Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I am playing around with various colors and backgrounds on the blog.  I figured that with it looking the same this past year, that it was time for a change.  I'm hoping by January that I'll have a look I'm satisfied with.  Until then, please be patient with me.  I'd also welcome any suggestions if you may have them. 

Since this is the giving/receiving season, I just wanted to comment on presents.  I feel like I fit in here in Japan because I've always been a gift-giver.  Even from a young age I liked giving people presents.  Its very satisfying seeing someones face when they are presented with a gift.  Here in Japan, my friends (American and Japanese) often give each other gifts when getting together.  I certainly don't expect someone to give me something, but its always a nice surprise.  

As much as I like getting and giving presents, I'm also enjoying the gift of spending time with friends.  I enjoy the gift of: having lunch together, getting a pedicure, drinking coffee, going shopping, and traveling to near and faraway places.  These kinds of presents you simply cannot put a price tag on. 

The centerpiece I love so much!

One of my most favorite presents this month is a handmade holiday centerpiece.  Our Japanese neighbor made it for us.  She wanted to show her appreciation for inviting her to our neighborhood ornament exchange.  This was a lovely gesture and I love looking at it on our table everyday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ornament Exchange

The weekend before last, I had my American and Japanese neighbors over for an ornament exchange.  This is a new concept for Japanese because most of them have never gone to, or heard of this type of party.  When I sent out invitations for the party, I had no expectations as to who would come.  I was just hoping to have at least a few people.

Chocolate fondue, dips, sweets, etc.

To my surprise, we had a large turnout.  We had over 20 people here, and everyone was so excited to come to an Amerika-jin's house.  One neighbor even brought his video camera and was filming the party.  The Japanese were so generous with gifts, and food (largest chocolate bar I've ever seen, some Champagne, sweets, sushi rice, fruit and cupcakes) to share with everyone.  A large number that came spoke some English, but even the ones that didn't, had a good time.  I had someone translate the directions of an Ornament Exchange.  My only suggestion was that if someone really wanted a certain ornament, then it was okay (daijoubu) to take it.  Many Japanese are shy, or don't want to hurt someones feelings...but I gave them permission to "steal" something they wanted.

I'm just so happy to have opened up our house to the neighbors.  Next weekend I'm planning on having a few kids over to decorate sugar and gingerbread cookies.  Glad to make memories with people from our host country.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Loosing A Loved One While Abroad

Gramps and his entire family.  Kona, HI  7/09
This blog entry is a tribute to my grandfather. He left this world on Wednesday (11/30), at the age of 87. He was surrounded by his wife of 56 years, his oldest son, and his daughter; my mom. Although I knew his body had been failing him for sometime and that he wasn't going to live forever, his passing has been hard to digest, especially being so far away from home. I feel quite helpless, but luckily the guilt is lessened a bit by technology (Skype, email, etc). My mom has been trying to update me almost everyday, which has been good. I am happy to be in the loop from across the world.

My grandfather did not want a memorial service.  I am left with memories I will cherish, even if they seem small, or trivial. Here are some of the things I remember, find funny, and admire about the man I knew as my grandpa:

1).  He had an amazing memory.
2).  He wasn't the best driver. He used to floor it between stoplights and then brake abruptly when the light turned red.  Those who rode with him know exactly what I'm talking about.
3).  He was a whiz at Crossword puzzles.
4).  He taught himself Spanish.
5).  He loved reading. I was impressed that he read books in Spanish.
6).  He didn't put up with whining when I was a kid. He used to tell me as an adult that I turned out so good because he gave me the occasional spanking when I younger.
7).  He had the best laugh and smile.
8).  He hated chicken and turkey from the work he did when he was younger.  On Thanksgiving, he would eat whatever substitute my grandma would make for him.
9).  He was an extremely hard worker and did a variety of interesting work (real estate, worked at a slaughtering house, Pile Driver, Navy, etc).
10). I have many memories of us relaxing at the beach in Del Mar, CA and some vague memories of the condo in Mexico.
11). He loved his cats.
12). He was so proud of me for graduating from college (even though I was 35).
13). He was proud of Justin for getting an Engineering degree. My grandpa went to 3 years of Engineering school at The University of Washington then had to drop out of school. He was happy to give Justin his slide-rule years ago.
14). He was the youngest of 6. His parents were immigrants from Norway.
15). He loved his family very much. 

Since moving to Japan I would get regular emails from my grandparents saying how much they liked this blog. My grandpa was in Yokohama during the war, and probably went to some of the places I have written about. I'm so happy that I was able to connect with him from afar.

While I am sad I will not be able to see him again, I am happy that he's in a better place.  He wrote a very large memoir and I am really looking forward to reading it. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fruit Picking

There are many tours available that will take you on a fruit picking expedition.  They can be quite expensive, but of course the cost of the tour includes transportation, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy.  I've always wanted to go on one of these tours.  You can go blueberry, apple or strawberry picking, to name a few.

Last month, some friends were telling me about local mikan (satsuma oranges) orchards where you can pick your own fruit.  Instead of going on a tour, I decided that we could make this trek on our own.  I found the directions online (although we noticed many different mikan orchards in Miura), and it was only a 25 minute car ride from our house.  For 650 yen (about $8) per person you can pick/eat as many mikans as you want.  The orchard provides you with clippers, a cute little plastic basket, and bags or boxes.  For about 350 yen ($5) per kilo, you can pick your own mikans to bring home!  This is a bonus because when you go strawberry picking, you cannot bring any fruit home with you.
This was a really fun and relatively inexpensive family outing.  It was a perfect day and a bit cool.  The weather didn't stop the Japanese from picnicking in the orchard.  That is what I love about Japan.  The Japanese always sit, eat and enjoying their surroundings.  We have so many simple lessons to learn from these wonderful people.
About 2000 yen.