Thursday, November 27, 2008

'Doctor Fish'

At the Oedo-Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba, you can stick your feet into a warm bath and let these little freshwater carp feast on the dead skin cells. I was there yesterday, and this is my foot.

That's Kirsty on the left, Sally in the middle, me on the right.

When you first arrive at the place you leave your shoes in a shoe locker by the front doors. You pay the 2,500 yen admission fee and get a rubber wristband with a barcode sticker that they scan as you add things to your bill (the fish and other treatments like hot stone massage cost extra, and then there are the restaurants and gift shops, and a game area).

Next you pick out a yukata at the yukata counter (they are the belted robes we're wearing under our yellow jackets -- there were more than a dozen designs to choose from) and then you go into the locker room to change and lock up your stuff.

We went to Doctor Fish first, then relaxed in this garden onsen area, where there's shallow warm wading pool, with stones arranged along the bottom in different patterns, which I guess are meant to massage your feet.

Some rocks were more painful to walk on than others...
We also spent quite a bit of time soaking in the indoor baths, where all you have with you is your "humility towel," a small thing you hold to your chest and let hang down so you're not baring all while you're walking around. Then you fold it up and rest it on the top of your head while you soak. Feels funny at first, but, like the feeling of fish nibbling at your toes, you quickly get used to it!

girls' day out

I've been playing tennis on Mondays and Wednesday mornings with these fine ladies (from left -- Karen, Sally, Kirsty) and as Kirsty is moving to Nagoya next month, and Karen is heading back to the UK, we went for a day of pampering at an onsen in Odaiba (see next). Sadly, Cats Livin, where you can play with real cats, view rare breeds and buy cute outfits for your kitties at home, wasn't open when we walked past...

hot potatoes

Next to the entrance to the playground in Jingu Gaien near Shinanomachi station is a vending machine offering a selection of 'Casual Frozen Foods'. You put your money in the slot, make a selection, and the countdown begins: it took 112 seconds to heat our fries. Terry says they were surprisingly tasty. You can also get meatballs, shrimp croquettes, steamed buns and hotdogs. Alas, no Hot Pockets.

we have a tree

Fresh-cut Christmas trees, the ones that shed needles and dry out faster than it takes my kids to empty out a stocking, are available here in Tokyo -- if you're willing to shell out some serious cash. But I didn't want to spend $200 on the same thing we got last year at Peas & Pickles on Henry Street for $50.

So I felt lucky when the lady at the plant shop next to the cemetery down the hill showed me this one, priced somewhere in between...
It's adorable, right? And tall. (Taller than me, anyway.) Who cares that it's a little misshapen?

It felt good to carry it home on our backs (well, I carried it on my back, or sort of balanced it over one shoulder, after Conor tired of holding up the front end - and it was early on a Wednesday evening and Terry was still at work) because that's what we would do back home -- go to the corner bodega, pick something out, and start walking. And because we said no thanks to home delivery, the shopkeeper threw in this little poinsettia for free.

Now we just need some lights. And some ornaments. And maybe a skirt of fake snow.

seasonal dress for the Colonel

outside KFC, Hiro-o Plaza

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sunday in the park

Jumpin' rope
When we first arrived here about a year ago, the boys were shy about talking to Japanese kids and frustrated that they couldn't effectively communicate things like, "May I please have a turn on the swing?" (because my kids are really that polite - ha!).

In the months since, they've certainly picked up a phrase or two (sumimasen, arigato gozaimasu, daijoobu, watashi wa amerikajin desu), but they still don't know enough of the language to have a real conversation. Terry, on the other hand, has learned quite a bit, as he's still taking lessons twice a week (I quit back in April -- I know, bad girl) and so he sometimes feeds the kids a line or two to help them out. On Sunday, for example, he told Conor to say Shite mo ii desu ka ("Can I do it?") to these kids who were jumping rope at the park. He had to give him a little shove of encouragement, but he did it, and then he and Dylan were in like Flynn!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


On Friday we finally made it to this okonomiyaki restaurant in Jingumae that I've been meaning to try for very long time...We sat at the counter and ordered two different kinds, one with scallops and pork and another with shrimp and squid and some other seafood. With both you also get chopped cabbage and others veggies and it all gets mixed together in a savory pancake-like batter and grilled. Sauces are slathered on, it gets sectioned like a pie and served.

Here's part of our meal, at an early stage:

Our cook offered to take our picture. Who were we to refuse?
Here's our food again, a bit further along in the process but still a gloppy mess. When it's done it's flatter and much more attractive. And it tastes really really good, we swear.

translation please?

On Saturday we spent some time at a playground in Hiroo, near Tengenbashi, where I saw these:

They seem to work great as seating for weary grownups, but maybe they're instructional? Anybody?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

the tough questions

On the way to school the other day, Conor asked me if spies really exist, and if so, what the job entails. Dylan wanted to know why we have eyelids.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

another one gone

I pulled a tooth out of Dylan's mouth this morning...So tonight, Terry and I - sorry, the tooth fairy - had better remember to put a 500-yen coin under his pillow...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas in November

November has long been a stressful time for me, because I'd usually be crashing on some major freelance projects and starting to feel the pressures of holiday planning. But these days I am feeling pretty calm. For one thing, I don't have any work deadlines (I'm on a break, ok?) and there will be no extended family gatherings to coordinate, as we're staying here in Tokyo through the holidays. The only thing I've got lined up to get us through the three weeks of no school is gymnastics camp, the week of Dec 22-26. Oh yes, they will be at a gym on Christmas Day, doing somersaults and cartwheels and bouncing off the mini-tramp, because my boys need this, I need this, and we'll still have time in the a.m. to open presents and eat huevos rancheros.

Even stranger than dumping my kids for five hours on Dec. 25 will be watching the city go on with business as usual (it's a regular work day for Terry, though he'll probably take it off). There does seem to be broad affection for the seasonal decorations -- the lights and trees, the shiny ornaments, the snowflake decals and Santa outfits, the reindeer hats and (what's this?) Christmas tree ski masks (see below) -- but I'm told that it will all be abruptly dismantled to make way for New Year's, Japan's most important holiday of the year. Here 'Xmas' is commercial, New Year's is spiritual.

Have a look...
Above: The Gap, corner of Omotesando and Meiji dori; below, up the road, near the new H&M in Harajuku
Shibuya shopping district (Parco 1, 2, or 3? I can't keep all the malls straight)
Shinjuku Southern Terrace, FrancFranc window display ("'Red' reminds me of...ketchup, lobster, rabbit eyes...")
FrancFranc ornaments
on sale now at Tokyu Hands department store...

Atre mall, Meguro station
ferry terminal, Yokohama

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fall Fashion Watch

Chunky knits, fringe-top boots and purple tights are everywhere...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My boys are too big for this

I'm always amazed to see how some of the moms with small children get around in this city....
I'm only counting four kids here, but maybe there's a 5th one we can't see.

It's nice to see the older kids are wearing helmets. Rarely do I see anybody wearing a helmet here. But those babies...somebody cover their heads!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

ramen - it's what's for dinner

Ippudo, around 6pm tonight

Saturday in Yokohama

Last weekend we spent the day in the largest Chinatown in Japan, in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. We had been invited out there by one of Terry's co-workers, and he brought his wife and two sons, ages 5 and 9. We had lunch at a Cantonese restaurant. The boys loved the elaborately carved table in the lobby..

Neither pair of boys spoke the other's language, but the kids managed to communicate well enough to trade Pokemon cards.
It was a bright sunny fall day, perfect for strolling and checking things out.

We made a brief stop at the Kuan Ti Miao temple, with its crazy-colorful gate -- a visual carnival compared to Tokyo's understated Shinto shrines (which I prefer, actually -- less is more).
The boys like to complain that temples are boring but give 'em a 100-yen coin and they are ready to light a candle and offer up a prayer.

I'm not a huge fan of the incense cloud, but it is what it is.On our way to the park, we passed this lady selling ice cream cones from a cart. Is that the old Comet cone packaging, with the freckle-faced blond kids, I see decorating her case? Somebody tell me where I've seen that before...Shortly before taking the water taxi back to the train stationFinal bonding moment: grabbing a late-afternoon snack at McD's

Thursday, November 6, 2008


When Obama won, I was in Mitsukoshi department store in Nihombashi, checking out their ginormous Christmas tree with my friend Claire. Terry, who had been keeping an eye on the New York Times' website all morning at work, refreshing it every five minutes, called me when they finally called it, shortly after lunchtime on Wednesday, Tokyo time. I will always remember being there when I heard the good news, and feeling And proud. I will always remember that while it was all happening, while the state returns were coming in and other expats were home glued to the CNN World channel or whatever, Claire and I and a bunch of other moms we know from school were at Ozu Washi, a handmade Japanese paper shop, making lampshades. Here's mine:
I'm sure it was that absentee ballot I mailed to the Brooklyn board of elections that cinched it.