11.28.2009

grandparents and neighbors

This is how my Grandma does Thanksgiving (and every other holiday/special occasion):

She owns hundreds of goblets.

Also, my neighbor does the most incredible quilting I have ever seen. I didn't even know it! because she is the quietest person I know. You should check out her blog. Seriously.

11.25.2009

The Thanksgiving dilemma

One "benefit" of being married to the golf course is that Slice works whenever people want to play golf. Including Thanksgiving Day.

Curse those people!

We've been praying for a big snowstorm so we could join at least one of our families for a Thanksgiving meal; they will all be on the Wasatch Front.

Whoever is praying for good weather must be more righteous than we are...
The snow is not coming.

11.24.2009

Confessions

1. I have never thought of Japan as a pretty place.
Interesting, cultured, historically rich - sure.
But in my mind I always pictured a place with unimpressive scenery, fast-walking people who all look alike, streets so packed you couldn't move.

2. I was wrong on all counts. (And pleasantly surprised!)
The country is more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. Lush forests, quaint old villages,
tall mountains, vast ocean; it is breathtaking even in November.
Japanese people look as similar to each other as Euro-Americans do. Really. They just have less
choices for hair color so style matters more.
And the streets are not nearly as packed as the train stations. I don't recommend hauling huge
suitcases all over the place. Unless you like bruises.


3. Visiting Japan actually made me miss Europe more. Isn't that strange? All those delicious pastries, art museums, fluffy pillows, Federdeckes, operas, languages I actually understand.... also toilets.

4. I stopped caring about having soap in public bathrooms. Forget about paper towels or hand driers, warm water (or water at all), real toilet paper. It's not going to happen.

5. The bullet train really is as cool as Slice said.

6. I ate tongue, shellfish, and Japanese kimchi all in one meal!

7. Japanese people are much warmer than I expected.
8. I might actually miss those toilet seat warmers.

11.22.2009

Did I Mention

that I am excited to come home? Very, VERY excited?

Bis Sp├Ąter.

Perfecting the art of the Self-Portrait

In 24 hours we will be boarding a plane for Los Angeles, California, and will arrive at our destination seven hours before we left.
That is WEIRD.
I have so many more stories and pictures I could share, and I would, but I'd hate for you all to get bored and stop reading/commenting ...
(PS- Thanks to those who did finally comment! You get prizes.)
(Just kidding.)
(But Fig, we really are sending you a prize when we get home. Sorry it has taken soooooo long.)
Anyway, do you have thoughts on that?
Slice said I had to post these pictures; he was angry that I wouldn't be serious.

We spent the first half of this week in Yamagata, a rural northwestern place that was mostly cold and rainy. Still we visited the Prefecture Museum - where we ran into a Japanese model photoshoot - the Kaminoyama Castle, also a museum, and an old Samurai house. The rest of the time was spent in the Niwas' house, where we ate good food and talked all night.
Once I had a long Skype conference call with my four older siblings and their spouses; that was really fun.
Kaminoyama from the top of the Castle

Me arguing with Slice over how to hold chopsticks.
The Niwas were wonderful to us, and we had to leave too soon. We spent two nights in the Tokyo temple patron housing (NO LUXURY there. Coughing, moaning roommates who turned on lights and left, in the middle of the night + almost no padding on wooden bunkbeds + pillows made of strange beans = the worst night EVER. But it was cheap.), went to the temple again, and visited the Tokyo Tower which, they tell you over and over, is taller (and lighter!) than the Eiffel Tower. You can see all of Tokyo from the top ... if there even is an "all of Tokyo."
Seriously, at the top of the tower I stared and stared and stared. Tokyo is ten times bigger than the biggest city you have ever imagined. Almost 13 million people! Its vastness is incomprehensible to a Utah girl like me.
Yesterday we met up with Takakusagi Choro, Slice's trainer, and he took us to Chinatown for a bit. We walked up and down the streets, ate some butaman, and came back to his house to stay.

The couple has a darling baby daughter, almost a month old, and Slice can't stay away from her. He's threatened to kidnap her several times.
That's a good sign, right?

11.16.2009

Blogging in Vain

It's been four posts now with nary a comment. Sure, I'll keep blogging for myself ... because I love sitting here and uploading pictures, typing posts, when I could be doing OTHER things ...

like wandering the streets of Kyoto, stumbling upon art exhibits with live performances,

visiting the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima and the magnificent island of Miyajima (supposedly one of the top-three prettiest places in Japan; I can see why).
The mother of one of Slice's companions volunteered to drive from Osaka to Kyoto, pick us (and our luggage) up, and drive us around the city before taking us back to Osaka with her! This is the Kinkakuji or 'Golden Helmet' temple.
We met up with another former companion and hiked through a bit of the Thousand Gates...
Never missing a photo-op, of course.
Saturday we rode up to Nagoya for a mission reunion of sorts ... seven elders and three sisters, plus me. We went to a sweet aquarium that was like Sea World but on a smaller scale. There was even a dolphin show. We loved it.
We all went out for ice cream afterward, pitching in to get two HUGE parfaits. The boys ate that one (which cost about $50) and the girls ate a chocolate one. Mmmm.
Then we missed our train back to Tokyo - the one that would get us to Tokyo in time to take another train to Yamagata, our home for the next few days. So we scrambled and found a hostel in Tokyo instead, riding to Yamagata Sunday morning. When we got to church this sister about knocked Slice over, she was so excited to see him:
She invited us over for dinner after church, and we had a jolly time! (I had a permanent blush on my face, can you tell? Yoshida Shimai was praising everything from my skin to my voice to my family for two straight hours, I couldn't handle it.)
We are now in Yamagata/Yonizawa which is northwest of Kyoto. Much colder. We are staying with a couple who have an awesome old house, mad kimono-dressing skills, and wireless internet!
Remind me later to tell you about
  • the creepy guy who sat by me on the bus, forcing us to get off at the next stop
  • how we spent an evening hopping from bus to bus, just to see where we would end up
  • the homeless guy who took our food (but refused the bananas) at the Nagoya Eki
  • how I ATE SQUID, unknowingly, thanks to Slice
  • drunk guys in the hostel at 12:30 a.m.
  • my near-fainting spell this morning
  • the Public Baths ... I have now been to two.
  • how I got proficient with the Japanese-style toilet (I call it, affectionately, the water trough)

This was our guesthouse in Gion, Kyoto.

11.11.2009

The Goodness




I'm finally at a computer again! Time for a quick update, nothing fancy, sorry.

Saturday we were in Tokyo again and we made a trip to the temple. It took a whole day but it was SO worth it. Sure enough, we ran into Slice's trainer and two more sisters from his mission. Of course we were asked to be the witness couple ... and I had a headset on, which made everything harder ... but our names were from 1647 and 1442. So cool.

Sunday, we had a disaster of a day trying to get to a Stake Conference, then a Sacrament Meeting, while hauling around our luggage and planning for a 3-hour train ride to Kyoto. Ugh. Still, our meeting was in English, and the primary program made me cry. And Kyoto is SO much warmer than Morioka, we don't even need our jackets! So the day wasn't a total failure.

For the last three days we have been wandering around Kyoto, visiting temples and eating gelato (I introduced Slice to the goodness), and admiring the incredible fall colors here. Oh wow. Tomorrow we plan to go to Hiroshima for the day, come back to our "guest house," and leave for Osaka on Friday.

When we got to this ILIAS place, we discovered that it is a fitness club as well as a hostel (of sorts), complete with indoor driving range. Slice jumped on that. So tonight he is hitting golf balls in the manager's own private practice range ... he already taught a little lesson and got paid for it. I love his marketable skills.

Oh, mom! We found salt & pepper shakers today! We've been looking the ENTIRE time and finally found some down a little cobblestone lane, so happy.

Love and miss you all.

PS I have no picture thumbnails, so I'm just going to pick a few at random and upload them. Please enjoy.

11.08.2009

Some things "we" learned today

Write down addresses. Don't think you can remember where it is just from a questionable map (and by questionable I mean they point 'north' whichever way seems convenient), write. it. down.

Five minutes is not enough time to get from the bottom of the train station to the top. Not when you have four large suitcases, two backpacks and a purse between you. You WILL miss the train and spend the next 3 hours trying to find another sacrament meeting.

Primary programs = the best!

Book Shink tickets in advance. You don't want seats on the smoking car, and after you get kicked out of the non-smoking car, you really don't want to sit between cars on your suitcases. It is not comfortable. For any length of time.

Japanese train conductors can be really nice, though.

When your lodging place asks you to email them to confirm, you should do it. So they will actually be ready for you.

Otherwise, be prepared to walk the streets for a while before you find the OTHER place you didn't write down the address for.

The adventures, lovies!

drinking holy water
rice cakes
this guy was crazy!
Sweet Yasue in front of her house, on our last day in Morioka.

11.06.2009

Nakamura Kyoudai

Yesterday afternoon we went to visit Nakamura Kyoudai, a guy Slice has been telling me about for 18 months now. He is in the Morioka branch, just recently started coming back to church ... for his job he takes photographs of birds, paints pictures from the photos, and then carves the birds out of wood. And paints them.

Slice has told me about him several times, and I always just smile and nod, because how strange does that sound? (A guy who's obsessed with birds?) But after we visited him in his shop I finally understood.

Slice acted as translator while Nakamura Kyoudai talked to us for almost two hours. His shop is a room over his house, with huge -and I mean HUGE- lenses all over the room and bookshelves. We counted 10 camera bodies. He also has easels, mats, blocks of wood and tables full of half-finished carvings, and film canisters of paint he's mixed himself.

While we sat there he told me about how as he sits down to paint, he has to have faith that his art will turn out right. ("But you know all about faith," he said, "we talk about it at church.")
He talked about how he went through a long long winter in his life, but then he met someone who really connected with him, and became a good friend. It was Slice. ("You probably know about that connection, too," he said, pointing to us both.)

He said his life has turned warmer, like spring, because of this friend, and now he has started going back to church.
It was so sweet.

He seemed to love me too, for some reason, and let me pick a carved bird from his table to keep. He also drew a quick picture of me as I sat there.
Then Slice and I looked through the pictures on his camera - and had to pick our jaws up off the floor a couple times. The photos were incredible! I told him I would buy just the photographs, they were so good. I loved his paintings, too; I wish I could afford one.

When it was time to go, Nakamura asked his wife to give us a ride home to Yasue's house ("Do you know what a big deal that is?" Slice asked), and we headed out in the rain. She took us almost the whole way. Then we went to eat sushi.

I now have a beautiful carved European robin. What am I going to do with it?

11.05.2009

a word (or 196) about the people

Japanese people are so hardcore.

1. They wear masks. That was the very first thing I noticed in the train station ... at any given time, I bet one in ten is wearing a mask. I guess that's what you do when you live so close together and it's flu season? Or do they wear them all the time?
2. They apologize for not speaking English. Several members came up to me after church on Sunday, wanting to talk, but ashamed of their English-speaking skills. (Which are generally not that bad.) I was like, dude, I'm in YOUR country. Don't apologize!

3. Speaking of ... three alphabets? Whose idea was that? Kanji blows my mind by itself.

4. They wear shoes like this:
and this:
Granted, they don't wear them all the time. But still! Ouch!

5. The typical Japanese girl's outfit includes: heels (high boots or shoes and high socks), barely-there skirt/shorts, and a top. This means BARE LEGS from below the knee to upper-upper-upper thigh. I get frostbite just looking at those girls. Slice says "It's custom." I say "It's dumb."
(And it's really fashion.)

6. They sleep on the floor.
7. They eat with chopsticks. Raw fish, too.

11.04.2009

a word about the food - video added

I'm not sure what I was expecting before I came to Japan.

Maybe something like what I experienced in Europe - food similar to what I am used to, prepared differently but at least recognizable; distant relatives of food I know and love. Plus a few totally weird things.

Oh how wrong I was.

As I said before, everything here is different. And not different in a "hmm, they eat rice for breakfast? and tofu in their soup?" way, either.

I don't recognize anything. When Slice tries to explain to me what it is or what's in it, I don't understand him. It is all strange roots and vegetables, overgrown fruits, spices I can't describe, weird fish cooked weird ways. Also octopus and eel.
And that is all.

I'm trying to be good and open-minded; to try things, not judge by their looks. And I have truly liked several of the things I have tried. But if you picked it up in my last post, you know that I have finished ONE Japanese meal so far. In a week. Not a great track record.



In Europe, whenever I saw McDonald's I would get a little pang in my heart. Do we have to be everywhere?! Homogenizing the world with our cheap fake burgers and fries?? Those blasted golden arches, I thought.

Now all I can say is - what's the problem with that anyway? People like it, obviously. And if I see those golden arches and I know there's a clean free bathroom with soap inside, and food that I can eat without first asking what it is, what is the problem with that?

God bless the U.S.A.
And McDonald's cinnamon melts.

Asakusa

I found out this morning that I lost the race. (Thanks for the email Dad.)

Thank you all for your support!
Better luck next time, I guess.
At least I'm here:


and there is always something to laugh about!




Tuesday morning we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo, about 2 1/2 hours away. The guy who sat next to us kept looking over, trying to read what I was writing in my journal, and sighing really loud. We could tell he wanted to talk to us - but Slice wouldn't say a thing. How rude.


There was a festival going on in Asakusa, that we almost ran right into. We got there as the first little procession went into the shrine.


There were booths and people everywhere!


We dropped our stuff at the hostel we were staying at, and spent the rest of the day walking around looking at people/things, eating food, and taking pictures.


There was a big parade down the main street that lasted for TWO HOURS. We froze, because it was windy and we were in the shade. But I did take several minutes' worth of video to show everyone later. It was awesome.




After the parade we walked around for a couple more hours, and we ran into the Branch President from one of Dorian's areas. What are the chances! He was with his wife and two little boys, and they took us to dinner. This is what we had:

I tried everything there except the seaweed, which I've had before, and I liked almost all of it. Hiding behind the shrimp there is a breaded, fried piece of pumpkin. Delicious.


Oh, and in case you are wondering, my chopstick skills are improving.


After dinner we walked back to the hostel and I took a looooong hot shower while Dorian watched a movie on his iPod. The wonders of technology.

The hostel was pretty cool; Sakura hotels are designed especially for foreign travelers and they are a great, cheap way to go. We slept on bunkbeds (BEDS!) in a 'dorm' with four other people and we were able to use the free Wifi, the TV and tables, as well the kitchen. So yesterday morning after a trip to the grocery store, we came back and made toast and sandwiches, and Dorian cooked us up some Gyozas for lunch. Then we headed out for the day.

Pretty much, we just walked around for several more hours, stopping to buy things here and there. Then we got back on the Shink and rode back to Morioka, where we will stay for a couple more days. Last night we went to a little 'Key Coffee' shop, which is run by a lady that Dorian just LOVES. After we went, I could see why! She was a riot. After she recognized Dorian she kept saying how beautiful I was and they made me sign their little guestbook, commenting on how beautiful my name was.

Anyway, the food there was fabulous. I had corn soup and toast, and a little salad. It was the first meal I've been able to finish in, like, months. Definitely the first in Japan.



P.S. So far D has picked up on four different people saying "big eyes!" either to me or to someone else when I walk by. Who knows how many times he hasn't heard it! They do all seem to think I'm pretty though, which is really nice.