for not checking in sooner to say that finally, after a whole week of staying in (with the exception of one trip to a friend's house for lunch...oh, and last night I guess Aogu and I did go to his colleague's place to watch FOUR episodes in a row of 24 after which we rushed home on the last train heh heh heh...not to worry, Aogu's dad was here watching Koji) we are mostly healthy again! Thank you for your good wishes and prayers.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Star Bar

Starbucks, coffee company that some people love to hate, came to Japan in 1996. In the short nine years since, it's taken the country by storm. At last count, there were more than 500 "Suta-bakusu" here, there and on every street corner.** "Sutabakusu" is too long though, so most people just call it "Sutaba," which sounds really weird to say in English until you realize that it sounds a little bit like Star Bar.

Shortening foreign names when pronounced in Japanese is actually not a bad idea: take the prime example of "Makudonarudo" which makes way more sense as "Makku". By the way, if you click on that last link, you'll see the featured burgers of the month. Along with the keema curry I referred to yesterday (if I was really cool I would link back to my own post but I'm not so I don't know how to do that...), the "cheese egg double mac" is something I'm all about lately. Aren't you proud that I mostly just think about it and then go home and make dinner like I should? Since they came out, I've only had far.

The original point I was getting to is, though Star Bar may seem to be on every corner, and almost is here in Tokyo (from the Room here, I can walk to two of them in five minutes or less), that's not quite good enough for them. So now they've entered the convenience store coffee market with Discoveries. I haven't actually discovered--ha ha!--these drinks yet, but I plan to give them a go before we go (can you tell it's close to or even past my bedtime, though it's only 10?!). Some people think this is horrible. I can understand why; this person lives in NY, knows WAY more about coffee and what it "should" taste like than your average convenience store patron, and she's down on Starbucks in general, probably for good reason?!

However, I have to respectfully disagree with her on this point, in spite of the fact that I haven't actually imbibed Discoveries yet. Here's the reason: she hasn't been drinking the competition. Eeww. I shouldn't be too hasty with my eewws, because I'm known to wander into the nearest convenience store and grab a Mt. Rainier Latte, in which coffee is found as the third or fourth ingredient! These people are selling cups of faintly coffee colored milk!

Therefore I suspect Discoveries might not be so bad. But I'll have to get back to you after I actually drink one. Which won't be any time between now and when I go to bed.


**the ubiquity of Star Bar now seems very ironic when I think back to the day that M and I walked around Ochanomizu in the rain for almost an hour trying to track down the ONE that was rumored to be there. can't say with authority that it actually the first one in Japan, but when we finally figured out where it was, that latte was delicious and worth the one hour train ride AND the hunt in the rain! right after that latte is when I should have bought stock in Starbucks Japan...?!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I Look Dandy Today and Other Myths

To say that I can't see the screen very well as I type because my eyelids are that swollen from crying all day is not much of an exaggeration.
But it's not what you think.
Yes, I'm a bit sad about leaving Tokyo in two and a half weeks. But there's plenty about being back in Chicago to look forward to. Here is a totally random list of examples:

After eight p.m., or whenever Koji goes to bed, I won't have to function via flashlight. I'll be able to let this weird muscle that I've developed on my left shoulder (from clenching the flashlight between my jaw and collarbone) go back where it came from.

When I need cilantro, I'll drive to Marketplace and buy it for cheap. I won't wonder what it's called in Japanese, search fruitlessly (vegetable-lessly?) at many markets and then resign myself to a cilatro-deprived life.

We won't be limited to two at a time when we feel like inviting friends over. And we won't have to hint that they should go home when it gets past 9, because we'll be able to put Koji to bed in his very own room...this is back to reason number one up there. Maybe I should just come out and say that I'm deliriously happy about putting Koji back in his own room.

Did I mention driving? This list is not in order, but reason number one may well be, my car, my car, my car...and yes, I read the news and I know that gas prices are up and President Bush wants me to cut down on driving. Fine. Even a little more driving than NONE, which is the amount I do now, will be great. Did you know that I like to drive? It's true! Let me know when you need someone for a road trip, I'm in!

I'll know how my phones work, both cell and home phone. The phone we were provided with here in the Room is nice looking but has never been easy to operate. So, I went from being a rather reluctant phone user to a complete non phone user. I'm ready to reach out and touch someone again.

Speaking of someone, the thought of living so close to friends that I can walk to some of them if I want to (better yet for me, drive in 10-15 minutes!!) is fabulous, glorious, wonderful! I have exactly one friend here that I can walk to, and she has been a great blessing. But the Lord knows I need more than one friend! The rest of my friends here live at least an hour away on the train.

Maybe Aogu will be able to come home before Koji goes to bed and we'll all be able to eat dinner together. It doesn't even have to be every night, but more often than never would be a dream.

Back to my swollen eyelids, I have been crying all day but that is because I have a beast of a cold! Likely I've had this kind of cold some other time in my life, but I can't recall it at moment. The main three sources of my misery are all in my face: my eyes have been weeping all day, my nose won't stop running (and yet I'm oddly congested) and I can't stop sneezing. Ugh.

So today is the second day that Koji and I stayed in the room. He was awake for about 12 hours today and we watched TV for about 11 1/2 of them. Maybe a little less than that but not much. Actually, this morning I had a little more energy, so we turned the TV off after our standard Thomas fix (yes, I said "our," I like Thomas too these days!) and played golf and football and read some books. We play golf with a long handled wooden rice spoon and a long handled shoe horn and golf balls. Good times.

Oh, I guess we were also artistic! We got out some paper and spongy shapes that Grandma sent over awhile back and made some creations. As Koji was creating and then coloring in a coloring book, I was sorting through some cooking magazines and cutting/ripping out recipes. Suddenly, Koji picked up his coloring book and ripped out a six page section and then said, "Mama, kitte kudasai" (please cut this). Initially I was astonished at his sudden destructiveness! But then it dawned on me that he just wanted to do exactly what I had been; ripping out pages and then cutting them. Silly boy!

After he woke up from his nap, I succumbed to the lure of the TV pretty quickly. I flipped through the channels and waited for him to say "kore mitai!" (want to watch this!). Aogu's influence was apparent when Koji stopped me on a Japanese Pro Bowling Association Senior Tournament--and he was serious! So serious that he got out his little plastic bowling set, lined up the pins and went at it himself!

Meanwhile, I had gone to another channel and gotten sucked into the story of a Korean man who came to Japan 30+ years ago to help his uncle with a restaurant. He couldn't speak Japanese and he worked very very long hours, so it wasn't a great life. The lone bright spot was his only friend, a girl who also worked at the restaurant. Eventually they wanted to get married, and did, but sadly without her parents' blessing. They continued to work in the restaurant business with the dream of owning their own restaurant. They managed to have three children while working and working. One day, just as they were very close to making it with their restaurant, the wife (by that time maybe in her 50s?) collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her but in any case, she almost died. There was nothing the husband could do but keep working to show her that the dream was coming true. By the time she got out of the hospital, he had remodeled the restaurant and his menu, and the place was full of ravenous patrons. Cut to the beaming family, surrounded by their lovely children and grandchildren...and toasting one another with big glasses of vile-looking green juice?!

That's right, the whole thing was an advertisement for aojiru, a juice that's made of kale and/or a variety of other green, leafy vegetables. They tricked me! But they won't catch me drinking their potion, no matter how healthy Mr. Restaurant's Wife was at the end of the show!

Maybe another sign that it's OK for us to head back to the U.S. of A. for now is that I actually feel a little tired of Japanese food. I never ever thought I'd say that, and it'll probably be a matter of weeks before I'm cursing myself for ever taking all these lovely Japanese meal ingredients at the tips of my fingers for granted. For whatever reason, what I want now is Indian food. Huh?

So yesterday I made some keema curry (clarification: I didn't actually use the exact recipe I'm linking to here; this is the recipe I would have used if I had access to all the ingredients! The recipe I used was a bit simpler). I let it "age" until today, then I added some more curry powder, chili powder, coriander and a bit of water. I served it to myself--but not to Koji, his dinner was 9 potstickers--over rice with cucumber raita on the side. This is how I made it:

Peel and grate at least three seedless cucumbers. Squeeze out the juice. If time permits, sprinkle with salt and let sit at least 10 minutes, then squeeze again and rinse. Mix with one cup of plain yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, coarse pepper and coriander. Add a random amount of dried basil. Stir and refrigerate for at least an hour, but longer is better.

I wouldn't be bothered posting the recipe here except that I was pleasantly shocked by how well this little side dish turned out! It was extremely tasty, and even more so as a combination with the curry. Can't wait to try it with mint or cilantro or those other leaves that are for sale at Marketplace!

In other news (why am I so chatty today?!), I read two books recently. I read them between last Wednesday night and this Monday, to be precise. One was good and one not so. The good one was Seabiscuit. Though I fell asleep during the movie and remember exactly nothing about it, the book was quite interesting. The author made many asides into the history of the day, which could have been annoying, but I didn't know anything about it and I was willing to learn, so it worked out for me. Bonus: I bought this book for 105 yen (about $1) at Book Off. I could kick myself for not thinking of shopping there a lot sooner. I've been buying brand new books on sale for 700-1000 yen and they don't last any longer than Seabiscuit did! I won't be such a fool again...for the next two and a half weeks...

This is the other book I read: Cross Bones. It cost me 250 yen but I'm not sure it had that much value, for me at least. The premise of the story is that someone has found bones that may belong to Jesus in Masada, which is scandalous and will surely debunk all major world religions!! Um, except I don't believe that. So, it was mildly interesting as a not so well written mystery. Don't run out and get it.

Good night.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Time to Move On: the Last of Kumamoto Round-up

This is Ashikita Church, where we spent a large part of Sunday the 25th. Aogu's dad started this church right around the time Aogu was born, and Aogu grew up here until he was nine, when their family moved to Hawaii. Now Hannah and her family are a pillar family in the church.
posted by jcm

Koji's position for much of church...on the cushions next to my feet. Some people think having kids in chuch is wonderful, but after seven months of trying it, I say, VCCE Toddler Room, I miss you!!
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The look of rice when it's nearly ready for harvest. This particular field was just behind the church, but we saw similar fields all around Kumamoto. They were beautiful!
posted by jcm

Aogu and his oldest, er, longest? friend, Yat-chan, in the field (parking lot) behind the dining room of the church.
posted by jcm

Every week after church, everyone troops down to the dining room, where they all have lunch together. At least once a month, the menu is Japanese style curry rice, and jackpot!, that's what it was the day we were there. So delicious! Rare moment, Koji thought so too and cleaned his plate~
posted by jcm

Serious Sunday School participants
posted by jcm

After church we went to a roller luge park. The roller luge was AWESOME and I wanted to speed down those hills many more times than the three I did (but it turned out to be just as well I stopped at three, the next day my arms and shoulders were sore from all that clinging to the clattering handles). When we had exhausted our luge tickets, we moved the party to this park on a hill next door. Koji was so enamored of this roller slide that though he slid down at least 20--30--40?! times, he still screamed protest when we decided to leave.
posted by jcm

Aogu's oldest friends from Ashikita Church: to the left, the Yamamotos, in the back right corner, the Fujiwaras, next to them, Hannah's family, and the bottom right, Shu-chan's younger sister Masami-san and her family. All wonderful, hospitable people; I'm so thankful we were able to spend the day with them!
posted by jcm

After all the excitement of the day and no nap in there anywhere, the minute we got into the car to drive to the Yamamotos' house, Koji was OUT. Hannah suggested this neck pillow to keep his head stable, not because he was suddenly a neck trauma patient....
posted by jcm

The Yamamotos' two year old house with their youngest son, eight-year-old Minato in front. It was beautiful inside too! I particularly liked the loft above the boys' bedroom, which would correspond with the windows seen at the very top of the house.
posted by jcm

Here's the meal I ordered at the local greasy ramen shop we went to with the Yamamoto family: pork broth with green onions, gyoza (potstickers) and fried rice. My plan was to share with Koji, but he wasn't up for any of it and ended up making dinner out of what you see in the next photo.
posted by jcm

This shave ice is the only "food" in the ramen place that Koji would get excited about, and was he ever excited! I've never seen him feed himself so cleanly, quickly or efficiently. If only he was always that motivated!
posted by jcm

The honest truth (is there any other kind?) is that Koji and Sakie didn't play all that well together. Who knows why, and I won't bother theorizing here. However, they did manage to agree that these Anpanman finger dolls were fun times.
posted by jcm

It was Monday morning: Aogu had flown back to Tokyo for work, and Koji was fired up to ride the Kumamoto streetcars: they reminded him of Thomas' friend Toby. They reminded me of the MAX in Portland, but with older cars, with many more random ads painted on the sides, and with more frequent service.
posted by jcm<

Free umbrella service inside the streetcars: the top line says "Free," inside the box is "Umbrella-loan service" and in parentheses "please return next time you ride"
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From the minute we stepped into Rumi-obachan's house, and for the two days we stayed, Koji made himself at home on this Anpanman "bike" (complete with super annoying engine sound) and the indoor gym to his back.
posted by jcm

On Monday night, we "moved" to Rumi-obachan's house. She had a giant yakiniku feast waiting for us! From left to right you see Sayuri-san (Hiromitsu's wife), Hannah, Rumi-obachan, Hiromitsu, Tomonori (younger and eldest sons of Rumi-obachan, respectively) and Shu-chan.
posted by jcm

Tuesday morning, we walked Yumi to kindergarten with Sayuri-san. Her class starts at 10, but the grounds open at nine and the children are free to arrive anytime during the hour to play. Koji ran right up the ladder to drive this airplane as if he'd been attending this school his whole life! When Yumi's class started and all the kids went inside, I literally had to drag him away kicking and screaming, though he had played for almost an hour.
posted by jcm

Soba noodle and ginger pork lunch set that I ordered when Koji and I went out with Yukiko (host sister from Kanazawa days--that was 15 years ago?!) and her son Takeru before heading to their house for an afternoon play date. I ordered it thinking Koji would eat the soba. Instead, he became fixated on Takeru's udon, to the point that halfway through the meal I had to order another bowl so I could replace what Koji had "borrowed" from him!
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Yukiko, Takeru (2), Koji and Kaoru (5)
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Post hairbut by Rumi-obachan, Koji experienced his first ever hanabi (fireworks), and he's still talking about them 10 days later! Funny thing is, the hanabi themselves weren't quite as exciting as stomping on them afterward to insure they were completely extinguished...
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In height--not age!--order:
Yumi, 5
Yurie, 6
Koji, 2
Sakie, 3
Mai, 1

posted by jcm

Out to dinner at Pisolino, courtesy of the lovely and thoughtful and salad, I love you...days and days of Japanese meal after Japanese meal have driven me to long for you!
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Auntie Hannah and Koji; notice the shrimp in the background? They were covered with a mild spicy red pepperish flavor and I was instructed to eat them absolutely whole, with no thought for peeling or removing things like heads or I did, and I have to admit they tasted pretty good. Good enough to eat two. Couldn't do a third.
posted by jcm

Koji's main dish: a cake with a piece of grapefruit in the middle. No, he's not normally allowed to choose cake as his main dishes, but many rules were excepted on the trip as his excitement level was stratospheric and eating wasn't in his stratosphere...unless it was cake or shave ice or...
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Ducks in row, ready to hit the hot springs...from left to right, Mai, Sakie, Koji, Yurie and Yumi
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Wednesday morning, just hours before we flew back to Tokyo: these are the new best friends of a boy who's newly good at "smiling" on command.
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Aogu amassed this collection of "Kuma jochu," which is shochu made in Kumamoto, during our trip. Since, he's given some of it away, and the rest he's drinking little by little. None for me thanks! But Koji's intrigued...and hard-pressed to understand why he's not allowed to taste Papa's "medicine".
posted by jcm<

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mountains, Monkeys, Mini Sumo Wrestlers

Day three in Kyushu: on the drive from Kumamoto to Mt. Aso, we stopped at a turn-out. The view was great, but we didn't take pictures of it because we were too busy with shots like this. Left to right, Yurie, Koji and Yumi. As previously mentioned, Yurie is Aogu's 6-year-old niece. Yumi is Aogu's cousin Hiromitsu's 5-year-old daughter. Got that?
Unfortunately when we arrived at the bottom of the ropeway which leads to the active crater of Mt. Aso, the ropeway was temporarily shut down because of there was some kind of mini-eruption going on. Or something. We waited in the gift shop for more than an hour, but volcanic activity wasn't on our side, so we gave up and left. From there we went to the Monkey Theatre and saw a "show" featuring two performing monkeys. I was alarmed to see that the monkeys were kept in collars at the ends of two long ropes, whatever jumps, flips and spins they did. Not that I know anything about monkeys, maybe they really would have run away if they weren't on a rope to their trainer. But if so, then why force them to do a show? I'm the furthest thing from an animal activist, and yet it struck me as an odd scene. Anyway, ropes and collars or not, this particular stunt was impressive: these stilts were flat on the stage, and the monkey picked them up and climbed to the top of them at the same time, ending in the position you see here.

From there we proceeded to Aso Farmland Village, which I'm too lazy to link to. This was like the mother of all souvenir shops, with a couple of restaurants, a petting zoo and a spa. We had lunch at one of the restaurants (I'm brilliant with the details, aren't I?) where Koji's highlight was drinking melon soda with Yumi.
Next we were off to the petting zoo. Koji was bolder than I expected. In fact, with the exception of the ostriches, the llama and the cow, I think he managed to touch every single animal there, and it wasn't exactly a small petting zoo. But he is still a relatively small boy, and that's why he was allowed to have a seat on the back of this giant turtle. He's sitting right on top of the sign taped to the turtle's shell that says "do not sit on me".
Koji's boldest move is pictured to the left. He walked right up to this capybara and petted it as shown. At the time, I didn't even know what it was so I was slightly alarmed. I think Aogu may have suggested that it was some kind of huge mouse, which I didn't want to believe. But actually, he was right!
From there, we drove back to Kumamoto, arriving a little early for our dinner reservation at a tofu restaurant. Aogu's aunt, Rumi-obachan, is the one who kindly made the arrangements, so this time I have a legitimate excuse for not knowing where I was...The restaurant's specialty is tofu, and we had several courses which were all exquisitely arranged. Most-but not all-items also tasted correspondingly exquisite. Thank God we had our own private tatami room. Koji enjoyed challenging the cousins (who weigh the same amount as him though they are three and four years older!) to rounds of sumo. Having watched much sumo, on this day, he figured that he needs to wipe his brow and his armpits to prepare for a match. Japanese restaurants are convenient like that: we had been supplied with lots of small, wet towels to wipe our hands before the meal. They were perfect for Koji's pre-match hygenic needs....

Monday, October 03, 2005

Shame on You, Auntie

How could I be so careless as to not report that as of last week on Wednesday (I think, I'm always mixing dates up because I'm not in same time zone!) Mr. Eli Benjamin Case has departed from Doernbecher Hospital and is now living in Salem, OR with his mommy, daddy and big brother Ollie?
Thank you, Jesus!
And thanks to all of you for praying. Please continue to do so. Thankfully Eli is strong enough now to be home, but he's not quite strong enough to take in all necessary nourishment by mouth. So he still needs a feeding tube, which I'm pretty sure is not much fun for him or my sister (though it's much more fun than having him in the hospital...).
I will continue to keep you posted and I promise to be more prompt next time! Or, if you are very curious, head to Life on Ollie Lane.

70 Down, 69 to Go?!

I didn't have any plans for Koji and myself today.
When will I next be able to make this statement? Not anytime this month; for lo, our departure from Tokyo looms in less than four weeks. For the curious and precise, we will be leaving Tokyo on October 30 at 7 pm and arriving in Chicago the same day around 3 pm. Isn't that weird? Going from here to the U.S. feels like something of a time warp, and yet it's also the longest day, with the most eating, ever.
Tangent. The point is, for the rest of this month, I've booked Koji into nursery school every Wednesday and Friday morning since I know that he and I both will miss it very much when we aren't here. Also, we've made various appointments and plans to catch up with friends one last time, and the very few days that aren't already taken up with either of these things will likely be swallowed up in packing.
But for now it's too early to pack, and though I still feel less than peppy coming off the Kumamoto trip, staying in the room all day is a little too claustrophobic. And, the Stamp Rally is looming!
There was no way I was up for the 32 station marathon that Koji and I did the other week. If I'm feeling a little tired now, maybe it's a fatigue that started back then?! That was too much, even for me!
However, I really really want that Tokyo Metro bag...and there are only 25 stamping days left before riding the Metro isn't an option anymore.
So today, we managed to finish off the line we live on, Nanboku. We went to 10 stations and collected 11 stamps. This means that we are three lines down (Hibiya, Chiyoda and Nanboku) and five to go (Marunouchi, Tozai, Yurakucho, Ginza, Hanzomon). As I mentioned previously there are 139 stations in the Metro system. We have now visited at least half of them, and we have 69 more blank spaces in our book, waiting to be stamped.
I'm such a nerd about this...I might have to ask the fam to sacrafice Saturday morning pancakes this week so I can race out and try to conquer the Metro by myself?! I do think the process would be a bit faster, were I not simultaneously trying to entertain, placate, discipline, feed, hydrate and/or wrestle with a small boy.
Ah, these ARE the good old days, right here and now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

From "Bear Base" to Obaachan's Place

Daytime view of Kumamoto Castle.
posted by jcm

Illustrated scroll thingy ~ I liked the look of it but you can tell I wasn't paying any attention to what it actually was. Bonus feature: our feet reflected in the window...
posted by jcm

Samurai armor on display inside the castle
posted by jcm

View from the top (seventh floor) of the castle, including a bit of the detail on the roof.
posted by jcm