My Eight Month Coma 1

Last week I travelled back in time to Tokyo.  You’re probably thinking that makes no sense because everyone knows that Tokyo is actually 13 hours in the future (from NYC).  Nevertheless, that’s what it felt like.  Or maybe I’ve just been in a really long coma.  Yes, some things had changed (many many friends were missing) but I could easily explain that away – they were off traveling.  What I’m trying to say is that even though its been 8 months since I left Japan, it felt like I woke up from a long sleep and I was right back where I started from.  My 100 words of Japanese returned and came flowing out of my mouth upon arrival at the airport limousine bus counter in Narita airport.  Directions to taxi drivers were a cinch, the staff at the American club welcomed me with open arms and a few shopkeepers in Azabu Juban were friendlier than they would have been to a total American stranger.  I had hoped that my time away would have given me perspective and that returning would give me the closure I really wanted and needed; the figurative final stamp in my passport sending me on my way.  I was too emotional when I left to really process the departure.  This, unfortunately didn’t happen.  There was no perspective, no closure.  I found myself pretending that I still actually lived there.  Looking back on those very very brief 5 nights/4 days, I’d say that I didn’t do anything any differently than I would have if I still lived there (with a few exceptions that I’ll get to later).  I went to the fundraiser of my children’s school, ate ramen (2x), had a foot massage (or 2) went to the supermarket, the American club, had sushi in Tsukiji, went to a shrine sale, took trains, spent the night in a ryokan, saw a fire festival and had a girls night out.  So, you’re starting to get the point, right?  What I did in that short period of time was not a vacation itinerary – it was my plain old vanilla life – or the life I used to lead.  Which was anything but vanilla.  Hence the lack of closure.  But i’ve returned home happy to know that even though I’ve been gone for 8 months my friendships lived on.  We picked right back up where we left off – if anything, I appreciate them more.  And, those exceptions I mentioned earlier… well, lets just say I was fortunate to have an opportunity I won’t ever forget.  I spent those five nights and four days happily ensconced in the MacArthur Suite at the US Ambassador’s residence.  Kisses to John and Susie Roos.  Maybe next time, the coma won’t have to be so long…

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Ban On Plastic Bags in Your Town? You’re Killing Us – Literally 1

bagsI first started using the word incongreenient when I moved to Tokyo in 2008.  I wasn’t sure if it was actually a word but that didn’t bother me.  It suited my purposes well. Tokyo was years ahead of New York in terms of recycling and the process left me weary.  It was not unusual to see six different receptacles for sorting your garbage, hence the need for a word like incongreenient.  When I returned home to New York in 2012 I moved to a town (Rye) that had banned plastic bags.  I must admit to the huge eye roll and the reoccurrence of the usage of my trusty new word.  I shook my head each time I would run into CVS to buy a small box of tampons and be given a huge (grocery sized) bag to put it in.  This couldn’t possibly be a good thing.  So now the back of my car has at all times an assortment of reusable bags that I have purchased at Whole Foods, Stop and Shop and Trader Joe’s.  I don’t always remember them when running into the store which causes me to frequently buy a new bag or four.  But the term incongreenient has taken on new meaning and might not even fit the bill anymore.  A new study was done in 2011 in California and Arizona which tested reusable bags and found that 51% of them contained coliform bacteria.  Here’s how it gets there.  We shop, we don’t always separate meat from vegetables in our bags, we empty the bags without washing them and then we throw them back into our trunks where they sit and roast (depending upon where you live and the time of year) and voila! the bacteria grows ten fold.  The study reports that we can eliminate this risk by 99.9% if we wash our bags!  Excellent news.  However it goes on to say that only 3% wash our bags.  Immediately following the plastic bag ban in San Fransisco, the ecoli admissions at the area hospitals grew by 46%.  Sometimes, when lawmakers pass laws with knee jerk reactions to appease their citizens we end up with unintended consequences.  And by the way, those plastic bags that use too much oil to make and pollute our waterways and kill marine animals – they only represent .6% of our total litter problem.  Now that is incongreenient.

Tweet That! Reply

twitteregg

Lately I’ve been taking a very unscientific poll – basically if I come in contact with you and I remember to ask, then you’ve been included in my data points.  The question is: do you follow anyone on twitter?  The answer for almost every single person I’ve asked over the age of 30 is No.  And sometimes the answer comes with angry emotion as if Twitter were a person and they hated them.  But mostly the answer is “I’m too busy”.  Which leads me to the point of this blog entry.  We are all too busy and it is this reason alone that people should use Twitter.  In 140 characters or less I get (for the most part) related information  on topics that I am specifically interested in – that involve people places or things that I want to know about.  In 140 characters or less!  Is there anything more time saving than that?  For someone who reads the New York Times daily, and pages through a lot of unrelated (to me) information to find the kernel, the golden nugget to take away for the day, I say Twitter is brilliant.  Just to give those naysayers out there an example, here are a few of the sources/people I follow and a few tidbits of information I picked up today:

New York Magazine @NYMag – The Sundance Film Festival starts today

New York Times Metro Desk @NYT Metro Desk – Joe Lhota is running for the mayor of NYC

CNBC @CNBC – S&P trades at the highest level since Dec 2007

Maria Popova @brainpicker – Researches estimate that if everyone washed their hands regularly, a million deaths could be prevented each year

Food & Wine Magazine @fandw Biscuit dough + thick-cut bacon = easy, DIY braised pork buns

U. of New Hampshire @UofNH Former UNH football player, assistant coach Chip Kelly named Philadelphia @Eagles Head Coach

Westchester Magazine @WestchesterMag Is that the sun?  Enjoy it, because after this weekend things will turn cold, cold, cold

Obviously I follow people I am interested in and that’s the point.  I go to twitter as a news source several times a day and often I have news way before other people do.  You might not care about that and then I guess Twitter might not be for you.  But everyone likes to know a little information before their friends and neighbors, no?

And if you are unsure of how to set up an account or find people to follow, just grab any 13 year old.  They are pretty much experts on the topic and that’s how I am able to keep up.

Sandy – Can’t You Make A Dog Leg To The Right? 1

What does this photo look like to you?  The 9th hole on your local golf course?  A middle aged woman’s left arm?  What it looks like to me is a long week ahead.  We’d been forewarned for days and yet I made my first trip to the store(s) Saturday around noon.  Smarter, more experienced folks went days before and basically bought out all the items on my shopping list.  You see, I’ve missed the last four years of “the biggest storms ever seen” on the east coast of the United States.  And I just thought there was a huge CNN effect going on – you know, the doom and gloom over exaggeration of any news item ever.  The updates in the past days reminded me of the hours after the earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011 when we kept hearing terms like “countdown to the the meltdown” whenever we would put on the US television.  But as I’ve been watching the storm move north, and the various news reporters providing live coverage from their various cities I think this time we might be in for a little bit of trouble.  The thought of spending a day let alone 7-10 in my small home with two teenage daughters and no internet or television makes me shiver.  The power is fully on as I write this and they are starting to get edgy already.  No showers, no flushing toilets, no hot coffee – meals of tuna (mayo less because of course that will have gone bad days before), canned chili and soup will not make for a happy family.  And that’s assuming nothing happens to our windows, trees or flying outdoor furniture – despite all the preparations.  I haven’t been in a home thats lost power in so long I can’t remember what its like.  I hope I am not newly acquainted with the situation.

The Hot Clock 1

Time is ticking on my biological clock.  Not the one that has to do with diapers and sore nipples.  I’m talking about my hot clock.  At 47, its only a matter of time before I look in the mirror and see a friendly face that sort of resembles me in an oh so luke warm sort of way.  I’m not talking about beauty because I do believe people are beautiful from the inside out and age has nothing to do with that.  I’m talking down and dirty, sweaty heat.  And not the kind that has the word flash after it.  When I lived in Japan I barely looked in the mirror.  Well, that’s not really true but lets go with it for the purpose of this  blog entry.  Living in a metropolitan area of 35 million people where about 98% are Japanese gives you quite a license to, as they say, let yourself go.  In the four years I lived there I can honestly say I can’t remember any man on the street ever looking at me twice – unless you count the guy who pleasured himself on the beach and gave me quite a surprise.  And it’s not like the reason you get your hair colored or you go to the gym is so that you will get acknowledged on the street by a construction worker.  But trust me, if you lived in a society where no one was watching, well then, things start to unravel a little.  And a lot of that had to do with access.  I never found a place in Tokyo where they really knew how to give a good gaigin (foreign) haircut – or blonde highlights, or a facial where they actually did more then rub cream on your face – the Japanese aren’t fond of extraction.  And of course there were plenty of places to work out and exercise but there were even more places to eat really really good food.  And given the choice, I will always choose good food.  Always.  So, I came home with a bad dye job, 20 extra pounds, skin that had been ignored, and countless other things that I’m too shy to mention.  But there are no more excuses.  People are watching.  Mirrors don’t lie.  Time is running out…

Re-entry Was A Bitch But Now I Think I’m Warming Up To Her 3

So, its been almost 2 months to the day since I last wrote a blog entry.  Not the best idea if you want people to follow you.  But when I started the blog it was to write about musings on life in Japan by a 40 something American woman.  Well, that’s not how I can describe myself anymore but life is all about change and change brings lots of things to write about so I’m not going to be stuck on my original terms.  Like many of my friends, this past June I left Japan after several years and returned to my “home”.  Well, sort of.  We moved to a different house in a neighboring town and the girls started school somewhere they have never gone before.  Hayden went off to college leaving our house severely uneven in terms of estrogen and testosterone (poor Tom) and things are just…different.  I feel like I am playing house.  Its similar to the feeling I had when I first got married and I was a new wife.  Living in a small apartment in the middle of a large city forces you out into the streets and here in Rye, I feel tethered to my home.  Everything revolves around your house in the suburbs.  Cleaning it, decorating it, maintaining it, sweeping the leaves, tending the garden – its a lot of time and effort so I guess there is good reason we spend a lot of time here.  I’m also finding it harder to be spontaneous.  Things are more programmed here – time more allocated, kids more dependent.  I feel I have lost some of myself moving back home.  And not all my friends came home.  Many of them are still living my life back in Japan and I get to watch it daily on fb.  Not easy.  But on the flipside – there are so many good things about being back in New York again: pillsbury ready pie crusts, credit card machines in nyc taxis, 900 television channels, backyards, garbage pails on every corner, restaurants that deliver, shoe stores with sizes bigger than 6, real bagels, New York Times home delivery and of course family and old friends.  I’m determined to start some new projects and finish some old ones. It’s certainly not a bad thing to take stock of one’s life at 47 and decide what and who really make them happy.  And then start making decisions based on that inventory.  So regardless of whether you moved back from Japan recently or if you’ve lived in the same small town for decades – life is too short to do things that really don’t make you happy.  It’s a huge cliche but when I moved back to Japan in August of 2008 I went with a carpe diem sort of attitude.  And I intend to do the same here.

 

What Will Your New Life Look Like? 2

*this entry is dedicated to all my friends who are on the move…

What will your new life look like?

Will you live in a city? A home with a backyard?  Will you hear the waves crash while you eat dinner?  What will you do after the kids go to school?  Play tennis?  Go to a new job?  Clean your house?  Do laundry?  Play cards?  Will you drive your children to school or will they walk or take a bus or a train or a bike?  Will you go out every Friday and Saturday night or will you stay home and have dinner with your kids?  Or order in?  Or cook for friends?  Will you still dance?  And sing?  Will you travel domestically or use a passport?  Will you join a book club or just read magazines instead?  Will you ever use your bike as a means of transportation or just on a beautiful summer day?  Will you return to Japan next year?  Or will life get too busy?  Will you look through your photos and wonder if life will ever be as fun or will you just get on with your day?  Will you have three course lunches?  With a glass of wine?  Will you travel on trains?  When you hear the Japanese anthem will you be moved?  When you see the white flag with the red sun will you smile?  At 5pm will you wait to hear the bell?  Will you go out of your way for a Japanese meal just to practice your unused words?  Will you still use a rice cooker when you make dinner?  Will you Skype?  Will you go to the doctor more?  Will you still walk to where you are going?  Will you still be curious?

Carpe Diem 2

I wanted to write a poem about leaving Japan but poetry just isn’t my thing.  So I sort of stole a poem.  A pretty famous one too.  Here’s my version of “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.

DO NOT GO GENTLY ON THAT LAST FLIGHT

Do not go gently on that last flight

While we drink our champagne in business class, rave at the end of our expat days

Rage, rage against the dying of our package.

Those wise men at their end know going home is right,

because damn it’s hard to make those equity budget numbers

Do not go gently on that last flight.

Good friends, the survivors – wave goodbye, crying “who will plan our next day trip out of Tokyo?”

Rage, rage against the dying of our package.

The wild man in the booth who gave the play by play on Friday nights

will no longer scream “and another ASIJ First Down!”

Do not go gently on that last flight.

Member Services staff reduced by 25% due to lack of Jardine-san’s requests

Rage, rage against the dying of our package.

And you, our best friends – we’ll miss you the most.

No doubt – Tokyo is an amazing city, but its the people we’ve shared it with that have made it unsurpassable.

Do not go gently on that last flight.

Rage, rage against the dying of our package.

***

A few people have commented that I’ve made the most of my time in Asia and someone recently asked for a list.  So here are the highlights…the places outside the ordinary Tokyo spots.

47 Ronin at Sengakuji, Amanpulo, Atsugi, Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Belly Dancing, Bhutan, Cambodia, Disney Land, Disney Sea, DMZ, Enoshima Island, Fuji, Ghibli, Gora Kadan, Grandma’s Harajuku, Guam, Hakone, Hakuba, Hawaii, Hiroshima, Hong Kong, Ise Shrine, Kamakura, Karuzaka, Kawagoe, Kinnick, Kiso Valley, Kyoto, Mashiko, Mikimoto Pearl Island, Misawa, Miyajima Island, Mt. Mitake, Mt. Takao, Nagatoro, Narita, New Zealand, Nikko, Niseko, Nokogiriyama, Nozawa Onsen, Odaiba, Odawara, Okinawa, Ome, Onjuku, Phuket, Sapporo, Sawara, Seoul, Setsubon, Seven Lucky Gods, Shanghai, Shibamata, Shimoda, Shimokitazawa, Shirakawago, Suwara, Sydney, Takayama, USS George Washington, Vietnam, Warabi Naked Festival, Yokota, Yokusuka, Yudawara, Zama, Zao.

What A Long Strange Year It’s Been 1

* This blog entry only talks about the past year (post earthquake) in terms of living in Tokyo – the situation up North continues on and the year that’s been lived up there is beyond comparison to anything lived in Tokyo.

**The photo is from the lobby of the hotel in Bali when we first arrived.  Sophie, Hayden & Annie.

March 14th is my youngest daughter’s birthday and significant to me in and of itself.  Unfortunately, it will also always be remembered for the day we ran out of Japan.  It’s been a year to the day that we threw random clothes into our suitcase, called a taxi, sat in hours of traffic and made it out to Narita for flights we had no tickets for.  48 hours after the 9.0 earthquake, the earth was still shaking with aftershocks, the nuclear power plant had blown and the air was literally thick with the unknown.  We hadn’t left our apartment for two

days, worried about the unseen radiation in the skies.  School was cancelled indefinitely.  Tom had to stay behind to work and all I knew was that I had to get the f*ck out of dodge.  We left early for spring break and headed for Bali.  The name alone oozed calm.  And it was the perfect place for us to wait out the storm.  It was a strange “vacation”.  Surreal at times as I’d look out over the incredibly beautiful rice paddies that were completely still and silent and think about what was going on back home.  But after 10 days, we got the all clear (the schools were going to open) and we returned.  What we returned to was a very different world then the one we left.  The first thing that hit us was that someone had turned out all the lights.  Tokyo, usually a city lit up like a pin ball machine was pretty much in the dark.  And it wasn’t just the Tokyo Tower that was black – it was every store, school, club, post office, bank.  So it became normal to live in this sort of dimly lit world.  And then there was the water situation.  We were told not to drink tap water and so your days became focused on finding water.  Riding your bike around town stopping at every vending machine to purchase your 2 bottle allowance.  Taking rides out to Costco hoping they got in a new shipment.  It was THE topic of conversation.  Friends were praised for their forethought on getting an office water cooler installed before they returned back to Japan.  The heat was basically turned off as well.  And for a country that heats every toilet seat including the ones in train stations and on mountain tops that was a huge sacrifice.  And

then there was the hunt for food.  If you weren’t spending your days finding water, you were studying maps at the grocery store.  In Japanese supermarkets, they were selling Fukushima vegetables to support the farmers and the people of Japan were buying them and throwing them in the garbage.  But of course, I couldn’t read the signs telling me where the food  was from.  National, the supermarket of choice for foreigners became ground zero.  They were smart and posted large maps of Japan that were color coded and numbered and each fresh food item in the store had a corresponding number.  Geography lessons during food preparation. Cooking for your family had never been so challenging.  There were the absolute no-no’s.  Strawberries, mushrooms, spinach.  No longer options as these were deemed more toxic than other foods.  And then there was the situation with dining out.  Could you trust the food being prepared in restaurants?  And the judgment from your fellow diners about the fact that you just ordered fish and spinach – how could you?  Those must be filled with radiation!  People were literally looking at what you were choosing to eat and making judgement calls.  And for a city as safe as Tokyo, we started to think twice about letting our kids “hang” out in Shibuya or Omotesando.  We wanted them close by and in the house.  And people started to leave, sometimes without even telling anyone.  Just packed up and shipped out.  And friends who had left during the earthquake never returned.  And so you sort of started to question your own decision to stay.  There was a bit of an us vs. them mentality.  A friend overheard two men speaking at the gym about the “selfish” husbands that made their families return to Tokyo – it made us angry and defensive.  And then summer vacation came and as always the moms left town with the kids and the dads stayed behind.  And they suffered through a very hot summer where the office thermometers were set at a steamy 29 degrees (84F) but they were allowed to wear “cool biz” outfits to work.   And then September came and we returned happily home.  Still, signs of the nuclear situation remained.  The lights were still dim, the air conditioning on low.  But then in September, the limitations were removed and life in Tokyo seemed to get back to normal.  There were no more vegetables from Fukushima to sell (although they are still selling the beef in my supermarket but at least the sign was in English) and the lights went back on as did the heat.  The aftershocks continued but less so and there are only 2 nuclear plants up and running in the entire country so the chances of anything happening to another plant is very low.  They continue to try to get the situation at Daiichi under control but its not in the news every day.  There are many people leaving Japan this summer for good but there are always people leaving – that is the nature of expats.  So its been a strange year – one I won’t ever forget.  And deep down there is a little bit of me that hopes that my decision to stay in Japan this year won’t come back to haunt us later on.

There’s Snow Place Like Niseko 1

Bucket list item #7 – Ski the famed powdered runs of Niseko – the sister city of St. Moritz.

Since our arrival in Japan in 2008, after leaving our little ski house in the Catskill mountains, we’d heard of the famed Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido.  But with Nagano a train ride away and the thought of the flight and the 2+ hour bus ride after the flight, Niseko just seemed like a place that people went to who lived outside of Japan.  Why go to all the hassle when you can just jump on a train at Tokyo Station and in a short amount of time ski the Japanese Alps – it was good enough for the Olympics – it was good enough for me.

So several times each winter we happily skied in Hakuba – but there was always something missing.  Hakuba is a place that lives in the past.  If you set the clock back to the 80’s, you can easily see yourself hanging out in the lodge wearing a purple Head ski jacket, chewbaca furry after ski boots and rocking a brand new perm.

But not much has changed since those bubble days – not a lot of new construction or new carpet for that matter. Not so Niseko.

Niseko is brand spanking new (except for maybe the Hilton).  I walked the streets and looked at one more fabulous building then the next.  Our condo was beyond gorgeous and totally cool.  Not even this era – maybe even a little of the ski chalet of the future.  And after living in a society for four years as a complete outsider, it suddenly felt very much like home.  How strange to actually be in Japan, using yen to purchase things and only speak English all day long.  Everyone I came  in contact with from the physical therapist to the bar tender to the waitress and the ski rental guy spoke my mother tongue.  Communicating in the same language –  brilliant!

There were actual fireplaces – of course they were in architectural glass boxes  – no wood burning fires here (except outside of one bar in a big metal drum).  The apres ski options were plentiful – bars and restaurants abound.  I had a beautiful lunch slope side at the Vale Bar and Grill with 14 of my closest friends, dined at Abu Cha 2, a funky itzakaya walking distance to the chairlift – and spent a magical evening inside The Barn – a French fusion restaurant lit beautifully from within watching the snow fall out the enormous glass wall.

I only skied two out of the four days for various reasons too boring to write about so I certainly wasn’t all over the multi-area mountain, but the famed powered runs were just so-so.  There was a ton of powder in the trees – after the first run through those, I made sure where not to return, but on the main slopes themselves, not too much.  But I heard people speaking about the not-so-great conditions.  To be honest, after skiing for 40 years mainly on the east coast of America, I’m not much of a powder fan.  Give me ice and a few rocks and I’m golden.

Tom and I were thrilled to check this big item off our bucket list and to do it with 50+ friends was even better.  For those five days we felt like we owned Niseko and it had been there waiting for us this whole time.