Sigh

Well, this is it. I think this may be the last blog post I’ll be making.

My last entry was in January (8 months ago). Facebook has taken over the world since then. And my last day working at Harvard (host of my blog) will be next week (August 16, 2013). Combined, I think this means the end of Adventures in Gastronomy.

It’s been an amazing 13 years at Harvard. And when blogs were still the “in thing” (7-8 years ago)  it was fun having a blog.  I guess now it’s time to move on. I suspect nobody is going to read this final post as I’ve been neglecting the blogging world for so long. But if you read it, thanks for reading.

If you want to reach me, my Harvard email is ending, but my old Yahoo! email remains active: snarl71@yahoo.com.

Toodles!
Karl

OOOPS – I Did It Again

Happy New Year, folks!

Once again, I’ve lost all track of time (and responsibility) and neglected my blog. However, this time around I just may have a few legitimate reasons for my unintentional hiatus.

First, we went to Australia. On December 21 (the day the world was supposed to end) we flew to Sydney and stayed with our friend, Peter, in the Newtown area of the city. We had a great time with great weather every day but one (more on that later). In just six days I think we were able to tackle just about all of the sites we wanted to see: Newtown, Circular Quay, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks, Bondi Beach (and other beaches), and Manly, plus various museums and parks.

It was also in Sydney that we celebrated Christmas on the one day of the entire trip with rain. But it worked out perfectly since we went to Peter’s friends house and spent the day eating and drinking in the comfort of his dry apartment. I also got to try crackers for the first time (these paper tubes with a toy and paper hat inside that make a pop sound when you pull on the ends…it’s a British thing).

We then flew to Melbourne for 5 nights, staying near Queen Victoria Market and exploring as much as we could; museums, parks, Southbank, St. Kilda, CBD, the Docklands. We also got to ring in the New Year there and they certainly put Boston’s First Night to shame. It doesn’t hurt that you can wear shorts, either. Sydney gets all of the attention on New Years for some reason, but Melbourne throws quite the party, too. They shoot off fireworks in the center of the city…many from the rooftops of the hi-rise buildings. Why can’t Boston do this? We saw the ones visible from Flagstaff Gardens, but there were two other park viewing sites. After the fireworks, the parks turned into three night clubs with DJ’s playing music and incredible light shows. Wow….that’s all I can say. Wow.

Unfortunately, I managed to catch some sort of stomach bug in Melbourne and lost one night’s sleep and a full day of exploring because I needed, let’s just say, convenient access to a bathroom. But I was up and about the next day to enjoy this great city.

We then flew to Perth for the final leg of our trip. We had six days in Western Australia, first driving through Perth, then the Mandurah area (where Randy has family), then Margaret River wine country, where we saw various beautiful beaches, cute towns, caves, hiking trails, and lots and lots of wineries.

The next thing we knew, the 2.5 week trip was over and life returned to normal. Well, as normal as life can be for a gay white guy in Japan who doesn’t speak the native language.

Oh yeah – and the reason this is an excuse for my blog is that I didn’t bring my computer on this trip and I wasn’t about to type a lot on my mobile device.

The second reason for not posting on my blog was that my free time has been taken up with Japanese language classes. It’s just like back in Boston when I would take night classes at Harvard..except now my classes aren’t at Harvard and I do them before I work instead of after work. But between the classes first thing in the morning, then working in the late morning and afternoon, then studying in the evening, I’ve had less free time. And, man, every time I start thinking I’m comfortable with one aspect of learning Japanese, another wrench is thrown at me. Today it was a bizarre new verb conjugation that makes absolutely no sense to me. Needless to say, I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

The third reason I’ve not blogged is because…um…I forgot to.

Don’t judge me.

On Being a Rebel

I’m boring. I’m the first to admit it. A fun weekend evening for me is to go out to eat (or order take-out back the states) and then return home with some friends to play card games or board games. I’ve never done drugs, I’ve still never been drunk, and my biggest run-in with the law was a single speeding ticket 5 years ago.

So I find it odd that in Japan, I find myself being reprimanded by “authority figures” (a term I use loosely, as you’ll see below) fairly frequently. Japan is a country of rules and policies. Things are done a certain way and it’s simply not tolerated to deviate from the norm.

You see this everywhere. For starters, luckily, I read up on etiquette before moving here so I know that in a restaurant, one should NEVER stick your chopsticks in your food and leave them there while you drink water, use a napkin, talk, or take a break from eating. At some restaurants, waiters (the authority figures in this case) will give you an English menu…and sometimes even the menu has rules on it. For example, they tell you how you should eat your soba noodles (one place was quite particular, telling me to lift the noodles with the chopsticks and dip them precisely 1/3 of the way into the bowl of broth, then return to the mouth to slurp).

If you’re walking down the street and there is construction going on (which there always is since they seem to repair perfectly fine roads and sidewalks on a daily basis here) there will be attendants at all ends of the site to guide you. You’re required to walk along a certain path only, guided by white gloved men with those glowing red sticks (like air-traffic guys at the airport). You must never try to walk around the site on your own.

Another favorite spot of mine is the top of the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills. Think of the place as a more contemporary Prudential Center (Boston) or Rockefeller Center (New York). The ground level has shopping, movies, and restaurants and the top of the skyscraper has an observatory. I have never been reprimanded more often in my life than I have in this building. Randy and I signed up for annual memberships since we figured we’d bring friends here when they visit (and we would occasionally go on our own to enjoy the view from the outdoor rooftop deck). This is no exaggeration, but I have been reprimanded every single time I’ve been there.

Once I was reprimanded for leaning against the wall in the elevator. I’ve been reprimanded for not holding on to my ticket. I’ve  reprimanded for not putting enough stuff in the locker (a requirement to go onto the roof deck). I’ve been reprimanded for walking in the wrong direction. I’ve been reprimanded for standing too close to the yellow line (on the roof deck) that separates the pathway from the useless green astro turf patches. I was even reprimanded for chewing gum. Honestly, it’s a nonstop assault on my (apparently to the Japanese) infantile level of independence. Until visiting this building, I was a 41 year old man. While there, I’m that bratty 3 year old with ADHD and chocolate covered fingers running around touching everything and everybody.

Just last week I was walking back from lunch in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Using my iPhone’s Google Maps the most direct path led me by a school and playing field. I could either walk along the perimeter of the field (which was sort of a coutyard) or walk up the hill and around a long block. It’s probably obvious which route I took. I was more then 3/4 the way across the field, minding my own business with my iTunes blasting Christmas songs (don’t judge), when a uniformed man ran up to me from behind. He didn’t touch me, of course…he just ran in front of me with his eyes wide open and his arms up in front of his body in an “X” fashion (as in “no”). He looked is if I’d just pushed his wheel-chair bound grandmother down a flights of stairs. He kept gesturing for me to turn around and return to where I came from. I pointed to the end of the field, which was probably a 30 second walk away, compared to the entrance I had used which was about 1.5 -2 minutes behind us and he would have nothing of it. He kept blocking and redirecting, despite my constant “sorry’s” and “sumimasen’s”.

Five minutes later, after back tracking then walking up hill and around the block, I was back to where I would have been in less than 30 seconds had I been allowed to continue on my apparent path of destruction.

All in all, I must admit that I find it rather deflating sometimes. In the US, I never got reprimanded. I minded my own business and life was good. But here, it seems I’m unknowingly breaking the rules on a daily basis. In some ways, the rules here help keep this a very organized and crime-free country. Cities don’t get any safer than Tokyo.

But they also make me feel “less than.” Some of the rules are so obscure or silly you truly can’t tell you’ve done something wrong, yet there is a white gloved person expressing disappointment in you.

Yet at the same time, this feels like home. During my visit to the US in November and early December, I was missing Tokyo. I wanted to be here and I felt like a visitor there.

HMM – maybe I actually like being told what to do? Just don’t tell Randy.

 

 

Finally! A True Adventure in Gastronomy

Last night, Randy’s HR department took us out to dinner as a sort of belated “Welcome-to-Tokyo” gesture. They brought us to this fancy restaurant near Azabu-Juban called Gai-Gai. I didn’t know what to expect since their website is only in Japanese, but when I read the English menu at the table I was relieved to see that they had all of my favorite comfort foods: chicken, green vegetables, pork, and soba.

However upon further exploration we learned that they had the words “sashimi” next to them. “Hmmm?,” I thought. I’m used to that word being associated with fish, not poultry. Surely it doesn’t mean it’s going to prepared the same way as sushi, right? I mean, you can’t serve raw chicken, right?

WRONG!

All of their featured chicken items are served raw. And it wasn’t just chicken breasts…raw chicken liver, raw chicken heart, raw chicken gizzards, raw chicken neck (apparently, a specialty). I should have suspected something was up when the first thing they brought to the table (the way a waiter brings bread at the beginning of a meal in the US) was a fish head – scales, eyes and all. How exactly does one eat such a thing.

So, here’s a breakdown of our meal:

This would be raw chicken breast, served with ginger and/or wasabi. After the fish head thing (which I neglected to photograph), this was the first food item brought to us. You just grab the raw chicken with your chopsticks, dip it into soy sauce, then chew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next item was more chicken, this time VERY lightly seared so that outside layer is white, but the inside remains raw. The rear pieces are served with plum, the front pieces are served with wasabi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now is also the time that the “green vegetables” we ordered arrived. The serving consisted of a single layer of lettuce (green) over a mashed up mess of white vegetables (no green to be found), all coated in a slimy fishy liquid. Somehow, I neglected to photograph this.

Next we had some fully cooked chicken. There were three selections of chicken from three different regions of Japan. I thought all chicken was the same, but there was a distinct difference between each chicken. The first we tasted was tender, the second was fattier and chewy, the third was terribly chewy. But at least it was cooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were quite tasty…small tomatoes wrapped in Iberico pig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then is started getting strange again. Now we’re served soft-boiled quail eggs and chicken liver. Randy chickened out on the liver, but I ate it. He says it was cooked (how he’d know since he didn’t eat any is beyond me). All I know is that it was cold and disgusting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But that was quickly followed by this incredibly tasty (cooked) Iberico pig with ginko nuts. I could have had multiple plates full of this item.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, they served this mystery ground meat served with raw egg. We never did get a proper description of what it was, but it was warm and tasty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there you have it…documentation of a real adventure in gastronomy! I’ve had others (horse, for example), but the raw chicken was, by far, the most unsettling.

The Swing State Phenomenon

Could somebody please try to explain to me, preferably in basic junior high school level English, how this whole swing state phenomenon works? I can easily understand how an entire state can be consistently Democrat (MA, NY, CT, RI, CA) or consistently Republican (AL, TX, OK, ND, SD). But I really have a hard time figuring out the same population can vote completely differently every four years (OH, PA, VA, IA, FL).

I mean, since the 2000 Bush v. Gore election things have become so polarized that what each party stands for completely contradicts the other party’s beliefs.

You’re either pro-choice or anti-abortion

You’re either for same-sex marriage or against same-sex marriage

You’re either for tax reform or against tax reform

You’re either for decreased military spending or against decreased military spending

The list goes on and on. And generally speaking, you’re likely to share most of your beliefs with one particular party, although there are obviously large numbers of people who, for example, may be anti-abortion yet for same sex marriage. I get that. My beliefs don’t always fall down party lines, either.

However, my core convictions are consistent. If a candidate (or party) is consistently against the majority of my strongly held beliefs, it’s fairly obvious for which party I’ll tend to vote. And with both parties for the past 12 years consistently maintaining such opposing platforms, I don’t understand how votes in swing states can fluctuate so much? The way I see it, you either believe what you believe or, to be blunt, you have no spine and can be easily bought. In which case, I feel sorry for you (and this country). But there must be more to it than that, but I truly cannot figure it out.

My rant is neither pro-Democrat and anti-Republican (nor anti-Democrat and pro-Republican). I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this drama we deal with every four years where only a handful of states get to essentially control the election.

I look forward to the comments. Seriously!

 

 

It’s the Simple Things in Life

Today was a good day.

I’m going to come off as the lamest expat in history, but I was excited today to discover a new store in Tokyo. It seems that in Japan 7-11 (yes, the convenience store chain) operates large department stores in Japan called Ito Yokado. I went to the branch in Omori today, which is just 4 train stops away (and less than 30 minutes door-to-door).

I wasn’t expecting much so I was surprised to find a 5 story building with three floors of shopping larger than the Macy’s flagship store in Downtown Crossing in Boston. Unlike all of the tiny shops that sell necessities in the heart of the city, this place had everything. Benetton shoes? Check. Luggage? Check. Pharmacy, clothing, travel agent? Check, check, check.

Plus a food court!

What I anticipated would be a quick browse ended up being a few hours of feeling like home. There were large signs indicating departments in English and the aisles were wide enough for multiple people with grocery carts to walk by. Oh, did I mention it’s also a grocery store? The food court even had a crepe shop where I splurged on a banana, custard, and chocolate crepe (with whipped cream and a brownie inside).

I had hoped to buy some clothes, but figured I’d be better of having Randy join me to give me a second opinion. I could see us doing some serious financial damage here.

But how pathetic am I that I’m living in Japan, one of the most homogenous countries in the world where over 98.5% of the population is Japanese and cultural traditions remain strong, and the highlight of my day was finding a western-style department store?

Oh, and with the heat/humidity of summer finally gone, we can see Mount Fuji from our apartment more frequently and as of last Friday morning, it’s snow covered!

That’ll Do, Pig. That’ll Do.

After our whirlwind tour of the southern coast of Japan (Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kursashiki, Osaka, Nagoya) we returned to Tokyo and our visiting friend, Peter, was able to start seeing what Tokyo was all about. Because of my work, Peter went off on his own for large portions of the day and we caught up in the later afternoon/evening to visit places together. It’s getting to the point where I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Senso-ji Temple (I may start just giving people directions there and skipping it). Although, this time around Peter did find us a pretty tasty little soba place nearby.

That night we went to a Kobe beef restaurant for dinner. It was a six course meal that started with bread/cheese/proscuitto, salad (with two pieces of Kobe beef), pumpkin soup, the entree of Kobe beef, vegetables, and rice, then green tea ice cream with creme brulee (I believe made with bean paste). All courses were quite spectacular. As we were leaving, they even gave us three vacuum sealed pieces of Kobe beef jerky (which normally goes for over $15 per 1 inch by 2 inch piece).

The next night the three of us met up with some local friends at their tapas restaurant for a birthday/dinner celebration. Everything was fine and dandy until later in the evening when I apparently had some sort of inexplicable meltdown (about carrying our friend’s camera, of all things).  Even now I’m no sure what the hell was going on in my head. But I did apologize…even putting a drawing of a frown face on Peter’s bedroom door….and all was forgiven by the next morning.

Peter left on Thursday and life returned to normal. Randy and I continued exploring new neighborhoods the next weekend, checking out Sugamo. A quick look online explained this area as Granny’s Harajuku. Now, Harajuku is a neighborhood popular with teen age girls, where you can buy outlandish outfits and parade down street looking like a cross between an anime character, a slut, a goth, and Little Bo Beep all with the same outfit. It’s fascinating.

So Sugamo was where these same girls would go when they are in their 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s. It was shocking how much older this neighborhood skewed. It was mobbed with elderly women buying clothes elderly people wear, surrounded by Chinese herbal remedies. Generally, the neighborhood doesn’t have much to offer for the tourist, but it was interesting to see what attracts a very specific (elderly woman) population.

Nearby, however, was a lovely large park called Rikugi-en Garden, which we explored just before sunset.

Then last week we had ourselves yet another earthquake. Since I live and work at home, every earthquake I’ve felt so far has been while in the apartment. It beats being underground in a subway car, I suppose. This was the second strongest of the four I have actually felt (a 5.1 with an epicenter about 60 miles east of here).

For the weekend, we explored two local parks (Kyu-Shiba and Hama Rikyu Gardens). One is just a 7 minute walk away, the other another 10-15 minutes from there. The second one was enormous and had some sort of Traditional Tea Ceremony Celebration going on that day, which was interesting to watch. I read on Time Out Tokyo that there would be fireworks that night in a neighborhood we’d not visited yet so after the sun had set we hopped on the subway and went to Adachi.

We’ve been told it’s very unusual to hold fireworks outside summer (it’s exclusively a summer time thing here for some reason). But it was wonderful to be able to watch fireworks without sweating in the 80-90 degree heat and high humidity.

And that brings us to today…which is one week away from our next visitors (Roy and Jason, from San Francisc0). I’ll skip Senso-ji Temple this time and do my best to avoid another meltdown.

LET’S HAVE A K(urash)IKI, LOCK THE DOORS TIGHT.

We had different plans for the next day, but a typhoon was fast approaching and the weather was expected to turn sour. Plus, a day in Kyoto was simply not enough time for the exploration a city like that warrants. It’s probably the only major city in all of Japan that was spared in World War II.

So, on our way to Nagoya, we thought of going to Temeji Castle, but read online that the main castle building is currently concealed behind scaffolding for a multi-year restoration project. Instead, I discovered in our guidebook what was supposed to be a cute Japanese mercantile district in a small city known as Kurashiki. It took some coaxing from Randy and Pete, but they reluctantly agreed to go (at one point, I had to offer that I’d go there by myself and meet up with them in Nagoya if they wanted to go someplace else). However, they said they’d go for an hour or two then move on to someplace new.

Well, that hour or two turned into an all day affair. Kurashiki is simply adorable. The historic district of the city was also untouched by war, earthquakes, and fire. It’s chock full of charming 1 and 2 story white buildings with typical Japanese tiles roofs. Passing through the district is a canal system that’s reminiscent of Bruges or Amsterdam, but much smaller and more charming. And because it’s off the beaten path, it doesn’t appear to get as many American or European tourists as Kyoto or Tokyo.

Our only complaint was that the beautiful weather we had in Osaka, Hiroshima, and Miyajima was now long gone and we were stuck with heavy clouds and off-and-on rain. With the plush green trees, canals, and white buildings, I would imagine that this place is completely stunning with blue skies as a backdrop. If any of our friends were going to Hiroshima, I would definitely encourage them to stop over in this hidden gem.

After dark, we took the train to Nagoya…where it was already drizzling upon our arrival. The train station in Nagoya is massive. Apparently, it’s the largest train station building complex in the world. There are multiple train lines and subways, a shopping mall, and a two 40+/- floor towers on top of it. I think there was also a department store or two.

Surrounding the station were quite a few extremely impressive examples of modern hi-rise architecture. One building, in particular, stood out as being incredibly cool, with the facade seeming to change as you walked around it. It swirled up in a circular pattern, kind of like a screw, with cool accent lighting and cutaway notches. Randy took tons of pics.

Our hotel was standard Japanese business hotel lodging, and was a steal at only 8,000 yen per night for two people ($100). The room was tiny (but clean), but what made it worthwhile was the complimentary access to the spa. The entire 2nd floor was a spa facility with hot tub, jacuzzi, dry sauna, massage therapists, gym, and a room full of electronic massage chairs.

OK -these chairs were NOTHING like the cheap ones you find at a mall. You find the program you want and for 20-30 minutes the chair worked it’s magic. I mean, it somehow would grab my legs, stretch them out, then squeeze and kneed my calves. In fact, my back hurt the next day…just as it did when I went to a human massage therapists earlier this year. I think I want one of these chairs. Our friend, Peter, looked them up online afterwards and they apparently sell for $7,000.

Money well spent.

I went through three cycles before calling it a night at 1am.

We had planned to go to Meiji Mura, an architectural park where Meiji era buildings throughout Japan were relocated and reconstructed on a lakefront park setting. Unfortunately, the typhoon was catching up to us and it started raining. Spending a day outside in the wind and rain didn’t appeal to any of us so we enjoyed the spa one more time in the morning and then caught the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo.

As the night went on, the typhoon finally hit. We invited another friend over for dinner and games and by the end of the night, everybody was feeling the building swaying from the strong winds. Fortunately, it wasn’t as strong as the typhoon that struck in June and I didn’t get sea sick.

When did I become so high maintenance?

 

Heading to the South, Ya’ll (of Japan, That Is)

Our friend, Peter’s, visit to Tokyo was a success. Randy and I took a few vacation days and the three of us traveled to southwest Japan for a few days. Since Randy was already in Osaka on a business trip we followed him down there on his last day of work. We arrived before he was done with work so Peter and I visited Osaka Castle, which sounds cooler than it is. Since the city was destroyed in World War II, the current “castle” is a mid-2oth century reproduction with a modern interior. At least it looks nice from the outside, I suppose.

That night, we went to the Umeda Sky Building. Although not the tallest building in Japan at only 40 floors, it is one of the more interesting. It’s essentially two narrow towers connected with a bridge on the top. A few floors below that are two escalators floating between the two buildings at odd angles. I visited the tower in the day time six years ago during my first trip to Japan. This time, however, we visited it at dusk lasting through until dark.

For dinner, we took the subway down to Dotonbori, a crazily illuminated river-side district of restaurants and night life. One thing Asian cities (from my limited experience) seem to do well is light up their cities spectacularly at night. Although dinner was simply adequate, the neighborhood was fun to explore.

The next day we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, secured our belongings in some lockers, then took a local train to Miyajima. Randy was originally reluctant to go here but it ended up being one of two highlights of the trip. Miyajima is a mountainous island and is famous for two things. The first thing is its population of tame deer. I’ve heard the city of Nara is similar, but on this island the deer just walk up to you. In fact, one did just that before snapping my map out of my hand and eating it. We watched another deer walk into an ice cream shop.

Miyajima’s other claim to fame is it’s floating torii gate (a red wooden structure that looks like a pi symbol). Although at low tide this torii gate appears in sand, at high tide it appears to be floating on the water. Surrounding the torii gate are some shrine buildings, a charming shopping street, and mountainous forests. We even took a gondola to the top of the largest mountain for some beautiful ocean and mainland views.

Unfortunately, we took the last gondola up and were only allotted 5 minutes to enjoy the view before having to get on the last gondola down. Oh well. It was still a nice ride. We then returned to the floating torii gate for some sunset photos then headed back to Hiroshima to check into our hotel.

As expected, the next day of the trip was the most sobering. Our hotel was located midway between the Hiroshima Castle (yet another copy) and the Peace Memorial Park. Just a few blocks from the hotel was the A-Bomb Dome; the building under which the world’s first atomic bomb exploded. Everything within a 2.5 kilometer radius was flattened (including the Castle). Consequently, the entire city is new. However, they did an amazing job with the memorial. The center of the city now consists of the ruins of the building now known as the A-Bomb Dome, a huge park, and multiple museums.

The whole experience is incredibly sad and even more frightening. The only element of the day that was uplifting was the swarms (and I’m talking thousands) of school children who flock to the white tourists to practice their English. Teachers give them a list of questions and they interrogate you for a few minutes. When they’re done, they thank you and give you a home made bookmark. Overall, it’s quite cute, but after the 15th kid corners you, you just want to flee.

But at least it was a pleasant distraction from the tragic history of the city.

Busy Little Bee

We’ve been back in Tokyo for two and a half weeks and I’m feeling rather accomplished, I must admit. We were back but only a week when we welcomed our first out-of-town guest. Technically, Jennifer was our first guest back in June or July, but she stayed with us while on a business trip and not for pleasure.

Our first official “tourist” guest was our friend, Ben, who surprisingly flew all the way from the US, arriving on Thursday night, and then left on Sunday mid-day. Yep, 10 time zones and he only had two full days to enjoy here during a short long weekend. We definitely made the most of it, though.

After his arrival, we went out for dinner in Ginza, since that’s such a great representation of what Tokyo is: expensive shopping, tons of people, and bright lights. That night, I was awakened by another earthquake. I think was the third one I’ve felt, but I think I’m losing count. It was about 2:22am and what woke me up was the sound of the television shaking on the TV stand. Then I noticed that the mattress felt like it was shimmying side to side. I woke Randy up…he acknowledged it, then got up to pee, came back to bed, and fell right to sleep. The next day he remembered me waking him…but had no recollection of the earthquake. Our friend, Ben, in the next room slept right through it and was surprised to hear me talk about it the next morning. I thinks it’s also worth mentioning that they both enjoyed lots of wine the night before. I’m just saying.

Also during Ben’s visit we brought him to the new Tokyo Sky Tree (insanely crowded and not really all that exciting for the second tallest building in the world). We didn’t bother going up (the lines were ridiculous), but we did discover a really nice supermarket in the base of the building…not that we could ever find the market again since the complex was very confusing. At night, we brought him to the Mori Tower and the Mori Art Museum (both located 52+ floors above the city. Randy and I both love the views from the outdoor roof deck and could easily spend hours up there, especially at sunset.

On Sunday, Ben had to leave right after lunch, but just as he left, Randy and I stumbled upon yet another one of Tokyo’s many festivals. In this one, all of the local shrines parade around the neighborhoods with these mini-temples that a group of people will carry on their shoulders. We must have seen 9 or 10 of them, complete with a judging stand making announcements (in Japanese, unfortunately). It was quite a sight.

During the week, I managed to complete the final annual report for my research program at work and also helped a new friend hunt for a new apartment. At night, we had sessions with our Japanese tutor and started learning numbers and the alphabet. We can comprehend as well as a 2 year old, but are still so proud of our accomplishments even though the only letters we’ve learned are A, E, I, O, U, KA, KI, KO, KE, KU, GA, GE, GI, GO, and GU. I think there are about 100 more letters to learn. Ugh – what have we gotten ourselves into?

In two more days, our friend, Peter, arrives for 10 days. Toward the end of the week we’re taking a few vacation days ourselves so that we can all head down to Hiroshima, Osaka, and Nagoya (Meiji Mura). This will be our first big “road trip” (despite being by train, not road) since we’ve been here, unless you count Yokohama less than 18 miles away.

Busy, busy, busy…but all good.

Well, everything is good except that the local pool outside our apartment is being changed over from an Olympic sized swimming pool to soccer fields. They’re about half way through the transition in less than a week. It’s kind of depressing as it means summer is officially over. On the plus side, the heat and humidity should be ending soon, too. Tit for tat.