Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kappa Sushi, we love you

Sunday we ventured down town to Sanjo/Shijo area to go shopping and exploring. It was really hot (sorry, Mike!). After about 10 minutes, the boys were wilting. It was above the grumperature (we have established that above 84 degrees, our boys are hopeless). We got Baskin Robbins to stanch the whining. A couple of hours later we had stocked up on lots of school supplies at the 100 yen shop, and we stopped in to this conveyor belt sushi restaurant:

The plates go around and around....you take what you want to eat. Or if you're Hugo, you grab any plate you see, put it on the table, and make your parents tell you what it is (and therefore pay for it). Oh well... it's only 105 yen per plate!

Here we are coaching Hugo NOT to grab that plate of salmon with crazy onions on top. This place had great stuff....we had so much fun! If you place a special order (using the touch screen computer at the table), it arrives on this little shinkansen--can you see it below? Or are you distracted, as I was, by the tempura shrimp roll?

After the train delivers the plate to your table (automatically), it returns to the kitchen empty. The picture is blurry of course, because it's a bullet train.

Next time we go, I'm going to try the "hanbahgah" sushi. Or maybe the eggplant one.

All in all, we took down 32 plates between the 5 of us. The total came to only about 3300 yen. Plus, this experience bought us about 2 more hours of non-grumpy behavior downtown. And the boys were well-behaved, too.

This restaurant chain, Kappa Sushi, features some very funny aliens in their TV ads. Check it out!

(Ms. MacBook--I fooled you again!)

Look what I made...

I made this bento for Alek this morning.
He even ate some of it.

p.s. Ha ha, Ms. MacBook--I tricked you! I moved the pictures so you couldn't hide them from me! Now watch me post about the sushi we ate....

Will you still read me if I tell you this?

I have something to admit: I hate this computer. Not loving your macbook (excuse me, MacBook) is like not believing in God. You just don't admit to it. But I'm going on record. I don't see what all the hype is about.

I want to show you some pictures of our conveyor-belt sushi day on Sunday. But Ms. MacBook won't let me show you. Sure, yesterday I was able to make a new folder of photos and then blog about them 3 minutes later. But not today. She doesn't want to show me any new folders today.

Today I wanted to scroll through my 50-page Word document. I thought a scroll bar would be handy--but I guess MacBook thinks, "50 pages? You can scroll through those one page at a time."

"What about yesterday, MacBook? You gave me a scroll bar yesterday."

She says, "well, today I just don't feel like it."

When I was a PC gal, my word processor would freeze, and then I'd get a recovered document right away. Not Ms. MacBook. She doesn't want to give me recovered documents. Okay--only when she feels like it.

So today I feel like chucking this gal out the window. Of course here, I would have to purchase a "sodai gomi" certificate, so I can put it in the "large trash pickup." That means I'd have to get out of my PJ's, so she gets a reprieve. But I'm warning you MacBook: You'd better change your fickle ways....

She's just laughing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


What have we been eating?

So far, we eat breakfast at home, and either lunch or dinner at a restaurant.
This was the first big success: Yakisoba. When deconstructed, there was something for everyone. Hugo loved the noodles, Max ate the fried egg and the bonito flakes, and Alek ate all the bacon.

Same place also served okonomiyake, which is a pancake/omelet thing. You are supposed to eat it with mayonnaise, but....no thanks. This is the one Japanese food that actually makes me feel full, so I love it. But the boys were not crazy about this stuff. We ended up ordering one more yakisoba for them.

You've heard of kakigori....but I bet you didn't know you could get kakigori on a stick. These actually have shaved ice and adzuki beans inside this creamy layer. Yum....

Not all is perfect...we haven't made it to Starbucks yet. But I bought a simple coffee maker and Darrin brewed up his first pot of OC coffee beans....here he's about to taste...(I ask you, does he seem prepared to make a neutral judgment?)

Darrin, tell us what you think of it. Don't hold back.

We gave this coffee a few more chances, and I find it rather drinkable. (But then I'm not so picky about my coffee.)

One night we picked up these trays of sashimi from the grocery store. Note the tray of gorgeous crab meat to the right! Aren't you jealous? Also, the tofu on the left was made down the street. Take note, travelers: it is worth a trip to Japan just to try tofu that was made that morning, to be eaten only the same day. There's a man who walks a bike around our neighborhood selling this. He squeezes the bike horn really slow as he walks around...

We are not the first Westerners to express concern over this beverage. Can you read the tiny lettering in English? Our brave Max gave it a try. What did you think, Max? "It tastes like liquid Smarties."

These are delicious: Corn-choco. Chocolate covered corn puffs. Maybe you are supposed to eat these with your Calpis.

The ever present vending machine. This one was a lifesaver yesterday as we were touring Nijo Castle. (Did I mention that it is still about 1,000 degrees?). So far the boys' favorite is Cherry Refresh. I believe these boys have had more sugary drinks in the last week than I have allowed them to have in their entire lives....

After Nijo Castle, we stopped into a tiny restaurant for lunch. (If there any large restaurants in Kyoto, we haven't found them yet.) Darrin had tempura udon; Max is eating zaruudon (cold), and Alek and Hugo tried soba. Slurped almost everything down.

Friday, August 27, 2010

School Scenes

School started on Thursday with a half-day. Here are the boys just starting out on their walk to school. We are lucky to live only about one mile from the school. Most other families have long bike rides, or bus/train commutes to school. In this shot we are walking through the side street near our house.

Crossing the main street near the school.

That path below looks nice! We decided to try it the next morning.

Arriving at the school. Wiping sweat at 8:05am. You can see the building behind...as far as I can tell it's a pretty typical school building. Rooms are really big and have high ceilings and big windows. No air conditioning.... The teachers have fans, keep the windows wide open for a cross breeze, and let the kids drink lots of water.

Each morning (based on two mornings) students play until 8:25, then the bell rings and the kids line up with their teachers. The tall woman in pink is Alek and Hugo's teacher. She's fabulous. Great energy! In the picture I also like how Max's golden head is kind of shining out of the center of the picture...so far he's the only one in his class without black hair.

The man second from right in the next pic is Max's teacher, a combined grade 4-5 class. Max really likes him so far. They started an anatomy unit today. Their room has a life-sized torso named Ed, whose organs are completely removable. The curriculum is integrated...I guess they try to teach reading, math, and writing skills through different units, like this anatomy one.

Below is the whole school--grades 1 through 8! A few students had to miss the first day, but in total there are 60 kids. After the first day we had a picnic to meet all the families. My camera battery ran out, so I couldn't take any pictures. But there are families from all over the world--Germany, Japan, Switzerland, US, Australia....

On Friday morning we decided to take this "river" path to school instead of the street/sidewalk. It was great! It's cooler down there, and pretty, and there isn't any traffic. (Our boys are still a little spacey in the intersections....)

Alek and Hugo wanted to walk in the water. I think they forgot they had somewhere to be.

Alek's body language is easy to read...did I mention that it's hot? (Are you getting tired of hearing that yet?)

All in all it takes us about 25 minutes to get to school.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Part of a busy day....

Wednesday morning, the boys and Mom took a walk over to the Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds, which is close to our house. We were looking for a children's playground that was supposed to be there. The palace grounds are a large public park area; in the center is the old palace, which you can tour by appointment. The palace is from when the Emperor of Japan was based in Kyoto (until 1868). Here is one of the gates:

We found the playground; there were a few swings and seesaws. Most of them were in the direct sun, so the boys didn't really want to play on them. (Did I mention that it is hot? Did I mention that it's ridiculously humid?) I have smart boys. Yes I do. They picked up crow feathers and danced on top of a downed tree trunk. Shady activities.

On the way back down the park to our house, we stopped in the snack bar in the park for kakigori, which is Japanese shaved ice. We shared one mango and one strawberry. Soooo good. It was only 10:30am; but when it's 91 and humid, it just can't be too early for crunchy shaved ice with sugar on top.

Later that afternoon we met V. once again at the ward office. It was time to pick up our health insurance cards and to learn how to pay our premiums. Our family of five will be covered on Japan's national health insurance for a total of about $500 a year. We will pay only 30% of any medical costs here. We also picked up the boys' gaijin cards, which were ready that day (Darrin's and mine will have photos, so they are not ready for 3 more weeks).

Then the lady at the health insurance window points at our kids, and asked if we had been upstairs to learn about the children's welfare programs. We hadn't. The boys were getting a bit impatient waiting for us to finish all this bureaucracy....but we trekked up to the third floor anyway.

V. is talking to the woman at that window, and I'm looking at this handout that's all in kanji, which I can't read...but it has the figure Y13,000 (about $145) on it and V. is saying "every month?" in Japanese to the lady. And I'm thinking to myself, "oh boy, this sounds expensive!" And I also hear him say "13,000 for each child?" and I"m thinking "oh, crap, this is really expensive..." And then V. turns to me in English and translates the conversation: "The Japanese national policy is to pay families 13,000 per month, per child, as a child benefit." Huh...? Are you shocked, too? Apparently Darrin and I are supposed to receive this child benefit--13,000 yen per month for each of our three children. It definitely feels a little weird. Okay, it feels a LOT weird. But as V said, it's in the national budget... and the friendly ladies at the child welfare window didn't bat an eye. It's ours. I hereby promise, you, Japan: We will put every last yen of that benefit right back into the Japanese economy.

After that, we splurged on a cab down to our neighborhood for the last task-setting up a bank account. (Did I mention that it is hot and humid? Did I mention that cabs are air conditioned? Did I mention I have to give back to the economy?) The first bank near our house would not open an account for us because we don't have a hanko (an identity stamp). The second bank was hesitant, too, and in fact V. said the woman was trying her best to dissuade us from keeping our money there ("Oh, we're a small bank....there are not so many branches in Kyoto...we're only open until 3pm..."). Clearly she was uncomfortable, but ultimately, we got the account all set about 40 minutes later (after V had to write my address in both kanji and katakana). And her parting words, (according to V) were to the effect of, "please ask for me if you ever need help here...you are most welcome and I will help you any way I can; here is my card." This bank is really convenient, since it's right around the corner from our house. In these pics you can see us waiting for the account to be set up.

Finally we took the boys up to visit their school for a personal "sneak a peek" and out for dinner later. But this post is too long already. I will post more on that later!

Interview with Max 2

Konnichiwa Max.

Tell me something about the food here.
It's Japanese-y. Some of it is yucky.

What foods do you think are yucky?
Um...what's that sweet and our chicken called?

It's called karaage.

Karage is yucky huh? I love it.
I don't.

Which foods have you liked best so far ?
[Thinking....thinking.....] The shaved ice stuff (kakigori)

What's our house like?
Small. The upstairs is hot.

What do you think of sleeping on futons?
It's a teensy bit uncomfortable. It's like camping every night of your life.

Do you think you are over your jet lag?
No. Because I'm really really hungry at breakfast, and at dinner and lunch I don't eat much at all.

Max, tell us three things about school today.
There's no rules yet. I had to wear indoor shoes. And...it was hot.

Thanks Max. Arigatoo.
You're welcome.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Highlights from The Journey.... (part 2)

Here's part 2 of our journey story! Here is Beth checking in to the hotel we stayed in our first night. They didn't speak much English at the front desk...(the Part 1 shots of the boys waiting in the lobby illustrate how long this took).

Open elevator to the 6th floor....

Here the boys inspect their first Japanese toilet! This one came with a full control panel. On Sunday morning Max got my pant legs all wet when he "accidentally" hit the "for ladies only" bidet button. (I was standing at the sink)

We also checked out the gorgeous Japanese bath setup in our room. We were so happy to take a Japanese style bath here (full shower, then a soak in the gigantic tub!) after our long voyage.

Alek models one of the complimentary (adult size) robes after his bath. I think this style is called a jinbei.

After a decent sleep (we woke up a few times) we expected to use the hotel pool. But it cost Y1000 for each person! (that's about $12). So we passed. Here we are waiting to meet Beth's colleague.

We were met by V. and H., Beth's research colleague and his wife. They showed us to our new house and told us how to use the hot water and laundry. Later on, they provided a helpful tour of the grocery store nearby:

Here we are in the tofu section (I think?)

The boys are discussing their candy options.

I know you all want to see our house! I will post a full tour later. For now, here is an action shot of Beth cooking our first meal! (We made tempura udon from a kit).

Alek is demonstrating the size of our refrigerator.

Our kitchen table...maxed out.

At breakfast next morning, Alek gamely took a bite of this onigiri (rice ball).
Alek, what did it taste like? ("like seaweed.") Did you like the taste? ("yes")

Max and Hugo at our first breakfast. We have eaten two huge breakfasts so far...partly because our bellies still think it is dinnertime!

It is incredibly HOT and HUMID Kyoto all week. Monday the heat index was 107! Monday morning, we went to apply for our Alien Registration cards with V's help. But the heat (and jet lag) are sapping our energy--we really don't want to go out! The boys have been gorging on DS time in our air conditioned house. Today we are going to try to find some air conditioned places to hang out. We need to buy the boys some lunchboxes for school. Stay tuned for more photos of our first week!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Highlights from The Journey.... (part 1)

The day we left, Hugo and I went to the Post Office in our town to mail four boxes to Japan.
Here's the grand total. Not too bad...

Ten bags all ready to go!

Cute, hip limo driver. Keep both hands on the wheel, dude.

We stayed over in the Airport hotel the night before our 6am flight to SFO. ...

Dinner at the hotel with Mum Mum.

Clothes all laid out, ready for early morning efficiency.

See? That's EARLY.

Our boys popped out of bed no problem! The first of many pleasant surprises of the day. These guys were amazing travelers. Here we are getting ready to check in at the Gold check-in line .

Check in was smooth; it felt great to unload those 10 bags! We had ample time to inspect the must-see display of irons in the airport. (Kurt, you would love this.)

Waiting to board after a muffin and coffee.

The plane to SFO, watching Shrek, Forever After. Let's see if Darrin can finish that book this year.

Playing with hexbugs in the SFO airport. (Thanks, Grandma!)

Gotta love the bag-to-boy ratio.

They still give out wings!

When you take boys on their third plane trip of their life, even small things seem exciting. After discovering these fold-down trays, Max showed me how you can press a button on the armrest to turn on--wait for it--a LIGHT over head!

Alek said, "this plane is WAY better than the first one."

Ready (but not willing) to nap.

Watching movies on the individual screens. Max and Hugo saw Ratatouille, Iron Man, and Clash of the Titans. Alek watched Ratatouille three times. All the boys enjoyed using the music stations. Alek informed his brothers that "CHANNEL 19 HAS OPERA!" but eventually settled on chamber music (!)

A short nap toward the end of the flight.

Just off the plane in the Kansai airport.

Welcome to Kansai! (The name for the western region of Japan)

These exhausted boys turned into puddles any time we stopped moving in the airport. Here is Alek, as I arrange the baggage delivery service.

Don't be fooled by this smile in the shuttle from the airport to our Kyoto hotel. Minutes later, Alek was zonked on Dad's lap and Max finally started whining. But, I couldn't really blame him....75 minutes was a long ride.

Three stages of tired-boy-ness, awaiting hotel-checkin.